Dear Parents and Carers,
Your school and Unity Schools Partnership recognise that our greatest asset is the staff that teach our pupils day in, day out.
We, along with other schools and trusts up and down the country, have two major challenges we need to tackle:
- High absence rates of staff and pupils during the Autumn Term
- Recruitment challenges for both teaching and classroom support staff. Currently, recruitment is difficult across all sectors, particularly the public sector. We are looking to both retain our current, excellent staff and recruit the very best staff when our vacancies arise.
We have been researching and discussing strategies used nationally that could support improvements for both these issues in your school and across the trust. There are two main strategies that we believe will address the challenges listed above.
Firstly, we are looking to provide the best professional development opportunities, and, where staff are looking for promotion or other career changes, we aim to provide opportunities for this too. This will help us to retain staff by providing another position in another school, provide a progression opportunity in the same school or another school or offer a change of career path within the trust.
Secondly, having looked at the way some trusts and schools organise the school year differently, we are provisionally looking to make an adjustment to the dates in the autumn term 2023. This will support recruitment of the very best staff but mostly, we believe, could reduce absence rates in the Autumn Term. Good health and wellbeing of staff and pupils is essential to the education of our pupils. The long Autumn Term, and emerging viruses at that time of year, seem to combine to create higher than usual absence rates, particularly in November. By adding five days to the October half term, we believe this will impact positively on the physical, emotional and mental health of our staff and pupils, and decrease absence during this term. An added benefit of this strategy is that it creates a second week, during which families can take a more affordable holiday. We are very clear that we do not authorise pupil absence for holidays during school terms, and we know that a major reason for families making such requests is the higher cost of holidays during school holiday periods.
As part of a trust, academies, including free schools, can set their own term dates and school day. Over the past few years, many academies have chosen to extend the October half-term to two weeks. Extending the October half term by five days, of course, means we will need to ensure that those five days are made up at another time to ensure that there is no learning time lost for any pupil. There are a variety of strategies used by other trusts and schools, but we must do what’s best for our school and pupils.
Samuel Ward Academy is in an unusual position because we also need to increase the length of the school day next year to meet new minimum government expectations.
Changes to meet the minimum government expectations
I have written before about the new government expectations for the length of the school day. The SWA day is currently shorter than most and will need to increase by September 2023 by twenty minutes a day to meet the new expectations. To do that, we will add ten minutes to morning registration, five minutes to break and five minutes to lunch. The reason that those three areas have been chosen is that they are the parts of the school day which are currently shorter than in most secondary schools. It means that we will be able to cover all the daily notices and ensure that assemblies don’t run over into period 1 as they sometimes do now. It also means that break and lunch will feel a little bit more relaxed. The school day will start at 8.40am as it does now, so those changes mean that from September 2023, the school day will finish at 3.10pm. As these changes are necessary to meet new government guidelines, they are not for negotiation.
Proposal to move to a two-week autumn half term break
After consideration, at this school, we plan provisionally to add 10 mins to each day: we will add five minutes each to periods 2 and 4 every day. Alongside the necessary changes to meet government minimum expectations, these proposed changes would mean that the school day would end at 3.20pm.
The only other way we could accommodate that time would be to add an extra lesson one day a week. We feel that spreading the time out rather than putting fifty minutes a week into a late lesson is preferable for a number of reasons. One extra lesson would only benefit one subject or option block in each year group whereas increasing time in periods 2 and 4 will benefit the majority of subject areas. Students are likely to be less engaged with that extra lesson at the end of the school day because they will be more tired. Because of the way our rewards and sanctions system works, there are a small number of students in detention each night. Making one school day longer than the other four would mean that detentions that night would finish much later. I don’t think that is acceptable, especially in the darker months.
Many families have students at both Samuel Ward and Westfield Academies, and often older students pick up younger brothers and sisters at the end of the day. To maintain consistency, we are also proposing at Westfield that we add ten minutes to each day, meaning that the Westfield day would end at 3.40pm.
We appreciate that for working families, dependent on the age of your child(ren), you may have additional need for childcare with this proposal. Each school will evaluate the need and the potential for holiday clubs, for example, to address this.
In summary, the school day will need to finish no earlier than 3.10pm from next September. That is not my choice and it isn’t something I can consult on. If we choose to move to a two-week October half term, school will finish at 3.20pm from next September. That is a choice for us to make.
We would welcome your thoughts.
- Do you agree with the proposed change to the school term dates?
- Are there any comments you would like considered?
Please respond using this online form by 13th March: https://forms.office.com/e/C1QRbNt7kH
Once the consultation is complete, we expect to confirm by the end of March the dates for the next school year.