MHS Update Tuesday 5th January 2021
Less than 24 hours after my previous blog and I’m back again – my apologies!
As you will know the situation changed nationally last night and we are back in as ‘full’ a lockdown as we have had since March last year. I hope that you and your families are all well and managing as best as possible during this time.
Sadly, school will be closed to most students until at least February half term. I had expected something like this to happen but I’ll be honest and say that I was caught out by the length of the closure; I had perhaps expected a two or three week delay to the start or term. I understand the need for national action but I am incredibly disappointed for us as a school. The students and staff worked so hard to minimise infections last term, with a great deal of success, but I appreciate that the virus has gained a lot of ground recently with the new variant and so we must play our part along with everyone else.
A school with no (or very few) students in it is a strange place, but the MHS community is much more than a building full of people. We don’t need to all be in the same place to feel a part of something, and for this second full lockdown we’re aiming to build on the experience of last time and intend to make sure that every member of the school family feels even more cared for and looked after.
Therefore in practical terms the plan that I laid out yesterday, and spoke to students about on the last day of term in December, is still the plan that we will follow. We aim to run live form times every day, followed by five live lessons each day too. This provision will start at 8.35am on Thursday 7th January and continue until we are told we can have groups back in school. Accessing these lessons will ensure that students keep up with their studies, can interact with their classmates and maintain contact with tutors and teachers. A register will be taken in every live session and absence will be monitored. Like last time, our excellent pastoral team will be contacting students who we don’t see online to make sure all is ok.
Last night the Prime Minister promised more laptops for families who don’t have them and we will be banging on his door (not literally, sadly) to get our share. We’ve handed out over 100 already but will get as many as we can. A reminder that all the info on accessing live lessons, including a diagram that shows the timings of lessons each day, can be found here. Scroll down to ‘Timings of the school day’ and look at the second table of the two when it opens.
Our live lesson plan is ambitious and not common across many state schools, and it may be that ultimately we have to scale it back a little depending on how things go. We’re keen to try to deliver the best possible educational experience during this period. To make it work many teachers will be physically in the building each day so that they can deliver their lessons from school. I do though need to stress four points both to manage expectations and to support my colleagues who I know, sometimes, might be trying to achieve the impossible:
- In order to deliver the full timetable remotely we need to have a full body of staff ready and available to teach. Whilst we have the kit and have done the training – mostly via hybrid lessons last term – the new lockdown does present more problems. Some colleagues will now have other demands on their time, for example looking after their own small children or balancing other family needs. Therefore there will be some occasions where live lessons or form times cannot take place. Similarly, if staff are ill themselves then this will disrupt the provision of lessons as it is not as simple to cover for staff under this remote system. In both cases, students should log on to Teams but if the sessions don’t start within five minutes then they should look at Satchel One (SMHW) to see if the lesson has reverted to independent learning.
- Whilst students can expect their form time sessions and all five lessons to start at the scheduled time each day, they will end before the normal time. Form time will end up 5-10 minutes early and lessons will end 10-15 minutes early each time. This is partly to give students a break, as we know from the feedback from previously isolating students that over 5 hours of online sessions back to back is exhausting. There is also a practical reason for the shortened lessons. We are asking staff to record the sessions on Teams and also upload resources relevant to the lessons on either Teams or Satchel One (SMHW). This will enable students to access the work at a later point, which we know is crucial where more than one person in a family is sharing a device. The time gained back each lesson should mean that all the necessary ‘admin’ can be completed promptly every day.
- Every lesson will begin with the teacher leading the class and in many cases the lesson will be taught all the way through to the end. However on some occasions where students need to then work on their own it may be that the teacher sets the class off and ends the Teams meeting while they work, perhaps asking students to log back in at the end to review what has been done.
- In many classes students will be able to interact with the teacher and with classmates. The standard expectation is that students will start lessons with microphones muted (cameras are automatically disabled by us) and then unmute when invited to do so. On rare occasions it may be necessary for the teacher to mute the whole class should a student or students be disrupting learing, in which case staff will then get in touch with parents and carers later to discuss the issue.
I suppose overal with this blog I am asking for a little understanding from students and parents for if the live lesson plan does not work perfectly. However this very much works both ways – if you feel that your child is not getting a ‘fair deal’ then please don’t hesitate to email me or a colleague immediately. It may be that there is something we can do to fix whatever is causing the issue and I am always open to constructive feedback. In the same way if you have any concerns at all over your child’s wellbeing then please contact your Head of Year via email.
Something that will be very different this time round will be the provision for vulnerable students and the children of key workers. In the spring and summer, with so few students and no live lessons, the students in school took part in a wide range of activities. This was possible as we were able to mobilise a great number of staff to plan and deliver these sessions. This time all teaching staff will be teaching all day and so the students in school will be provided with a space and the resources to take part in the same live lessons as their peers. Each year group has been allocated a computer room for this purpose so that bubbles don’t mix. We are though conscious that we don’t want to have to send any students home as a result of a positive case, and so I urge the parents and carers only take up a vulnerable/key worker place when absolutely necessary and that all the usual Covid precautions are followed before children are sent into school.
One big announcement from Mr Johnson that is yet to be cleared up was that exams will not be taking place in summer as normal. We don’t yet know what that means for Year 11 and the students in Years 10 and 9 who are also working towards formal qualifications. I cannot imagine we’ll have a system like last year’s disaster and so I have to hope still that there will be some kind of proper assessment for students to take.
I know that many students, especially in Year 11, will have been working hard over Christmas but I really don’t think that all your efforts will be in vain. Our trial exams are of course going to be delayed a little but the work will pay off one way or another. We have been incredibly impressed with all our examination groups this year and we 100% believe that they deserve the chance to prove what they can do in a fair way, and so as soon as we know what the plan is we’ll be in touch. Until then the message is to keep working.
Finally, as I write this blog, the Year 11 and Year 9 parents evenings this half term will still be going ahead remotely as planned.
Take care everyone,