Here we set out what steps we propose taking in light both of parent feedback and the Prime Minister’s announcement that Y12 students be encouraged to return to schools and colleges from Monday 15th June.
What parents said
We received more than 80 responses from parents. Understandably, all parents expressed concerns over the potential impact of lockdown on students’ progress and the grades they might receive at the end of Y13. More than 70 respondents expressed concerns about re-opening, with particular reference to travel to and from the college site and how students might socially distance while in lessons and moving around campus.
As far as distance learning is concerned, most parents believed that distance learning, while less impactful than face-to-face teaching, was a price worth paying to ensure the safety of their families and communities. However, most felt that an increase in teachers’ use of video conferencing would be of benefit to students.
What the Prime Minister has said
The Prime Minister has signalled that it is time for a very limited re-opening of provision for Y12. He has stated that colleges such as TRC might begin welcoming students back from 12th June but that, in order to allow for social distancing to be observed, no more than 25% of students should be on site at any one time.
How will TRC respond?
The Prime Minister’s statements and the current advice from Public Health England make clear that we can’t yet return to business as normal. While we welcome the clarity that the Prime Minister has brought to this issue, we are aware that multiple, complex challenges have sprung up as a result of this new guidance. I wrote in my last email that “it is difficult to envisage a swift return to anything like the experiences of college that students have hitherto known” and this is still the case. By way of an example: 25% of our current 12 is approximately 200 students. We have approximately 80 students who study Chemistry A Level. It is therefore within the guidance to bring all 80 into college for a series of ‘normal’ lessons. However, 80 students, observing social distance in a Science lab, would require between 10 and 15 science labs equipped for the teaching of Chemistry – labs (and teachers to teach in them) that we simply do not have. That scenario is repeated across college for subjects as diverse as English Literature, CACHE, Health and Social Care, etc. Social distancing will require smaller classes. If we factor in those subjects which might require even smaller class sizes because they are more practical in nature and involve students in moving around a classroom (Art students taking resources or Photography classes moving to the dark room) or working collaboratively (Performing Arts, Media, Sport, etc.) then those challenges are only further exacerbated. For reasons such as these, we have decided in the interests of safety that distance learning (see below) will continue to be the main source of teaching for the foreseeable future and that our plans for the first stage of this term’s gradual re-opening of the college (see below) will not involve teachers teaching full classes.
So, what are we proposing?
College will begin a limited re-opening process for identified students under strictly controlled circumstances from Monday 15th June. However, this will not be for all students in the first instance. The overwhelming majority of students will not attend college for at least a fortnight after that date but continue their education through distance learning. We will keep the situation under constant review with the intention to increase access to the college site to encompass a greater number of students if safety allows.
Who will attend?
Initially, we are looking to re-engage with identified students who have, for a range of reasons, struggled with learning during lockdown. These students may have missed work because they or members of their family have been ill or because they have not had the access to IT that other students enjoy. Other students have understandably struggled with some enormously challenging content during lockdown and still more are studying courses which require that they use specialist equipment or undertake practical work. We are only too aware that all students have struggled with various aspects of work during lockdown but we will initially focus on the students who have been most disadvantaged: it is to them, we feel, that we owe our prime duty in this first instance. Teachers have already begun the process of reviewing their classes and identifying students who require this additional support. For two weeks from the 15th June, some of these students will be invited into college.
Who will not attend?
First-year BTEC students have completed their courses and cannot, therefore, be behind in their work. Teachers of these courses will now start setting work to cover second year content via distance learning. Y12 BTEC students will therefore not be invited to attend college until after the summer.
It is possible that individual qualifications might wish to invite some Y12 students in to complete Year 2 practical work. Teachers might decide that completing this kind of work during the last weeks of this half term is an effective use of time in light of other curriculum considerations. This decision will be made by individual subjects in consultation with the college leadership team.
How will students know if they are expected to attend?
Teachers will send emails, giving students at least two working days’ notice if they are being asked to attend. Students who are expected to attend on Monday 15th June will be emailed by their teacher by midday on Wednesday 10th June. This period of notice is to allow students and parents time to prepare for travel, etc.
Will the college day stay the same?
No. For the remainder of this year, we have radically altered the shape of the college teaching day. There will now be only 2 sessions a day and not the 4 that students will be used to. Sessions will start later and end earlier, as a way of keeping students off public transport at peak times. The first session will run from 9:30am to midday. The second will run from 12:30 – 3:00pm. We have made these changes to minimise the numbers of students expected to travel to and from the campus. Sessions will take place on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. The site will be closed on Wednesdays for teachers to train in on-line delivery, plan and prepare work for distance learning and for cleaning. The site will be closed on Fridays for all to allow for a deeper cleaning routine. Teachers and other members of staff will work from home on Fridays.
Will there be refreshments and food available from the canteen?
Not initially. Students will be expected to leave the college campus immediately at the end of their session unless they have a second session in the afternoon, in which case they will be allowed to eat a packed lunch in college. We have decided to close the canteen until further notice in order to minimise contact during social time. The layout of our canteen does not allow us to secure social distancing. If your child benefits from the bursary scheme, we will make grab bags available (if they come into college) or continue to offer vouchers where students are learning from home. We will keep this situation under review.
What about making improvements to distance learning?
Most parents were keen to see an increase in the use of video conferencing resources to allow more structured, face-to-face teaching. We will be running a training session for all staff on the use of video conferencing in their professional context during the week beginning 15th June. Once this has taken place, we would hope that students and parents register an increase in the use of video conferencing.
In moving to increase the use of video conferencing, we are interested in the views of parents with regards your personal circumstances as we do not wish this to deepen any disadvantages that students might be experiencing. It is likely that staff will continue to use a range of different video conferencing services, although we will train all teachers how to use Microsoft Teams which all students should be able to access if they have a smartphone (Apple or Android), tablet, laptop or desktop PC. If you feel this will present your family or your child with problems, please let us know.
What if my child can’t physically attend college at the moment?
Many families are managing complex and challenging circumstances which might mean that students cannot attend college or parents choose that their child don’t attend. Under the circumstances, the decision not to attend college – even where your child is invited to do so by a teacher – is understandable. As long as students continue to engage with distance learning and keep up to date with their studies, students who do not physically attend college will not be subject to additional sanction until such time as the situation locally/ nationally is resolved. However, students must engage with teachers and tutors if they are learning exclusively from home. The increased use of video conferencing which we are planning will allow us to monitor students’ engagement.
What about after the summer break?
This is, of course, a public health emergency. It is also a crisis in the individual educations and subsequent life chances of our students. Everything that we do in the weeks and months ahead will happen as a result of us balancing those twin challenges. Our duties to the health and safety of our community outweigh all but we want to reassure you that we remain undimmed in our commitment to providing our students with the best education that circumstances allow.
In the unpredictable world of the coronavirus pandemic, making definitive plans is challenging and stating with any degree of certainty what will happen in the future risks looking foolish. However, we thought it important for you to understand some of what we are discussing as a leadership team and how provision at the college might change as we move into next academic year.
Distance learning – While ever we are told to observe social distancing, it is inevitable that distance learning (learning from home) will continue to form part of students’ education. In order to ensure that this provision is as effective as possible, we will work with families to help overcome barriers to learning caused by IT or other technical issues. We will continue to review what works best for students, starting with the promotion of video conferencing (see above).
The college day and travel – as part of our plans, we are exploring a number of different solutions to the problems of limiting students’ travelling to and from college (both in terms of the number of times a week they travel and the times of day that they travel). It remains a possibility that the college day will look very different in September (if so, it will most likely resemble the model outlined above) and that students’ patterns of attendance may look different too.
We understand how concerning and frustrating all this must be to you. The concerns you expressed in your recent emails were many and ran deep but were predicated on a desire to move cautiously. We believe that these plans are an appropriate response to the complex and in many regards insoluble issues that we face. But we do not want you to feel that you are mere passive observers in this. Your views remain key to helping us understand the circumstances you, your family and your communities (some of which lie many miles distant from TRC) face.
Your input is not just welcome, it is actively invited and each will receive a personal response while feeding into our broader plans. If you have anything to contribute – no matter how seemingly small you think it might be – please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please stay safe.