Dear Parents and Carers,

It has been a genuine pleasure to have the students back in school and I would like to congratulate them on how well they have adapted to being back. It is good to see that they haven’t lost any of their good habits; they are as sensible and mature as they ever were.

We’ve completed the in-school testing programme now, with over 3000 tests taken in the last two weeks. Thanks to everyone involved in that, including of course the students who generally took it completely in their stride and where someone was feeling a bit anxious, supported each other very calmly and kindly.

You received a letter from Mr Butterworth this week about progress checks. In short, we have collected progress check data which measured students’ engagement with remote learning. We came back a little bit sooner than we initially expected to and now we are back in school, that data already seems out of date. Rather than focussing on who was doing what from home, we’re going to focus on here and now, and making sure we all do as well as possible over the rest of this year. There will of course be another progress check later in the summer for all students apart from Years 11 and 13.

I’m starting to look at the curriculum for next year. As I said in my last letter to you, I’m not too worried about the gaps students will have in their academic knowledge because we’ve got plenty of time to address those. In fact, it’s increasingly clear than many students have done really very well since Christmas. However, I am worried that many students will not have had opportunities to spend time with other children this year, at clubs or sporting activities or even virtually. Everything has been on hold. Music lessons, for instance, have continued on-line, but that isn’t really the same thing at all. Sports clubs have made video training sessions which have been great, but no substitute for spending time with other children.

At Samuel Ward we believe in educating the whole child, to help them grow into well-rounded, confident, independent young people. Enrichment is central to that, so access to enrichment must be a right and not a privilege. For that reason, I am investigating the possibility of introducing an hour of enrichment into the school day once a fortnight as part of our personal development programme. My idea is that all of years 7-11 would have an enrichment lesson timetabled at the same time. Teachers would offer to lead courses on things they are interested in outside of their teaching subject and students would choose an activity to take part in each term. Because I would allocate it as a timetabled lesson for all staff, we would be able to run smaller groups than an average class size. Some ideas I’ve heard so far include netball, origami, fitness, animation, a model united nations, table tennis, glee club, mindfulness, ukulele and crochet. That is just for illustration; the final list of options would be much longer. I’m also entirely open to parents who would like to offer sessions coming in to do that.

It’s a relatively complex thing to put in place and I’m at the stage at the moment of seeing if it could be made to work with the staffing and timetable we have. Once I’ve got a firmer proposal I’ll contact you again because I’m interested in your views on this use of curriculum time. So far, I’ve consulted staff, governors and USP colleagues. All of them are overwhelmingly positive in their support.

We have started working with a firm of architects to develop plans for a new building or buildings on the site of the old school. A key function of the new space is to expand the dedicated space available to Haverhill Community Sixth Form as it continues to grow and improve. The new building would be a STEAM centre – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths – and I hope will provide not just a fabulous new resource for our students but also some excellent new spaces for community use, including an Arts Centre, in the evenings. As soon as we’ve got some drawings, I’ll share those with you. I hope you’ll agree this is an exciting development not just for us but for the whole town.

As you know, I’m ambitious for our school and our students. This is already a totally different school to the one I joined in 2018. In more normal times, we might have expected a one-day Ofsted inspection this year to check on our progress since the last full inspection in March 2019. It’s not impossible that we’ll get one, but it is very unlikely because Ofsted are so far behind and there are much more urgent schools to see than ours. That’s a shame because I’d like them to see the progress that we’ve made.

Instead, I’ve invited a school consultant who also works as an Ofsted inspector to come and spend a day in the school along with some colleagues from USP, to have a good look at what we’re doing here and give me some idea of how the school looks to a visiting expert. I expect that they’ll see a lot of very strong teaching and learning going on in a calm, business like environment. I’m also hoping they will be able to challenge us and give us some tips for further improvement. Once that visit has taken place, I’ll let you know what comes out of it.

Finally, I’d like to thank the heads of house for organising the Comic Relief non-uniform day today. We’ve raised over £1000 for that good cause. Thank you all for your contributions.

Have a good weekend,

Andy Hunter