HEADMASTER'S UPDATE - 2nd April 2020

Dear Parent/Guardian,

Learning at home

I am sure you at home, like us in our own homes, are finding online education a challenge – hopefully an exciting challenge, but no doubt to some extent a stressful one. As parents you are trying to keep your son safe, allay fears and motivate him to work, whilst trying to meet the demands of your own work and additional responsibilities. You may also, of course, be dealing with illness. Obviously we recognise this as we attempt to offer continuity of educational provision and support from school, but inevitably issues will arise as we all get used to these circumstances.

I would like to ask you to encourage your son to complete the work that is set and to the standard we would expect in school - they all know what this looks like! This will be helpful to your son because it will support a sense of normality and connection with school. Ordinarily this happens through the daily personal contact that teachers have with students. We have rapidly discovered that it is not possible to maintain the frequency or quality of those interactions through remote working, especially if a teacher also has family commitments of their own at this time or are dealing with illness in their own home. Even so, I know many colleagues are checking in with students during the course of lessons or at other points during the school day. I expect many of you will have found similar challenges in your own work and you will recognise that we all need to have expectations that take account of the many different environments in which people currently have to operate.

Students will need to display personal resilience and an appreciation of the value of their learning, especially when we begin work again after the Easter break. This applies to all students, but it is especially important for students in Years 10 and 12 who are in the midst of GCSE and A Level courses. We are already planning to schedule a series of assessments for these year groups once the school is open again and boys should be working towards these over the course of the weeks and months ahead. In the meantime, ongoing engagement with the tasks set and submission of the work to teachers online will be critical. Where we have concerns that a student is not engaging with the learning process, the school pastoral team will be contacting parents after Easter to help support full engagement.

We have asked staff to make sure that work is available by 8.30am each morning on days that your child has a lesson with them. This allows your son to plan their day with you so that what they need to do can dovetail with your domestic plans. We would recommend that you spend a few moments with your son on their Google Classroom to help them organise their time and resources. We’re also finding that students, especially the younger ones, don’t always read the instructions provided as carefully as they might. This has caused misunderstandings and occasional upset which could be avoided. Specifically, please encourage your child to click 'turned in' on a piece of work on Google Classroom when they have finished it. This will really help teachers and prevent unnecessary follow up with students, since it is the virtual equivalent of handing in a piece of work.

I hope these suggestions might be of some use in your homes as we become accustomed to this situation. We have been working very hard behind the scenes to plan for different eventualities next term. As we take decisions about the best way to proceed we will, of course, keep you informed. In making those decisions we will have to take into account any steer we receive from government about the re-opening of schools, as well as identifying how we can best continue to educate and support students. At present, we know no more about the future ahead than you do.

Easter holidays

We will not be setting work for students to complete over the holidays as a matter of course. There may be some project work or requirements for consolidation, but this will be limited. This is because we believe they, and their teachers, need a break from the school routine more than ever. There are many ideas for activities to keep young people busy and engaged available from many media outlets, which I am sure you have already encountered. Additionally, we have circulated reading lists to students via email which may prove to offer a useful and pleasurable distraction.

Community news and engagement

In these challenging times, there is still plenty to celebrate and provide cheer. We have really enjoyed hearing about the response of our boys in the midst of this extraordinary period. We have heard from boys who are keeping themselves fit by going for bike rides and runs or playing cricket in the garden. Year 7 boys have also been engaged in push-up and plank competitions. Other activities have included crosswords, reading, learning new languages and cooking, with one student taking cooking lessons from an older brother. Some lower sixth boys are creating a ‘quarantine ensemble’ - each student is recording the music parts individually and they plan to amalgamate these into one performance to share with the community.

Following our appeal to our sixth form to support the care of vulnerable people in this crisis, students are also volunteering at Watford General Hospital and at the Epilepsy Society in Chalfont St Peter. The manager of one of the care homes for the Epilepsy Society wrote to us to say: “I had the pleasure of interviewing two of the finest young people I have ever met. Their values and behaviours throughout the whole interview process were exceptional, and I believe they will make fantastic contributions to the work we do here. They are true ambassadors of their families and school, who should feel very proud of how they presented themselves. Meeting them gave me some hope for humanity in these dark times.” This is inspiring and if any other student, aged 17 or over, would like to support this cause by volunteering, they should contact Emma Darlington at Emma.Darlington@epilepsysociety.org.uk

Younger boys, who are less able to volunteer in this capacity, have still sought to offer inspiration and hope – members of Year 7 and 8 wrote to the residents of our local old people’s home just before the lockdown to wish them well and offer some cheery messages (the home waited to open the letters for a few days to ensure there could be no cross-contamination).

Our staff have also been quick to step up and volunteer too, with some working in Watford General Hospital or signing up to act as delivery drivers for the NHS. The school has made our fleet of minibuses available for this purpose so that we can deliver workers, equipment and patients around the county – already 15 staff have committed to this project. Please do encourage your sons to share their experiences of this period by contacting their form tutors – it is really encouraging and inspiring to hear of their resilience, resourcefulness and their kindness to others.

I will write to you again after the Easter break. In the meantime, I wish you and your families a very peaceful, safe and relaxing holiday.

With best wishes,

Ian Cooksey

Published on 03/04/2020

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