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Update from Mr Brady (18/06/2020)

Dear parents/carers,


I will start by checking in once again to see how you are doing. Although lockdown is easing, I do know that it remains an incredibly difficult time for some. Please remember to get in touch if you need anything from us and, as I have mentioned, you can contact us on our safeguarding@ email as well as the school if you require any safeguarding support.


The news has been interesting this week. Shops are starting to open on the high street and people are starting to venture out. Who knew Primark had been missed by so many people? One feature of lockdown has been how local communities have been supporting their local businesses. I have really enjoyed buying more local produce and would urge us all to continue to support our community where we can. Our local farm shops, breweries, butchers etc... have been there for us throughout the lockdown. Let's try to still be there for them when we get back to normal!


Next week sees our Virtual Y6 Induction Week. Staff and students have been hard at work making the videos and getting the activities ready. Letters have all been posted outlining which house and tutor group your daughter/son will be in and they will arrive tomorrow or over the weekend. There is also a link to the website area you need. but that doesn't go live until Monday! If you don't get the letter or the link doesn't work on Monday, just give us a call and we will sort it. It's exciting, but it is not the same as having you here. Don't worry though, we will be staying in touch after the week and you will be hearing more from us.


This brings me to let you know more about our strategy regarding getting more students back into school. As I said before, we have a two-phase approach and the number of Y10 and 12 students we have in school is growing. We are making sure that we target those who, for a number of reasons, need to be in with us, rather than randomly opening the school up to lots more students. The number will grow over next week and we will be in touch with those parents to ask if they want their daughter/son to be in school. We have been reminding them that it doesn't feel like a normal school at the moment. If only!


You will be reading about schools now having more students back in but I wanted to share a little context to that and why I think our strategy is a good one that does not need drastically altering. The first point to make is that most schools in the area have not been operating the life lessons that we have. This is a huge factor in our thinking.  The most common method of delivery of learning in most schools has been to deposit packs of work at the start of the week and then teachers collect them in on Friday (something that has been a feature of my own daughter's primary school). As you know, we have kept up with timetabled lessons at Dene Magna, with teachers and TAs available throughout the day.


Some of you may have seen a recent study by University College London that looked at the provision of learning for children in primary and secondary schools since lockdown. They said that the average amount of learning going on at homes across England during lockdown is 2.5 hours.  


The study found that 71% of state schools were providing no form of online lessons (either face to face or teacher in the lesson). Only 17% of state schools provided 4 or more hours of learning per day and only 6% of state schools had 4 or more hours of online learning (again, either face to face or teacher in the lesson). Virtually all private school students have access to a PC or similar to work on at home 


We changed our days around in response to feedback from lots of people and our Wednesday has been cut to give some more free time.  I am delighted to tell you that even with the shortened Wednesday, we are providing an average of 3.8 hours of online learning per day (face to face or teacher in the virtual classroom). We also gave out 300+ Chromebooks before lockdown to ensure that our students were not at a disadvantage. Of course, we have kept an eye on this and tried to respond to need - the recent storms being a good example.


Now, I know that this is not perfect and there are some students who have not been logging on (who we have been chasing and supporting), but I wanted to reflect on what we have been offering when we are all faced with the changing information from Government. Thank you for your support in what we have been doing and I am delighted that our offer puts us up amongst the very best schools in that study (although I would much rather be back in with everyone!). In addition to this offer, we now have a system where EVERY student in EVERY year group will have at least one Google Meet (live face to face lesson) for each subject, each week. The feedback on these lessons has been excellent and staff are now so much more confident in using it safely and effectively. This most certainly ticks the box for 'face to face contact', but most importantly, it ensures that our students continue to be taught by their teachers.


This makes planning for the next few weeks interesting as we read about getting 'up to a quarter of the year group in at one time'. We could do this. God knows we are really desperate to have students in and get teaching them, but if we do this then the rota we have for staff will need to double in size and my thought is that with this increase, we will see a drop in the number of Google Meet live lessons led by staff for the rest of the school, as staff focus on the small groups in front of them. It has been a trade-off we have been wrestling with for a while!


Our current thinking is that because we have put these things in place since the start, we are not like many schools who are now getting students in 'face to face' because they have not provided 'face to face' live lessons during lockdown and they feel they have to catch up on weeks of lost learning. We are going to keep steadily growing the number of students in school so that we do not sacrifice the other lessons taking place and we will be inviting a mixture of students in so that we can properly test the site for how we use it in September when, hopefully, things are a bit more normal. I hope that makes sense?


Next Friday, I will share with you our plans for how we end the school year on a high and ensure that alongside the reports we are sending home, there is a chance for us all to be in touch (not just Y10 and 12) and get things set for next year. I will also share with you our ideas for summer schools and how we will plan to bridge any gaps in learning that have come about because of lockdown.


Thank you once again for your support of what we are trying to do. Your support means the world to us.


Stay safe

Steve Brady