The following COVID message was sent out to parents on Friday 18 September 2020:

We wanted to contact you all after having had a COVID case in our school. It was inevitable, it will likely happen again, but I wanted to be clear on how we are responding to events around us and where we need your help. Equally, we have raised many of these points with your child this week.

Dealing with a Case:

There has been some queries about why after our Year 13 case, the whole year group, or the whole Sixth Form, was not sent home. We wanted to explain how this case differed to other local outbreaks.

Our Sixth Form students are not in school full-time and currently typically go straight to lessons. This means it is easy to track movement – it would be much more difficult if it were say a Year 9 student. We take my advice directly from Public Health England and they were interested in face-to-face contact, and sustained presence within 1-2metres for 15+ minutes, so we could then use our seating plans and interviews to track and trace who may have been affected. The bubble system worked well, the speed of response likewise, and the family involved were superb (and we all know it could have been any of us). We ended up sending 8 students and 1 teacher out to isolate.

You can see the Public Health England advice on this case – and our response – on our website at: https://www.friaryschool.com/2020/09/16/public-health-england-advice-to-schools/

Face Masks:

Our approach on face masks is essentially the same as the other local secondaries who we work with in the Lichfield & Burntwood District. It may come across that some local schools have a ‘rule’ but the approach is still more to encourage than anything else.

No school – unless perhaps in a prescribed zone of ‘higher COVID restrictions’ – can legally send someone home for not wearing a face mask, nor can they exclude someone for it, but we can strongly advise that they should be worn. I could say they ‘must’ be worn but I cannot actually enforce this. This means we can attract criticism for not publicly saying it is a ‘must’. Equally, if it is made a ‘must’, and it is not enforced, then that can attract criticism too. It is worth noting that every discarded disposable mask we distribute becomes a bio-hazard for site staff so a recyclable one from home is by far the best option – alongside a bag to store it in. This issue is outlined in The TES: https://www.tes.com/news/back-to-school-dont-exclude-not-wearing-masks-dfe-tells-schools

We actually go further than government measures as we allow children to wear them in lessons and we are now rewarding children for wearing them. Our Headteacher have been in assemblies and communal areas rallying the need to wear them. Our staff wear them where they can. We are also adapting our Sixth Formers approach to further encourage usage amongst their younger peers, as well as re-branding our messaging to encourage all COVID measures are followed. Most children have them in school – we have checked – and an increasing number are wearing them more regularly. The method is to educate, encourage, and reward and the reality is that hand-washing and social distancing in and out of school are the most important measures. The DfE advice on face masks can be viewed at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-in-education/face-coverings-in-education

As ever, we require your support on this, and whilst we will keep the mantra going on it here, your raising it at home helps too.

Keeping the School Open:

We currently have two teachers out awaiting test results or isolating, have similar situations with ‘back-office’ colleagues, (as well as one teacher on jury service), and with the national picture on testing looking bleak and cases increasing, it is important to appreciate what might bring a closure.

It could be an outbreak in a year group, or it could be 8-10 teachers out ill, isolating or awaiting test results, because at that point we cannot staff and run a full school. Again, the COVID virus does not originate in a school so for us to stay open it requires all of us to manage our behaviour across our daily lives.

Of course, everyone understands this to some degree, and even if you are careful you can hit unlucky, but as someone in a position where there is clear responsibility for COVID decision-making, then I would say this cuts both ways.

We can all rightly question the approach of others, but with around 1,400+ students and staff, and related families and friends, we in school cannot hold back the tide alone. It will be a combination of every teacher, every caterer, every cleaner, every parent, every student, and so on, that will keep us open or make us close. Our Headteacher will be at local kids’ football this weekend, and whilst he’ll be there with other Friary parents, he’ll also have other Friary parents reading this thinking he is being reckless. The line is tough to draw and not everyone will agree.

Again, we can all hold others accountable, but each of us have our own decisions and accountabilities which will decide what happens. If student X, or teacher Y, or parent Z, contracts COVID through poor decision-making at home, or rank bad luck, then no measurement we take in school is going to protect everyone. Equally, if misleading social media comments stir up concerns then it only detracts from us managing the COVID situation in school and helping your children to catch up the last six months. Certainly, we should never be immune to justified criticism, but we are not able to keep every plate spinning with ease, and we can never be all things to all people.

We’ll continue to promise that all of the school decisions will be taken using Public Health England advice, DfE guidance, H&S advice, consultation with our local partner schools, and with our governors (many of whom are parents and like us have their own share of the decisions we make as we negotiate daily life). We can promise that no decision will be taken lightly.

The reality is that we can only hope that this is enough and we can only hope we can remain open.

We’ll keep these updates coming and take care of yourselves too.