The following COVID message was sent out to parents on Monday 7 January: 

We are just dropping you a line to map out where things are in terms of schooling and to hopefully give you some direction as we move forward.

Home Learning:

We well appreciate that home learning brings its challenges but we are hoping that our latest incarnation of remote learning is providing an upgrade on the last lockdown.

We had planned our schedule out over Xmas, but only learnt last Monday night that the critical Year 11 and Year 13 classes needed adding to it, so there was a lot of frenetic work behind the scenes to get things in place.

Our first week of home learning has seen 378 ‘live’ seminar sessions and 985 tasks set on Show My Homework. As a snapshot, at 10.30am on Thursday, 775 students were logged onto Show My Homework, and 950 students had logged in during the previous 24 hours. Others would have too via their parents’ passwords, and some would have logged off to access their Teams sessions, so the engagement levels look excellent.

The arrangements see all work set on Show My Homework and it is important to note that both students and parents have log-ins for this package. We would expect all families to know how to use this package by now but if you are stuck just drop us an email to office@frairyschool.co.uk and we will get back to you.

National Guidance:

Gavin Williamson, the Minister for Education, only got around to setting the national guidance up on Home Learning on Thursday evening. The lockdown seemed to have been a surprise to him.

He decided to change his previous directive by saying their needed to be 5hrs of work (not necessarily live sessions) per day, rather than the previous 4hrs, but this is already covered in our lesson-by-lesson provision. Naturally, our Teams sessions are on top of this, and we are continuing with HLAs (homework projects) and pastoral programme as well, so we are certainly on track.

Improving Clarity of Tasks:

We have recognised that the activities on Show My Homework could come across as a little unclear in terms of titles, and whether they are work or Teams sessions, so we are implementing a more consistent scheme for labelling them. You should notice this over the next week or so.

Teams Sessions:

We have always stated that we will not be doing 1hr Teams sessions for every lesson. From a personal perspective I did a 3hr meeting last Thursday and by the end was prepared to pull my eyes out with a spoon.

Instead, we have a regular schedule of Teams seminar sessions which go over previous tasks, outline new tasks, explain key concepts, address misconceptions, and take any questions.

These are roughly scheduled to last for 20mins but by all means extend them with questions for up to say 50mins as the teacher may need to move to another online task or lesson. Normal lessons do not have a teacher talking for 1hr – if they did then the teacher would not remain at the school – so this is no unusual.

You can see the full schedule here – https://www.friaryschool.com/2021/01/09/remote-learning-live-seminar-schedules/ – but every child will get a Team invite via a Show My Homework task so it is straight-forward to access the sessions. There may be occasional changes – such as when a teacher is affected by COVID – but these should be rare and the Teams Invite will still come as usual but for a different time.

Our contact for Key Stage Three (Years 7-9) includes 13 contact points a fortnight, comprising of 12 sessions of live contact with class teachers via Teams (2 sessions each for all ‘E-Bacc’ subjects), and a phone call home from the form tutor, focused on general learning and well-being.

Our contact for Key Stage Four (Years 10-11) includes 15-17 contact points a fortnight, comprising of 14-16 sessions of live contact with class teachers (2 sessions each for English, Maths and all subjects in option blocks; 1 session for each for the three sciences) and a phone call home from the form tutor.

Our contact for Sixth Form includes at least one session of live contact with class teachers via Teams for each subject each week, and a fortnightly phone call home from the form tutor. All Sixth Formers are encouraged to interact regularly with their teachers so that communication is an on-going dialogue and not just tied to the Team sessions. Elsewhere, the Sixth Form office is manned daily and any queries can be directed there via the main school office e-mail address or telephone number. 

Teacher-Student Contact:

All tutors will call home at least once per fortnight, and targeted children will be called up to daily.

All students can contact their teachers via Show My Homework messenger or direct email although naturally staff will respond when they can rather than instantly.

Naturally, all contact should be work-related and formal but this does not mean it is discouraged.

Additional Home-Learning Provision:

We are gradually extending our provision as well so do not think it will stop here.

It will include Microsoft Streams (so videos by teachers to further extended contact). There will also be PE activities via Instagram and the Noticeboard on Show My Homework to push physical well-being.

Furthermore, we will keep setting a variety of wider curriculum tasks via Show My Homework, the school website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, so check out all of our platforms for more to do and to keep up-to-date with school developments.

Our Focus Week programme continues as normal and this week looks at mental health support connected to the theme of Blue Monday. There are resources on our school website and sent out via Show My Homework:

https://www.friaryschool.com/2021/01/11/blue-monday-surviving-lockdown/

https://www.friaryschool.com/2021/01/11/5-ways-to-mental-wellbeing-focus-week/

The BBC have announced a huge programme of support which will give your child extra options and you can read about it here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-55591821

Our school library is also offering a delivery service which you can learn more about here: https://www.friaryschool.com/2021/01/11/school-library-books-in-lockdown/#

In-School Provision:

We are now facing COVID numbers of around 500 per week in Staffordshire, and the government are predicting worse to come, but we still have students in school and they are supported by staff on rotation. Of course, we have had to put new, stricter COVID measures in place to protect our students and staff from the new variant.

Even so, we were hit by a staff case in the first week back – that has knocked out 2 children and 3 colleagues – so regardless of media squabbling we would push the message that children should not be in school unless there really is no other option.

It is now widely recognised that schools are “vectors of transmission” and the last thing we want is cases coming into school from home, and then spreading throughout other homes.

 New Technology Support:

We have been in regular dialogue with Free School Meals children / families – who the government’s focus is on – since September and those who are lacking online or computer facilities have received support. The tidal wave of computers promised by the government has not materialised – and we are liaising with partners to try and get more – and those that do come in need a lot of set-up so it is a lengthy process.

In order to support internet access, we are pushing a scheme for those who qualify to get extra free data on parental mobile phones. The DfE scheme has set criteria about who qualifies for it. We have already contacted those who we knew might quality, but if you wish to learn more about this scheme visit here: https://www.friaryschool.com/2021/01/11/do-you-qualify-for-free-extra-mobile-phone-data-to-help-with-home-learning/

Free School Meals:

We were expecting the government to set-up their free school meal voucher scheme again but there is no sign at present. Consequently, we will go back to the vouchers we provided in the early weeks of the first lockdown.

We are chasing up new Year 7 parents, and those new to Free School Meals, to see which store’s vouchers they prefer, and would expect them to be sent out late this week / early next. Naturally, the funds will be back-dated to the start of term

Summer 2021 Exams:

Last week saw Gavin Williamson announce that Summer Exams would be cancelled and we will go to teacher predictions. Unfortunately, it has emerged that there was no contingency planning for this so we have no idea how this is due to work.

Latterly the DfE have announced they will do a two-week consultation on what to do and ‘hope’ to have a plan in place by the end of February. We will await an outcome and once we know what is going on then we will explain what it means in our school’s context.

We have contacted all Year 11 and Year 13 parents separately on this topic and issued clear guidance on what these children need to do in the weeks and months ahead.

It does seem potentially likely that Year 11 and Year 13 students will undertake some school-led assessments on their return. We would hope that this is not a be-all-and-end-all task, but it does show that it is important to keep working: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-9131229/GCSE-level-pupils-face-tests-summer.html#

If any parent has a query on this matter then please email: exams2021@friaryschool.co.uk.

 Year 10 & Year 12 Students:

Naturally, if the DfE have no plans in place for those facing exams in Summer 2021, they will not have plans for you, but we can at least explain what is likely. Certainly, with the vaccine coming, this lockdown is unlikely to be as long a lasting an impact as it is for the current Year 11 and Year 13 students.

We would expect there to be flexibility and content reduction for exam courses once the DfE knows how long you have been out of school. This will be explained to you once it becomes clear and we will adapt what we do, as well as put plans in place for catch-up.

For now, we would urge you to retain your focus and work hard on the courses you are doing. Your teachers know what they are doing, and will adapt the content coverage now so that they can factor in review time for when you come back.

We are confident you will get a good deal from us so just keep going – if you can do your bit then we are sure we can get you to where you need to be. You were doing great before lock-down and there is no reason you will not stand-out when schools come back.

Key Stage Three (Years 7-9) Students:

 We would advise you to focus on every subject and to keep on top of you work as well as you can. We know it can be difficult – and a lot of it will be about personal organisation which we know will be tough for some of you – but your teachers will look to chunk work to help you.

Many of you may wish to launch into some reading to keep the days rolling by and it would be worthwhile checking out the recommended reading lists on the school website: https://www.friaryschool.com/library/.

We have been really proud of how you have adapted to COVID times and we are sure we can get you back on track well before you hit the business end of your exams with us. Just keep going as best as you can.

 Year 9 Pathways:

Our Year 9 students are due to choose their Pathway subjects (options) for their GCSEs and vocational courses in March.

We are already well down the planning route for this and will see where we are after half-term. It is likely our big Parents Evening on this will not run as planned, but we already have contingencies in place and will get details out nearer the time.

For now, work hard on every subject and remember that what you do now will be vital for exam success later.

COVID Testing:

We will ensure that the testing regime the government has been so vocal about will be in place for our return.

We will send out details in early February and this will include an online parental consent form. The government guidance was written for a different time – when the Year 11s and Year 13s were due in this week – so we will see if anything new comes out.

We anticipate the primary focus will be on testing to avoid precautionary isolation for children who have been in contact with a positive case.

Return to School:

The current picture is that students will return to school after February Half-Term – Monday 22 February – but we would advise caution on how and when this happens.

The COVID infection rates will play a big role, the speed of vaccinations too, and the lock-down measures are pencilled in till the end of March, so there are no guarantees.

For now, let’s focus on getting to half-term, then we can see where we and the country are. There is no real alternative.

To Finalise:

We would just stress to parents that no-one is expecting you to become the teacher for your child. Your child has at least 10 different teachers working with them at school and it would be unrealistic to think you can equal that. If you can keep things rolling along as best as you can then you’ve done a great job.

The vaccine is coming and offers a way out, and we felt our Year 11 and Year 13s had got back on track last term, so there is no reason we can’t get your child motoring to success on their return.

Matt Allman, Headteacher, added: “Opportunities and experience will be lost, but it does not mean they will never come again, and rest assured we will be throwing the kitchen sink on at making your child happy and successful with us.”