We’re just over half way through the second half term of the year – traditionally the hardest part of the school calendar. It’s dark, cold and often wet…and perhaps people of all ages suffer from having slightly less patience than might be the case on a beautiful morning in May. It’s at times like this that we have to expect the best of everyone and support them to maintain high standards in everything that they do. Our expectations, routines and the Marple Hall Spirit come to the fore and every day it’s a joy to see so many students going about their business with a smile. Popping into lessons yesterday reminded me of how many great students there are at our school who do their best every day. My chats with students at break and lunch are equally valuable. Sometimes there are problems that need sorting, sometimes people fall out with each other, sometimes someone just needs a smile and a bit of encouragement. Yesterday though I had to resolve the hardest question of all….’KFC or Macdonalds’? The passion on show in the heated debate that followed was remarkable, as was the utter foolishness of those students who mistakenly believe that KFC is best.
This week Miss Davies and I spoke to all Year 11 students to pass on the contingency plans for if the exams don’t take place next summer. The plans have been laid out by the powers that be, but like them we are convinced that the exams are very, very likely to go ahead. I’m 99.999% sure they will do, and so it’s important that we help Year 11 plan for a ‘normal’ exam season. I’ve spent a bit of time this week speaking to different groups of students to help them work out what they need to do to achieve their potential, and I was left with real confidence that this year group are up for the challenge.
Finally, a reminder that all students are not in school on Friday 3rd or Monday 6th December. Friday 3rd is a training day in school for staff, and Monday 6th is where we have placed the additional day off in lieu of the Queen’s jubilee bank holiday next summer. All schools were instructed to nominate an extra day off this year and we’ve gone for Monday 6th December.
Our turn for the covid-19 vaccines came around this week, I believe the last of the schools in Stockport to be visited. Over the past few weeks I’ve been keen to express that as a school we don’t have an opinion on whether children should or should not be vaccinated. I believe it’s a matter purely for families and young people themselves to decide together. As will come of no surprise I am sure, I have received various letters and messages in the build up to this week arguing one way or another. In the interests of impartiality I have ignored pretty much all of them!
Therefore I am neither celebrating nor lamenting the fact that just over 50% of students at MHS have had or requested the vaccine. It isn’t my job to say if that figure is good, bad or indifferent. I do though believe that it is a higher proportion than in any other school in the authority, a fact that we put down to the use of an electronic consent process rather than the old pen-and-paper method used elsewhere. We had a huge response to the consent request whether to grant it or not grant it, and so we are confident that the vast majority of families were engaged and made a positive choice for themselves. I am therefore going to celebrate this, as setting up the electronic consent system was a big piece of work and one that fell to school staff. We’re blessed here with some very talented data and IT colleagues who are always looking for new ways to make communication with families as efficient as possible. The electronic consent process worked smoothly and gives us more ideas on what can be achieved in the future.
I will also celebrate the fantastic behaviour and attitude of the students who had the vaccine this week. It was, as you can imagine, a major operation far exceeding the scale of the other jabs that are commonplace in schools. A team of 25 professionals from the NHS were accommodated in the hall on each day and their feedback on the students has been universally positive. A lot of hard work from MHS colleagues went into setting up the days, and it’s been good to work together with other professionals to pull off so a big challenge with so little disruption to learning. From the NHS I’d like to thank Fran Jackson and her brilliant colleagues for everything that they did.
Case rates nationally have started to rise again in recent days. We’ve had a pretty quiet time at MHS following the large spike we had in October…fingers crossed we escape the worst of this wave and we can focus on our day jobs from now on.
I’ll start this week by passing on my thanks to the entire student body for the way in which they conducted themselves during our lockdown and fire drills on Wednesday morning. Both drills were taken very seriously by all students. Gathering 1550 young people in one place, with 170 adults, and then seeing them stand in silence while we carry out the essential attendance checks is quite something…and certainly not something that I take for granted. To be able to carry out a lockdown drill, then a fire alarm and then have everyone back into school in the right place doing the right thing within 35 minutes is pretty impressive and a real testament to how mature and sensible our students are.
I’m going to dedicate a little time in my blog this week to discuss the matter of email communication between home and school. I’m aware that a lot of this email traffic comes from us to parents, and I am not ignoring the fact that sometimes we send too much information out. It’s a fine balance to find and I know that we’ve probably got an equal number of families who think there is too much, too little or the right amount. On the flip side, we welcome emails from parents/carers and see this as an essential part of the home-school partnership. There are though times when staff can receive too many emails or the many other demands on staff time mean they cannot reply as quickly as the sender may wish.
Finally, a growing number of students are choosing to email teachers in particular to ask for support with schoolwork. Again, this is often a very positive thing and one of the better things to come out of remote learning, but we need to find a manageable balance all round.
I am very proud of the dedication and effort that staff put into their work at MHS and couldn’t ask for a more hard working and professional team. Of course one of my jobs is to protect their wellbeing and help to manage workload, and so we have put together some simple guidelines for parents/carers and students who are planning to email staff. The guidance is available here. It would be great if you can have a look when you can.
I hope that everyone had a relaxing half term break and that students are ready for the weeks ahead. I’ve been lucky enough to visit quite a few classes this week and have been impressed with what I’ve seen – from Year 11 down to Year 7 students have been working hard and making the most of the opportunities on offer. Year 9 had their first ever experience of a formal exam at our school on Tuesday and they gave a good account of themselves, and attendance across the board has risen from the covid affected days before the break.
I know it’s already become a cliché, but we really are hoping for a more ‘normal’ half term. We’re still of course restricted by some essential covid measures, but there are signs that the situation at MHS may be easing even if this isn’t the case beyond the school. It’s no secret that last half term was the worst we’ve had it for covid cases by a massive distance, with over 200 students having the virus at one point or another. However, perhaps because so many have now been infected and have some kind of immunity, our cases appear to be levelling off at a much lower rate. Even with a little spike on Monday as parents reported cases from over the break, here’s what I would call a very encouraging chart:
This is a good news picture – I’m hopeful of higher student attendance, more consistent staff attendance and fewer hybrid lessons to deliver this term, and therefore a better experience for students and adults alike. We will therefore keep all our covid measures under review, bearing in mind that infection rates remain high across the local area and we mustn’t be complacent. For the time being ‘masks on the move’ will remain necessary in school, but we hope to soon be able to resume some in-person assemblies and other currently restricted activities.
Remember, if anyone is unsure about what to do with a covid case then please give us a call or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll be happy to help.
Marple Hall School
Hill Top Drive
Stockport SK6 6LB
Headteacher: Mr Joe Barker