Week 14: I am still learning (Michelangelo)

It has been an interesting week in school with teachers learning how to deliver lessons in a way that is completely different for them. I think it’s fair to say that it has been an up-and-down (but mostly positive) experience. There have been a few technical issues and Mrs Valleley (Assistant Headteacher) fielded over 40 emails on Monday morning from parents and carers, all of which she dealt with quickly. Next week (fingers crossed) will be much smoother.

Most Hampshire schools have not adopted live lessons and there is no real evidence that these are any more effective than other forms of online learning, such as presentations with pre-recorded explanations to accompany them. The key reason for moving to these live lessons has been to raise engagement over the last half-term. Nationally, students’ engagement with online learning has dipped and we were keen to address this. Pleasingly, this is not the case at The Hamble School- the overwhelming feedback from parents and students since Tuesday is that they have really valued the contact with staff. Staff have also really enjoyed being able to see the children again.

Live lessons are more difficult to organise for teaching staff, virtually all of whom have never delivered content in this way before. They are also, as some families have discovered this week, more difficult in the short-term because you need to plan all of your independent learning around the live lessons. It’s been a learning curve for all of us. We have listened to the feedback from parents and I would ask you to read this week’s Home Learning Newsletter which explains the new simpler format. Thank you for your helpful comments and kind words in reshaping all of this. There are 6 main points:

  1. Work will now be set on a Sunday and we will guarantee that every subject will be uploaded for the week by 5pm that day. This means that families can plan before Monday morning. The due date will still be the Friday of each week.
  2. We have asked staff to reduce the number of core independent learning tasks they are setting next week as some students have felt overwhelmed.
  3. Staff will now put the live lesson details (day, time, and Zoom link) in the assignment box on Show My Homework as well as on the Weekly Learning Plans so it is more obvious for students.
  4. We will try to reduce the number of resources attached to each assignment post on Show My Homework and ensure the Weekly Learning Plan is saved as Weekly Learning Plan so you can instantly download this.
  5. We want students to be able to work flexibly around the live lessons but we also know that structure helps our families. This week we are therefore publishing a suggested timetable. The live lessons are all highlighted in green and we have provided a timetable of when the independent learning tacks could be completed around this. We hope this helps with organisation.
  6. Staff will not let students into the lesson unless they are using their full name (first name and surname) due to safeguarding.

I really hope that students continue to value these experiences and that it gets them fired up for a fresh, positive start in September. I know that the staff have enjoyed the experience of seeing the children more and, as with all things, we will learn valuable lessons along the way that will help us develop out teaching and learning next year.

I’ve fielded a few questions this week about what is happening in September, including what the school intends to do about uniform, social distancing, transition for Year 7 students, and catch-up. The answer is I do not know. That’s not an entirely true answer- I have scribbled down a number of different scenarios and how we might address these- but until the government publishes updated guidance for September all I really have are guesses.

Let’s take social distancing as an example. If the guidance for September is 1m+ social-distancing, then some of our older classrooms will only hold about 10-12 students at a time. I know because the site team have been around the school and begun the measuring process. That’s about half a class in Key Stage 4 and much less in Key Stage 3. In this scenario, I will not have enough classrooms to teach the children (and nowhere near enough teachers either) so a ‘blended’ approach of in-school and online will be necessary, with the online provision being limited because most of the staff will be in school teaching the 50% of students who are in attendance. It’s not a great scenario for anyone, including the government who I image are struggling to make the right decision for something that is still over two months away.

Last week, schools were promised that we would receive guidance for September by the end of next week. Hopefully, this guidance will come out then and I will be able to begin planning for the new academic year. My guess (I’m back to guesses again) is that we will need to plan for a small number of scenarios and I hope that guidance is provided for the most likely ones. As always, as soon as I know I will write to all of you immediately to explain what we will be doing. This will definitely come out before the end of term!

I hope that you all have a good weekend and enjoy the beautiful weather.


Week 12: ‘If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.’ (Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop)

Footballers often receive a bad press and sometimes justifiably. All-too-often, we read stories in the press about poor behaviour, excessive wage demands, and a me-first attitude that makes it very difficult for us to feel any sympathy towards them. The truth is that most of them work really hard to give something back to their communities and it was therefore really heartening to see the impact that Marcus Rashford of Manchester United had this week in ensuring that our most vulnerable children will receive free school meals over the summer holiday this year.

The argument for not giving children these meals over the summer holidays is one I’ve always struggled to get behind. To my mind, if children need the support 39 weeks of the year then they need it during the 13 weeks of holiday. Over the past 12 weeks of lockdown my food bills have increased dramatically and my two boys, in particular, seem determined to eat their bodyweight in food every single day. Speaking to colleagues, parents and friends, I know that this is the case for many of you too. Depriving families of this vital support over the school holidays has always seemed unfair to me.

What Marcus Rashford has achieved this week is nothing less than inspirational and he deserves every single plaudit being sent his way. He experienced a lot of hardship growing up and has used his status as a top-flight footballer to work with various charities to improve conditions for disadvantaged families. Working with the food waste charity FareShare, he has raised over £20m to help children receive the meals they so desperately need. This week, he wrote an open letter to the government and appeared on the news to appeal to the government to do more for child poverty- if you watched any of his interviews I’m sure that, like me, you would have been struck by his quiet determination that things need to change. This led to the government announcing a day later that free school meals would be extended throughout the summer holidays. As a Southampton football fan, I’m afraid I can’t find it in me to support Manchester United as a team but I will definitely be cheering Marcus Rashford on and off the pitch for a long long time. He has made a massive difference to people who need it the most.

This has been an exciting week at school too. Throughout the week, Year 10s have been coming back into school, online tutor sessions have begun, and we are gearing up for some online lessons beginning next week. As always, please read the Home Learning Newsletter because it contains all the relevant details. I know all of this information can be a bit overwhelming at times but this is because we are trying to change this remotely. It is much easier (for you and for us) when we are working from a regular timetable. Mrs Valleley has spent a lot of time this week helping parents (and teachers) come to terms with the new way of working. In this week’s edition, the new format for home learning is explained (with an example), as well as the guidelines for students when they are in a live lesson. I would really appreciate you going through these guidelines with your children.

(Click the images below for a larger view…)

Home Learning Newsletter – here

I’m genuinely excited to see what the impact of these lessons is. The very latest update from the government today is that they expect schools to be back in September, which is fantastic news. But the update also says that the government is planning contingencies just in case, which is more concerning. What we are trying to do, as I explained last week, is to gain some expertise this half-term in delivering online lessons. It’s completely different to teaching in a classroom and I fully expect there to be some mistakes. Most will be unnoticeable because they will be little things that teachers will reflect upon after the lesson is over, but I’m sure we will have technical issues too and several staff have asked to deliver their sessions from the classroom because they are concerned about their own domestic broadband. If we come back as normal in September (as we all hope), I hope that we will be able to use these new experiences to help improve the quality of teaching and learning at the school.

I led assemblies all week with the Year 10s (a version of it is going online to those who were unable to attend). In these assemblies, I asked the students to reflect on the huge changes, such as most shops being closed for and the long queues for supermarkets, that we have become used to over the past 3 months. For some of them, the reopening of McDonalds and other fast food outlets last month was a welcome taste of normality (please pardon the pun); for me, it was the recommencement of the premier league on Wednesday this week, with the highlight being Southampton playing this evening. Just like school this week, with students sat two metres away from each other and in classes of no more than ten, the football lacks the passion and atmosphere that it normally has. But, just like the Year 10s coming back in this week, it’s a good start to getting things back to normal. It’s something to be excited about.

I hope you all have a good weekend, despite the forecasts of rain, and please keep safe.


Week 11: ‘You lack the season of all natures, sleep.’ (Macbeth, William Shakespeare)

Some of you may vaguely remember a reality television programme called ‘Shattered’ that ran on Channel 4 about seventeen years ago. Ten contestants were challenged to go without sleep for seven days while their actions were constantly monitored. They competed for a potential prize fund of £100,000 and £1,000 was deducted from the prize fund if a contestant closed their eyes for over ten seconds. Every day, the contestants had a one-hour long challenge- these included a relaxing face massage, a bedtime story repeated again and again, counting sheep on a television, and watching paint dry in a warm, comfy chair. On the final day the remaining contestants were sent to bed – the last to fall asleep won and anyone who spoke, turned away from the camera, covered their faces or closed their eyes for longer than 10 seconds, automatically lost. Not surprisingly, this show didn’t have a second series because of health concerns- some of the contestants suffered from hallucinations and one gave up because she was suffering from severe sleep deprivation.

Sleep is particularly important for children and I have always led assemblies on the importance of getting enough of it, especially with older students in the run up to GCSE examination. There’s been a bit of a false narrative for years about successful people forgoing sleep so that they can work harder- Margaret Thatcher used to boast about only having four hours of sleep with the implication that you were maybe less less driven if you had more. Not sleeping can be a badge of honour to some: I only had five hours of sleep last night because there’s too much to do. And yet if you look at successful people, most stress the importance of having a good night’s sleep. Tom Brady, generally regarded as the most successful NFL player ever, has spoken regularly about the fundamental role that sleep has played in his success. If you sleep properly, you function much better. In the UK, an experiment conducted with over 21,000 people showed that people who slept 7-8 hours a night were significantly more productive than those who only had 5 hours.

The reason why I mention sleep now is that many people, despite having more time on their hands up until the past couple of weeks, have been sleeping badly during coronavirus. This is natural really- we all have a lot on our minds- but it is also apparently because of the lack of structure in our lives. Without the normal structures of school or work, people have been changing their sleep patterns. Last week, when desperately trying to get some sleep because I needed to be in school early to complete arrangements for our Year 10s, I had to go downstairs and tersely instruct my 18-year-old son that he needed to go to bed immediately and stop making so much noise downstairs. It was 4.00am! the conversation was brief and one-sided. Having finished his BTEC qualification, he doesn’t have a lot of structure- he can’t get a part-time job because of coronavirus- so he has decided instead to up his gaming time. Now that I’m increasingly in school, I’m not there to nag him into getting up and doing something productive with his day.

I’ve struggled to sleep over the past fortnight with all of our preparations for Year 10s coming back into school and the increased online provision for all students. It’s been an exciting time and I know that all the staff feel that way too but there have been so many things to consider that I am finding myself waking up at night thinking about random things. This morning (Monday), I woke up at 3am worrying that the remote control for the Hall projector would have been misplaced and I started making a mental list of all the people who might have it. Of course, it was exactly where it always is when I arrived in school a few hours later.

I hope that the programme we have planned for this half term will help provide that structure. Over the next two weeks, we will be running online tutor times for Years 7-9 as well as delivering some live lessons. For the full details, please refer to the Home Learning Newsletter, which will include updated details each week on what is happening:

Home Learning Newsletter – here

You should also go to Show My Homework to see when your child’s sessions are taking place. Online lessons will last approximately 50 minutes and I would ask you to make sure that your child engages with these because they will be a crucial part of that week’s learning. As I wrote last week, we are new to this so there will be some issues but we will get better and learn as we go. I’m really hoping that students will enjoy these new aspects of learning, especially the online tutor times, and that it will help them feel connected to the school. In school, the 2m social-distancing guidelines that we have been following means that we can only fit about 8 students in some of our classrooms- even the large rooms we have been using for Year 10s this week can only hold about 12 students. If the government decides that 1m is safe then this will help us accommodate more students in September. Again, I will write to you later in the term when I know what the government has decided.

In my assemblies this week, I am planning to reflect on some of the things we will remember about this pandemic: queuing for supermarkets; cancelled sporting and cultural events; the excitement at shops reopening across the country. All of these are things that students will be able to tell their children about in twenty years time. Hopefully, if we are all sensible, continue to socially-distance, and take suitable precautions, this is the start of things going back to normal. From my perspective, having 30 mostly-excited Year 10 children in each day this week feels a lot more like the school life that I know we are all desperate to return to.


Week 10: Change is the only constant in life (Heraclitus, Greek philosopher)

One of my (and my children’s) favourite books when growing up was The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. I’m sure you know the story: a caterpillar is hatched from an egg and begins eating an increasing variety and quantity of food, starting on Monday with a simple apple and ending up on Saturday eating its way through a slice of chocolate cake, an ice-cream cone, a pickle, a slice of Swiss cheese, a slice of salami, a lollipop, a slice of cherry pie, a sausage, a cupcake, and a huge slice of watermelon. Not surprisingly, the caterpillar ends up with a terrible stomach ache before it builds a cocoon, goes to sleep for a couple of weeks and then emerges transformed as beautiful butterfly. I know the book is about change but, to be honest, it always made me feel hungry when I read it as a child.

Over half-term, after digesting over 200+ pages of Public Health England, Department for Education, union, and government guidance on coronavirus, I began to wonder if I was about to go through my own transformation. The week before half-term, the Department for Education allegedly issued 41 separate pieces of guidance. I haven’t counted them up to confirm if this is true or not (and some of them had a specific focus on primary schools so I tended to skim-read those) but my desk has an every-increasing pile of documents, with my furious scribblings all over them where applicable. Some have contradicted earlier advice, including the specific DfE document aimed at secondary schools that was issued over the half-term. This led to a rewrite of the plans for Year 10 that I had presented to the governing body the week before. Constant change is something we all have to cope with at the moment.

There is a lot of change going on around us at the moment. The Prime Minister’s decision to relax lockdown, the opening up of more businesses (the huge queues outside McDonalds have left me simultaneously shaking my head in disbelief and also wanting a burger), the protests in major cities around the country following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota, and the increased numbers of people out-and-about has certainly polarized opinions. Some people think this a good move and just what is needed to restart the economy; others are finding it incredibly stressful dealing with the swift change. Like it or not, it is happening. I notice it in my commute to and from school- the country, after what feels like a long hibernation, is readying itself for its own transformation.

I wrote to Year 10 parents earlier today (Tuesday 9th June) to reflect that it seems increasingly likely, having spoken to local headteachers and the Local Authority, that we may need to offer a blended approach of school lessons, live online lessons, and online provision at the beginning of next term. I hope this is not the case but it’s something I have begun planning for. When we first started our online provision in late March, I assumed that we would be back in school by this point, or September at the latest. Now, the picture is less clear. Like you, I watch the daily updates to see the latest changes. No one really knows at the moment so I cannot tell you with any certainty what the new academic year will look like but we will use the next 6 weeks to make sure that we are all- students, staff and parents- in the best place possible to adapt to whatever the circumstances are.

As a school we are going through our own transformation. Year 10s are starting to come back next week and we are making sure that we are increasing our contact with all year groups, building up to starting some live lessons in the next couple of weeks. Similarly, we will be running some online tutor times and live lessons this term to complement the high-quality online resources that we have been setting since late March. I’m not a huge fan of live lessons- I think that the dependency upon accessing them online at a specific time is more suitable for a certain type of student and I worry that they are more likely to widen the achievement gap than solve it- but I believe that things need to change, particularly if we need to offer a blended approach in September. I am also hoping that the different approach will re-energise students over this half-term. Starting on Monday 22nd June, some live lessons will be offered in the core subjects of English, Maths and Science, with some other subjects also running them. Details will go out in the weekly Home Learning Newsletter and I will also reference them in my weekly blog. This will form part of the weekly provision for students in Years 7-9. We are in the early stages of this so please be patient if there are technical issues and, let’s be honest, there will be. I’ve had multiple broadband issues over the past few months, some of which have left me without online access for what seemed like an eternity (but were actually closer to an hour) so it’s unrealistic to think that there will not be similar issues with other members of staff. I also have to be clear that these lessons will not always be run by your child’s subject teacher. The more we offer as a school, the more I have to spread the staff around. We are still running provision for Key Worker children, plus delivering some in-school sessions for Year 10 students, so departments are having to allocate different roles to different members of staff. Your understanding is appreciated.

I would like to finish with a heartfelt thank you. I have received a lot of correspondence over the past few months thanking all school staff for the way they have adapted to the changes and appreciating that many of my staff are wearing the double hats of teacher and parent, juggling childcare issues of their own whilst carrying out duties which are different to the ones they originally signed up for. It has been, and will continue to be, a difficult time for many people in our community. Please rest assured that we will always do what we can to help- contact us if we can do anything.