Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst
Schools have only been back for a few days and already we are hearing the news across Greater Manchester that classes and year groups are having to close due to positive tests. Thankfully this has not yet happened at MHS, but given the size of our school it would be foolish to think that we’ll escape having to close down a year group at one point or another. I therefore wanted to share a few thoughts with families about what we anticipate will happen and the steps we are taking to minimise the impact on education. I know you appreciate that this is a new situation for all of us and I would just like to state up front that the students have been amazing so far. Sensible, mature, listening to instruction and doing all they can to help us restrict transmission of the virus. Very impressive indeed and I thank all parents and carers who have clearly impressed upon the students the need to work together for the common good.
What will happen if there is a positive case in school?
When we are informed of a confirmed case amongst the school community (staff or students) we will immediately contact Public Health England (PHE). Obviously this has not happened yet, but my understanding is that PHE will then discuss with us the control measures in school and who the confirmed case may have been in contact with in school. In our case, like in most secondary schools, this will in theory mean the whole year group. Acting on PHE advice we may then have to ask that year group and/or specific members of staff to self-isolate for 14 days.
Why a full year group and not just the class?
All schools were given two priorities by the Government when planning for the return to school in September. The first was to minimise the risk of infection, the second was to deliver the full curriculum, full time school for all students. When planning how to open schools had to weigh up how far both of these competing challenges could be met – for example, the most secure way to avoid the infection spreading would be to keep classes in the same room all day, including at break and lunch, and for teachers to visit them on rotation. The way to completely teach the full curriculum would be to have no social distancing at all and allow practical activities, group work, mixed-year enrichment and so on. Basically, I’m not sure you can fully meet both objectives at the same time.
At MHS we have attempted to deliver the full curriculum whilst having robust control measures in place, seeking ‘the best of both worlds’. This means that students are moving around to specialist teaching areas, they are in different sets for different subjects and Year 10 and Year 11 students can, crucially, be taught their options in the right groups. I am 100% convinced that this is the right thing to do, as ultimately we must get students back in the right routine, get them back learning and provide the safe, familiar environment that we had in pre March. However…this does mean that our ‘bubbles’ are in theory the whole year group, and so if we have a case in a year then the chances are that PHE will instruct us to close for all students in that year.
What are you doing to prevent years having to isolate?
Our risk assessment is all about making sure that transmission is as low as possible – one way system, hand sanitiser, ventilation, face masks, seating plans, no extra curricular, split break and lunch, zones for year groups outside, staff control measures – all these things are designed to prevent infection and to keep years separate in case a positive test takes place. It is of course not possible to keep year groups completely separate as students will meet others on their way to and from some lessons, which is entirely within government guidelines as per the expectation to teach the full curriculum.
However, after being in school with all students for two days we have made a change to the procedures at Key Stage 3 break and lunch to further separate the year groups. In our plan, each year group has its own canteen with the exception of Year Seven who can use the canteen nearest to them. Each year we allow them to leave lessons a little earlier in the first few weeks as it can take them a while to navigate canteens, choose food and pay. Our Covid plan works well so long as year Seven are in and out of the respective canteens before Year Eight or Nine arrive, but we noticed that this wasn’t happening yesterday and there was some overlap for a brief period.
Therefore we have decided to deliberately shorten Year Seven lessons Period 1 and Period 3 for the foreseeable future and to guarantee that all Year Sevens will have left the canteens before Year Eight or Nine arrive. We trialled this today and it went well, but of course this means a loss of learning time for our new cohort. I regret this, but I believe this move is both sensible and necessary to help us keep our school open for as many students as possible for as long as possible.
On the subject of preventing cases and protecting our school community, I’d also like to remind all parents and carers about government rules on quarantining after foreign trips. If students are subject to quarantine after holidays this summer then we do of course expect families to respect this and to keep children off school for the specified period.
Will work be set if year groups have to be sent home?
Yes, absolutely. If we have to close a year group then it will be at short notice and the following will happen:
Day 1-3 of closure: Work will be set by the normal classroom teachers, following the normal daily timetable, on either Satchel One (new name for Show my Homework), on Sharepoint or on a subject specific package such as mathswatch or Tassomai, depending on what resources are used by different subjects. This process will be similar to how we managed the first two/three months of lockdown in March to May.
Day 4 onwards: Online ‘live’ lessons will begin as per a new timetable which will be shared at the time. Some of these lessons may be for the whole year group, some (more commonly GCSE classes) may be for individual groups. We may establish a mixed approach of some live lessons and some work set via Satchel One/Sharepoint etc, and we will communicate any specific information to relevant students and parents should the need arise.
What if a student has to isolate but the rest of their year group does not have to?
This is already happening in some families where parents or siblings not at MHS have had a positive test or a student is at home with symptoms. In this situation we are endeavouring to set meaningful work whilst at the same time running the school for everyone else. I’ll be honest that this is a growing challenge as we try to balance setting personalised work for students, which takes time to do well, with planning for and managing the students in school. However, I’m hopeful we will have a new routine established soon and I thank my colleagues for prioritising this on top of the work they are doing to establish new systems in school.
Firstly thank you for reading this far, I know there’s a lot here. If you have any queries or comments then of course please get in touch. Next steps for the school are to:
- Keep reviewing and if necessary change procedures in school to further reduce the risk of infection
- Establish ways to share work with individual students who are not in school, and continue to plan for if whole year groups are off
- To keep calm and carry on!