MHS Update 16-7-2021 – Summer is here!

And so here were are, the end of another school year like no other. 2019-2020 was unbelievable, 2020-2021 even more so.

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year with tight covid-protocols for the first term, but ‘only’ 26 covid cases in school. Then there was a full lockdown for seven weeks after Christmas complete with over 10,000 (yes, 10,000) live lessons delivered in that time alone. Following this (and over 3,000 lateral flow tests administered in the sports hall), we had 10 glorious weeks without a single case of Covid darkening our door. Finally, and I guess that you don’t need me to tell you this, we’ve gone through the sting in the tail of the Delta variant, release of lockdown and the resultant spike in cases. 21 in total in the last three weeks alone.

It’s not been the end of term that I was hoping for a few months ago, but we have stayed open, stayed learning and the students have kept on attending. Here’s the comparative data for the past fifteen weeks between MHS and the national attendance rate for secondary schools. Ours is the true daily average, the national is a snapshot of attendance one day a week each week. Well done to the students for sticking with it, well done to those accessing hybrid lessons from home (great attendance to those, too!) and thank you to parents and carers for the trust you have shown in us to keep your children safe and learning.

I am of course very grateful for the support of parents and carers these last 17 months, and also hugely in awe at the work done by the whole staff body. I’m not sure if this is the done thing, but I’d also like to give a special mention to the senior leadership team too. Their unblinking dedication at all hours of the day, 7 days a week, every week has been as impressive as it has been humbling to watch. Thank you.

But… I don’t want my last blog of the year to be all about covid! Instead, I want it to be about the future…

Like most schools we’ve had a busy to-do list this year keeping the place running and sorting out the centre assessed grades for GCSE and other qualifications. However, the team and I also agreed early on that we would not let covid stop us doing our real job, which is to improve the school bit by bit every day. We’ve stuck to that doggedly, sometimes making good headway and sometimes not. Here are just some of the headline things in place for next year and beyond.

1) Teaching staff numbers: By harnessing the budget as effectively as possible, we’ve been able to employ more teachers for next year. This will mean slightly smaller classes on average and more time for teachers to plan lessons, assess work and give quality feedback.

2) Teaching rooms and specialist resources: We’re upgrading a number of teaching rooms over the summer as part of a 3 year project to renovate every teaching space. Our 60 year old building needs TLC and the students deserve pleasant places to learn and socialise in. In addition, we’re investing £20,000 creating a new classroom in Bradshaw building and £80,000 on a new classroom in Isherwood building, plus a brand new specialist science lab.  

3) As you know, we’ve been working on a new website launched last week. I think it shows off our school values much more positively and hopefully is fresher and easier to use.

4) Finally, I can now officially state that the school and Local Authority are investing £500,000 on state of the art sports facilities. It’s not made it into the local press yet, but here’s the press release on the council website. £300,000 of school money and £200,000 of local authority funding will see a brand new floodlit multi-use sports area, a new 70 space car park for visitors and a completely rebuilt full size 3G playing surface replacing the old astroturf, complete with new lighting and all the trimmings. Students will have seen that work started a few weeks ago and the project should be fully complete by the end of September. It’s a great boost for the school and for the local community who we hope to invite in to use the pitches asap.

Exciting times, and all part of the drive for MHS to become one of the very best comprehensive schools in the country. After all, your children deserve it.

Best wishes and take care,

Joe Barker

MHS update 9-7-2021

Hope lies ahead

According to the internet, the phrase ‘It is always darkest before the dawn’ was first written down in about 1650 by a chap called Thomas Fuller. I guess it’s supposed to give people hope in difficult times, reminding them that even when the going is tough brighter days might not be all that far away.

Well, if we are indeed not far away from a new dawn – a school term in September with no contact tracing, no close contacts isolating and no ‘bubbles’ – then it’s true that it’s been pretty dark these last few days. As every parent, carer, student and colleague will know, we’ve had it rough these past nine days. Until then we had stayed relatively untouched by the new wave of Covid cases, and the memory of the ten straight covid-free weeks in mid to late spring was still very much alive. However, that all changed about nine days ago and we are now in the thick of a surge in cases. This is of course following the pattern of every other school and most communities in the North West and beyond, but it’s so very very frustrating.

I thought therefore I’d try to outline the situation now and at various points in the future – as best I can.

Right now

I attended a local Public Health briefing this morning and the message was clear; the Delta variant is spreading rapidly in this area, is particularly prevalent within secondary school students and is likely to keep on increasing in the near future.
Because of this we are experiencing the most intense rate of cases we have had to deal with all pandemic, eclipsing the previous ‘worst week’ of early November in just three days. As you will almost all be aware this had led to several rounds of contact tracing and currently 200+ students identified as close contacts. This is definitely therefore ‘the dark’.

Do we have to keep identifying so many contacts?

Sadly, yes. We’re in a strange situation where the country is being opened up but the rules that govern how we handle cases has changed. We’re still running a system that was in place when people couldn’t visit each other’s houses, couldn’t go out anywhere and mixing was limited. Now of course the opposite is true and our unvaccinated young people are rightly starting to live their lives again, but our hands are tied and we have to send home close contacts whenever we find them. As I’ll explain below there is a plan to avoid this in September, but I really wish the rules could change right now rather than allow students to experience such a disjointed end to the year.

Learning in school and at home

I have been incredibly proud of both students and staff from day one of this pandemic. Their commitment and attitude has been something else and hasn’t waned at all. Adults and students alike are making the most of their opportunities in school and at home, but I freely admit that the overall experience has been affected by the current surge in cases. We have been particularly blessed over the whole year with remarkable levels of staff attendance, but even that has changed recently. More colleagues than ever are contracting covid, many more on top are isolating with their own children or looking after their own infants who have been sent home from school or nursery. One day three weeks ago we only had to cover one single lesson…on Monday this week we covered 40. That’s a huge amount, putting an increased burden on staff in school and a great deal of stress on those at home trying to set work and deliver live lessons while juggling their own family needs. I am therefore aware that there will have been some gaps in remote learning at times, but I remain confident that we are giving isolating students a very strong offer despite these challenges.

September testing

It was confirmed earlier this week that we will be asked to conduct two lateral flow tests per student at the start of term in September (assuming we have consent from parents/carers). We’re working on a plan for this now, but the essence of it is that we aim to complete this testing with no/minimal disruption to lessons and learning. That will mean some testing in the final week of August for all those who can come in, and those who can won’t have to miss a single minute of lessons when term starts. More to follow of course.

The new school year

And here we get to the ‘dawn’. As it stands in September we can look forward to a pretty normal school term. No masks, no whole school one-way system, no hand sanitiser, no contact tracing etc. What that means is that if a student or staff member tests positive for covid then they will isolate as an individual, but no-one else will need to. I’m aware that this may cause anxiety to some people and I’m sensitive to that, but from an educationalist’s point of view it is a game changer. The 200+ students currently isolating at our school would drop to 6…a reduction of 97%. To be honest I’m grumpy that we can’t have the new rules right now. After all, the nation is experimenting with full houses at Wimbledon and Wembley…could we not have brought the new school ‘no contact tracing’ rules forwards just a couple of school weeks?

But, that’s a passing frustrating and the overriding view is one of hope and optimism. I’ve been honoured to lead our school through Covid and we’ve all collectively done a great job, but I want to get back to leading our school as it ought to be, covid free.


Joe Barker

Ps It’s definitely coming home…
PPs No, Mr Southern and Mr Angove, I am not closing the school on Monday just in case.

Our New Student Leaders

We are pleased to introduce you to our new student leaders for the 2021/22 academic year. They are:

MHS Update 2-7-2021

Welcoming the incoming Year 7s

As usual I’m writing this blog on a Thursday evening before it goes out on Friday morning. Sometimes I start the blog earlier in the week, adding to it as I go along. Not this time though, as the content of the blog was entirely dependent on whether today’s Year 6 into 7 transition day went ahead.

I know that this question will have passed many of you by, and so I won’t bore you all with the full story, but suffice to say it’s been a rollercoaster ride to get to this point. We have been clear all along that we wanted to run the taster day and we have had great support from the Local Authority. They have supported our planning with helpful risk assessment tools and advice, but most importantly they offered unwavering support whether we decided to press on with taster day or not.

It has been reassuring to know that the LA trusts school leaders to make the right call for their own organisation having weighed up the pros and cons, the precautions and risks. Personally I don’t believe in a one-size-fits-all model for decisions of this nature, and I think the LA showed real leadership in setting out clear parameters and then letting schools make their own mind up. After all, I get paid to make decisions for my school! It would have been too easy for the LA to just cancel transition completely. Based on a balance of risk and reward many secondary schools chose not to go ahead and a small number of primary schools chose not to take part for completely understandable reasons, and I don’t for a minute criticise them for this. We’ve been blessed at MHS with a very low rate of Covid cases up to now, and so based on that we decided to go ahead and I have no regrets at all.

The day itself was a joy. Of the 220 students who were eligible to attend (ie not isolating or not from a primary school not taking part), 210 spent the day with us. That’s an attendance rate of over 95%, showing I think that the demand for transition day was high. It wasn’t a normal day by any means – the Year 6 students stayed purely in their class bubble all day including break and lunch, they didn’t access the canteens and they didn’t really see many other students except from a distance. They did though get to visit the site, have five full lessons across the curriculum and get to know a few key people. Our Year 10 student leaders were brilliant and I saw many examples of older students being friendly and welcoming. As a group the new Year 7s looked fantastic and I can’t wait to meet them properly in September.

Days like transition day take a long time to organise, especially during a pandemic with fluid staffing levels and the uncertainty about how many students/schools would attend. Therefore I’d like to publicly praise all my colleagues for taking part and especially Miss Cook, Miss Kirkbright and Miss Deere. These colleagues are the Pastoral director for KS3, the Head of the new Year 7s for 2021 and the Pastoral Manager respectively. They, along with the wider pastoral team, pulled together a great event in the hardest of circumstances and I thank them for their work.

Finally from me two quick messages

1) For the first time all year we are currently suffering a rise in staff absences due to covid. 10 teachers were not in school yesterday, the majority isolating as close contacts of friends, family or random people as society gets back to normal. This means an increase in cover lessons, although many teachers are teaching their groups from home which still blows my mind! Please bear with us if the quality of lessons on offer isn’t quite the same as usual at the moment or if it takes a little longer for colleagues to reply to emails. 

2) Please ask your children for paperwork going out today/Monday regarding Parent Governor election taking place over the next two weeks.

Take care everyone,

Joe Barker

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