MHS Update 26-2-2021

MHS Update 26-2-2021

You wait a while for Government announcements and then several come along at once…

This has been an important week for the country with the PM’s announcement of the ‘Roadmap’ out of lockdown on Monday, based as it is on the rapid vaccine roll-out and the drop in new cases of Covid-19. Of course centre stage is the plan to re-open all schools to all students week commencing March 8th, with secondary schools being given some flexibility to arrange an initial round of lateral flow testing prior to students accessing lessons for the first time. This was followed yesterday by the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, sharing plans for how grades will be awarded this summer to A Level and GCSE students, a matter of huge important to families of MHS students in Year 11 and 9, and of course to all of us in school too.

Although we’ve been waiting for these announcements for a very long time it’s only been this week, having heard what has been said, that we could start to plan in earnest. You’ll have seen from my blog on Tuesday that the initial priority was to get the ball rolling with the huge task of arranging the first of the three lateral flow tests offered to all students from the 8th onwards. We plan to run the testing centre for the nine days that it will take to offer all three tests to every year group, after which we hope to settle back into more normal (ish) routines.

Alongside the plans for testing we’ve been working on the return to school in general. We’re very excited to welcome students back, and have been working hard to make sure that we keep everyone as safe as possible. The team have been reviewing our risk assessment and making further changes to classrooms and other spaces, all in the name of reducing transmission both to protect everyone and to minimise the risk of cases leading to students having to miss yet more school. I guess we have to expect some cases though; the data shows that rates of infection are still higher now than they were in October when we perhaps had one or two cases a week. However with the continuing fall in rates, testing and tweaks to the risk assessment we must hope that disruption is kept to a minimum.

Of course one big change this term will be the expectation that students wear face coverings in lessons as well as on corridors and in canteens, and that adults do so as well when they are not 2 metres apart from students. This will take some getting used to, but I have faith that our students will understand that it’s worth it. I plan to record an assembly for all students to watch on the morning of Friday 5th March (Teams cannot cope with more than 300 participants in one go so it can’t be live), and then I will be delivering assemblies to all year groups on their return to school proper to remind them of our covid-protocols.

Finally there is the issue of GCSE grades this summer. We now know for sure that schools will be the ones to set the grades for each student, guided by exam boards and based on a range of evidence gathered either previously or in the final months of the school year. There will be the chance for schools to set assessments to help in this process, but there is no national approach to this and so every school will take a different view on how best to do it. However yesterday’s announcement was perhaps more about what it didn’t contain than what it did, as unfortunately we have to wait perhaps another month for the all important detail from the exam boards as to exactly what we’re going to be asked to do. People are allowed to be frustrated by this…I can tell you that I am!…but I suppose the key message for all GCSE students is to simply keep going. We care about you and we will do everything we can to make sure you get the grades you deserve. We will share further information about what we know and don’t know about the grading process with the parents of Year 11 and Year 9 MFL/Sports Studies students shortly. In the meantime can I ask that parents and carers don’t ask individual teachers for updates, as we need to co-ordinate a whole school approach. There will be an assembly for Year 11 students on Tuesday 2nd March and the same for Year 9 MFL/Sports Studies students on Thursday 4th March.

A busy week then in many ways but a purposeful one. It feels like things are changing for the better and I’m sure we will overcome the challenges that lay ahead.

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

MHS Update – Return to school and Mass Testing

MHS Update – Return to school and Mass Testing

I hope that everyone had a safe half-term week and that students managed to get back into the swing of online learning yesterday.

At the end of this blog I ask parents and carers to complete a form, available here, if they give consent for their child to have three rapid Covid tests done in school. If you just read one part of this blog then best to make it the section headed ‘Consent for Testing’.

As you’ll know, last night the Prime Minister set out the outline ‘roadmap’ for how the nation will emerge from the current lockdown. Centre stage was the announcement that all schools will re-open to all students from March 8th. It’s brilliant that we now have more than a little light at the end of the tunnel, especially where education is concerned.

We do though need to take all necessary precautions to ensure that we keep everyone as safe as possible, as well as follow the details of the plan that Mr Johnson didn’t have time to go into last night. It’s essential that we get this right, both to keep everyone safe and to minimise the chance of further disruption to education through positive cases causing the isolation of close contacts.

The main point of this blog is therefore about MASS TESTING. The PM mentioned that the return of secondary school pupils will be supported by twice weekly testing. The details of this appears to be as follows:

1) Testing is optional on a student by student basis, and can only take place with parental consent

2) The first three tests for each student will be administered in school

3) Lessons in school cannot start until the first tests have been done per year group, and we must start with years 11 and 10.

4) Schools can stagger the start days of year groups in order to administer the tests

5) Following the first 3 tests, students should be tested at home twice weekly supported by an adult

At MHS our test site has been operational since early January and up to now we have tested a maximum of around 50 people per day. However, to try and speed up the return of all students to school we are making plans to increase our capacity. If the plan works as we currently intend* then the timeline for return to full time lessons would be as follows:

Monday 8th March

Tuesday 9th March

Wednesday 10th March

Thursday 11th March to Thursday 18th March

Friday 19th March onwards

‘Day 1’** testing in school for Years 11 and 10

Lessons in school for Years 11 and 10

Lessons in school for Years 11, 10, 9 and 7

Tests in school for year groups on rotation, eg Yr11/10 on the 11th, Yr9/7 on the 12th, then Year 8 etc

No more mass testing in school

Online lessons for Years 7, 8 and 9

‘Day 1’ testing in school for Years 9 and 7

‘Day 1’ testing in school for Year 8



Online lessons for Year 8


Lessons in school for all years

* We’re yet to confirm we can test this many students in a day

** Day 1 testing means students come in to school at a specified time for their test and then go home. Work will be set online for them to complete during the rest of the day. No live lessons will take place for year groups on ‘Day 1 testing’.

Consent for Testing

Organising the mass testing is a major operation and I therefore need to ask parents and carers to indicate if they give consent for the tests ASAP. Please follow the link below if you wish to give consent for your child to be tested. The deadline for forms to be submitted is Friday 26th February at 3pm. No forms will be processed after this and students without consent forms will be unable to participate in the school based testing.

If you do not wish your child to participate in the school based testing, you do not need to do anything as a nil return means that your child will not be tested. Please do not respond to say you do not give permission for your child to participate. Students also have the right to change their minds about testing once the consent form has been returned. Staff will respect the wishes of a student who changes their mind at any point and no longer wants to be tested in school. If you do not give permission for your child to be tested, they should attend school as normal on their first day of lessons. More information about this will follow next week.

For ‘Day 1 testing’ only, students should only arrive for testing at the time they will be allocated and must leave site immediately after taking the test. No adult will be allowed on site to accompany them. The second and third tests will be carried out within a normal school day, with students missing a portion of a lesson to be tested.

Students who test positive will have to self-isolate for 10 days as per usual.

The form to fill in to give consent is here. Please complete one form per child. The consent form only needs to be completed once for each child to cover all school based mass testing, A reminder that the deadline is Friday 26th February at 3pm.

So, as Mr Johnson said, the ‘Crocus of Hope’ is pushing its way through the frost…I guess that just like the crocus, we have a few challenges to overcome in the next month or so before we get to the Spring, by which of course I mean having the whole school safely back together.

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

MHS Update 12-2-2021

MHS Update 12-2-2021

9,360* live lessons/form times later and the half term is over!

It’s been a rubbish half term in that we’ve missed having our school community together in that way that it should be. Nothing will ever replace the feeling of a thriving school. Bustling corridors, busy classrooms, laughter and tears (sometimes from students too) – these are the things that make a school what it is and we’re really looking forward to the day when ALL our students and staff can be back again, whenever that may be.

However in other ways it has been a great half term. Before Christmas, we placed a lot of emphasis on training staff and students to be ready for ‘remote learning’. At the time the focus was on hybrid lessons for those self-isolating students, but of course our collective efforts really paid off as we seamlessly moved to a full online curriculum. I cannot be more proud of all my colleagues for the education that they have delivered over these last 27 days. Their enthusiasm for new ideas, resilience in the face of endless screen time and relentless optimism when hoping/praying that a student will actually un-mute and answer a question has been remarkable. The pastoral care on offer and our provision for our students in school has been equally brilliant, underpinned as always by a fantastic support team spearheaded by the ever-helpful and all-knowing network support. Colleagues, if I ever wore a hat I would doff it right now!

My admiration for our staff is matched only by that for the students themselves. The overwhelming majority of learners have embraced the current situation and taken their studies very seriously indeed. I’ve said in recent blogs that our attendance rates have been around the 85% mark. Well, in fact, I had been uncharacteristically cautious with that number as actually the real figure is on average around 95% per lesson! Amazing stats, well done all. It says a great deal about our students as young people, about the families who support them and their whole community that education is clearly so highly valued.

There has been a lot in the news this week about ‘learning loss’ and the need for catch up. Part of me agrees, and there will of course be some students who have dropped behind and, more broadly, whole chunks of courses that need revisiting no matter how good the online learning has been. However, I am keen that we don’t overstate the issue. MHS students have done very, very well since September and as a result their learning loss will be much less than may otherwise have been the case. Furthermore, the pandemic will have accelerated skills that were otherwise overlooked. Organisation, resilience, communication skills, IT ability, time management; these are all real life skills that our youngsters have had to develop ahead of time. Emails from my Year 11 class now feel like emails from colleagues, not students. They are mature, sensible and business-like to an extent that I have never experienced before.

Last week was Children’s Mental Health Week which included our ‘Offline Day’. The response to our Express Yourself challenge has been fantastic with over 400 entries! We are going to extend the deadline for any submissions to Monday 22nd February so that anyone who wants to join in over half-term can do so. The link to all the information for students is here, please ask your child to access the link via their school log in if you would like to have a look.

Of course what we really want to know is when we can welcome more students back to school, and so we head into the half-term break with a sense of anticipation for news. We may find out more about the GCSE exam result situation AND the plans for re-opening schools at a similar time around the 22nd Feb. Speculation about both is massive and so I’m taking my usual stance of not over-thinking anything until we know what we are dealing with. Naturally we hope to see students back in school asap, and if we’re not allowed ALL students back at the same time then we are hoping for a plan that enables us to welcome some back whilst keeping live lessons going for the rest. Anything else would be a backwards step.

Until then a massive well done to each and every member of staff, student and parent/carer for their hard work this term. Thank you.

I’ll leave you with a fabulous painting by Sabina Simms in Year 10. Love it.

Best wishes

Joe Barker

* give or take a few!

MHS Update 4-2-2021

MHS Update 4-2-2021

I’ll be in school as normal tomorrow but, in keeping with the whole idea of the ‘Offline Day’ tomorrow, I felt I should blog on a Thursday this week.

For all those students at home tomorrow the idea is for them to spend the majority of the time offline, although we do want students to ‘check in’ via Satchel One/SMHW in the morning. They’ll be rewarded by being able to see a great video put together by Miss Cook and the Wellbeing team. It’s really uplifting and well worth a watch. As I explained last week, tomorrow’s offline day is all part of the school’s efforts in marking Children’s Mental Health Week and the activities we have provided are designed to engage students in a range of different ways. Of course parents and carers will know best if their children need a break, would benefit from completing the activities or if they want to catch up with some outstanding school work.

The same is true as to whether parents and carers would like KS3 students to keep working beyond the school day. As you know from last week’s blog we are pausing homework in Years 7-9 for the next three school weeks, taking us through to 8th March. I know that this has come at the right time for some, but that other students were happy to carry on with homework and may be disappointed at the break from it. Therefore in the next couple of days we’ll be sharing some great optional subject specific work that KS3 students can complete if they wish. Please look out for the following resources which will be sent home soon:

As I post this blog we’re less than an hour away from the rearranged Year 11 Parents’ Evening. Three weeks ago ‘School Cloud’ crashed nationally and we had to abandon the event, and obviously there’s a slight element of trepidation/excitement as we look ahead to the follow up session tonight. I remain grateful to parents for being so understanding last time and equally grateful to the staff who have kindly agreed to give up even more time to try the event a second time around.

Finally, well done to Year 9 for choosing their option subjects. If students are yet to decide then the deadline for doing so online is tomorrow, Friday 5th February.

I hope that tomorrow is a good day – whether offline, online, at home or in school – and that it is followed by a great weekend. I know that winter is due to come back with a bang but, as I look out of my office window, there is definitely an early promise of Spring!

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