Dear Families and Friends,
Thank you, and a hopeful New Year to you! As we all looked back on 2020 over the Christmas holidays, I am sure that we also looked forward to a more positive year to come. Whilst it has been a shaky start, we must remain hopeful, and encourage each other to stay confident, determined and optimistic.
Our online nativities were viewed by so many of you and your families - and the feedback was so encouraging and positive. I hope that you enjoyed each of them whilst they were available. We can't make them available to buy or keep, but we are planning further online offerings in the coming months, so watch this space!
Restricting attendance during the national lockdown (as the Government have called it) did not come as a surprise to me. The news and announcements in the run up to 4th January were all leading to some sort of action to curb the growing spread of Covid-19 and its variants. For us, it was a considered, necessary decision to limit the number of children in the school building, as we awaited further information, scientific data and instruction. These eventually came and, even yesterday evening (Saturday), the Government was updating and tweaking their guidance to schools and our families. I am sure that there will be more to come.
One of the hardest parts of this new lockdown, is that we have many more children of critical (key) worker families to teach in school - in every year group. Some classes have over half of their children in the building, and we have had high expectations placed upon us to cater for both "in school" and "at home" children's learning. As we became aware of the demand for the "in school" places, we have had to adapt our plans for the coming weeks to make them manageable and effective. Our website is the place to head for everything you need, and we will use our App and email to keep our families updated. Please keep us updated with any changes of contact details.
Many have asked about who can attend school during this lockdown period. As last night's Government guidance for families says: “Children and young people are eligible to attend school or college if at least one parent or carer is a critical worker, and they can’t keep their child at home. Critical workers are those whose work is critical to the coronavirus (COVID- 19) and EU transition response’ This means that, currently, we have about a third of the pupils in the building, and all staff are in school each day. Whilst we will endeavour to offer places to all who need them, please consider whether this is actually necessary for you. The Government changed their criteria during the last lockdown, which disappointed some families, and they may do so again this time. We do not want to turn anyone away, but our local health and safety risk assessment may mean that we have to, in order to provided the safest place possible for all. Our most vulnerable children will always be catered for, the best we can.
Another question that I want to answer here is this: will we be offering "live" lessons? The simple answer is no, but let me briefly explain the three main reasons:
- We must offer all of our children equity of access to our teaching. Not everyone has a working device that is suitable for online learning yet. We are aiming to distribute our limited supply of extra laptops, to those struggling families, over the coming days. This will help even out the digital divide, but will not eradicate it. Most families will have to share their limited devices amongst multiple family members - so how can more than one person join a "live" lesson at the same time (especially when the other child is of secondary age)? And, mobile data is expensive.
- We have to use our expertise to provide resources that actually work for the children's learning. "Live" lessons rarely offer that, when compared to pre-recorded resources. In fact, the evidence suggests that the opposite is true. When a teacher prepares a video or audio lesson in advance, the children can watch it at their chosen time, and multiple times. Instruction and modelling can be shared and replayed again and again, which will also help the adults support their child's learning in a way that works for them.
- We always have to consider safeguarding implications. With children in the classrooms as well as online at the same time, it is more difficult to fulfil our statutory duty of care to everyone. Yes, there are solutions, but none that outway the first two issues above.
This does not mean that we will not provide "live" sessions for each class. On the contrary. Regular contact is vital so, as we did in the summer term, we will begin using Zoom (or an equivalent) in the coming days - but this will be for short discussion and catching up sessions, rather than direct teaching for the moment. Remember, we will do all that is necessary to provide the highest quality of learning, trying to reduce the burden for you as parents and carers.
So, all of our teachers have been preparing and sharing pre-recorded video for the appropriate age and stage of the children. Each class will vary, depending on what we know is best for each child. The Home Learning sections of Class Pages will have a new link, for each week. Just follow the date at the top of the page! The 'All Children' page will also link to other free resources that we will make available, as we did last time. We have decided not to use the Blog feature for the moment. Early Years families will continue to have access to Tapestry for communication.
We have prepared some short home-learning packs, for many families who need help in the transition to online, remote learning. A message will be sent on Monday, once everything is copied and ready.
The Government expects schools to provide a few hours of core learning each day - about 3 hours for Reception and Key Stage 1, and 4 hours for Key Stage 2. This does not mean that the children should be online for that whole time - whatever they may ask for! We are offering various activities that are away from the devices - so please watch your child's screen time. We are also trying to minimise printing, as this isn't always possible and can be expensive. Just look at the learning activities and see what the children can do "offline". All feedback is through the contact form on the Class Pages, and via email at the moment. Please use your own email address, rather than that of the child (if they have one). If you want to send work back into school, a quick scan or photo will be fine. This can be throughout the week. Our aim to use "Feedback Friday" has had to change due to the demand in school. Instead, teachers will be posting work and checking their class email each day, addressing any issues and clarifying anything necessary.
There are more developments to follow - including offering every child a free version of Microsoft Office and content whist they remain with us. The BBC, of course, is also broadcasting 3 hours of new content for primary aged children on CBBC, from Monday morning.
If you have any particular issues with our ongoing arrangements, please let me know in the first instance - emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The Government have said that you may also contact Ofsted if you wish.
We are here for you. School is not closed. I am delighted that our Breakfast Club can still continue and, from next Wednesday, hot meals will be served again in school. Food parcels are, and will be available for our families as they need them - and I expect the quality to improve! But, we cannot help if we do not know - so, please, stay in touch!
Mr. Restall (and the whole St Bart's Team)