Minerva Learning Trust
12th March 2021

What is it like to be in school at the moment? Part 2

Claire Tasker

Firstly, I should simply write it is great to have all the students back in the building and back in their classrooms. They are so positive and upbeat. Anyone who ever doubts the resilience and good of young people needs to come and spend a day at High Storrs.

It is harder to recognise students at first with slightly different hair and face masks (it is clear to see which families have hair clippers). Students have adapted well to wearing face coverings in classrooms (so far) and are supportive of their peers who are exempt. I know from communications with staff, students and some families that the extension of face coverings into classrooms has received a mixed response. Some people were cross and anxious that they were not worn from September 2020 and others feel that it is a step too far in March 2021. As I often say to the staff, I work on the premise that I will never please everyone in such a large community but do my best to make careful and reasoned decisions. I am grateful that the staff, students and HSS families trust me to work hard for the good of all and always try to do the right thing.

The HSS Asymptomatic Testing Centre (located in the main school hall) is quite a thing to behold. Our Business Support Manager, Alison Foulkes, and her team have done an amazing job to set up a safe and efficient testing centre that has managed up to 600 test subjects per day. They have also worked hard to make the process as human and kind as possible. The capacity of HSS staff to meet every new challenge that is thrown at them is quite something. Do watch this clip of the testing centre to get a sense of the scale of the operation. highstorrs.co.uk/our-school/in-school-testing-at-high-storrsOver the coming weeks student testing will move to home testing (as staff testing already has) and you will receive more information about the logistics of distributing all that kit and more soon!

But back to the subject of trust and another big challenge for schools to grapple with - summer gradings. Being brutally honest, things are messy at the moment. And messy is not good for young people or their families who are struggling through a global pandemic. In January, the Prime Minster told the nation that formal summer exams for GCSEs and A Levels were cancelled. Then, on 25th February, the outcomes of the Ofqual consultations were made public. There is some clarity in those first documents – for example we know that we are producing Teacher Assessed Grades and submitting them to exam boards by 18th June and that results days are on 10th and 12th of August. But there is also much that we are still waiting to know more about. And the most important detail about how exactly we gather and use evidence to finalise our grades for the different subjects and different exam boards is not yet ready to be shared with schools. This is the ‘technical detail’. It might be very short or it might be long and complicated. And until we have read that specific technical detail we do not know exactly what we need to do. We have a draft plan and are meeting all subject leaders on 16th March to start to develop it further. They then will work with teachers in their teams. But until we have the much-needed ‘technical detail’ that is promised by the government ‘at the end of March’ we will not be able to finalise or share our plans.

We know that some students are ‘fizzing’ with worry about what the future holds and have heard rumours and tales that ‘school X is definitely doing this’ and ‘school A is definitely doing that’. But no school knows for sure right now how they will be told to decide TAGs in every subject. So, we are asking our students to just focus on the things in front of them – engage in today’s lesson, review that topic and complete your notes and understanding of this topic. For Y10s and Y11s the near future holds all-important mock or trial exams. They examine some of the content taught in all subjects. They allow us to share feedback to improve students AND this year they will also provide us with a solid piece of evidence to use in deciding the TAG. But we do not yet know quite what other bits of evidence will slot alongside. For Y13, teachers will continue to teach and check understanding, again to share feedback and help them to improve.

As previously said, is great to be back in the building. We are working, as ever, at a crackers pace to try to do all we can for the health, well-being, and education of our students. Please continue to have faith in us. We do try to explain everything we do and why we do it in letters and communications. We know sometimes that is not enough, so the enquiries email address is checked every day for those of you who do need to ask further questions or seek reassurance for you or your children.