MHS Update 28-5-2021

Marple Hall Update 28-5-2021

Today is the last day of the penultimate half term, by far definitely the most normal half term in well over a year. There’s a lot that we still can’t do – mixed year group extra curricular activities for one – but there is more perhaps that we can do, and that is worth celebrating. Today is the last full day in school for the whole Year 11 cohort. The Teacher-Assessed-Grade assessments are finally over, and whilst the staff now have a major task ahead to decide on grades and complete the pretty complicated formalities, it has been a pleasure to work alongside such hard-working and sensible Year 11 students. Today isn’t quite goodbye as we’ll see the students again on the morning of 15th June, but for now, so long!

This blog is therefore more focussed on the students who will be with us after the half term break. There’ll be some important changes to how the school will operate with benefits for students in all four remaining year groups. Here are the main points as explained to students this week:

1) Our current Year 10 cohort will be moved over from Bradshaw Canteen to Isherwood for break and lunch. Older students tend to prefer Isherwood canteen and we’re happy to symbolise their new status as the oldest year group with a move across the site.

2) Our current Year 9s will shift from the first break and lunch time to the second, again a sign of their new status as members of Key Stage Four. This means a shift to their daily pattern as they’ll have two lessons before break and just one after lunch, and they will keep the use of Bradshaw canteen as they do now.

3) Year eight will remain on the same break and lunchtimes as is currently the place, sharing the time with Year 7, but they will have the perk of having access to the school field every day (weather permitting). This means a lot to the students…

4) Finally, and most importantly, Year Seven will be able to have the exclusive use of Bradshaw canteen for break and lunch. This is a major change, as the very welcome knock on effect is that they no longer have to vacate the canteens before older students arrive and so they will no longer have to leave the lessons one and three 10 minutes early. The shortened lessons for Year 7 have been the most regrettable part of the whole covid precautions from September to now, and I am thrilled that we can give students full length lessons from now on.

For all students we are keeping to our rules on mask wearing in the corridors and canteens for at least another two school weeks. That will take us to the next milestone in the national ‘roadmap’ out of lockdown at which point we will review again.

Much will therefore change for students when they return. What won’t change though are our expectations. We have high standards and we make no apology for them, as our job is to help students make the most of their education.

On Wednesday a colleague of mine was chatting to a Year 11 student who joined MHS part way through her school career, having been at another local school until then. The student was saying she will miss this place and began to compare her two schools. MHS is more strict, she said, especially when it comes to making sure students actually go to lessons. Is that good or bad, my colleague asked? The answer was definitely good. Whilst she enjoyed both schools in different ways, there is no doubt in her mind which school expected more of her, challenged her more, will give her better GCSEs and a better chance for the future. I’ll take that.

Have a safe week everyone,

Joe Barker

MHS Update 21-5-2021

MHS Update 21-5-2021

Today’s blog covers two areas – Covid precautions and Year 11.

Covid Precautions

As you will no doubt be aware, the coming of the ‘Indian variant’ and a slight increase in the rate of transmission both nationally and in parts of the North West is threatening to slow down the much anticipated roadmap out of lockdown. I understand the need for caution but I very much hope we don’t end up going backwards!

Yesterday I attended a local briefing session which included more good news than bad – namely that Stockport is seeing only a very slight rise in cases, that the vaccination programme is having a clear impact in preventing infection amongst the older year groups and that as of yet, the Indian variant has not spread here as rapidly as elsewhere. These are all good signs and it is not inevitable that we will see a spike. However, the clear message from the briefing was that in order to keep moving forwards we have to remember the now ‘standard’ precautions that we have in place. 

The key points to remember are:

1) Year group ‘bubbles’: Although we have seen some great unexpected benefits of splitting the year groups up, the separation of year groups is not universally popular as some students wish to socialise with older/younger students. However the evidence suggests that our approach is helping/has helped to restrict transmission. In the 26 cases we had between September and December 2020 there was no evidence of transmission from one year group to another. The bubbles mean that sadly Year 7 still have to have slightly shorter lessons before break and lunch, but there is no way around that at present. 

2) Face masks in communal areas: The expert in the meeting completely agreed with our expectation that students and adults continue to wear masks in our corridors and canteens…hinting that this may well become a request of all secondary schools in Greater Manchester at some point if required.

3) Ventilation: Windows and doors will remain open in classrooms no matter the weather outside. I had hoped that May would be warmer than December but so far I’m not sure.

4) Social distancing for adults: Readers of the blog may well not be aware of this, but the message I have repeated more often than anything else this year has been to my colleagues instructing them to stay distant from each other and students. We have well and truly ‘hammered it home’, and I would like to think that the incredibly low instances of staff having to self-isolate is at least in part down to this expectation. The benefits of this in terms of the education we have provided/can provide cannot be over-estimated. 

5) Restricted extra-curricular activities: These are no longer banned, but they are single year groups only. Like the bubbles point mentioned above this seems very sensible. 

6) Hand sanitiser: Although now perhaps less important than it once was, based on how scientists believe the virus is transmitted, this remains an expectation and is no doubt helping to keep other bugs at bay as well. 

Of course the million dollar question is how long will these 6 points (and other precautions) remain in place. Unsurprisingly the expert I listened to on Wednesday couldn’t say. I remain hopeful that September will see us back to full year group assemblies in the hall!


Year 11

Every now and then I like to give the wonderful class of 2021 a mention. The ‘Teacher Assessed Grades’ process is now into its 8th week with one more full week to go, and never has a year group been assessed as often. Teachers are gathering as much high quality evidence as possible in order to award the most accurate and fair grades they can, and over the next three weeks (including the two after half term when Year 11 won’t be in school) we will be converting this information into grades. Subject teams are working hard to make sure the grades are fair and consistent, a job that everyone is taking very seriously indeed. To give you a tiny flavour of the task at hand, from my small class of twenty Year 11 historians I today marked my 250th mini assessment. This work has been replicated across every subject in school and I’d like to once again thank the students for their determination in creating the work and of course my colleagues for their dedication in marking it!

Yesterday was Year 11 Photograph day, where we position the year group on a massive outdoor tiered staging thing and then try to get everyone to stay still long enough to take the picture. I’ll be honest with you and say that 10 years ago both I and the whole senior team used to dread this day. It would take an age to get everyone to the right place and the experience was all very shouty. Over the past few years though Photograph day has been one of the ways in which I measure how far our school has come. I thoroughly enjoyed today. The students were fantastic – smarter than they have ever looked and a credit to every parent, carer and the school. The photographer chap caught me at the end and thanked me for how wonderful the students were. Telling me about a school in Luton where he vowed never to return, he looked me straight in the eye and said ‘You’re a very lucky man’. He’s dead right. I am. 

Best wishes

Joe Barker

MHS Update 14-5-2021

MHS Update 14-5-2021

It’s been a few weeks since we had a Covid update rather than a ‘blog’ as such, but this week I’m back to focussing on our pandemic response. As you know the nation is now well into the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. A lot has happened since mid-March: schools reopened, lateral flow tests began, non-essential retail opened, hospitality has restarted in perfect conjunction with a spell of cold, rainy weather. 

Up until now the easing of restrictions hasn’t meant anything in terms of day to day school life, and right now we remain under the strictest set of controls we’ve had all year. However, some of this is set to change from Monday 17th May. If you’re interested then the full guidance can be seen here: Actions for schools during the coronavirus outbreak – GOV.UK (

Perhaps the most high profile change is that from Monday the government is no longer requiring students to wear masks in lesson, nor indeed in other parts of school either. However, as I will explain below, we are taking a slightly different approach. Having reviewed our Covid risk assessment we are keen to release some restrictions whilst ensuring that we protect the continuity of education for all. 

Key Risk assessment points from Monday 17th May onwards

1) Masks will no longer be required by students in lessons. They WILL be required in corridors and in the canteen when not eating/sitting down. Adults will also wear masks in communal areas and where social distancing cannot be maintained.
2) All other covid related protocols involving students will remain the same. One-way system, student zones, separate canteens, different lesson times for Yr 7 etc. 
3) Staff will be required to remain at the front of their classroom and socially distant from students.
4) Additional ‘touch point’ cleaning, currently taking place approximately 8 times a day, will cease from Monday 24th May. The standard daily/twice daily cleans of all areas will continue.

Why are we being cautious on mask?

We were proud of our efforts to keep cases down before Christmas 2020, and equally proud that we have only had one case since 8th March and none at all in the last seven school weeks. This has not been the case elsewhere and I do not want to take unnecessary risks, whilst at the same time accepting that further relaxation of the rules is on the cards and will be considered by us soon.  I am aware that our expectations for mask wearing represents a more cautious approach than many schools…but I am sure it is the right thing to do and stand by it. A reminder that parents can request exemptions for individual children on medical grounds if they wish; if this is the case please contact

Let’s hope that the roadmap continues to unfold successfully and we can all continue our journey of getting back to normal.

Best wishes,

Joe Barker

The Marple Hall Spirit

The Marple Hall Spirit

I’m not naïve enough to think that the Covid pandemic is over, or that there won’t be some additional challenges for us to face as a school, community or nation in the months to come. However, I am also not prepared to wait indefinitely before cracking on with the job of making our school as good as it can possibly be. To be honest we’ve been planning for the ‘post-covid’ world for a while now, since September 2020 in actual fact, and we believe we are well set to emerge from the crisis stronger than how we went in.

There are though some aspects of school life that we haven’t been able to replicate fully, and one of the things we have lost since last March is the opportunity to gather whole year groups together in assemblies. Regular assemblies can be very powerful in many ways – they help students to feel a sense of community, are a great way to share messages and most of all are the best method of instilling our school’s values and ethos.

Today I am delivering/delivered a virtual assembly to Years 7, 8 and 9. A similar but adapted assembly will be given to Year 10 next week. Although not as good as the real thing, I wanted to deliver an assembly on the ethos of our school, the Marple Hall Spirit. As many parents and carers will know from Open Evening, the Marple Hall Spirit defines the five key characteristics we want to see in school. The five qualities apply equally to adults as they do to children, and we want them to guide everyone in all that they do each day. Covid most definitely robbed us of many opportunities to impress the ‘Spirit’ into the minds of our younger students, just as it hampered chances to give timely reminders to our older ones when needed.

I have made no secret of the fact that I was incredibly proud of the way that students responded to lockdowns. Amazing attendance, fantastic engagement in lessons and wonderful examples of students helping others and themselves. As we settle back into what feels like normal routines, I don’t mind saying that a small number of students in each year group seem to have lost sight of our core values, which is of course disappointing. I’d say that 98% of the cohort know what is expected of them, live the values of the Marple Hall Spirit every day and present a fantastic role model to others. They do you, the school and me proud every day – and visitors to the school regularly heap praise upon them. It is to these people then that my assembly was addressed, as by challenging and standing up to the less positive actions of the 2% we will help to stop it. In my assembly I focussed in particular on the attributes of Honesty and Respect, and I will be very interested to see how the year groups respond to my words in future days. But of course no school can hope to succeed without support from home, and so any help that parents and carers can give in promoting the Marple Hall Spirit, and especially Respect and Honesty, with their children would be gratefully received.

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