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.
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 Claire.firstname.lastname@example.org
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.