"________ _________________ ____ _____"
WEEK 20 - Friday 12 February 2021
That was the term that was….
I think it is the weekends that do it. The predictability and the lack of variety. It has almost brought an end to those Monday morning conversations that we all loved to have with colleagues and students alike; “What did you do at the weekend?”, “Where did you go?”, “That sounds like fun.” There is incredible excitement if someone has discovered a new take away or perhaps a live streaming event that doesn’t involve trawling through Netflix.
But there are reasons to be hopeful. It is great to hear when colleagues tell me that their parents have had their vaccination; you can see the relief and the optimism start to return. Likewise, students who tell us that their front line parents, or their grandparents, have also ‘had the jab’. Each one takes us closer to returning to something, if not normal, than better than this.
But, in school, it has been a busy six weeks. It is hard to think that when we returned on January 4th, we were expecting to see students follow soon after. But it was on that very same day that the PM announced schools were closing. I am proud of the work that my staff have done to provide online learning so rapidly and to such a high standard. I cannot pretend that it is perfect - if schools were intended to operate online, it would have happened years ago - but I think we have done okay (and I am usually quite hard to please). Mostly, I am pleased with how parents, carers and staff have come together to support the children when they needed us most. We may not always realise it, but we have done a good job. Together.
Once we had got that set up, we turned our attention to creating a pop-up covid testing centre, which has now been running for four weeks in our sports hall. This tests staff and students that have been coming onto the school site and, thanks to other volunteer staff who have been trained to run it, we have carried out over 300 tests.
The work of supporting students who are in school and at home has fallen predominantly to our new Pastoral team of Heads of Year and their assistants. This team has led the regular contacting of students and parents, sending out a weekly blog and a HOY Assembly. Once the students return, it will be they who will be responsible for ensuring a smooth and safe return and supporting any individuals who need it.
There have been some big decisions taken this term too, not least of which the decision to move to a three-year Key Stage 3. This directly affects only students in Year 7 and, especially, Year 8. The rationale for this change has been communicated to Year 7 and 8 parents as well as Year 8 students and we are here if anyone wishes to discuss this further with us. As ever, please be assured that all decisions of this kind are taken with the best interests of the students very much in mind.
It was disappointing this week that we had to formally cancel the Computer Science trip to San Francisco. This was the most ambitious school trip that we had embarked on for several years but the uncertainty over travel arrangements meant that it was unwise to proceed. All parents are being refunded and we will look to offer a similar opportunity in the future. We regret that the Key Stage 4 students who had booked to go will not be able to do so but hope that they will, one day, visit the USA and San Francisco themselves. Thank you to Mr Scott for organising it and to parents for your patience as we made that decision.
This is, of course, the end of the half term although I am always aware that not everyone is a teacher(!) and talk of half term to non-teachers is usually met with a roll of the eyes. This is especially true when children have already been at home for the past six weeks. There will be no online learning next week of course and I hope all of our students and families can find some time for a break, whether it be in the garden or plenty of exercise elsewhere. I believe it is going to warm up a little so I hope you can all take advantage of it. When students do return, we will be reverting back to the 45 minute lunch period too.
Finally, I would like to thank you all for the ongoing support you have given myself and my staff as we have tried to navigate another difficult half term. The messages of support truly are appreciated.
We return on Monday 22 February and I hope it will not be long after that date when we have more news on when students will be able return to school in person.
In the meantime, take care and stay safe.
Mr V Groak
WEEK 19 - Friday 5 February 2021
It is an understatement to say that I am proud to be the Headteacher of Hessle High School. When I began my teaching career twenty years ago, I never imagined for one minute that I would ultimately find myself in this role and there is not a day that goes by when I do not feel fortunate to have such a varied, challenging and rewarding role. I am also aware that I am just a custodian of this role, charged with the responsibility of making sure that the school is in better shape when I pass on the role to my successor than it was when I inherited it. And that is a tough ask as Mrs Young did a remarkable job as leader of the school!
One of the ways in which I think we can do better is in celebrating our history and in giving students a genuine pride that they have attended our school. Hessle High School was first established in 1927 on the old Boothferry Road site and has been on the Heads Lane site since 1947. So, for 94 years, students have passed through our gates and made their way in the world. Each generation will have produced incredible successes and achievements and probably hilarious stories and anecdotes. It is remarkable to think of the history of a school but we don’t do it often enough and I would like us to do that more, and to share some of those stories with our current students.
For that reason, we will be introducing an Alumni Society later in the year, to bring together past students from all walks of life to share experiences and to, ultimately, provide role models for all of our students regardless of their background or their ambitions for the future. I am really excited at the prospect of this and look forward to being able to share more information with you in due course. In the meantime, if you are interested in being a part of this, please get in touch.
As I write this, we are still unsure as to the likely date when we will be able to open more widely for students. The Government has stated its ambition for 8 March to be that date and we will be ready when that formal announcement comes. In the meantime, we will continue to provide continued online learning for all of our students whilst also keeping in touch and checking in on their wellbeing. Your support with this is greatly appreciated and I know that it can be very difficult to motivate youngsters to do their work, especially when you are yourself trying to work from home at the same time. As I have said many times before, you can only do your best and your best really is good enough, under the current circumstances.
We have ended this week with “Do Something For You” Day. We hope that this proves popular and that the students find some challenges and activities that they enjoy and maybe even develop a new hobby or pastime on the back of that. We have never done this before so we’re taking a bit of a risk but, hey, as Delboy (almost) used to say, “They who dare….”
Looks like snow this weekend so take care and stay safe.
Mr V Groak
WEEK 18 - Friday 29 January 2021
If, as someone once said, a week is a long time in politics, then a week in education right now can feel like a lifetime. It has been one of those weeks…
The week began with an expansion of our Lateral Flow Testing (LFT) programme for staff and students in school. I am delighted that, so far, we have managed to carry out 114 staff tests, and all of them have yielded negative results. This week, we have also begun to test (on a voluntary basis) the students who are still attending school and from next week I will bring you a weekly summary of the total number of tests carried out. I am also delighted that those tested have fully understood the nature of the LFT and have continued to observe the HANDS - SPACE - FACE mantra. These tests are just one element in the mix of strategies that we hope will keep our community safe as we draw closer to a wider reopening.
And then, on Wednesday, we heard a little more about when this might be. I know that it surprises some parents but we really do only find out this stuff at the same time as everyone else. In actual fact, while the PM was announcing that schools would not return in full until 8 March, I was in a meeting and so I heard it first from one of my colleagues in school. It is a shame that we are facing a further five weeks of lockdown but it is at least good to have a date in mind, even if it may change, so that we can work towards it.
Until then we will continue with our remote learning programme and I must thank you all again for the support that you are giving to the students and to the school. I am immensely proud of the provision that we have put in place but also of the entire community for how we have collectively risen to the challenge and supported the children and young people. We are also conscious of the toll that this routine is having on their general wellbeing. As bad as this pandemic has been for everyone, I am saddened that our students are missing out, not just on school, but also those rites of passage that happen to all young people during their teenage years. I still meet up with some of my old school friends and we still talk about the things we did when we were fourteen, sixteen, eighteen; those are memories that you never forget. I know that, when we can all be back in school again, we will be doing everything we can to make school a happy place as well as a place for stimulating learning. Our children deserve it.
Which brings me to next week - ‘Children’s Mental Health Week’ - which we will be marking in several ways but particularly next Friday which we are making ‘Do Something For You’ Day. On that day, there will be no live teaching and we will be instead supporting students throughout the day with messages and suggestions of activities that they can do to improve their wellbeing. There will still be plenty of structure and we will be there to support them (I know how many of you are also trying to work from home!) but I hope it will mean much less time in front of a screen and might also generate some interest in new activities that will be good for long term learning and enjoyment. More information to follow on this next week.
Also this week, we were delighted that some of our students were able to take part in the national Holocaust Memorial Day event on Wednesday. This was captured in a video recording which involved national figures such as the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister, as well as a group of very passionate Hessle High School students. It was a great experience for the students and a real honour for the school to be selected to participate; this is because of the many other personal development activities we have been involved with in the past. The video can be seen here.
Finally, despite the talk of schools being closed, we have remained open for our Vulnerable and Key Worker (VKW) groups throughout. Currently, we have 83 students in school. These are supported by our Learning Assistants while our teachers deliver the online learning provision. In order to keep classes small, we are now full for these places and can only accommodate new students if there is a real critical need or safeguarding concern. If your child is struggling with working at home, we are happy to speak to you or the student to offer help whilst they work from home. As ever, if there is anything that we can do to help with remote learning, please give us a call or speak with one of our student services team when they make their routine family calls.
One final reminder that the half term break begins on Friday 12 February and there will be no remote learning or in-school teaching for VKW groups during that week.
In the meantime, take care and stay safe.
Mr V Groak
WEEK 17 - Friday 22 January 2021
Today I would like to share with you some of the findings of the recent Parents’ Home Learning Survey that we shared with you a couple of weeks ago. We had 203 responses which represents around 1/6th of the parent community and responses came evenly from across all year groups.
The results were extremely useful and have already helped us to adjust our provision.
This is a summary of what we learned;
The three main findings are that we are setting too much work, the right amount of work and not enough work! To be honest, we expected this. ‘Too much’, ‘too little’ and ‘just right’ are highly subjective statements that really depend upon the context in which you and your child are working. For a child that works very well independently with full access to ICT, the capacity for work is going to be much greater than that of a child, and families, where parents are trying to work from home, with siblings competing for time and with inconsistent access to ICT. My message is that we do understand the challenges that so many families face and, as a parent myself - currently sitting in my office at home next to my six-year-old daughter who wants to describe every bit of her schoolwork to me - I share your frustrations. We can only do our best.
As these findings show, it is proving difficult to ‘get it right for every child’. Our teachers are doing their best to deliver live teaching when it is appropriate, while also being mindful of the need for students to take a break from their screens from time to time. I know that we do not always get it right but please know that it is not for the want of trying. And we are keen to hear from you when you think we can do better, while also remembering that this is entirely new for teachers who are doing their very best for the students in their care.
Back to the survey and I was pleased to see that, compared to last year, there are fewer families that lack access to suitable devices and the internet. That is reassuring but if you are still struggling with this, please do contact the school to discuss a solution.
On home learning, a massive 74% of you told us that your child is spending at least four hours per day on school work. That is a significant increase on last year and shows that collectively (school and parents) we are managing to provide the work and environment that is allowing them to do that much work. Similarly, less than 5% of responses stated that your child is doing two hours or less per day. Once again, if you feel we can help to increase that figure, please contact us.
78% of responses stated that the amount of work being set is ‘about right’ although, as stated earlier, 11% thought it too much and 11% not enough. Pleasingly, 90% of you agreed with us that home learning is valuable to your child’s current education.
And then you shared your comments and suggestions. There were 96 of these and we have read them all, responding back to you if we feel it is necessary. There are many themes from these comments but the common thread is a shared concern for the impact that this school closure is having on your child educationally and also, more importantly, from an emotional point of view. I understand these concerns and we will try to support you as much as we possibly can. Last week, we sent a message to you with links to various agencies and websites that offer support for families and young people at this time; if you feel that you need help, even if only someone to share your worries with, please reach out to them or to us. And try not to worry about the long term effect on students. We found in the Autumn term that the students were incredibly resilient, were desperate to throw themselves back into their learning and were already making up for much of the lost learning from the Spring and Summer lockdown. Even if we do not return to school until after Easter (and I know no more than you!), they will have lost just 6% of the overall time they spend in school over their lifetime. We are confident we can make that up.
I have been cheered by two events this week. Firstly, both of my parents have been invited to have their first vaccine. Like you, all of the staff in school have worried about our own families since the start of the pandemic and the news that many of our older family members are now starting to be protected is great news. And, finally, I was uplifted this week by the inauguration of President Joe Biden in the USA. Regardless of politics, the words of hope and optimism in his inauguration address are worth reading in full for the powerful message they send.
Take care and stay safe
Mr Groak, Headteacher
WEEK 16 - Friday 15 January 2021
As we reach the end of the second week of home learning, I would like to spend some time reflecting on how things have gone so far.
At the start of last week, we set forth on our commitment to offer continuous online learning for all students. This involved students and staff following their normal timetable through a mixture of live teaching and other activities. After nine days of this, the feedback from parents and students has been overwhelmingly positive. This is based upon comments to student services staff as well as messages sent into school. I would like to ascertain if those views are representative of the majority of families and so I have sent out a home learning survey which I would be grateful if you could complete. This takes a couple of minutes but gives us really valuable information on what online learning looks and feels like from your perspective.
I am a little concerned however at the amount of screen time that our current provision imposes on students. While I am delighted with the commitment of teachers and students, I worry that the intensity of their work is difficult to sustain for the long haul. Do not worry, we are not going to end live teaching but I have asked Heads of Department to consider how we might be able to make some subtle adjustments that may give students a healthier balance without impacting the quality of their teaching. Their findings, along with your survey feedback will help us to continue improving our online learning provision.
In recent days, we have ramped up our preparations for introducing Lateral Flow Testing into school. Our staff volunteers have completed their training and our Sports Hall has now been converted into a pop-up testing facility. I was the first to undertake a test and I was delighted that it was negative. However, I will still be following the Hands, Face, Space guidance. Further information on the Lateral Flow Test and how it can help to control transmission of Covid can be found here. We will begin ‘live testing’ on Monday offering these tests initially to school staff and the children of key workers who are currently attending school. These will be purely on a voluntary basis and parents will of course be invited to offer consent for their child to be tested. I will update you with more information in the coming weeks.
Before I sign off, there are some specific messages that may not affect everyone..
The current lockdown has prevented us from running the Year 11 Mock Interview Day. Instead of this, we will be hosting a Live Careers Webinar for all Year 11 to attend. This will take place in late February and will involve a number of speakers. This will then be followed by workshops on writing a CV, preparing for interview and so on. It promises to be a great programme and students will be sent more information in due course.
This means that, for students in Years 7 to 10, online learning will continue as normal next Friday 22 January.
We currently have a vacancy for a Parent Governor on our Local Governing Board. If you feel you may be interested in applying for this post, please contact clerk to the Governors on email@example.com the deadline for applications is Friday 22 January 2021.
Finally, there has been lots of controversy in recent days about food parcels for Free School Meals students. I am pleased that all of our eligible families have been receiving vouchers rather than prepared food packs allowing them to make their own food choices. The Government have now confirmed that they will be introducing a national voucher scheme which we will now switch to. This is a different provider but the transition should be a smooth one and we will send more information to eligible families in the next day or so.
Once again, thank you for your ongoing support - it is hugely appreciated.
Take care and stay safe.
Mr Groak, Headteacher
N.B. This week sees the first of the weekly Head of Year blogs, these can be accessed from the Head of Year pages here
WEEK 15 - Friday 8 January 2021
In this week’s blog, I want to try to give you a flavour of what school looks like at the moment and to bring you up to date with the work that we have been doing to continue education for your children as well as making preparations for when they ultimately return to school.
Secondary Schools were told, during the Christmas holidays, that there would be a staggered start to the new term and then, following the PM’s announcement on Monday evening, we were informed that this would be extended for the rest of the month. We have since been informed that schools will not return before 22 February. While this is incredibly sad, at least it provides all of us with some degree of certainty and allows us to plan effectively. And that is precisely what our staff have been doing.
Since Tuesday morning, the majority of teaching has been delivered ‘live’. By that I mean that your child can see their teacher and classmates on screen via Google Classroom. Lessons may last up to an hour but there may also be broken into chunks to allow the students to work independently for periods of time. This will depend on the nature of the subject and the topic being taught. Attendance to these lessons has been high, but we want it to be higher still. If students cannot access these lessons at the time that they are taking place, they should be able to watch them later, as they will be recorded and uploaded. As ever, we are here to support all of our families with this if you are having any difficulty with your child participating in these lessons. We know it is difficult for all concerned but the best way that we can support families is to engage with the students in live teaching so please ensure that your child attends these lessons.
As you would imagine, some of our staff are now working from home. It is safer for many of them to do so and many of them have their own children who are also learning from home. Nevertheless, they are still delivering lessons from their home to your home, showing that there are no barriers to learning and communication. Staff have been extremely positive about the engagement they are seeing from the students who are equally keen to see their classmates on screen. I have added some pictures to the bottom of this blog which shows them working in school and at home as well as some of the interactive tasks they have created to engage the students at home. I am incredibly proud of the way in which both staff and students have responded to this latest challenge. When you take a step back to reflect on what they are doing, it really is remarkable.
But your support is also greatly appreciated. Regardless of the age(s) of your children, it is not easy for parents when children cannot attend school and I am sure the next weeks will present many challenges. We are doing our best to keep them occupied and stimulated during school hours.
We have also spent much of this week making contact with students and parents. Our Heads of Year and Assistants are enjoying getting to know everyone in their new cohorts and I hope that these calls are useful. If you have not had a call, please check that we have your most up-to-date contact details. These calls are an opportunity to let us know if there is anything more that we can do to support you but you can also contact us through the normal way. We have a skeleton admin staff on site so, if your call is not answered, please leave a message or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get in touch with you.
From next week, our Heads of Year will also be writing a short blog to add to mine. These will give you an update on the work that students in each year have been doing and also provide you with further pertinent information (e.g. Year 11 exams and so on). Please take the time to read them.
In the meantime, take care and stay positive.
Mr Groak, Headteacher
WEEK 14 - Friday 18 December 2020
My apologies for the second end-of-term letter of the week but, given the announcements from the Department for Education this week, it is important that I share the following information with you.
Firstly, testing. There are no words to adequately describe how it feels to be a school leader when we receive announcements in such a chaotic way as we did yesterday. As has been the case all year, we only find out about Government announcements through the TV and online so we had no advance warning of this. We were then, at 6.30pm last night, sent a brief guidance document which was contradictory and vague in most of the key areas.
Thankfully, the East Riding Authority and Academy Trusts have met to make sense of the guidance and have confirmed that there will be no in-school testing of students starting in the week commencing 4 January. There is an acknowledgement that the logistics behind such a programme are huge and will take significant planning. Please be assured that nothing like this will take place at Hessle High School until adequate planning has been put in place and only then with the full consent of parents and carers. Of course, I will keep you informed along the way.
Secondly, the Department also announced yesterday that Secondary schools should have a staggered start to the new term to allow for the first stages of planning to take place.
Therefore, Year 11 and Year 13 students will return to school on Tuesday 5 January at 8.30am. Students in all other year groups will work from home.
Students in Year Groups 7-10 will be provided with a mixture of live teaching and online work via Google Classroom whereas Year 12 students will be provided with live teaching via Microsoft Teams.
If your child has previously attended school as an identified vulnerable learner or both parents are critical workers they may still attend school. If you believe your child is in this category and will be attending school, please let the school know so that we can plan accordingly by emailing on email@example.com with your child’s name and year group no later than 8am on Monday 4 January 2021. We will then confirm your child’s place by 6pm on that day.
The school will then open for all students at 8.30am on Monday 11 January.
Once again, thank you for your support throughout this term and may I wish you and your family a very Merry Christmas and a safe and healthy New Year.
Mr V Groak, Headteacher
WEEK 13 - Friday 11 December 2020
As I write this, I have just seen the BBC news headline that the UK isolation period is being shortened from 14 days to 10 from Monday. This could potentially affect a number of our students and staff who are currently isolating. Before we can confirm a new return date for those affected, we will await confirmation from our Local Public Health team. I would ask for your patience until we receive further guidance on what this means for our school and will be in touch with anyone affected as soon as possible. Onto other matters…. .
The number of pupils in any school is limited by its published Pupil Admission Number (PAN). This is based on a combination of the school’s capacity in terms of buildings and staffing as well as the annual demand for spaces.
The PAN at Hessle High School for some years has been 190 students, with a further 60 places reserved for pupils of Penshurst Primary School, which is part of our all-through school. In recent years, we have been fortunate to fill the vast majority of these school places which is in large part a credit to all of our students, their families and the wider community. We can only build our reputation with the full support of our local community.
In recent years, the number of pupils in Key Stage 2 at Penshurst has reached up to 70 and, in order to guarantee a place for each of these at Hessle High School, we are recommending a reduction in our external PAN to 180 students. To that end, we have embarked on a statutory consultation period to reduce our PAN from 190 to 180 with effect from the start of the academic year 2022-23. If you would like to hear more about this change and to make your views known, please visit our website here for more information.
I have written to all parents this week to outline the arrangements for the end of term. Despite the intervention of the DfE in suggesting how school’s might wish to reorganize their INSET days, we have decided to stick with our initial plan and to keep students in school until 1.45pm on Friday. It is our view that some of our students have missed too much learning already this year to close early or to switch to online learning.
The situation in school has settled down considerably since early November when we were being notified of positive cases in our school community regularly. I am delighted that the vast majority of students are in school and accelerating their learning. We hope that, in January, we do not see a repeat of what happened post-half term and I strongly urge all families to follow the national and local guidelines over the Christmas holiday period to ensure that we can return to school on January 5th without seeing another spike in cases and all of the disruption that that causes.
Take care and stay safe.
Mr V Groak, Headteacher
WEEK 12 - Friday 4 December 2020
It has been another busy week at Hessle High School.
Firstly, we have been delighted to see a reduction in the number of positive cases we have seen in school. Two weeks ago, Covd was taking up all of our time, keeping on top of known cases as well as the many more students who were self-isolating due to potential contact in and out of school. Thankfully, and without wishing to jinx the situation, this has diminished and life is returning to something resembling what it was like in September when we returned from the summer.
For that reason, we were delighted to be able to keep Year 10 students in school next week; they are already halfway through their GCSEs, so the loss of live contact with their teachers would have been a particular blow. The three year groups that were involved in the working from schedule have done really well to manage their workload at home and this has enabled us to ensure appropriate staffing in school. I thank all parents who have supported us with this - it has truly helped the whole of the rest of the school community.
In the middle of the week, I was very sorry that a whole-school email was sent by error. It is extremely regrettable that this occurred and I know that errors such as this can erode trust between home and school. We have taken swift action to put in place a more thorough checking system to prevent this happening again. Electronic messaging has huge potential but its speed can also be a risk and we have learned from that experience. I am grateful for your support with that matter.
Finally, this week we have also heard from the Department for Education regarding next summer’s exams. The department has confirmed that GCSE and A Level exams will go ahead but with measures in place to ensure fairness. I have significant concerns about how this will work in practice. How, for instance, will they know that some of our Year 11s have had to self-isolate up to four times already, for no fault of their own? But, when I ask our Year 11s, overwhelmingly they tell me that they want to sit exams to show what they can do. They just want the system to recognise the problems they have faced. There is time to sort that out but, in principle, we are pleased with this announcement and glad that students now know what they will face in the summer.
As ever, they will have our total support in their efforts.
Thank you and best wishes.
Mr V Groak, Headteacher
WEEK 11 - Friday 27 November 2020
Today I have written to all parents informing them that, with effect from 1 January 2021, we will replace our existing House-based pastoral system with a Year Group-based system.
The letter can be found here which explains the rationale and what it means for each group of students.
These changes are part of a wider restructure of the leadership team at the High School which has been designed to ‘tidy up’ some of the job titles that have accrued over time but, in the main, to ensure that the leadership structure of the school is appropriate for our rapidly growing school.
By the end of the 2021-22 school year, we anticipate that the school will have grown in size by over a third since 2017. While the building was always designed to accommodate that number of children, the staffing structure has had to be redesigned to ensure that we not only have sufficient teaching staff but also that the capacity of the middle leadership can meet the needs of the students. All of these changes have taken place against the pandemic backdrop and I am very proud of how all of our school colleagues have handled these matters during this time. The new structure, including the change to pastoral roles, will take effect from 1 January 2021.
Next week, we welcome back our Year 8 learners and we are delighted at how many of them have used Google Classroom to access their work and, in many cases, live lessons. At the same time, it will be the turn of Year 7 students to work from home. If you, or your child, encounters any difficulty with accessing work during this time, please contact the school.
On behalf of all of the staff at Hessle High School and Sixth Form College, I would like to thank all parents for your flexibility and support in facilitating our work from home schedule. This has allowed us to ensure that the school remains safely and effectively open for all other students.
Take care and stay safe
Mr V Groak, Headteacher
WEEK 10 - Friday 20 November 2020
Since we returned to school in September, the students have grown increasingly used to spending the bulk of their time in their year group bubbles, whether it be for their lessons or their break and lunchtime. While it has made it much easier for us to monitor interactions between students, it is in some ways regrettable that the younger students in particular have not had the chance to make friends with some of our older students or to see them up close as the excellent role models we know that they can be. Once the Covid restrictions are lifted, we look forward to more inter-year group mixing and the undoubted benefits that this can bring to students of all ages.
However, there are a number of changes that we have made which we will most definitely be keeping. The first that springs to mind is the use of outdoor space for the students at break and lunch. The vast majority of students spend most of this free time outdoors and it is plain to see the benefits that this has brought. Not only do the students get fresh air and, in many cases, more exercise, but staff have already reported that students are able to sustain their concentration for longer in an afternoon. So, post-Covid, we will continue to close the main school building at lunchtime and encourage students, once they have eaten in the canteen, to go into the great outdoors.
But, regrettably, the changes we have made have created a less sociable and more functional environment. We know it won’t last forever but nobody wants to see hazard tape and one-way and no entry signs in their school. Our new systems serve their purpose but they aren’t much fun. We can’t wait for the days when students can do practical experiments again, can perform together, play sports fixtures, play musical instruments and sing together. We have had to cancel the Christmas Concert this year and limit how many students can see the Christmas tree at one time. The end-of-term celebration event will not take place in the normal way and I am still negotiating with our canteen staff how we can serve Christmas dinner in a box! But things will change and, in the meantime, we try to enjoy the moments of magic that still take place everyday in the hundreds of little interactions between students and their teachers. Such as the comment that came from a Year 7 student recently when asked how he had settled into the new school, “Well, it’s okay,” he said, “but it’s not quite like I expected. I mean, it’s nothing like High School Musical.”
I love that phrase. I’m thinking of putting it on a banner in front of school.
Take care and stay safe
Mr V Groak, Headteacher
WEEK 9 - Friday 13 November 2020
Managing a school budget is something that is often quite daunting for any Headteacher. Thankfully, as a teacher of Business and Economics, I have something of a head start but it is still a significant responsibility managing an annual budget that runs well into the millions.
But the opportunity to make discretionary spending decisions are limited, to be honest. Staff salaries (we have 200+ staff) make up the overwhelming majority of the school costs, alongside electricity, gas, rates, insurance, licenses, examination fees, day to day maintenance and repairs, consumables, teaching and learning resources and so on. Money is also allocated to capital expenditure each year which allows us to replenish our ICT resources and infrastructure as well as investment in the school site, such as extended playgrounds and canopy shelters. All of this is planned well in advance so that we start each year with a budget that will balance but will also leave a little aside for contingencies.
Which is why the current Covid situation is causing so much financial concern for Headteachers. Although the Government has allocated extra funding for ‘catch up’ of student progress, there is no extra funding to plug the ‘Covid gap’ which is significant. Since September alone, we have incurred additional costs for the following; three additional full-time cleaners on site all day; increased hours of work for members of our Academy Safeguarding team; installation of hand sanitiser stations; additional PPE equipment for cleaners and technicians; barriers and fences to separate social zones and queues; signs around the site; additional outdoor seating for students; extra canteen serving equipment; protective screens in offices and reception; ICT equipment and phones to enable some staff to work from home; additional transportation costs for Sixth Form students and much more.
In the past week, we have enlisted the services of a small number of supply teachers which is now also costing us around £2,000 per week and, due to the closure of the site to non-essential visitors, we will also lose out on around £25,000 of lost income from lettings during this school year.
Currently, there is no additional funding for these costs so we are having to adjust our budget, with the help of our Trust, in order to make ends meet and ensure that no other essential area is significantly affected.
Thankfully, as I said at the beginning, most of our budget is already allocated so this is of no direct concern for teaching staff and students so that day-to-day learning in the classroom (where the ‘magic’ happens) remains unaffected.
But the money we may have had for the extras - the extra resources, the exciting software, the textbooks and reading books, the guest visitors, the activities and events - will be much harder to find this year. Which is yet another shame for all of the students in our school.
But everyone in school is being remarkably creative to make the most of what we have and nowhere can that be seen more than in our school canteen.
The work of our canteen staff is often overlooked. On a ‘normal’ day, they feed up to 800 students within 45 minutes but now, with restrictions on how many staff can occupy the kitchen space, they have been unable to produce the usual wide range of food which has led to fewer students choosing to eat canteen food. However, they have adapted how they work and are now able to produce a more varied menu which includes regular favourites such as lasagne, shepherds pie, chilli and rice, fish and chips, alongside the usual pasta, jacket potatoes, hot and cold sandwiches, salads, pizza and toasties. If your child has not tried ‘school dinners’ for a while, I would recommend them to give it a go.
We have built up quite a lot of PE kit lost property in recent weeks. Once it is left behind, it is held in quarantine for a period of time and is then available for collection. If your child has lost some kit, there is a good chance that it is in the PE department. Please encourage your child to go and have a look for it.
Finally, thank you very much for all of your support. We are facing unprecedented challenges every day in school and we have had to make some tough decisions around sending students home. I know that these cause huge inconvenience and frustration to parents but I truly appreciate the support we have had from parents and for your patience when we can’t always give you the information you need straight away. Rest assured that all of my staff are working tirelessly to put the students first and will continue to do so.
Mr V Groak, Headteacher
WEEK 8 - Friday 6 November 2020
It has been a difficult week for everyone, including ourselves in school.
When we returned on Monday, we immediately became aware of some students who had contracted the virus over half term and who were, consequently, self-isolating. This also affected a number of their friends who have had to follow suit. Despite the national Track and Trace programme being so well-funded, when cases involve students, it tends to be us in school who are required to do much of this work. We do it, of course, because we want to protect our students, our staff and our community but it is hugely time-consuming to trace student contacts, sometimes out of school, in order to provide the Local Authority and Public Health bodies with the information they require. In addition to the three-and-a-half hours of school duties that senior staff are carrying out each day, there is little time for much else. If we have been slow to return a call or an email, I apologise, but I am sure you will understand why!
While on the subject of Public Health, I must say that the standard of support that the school has received from our Trust, the Local Authority and from local Public Health bodies has been exceptional. There have been many times that I have needed to speak to someone for advice and, no matter what time of the evening or over the weekend, they have provided wise, calm guidance at all times and I know that all other schools in the region have had the same experience. My view is firmly that the local experts are far better equipped to support communities through this very difficult period than those at a national level.
The impact of self-isolation is also being felt by our staff. This week, we have had up to 15 of them absent as they self-isolate or are forced into working from home due to their children’s ‘bubble’ being sent home from school. All of which puts an utterly unprecedented burden on colleagues who remain in school. Not only are they having to move between classrooms for every lesson, carrying all resources and equipment with them, they are also invariably picking up extra classes and duties for those colleagues who are absent. There is a sense of stoicism amongst them that is remarkable and I hope you feel as proud of them, and our school as I do every single day.
Those staff that are self-isolating are working from home and most are delivering live lessons to the students in school and all are working to set students tasks and keep in touch with them remotely. Many of them are also looking after their own children while trying to do this so please bear with us if the frequency of live lessons and speed of responses is not always immediate. Trust me, they are doing their very best under very difficult circumstances.
On Wednesday, the Department for Education released their guidance for schools to cover the current lockdown period but it will not make much change to the protocols we already have in place. Face coverings are already mandatory in our school and visitors and clubs are only taking place when absolutely essential. Nevertheless, our Risk Assessment is being updated and will be available on our website on Monday.
So, at the end of a week that has presented many challenges, please let me remind you of the core messages that we wish all of our community to understand:
- Stay up to date with the Government guidance relating to Covid-19
- If anyone in your household is showing symptoms of Covid, do not send your child to school. Keep them home and contact us immediately
- If requested to self-isolate by the school or NHS Track and Trace, you must follow this instruction and this is now supported by the law with hefty fines
- Speak to your child about the importance of following the rules in school and of observing social distancing wherever they may be
- Ensure that your child comes to school with a clean face covering each day
- Ensure that we have your emergency contact details. In the event that we need to send your child home from school, we will expect to be able to contact a family member at all times
The tone of this message is probably bleak and it feels that way at times. However, for the majority of the time, as I walk around the school, the mood is far from that. Students are still happy to be in school and are enjoying their lessons and making great progress. There is the sound of laughter wherever I go in the school and, while we have enjoyed some Autumnal sunshine this week, it has been great to see students and staff enjoying the weather outside at lunchtime. Within the ‘new normal’, there is still a lot that is just ‘normal’.
Have a restful weekend and stay safe.
Mr V Groak, Headteacher
WEEK 7 - Friday 23 October 2020
Yesterday lunchtime, I was fortunate to spend the whole forty-five minutes supervising the Year 7 canteen. This was a real privilege. And a great opportunity for me to chat to our youngest learners. As ever, we started talking about food!
Isabelle told me that she loves the paninis, especially the spicy ones, but also insisted that she always has a fruit pot as well, ‘to be healthy’. James prefered the pizza, while Jayden loves the pasta pots and Emily looks forward to Fridays, when Fish and Chips is on the menu. They all loved the choice and the ability to make responsible decisions for themselves around their food and diet. Sadly, there is a limited range of choice available to our students at the moment due to the capacity constraints of our kitchen, so the students are not getting the chance, yet, to taste the Thai Curries, the Butternut Squash broths and the roast dinners. But that will come. Thankfully, Alfie loves the sausage rolls, “they’re even better than Greggs!” he reckons.
The students were then keen to tell me about their lessons. “Did you know, Mr Groak?” said Madison proudly, “one of my teachers can speak French and Spanish?” “That’s nothing, interrupted Evie, “one of my teachers has written a book!” Their enthusiasm is infectious and their excitement to be at ‘big school’ has not been dimmed at all by the Covid constraints that have, so far, limited our ability to offer the full range of learning opportunities such as Science and Technology practicals, music lessons and sports fixtures. But that will come too, and they will love it even more.
At the moment, like all of our students, our Year 7s have their own canteen space, as well as their own zone on the field and playground. From November onwards, the field is usually too muddy and thus out of bounds. So we are currently creating a new ‘Tranby Plaza’ which is an extremely grand way of describing a paved area near Tranby House that we have fenced off and installed some seating! But it is another area of the school that they can call their own. It is a shame that our students cannot move freely across the site but, in some ways, it has helped the youngest students to settle in. Once these restrictions can be relaxed, they will be much more at ease in their school and confident to explore the whole site.
Last night was Year 11 Parents’ Evening and we are pleased that this event could go ahead via our online appointment and video call system. The early feedback was that this worked reasonably well although there are bound to be some teething problems as users on either end become familiar with this type of meeting. Attendance was lower than we hoped and we will send all Year 11 parents a survey to ascertain any barriers that parents may have to using this method of contact. This is the ‘new normal’ and we are committed to using technology to maintain contact with parents so we will continue to look to develop this in the future.
At these times, it is more important than ever that we keep our communication channels open and that you are able to receive messages from us at all times. Our use of instant messaging and email is invaluable. Please always remember to update us if you change your telephone number or email address. Please also remind friends who also have children at our school to do the same. Remember that, if you use the Parent App to receive messages, then you must switch on your notifications to receive our communications.
Finally, when we send you a message, you will not be able to reply to it. If you wish to contact the school, please always use the firstname.lastname@example.org address.
Finally, as I write this, it is the final Friday afternoon of a half-term that has felt like an entire Academic Year and all the staff are about to leave for their well-earned break. They are exhausted but I have told them that they should feel proud of what they have achieved in keeping learning going in the midst of these extraordinary circumstances. Adversity brings out the very best in people and I have certainly seen that in my staff this term.
Finally, the students have been tremendous. The way in which they have responded to change and dealt with the inconveniences has been admirable. I hope that you are as proud of them as we are.
Have an enjoyable half term and stay safe.
Mr V Groak, Headteacher
WEEK 6 - Friday 16 October 2020
When I read anything about how schools are operating during this unprecedented Autumn term, the general feeling is that schools are doing everything they can merely to keep open. I haven’t met a teacher or any member of staff in school who isn’t doing everything they possibly can to keep themselves, their colleagues and their students safe and to deliver something close to normal learning amidst the most challenging circumstances that any of us have ever encountered.
I know that many Headteachers were therefore disappointed recently when the Government published a Temporary Continuity Direction, legally requiring schools to provide immediate remote learning for pupils who are unable to attend school due to Covid-19. The fact is that every school I know, including ours, has been doing that anyway, in the best interests of our students and families.
The expectations set out within the legislation are actually quite varied. Remote learning can include some, or all, of;
- Printed workbooks sent home for students to work on
- Work set electronically via an online platform (such as Google Classroom)
- Live or recorded lessons
- Contact with students via email / phone call
During the recent occasions when we have had to ask students to self-isolate at home, I am delighted that we not only managed to provide work electronically via Google Classroom as we did throughout the lockdown period, but we also provided live lessons for the majority of students, as follows;
- Once online lessons began for Year 10, 213 live lessons were delivered (76% of the possible 277 lessons).
- Attendance at these lessons was impressively high with some subjects recorded attendances above 90%.
- When a proportion of Year 11 students also had to self-isolate, staff voluntarily delivered ‘blended lessons’, teaching to students both in their classroom and at home simultaneously. This is a task so incredibly complex that we did not insist that staff did this. However, they chose to do this so that students at home were not disadvantaged.
- Where students lack reliable access to the live lessons, many have been recorded and made available at a later date. We have also provided devices on a loaned basis for those students that need it.
I am delighted that we have been able to adjust our provision in order to provide the above and I welcome your feedback on how it has gone for you as a parent/carer.
As we approach the half-term break, this is the time of year when staff and students begin to tire. It is more important than ever that we maintain the highest of expectations and of standards in order to keep everyone safe but also to keep discipline levels high.
We continue to challenge, and issue sanctions, where students fail to comply with the enhanced expectations around Covid measures, such as maintaining year group bubbles, wearing face coverings and only using designated spaces. Where students breach these measures, we will contact you and your support is essential in this regard. We are in for a long haul with these measures and we cannot, and will not, let them slip. You would not want us to.
Finally, it is also essential that we have students in school on time. Students who arrive have the potential to find themselves in the wrong year group area and this cannot be accepted. Students must be on site by 8.30am when the pedestrian gate will be locked. Students that arrive after this time will be given a late mark which results in a lunchtime detention. Please ensure that your child arrives on time every morning.
Sometimes, as I walk the school corridors, it is easy to forget how far we have come in six weeks. Despite all of the measures I have spoken about in this message, and in others, the students spend the majority of their time sitting in classrooms, learning. Just today, I have seen different groups of students studying poetry, preparing for cooking lessons, playing percussion instruments, learning about the Second World War and playing sport on the field. Things may be very different but, thankfully, some things are still the same.
Have a great weekend.
Mr V Groak, Headteacher
WEEK 5 - Friday 9 October 2020
A Day in the Life
My day begins as normal with a 7.45am meeting with my Senior Leadership colleagues. I am so fortunate to have such a dedicated team of highly dedicated, experienced and humble people supporting me and working tirelessly every day to improve the lives of the children we serve. We discuss the Year 7 Meet the Tutor event which took place the previous day after school. Technology was embraced once again to allow Year 7 tutors to catch up with parents via our online booking system. Despite our Parent Evening booking software suppliers experiencing a technology crash midway through, we were still able to make contact with most of the 80% of parents that signed up to join us to hear feedback on how their child is settling into their new school. A model for future Parents Evenings no doubt and reassuring that we can still keep some of our normal events despite the current restrictions. We then discuss the day ahead, making sure we have all of the key student movements covered, keeping a keen eye on the weather in case we have to introduce the ‘Wet Weather Plan’.
Then we’re all on duty; at the gate, the playgrounds and the bus arrival points. Students are met, marshalled and escorted safely to their year-group social zones. They know the drills by now and head off under their own steam, on the whole. The usual issues are picked up by the student services team; lost face mask, no tie, wrong shoes. A student arrives upset over a social media tiff. Tears are wiped away, reassurance is given and the student heads off to their tutor period. The understated way in which these colleagues go about their work never ceases to impress me.
As the gates close, the last cohort are escorted through their own dedicated doorway and staircase and I also head inside for a wander around. Tutor time is now my favourite part of the day. As I walk past classrooms, it is great to hear snippets of conversations taking place between tutors and students. Current affairs, school values, careers and ambitions; this is the time when no topic is off limits. The groups have only been together for five weeks but already they are comfortable and at ease with each other. I look forward to the great personal development that these students will gain through their 30-minute daily immersion in values-led chat.
Then I head back to my office for an online meeting with fellow headteachers in our Trust. Working as part of a small, but highly collegiate Trust brings great benefits to myself and the school. We learn from each other, challenge each other and all share the same commitment to improving the education of children in this area. Then it's break duty for Years 8 and 9 and I marshal the queue, admonish a few students for absent-mindedly leaving litter behind and enjoy a chat with a group of Year 9 girls who are keen to tell me about their new GCSE subjects.
It takes ten minutes to safely get them all back into their classrooms and then it's the turn of Year 7, 10 and 11. I always try to spend time with the youngest students, making sure I get to know the different friendship groups and looking out for those that may not have settled fully just yet. Two girls ask me about the old house on our site and I tell them the history of Tranby House and, if they work hard, that they might be able to study there in our Sixth Form in a few years’ time. They look delighted and it puts a big smile on my face too.
After break, I head to the Sports Hall, part of which we are converting into a ‘pop-up’ canteen to increase our indoor catering space as the weather changes. Students are growing used to bringing coats and umbrellas to school but this extra facility will enable all students, should they wish, to sit down to eat lunch indoors, before they go back outside for exercise and fresh air. I am pleased to see that the work is coming on well and it will be open from Monday morning.
Trying to meet the expectations of all of our parents is hugely difficult at the moment with so many different views about Covid and how schools, and businesses, should operate. This leads to several phone calls each week to ease anxiety and offer reassurance. These can take some time but I see it is an essential part of my job. If parents can’t trust their child’s Headteacher then our relationship is never going to be strong, and it will likely be the child that suffers. So I spend the rest of the morning handling these calls.
Lunch is now split into two 45-minute periods but, with cleaning and segregated movement, it now takes the best part of two hours as five year groups are channelled through three different catering areas and into their respective social zones. The weather has been dry and the field is open which has made it quite straightforward so far but we are planning in detail for how to keep five groups of 200-250 students apart when it is raining and the field is a mud bath. Around 800 need to be catered for and the rest provided with somewhere to eat packed lunch. We have completely displaced the PE department who are now trying to deliver a curriculum with the meagrest of space and resources. It's a big ask, but they are getting on with it in the same way all of our staff are responding, stoically and with (more or less) good humour.
I try to catch up with the staff over lunch as they, and I, are on duty supervising the students. We have asked an enormous amount of our staff. In order that student movement can be reduced, the teachers now have to go to the students, moving every lesson from room to room, lugging their books and folders with them. It is a monumental task and one that I worry is unsustainable. “It is what it is, Vince”, they usually say when I ask how they are, “we just have to get on with it, don’t we?” Heroes, every one of them.
In the afternoon, bliss. I get to teach. I resolved to myself two years ago that I would always be a Headteacher and, even though I only manage two hours per week, it keeps my hand in and is genuinely the highlight of the week. I wander up to the old Tranby House where eight Hessle students are already waiting for me. Four students join up via video link from Cottingham and Wolfreton, and I launch into my lesson on Financial Ratios. The next two hours fly by and then I dash back to my office and then down to the front gate for bus duty, waving all of the students off again after another busy day at Hessle High School and Sixth Form College.
It’s Friday so there are strictly no meetings after school, no revision classes and no staff training. Teaching is incredibly hard and I want your child’s teachers to have all the energy they need to be brilliant at their jobs. So I am pleased to see the car park almost empty at 4pm as they head home to their families. I am not far behind them, heading home for what I hope will be a quiet and relaxing weekend with my own family.
Mr V Groak, Headteacher