We had hoped that this term would be different and that COVID would be going away. Unfortunately, that has not been the case and whilst restrictions have been lifted and everything is getting back to normal, COVID has been gradually and then rapidly rising locally.
Until now we have been able to cope with the increases in cases because the new rules have allowed us to continue without having to send whole classes or year groups home. This has made a difference. However, with the easing of restrictions, so the general apathy towards COVID has grown amongst the public and students.
We continue to recommend a range of measures in school, including masks in communal areas, regular sanitising and cleaning of touchpoints, and good ventilation.
However, as you all know, cases have been rising over the last couple of weeks.
In addition, we have also seen a flu-like bug, which has been well documented in the press, hit our staff and students. So it’s a bit of a double whammy.
The result has been a large number of students and staff testing positive.
We are still around the national average for COVID cases in school, and in itself, this should not cause major alarm given the vaccine rollout, or stop the school from operating. We have been in close communication with Public Health England and the Local Authority Health Protection Team and have been implementing measures that they have suggested. They are very clear that the guidance is not to close entire schools unless there are sufficient grounds to suggest safety and/or wellbeing cannot be maintained.
However, in addition to staff testing positive, we also have a number off sick due to the flu bug going around. Approximately a third of our teaching staff are therefore off. This is the main challenge we are facing. The knock-on impact from this is huge and includes some of the following:
- Classes being collapsed, technical term for merging – this increases the pressure on staff who potentially have to cope with classes of over 60.
- Teaching cover – with normal sickness or absence we are able to use staff who are not teaching and on planning time, to cover the lessons. With so many off, those teachers are all teaching other classes. We would then normally look for supply cover, but with many schools in the same predicament, supply agencies are struggling to fill the gaps.
- Duties – as well as covering other lessons, with so many staff out, we have less staff to supervise the students around school, this could lead to a situation where ratios at breaks are too large and safety could become an issue.
With all this in mind, we had to make the decision on Monday, to close to specific year groups. By moving two-year groups a day to home learning, we give ourselves the room to cover the year groups we have in school in a safe way and maximise their learning in class. It’s not ideal. We don’t like it. But it’s the reality we find ourselves in.
We have had a handful of comments from parents in each Year group stating that the situation is unfair for their child. We have tried to be equitable with the rota for Year groups that are in. We understand all the various points of view, but balancing this decision has been tricky. There are strong arguments for each Year group to be in school more and the bottom line is, we do not want this to continue for any Year group.
The situation we are desperately trying to avoid is sending the whole school home. That is not what we are about and not what we want. However, if things continue to build, the Local Authority Health Protection Team may take that out of our hands. We are in touch with them daily and if cases continue to rise, we will be taking their advice on school closures and other measures like on-site PCR testing for large groups. We will let you know as soon as we can if we have to change the rota for this week and as soon as we know the situation for next week, but as you will appreciate, things change every day as new cases appear and others return to school.
So, what can you do to help?
- Please ensure students are using FireFly to access learning from home
- If you have any concerns about FireFly or can’t find the work that has been set, email the teacher in the first instance, all their contact details are here: https://fracademy.org/contact/
- Please ensure your child understands the importance of wearing masks on public transport and in communal areas in the school and good hygiene at school – many students are no longer wearing masks and the government guidance makes it impossible for us to enforce
- Make sure your child is testing at home twice a week and reporting results
- Make sure you inform us of any LFD tests or PCR tests that your son/daughter may have had via: email@example.com and follow the full isolation guidance
- Make sure students are not sent in with any COVID symptoms, we have had to turn away several students who have come in with coughs etc. Students with any symptoms should be sent for a PCR test immediately
In regard to the national vaccination programme for schools. We are hoping to have vaccines very soon and will advise as soon as we have confirmation.
Thank you for your help and support. It’s a difficult time for all of us. Nobody wanted to be in this situation. We are teachers. COVID stops us from helping your children learn. That is so frustrating for us as educators. So please never think we take any of these decisions lightly.