23 July 2020

We have received a number of complaints from parents with regard to form changes that have been provisionally made in preparation for September.  This has particularly impacted students moving into Year 8.
 
I need to explain the context to this and why it has happened as it has.
 
> Less than 2 weeks before the end of term, schools received communication from the government in terms of guidance for students returning in September.  Like all schools, we had to adapt quickly and communicate the key items to parents before we broke up last week.  You saw that communication in my letter, where I tried to strike a balance between as much information as was useful to parents, whilst not overloading parents with too much detail.  
> This government guidance asked schools to place students in "bubbles" of the smallest size possible.  There are two considerations that I needed to take into account in the guidance: students must follow the total curriculum, and their safety must be prioritised with the smallest groups possible to do this.  That means that we have to make sacrifices that we would not normally make in "normal" circumstances.  In order to do this, we had to adapt our curriculum and make choices that - like every one of us in wider society - we would never make under normal circumstances.
> Schools have been told that best practice in Years 7 and 8 is to place students in consistent small "bubbles" of children for their teaching.  Teaching includes form groups.
> In Year 7, students can be taught in their new form groups easily until the situation has been resolved, and we can start to work on creating ability groups.  The school has purchased national assessment tasks for the autumn term, so that these students can be placed in sets from Christmas if the situation allows this. So for them, the situation is less complex.
> In Year 8, we have had to change our whole curriculum structure to fit the COVID requirements around these new groupings.  That's not easy or desirable, but necessary:  we have had to now adapt these groups to fit the COVID requirements of "bubbles".  A child cannot have a different set of children in the room with them for the first 15 minutes of the day, and then change this group for their taught lessons.  We have to change to minimise the risk.  The changes we have made also mean that - when it is possible to do so - we can return children to their "normal" circumstances of teaching groups and forms.
 
We fully recognise that this situation is far from ideal: COVID management in schools isn't ever ideal.  These changes are still PROVISIONAL for the reasons outlined below.
 
I regret that some parents and pupils have been upset by this.  This has happened because they have looked on Edulink, for the right reasons.  Edulink is generally a positive resource, but it has not helped in this situation because it has thwarted our planned system of communication with this situation.  That's a learning curve for us as school leaders, and I have learnt to switch Edulink off for the summer holidays in future.  However, under normal circumstances it would not have been an issue because the children would have been in school with us at the end of the term to hear about any changes first hand.  A frustrating reality of the current situation.
 
Why did we not communicate this to parents and pupils last week?
There are a number of reasons:
(i) We did not want to communicate such a change prior to the break with all of the other information: it would never help.  We would rather do it in September, and then be able to talk face-to-face about it.  We would have sent a specific letter to parents about it prior to 5th September when Year 8 returned.  We still intend to do this in September.  We have staggered the first week in September, with the aim of communicating at that stage to parents and students when it is more relevant and finalised, and we can explain it in detail.  Year 8 are not due into school until the Friday of the first week, giving us plenty of time to iron out any issues.  The initial letter from me was about broad understanding, and we need to adapt our curriculum to fit the government's guidance.  But there is a time to give those finer details, and it made no sense to do that last week when you were bombarded with lots of information.
(i) This is currently provisional.  There are 6 weeks before this change may happen.  We have been told to expect further changes.  By September, the situation may have changed completely, for better or worse.  I fully expect there to be changes from the information I provided last week.  There is no advantage in giving out fuller information at this stage about these finer details when it may change completely between now and then.  We are working in unchartered territory here and we have learnt how quickly the advice changes.
(iii) Quite simply, our students have not been in school to explain it to them, or you.  This makes communication such as this very difficult because we can't send out adaptations unless we do this individually to every child: we are not allowed to publish lists of form groups for data protection reasons.
(iv) Least important but true, we are all working very hard to make this work in the best way that we can - in unprecedented circumstances - and there are no easy answers.  We have been working under strict guidelines ourselves as staff and this has put pressure on us to get everything right in a very short space of time.
 
In summary ....
<> I am very sorry that this has caused such upset.  It was never our intention.  We would much rather make no changes at all to forms, but we must do what we are advised is the correct course of action.
<> Our course of action and plan for communication was correct and valid: however I accept that the issue here is that the Edulink app released the information too early.  For that I apologise unreservedly and I have learnt from it.
<> Some parents have commented that this is upsetting for children.  We understand that entirely, and we know that children like their current form tutors and groups.  We would much rather be able to operate without the restrictions.  However, this whole COVID situation is entirely unhelpful to young people.  What we are doing here is adapting to the situation.  We never make changes just for the sake of it.
<> We will still communicate this as planned prior to return, and we will explain it face-to-face with young people in September.  As I said above, the situation may change and mean we need make no changes.  We will let you know either way.
<> In recognition of the upset that this situation has caused, I have set up a dedicated email address formtutorenquiries@wernethschool.com.  If you wish to seek further clarification on this, we can provide it via the dedicated year team prior to the return in September.  Each year team has a senior leader attached - as in my letter last week - and they will work with year leaders on any email received.  I have spoken with Mrs Kennedy today, and she will be prioritising this at the end of August with the Year 8 team.   
<> Having read all of the information above, if you feel that you wish to let us know of a specific circumstance, use the email above.  I fully accept there are some specific circumstances and we can look at these. A member of the year team will contact you prior to return with an answer.  For the reasons outlined here, we accept that some friendship ties in forms may be affected, and that children may prefer their prior form tutor.  Please note that the reply to this email address will only happen from the end of August when we can know a clearer picture from the government.
 
Thank you
Mr A Conroy - Headteacher

Posted by cmurphy