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School places update

21 January 2021 (by admin)

Dear parents and carers, 

I am writing in response to the Joint Union Checklist which was released yesterday and also the statements made by Gavin Williamson this morning.  The main message is that as Headteacher, I need to ensure that the school environment is as safe as possible.   

There is an ongoing debate about the number of children we should be having in school so as to keep everyone safe and prevent the spread of the virus.  Currently we have 127 pupils in attendance which equates to 31% of our school.  

Despite the guidance from the Department for Education, the discretion to offer places to school children rests with me as Headteacher and is as a result of a number of factors being examined.  

The Department for Education did not consider the implications on schools when releasing: 

  1. A critical worker list which could be interpreted in a number of ways and contradicts itself in stating that only one parent needed to be a critical worker and that children should stay at home if they can.
  2. A vulnerable children list which could be manipulated so that almost all children could be in school. 
  3. Higher expectations on the quality of remote learning, including advice to report schools to OFSTED who are not providing the required quality of remote learning. 
  4. No clear guidance on how staff can keep safe when social distancing cannot be maintained. Up to now, the majority of the positive cases in the school have been with staff members who have become very unwell.  

For that reason, and without any other guidance from the Department for Education (DFE), I have worked alongside governors and staff members to create a risk assessment to keep our school community safe.  We all know that the quality of learning would be better in school and so this is not a reason for parents to ask for a place. 

In each year group, we currently have one teacher in school and one teacher at home providing remote learning in line with the guidance set out by the DFE.  There are only two teachers in each year group.  To maintain social distancing in the classroom as much as we possibly can, we have one child per desk.  There is only room for 15 desks in the classroom which means 15 children per year group in total. 

Year 1 are in two classrooms due to the high level of complex needs in the year group.  They have a cover supervisor in the additional classroom to allow for the children to have more space due to their age.  It is not feasible to increase both rooms to 15 as this would mean that the teacher at home would have to come into school and we would not be able to provide remote learning for the children at home (against the DFE guidance). 

I currently continue to have applications for places in school due to parents who feel entitled to a place and/or are finding it challenging at home.  I need to make it clear that we do empathise with parents and want to support you as much as possible.  Some of the support we can offer is as follows:

  • Help with structuring your day so that you can find a balance between home-schooling and work.
  • Help with behaviour management, including ways to motivate your child to learn. This is new to them as well and they may need to be encouraged with a reward system. 
  • Signposting to well-being services to help you as parents manage your own mental health.
  • Terri Hope can have weekly calls with you to help with managing the pressure of home-schooling.
  • We can give you alternative ways to home-school if the live lessons are not working for you as a family. This may include printing a pack for you to use at home or having work emailed to you by the class teacher. 

I have received some helpful strategies from the Behaviour Support Service in Hampshire.  The PowerPoint is available on the Zoom page on the website.  It includes reminders about routines and gives tips on how to manage behaviour.  

Please do take time to focus on your family’s well-being and take the pressure off of yourselves if the Zoom lessons are causing conflict.  The teachers are happy to contact parents to discuss ways to use the zoom lessons if this is the case.  However, the first thought for parents should not be that their child should be in school.    

Currently we are experiencing frustration, even insults, when places are refused and despite us offering support. The decision of whether a child is ‘vulnerable’ is a complicated one and is ours to make based on our knowledge of the child and the family circumstances.  It is not for parents to plead their child’s case of vulnerability regardless of us having no previous knowledge of this. 

As well as managing remote learning, I also have the role of maintaining staff safety and wellbeing in the school.  Emails demanding places are making this job increasingly more challenging.  

The more children we have in school, the more chance the virus will spread and risk the health of the adults in the school community.  Indeed, the chances of pupils having to isolate will become greater as more children attend and so your child could end up at home regardless.    

Aggressive demands for places are unhelpful and do not take into consideration the safety of the whole school community.  The guidance is clear from the DFE – if children can stay at home, they should be at home. I will not be able to offer any further places in the school without removing children who are already in. 

Thank you to everyone for their support and I will try to get us all back in school as soon as it is safe to do so. 

Miss Kelly Dillon