MHS Update 29-1-2021

MHS Update 29-1-2021

It’s beginning to feel a lot like groundhog day in school, just as I am sure it is in your homes especially if everyone is stuck indoors. I don’t underestimate how lucky I am to be able to actually go to work every day, even though school is a weird and empty place. Still, this week I had the pleasure of delivering a live assembly to Year 11 and Year 9 and absolutely loved it. It would have been nice to see 300 faces in front of me but you can’t have it all! I’m planning to run assemblies for Years 7, 8 and 10 soon, and hoping beyond hope that Boris’ plan of starting to reopen schools from 8th March actually happens.

Our remote learning provision is now very well embedded and student attendance and engagement remains exceptionally high, and rising even higher in some year groups as the pastoral team and teachers contact home and resolve barriers to access. We know that there is still a demand for laptops and broadband for some students and the Chair of Governors and I wrote again to our local MP last week, and then I spoke to him at a virtual meeting, to seek his support in securing more devices.

It's no secret that I’m proud of our remote learning plan and I believe that it is up there amongst the very best on offer. Aside from the academic angle and the fact that we are very much limiting ‘learning loss’ compared to some schools, I believe the routine and structure that our plan provides is essential for wellbeing and good mental health. However, whilst I am sure some prefer it, we are aware that for a number of reasons some students are struggling with the different pressures that 25 live lessons a week bring compared to being in school itself. Even those who may otherwise be fine might sometimes be fatigued from quite a lot of screen time each day.

In response we’re going to trial a couple of new initiatives that may help break up the monotony and place an emphasis on good mental wellbeing. Next week is a national ‘Children’s Mental Health week’ and so it seemed a great opportunity to raise awareness of this issue. Like I say, I think that we’re providing a lot of opportunities for students to interact with each other and with school staff, but lockdown is tough no matter what is on offer and there is no harm in promoting good wellbeing and mental health as much as we can. Next week will see the launch of a brilliant new Pastoral Hub for students too, but more on that another time.

1) An ‘Offline Day’ on Friday 5th Feb

We have decided to try and break up the final two weeks of this half term with an ‘Offline Day’ which will take place on Friday 5th February.

Throughout next week as part of Mental Health Week

  • Form tutors will share information on 20 optional challenges that students can complete over the week and/or on Friday 5th. The challenges are designed to promote positive wellbeing, appeal to different tastes, get students being more active, creative and are almost all ‘off-line’

On Friday 5th February

  • There will be no form time. Students will be asked to check in on Satchel One/SMHW and then hopefully spend as little time after that online
  • Students in Years 7-9 will be encouraged to complete as many of the 20 wellbeing tasks as they can, building on what they may have done during the week. There are prizes!
  • Students in Years 10 and 11 will be encouraged to use the time to take stock of their work, complete any outstanding assignments or indeed take part in the activities mentioned above.
  • All students could take the time to look at the FANTASTIC new Lockdown Library which has been launched and is available here Lockdown Library

MHS update 22-1-2021

MHS update 22-1-2021

Updates, testing and exam results

A number of smaller updates today and then two larger ones at the end:

1) Thank you to everyone involved in the Year 9 parents evening last night. Although there were some technical issues with Schoolcloud, these were nothing like the problems of last week with Year 11 and the vast majority of appointments ran smoothly. Thanks to the team for managing to rearrange appointments almost instantly and for parents and teachers for being so flexible. I hope that the evening was a success for you all.

2) At the start of the term the pastoral team set themselves the ambitious target of contacting every single student or their parents/carers as soon as they could. Part way through day 11 and the job was done – great work from a great team, and I know from lots of feedback that the effort to get in touch has been appreciated.

3) Live form times and lesson have continued and the students continue to attend in high numbers. 95% are ‘engaged’ (online at least once a day) and over 85% on average are attending each lesson. Remarkable stats and a ringing endorsement of the commitment of our whole school community. Furthermore, staff are constantly pushing the boundaries of how to make lessons interesting and to make feedback meaningful. I know that breakout rooms where students can talk more freely to peers have gone down very well with students, with parents telling us that they have also boosted morale at home. I recently discovered the ability to leave individual verbal feedback to students via Teams, although whether my students are as excited as I am is a matter of opinion.

4) Gavin Williamson was on the TV on Thursday saying that he hopes to see students back in school before Easter. I very much hope so too, but just to confirm I promise you I don’t get an insider information – no doubt I will find out the plan when you do. He did say that we’ll get two weeks’ notice this time of when the reopening might happen. We won’t know what to do with ourselves with that much time to plan!

5) ‘Mass Testing’

The idea of lateral flow testing as a device to keep schools open was first announced by the Government in mid-December 2020. These tests give an indication within 30 minutes if a person is negative or positive for Covid-19, although they are not entirely accurate. Since that point the government’s plan has changed several times, and so I thought it might be helpful to outline the current situation at MHS:

  • A temporary test centre has been set up in the sports hall.
  • Staff have been trained in all aspects of setting up, administering, reading and recording the tests
  • Staff in school have been given the option to be tested, initially once a week but from now on twice a week.
  • The parents of students in school have been given the option of two tests for their child. The first of these tests were today with the follow up planned for next week
  • After this, the only people who will be regularly tested will be school staff on a voluntary basis twice a week, either in school or at home using a home test kit.
  • When more students return to school as lockdown ends we believe that we will be asked to test each child twice on entry.
  • People identified as being a close contact of a positive coronavirus case will have to isolate as before, they will not be able to have a daily test to prove they are negative as was the Government’s original plan
  • All testing, adult or child, is done with consent only. Adults and students, via their parents/carers, can opt out by not giving consent.

What do I think about all this? Well, I am proud that we’ve set up a very efficient testing service – it takes about 4 minutes for someone to pass through the process once registered – and I can see the logic of staff being tested twice a week. This brings us in line with NHS staff for example. However, whilst I understand the idea of testing all students on their return, my main concern is to minimise the disruption to lessons. I guess we’ll wait and see if this is still the Government’s plan when the time comes. Finally, I am glad that the idea of daily testing has been dropped. The tests are not 100% accurate and I think that it is much safer for contacts to isolate and take part in live lessons than risk false negatives spreading the infection in school. However, like I say, that is all for a happier time when the school is open again.

6) The GCSE grades issue 2021

On 4th January Boris Johnson announced that exams would again be cancelled for this year. I have made no secret of the fact that I want/wanted exams to take place. With some sensible adjustments (less content, more choice, more guidance from staff to help students navigate papers) they would be the best way for students to show what they can do and the fairest way to standardise results across the country. Furthermore, I know that MHS students have been working hard since March 2020 and I have complete faith in them.

However, the exams as we imagined them are definitely not going ahead. The government recently opened a very short consultation on their contingency plans for awarding grades. You can see the info here and the survey itself here. As a school we have reservations about the proposals, and we will be emailing parents either later on Friday 22nd or early on Monday 25th with our viewpoint. We will also make some suggestions on how parents can support our campaign for a change to the plan. Like last year schools will not be judged by student outcomes, but that in no way diminishes our fervent desire to make sure every single MHS exam candidate gets the grades they are capable of. We have our students’ best interests at heart and will be seeking your help in calling for changes to the proposed plans. More to follow soon!

Best wishes all,

Joe Barker


MHS Update 15-1-2021

MHS update 15-1-2021

As we settle into yet another ‘normal’ I’m intending to get back to one blog a week, although of course if needed then I’ll happily communicate with parents and carers more regularly. I guess the fact that I haven’t had to blog since last week is a sign that we have had some relative stability this week at least. In this blog I’ll cover three things; remote learning, testing and summer exam results.

Remote learning

I continue to be incredibly impressed with the efforts of teachers, pastoral staff, LSAs, the network team, students and of course parents and carers, all striving to make sure that students can keep learning at this difficult time. As you know we’d been preparing ourselves and students for this eventuality since the start of term in September, and although I’d give almost anything to have the students back in school, I am really glad that we were able to hit the ground running with live lessons last week. Attendance is being closely tracked and I believe that ‘engagement’, by which we mean whether students are online at least once during the day, is as high as 95%. Individual lesson attendance is regularly above 85%, the difference in the two figures partly being explained by some siblings sharing devices throughout the day. Both figures are exceptionally high and a clear sign of how committed our entire community is to education. Very humbling to see, and thank you for all your efforts.

One issue that the team are already well on the way to tackling is how to make sure students interact with teachers and peers, and in the space of just a few days we’ve had teachers trying all sorts of innovations such as breakout rooms, virtual whiteboards and many others. I thought I was pushing boundaries by finding the chat function on Teams…. Seriously though, online teaching is a whole new challenge and one that is taking some thinking about, but the positivity with which staff are embracing the challenge is very uplifting, matched only by the response of students.

The biggest barrier to students accessing lessons is of course a lack of devices and/or internet access. We’ve already received our allocation of laptops from the Government, and despite now seemingly misleading announcements in Parliament it looks like there are currently no more coming our way. We are though pushing hard for more devices and so we urge families to get in touch if they need support and we’ll add you to the waiting list. The person to contact is Claire Gregory via


I’m writing this on Thursday evening and, without a word of a lie, the Guardian has just this second published an article saying that mass testing for students in schools may not have been approved nationally. On the other hand, I’ve read a lot from other sources this week saying that testing is indeed a great step forwards. Seems that the scientific community are split on whether it’s a ‘game changer’ or not, but I thought I’d outline what is happening at MHS either way.

Over the last week we have taken delivery of over 4000 test kits, identified and trained up our team leaders, recruited testing operatives (from amongst the staff for now), set up the testing station in the sports hall and finally worked out how to register for and record test results. Tomorrow (Friday) is an exciting day as we invite the first 30+ staff members to take a test, after which we plan to test interested in-school staff once a week. Those Vulnerable/Key Worker children in school whose parents wish for them to be tested will then receive two tests 5 days apart, and then again if and when they are identified as a ‘close contact’ of a positive case. Although very admin-heavy, the process does make sense and ought to give the community more reassurance of virus levels in school – and enable more students to remain in school for longer. I am still unclear as to how manageable the process will be when we have 1800 people on site each day, but I suppose one of the very few good things about lockdown is that we can learn the process with much fewer people in school. All we need now is for the politicians and scientists to decide if this is the right plan to follow after all!

Summer Exam Results

Year 11 and certain students in Years 10 and 9 were, until last week, working hard towards exams in the summer. Like most of them, I was very disappointed to hear that exams have been cancelled again this year. I know that on the face of it, it might appear sensible to cancel exams when so many students in so many schools have missed a lot of lesson time. Taken in isolation that does indeed seem the right thing to do, but when you then consider what has to be put in place of exams it becomes obvious that the alternative is worse. Ofqual (the body that regulates exams) has a tremendous challenge to overcome now in terms of how to ensure all students get a fair grade. As a school we know very little and may not find out the master plan for some time yet. Therefore my message to all our exam students is clear – keep working hard, keep trying to improve and we will support you all the way. Whatever happens you can take my word for it that we will do everything we can to help you get the grade you deserve. Now, we were planning to make this message crystal clear at Year 11 Parents evening last night. Just like the Year 7 one last term we were using an online platform…and all was going well for 32 minutes until the external website crashed completely and we had to abandon the evening. Nightmare! We’re planning on re-starting Year 11 parents evening on Thursday 4th Feb, more details to follow soon.


Seven days into the start of term and four weeks until February half-term. Will we see students back after that? I honestly don’t know. I sincerely hope so but it’s impossible to tell. I know that we’ll make the most of whatever happens and we'll all keep going until we can put MHS back together again. Until then, thank you for your ongoing support.

Best wishes

Joe Barker


MHS Update 8-1-2021

Remote Learning turned up to 11!

A very quick blog this week given the lengthy updates of Monday and Tuesday.

Our 'fully live' remote curriculum is up and running with over 360 live sessions taking place yesterday and the same again today. I am pleased to say there have been relatively few technical issues from a school point of view, and aside from many password queries it appears that most students are finding their way to the right places. Massive thanks to the IT Network Team for creating the infrastructure to link all our students and teachers to the right lessons at the right time…I'd like to pretend I know who they did it, but I don't! If you are at home and still having issues of any kind then remember to email

What I do know is that teachers are teaching, students are learning, the students in school are online with their peers, the pastoral team are chasing up 'attendance' and welfare of those students we haven't seen online and the whole staff team is working together to make the most of this less-than-ideal situation.

'Lockdown school' is rubbish compared to the real thing, but this lockdown is a million times better than the first one in terms of education. If students continue to attend in the very high numbers we have seen so far, then there is no reason why learning cannot continue at pace.

There's a long way to go but I could hardly have wished for a stronger start.

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

MHS Update Tuesday 5th January 2021

MHS Update Tuesday 5th January 2021

Less than 24 hours after my previous blog and I’m back again – my apologies!

As you will know the situation changed nationally last night and we are back in as ‘full’ a lockdown as we have had since March last year. I hope that you and your families are all well and managing as best as possible during this time.

Sadly, school will be closed to most students until at least February half term. I had expected something like this to happen but I’ll be honest and say that I was caught out by the length of the closure; I had perhaps expected a two or three week delay to the start or term. I understand the need for national action but I am incredibly disappointed for us as a school. The students and staff worked so hard to minimise infections last term, with a great deal of success, but I appreciate that the virus has gained a lot of ground recently with the new variant and so we must play our part along with everyone else.

A school with no (or very few) students in it is a strange place, but the MHS community is much more than a building full of people. We don’t need to all be in the same place to feel a part of something, and for this second full lockdown we’re aiming to build on the experience of last time and intend to make sure that every member of the school family feels even more cared for and looked after.

Therefore in practical terms the plan that I laid out yesterday, and spoke to students about on the last day of term in December, is still the plan that we will follow. We aim to run live form times every day, followed by five live lessons each day too. This provision will start at 8.35am on Thursday 7th January and continue until we are told we can have groups back in school. Accessing these lessons will ensure that students keep up with their studies, can interact with their classmates and maintain contact with tutors and teachers. A register will be taken in every live session and absence will be monitored. Like last time, our excellent pastoral team will be contacting students who we don’t see online to make sure all is ok.

Last night the Prime Minister promised more laptops for families who don’t have them and we will be banging on his door (not literally, sadly) to get our share. We’ve handed out over 100 already but will get as many as we can. A reminder that all the info on accessing live lessons, including a diagram that shows the timings of lessons each day, can be found here. Scroll down to ‘Timings of the school day’ and look at the second table of the two when it opens.

Our live lesson plan is ambitious and not common across many state schools, and it may be that ultimately we have to scale it back a little depending on how things go. We’re keen to try to deliver the best possible educational experience during this period. To make it work many teachers will be physically in the building each day so that they can deliver their lessons from school. I do though need to stress four points both to manage expectations and to support my colleagues who I know, sometimes, might be trying to achieve the impossible:

  1. In order to deliver the full timetable remotely we need to have a full body of staff ready and available to teach. Whilst we have the kit and have done the training – mostly via hybrid lessons last term – the new lockdown does present more problems. Some colleagues will now have other demands on their time, for example looking after their own small children or balancing other family needs. Therefore there will be some occasions where live lessons or form times cannot take place. Similarly, if staff are ill themselves then this will disrupt the provision of lessons as it is not as simple to cover for staff under this remote system. In both cases, students should log on to Teams but if the sessions don’t start within five minutes then they should look at Satchel One (SMHW) to see if the lesson has reverted to independent learning.
  2. Whilst students can expect their form time sessions and all five lessons to start at the scheduled time each day, they will end before the normal time. Form time will end up 5-10 minutes early and lessons will end 10-15 minutes early each time. This is partly to give students a break, as we know from the feedback from previously isolating students that over 5 hours of online sessions back to back is exhausting. There is also a practical reason for the shortened lessons. We are asking staff to record the sessions on Teams and also upload resources relevant to the lessons on either Teams or Satchel One (SMHW). This will enable students to access the work at a later point, which we know is crucial where more than one person in a family is sharing a device. The time gained back each lesson should mean that all the necessary ‘admin’ can be completed promptly every day.
  3. Every lesson will begin with the teacher leading the class and in many cases the lesson will be taught all the way through to the end. However on some occasions where students need to then work on their own it may be that the teacher sets the class off and ends the Teams meeting while they work, perhaps asking students to log back in at the end to review what has been done. 
  4. In many classes students will be able to interact with the teacher and with classmates. The standard expectation is that students will start lessons with microphones muted (cameras are automatically disabled by us) and then unmute when invited to do so. On rare occasions it may be necessary for the teacher to mute the whole class should a student or students be disrupting learing, in which case staff will then get in touch with parents and carers later to discuss the issue. 

I suppose overal with this blog I am asking for a little understanding from students and parents for if the live lesson plan does not work perfectly. However this very much works both ways – if you feel that your child is not getting a ‘fair deal’ then please don’t hesitate to email me or a colleague immediately. It may be that there is something we can do to fix whatever is causing the issue and I am always open to constructive feedback. In the same way if you have any concerns at all over your child’s wellbeing then please contact your Head of Year via email.

Something that will be very different this time round will be the provision for vulnerable students and the children of key workers. In the spring and summer, with so few students and no live lessons, the students in school took part in a wide range of activities. This was possible as we were able to mobilise a great number of staff to plan and deliver these sessions. This time all teaching staff will be teaching all day and so the students in school will be provided with a space and the resources to take part in the same live lessons as their peers. Each year group has been allocated a computer room for this purpose so that bubbles don’t mix. We are though conscious that we don’t want to have to send any students home as a result of a positive case, and so I urge the parents and carers only take up a vulnerable/key worker place when absolutely necessary and that all the usual Covid precautions are followed before children are sent into school.

One big announcement from Mr Johnson that is yet to be cleared up was that exams will not be taking place in summer as normal. We don’t yet know what that means for Year 11 and the students in Years 10 and 9 who are also working towards formal qualifications. I cannot imagine we’ll have a system like last year’s disaster and so I have to hope still that there will be some kind of proper assessment for students to take.

I know that many students, especially in Year 11, will have been working hard over Christmas but I really don’t think that all your efforts will be in vain. Our trial exams are of course going to be delayed a little but the work will pay off one way or another. We have been incredibly impressed with all our examination groups this year and we 100% believe that they deserve the chance to prove what they can do in a fair way, and so as soon as we know what the plan is we’ll be in touch. Until then the message is to keep working.

Finally, as I write this blog, the Year 11 and Year 9 parents evenings this half term will still be going ahead remotely as planned.

Take care everyone,


MHS Update Week Commencing 4th January 2021

MHS Update Week Commencing 4th January 2021

Happy New Year everyone, I hope you managed to get a decent break and enjoyed the festivities as much as possible given the current restrictions. I am pleased to say that no Covid cases were reported to school following the end of term last year and so we didn’t need to contact any families regarding track and trace. Hopefully this bodes well for the new term, but of course with the situation as it is in the south of the country we must be prepared for further disruption ahead. Thank you also for your support of the remote learning plan that was in operation on 21st and 22nd December. Our records show that 89% of the students logged on and took part which is very encouraging at the end of a long and tiring term.

However, this blog is focussed on the start of term and is based on the current Department for Education guidance and expectations.

  1. The new school term starts as planned on Thursday 7th January. However, ONLY those vulnerable students and/or children of Key Workers who have already requested a place should attend school on the 7th and 8th January. Over the break the government announced that Year 11 will be joining the other year groups in not coming back to school straight away (news article here)
  2. On the 7th and 8th January all form time sessions and normal lessons for RED week will be delivered online using Microsoft Teams. These lessons will start at the usual timetabled start time but will end up to 15 minutes early. This is to give students a break between lessons and allow teachers to end one lesson and prepare for the next. We are seeking to provide recordings of the lessons to Teams as well as put resources on Teams/Satchel One (SMHW) at the end of each session, and staff need time to do this. All guidance on how to access live lessons can be found here. Year 11 were not expecting to have to access live lessons and so are advised to check they know what to do before Thursday morning.
  3. Week commencing Monday 11th January, Year 11 will be able to come to school as normal but Years 7-10 will have to stay at home and again take part in live lessons. The full BLUE week timetable will be delivered online for Years 7-10.
  4. As mentioned above vulnerable students and the children of key workers will be able to come to school throughout this period regardless of what year they are in. 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. Students may wish to bring in their own headphones if they prefer to use them. If parents/carers have not yet requested a place then please contact asap. An email will be sent out to Year 11 parents shortly regarding any requirements for the 7th and 8th.
  5. The Year 11 and Year 9 parents evenings will be going ahead as planned this half term, using the online system trialled with Year seven last term.
  6. Any formal external exams scheduled this term (there is a Sports Studies exam on Monday 11th January) are going ahead.
  7. All the above is accurate at the time of posting on the website…if the rules change then I’ll update everyone as soon as I can!

As I said before the break, this is all being organised at great speed with no days in school to prepare. It is also the first time we have had to deliver so many online lessons all at once and our plan is ambitious to say the least. Therefore it may be that some live lessons experience technical issues or do not take place should there be any staff absences/isolations. If at any point no Teams lesson starts within 5 minutes of the scheduled start time, then students should check Satchel One (SMHW) as it may be that staff absence means the lesson have reverted to independent work. I am sure students and parents will understand if this is the case, but I’m confident that the vast majority of lessons will go ahead as planned.

Finally a quick word on mass testing in schools. I believe we are about to take delivery of a large number of test kits but, as of now, we have no further information on what we are expected to do with the tests or when. Rest assured I will update the community on this issue as soon as I have something concrete to share.

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