Message from Headteacher

The following update was sent out to parents on 30 June 2020 but is published here as an extra way of accessing the information:

School Now:

We are currently running sessions for Y6, Y10 and Y12 students and are following the government’s guidance for secondary schools which lays out the numbers we can have in.
If you wish to read it then it can be accessed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/preparing-for-the-wider-opening-of-schools-from-1-june/planning-guide-for-secondary-schools
If you wish to read about how we have applied this guidance then it can be accessed here: https://www.friaryschool.com/2020/06/09/reducing-risk-for-re-opening-school/
We are also going beyond the government’s parameters by bringing in targeted Y7-Y9 children who we have identified as needing particular support. These checks are also being made via tutor calls.
Elsewhere, we are working with Y11 and Y13 students on their transition into the next stage of their education, making regular checks of vulnerable children of all ages, seeing Key Worker / Vulnerable children in school on a daily basis, and then of course there is the home learning.

There is a lot of debate in the press about whether children should be in school and whether teachers actually want them in. I can assure you that there is not a single employee in our school who is not thoroughly sick of the lockdown and does not want as many children in as we are allowed to have. It does seem odd to us that we can already go to the Bullring, soon to the pub or on an overseas holiday, and big groups of teenagers are meeting in the parks, but children cannot come to school. However, we are where we are, and having spoken to many parents I appreciate there are lots of different views on this.

Home Learning:

Towards the end of May, Boris announced that most children would not come back to school until September, and for all of us with children at the school it was certainly a shock. Indeed, at school, we had been thinking that there would be a phased return of most students through the remainder of the Summer Term. We do not have any advance notification of what is announced on schools so we wait and listen like everyone else.

It was immediately clear to us that the ‘Home Learning’ we had set up in March was going to be much more long-term and needed to step up. Of course, it remained crucial to send home tasks and links for studying via Show My Homework, the emails too, and the tutor phone-calls, but what was increasingly evident was that many children were missing the human interaction that keeps us all ticking along, upbeat and clear on where we are heading.

Consequently, we have moved towards more video-based lessons where the teacher explains or demonstrates what work needs to be done. The advantage of this approach is that the videos can be stored securely on our system in Microsoft Streams (which all children have access to when they log onto their email via the school website). Also, children can be sent hyperlinks via Show My Homework and the teacher can get the video right by having the chance to check it through.

This approach will continue to the end of term and then we will see where we are; but there is also the option of online ‘teaching’…

Microsoft Teams:

Microsoft Teams is a similar tool to Zoom, or any of the other multi-face systems, and we have been moving towards operating it with classes.

On this, the first thing I would say is that Teams / Zoom lessons are not as widespread as it may seem from the press – I know a lot of schools and very few are going all out on it if at all. As adults, we have flicked to Teams / Zoom meetings quickly, but setting this up in a school with safeguarding parameters, blocks on who can do what on the system, accessibility to all, training staff how to run them, etc, has been a massive job. You can read a brief article on the challenges on this at: https://www.tes.com/news/coronavirus-teachers-warned-zoombombing-risk

Even so, we are there now and more and more children are being invited to Teams sessions via Show My Homework and school emails. However, it would be a mistake to think that we will be delivering 5 x 1hr lessons on line each day.

We take the idea that a Teams / Zoom lessons will work well for all classes as a complete non-starter. Thirty children and one teacher can only really be a lecture and that approach is not something today’s schoolchildren are used to or engage with. We have been using it for a few weeks now with small Sixth Form and GCSE classes where it can work, but we won’t be going there with big classes. The approach of more video-based lessons where students can watch it whenever, need less software to run it, and the teacher can record it and get it right rather than do it live, is where we are heading.

Even so, we do believe the Teams angle can work well with drop-in seminars where if a child is struggling with video direction, or written explanations, and needs to ask questions, then they can go online for a set slot and ask for whatever help they need. This can be done verbally, by a written prompt that the teacher then talks about (useful for children reluctant to speak up), or a child can simply listen in and take on board what support is given to other children.

This will be increasingly rolled out over the last month of term and the initial feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. It is important to note that these sessions are optional; not optional in that if a child can’t be bothered then it does not matter, but optional so that if a child understands the task ahead of them, or work they have done, then they need not drop in if they do not wish to.

Last September, we actually mapped in to train staff up in more video / Teams style teaching as we could see how it could help with homework and revision. However, the mid-year lock-down moved the goal-posts, and when we learnt in mid/late May that many children would not be returning for a good while, we saw we had to rattle things through. We wish now we had done it sooner, but hindsight is a wonderful thing, and again there has been a mass of work that has gone into this to ensure it works safely and effectively. We felt it was vital to start it now, rather than in September, as we don’t know how school will run next academic year and we can use these weeks to learn about how to use this approach best and to iron out any glitches.

Summer Holidays:

During the Easter Holidays, there were some parents (like myself) who wanted work set to help keep their children progressing and busy over a break with limited options. However, there were other parents who were adamant that there should not be ‘holiday work’ as it was a time to rest and spend time together as a family. Of course, both points of view were valid, different strokes for different folks, but we now need an approach for the Summer.

Consequently, we are planning to set voluntary revision / consolidation work for students over the summer, but it is important to note that teachers won’t be on emails, answering calls, or collecting it in to mark. Additionally, we would flag up the reading lists (https://www.friaryschool.com/library/) and revision / work books that I have circulated on previous emails (which I will re-publish on the website ASAP).

Boris’ Tutoring System & Catch-Up:

We are obviously aware that the government has promised an “army of retired teachers” and extensive private tuition funds but we are waiting to see what this actually means. We have heard the promises of more funding, we have seen our usual Y7 catch-up funding cut days after Boris’ announcement (probably to help fund the new idea), but we haven’t yet heard any firm details yet. It is not clear who will get the funds, how much per school, and if it applies to every child then it is reckoned to be roughly about £80 each which pays for about 2½ hours of private sessions.

To be frank, we are putting these promises to one side, and if anything positive materialises then great, but we’d rather plan our own interventions as we know that they will happen. This will mean some extra sessions (though we do evenings and weekends already), it means we will re-jig content and skills, and it means we need to deliver things differently. This is being worked on now and with Y7-9 we are confident we can close most gaps; though with so much long-term uncertainty, it would be a bad call for any student to think ‘I’ll try harder next time’ as our current Y11s will tell you that you don’t always get a next time.

In terms of the Summer Holidays, there will not be any school-led catch-up sessions in school. It may well be that Boris will provide something as he promised and if so then we will absolutely work with it. Clearly, this absence of Summer School may bring criticism but we do not have the resources or capacity to deliver it. Many of us will be working most of the Summer on exam results, site developments, and most staff will certainly be planning for the September return (see ‘Return to School’)…

School Uniform:

We would advise all parents to get onto sorting their child’s school uniform sooner rather than later as social distancing rules are slowing options for fittings, etc. You can read more on this at: https://www.friaryschool.com/2020/06/23/uniform-update-book-appointments-to-avoid-queues/

Return to School:

We have all heard Boris’ commitment that all children will be back in school in September but, despite this being what we all want, there is a distinct possibility that it will not happen. Indeed, Gavin Williamson, the Minister for Education is announcing plans on it soon and school is unlikely to be operating under a ‘Business as Usual’ sign. We will have to wait and see as rumours are rife but only yesterday we had large-scale changes reported: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/school-reopening-whole-year-bubbles-full-guidance-covid_uk_5ef9dd4ac5b6ca97091288e4?oo9&guccounter=2

We are anticipating that we will be working on this throughout the Summer and there will likely be tweaks right until the day we open. We will keep you posted and will ensure there is as much clarity as possible come the Autumn Term.

Year 10 / Year 12 Exams:

One of the major challenges we have at the moment with Y10 and Y12 students in school doing catch-up is that we do not know what they are supposed to catch-up. It is impossible to think there will not be some changes for the Summer exams next year, whether it be on content, exam papers, grade boundaries, timelines or subjects. At the moment we are totally in the dark, but we are promised it is being looked at, and in fairness there is a lot going on.

It is though worth considering your holiday plans for Summer 2021. Many of you will have enough problems with this year, so I am sorry to prolong the misery, but there is a real chance that next year’s exams will be put back several weeks. This means an early getaway in late June / early July will be out of the question, Prom later still (if it is even allowed), and a normal leaving process seems unlikely.

Alternatively, it could be there is a predicted grade / ranking system like this year, so every Y10 and Y12 student has to be aware that they need to be on the ball in the months ahead. Regardless, whether it is catching up for exams or continuous in-school assessment, both schools and parents are going to have to support children in an exceptional set of circumstances, and if all three strands don’t pull together then the outcomes are unlikely to be positive.

And Finally…

Just a reminder that if you change any contact details then please let us know – communication is going to be essential for a good while yet. On this, we would recommend you regularly check out our website (currently being updated) and/or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

Take care, good luck on your own move out of lockdown, and hopefully we will see you and your child soon.

Matt Allman
Headteacher
The Friary School