MHS Update 18-12-2020 ‘TWO’

MHS Update 18-12-2020 'TWO'

Two blogs for the price of one today:

ONE: The end of term and Merry Christmas (click here)

TWO: Last minute changes to the start of term, and ‘mass testing’ from January


TWO: Last minute changes to the start of term, and ‘mass testing’ from January

I can scarcely believe that I am writing this blog so near to the end of term. I can only apologise for any disruption caused to families in the first week of January 2021, but felt that it was important to react quickly to announcements from the Department for Education both yesterday and also this very afternoon.

I’ll deal with the bigger, longer term news first. As you can read here, and initially announced yesterday, the Government is planning to enable schools to offer rapid and regular testing of staff and students in school from January 2021. The idea is to enable the close contacts of positive cases to stay in education for longer, whether they are adults or students. A very big part of me is excited by this! Although numbers have dropped a great deal recently, in October and November in particular we had many students out of school due to being identified as close contacts, and if there is a way to enable most of these students to be in school every day then that is a big win. I guess the smart money is on a spike in cases in January and February, and so ‘mass testing’ in school may well be a game changer.

However, on the other hand I don’t mind saying that I am worried about the logistics of managing the testing process. I may well be proved wrong but from what I read last night, the burden of organising and administering the weekly/twice weekly/daily tests will be carried by schools themselves. We will need to provide venues, staffing and communication of results for parents and carers who give permission (the tests are voluntary) for their children to be tested in school…a very big job in a big school like ours. I hope that the disruption caused by the tests isn't larger than the disrpution caused by isolations. So, at this stage, I have decided to put this challenge to one side, partly as we have other more urgent matters to deal with as you'll see below. Whatever happens I am confident in our ability to come up with a solution! We’ve overcome every challenge so far and I don’t see why this will be any different.

However, more pressing is the other news just announced this afternoon that secondary schools will have to provide a staggered start for students in January. A formal letter explaining this can be seen here.

The requirement for a staggered start means the following for MHS:

  1. Only Year 11 will be in school on Thursday 7th and Friday 8th January. Their RED WEEK lessons will take place as normal.
  2. All year groups will be back to full time face to face teaching on the 11th January.
  3. Vulnerable students, and the children of Key Worker parents/carers, can also access school on the 7th and 8th. A survey has already gone out should a place be needed, and should be completed by those who need a place only.
  4. Live RED WEEK form time and lessons will take place over Teams for students in Years 7-10 on the 7th and 8th January. Students can access the lessons in the same way as they did for hybrid sessions, and attendance will be monitored. Guidance on how to access lessons, plus technical help, is available here.
  5. Live lessons will start at the usual time but will end 10 minutes early to enable staff to set up the next session.
  6. Vulnerable and Key worker students who attend school will be able to access the same lessons via a computer in one of the school’s computer rooms. They will not experience face to face teaching on those days.
  7. All of the above will be explained to students in a whole-school live video assembly on Friday 18th December.

As you can imagine this is all being organised at great speed, and so it may be that some live lessons experience technical issues or do not take place should there be any staff absences/isolations. I am sure parents will understand if this is the case, but I’m confident that the vast majority of lessons will go ahead as planned.

I’ll end by again apologising for the last minute notice of changes to the start of the term for Years 7-10. I hope you’ll agree when I claim it’s not how we normally operate, but we can only play the hand we are dealt!

With best wishes,

Joe Barker


MHS Update 18-12-2020 ‘ONE’

MHS Update 18-12-2020 ‘ONE’

Two blogs for the price of one today:

ONE: The end of term and Merry Christmas

TWO: Last minute changes to the start of term, and ‘mass testing’ from January (click here)

ONE: The end of term and Merry Christmas

This is the blog that I started drafting on Wednesday morning and that I hoped would be the only blog I had to write. I start by saying again that I remain so, so proud of the way the MHS community has come together during this term. We’ve had our challenges with 27 Covid cases during the past 4 months, with many students having to isolate (one is too many!) and some disruption to learning as a result. We’ve rapidly improved the remote learning offer and as you know have been impressed that 80% of isolating students have accessed hybrid lessons in recent weeks. More importantly, the overall attendance of students in school has remained high and has improved even further in the past few weeks. 92% attendance wouldn’t be deemed good in a normal year, but compared to national attendance rates at the moment it is exceptional. Thank you for the faith that you have placed in our school, the education we seek to offer and our efforts to keep your children and our staff safe.

Christmas is almost upon us and I have been heartened by the way that the students and staff have not let 2020 dampen the festive mood. We have been strict in that learning has continued right to the end of term – gone are the days of ‘fun’ lessons – but the students have made up for it with the way they have taken part in secret Santa and joined in with our festive ’12 Days of Christmas’ video. I am sure the Christmas jumper day on Friday will be enthusiastically followed as well. However, beyond that, Christmas is also about thinking of others and about charity. Each year we gather presents for local elderly residents and this year was no exception. Although the annual tea dance had to be postponed for obvious reasons this didn’t stop students showing their fantastic generosity. The range of gifts donated was fantastic as you can see here:

Furthermore, colleagues Pat Elder and Eva-Joy Sargent both led campaigns to collect food for the Stockport foodbank. The donations were so numerous that we couldn’t fit them under the tree as you can see!

We have always been ‘good’ at charity at MHS and it’s lovely to know that our young people and their families are able to think of others after such a tough year.

I’ll leave you by reminding everyone that we have provided two full days of remote learning for Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd December, accessible via Satchel One (Show my Homework). The students all know what to do and how to register attendance in the morning each day, and we urge as many students as possible to complete the work on those days if not over the break.

Many thanks again for all your support and Merry Christmas,

Joe Barker

End of Term update 15-12-2020

End of Term update 15-12-2020

There has been a lot in the news today about schools aiming to close early (this week) and the Government opposing such plans. I am therefore writing to confirm the situation at MHS.

As explained in my blog of 23-11-2020 here, we will:

  1. Be open as normal until the end of the day on Friday 18th December
  2. Provide independent remote learning tasks for all students on Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd December. This work will be set for all five lessons scheduled for those days, building on the content and skills covered in previous lessons.

We will also enable students to ‘check in’ each morning on the 21st and 22nd. Students who check in will receive their merits for the week, and forms with the most check-ins will receive a reward in the New Year.

As you will see from the letter entitled ‘End of term plans 2020’ here, our arrangements have been made possible by the hard work of the Local Authority, supported by headteachers and governors across Stockport. It is in my view a common sense approach given how close our term was due to run to the easing of restrictions over Christmas.

I would like to request that parents and carers encourage students to check in and complete the work set on the 21st and 22nd December ready for the start of the new term on January 7th 2021.

Finally, thank you again for your ongoing support. National attendance rates in secondary schools fell to 80% last week from 81% the week before, where as our increased from 83% to 87%….and is now at over 92%. A remarkable effort everyone, well done!

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

MHS Update 11-12-2020

MHS Update 11-12-2020

It’s been a busy week in the news for education with a number of announcements, but perhaps the one that could have mattered most to us at MHS was the one on Tuesday about the end of term. The Department for Education stated that schools could move an INSET day to enable them to close on Thursday 17th December and not Friday 18th December, stating that this would mean that the school’s track and trace processes would be able to end on the 23rd December.

Two things stuck me about this. Firstly, like other headteachers, I have never formally been asked to conduct track and trace activities over evenings, weekends or school holidays. We just seem to have become a key part of the nation's track and trace effort without really knowing it! We are doing the job and we are happy to do it for the good of the community, but we have never been asked to do so. Of course we had already planned to monitor and act on the Covid-email inbox over the first part of the Christmas break, and now we know that this should last for the six days following the end of term. Schools that close on the 17th therefore track and trace until the 23rd.

However, the second thing that struck me about the announcement on Tuesday was the apparent lack of awareness that many schools, MHS included, are officially due to close on Tuesday 22nd. Being offered the chance to move an INSET day to the 18th wouldn’t help at all, and we don’t have enough INSET days spare to cover Friday 18th, Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd. However, as you may have read in my blog on the 23rd November available here, Stockport Council made a decision a few weeks ago that staying open so close to Christmas was an unnecessary risk. As families look to make the most of the relaxed rules over the festive break it makes a lot of sense to close MHS a day and a half early, providing work for the students to complete, and thus gaining four more days gap including the weekend before Christmas starts. Given that students also completed work during the INSET day on 27th November, I believe we have protected the education of students whilst also looking after the wellbeing of students, staff and their families.

The DfE announcement has not therefore changed our plans. We intend to close on the 18th December at 2.50pm. Remote learning will be put online for the 21st and 22nd – although no hybrid lessons will take place – and we will run a track and trace process from 2.50pm on the 18th through to 3.00pm on 24th December. Any cases reported to the Covid email address ( between those dates will be actioned and may result in school having to send texts home to advise that students need to isolate. I sincerely hope not!

One of the things that we have done this week to minimise the risk of students being caught up in track and trace is to enable students to wear their PE kit to school. The idea is to avoid the changing rooms where students have sometimes found themselves in ‘bubbles’ with positive cases. I get the logic and I’m glad we’ve done it, but we’re reverting to proper uniform in January. Aside from the obvious drop in uniform standards this week, students need to be able change out of dirty PE clothes and so we’ll go back to the standard approach in January.

I mentioned hybrid lessons above and as I said last week we’re now able to track attendance and the number of hybrid lessons that are taking place. Last week we provided over 780 hybrid sessions and attendance was at least 73% (some marks may be missing). To think that in September we hadn’t even thought of the concept of a hybrid lesson! Interestingly, and this is a good thing, the number of hybrid lessons we delivered this week ought to be lower. The reason being that the number of isolating students is falling and as of today we have got to a point where there are no students isolating as a result of cases in school. This is remarkable and again testament to the way that students and staff are following protocols and families are isolating when they need to. We’re braced for the almost inevitable spike in cases after Christmas, but for the moment at least the picture is great and attendance high and improving rapidly; 87% this week at MHS compared to a national figure of just 81% last week.

So, one week to go and fingers crossed our good run continues. On a personal level fewer Covid cases means more time doing what I love the most about school. I have spent a lot of time these last two days walking round school and seeing students in lesson. All I will say is that you should be proud of your sons and daughters. They are taking this crisis in their stride, working hard and helping our school to thrive.

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

Ps I've heard that the Government have announced mass testing of students to try and deal with a spike of cases amongst secondary school students in London and Kent. I must have missed the same emergency action last month in the North West, how remiss of me.

MHS update 4-12-2020

MHS update 4-12-2020

It’s been over a week since my last message to you all and this time there’s a mixture of Covid-related information and ‘normal’ school updates. I know that these updates tend to be quite long so I have included a contents list at the top to help people find the parts that matter most to them:

  1. General school update
  2. The final weeks of term
  3. Summer exams for Year 11 and Year 9
  4. Sniffer dogs

General school update

A boring sounding title, but this is an opportunity for me to say that I remain incredibly proud of the way in which our school is handling the Coronavirus pandemic. All the measures that we might use to gauge how well we’re doing are looking positive – student attendance is high compared to the national data and very high compared to the rest of the North West, even when factoring in the isolating students. Staff attendance is fantastic and crucial in keeping education going as normally as possible. The number of cases we have had in school is low, the ratio compared to our size is even lower and the rates are dropping. Of course that decline is linked to the national lockdown and so we will need to remain vigilant now that lockdown has ended and tiers have returned.

Aside from being confident that our virus controls work, we are also happy with the educational model that we chose to run from September onwards. We made the call early on that students would move around the site and staff would stay still. This was a risk in that the perceived wisdom at the time was that our model would lead to more infections and larger ‘bubbles’ having to isolate. Whilst the latter may be true to a small extent, the infection rate has been significantly lower than some schools that opted for the ‘students stay still’ model. Our approach is undoubtedly better from a teaching and learning point of view, and also from the perspective of student wellbeing and engagement in school. Similarly, we believe it is more conducive to good teaching staff morale rather than moving around the building every hour. Ultimately we took a risk with our model but I am convinced it was the right move.

Our remote learning plan is robust and the number of hybrid lessons and form times is increasing week on week. There were around 150 hybrid sessions taking place every day last week, and even more impressively the attendance of students to these lessons was 75%. We have no data to compare with from other schools but we feel that 75% attendance is very high indeed, so thank you to all the staff, students and parents who have made this possible. We continue to work with families who may not have adequate devices or internet connections at home, so again if this affects you or someone you know please contact Deputy Headteacher Claire Gregory at

The final weeks of term

There has been a lot of debate in the media about whether schools should close on Friday 11th December so as to protect students and staff from potentially having to self-isolate over the festive period. There are no such plans here at MHS, but as you know from my blog here we have followed the lead of Stockport LA and decided to close the doors on Friday 18th December, giving over Monday 21st and a half day on Tuesday 22nd to remote learning. It was for this reason that we also provided work on the INSET day last week (although I would like to apologise for the late notice beforehand). The logic behind closing a day and a half early is to protect students, staff and their families from last minute Covid cases leading to prolonged periods of isolation over the Christmas period.

The Department for Education is not happy that Stockport is closing two days early and is trying to get the council to reverse the decision. It may yet be that we are ordered to remain open on the 21st and 22nd, but as it stands we are closing at 2.50pm on the 18th December. There seems to be a huge argument over a day and half of time out of school, even though by moving to the 18th we’re just falling in line with the majority of schools nationally anyway. I suspect there is more than a small amount of politics involved here whereby the situation on the ground is being ignored, but I’m best not to go into that!

Our main aim in the run up to the end of term, whether that be 18th or 22nd, is to keep on educating our students whilst making sure as few students as possible have to isolate over the break. That is why we sent a letter home suggesting that students avoid getting the bus where possible, and why we have temporarily allowed students to come to school in their PE kits to avoid time in changing rooms. Buses and changing rooms contribute the most number of students to a ‘close-contact’ list whenever there is a case, and we want to do all we can to minimise these lists should cases arise. Just one word on the PE kit situation – students MUST still wear their school blazer. On a related point we are aware that some classrooms are colder than normal due to the need to keep windows open for ventilation, and want to remind students and families that coats are very much allowed in school and in classrooms if needed.

Summer exams for Year 11 and Year 9

Yesterday the Department for Education released a much needed update on the plans for exams for next year. You can read about it here, with press summaries here and here. As a school we are very happy that exams do indeed appear to be going ahead…but disappointed to hear that yet again we will have to wait for details of quite what changes will be made to make them fairer to students who have missed classes. It appears that some of the content of some of the exams will be revealed in advance, which may well help us focus our work, but not which exams or when. Like all schools MHS plans assessments such as trial exams and internal tests weeks, if not months, ahead. It is therefore highly likely that we are currently teaching and assessing Year 9 and Year 11 students on content that will not be required come the summer, but I guess every school is in the same boat so we must just get on with it! My summary of the news this week is therefore as follows ‘We’re glad that exams do appear to be going ahead, but remain in urgent need of the details’.

Sniffer Dogs

As experienced parents will know, for the past four years we have had regular visits from a team of specially trained sniffer dogs who visit classrooms and students to check that no-one is in possession of drugs or other similar substances. We take our responsibility to protect students from drugs, substances and alcohol in school very seriously and this is one part of the strategy. As usual the students were fantastic, nothing untoward was found and the dog handlers couldn’t have been more positive about MHS.

Ok, that’s probably enough for today I think. I sincerely hope that the next time I write to you I can again communicate a further drop in cases. It’s been a long journey to get to this point and we’re not there yet…but light is at the end of the tunnel. Thank you to you all for your ongoing support, it is much needed and much appreciated by us all.

Best wishes

Joe Barker

Marple Hall School
Hill Top Drive
Stockport SK6 6LB Headteacher: Mr Joe Barker
Tel: 0161 427 7966
Fax: 0161 426 0931