As we reach the end of our sixth week of remote education in lockdown, I wanted to write to you and reflect on all we have achieved together and to consider what we need to consider in preparation for next term.
Across the country, it is evident that this period of lockdown is making us all feel rather weary and placing considerable emotional demands upon us all but, once again, we can be incredibly proud of how brilliantly we have worked in partnership as a school community together to support our children to maintain as good a sense of wellbeing and community as we could, so that they have been able to remain successful in their learning across all subject areas.
Teachers are tremendously impressed by their students’ engagement in learning and by how much staff and students have discovered together about how effectively lessons can continue even when we can’t all be physically together. We will aim to continue to build upon this and include a lot of the positive aspects of digital learning into our curriculum when we return to more normal times in future.
However, we all look forward to being able to safely return to face to face learning on site for all of our students and are encouraged to see that the numbers of positive cases are now falling in Portsmouth. Encouragingly, this trend is forecast to continue in the coming weeks if we all continue to follow the guidelines and, hopefully, we will be closer to the infection rates at the levels we experienced in the early months of the Autumn term by mid-March.
It is difficult to anticipate what will happen next half term; we do know that the Prime Minister’s next formal review of the current lockdown is announced on the first day back after half term (Monday 22nd February) with the earliest possible date for schools to fully re-open being Monday 8th March, although this day is one of our planned INSET days, so for ALNS students this would be Tuesday 9th March.
We do not know if the Department for Education will instruct schools to open straight away for all year groups, or whether it will be a staggered start for different year groups; we also do not know if full reopening will be timed differently for Primary Schools than for Secondary Schools. So, I will write to you all again in the week after half term with whatever details I can immediately provide as soon as we receive the detailed information from the Department for Education, which usually occurs in the days following the Prime Minister’s press briefings.
Additionally, the OFQUAL consultation regarding how grades for GCSEs and BTECs could be awarded this year has closed and we anticipate an announcement imminently, to inform schools of the process that will be used for this year. This has been such a difficult year for our year 11 students and I am monumentally proud of how they have coped in the face of all of the ongoing disruption and uncertainty; year 11 is always a tough year for any student but this year has demanded even more from your children. Their response has always been exceptional, and I am so encouraged by their continued commitment and determination to succeed, regardless of the hurdles they are required to overcome this year. We will be in touch with parents and year 11 students about this as soon as we receive the guidance form OFQUAL and the Department for Education.
It may be that the Department for Education will require mass testing of students prior to returning to full school reopening, so this is another logistical challenge we may need to consider next half term. We hope to be launching weekly saliva testing for all students soon after this half term, which is far less invasive than the lateral flow testing and much more sensitive in detecting the presence of the Covid virus. The saliva tests are taken at home and processed in a laboratory, so require minimal extra workload for school staff but add lots of additional safety to students and staff at school, with minimal disruption to normal school life.
I very much hope that you are reflecting positively on all you have been able to achieve as parents because it has been a big ask and you have clearly done a magnificent job in supporting your child(ren) to access remote education either at home or on site at Key Worker School; we are delighted that engagement in lessons has been at the same high levels as our normal school attendance. Each family has its own unique circumstances and I hope that you feel the school have been able to offer support when needed in helping you meet the additional educational challenges that this pandemic has brought to your family life. I know that staff have always aimed to do their very best to provide the highest quality of pastoral and academic support for your child, knowing just how hard the restrictions of this pandemic have been for them over the past year. The many messages of appreciation to staff for all their hard work have been gratefully received and have raised our spirits tremendously, thank you!
If you have not already joined our ALNS parents Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/alnsparents , then you may wish to consider this as another avenue of community support for you at this time. Many parents have found this to be a place where they can offer support to one another when day to day issues arise, as well as hearing the support from school responses too.
Over the half term week, I encourage you to talk to your children on how fantastically well they are coping with a really challenging school year and encourage them to relax and find ways to switch off from the demands of their studies. I remain incredibly proud to have the privilege of leading our amazing school community and am very confident that we will continue to work together to face all the challenges that will inevitably come our way in the coming months, as we look forward to a return to on site lessons for all our wonderful students.
Take care and stay safe.