The following COVID message was sent out to parents on Friday 23 October 2020:

Unsurprisingly, as  COVID cases rise in Lichfield and nationally, we are being kept busy here as well. We are pleased to have got to the end of the first half-term without a major closure and hard-fought experience has educated us well on how things can work well in these difficult times.

This email is quite lengthy as we wanted to give you a clear summation of where we have been this half-term, clear guidance on how we deal with cases, and direction on how we need to proceed to be able to cope. Last time we suggested a glass of wine to help take it all in, but this may need the bottle. All the current evidence suggests things will get worse before they get better and so we can’t plan to plough on in the same fashion as the world around us changes.

We always have a nagging doubt about being transparent with you as some of these messages get selectively edited by local new outlets and we can end up taking flak. Even so, we’d rather than be open and frank with you, and cop criticism from ‘Angry of Lichfield’, than to have you feel that you do not get the information you need.

Overview of COVID Cases:

It is worth bearing in mind that at the moment the R Rate (infection rate) is at worst 1.5 in our area. This means that every person who gets COVID passes it onto an average of 1.5 other people. Clearly, on a national level this is a problem, but on an individual case-by-case basis in a school setting it does show the individual risk is low. The infection is more likely going to affect the family home and there are currently no clear cases of any infection being passed on in school. This is likely to change in the weeks ahead but it is where we are now.

This last half-term has seen the following COVID cases:

1. A Y13 student – no transmission to other students

2. A taxi driver for a group of students – no transmission to other students

3. A Y7 student – no transmission to other students

4. A Y11 student – no transmission to other students*

5. A Y13 student – no transmission to other students*

6. A Y10 & Y7 student – no transmission to other students*

* These last three cases came to light this week and mostly the risk seems to be more in social times outside of school, where there are no measures, than in school where there are measures. Even so, this is a clear acceleration that mimics the rapid locality increase.

We have also had two positive cases amongst part-time staff but their times in school meant there was no risk to anyone in school. Other staff have had to isolate due to contact – usually outside of school – but we have managed to hold things together in school despite the absences.

It may well be that there will have been other cases in school that have passed through without incident – but the same could be said in homes, workplaces, supermarkets, pubs, etc.

Communication:

It is getting better, but after each case, or rumoured case, we get a number of emails from parents asking for the details and querying why they have not been informed.

The reality is that if we communicated every incident, debate, or approach, then we’d need to employ at least one person full-time. We could make a Maths teacher redundant to do this, but would prefer not to.

The situation is likely to worsen and we cannot cope with the day job and catch-up programme if we carry on with this pattern. Instead, we will run with the following commitment:

1.       We will notify any parent whose child is directly affected.

2.       We will update all parents at the end of the week (if there is something to update).

Rest assured, this is not about being uncommunicative, it is just about being realistic and not taking time and resources away from the classroom.

The other information outlets of Facebook, Twitter and increasingly Instagram, will continue to be updated as normal.

Face Masks:

There is a great deal of evidence that our area will go into a Tier 2 lockdown over the next couple of weeks. If this happens, the regulations under that Tier state that face-masks have to be worn in communal areas in schools. There are grey areas in this – you can’t wear a mask and eat at the same time – but social times indoors would be an example where they would be required.

However, there is no compulsion to wear them in lessons as they would disrupt the learning. Even so, as we have done throughout this half-term, if a child wishes to wear them in their lesson then they can do so.

Consequently, we would ask that you prepare your child with a face-mask for after the half-term break and if the formal direction comes down – as is likely – then they’ll be ready to go.

We will look to enforce this standard but schools in affected areas have not been going down the route of automatically punishing children who do not have them. We will advise it, we will chase up families, and if someone is persistently flaunting this rule then we will be prepared to go as far as exclusion in extreme cases. Instead though, we would simply expect that every parent will help us out by doing their bit, and if the child does not have a face mask then the responsibility for that is at home.

We are not going to go down the route of repeatedly handing out face-mask as after 8 months of this pandemic we believe it is right to expect a child to have a face mask from home by now. Equally, every temporary one dropped on a floor, left on a table, etc, become a bio-hazard for our staff to deal with and that is not fair. If a child has a re-usable one from home then parents can check they have it and the child will be more likely to look after it.

Let’s all be ready and see how this pans out regionally.

Remote Learning:

We have different tiers of plans in place depending on whether individual students, a half-year, a full year, or the whole-school have to stay at home.

If we are dealing with individual or small pockets of students going off school then we will email work out. This will not be instantaneous – give us a day or so – and it will not be ‘live’ as the teachers are still doing their normal day job.

If we are dealing with larger groups then we will move over to Teams seminars. This will not be 1hr lessons online as this is not how we work and no child is going to listen to 5 x 1hr sessions of a teachers droning on. Instead, we will operate as we did in the Summer Term. We will send work out via Show My Homework and there will be introductory explanations and a chance to ask questions. This will adapt in smaller groups, such as exam classes and Sixth Form sessions.

Our staff will take in marking of key assessment tasks, exam work, etc, but will not mark every piece of work. This is the case anyway, but the lessons will all need a lot of adaptation. We cannot simply run with what we have already got set up and it is about making sure the priorities are covered. Every child is a priority but some are more of a priority than others. We do fully appreciate that children benefit from feedback on their work – it is vital too for teachers to know misconceptions so we can improve our teaching – but we have to work to a balance.

Over half-term we will add further details to the school website and they will be available here: https://www.friaryschool.com/remote-learning/

Dealing with an Outbreak:

The following steps guide us through dealing with an outbreak:

1.       Call Public Health England / Department for Education / Staffordshire County Council

2.       Check seating plans for every lesson – just identifying immediate contacts

3.       Notify staff (in case there have been any temporary switches)

4.       Speak to the affected child about who they been close to

5.       Gather in all ‘at risk’ students

6.       Call home and get the children picked up

7.       Give guidance to parents in isolation, etc

8.       Set work for the children

9.       And repeat…

The Department for Education has told us that as we know what we are doing we need not call to check every time. This can at least give you confidence that we are doing a decent enough job.

Isolation Periods:

Having liaised with various parents involved in recent cases, it is clear there is some confusion about how isolations work. The following details come from our conversations with Public Health England – and whilst they’ll need reading more than once – you may find them useful:

§  If you are tested positive for COVID then you should isolate for 10 days from when you first showed symptoms. If you have not showed symptoms, but have tested positive, then it is 10 days from the date of that test.

§  If you have been directed to isolate then it is 14 days from the point that you were close to someone who was a confirmed COVID case. You cannot get a test which shows you are negative and then forget it. The infection can come out any time within that 14 days. A negative test on Day 5 won’t help if the infection shows on Day 13.

§  If someone tests positive for COVID then they were infectious from the first 48hrs before they first showed symptoms – or had the positive test – whichever is earlier. If you were not in contact with them for those 48hrs then you are fine.

§  If someone shows symptoms in your house then you should all isolate until you have a test confirming they do not have COVID. If they test positive then they isolate for 10 days from when they showed symptoms. Everyone else will have to isolate for 14 days from when the infected person showed symptoms. If they test negative then you can forget about it. If your child has symptoms, and is being tested, then keep them at home and tell us straight away so we can protect everyone else.

§  If your child is directed to isolate due to being near someone who has tested positive for COVID then the rest of the family do not need to isolate. This is because your child is not showing any symptoms. Your family only have to isolate if they show symptoms. In this case, your child does the 14 days isolation from the point they were in contact with the infected person.

§  If your child is directed to isolate by the school and then goes on to show symptoms less than 48hrs after leaving the site then you must get in touch with us and tell us. It is likely we will have to send other students home who were near your child. If you do this then you protect other children and their families.

We are aware of some cases where families ignore these isolation rules but we cannot control this – we can only try to protect the school.

Certainly, if your child is affected, and you are unclear on anything, then please get in touch.

Removal from School:

If your child is identified on our tracking as being at risk then we will call you and we do need you to pick them up straight away. The vast majority of parents have been brilliant on this. We have had queries as to why we do not have an isolation room to hold them in school. Clearly, we do have spaces to put children, and have this in our risk assessment, but we would still ask that you pick up your child ASAP.

If we get up to 8 teachers / key staff off then we are going to be sending Year groups home. This means we want to reduce any risk as much as we can for the good of everyone and we do not want to tie up staff who have to sit and supervise potentially infected children. It can be inconvenient if it disrupts work, or other plans, but it is good to know that the overwhelming consensus from the parents we have contacted is that they appreciate it is their child and their responsibility. Often the child is nervous and the best person to care for them will be their family.

Personal Responsibility:

If anyone show symptoms then they (and like the family they live with) have a duty to everyone to isolate. This would include going to school, going to work, going out socially, indeed going out at all.

Behind all of this, it is really important everyone knows what the symptoms are and are not – the following chart will help:

We would recommend that every parent talks through these symptoms with their child and that if there is a genuine risk then a test, and isolation whilst awaiting the results, is vital. Certainly, the loss of smell / taste is less likely to be anything else than a cough or temperature. Even so, we have seen COVID cases in local families when it presents just like a low-level cough. You will know your child well and will be best placed to judge their condition. You will see the need to have an on-going dialogue with them on how they are feeling as we head through the winter.

We would again stress that we are wholly reliant on families telling us if there is a case that potentially affects us (and you). We have been in the position where we have had to visit homes to confirm household cases and have to rely on the grapevine rather than clear contact. This is a real danger to other students, staff, and their families, as without a prompt notification there could be unaware people going to visit vulnerable family members and putting their lives at risk. It is unfortunate that this is our reality.

Local COVID News:

If you wish to keep abreast of cases in the Lichfield area then the following website is a good one: https://www.staffordshire.gov.uk/Coronavirus/Latest-Coronavirus-data-for-Staffordshire.aspx. Just click on the obvious central link and then click on the Lichfield filter on the left-hand side of the screen.

And Finally:

When we began this half-term we had no idea how it would play out and were as apprehensive as many of you about the return to school. Even so, we have survived this half-term. Your children have been fantastic, our staff have been fantastic, and you parents as a collective body have been fantastic too.

We are so reliant on your backing and it would be remiss not to thank you.

Take care this half-term – I hope there is some fun in it somewhere – and we’ll go again from Monday 2 November.