COVID & REMOTE LEARNING, SPRING TERM 2021

LAST UPDATED: 11.55a.m. on Monday 11 January 2021

PLEASE CHECK THIS PAGE PERIODICALLY FOR FURTHER UPDATES

CONTEXT: Late on Wednesday, 30 December 2020, the Secretary of State for Education announced last minute changes to the reopening of schools in England from 4 January 2021. On Monday, 4 January 2021, the Prime Minister announced further last-minute changes introducing a new national lockdown from Wednesday 6 January 2021 until at least February 2021 half-term, but potentially for the whole of the Spring 2021 term. 

VKWs: Berkeley Academy and Berkeley Pre-School now have in place arrangements for remote learning for the majority of children and will remain open, if necessary, to identified 'Vulnerable Children and to the 'children of Key/Critical Workers' (VKWs) on request. All children, including VKWs, will be taught and learn remotely by the class teachers and simultaneously via the internet, whether based at home or on-site.

Re-Opening: This means the earliest possible return date for all children is from Tuesday 23 February 2021, but it could be delayed to any time after that and possibly as late as Monday 19 April 2021 (the scheduled start of the summer 2021 term). A staggered return may be also necessary in the first few days if the risk at the time necessitates. The Government has said that children will return to face-to-face education in school as soon as the pressures are easing on the NHS.

Public exams: SATS, GCSEs, A-levels, Vocational, etc. will not go ahead in summer 2021. We will wait to find out whether there will be any alternative end of key stage arrangements put in place for EYFS, Year 2 and Year 6, like in secondary schools where 'Teacher Assessed Grades' / 'Centre Assessed Grades' will be used. 

SAFETY RISK ASSESSMENT: We have previously strongly opposed school closure and we have been confidently able to ensure children are safe at school. Our risk assessment has been updated and we no longer judge it to be safe for Berkeley Academy and Pre-School to remain open. This term and until the community risk lessens, the fewer children there are on-site, the safer everyone will be. 

Danger: Some schools are reporting huge demand for pre-school, nursery, vulnerable and key worker places which means that those schools remain extremely likely to facilitate the spread of the new Coronavirus variant. 

Thank you: We thank parents for making every effort, however inconvenient, to keep Berkeley children at home and engage with face-to-face remote learning instead. We offer a full curriculum and full-time provision remotely.  

Face-to-Face Education: We know that receiving face-to-face education is best for children’s mental health and for their educational achievement and so, in this lockdown, we will do our best to use technology to deliver 'face to face' via the internet learning education to all our children. We are doing our best to ensure every child in a family is able to learn online from the home.

The Main Risks: Having reviewed the risk, we now believe it is absolutely necessary to close schools this term due to: 

  • the much, much easier transmission of the new variant of Coronavirus,
  • the fact that children, even primary aged children, can catch and transmit the new variant more easily (which means even though they themselves are safe because they are still only likely to be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, they can bring it into the home and infect adults at home or at school),
  • the new variant is being transmitted at extremely high rates locally (currently over 2,000 cases per 100.000 population in Heston West, up to 4 January 2021, and rising rapidly) due to household mixing and a lack of consistent adherence to the rules. In-school mixing would make this even worse, putting more lives in danger, and
  • the NHS locally is close to being overwhelmed, and if this happens, critically ill patients will not be able to get the intensive care treatment they need to survive. 

Necessary Basic Precautions: Primary schools cannot open in a way which ensures good social distancing of over 2 metres at all times and this is the main means of reducing infection. Primary aged children also do not generally wear masks, which would be our second line of defence against transmission. We believe universal mask wearing would help but this is not Government policy at present. Most other precautions can easily be achieved (hygiene, disinfection, good ventilation, etc) in school.

Reducing Mixing: The overwhelming majority of children have no symptoms or very mild illness only if they contract Coronavirus but limiting attendance at school is needed to reduce the number of contacts that your children have with people in other households, and hence prevent them bringing the virus into the home or infecting school staff. 

A Sudden Increase In Positive Test Results and Serious Illness:  We were able to test all staff again at the end of term. Everyone got a negative result, and this confirmed the fact that the academy was Covid safe all last term.

However, with the emergence over the Christmas 2020 break of the new variant, we have seen a marked increase in children, their family members and staff testing positive in late December 2020 and early January 2021, with some adults needing to be hospitalised.

We have done what we can to support families in crisis practically and with our thoughts and prayers.

We appeal to parents and colleagues to hold in their thoughts and prayers, Ms Heroe (Special Needs Coordinator / Designated Lead for Child Protection and Religious Education Teacher) and her family.

Ms Heroe contracted Coronavirus at Christmas 2020 and is currently fighting to overcome the virus in the intensive care unit.

The next few hours and days are critical. 

Appeal to our Parents, Staff and Community: It is absolutely crucial that households stop mixing with others (including family and friends) and follow the rules all the time, as the data proves that not doing this is primarily what is spreading the virus at such an alarming rate in the areas around the academy (Heston West, Cranford, etc).

Children cannot come back to school until our community reduces the infection and death rate locally and relieves the pressure it is putting on hospitals, ambulances, and GP services. Their education will also suffer from the impact bereavements involving close family and school staff. 

We all need to keep each other safe until the vaccine has widespread distribution and take up, which means staying safe until the autumn 2021. 

OVERVIEW

In view of the very high levels of Coronavirus infections locally, all schools in Hounslow are subject to exceptions to the national arrangements and are not allowed to open as planned, hence: 

  • Berkeley Academy will NOT be re-opening its site for the vast majority of our children until further notice, and certainly not before 23 February 2021 at the earliest, and possibly not until 19 April 2021.
  • We are providing online / remote learning for all children (EYFS, KS1 and KS2). A full-time, full curriculum is being delivered to every child in EYFS, KS1 and KS2.
  • By 18 January 2021, EYFS, KS1 and KS2 will all be using Google classrooms and zoom for beamed learning.
  • Whilst the vast majority of children will be learning from home, there will be limited on-site provision, although it will still be remote learning, for:
  1. The children of some critical workers (where there is no safe alternative for them to learn at home),
  2. Targeted vulnerable children and
  3. Early Years (Pre-School and Nursery) 

This on-site provision will be in new 'key stage bubbles'. We will endeavour, provided take-up is very low to maintain a social distance. Parents of these children are also asked to consider whether they would feel safer if their child was wearing a mask. 

Provision may be continuous or discontinuous depending on the circumstances. The capacity (number of places) offered will take into account safety considerations for the children, the staff and the home setting.

On-site provision will be supervised solely by Teaching Assistants so that the teachers can teach their classes as they would if everyone was in school. 

  • Schools and teachers have had very short notice to prepare for this change. This means it may, in practice, take a short time to put in place all the arrangements needed.
  • Critically Extremely Vulnerable staff have been given the option to work from home at least until 21 February 2021.
  • Teachers will, in the first week, be adapting their planning and teaching whilst based on-site at the academy.
  • By 11 January 2021, most will be teachers (except SLT and those teachers who need to work from the academy site because home is not suitable) will be teaching online from their own homes.
  • On 11 January 2021, other staff will be prioritised / de-prioritised to work from home based on the weighing up of several pre-declared risk factors including (these are not in any priority order):
  1. How essential their job role is in the context of the site remaining open for some staff and selected children,
  2. Those who staff who are clinically extremely vulnerability (CEV),
  3. Those staff who are clinically vulnerability (CV),
  4. Emotional well-being considerations,
  5. Those staff who have other relevant health / risk factors
  6. Those who are living with people who are CEV,
  7. Those who are living with people who are CV,
  8. Those with carer responsibilities,
  9. Transport considerations, etc. 

Some staff will be required to attend work on site on a rota basis. 

Some staff will be redeployed from Tuesday 12 January 2021 to meet the needs of the academy. 

  • The academy will only have skeletal staffing for on-site provision from Tuesday, 12 January 2021. 

SAFETY

The academy itself already has tough precautions in place which have proved highly effective in avoiding transmission last term, and this provides strong evidence that the academy was successful in remaining 'Covid Safe' at all times.

All staff were tested for Covid at the start in September 2020 and the last of term in December 2020 and all were negative. However, transmission in the community has increased significantly over the last three weeks and the academy has to prepare for some staff shortages where colleagues also become ill. Sadly, the impact of Coronavirus is now very real for us at Berkeley Academy.

The academy will also remain open for staff who need to work on-site and, with most children learning from home and the tough precautions we operate, the academy may offer a safer space for some. 

The academy will continue to offer Covid screening for all staff and contractors attending the school site (including Pre-School staff) up to twice weekly (three days apart) in the coming term including before any adult restarts work. This helps to safeguard other colleagues, in particular.    

In view of the new strain of Coronavirus in circulation, we will enhance these precautions even further so that when staff and children are in school, they remain, and feel, as safe as before Christmas 2020.

Additional / further enhanced infection control measures / equipment will be introduced (details to follow). This is being directed by Ms Huynh.

We want to do this as the new variant of the virus is reported to be between 40-80% more infectious than the previous strain and there is some evidence that younger children can also catch the new variant. Although primary aged children are still normally asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms so they are not themselves at significant risk, there is increased risk that they could pass on this more infectious strain to other adults in the school or in their household and hence we will be reviewing our arrangements thoroughly and comprehensively before all the children return. 

Even though we normally maintain that the best place for children to be is in school, we now fully support the temporary closure of primary schools in Hounslow for as long as needed because there are now much higher levels of Coronavirus infections locally around the academy (at the time of publishing, the rate per 100,000 of population is over 2,000 in Heston West, and over 1,625 in nearby Cranford for example, and still rising rapidly each day.

We need to help reduce the number of infections and we want to avoid schools making even a small contribution to the spread of the virus at a time when local hospitals and the NHS in London is already fully stretched and at risk of being so overwhelmed that they will not be able to offer life-saving treatment to those in need.

N.B. The source of daily updates used is coronavirus.data.gov.uk

  • Schools can help save lives now by closing for a period to support the NHS but so can everyone in our community.
  • You / we can all help by keeping our distance from others - stay as far as possible from others (this is by far the most effective way of avoiding catching or spreading Covid), staying at home, wearing masks properly, having shopping delivered where possible and not having visitors or visiting others.
  • It is important to be extra strict with yourself and your family whilst the numbers are so high.
  • We can bring the numbers down by following the rules and not going to the shops, for example, unless it really is 100% essential and there is no alternative. 

As people have to behave differently before the number of infections will fall, there is particular uncertainty in terms of when most primary aged students would return to on-site teaching and learning.

Much depends on the whole community following the rules, ALL OF THE TIME.

This means families of our staff and students staying at home and not having any visitors (i.e. no family, no friends) at all, getting supplies delivered where possible and adhering to the sort of household rules that I illustrated in my Christmas letter (see below).

We want students to return as soon as it is safe for them to do so, but obviously not before it is safe

Hence, and in the light of the new Coronavirus strain, we believe that our schools should move to online learning as much as possible now and until the local risk improves sufficiently but we also want that learning to provide the normal structure of a school day, social interactions with teachers and other students, etc and hence we are moving to beamed learning as our main mode of operation.

There will be a practical limit to the numbers of children of critical workers and vulnerable students that we can safely have in school. In the context of the new strain and the very high infection rate in our community, we will only be able to operate fully 'socially-distanced' provision at all times and strict, very small bubbles. The greater the demand for places on-site, the less possible it becomes to assure parents that their households are not being put at risk of infection from in-school mixing. 

There is an obvious contradiction between telling families not to mix in order to reduce infections and relieve the intense pressure on the NHS and allowing their children to mix with many other families. 

Throughout the Christmas 2020 break (including Christmas Day), we have provided support to families in crisis, helped staff, students and their families who have become ill with Covid and provided families in need with food parcels, Christmas presents etc., Our capacity to do this has reduced again now that the full virtual school is up and running, but we will continue to signpost families to where they may be able to get support.  

Schools are also having to update their health and safety risk assessment daily as the risk in the community is rising so rapidly.

We will certainly need to consider the risk further and very closely before any full opening. We are assessing the risk based on all the data we have access to. We will only re-open fully when it is deemed safe to do so.

​RAPID COVID TESTING FOR STAFF  

Staff and Contractors who are regularly on-site will self-test twice each week, at least 3 days apart, after an initial 2 session training. This will be monitored by the SLT on Duty and Reception staff. 

Self-tests will be carried out privately and independently.

The government has promised more tests will be delivered to primary schools in the second half of January 2021.

Where a colleague has an invalid test, it must be retaken with support (re-training) to avoid the risk of having to take a PCR test. The colleague will then be authorised to test independently again.

Ms Huynh will oversee the testing programme.  

Contact Testing: Daily testing for a window of 7 days will also be made available to staff who have been in contact with someone in school who has tested positive.  Those who would previously have isolated in these circumstances will instead be tested BEFORE starting work each day during this window and as long as the result is negative, they can continue coming to work.

Testing is not available to children at school. 

Staff (and students) must NOT return to school if they have possible Covid-19 symptoms or they have tested positive for Covid-19 and have not completed their self-isolation period. 

REOPENING ARRANGEMENTS

CHILDREN ON-SITE

  • Children whose parents are key/critical workers: Households where the parents/guardians are key workers will be able to contact Ms Lewis, Deputy Head of School ( j.lewis@berkeleyacademy.org.uk ) to request places for teaching/learning at school from Tuesday 5 January 2021. The commencement of this provision will be staggered for safety reasons so you may not be offered a place which starts on the first day. 

The academy will ultimately determine whether an application is eligible / ineligible with reference to, but not limited by, the DfE guidance. Safety will be paramount.

Please note, these students will join their normal classes remotely from a classroom in school. There will be no difference in provision at all whether a child is remote working from home or on-site. Supervision of these students in school will be by Teaching Assistants but each child will be 'socially-distanced' from each other and adults at all times.  

Those accepted for places will be contacted from Monday 4 January 2021 and offered the place. If you do not receive a decision and a start date (if a place is offered) about your application within 24 hours (once term has started), please contact Ms Lewis ( j.lewis@berkeleyacademy.org.uk )

NOTE: Children of critical workers must not return to school if they have possible Covid-19 symptoms or they have tested positive for Covid-19 and have not completed their self-isolation period. 

  • Vulnerable Children: Academy Pastoral Staff, led Ms Lewis, Deputy Head of School will identify students who for any of a variety of reasons (with reference to, but not limited the DfE guidance) may be best supported by attending the academy in person from Tuesday 5 January 2021 and will communicate with these students and their parents/guardians accordingly about the return arrangements/start date, etc. The commencement of this provision will be staggered for safety reasons so you may not be offered a place which starts on the first day. Where the academy identifies a child for on-site learning, attendance is compulsory, and non-attendance will be pursued. 

Please note, once their year group commence remote learning, these students will join their classes remotely from a socially distanced classroom in school. There will normally be little or no difference in provision at all, except the amount of in person / on-hand support. Supervision of and support for these students in school will be by Teaching Assistants and associated pastoral staff. 

Parents and students selected will be contacted from Monday 4 January 2021 or as appropriate thereafter.  If you feel your child should have been selected but has not, you can contact Ms Lewis ( j.lewis@berkeleyacademy.org.uk ) to discuss your reasoning. 

Note: Vulnerable children must not return to school if they have possible Covid-19 symptoms or they have tested positive for Covid-19 and have not completed their self-isolation period. 

  • The No Visitors Policy will continue this term until further notice. Visiting professionals will no longer be automatically exempt and where it is technically possible to use a video link or find an alternative method of contact, this will be required. 
  • All those staff who normally work on Mondays must return to work on site on 4 January 2021, except those designated as Clinically Extremely Vulnerable (CEV) or those who have tested positive with Covid-19 or those who have possible Covid-19 symptoms and are self-isolating whilst awaiting a PCR test result. Unless sick, these staff will work from home whilst isolating.

TUESDAY 5 JANUARY 2021 AND UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE

  • Free School Meals: The academy will be reintroducing a voucher system for free school meals for those eligible students who are remote learning. A limited lunch provision will be made for students who are on site to purchase or take instead of FSM vouchers. Details will follow.
  • Remote Learning: Remote teaching starts at your child’s normal start time each day and concludes at the normal finish time. We have learned a lot and are better prepared to deliver a virtual school with live lessons to our students than in March 2020. Note: Up to Friday 8 January 2021, EYFS and KS1 may have shorter days but no fewer than 3 hours per day (on average)
  • Teachers will be taking registers for attendance every day so online attendance for all lessons is vital and action will be taken for any non-attendance. 
  • Beamed learning allows students to interact with the teacher and other students, work in small groups, etc. and is as close as possible to learning in school. It provides a social aspect that supports your child’s wider development and their emotional well-being.

Scaling Up Remote Education Provision

Pupils in EYFS

  • By 8:30a.m., 'registration task’ will be uploaded by school staff - via Class Dojo. The task needs to be completed by 9:00a.m. for the pupil to be marked present for the morning.
  • At 9:15a.m., a video of teacher input linked to Numeracy will be uploaded - via Class Dojo. Pupils need to watch this and if required, parents/carers to go over again to reinforce teaching before the pupil completes the independent task set. 
  • At 11:15a.m., a video of teacher input linked to Literacy will be uploaded - via Class Dojo. This will include discrete phonics teaching. Pupils need to watch this and if required, parents/carers to go over again to reinforce teaching before the pupil completes the independent task set. 
  • At 12:30p.m., a second 'registration task’ will be uploaded by school staff - via Class Dojo. The task needs to be completed by 1:00p.m. for the pupil to be marked present for the afternoon.
  • Following this, a video of teacher input linked to other areas of the EYFS curriculum will be uploaded - via Class Dojo.  Pupils need to watch this and if required, parents/carers to go over again to reinforce teaching before the pupil completes the independent task set. 
  • From the week beginning 18/1/2021: Teachers will beam lessons based on the class timetable via Google Classroom. Provision will continue to be full-time and cover the full curriculum.

Pupils in KS1

  • By 8:30a.m., a 'registration task’ will be uploaded by school staff - via Class Dojo. The task needs to be completed by 9:00a.m. for the pupil to be marked present for the morning.
  • At 9:15a.m., a video of teacher input for the maths lesson will be uploaded - via Class Dojo. Pupils need to watch this and if required, parents/carers to go over again to reinforce teaching before the pupil completes the independent task set. 
  • At 11:15a.m., a video of teacher input for the English lesson will be uploaded - via Class Dojo. This will include discrete phonics teaching. Pupils need to watch this and if required, parents/carers to go over again to reinforce teaching before the pupil completes the independent task set. 
  • At 12:30p.m., a second 'registration' task will be uploaded by school staff - via Class Dojo. The task needs to be completed by 1:00p.m. for the pupil to be marked present for the afternoon. Following this, a video of teacher for the foundation subject lesson input will be uploaded - via Class Dojo. Pupils need to watch this and if required, parents/carers to go over again to reinforce teaching before the pupil completes the independent task set. 
  • From the week beginning 11/1/2021: Teachers will beam lessons based on the class timetable via Google Classroom. Provision will continue to be full-time and cover the full curriculum.

Pupils in KS2

  • From 5/1/2021, full-time / full curriculum, remote teaching (beamed learning) will take place via Google Classroom and Zoom.
  • Timings and timetables will be shared by Class Teachers by 8:30a.m. on 5/1/2021.
  • Pupils will be expected to be ready for a full school day at 8:55a.m. - Teachers will take the register.
  • The pupils will then be taught lessons 'live', with the teacher beaming into homes initially from Berkeley Academy according to their normal class timetable.
  • All work completed by pupils will be assessed/marked as it would be if the pupils were receiving on site provision, this include pupils being expected to respond to feedback. 
  • It is important that children have access to a suitable IT device (not a phone or tablet but a laptop or desktop with a suitable specification), have internet access / connectivity and have an appropriate place to work. This needs to be the case for every school-aged child in the household. If parents have problems in any of these regards, they should contact Ms Huynh to discuss the problem(s). In some cases where older siblings are involved, the academy will work in partnership with Ms Jenkins at Cranford Community College to find a family solution. If there is no other solution, one or more of the child(ren) may be offered a vulnerable child place. 

  • Children of Key/Critical Workers and vulnerable children authorised to attend site will have to update their Health and Travel Declaration on entry.
  • The dress code for staff and uniform expectations for students will be relaxed until the academy re-opens more widely. Staff can dress at school as they would for a Teacher Training Day during this week, children do not have to wear school uniform for remote learning UNLESS they are receiving on-site provision, but staff and children must always adhere to the dress code principles e.g. not offensive, decent, etc. (Refer to website page on uniform and dress code). 

TOUGHER MEASURES AND ENFORCEMENT: The data would suggest that our area is likely to need tougher measures and greater enforcement to save lives.  

The Prime Minister also indicated that only a fraction of the UK's 67 Million population will be vaccinated by Easter 2021, even with the change of strategy where recipients only being given the first dose initially.

This means that it is implausible that schools will be operating normally at least until autumn 2021 and what will happen instead of public examinations at primary and secondary, including Year 6 SATS, needs clarification. 

To help save lives now though, we ask everyone in our community to honour the rules 100% of the time, outside and in the home, have no visitors, take precautions, wear masks properly (COVERING YOUR NOSE AT ALL TIMES AS WELL AS YOUR MOUTH) and do not go out if it is avoidable and help lower the risk in our community. 

  • When the remaining students return to on-site teaching and learning, they must update their Health and Travel Declaration on entry.  
  • We all have a role to play in helping to reduce the transmission of the virus and hence save lives and safeguard the education of students. 
  • FOLLOW THE RULES

Kevin Prunty

Executive Head Teacher / CEO

National Leader of Education

 

PUBLIC HEALTH UPDATE 11 JANUARY 2021

Hounslow's Director of Public Health, Kelly O’Neill, said:

“Around one in thirty people in London are currently infected with COVID-19, higher in some boroughs and some local areas.

In Hounslow, where 49 people died with COVID-19 in December 2020 alone (a higher number expected for January 2021), the picture is just as stark and the number of deaths due to the increased numbers of cases of infection and people requiring hospital care will increase in January 2021.

This current very high rate of infection in our borough is increasing fast- as the Prime Minister said when announcing their closure - schools can act as vectors for the virus.

Right now, we need to keep doing everything we can to stop the virus from spreading. 

We agree with the Government’s decision to close schools and for schools to only stay open for those pupils who are in the greatest need and where there is no possible alternative that can be found; this emergency measure will help schools to maintain a safer environment for children and staff.

“As the Government's guidance has made clear, where people can keep their child/children at home for remote learning, they should.

The simple truth is that if schools become overused, the lockdown will fail.

If schools become overused, the demands on teachers will mean schools cannot operate safely. 

We are appealing to schools to limit as far as possible the extent to which they offer any emergency childcare on site, and to maximise take-up of online learning at home.

We appeal too to families to keep their child or children learning at home. 

"Without the continued support of everybody, this lockdown will not work. If you need more help, please speak to your school.

Thank you.”

For more information, please visit: https://www.ho​unslow.gov.uk/coronavirus

Archive: Christmas 2020 Letter from the Head Teacher

21 December 2020

Dear Parents / Guardians and Colleagues,

There is no denying that 2020 has been a terrible year in many ways but there is growing optimism for 2021.

Alongside the darkness, there is also much light. Yet, there remain some dangers and challenges to overcome before we reach safety.

It is important to remember that we are in this situation together, not alone, and we must continue to work as a mutually supportive community to help each other to get through the hardships that any one of us has to face.

We are all ‘looking forward’ to the days when we can ‘look back’ on this crisis. I hope that by next summer, we might be able to look back on some aspects at least.

There are now so many inspiring examples of individuals, communities, neighbours, businesses, religious and other organisations that are stepping up to tackle isolation, to ensure children have Christmas gifts, to support mental health, to protect against domestic violence, to tackle food poverty caused by the pandemic and ensure that people stay safe. This is in addition to the amazing work done by food banks, charities, and Councils.

I am sure that many of you, in spite of your own challenges, are also finding ways and time to help others in need, not just over the holiday period but longer term too. Even a weekly phone call, a zoom ‘hello’, a WhatsApp group for your street/block/area and virtual activities can make a big difference or even be a life saver.

We must care for ourselves too and it is equally important that we do not just struggle on. At some point in the pandemic, every one of us will need the help of others.  We must each find the strength of character to ask for help when we need it.

Thankfully, there is huge hope on the horizon with the emergence of several vaccines and some 500,000 people in the U.K. expected to have been vaccinated by the end of December 2020.

We hope that the vaccination programme can be significantly scaled up in the light of the new variant of Covid which is now dominating infections in London.

The emergence of safe vaccines so quickly is a blessing, and we hope that they will give substantial protection over time too.

The vaccines will take time to be rolled out to the whole population and we understand that the plans for mass vaccinations sites have temporarily been put on hold so the timescale for eradicating the virus seems more tenuous.

The recent scientific breakthroughs mean that we can, alongside managing the on-going risks, begin to devote more time on what needs to be done to recover from the far-ranging damage caused by the pandemic, and a key focus of that will need to be on job creation. We have recently been accepted as a ‘KickStart’ provider as the first of these types of skills development and job creation activities.

Christmas is just one of the religious and cultural festivals and traditions that have been badly affected by the pandemic.  With that in mind, we shall begin to plan for a three-day, post-pandemic series of events (Friday to Sunday) to celebrate and recognise, and symbolically compensate for, the impact that the pandemic has had on all the religions and cultures of which our schools are so proud. We are pencilling this into the calendar potentially to be held in late June 2021 or July/August 2021.

But for now, the infection rates in the wards around our schools have been consistently higher than elsewhere and remain near the highest in the country, with rates in some wards now over 470 per 100,000 and still rising rapidly (This has risen to over 2,000 / 100,000 just three weeks later). This is an on-going worry, especially if the infections accelerate further due to the new Coronavirus variant.

We / You must urgently do all in our / your power to reduce the infections from the current level even though the new variant is more infectious. If we do not, then (before the vaccine has been rolled out), the number of hospitalisations will rise and there will be more deaths. It could become worse still if the hospitals run out of capacity so we must act to prevent that likelihood.

The spread of the virus locally has not been through restaurants, bars, sporting events or schools. It has come largely from contacts in workplaces and on public transport which then has spread rapidly within households and families. The best way to reduce transmission is not to take any risk, stay indoors and do not have visitors, including close family and friends.

The new variant is believed to be more infectious because it is more effective at getting into and attaching itself to the upper respiratory tract. Hence, even greater social distancing and wearing the most protective mask that you can find (dual or multi-layer) will be the best steps to take, even within the home. It is now even more important that the mask is worn properly and covers both the mouth and nose properly at all times.

The following household guidance can help reduce the risk of transmission. Ensure that your whole household is operating additional precautions as far as possible, including:

  • Acting as though you or fellow your householders are positive but asymptomatic (you or they may be)
  • Social distancing of at least 2m, ideally more than 3m, from each other,
  • Staying in separate rooms or defined personal spaces as much as possible,
  • Wearing the double layer masks indoors where you cannot guarantee you will remain less that 3m apart or if you live with someone who is vulnerable,
  • Changing / washing clothes and showering when you come into the house after being outside,
  • Keeping closer interactions as short as possible,
  • Keeping rooms very well ventilated even if it is then cold,
  • Avoiding skin contact / washing hands or skin thoroughly where skin contact is unavoidable,
  • Avoiding sharing objects, for example cutlery, light switches, rooms, door handles, remote controls and any high contact items/surfaces, and
  • More frequent cleaning / sanitising of such items / surfaces, etc.

Keeping schools open has rightly been a national priority and the safety precautions in place are now proven to keep staff and students safe.

In spite of the high prevalence of the virus locally, our precautions and strategies have proved highly effective so far, surpassing all our expectations.  

The overarching strategy deployed has been called the ‘submarine strategy’ and has included:

  • a) preventing the entry of the virus from the community into the schools through careful vetting on entry, a no visitor policy, testing, etc.
  • b) extensive infection control measures including social distancing or bubbles, compulsory mask wearing throughout, seating plans, good ventilation/fresh air, thorough cleaning, disinfection routines throughout the day, forensic analysis of contacts, etc.
  • c) isolation and immediate removal of the virus when is enters the schools.

The overwhelming success of the strategy to date has meant that staff and student attendance in the autumn 2020 term has been excellent, far higher than nationally or locally and so there has been much less education missed by our students than in most schools. We have seen very few positive cases among students and none among the staff, and there has been no transmission at all within school.

Wishing you all a happy and safe Christmas and a return to good health, family and friends and prosperity and hope in 2021.

Kevin Prunty

Executive Head Teacher / CEO

National Leader of Education

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