Dear Parents and Carers,

We start the new year with continuing restrictions due to the currently very high levels of COVID-19 infections. It appears that omicron is much more infectious but causes less severe illness. We will be taking steps, as always, to protect students and staff from the transmission of the disease and to ensure that, as far as possible, education can continue uninterrupted.

I have updated the risk assessment this morning. The full document is on the website, but I thought it would be helpful to share the main points here.

At the start of the spring term:

  • staff will wear face coverings in communal areas outside of the classroom, unless exempt for medical reason, including the staffroom
  • staff who choose to do so may wear face coverings in lessons as long as this does not compromise their ability to communicate effectively. Staff may prefer a Perspex screen or visor
  • staff who feel that they are especially vulnerable and/or require further protection are encouraged to request an individual risk assessment
  • all existing individual risk assessments will be revisited and revised as appropriate
  • students will wear face coverings in communal areas outside of the classroom, unless exempt for medical reasons
  • until at least 26 January, students will wear face coverings in classrooms and changing rooms too
  • only essential visitors will visit the school
  • any visitors to any school will wear a face covering while on-site, including parents, carers or other adults attending meetings or collecting children
  • teachers will deliver their lessons from a distanced position at the front of the room and take sensible precautions to avoid contracting or transmitting illness
  • learning support assistants will be based by the entrance to the classroom and will take students who require support into the corridor to talk to them
  • classrooms and other occupied areas will be kept well ventilated through the opening of doors and windows. Where this results in classrooms being colder than normal, students will be allowed to wear their coats in lessons
  • large gatherings, such as options evening, will take place remotely
  • assemblies will be temporarily replaced with a “Thought for the Week” guided discussion led by tutors
  • staff briefings will be held remotely
  • department meetings will be held face to face if sufficient social distancing can be maintained, and remotely otherwise

We will also continue to remind children of the need for vigilance about hygiene - frequent and thorough hand cleaning should continue to be regular practice and the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach to any sneezing continues to be very important. The pre-term testing has been helpful and I urge all families to use lateral flow tests with everyone in the family twice a week.

The rules for isolation are very different to the way they were a year ago. Children over the age of 5 (up to 18 years, 6 months) and fully vaccinated adults (who have had 2 doses of an approved vaccine) who are identified as a contact of someone with COVID-19 do not have to self-isolate and are strongly advised to take a lateral flow test every day for 7 days and continue to attend their school as normal, unless they have a positive test result.

Adults who choose not to get vaccinated will need to self-isolate if identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19.

All adults and children that have a positive test for COVID-19 or are told to do by NHS Test and Trace should self-isolate. This means not leaving home because you have or might have coronavirus (COVID-19). This is a legal requirement.

If someone tests positive, the self-isolation period includes the day symptoms started (or the day of the test if there weren’t any symptoms) and the next 10 full days. This will need to continue for longer if symptoms emerge or do not go away. The self-isolation can end after 7 days if rapid lateral flow tests on days 6 and 7 of the self-isolation period, with the tests at least 24 hours apart, are both negative and there is not a high temperature.

If anyone in the school develops covid-19 symptoms, however mild, they will be sent home and they should follow public health advice. Not all coughs will be covid-19.

It is difficult to keep track of all this. If you want some advice, please just ask us.

In extreme cases, and as a last resort where all other risk mitigations have not broken chains of in-school transmission, we may be advised to introduce short-term attendance restrictions, such as sending home a class or year group - remote learning would then be provided for all pupils well enough to learn from home. On-site provision will in all cases be retained for vulnerable children and the children of critical workers.

Any school requires a certain minimum level of staffing to remain safely open. I am concerned about the possibility of high staff absence this term due to the requirements to self-isolate. Because so many schools are in the same position, finding temporary supply staff is increasingly difficult. If we need to combine classes then we will do that if and when possible, but we have a limited number of spaces that can accommodate more than one class. 

It is therefore a possibility that we may need at times to close particular classes or year groups and move for a short period to remote learning. That is a step I will not take until absolutely necessary and I don’t think it is inevitable, but it is as well to be aware of the possibility.

Hopefully this wave will pass without too much disruption and inconvenience and this year will turn out to be much better than last year. Given that we are open and that last January all the schools in the country closed their doors to the majority of children until Easter, this year is already off to a better start.

Let’s hope that continues. Happy new year to you all.

Andy Hunter