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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
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
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.
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.
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 email@example.com 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.
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.
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.