30th September 2020
Dear Parents and Carers,
Following our reflections on the opening weeks of the new school year, I am writing to update you on the plans that we have put in place here at school as we prepare for the weeks and months ahead.
The return to school has been an incredibly positive one for everyone in the Marlborough community. Attendance remains incredibly high, lessons continue to be purposeful and productive, whilst the exceptionally high expectations of teachers and staff has meant that there has been outstanding behaviour across the school. The entire community has responded with patience, maturity and good humour to our new arrangements – which has worked better than we could ever have imagined. We are already thinking about what aspects of the way we have organised our pupils and structured our learning we can develop or retain once restrictions are over. It seems a great opportunity to explore what we would want as our ‘new future normal’ and what lessons we can learn from our current situation.
In the meantime, we are preparing for every eventuality. We are acutely aware that across the education sector as a whole, many schools are experiencing the impact of rising case of Coronavirus. This is impacting schools in three ways:
• Firstly, where growing numbers of teachers either become ill or are not attending school due to waiting for tests results and having to self-isolate. This means that, in some schools, more lessons are being covered by supply teachers or classes need to be combined as schools are unable to secure enough staff to cover all lessons.
• Secondly, where a pupil, or someone in their household (be it an adult or sibling) are displaying covid symptoms and take a period of time off school in order to be tested. This often involves spending a short period of time, between two and three days, out of school.
• Thirdly, some schools across the country and Oxfordshire have reported a positive test result for the virus amongst the pupil population. This has resulted in a tutor or class group, or a whole year group needing to self-isolate for two weeks.
As a school, we have yet to encounter these scenarios. Teacher attendance has been very high, with no coronabased absence so far. Of course, we have yet to have a confirmed case of Coronavirus anywhere within our community - so far. If and when we do, I will, of course, let everyone know and be clear about what action we will take in these circumstances. We have really clear protocols for this and are confident we have the systems in place to deal with this situation quickly and effectively.
However, we are not being complacent about any of the scenarios outlined above. To this end, I thought it useful to set out for you what action we would take in the event of either short-term absence of pupils, or should a large group of pupils be required to self-isolate for the recommended two-week period.
We have spent some considerable time reflecting on the home learning experience of our pupils, parents and teachers, and have again considered what we can learn from this period that we can build into our approach moving forward. We were grateful for the feedback we received from pupils and parents throughout lockdown, and have taken this on-board as we plan for every eventuality. Our core principles remain the same:
• deliver the highest quality learning experience for all pupils whilst they are learning at home;
• ensure all pupils are clear about their tasks; that they know what they have to do; and know how they have to do it;
• make sure all pupils are supported with high-quality resources, and have any questions or queries answered as quickly as possible;
• maintain the close connection and relationship between pupils and their teachers, and with school as a whole.
In this context, we have devised clear plans for what we call our ‘blended learning’ model. This combines what worked really well for us over the lockdown period and incorporates the strongest evidence from the national lockdown about the most effective ways to ensure high quality learning. This model combines the best of planned activities and resources, with the responsiveness that technology can bring. We have also studied the merits of an entirely ‘live’ offer, and remain unconvinced that this provides an equitable, high quality experience for all our pupils. Although this may appear to be the ‘easiest’ and most obvious approach, the evidence and experience of other schools would suggest that a more intentioned and carefully planned approach can have a greater impact on the quality of pupil learning.
In terms of provision for individual pupils who may be self-isolating (scenario two), we are aware that the vast majority of these cases return to school within two to three days. The setting of work for multiple individual pupils is extremely time-consuming for teachers and can impact negatively on planning, preparing, teaching and assessing those large numbers of pupils who remain in school. However, those pupils at home require high quality activities and the opportunity to continue working and learning whilst away from school. To achieve this, parents and pupils will be directed to work produced by the Oak National Academy (ONA).
The ONA was set up by a group of teachers, schools and educational organisations in response to the school closure earlier this year. It provides teachers, parents and pupils with high quality lessons and resources and is backed by the Department for Education. Over two million of its lessons are used by teachers and pupils each week across the country. Every lesson is an hour long, follows the national curriculum, and includes a video explanation, a short test and a worksheet with various activities to complete.
Teachers and Curriculum Leaders will make sure that all tasks set are in line with the planned curriculum here in school. We will be judicious in our selection of the right lessons to ensure any pupil absent for even one or two days will be making progress in their leaning and in covering the curriculum.
In the event of a larger group needing to self-isolate (scenario three), we have adapted and developed our planning since the previous lockdown period. In summary, we will:
1. Follow the structure of the time-table for each day – pupils will be set work for each lesson of the day on Show My Home Work (SMHW). This means they will be able to structure their day as they usually would in school, and experience the full range of subjects.
2. Provide high-quality resources, worksheets, and assignments - these will be up-loaded for every lesson of the day and will provide help, structure and support. We will continue to use SMHW quizzes, or other appropriate tasks, to monitor engagement and understanding.
3. Conduct ‘Remote Tutorials’ (RTs) – these are live, on-line interactions with pupils, which are used at specific times during the week to provide instructions, explanations, or modelled examples and to check understanding of these. These can also be opportunities to address pupils’ questions or misconceptions. This approach was extremely successful with Year 12 during our lockdown period and welcomed by pupils, parents and teachers.
4. Complement these live RTs with a full range of pre-recorded explanations, instructions and models. These proved to be particularly effective during our partial closure and were highly valued by both pupils and parents. This approach allows our most experienced and skilled teachers, often Curriculum Leaders, to produce these pre-recorded videos or presentations centrally, meaning all pupils have an equity of experience and ensures a clarity of explanation that enhances the learning experience for everyone. It also means that pupils can listen to/watch again teacher explanations and instructions – something not always possible in a live situation.
5. Teachers available on-line during lessons to answer questions and give feedback. The class teacher for each subject will be available during the lesson time to respond to specific questions or queries immediately on SMHW or via online drop ins/Google Hangouts. This will provide the instant and specific feedback that will support all lessons and maintain the crucial link between teacher and pupil. Our experience has shown that pupils often ask more specific questions than they might in a live situation – and the capacity to write this, rather than speak in front of the class, has proved successful for a lot of our pupils.
Using this combination of ‘as live’ and ‘pre-prepared’ approaches, allows us to be really intentional, clear and responsive with our teaching. By combining pre-recorded materials, along with carefully selected resources and the ability to provide instant feedback, we are confident that we are delivering a really high-quality experience for all our pupils.
We are also really keen to maintain our pastoral links, as well as our academic provision. To this end, any year group or group of pupils who will be out of school for two weeks will be able to share a Year group assembly during registration on Mondays, a Whole School Assembly on Wednesdays, and will be invited to attend an on-line registration session with their tutor either on Thursday or Friday – ensuring we are keeping in touch and checking on pupils’ well-being.
We hope that you are reassured by these plans. As always, we would welcome any feedback. Please feel free to contact us if you require further information or would like to discuss these proposals further. Please contact our Deputy Headteacher, Dr. J. Jones on Ja.Jones@marlborough.oxon.sch.uk
I would like to take this opportunity to remind all parents and carers that this Friday, 2nd October is an INSET Day in school. All teachers will spend the day planning to ensure that we are fully prepared for any partial closure of school. We are determined to maintain our really high standards and will make sure we are doing all we can to provide a really good experience for those who may be at home, whilst not compromising on the provision for pupils in school. To this end, we are proposing to hold an additional INSET Day on the final day of term, Friday 23rd October.
Thank you for all your positive messages and empathy during this challenging period in the life of our school and education as a whole. We feel in a very strong place as a community of learners and will do all we can to maintain this position. We are grateful for all your support, both of the school and your children.
Mr A Hanlon