Well - that was an interesting start to the year! Let me take you back to Sunday evening.
'Schools will be on phased opening and mass testing must start'. OK. The guidance had been published on December 15th and we had already established a team of volunteers and a Team Leader (Mrs Edwards) over the Christmas holidays. That in itself, was amazing.
Then, on Monday, the team completed their training and set up the testing room. What was Highfields' Dining Hall was transformed into a COVID-secure clinical testing centre run by people who normally work in classrooms or in other school support roles. By Tuesday morning, 11am, we were ready to begin testing and the results started coming in. Staff 100% negative. One positive case identified, isolated and sent home. It ran like clockwork and when I say I could not believe my eyes when I saw this amazing team in action I am not exaggerating. They all deserve a medal for what they have done this week. I am writing this on Friday lunchtime and the team has been stood down for the day but the testing continues next week with weekly slots for all the staff and serial testing (daily for 7 days) for those who have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive. Well done to Mrs Edwards who co-ordinated the effort and led the team so brilliantly.
On Monday evening everything changed again. National Lockdown and closure - not entirely unexpected with the rapidly rising cases and the new variant but we found out when you did - 8pm the night before! Luckily, we were, as we had been since summer, ready to move to remote learning immediately and this time the systems will be even better. Microsoft Teams has changed the way we deliver remote learning and this will only get better as the weeks progress. For now the lessons are prepared in advance, students access them during their school day and 'turn in' work. Over the next couple of weeks, we will slowly be moving to many more live lessons which will be an even better experience for our students and take some of the pressure off our parents too. As with any new system, it will not be without its hiccups but I am confident that once this way of teaching is embedded it will be brilliant. More information will of course follow by email and if you need any help with remote learning please email the class teachers directly.
On Tuesday we opened for vulnerable and key worker students. Four groups, one from each of year groups, strategically placed in separate areas of the school to avoid 'bubbles' crossing. It was great to see them and they have adapted well to new systems and working independently. It was also great to know that we are, in a small way, assisting in the battle against COVID-19 while the vaccines are being rolled out. At this point I must stress that the national lockdown includes a directive to stay at home so if you can keep your children at home you should. This is, of course, to protect yourselves but also to protect our staff from an increased risk of infection. The more people we have in the building, the more chance there is of infection. To this end the staff will, from Monday 11th, only be in school for a very limited time each week and will be working from home the rest of the time.
On Wednesday the Secretary of State for Education made a statement to the Commons regarding remote learning including the suggestion that parents should complain to Ofsted if they feel the remote learning is not good enough. While I respect his statement, I would urge parents to always speak to us directly in the first instance. We will always do our utmost to solve problems with parents and are proud of the relationships we have forged with you since we opened so please do get in touch if you need help or guidance or need to raise an issue. We are here to help and support you as much as possible and we are also constantly reviewing and refining our systems to improve them.
On Thursday at 2pm the game changed again. This time, the directive from the Secretary of State was for all schools to offer an additional hour of remote learning each day. To this end we got to work on Thursday evening and on Friday morning and there will be some subtle changes to the timetable to allow for this. Please look out for emails which will communicate this fully to you and, again, please do get in touch with class teachers if anything is unclear.
So to Friday and the curriculum planning continues and the testing schedules for next week are being written as I type. One day we will look back at these days and realise just how unique they are. Would we wish a pandemic onto future generations? Not in a million years. But what this has shown is the strength of humankind to pull together, to invent and innovate, to reach within ourselves to find strength and determination and resilience and to adapt to the ever-changing world around us. We are in the strange position of despising the virus and what it has done to our lives while at the same time being part of a unique moment in the history of the world. What is certain is that together we will beat the virus this year and our lives will return to normal. Bring on that day so we can confine COVID-19 firmly and finally to the history books.
Happy New Year to you all.