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A High Performing Specialist Academy for Technology & Applied Learning

2 December 2020

Partial Closures

The decision to have a partial closure for Years 8, 9 and 10 students this week was not taken lightly, and I know the additional pressures this has placed on families.  I am very grateful for the very many messages of support you have sent in and the positive social media comments that have been posted.

Today we have over 50 staff absent from the College, teaching and support staff, with the majority self-isolating but also a number who are confirmed COVID cases including some that are very poorly.  I have to say that the staff who are on site have been absolutely outstanding in helping to cover lessons, cover duties, support some of our most vulnerable and worried students, dealing with collecting and sending students home and even cleaning additional desks between lessons where required.  A truly fantastic team effort!

On Friday I will inform you of our plans for next week where I am hopeful, but cannot confirm yet, that the situation will have improved.  Obviously, I am very keen to get our year groups back into College as soon as possible, especially Year 9 who have been out the longest.

In light of the recent increase in the number of cases locally, and of course at the College, it is especially important that all students and parents follow government guidance on symptoms and self-isolation closely.  Doing so will help to keep all members of the College community as safe as possible and minimise disruption at the College.  If any member of your household develops any one of the three main COVID symptoms, even if their symptom(s) are only mild, please ensure the whole household self-isolates immediately.  In the unfortunate scenario that a student tests positive for COVID, please telephone the College immediately so we can take the appropriate steps to minimise the risk of onward transmission.

All College staff are very grateful for the messages of support received from parents during recent days.  Please continue to support us by:

  • Ensuring all household members isolate in line with government guidance when required (see flow chart)
  • Telephoning the College immediately if your child tests positive
  • Ensuring students are sent to College with everything they need for the day, including a face covering and a warm coat
  • Checking emails regularly for important correspondence from the College
  • Encouraging your child(ren) to follow all safety measures in place at the College (social distancing, face coverings, handwashing, Catch It-Bin It-Kill It).

If your son/daughter is in a year group that is currently not attending College can you please ensure they are accessing their remote provision and not out in the local community as this will prevent further transmission.

Email to Mr Gove, MP for Surrey Heath and Member of the Government

On Saturday I sent an email to the PA to Mr Gove, our local MP and member of the Government, to notify him of what is happening in the College and local community and to state that I think the current situation is not sustainable.  I include it below for your information.

I know Michael is extremely busy however I thought he would want to know what is happening in the largest school in his constituency.  Below is a copy of my letter to parents that I issued yesterday which is self-explanatory.  Due to over 40 staff being absent, the majority self-isolating, I have had to implement a partial closure of year groups.  Michael may also be aware of the two-week circuit breaker happening at Kings International School due to COVID-related outbreaks where all their children are currently at home.

The current situation is untenable and the stress and anxiety among my staff, students and parents is extreme and the worst I have experienced in over 40 years here at the College.  We have implemented all aspects of the guidance including one-way systems, additional hand washing routines, staggered breaks and lunches, increased ventilation and separate social areas for different bubbles however we have now had numerous confirmed positive COVID cases.

Staff are at the frontline here and it is their DNA to want to work closely with students.  They are desperately trying to retain social distancing with students and colleagues, but this is almost impossible given the demands of their role.  I am also particularly concerned about my LSAs who have to support our vulnerable students - they are doing a brilliant job but invariably they are in close proximity to students however much they try to restrain from doing so.

We have now had multiple confirmed cases of COVID for staff and students and I can only see further partial closures occurring in the remaining three weeks of this term.  I do not take these decisions lightly but I am responsible for the health, safety and well-being of staff and students and I cannot keep the whole College running with so many staff absent.

We are offering strong remote learning to all students remaining at home and actually these students are receiving a better provision from those currently in College; they are getting remote provision every lesson from their own specialist staff who are delivering this provision either at College or, in a large number of cases, while they are self-isolating at home.  This is compared to the provision students are receiving in College where many lessons are being supervised by supply staff (if you can find any!), cover staff or non-specialist staff.

I totally agree with the government that children should be in schools for all the obvious reasons however this is not possible if staff absence and in-year transmission in year groups are occurring.  

My thoughts are that without an extended Christmas break, acting as a circuit breaker either side of Christmas, this situation will only worsen with more staff and student absence and more stress and anxiety in the local community.

I wanted Michael to be aware of the College situation and would ask that my views, which I am sure are shared by my Surrey Heath colleagues, are represented in any relevant discussions he has on this subject with officials from the Department of Education and government.

Many thanks

Eden Tanner - Principal’

Attendance - Government Attendance expectations

A number of parents have contacted me regarding the current situation and whether, given the circumstances, parents can unofficially keep their children at home.  Although I do understand parents’ understandable concerns, I have to follow official guidance on attendance, which is:

It is vital for all children to attend school to minimise, as far as possible, the longer-term impact of the pandemic on children’s education, wellbeing and wider development.

Missing out on more time in the classroom risks pupils falling further behind.  Those with higher overall absence tend to achieve less well in both primary and secondary school.  School attendance has therefore been mandatory from the beginning of the Autumn term.  This means from that point, the usual rules on school attendance apply, including:

  • Parents’ duty to secure their child’s attendance regularly at school (where the child is a registered pupil at school, and they are of compulsory school age)
  • Schools’ responsibilities to record attendance and follow up absence.

Year 11 Mocks

We have now finished two weeks of mock exams for our Year 11 students.  The external invigilation team have been extremely complimentary about this cohort and this obviously bodes really well for the next few vital months and for the summer examinations.  Well done to all our year 11 students!

Structure of the College Day - Change for Next Term

It is now obvious that the current COVID-related procedures will need to continue next term.  As you know we have implemented a rolling break and lunch time system which requires Year 9 to have breaks during Periods 2 and 4.  Some staff and students have remarked how well this has worked whilst others have found it less satisfactory.

In the interests of fairness, we are going to switch Year 8 and Year 9 next term so that Year 8 will become the year group with breaks during Periods 2 and 4.  As with all changes there will be positive and negative consequences.  Arrangements for all other year groups will remain unchanged.

I can now confirm these changes will go ahead next term.  If this situation is still the same at Easter, and we all desperately hope this isn’t the case, then we would make one final switch and have Year 7 as the year group requiring breaks during Periods 2 and 4.

I know another change to procedures is not what we would ideally want but I trust everyone can see the rationale for considering this change.

Mr Tanner - Principal

Curriculum Information