URGENT: Important Update re Face-masks

National guidelines on students’ return to school next week have changed again and I need to inform you as quickly as possible of what this will mean for your child.

As predicted in Monday’s blog, the rules about the wearing of face-masks in English schools have now fallen more closely into line with those being introduced in Scotland. Schools in areas of high infection MUST insist that all students and staff wear face-masks in corridors and public areas; other schools are now being given the flexibility to insist upon the wearing of face-masks in these areas. I am glad that we have now been given this flexibility – previous guidance prevented us from encouraging students’ use of face-masks and this was a concern for us.

Although Wigan has now been excluded from the extra restrictions that apply across much of the North West, our school circumstances make it sensible for us to make the wearing of face-masks compulsory in corridors and public areas. Our building does not make social distancing easy and there is significant movement around the building between lessons. Although we have taken every precaution to create year group bubbles, it must be sensible to apply this extra level of protection for students and staff now that it has become a possibility for us. As I have said all along, our first priority is the health and safety of our students, staff and wider families and this decision is in line with that priority.

In summary, students and staff MUST, from the start of term, wear face-masks in corridors and communal areas. It is not practical for masks to be compulsory in lessons, but social distancing is being carefully applied during lesson time and this reduces the risk. We will need to get students firmly into the habit of putting on a face-mask just before they leave a lesson and taking it off carefully when asked to do so by the teacher at the start of their next lesson. Further guidance on the safe use of masks will be provided once students return to school, but in the meantime you may want to click on the following link – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/health-52606128

As stated in the previous letter, reusable masks must be plain, without pictures, words or patterns. This is to avoid face-masks becoming either a new (potentially expensive) fashion item or an item that might cause offence to others. As these new Government guidelines have appeared so late in the holiday, however, we recognise that some students may not have plain masks available during the first couple of days of term and common sense will be applied when we deal with students. Disposable, “surgical” type masks remain an acceptable alternative.

If there is a medical reason why your child is unable to wear a mask, do please let us know via your child’s Head of Year or through the questions@flhs.wigan.sch.uk email address.

We remain excited about welcoming our students back to school next week and I must stress that these measures are simply a sensible precaution to keep our school community as safe as possible.

September Return: Reminders and Updates

As we approach the date for the long-awaited reopening of schools to all students, I write to remind you of the details originally sent in my letter of 14th July and to provide you with a couple of important updates.

Hopefully, you will have read the letter I sent in July, especially the information sheet that gave exact details of what the new school day will look like for your child. I would urge you to re-visit this information with your child to ensure that they are fully aware of the ways in which school will be different for them next term. We will, of course, be talking to students at length about the new arrangements once they are back with us next week.

It is particularly important that all students stick rigidly to the timings given for their return on the first day (Tuesday, 1st September for the new Year 7 and Thursday, 3rd September for all other year groups). These timings are different from those that will apply from Monday, 7th September and it is vital that students arrive at their designated times so that we can successfully keep year groups apart.

There are some important additions to the information sent out in July, notably regarding face-masks. At the time of writing, Government guidance advising against students’ use of face-masks in school has not changed; however, Scotland has today signalled that its guidance may change and experience suggests that England may follow suit. This is by no means certain, but I wanted to give you the “heads up” so that you have time to prepare for any potential change in the rules.

Given all the recent developments regarding the use of face-masks across various settings, we are prepared to allow a student to wear a mask at the request of their parent. Please note that re-usable face-masks MUST be in a plain colour, without pictures, words or patterns; disposable “surgical” masks are also acceptable. Any student wearing a mask will be expected to use it in line with guidelines for safe use and we reserve the right to prevent a student from wearing a face-mask if they are not using it safely. Guidelines on the safe use of masks can be found at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/health-52606128

This situation may change over the coming days and we will, of course, keep you informed if there are changes to the rules. Please keep an eye on the website as this is the source of the most accurate information.

A further development to make you aware of is that there will be no catering available in school at breakfast time or at Key Stage 3 break-time. Key Stage 4 students will still be able to buy food at break-time, but all Key Stage 3 students are asked to bring with them any snacks they wish to eat at break time. There will, of course, be catering at lunchtime for all students, with designated serving points for each year group.

Finally, do remember that our email address questions@flhs.wigan.sch.uk is still available if you have any questions or concerns about the reopening next week. We are very much looking forward to welcoming all our students back to school and believe that we have done everything possible to make this as safe as we can. Of course, we cannot say that there is no risk but we can say that this has been reduced as much as possible.

September Plans

As you may be aware, the Government has now published guidelines to schools for re-opening to all students from September. We are well on the way with our planning so that we can welcome all our students back in the safest possible way and I will send out a letter to parents with all the details of our approach before the end of term. The headline, however, is that all students are expected back in school full-time from the start of term and we are certainly looking forward to welcoming them after such a long closure.

The start of term for Years 8 to 11 is Thursday, 3rd September, as planned in the original school calendar. There will be a staggered start to the first day and I will provide further details about timings in next week’s parental letter. Our usual practice is for new Year 7 students to attend 1 day before the other students so that they can settle in to school before the arrival of other year groups; this year, we have decided to bring in Year 7 a further day earlier (we have cancelled the planned staff training day so that this can be accommodated). This means that Year 7 students will begin at Fred Longworth on Tuesday, 1st September instead of 2nd September, as originally planned. We feel that the current situation will have raised anxiety levels about the transfer to secondary school and that 2 days without the older students will be of benefit.

I am aware that some of you will be anxious about sending your children back to school and want to reassure you that our first priority is the safety of students, parents and staff. As stated above, I will detail the measures that we intend to put into place in a separate letter to parents next week. I can confirm, however, that the safety measures we intend to take include the creation of year group “bubbles”, with year groups separated as much as possible to reduce the number of potential contacts that your child will have on any one day. I know that we can count on your continued support and patience as we finalise our safety measures and we promise that the parental letter will be sent out as soon as plans are complete.

In the meantime, we are fast approaching the end of the strangest summer term ever! I hope that, as we all emerge from lockdown, that you are able to take some sort of break over the summer, whether that be at home or away. The days of home schooling are now officially numbered and it will certainly feel a lot better when our school is once again filled with young people!

Summer, September and Beyond…

Welcome to the latest blog of the Summer term. It has been lovely to see some Year 10 students back in school for their face-to-face sessions over the past couple of weeks and I hope that these have been useful. Those Year 10 students who have chosen to access the sessions virtually have also been engaging well. We have also extended the “live” lessons via Microsoft Teams to Year 9 and have, of course, continued to deliver these to Year 10.

We do not yet know what September will look like, though detailed guidance has been promised for later this week. Please keep an eye on the website – I will of course share the details with you as soon as we have them. At the moment, the plan is to bring all secondary school students back into school full-time and we are planning carefully to find ways of doing this safely.

As we approach the end of the strangest Summer term ever, we have been somewhat “cheered up” by some excellent news this week. The Department for Education invites annual bids from schools wishing to improve their facilities and we have benefitted from this fund in the past, with the Inclusion Centre and table tennis facilities being funded through these bids. This year, we bid for a relatively large sum of money to build a new English & Maths block. We were told this week that this bid has been successful to the tune of £3.3 million. Work on the new block will begin as soon as possible and could be complete by the end of next academic year. We have also been granted a further £114,000 for school security fencing to help keep students safe.

It is very exciting to be able to report something wholly positive at this very strange time. I must place on record my thanks to the team involved in preparing and submitting the successful bids.

I must also place on record my thanks to our students and parents for being so supportive of the school over the course of the lockdown. Heads of Year and other members of staff have found their ‘phone calls home to be overwhelmingly positive and there has been some really positive feedback. Of course, we know that we won’t have got everything right over this period, but we do try to take on board your suggestions and concerns. You can, of course, continue to send in questions and concerns through the questions@flhs.wigan.sch.uk email address, or through your child’s Head of Year.

I hope to be in touch next week or early the week after with details of the plan for September – as soon as the guidance is published to schools. I think we would all appreciate some certainty and clarity as we reach the end of this term.

The Shape of the Summer Term…

Welcome to the first blog of the new half-term. I hope that you are safe, well and coping with the very strange set of circumstances that surround us all. The shape of the next half-term is now a little clearer and a letter to all Year 10 parents and students is going out today. In the interests of keeping our whole school community informed, a copy of this letter will also be made available on the website.

The provision for Year 10, which will begin on or after June 15th, is meant to supplement the remote learning already being done. Many Year 10 students are already receiving a form of “face to face” support from their subject teachers in the form of Microsoft Teams “live” lessons, and we hope that you will continue to engage with these lessons. I would also urge Year 10 to continue to tackle the other work being set by your teachers – to be clear, the on-site sessions are only meant as “extra” support and do not replace your main learning.

For those parents who feel concerned about sending their children back to school, alternative (and equal) on-line provision will be made. I see this as very much a time when parents and students need to be absolutely comfortable with whatever decision they make and we recognise that only you know the individual family circumstances that will influence your decision on whether to take up the offer of “on-site” support.

The Year 10 provision has been planned in such a way that teachers are still able to set high quality work for all other year groups and I want to assure parents and students that we have certainly not forgotten about Years 7 to 9. At what would have been the start of a new term, it’s important that you all get back into whatever routines you have been able to establish and seek help if you feel you need it.

Remember also that you can communicate directly with subject teachers and with Heads of Year. Alternatively, parents who are worried about anything can contact us via the questions@flhs.wigan.sch.uk email. Some students have expressed the feeling that they are struggling with the sheer volume of work they are set. Often, a chat with a subject teacher or with the Head of Year can help students to prioritise and tackle the work without these feelings of being overwhelmed. Parents and students: You are not alone! I keep coming back to the same piece of advice because it remains true – if you don’t feel normal at the moment, it’s normal.

Keep safe and well.

Clarity – the next few weeks

We now have some clarity about how the next few weeks are going to be shaped. It looks at the moment as though the vast majority of secondary children will not be returning to school until September. The only exception is for Year 10. The aim for Year 10 is for them to have “some time with their teachers to supplement the distance learning” before the end of the Summer term. We await further guidance and instruction as to when that will be and what it will look like – I will of course let you know as soon as we have further information. Please do keep regular checks on the website, where the most accurate and timely information can be found.

With the prospect of several more weeks of distance learning, it is even more vital that all students engage with the work being set. I want to reassure parents again that you are doing a great job! We have noticed higher levels of engagement with the work and many Year 10 students clearly valued the “live” online lessons being provided. Teachers have reported how much they have enjoyed “seeing” their students again and the interaction has been really appreciated because it has brought a very small taste of (albeit virtual) normality.

I would also like to thank all those Year 10 students who responded to our feedback questionnaire; the feedback has been very positive and has helped us to shape future learning. This feedback has really made it clear that the “live” lessons have helped the majority of students and we certainly intend to continue with them. I would urge students to make “attendance” at these lessons a priority if at all possible, though of course we recognise that this may not be possible due to individual family circumstances.

One extra piece of contact that we also believe to be important is between the students and their form tutors. From this week, form tutors will begin making telephone calls to the students in their forms. The relationship between the form tutor and students is absolutely central to everything that we do and we think that this is a good way of keeping that relationship alive during this extended closure. Again, it’s a small taste of normality in such challenging circumstances. Good for learning but also, I think, good for everyone’s mental health and well-being.

Finally, please be aware that “Show My Homework” has rebranded itself as “satchel:one”. Apparently, this has caused some confusion. Please don’t worry – it is a renaming only and the content shouldn’t be affected. Please do let us know if you need some supprt with distance learning, either through contact with your child’s Head of Year or through the dedicated questions@flhs.wigan.sch.uk address. Feedback from parents who have contacted us in this way is very positive and we aim to help as much as we can. In the meantime, stay safe and well.

Working Together

As we move further into this very strange Summer term, I wanted to share with you some feedback from our Heads of Year. They are hard at work contacting selected students and have also been in touch with a number of parents who have asked for support in dealing with the challenges of distance learning. They have asked me to pass on to you all their sincere thanks for the work you are obviously doing to support your children in their learning. They have very much appreciated the conversations they have had with you and have said that their jobs have been made much easier by the proactive and positive approach being taken by the vast majority of our parents.

The message coming back to us through these contacts is that most parents are happy with the work being set, but that the most difficult thing is to establish and maintain routines. Routine is, of course, very important; we believe that it is vital not just for learning but also for the mental health of our students. I would add, however, that the routines have to be manageable; we are not expecting any child to be sitting for 5 solid hours at the computer every day and we are not expecting you, as parents, to replace the teachers! The key message remains that as long as they are tackling the work set as well as they can, students will not be disadvantaged when we come back to school.

In order to get more widespread feedback about how students feel about distance learning, we have asked Year 10 students to complete an online survey. I strongly urge you to encourage your child to complete this survey, because we will use the results from it to plan future learning. Please be assured that the data from the questionnaire will ONLY be used to help us to refine our offer to our students and parents.

Of course, our offer is evolving all the time; as I mentioned in my last blog, we have been experimenting with live lessons for selected groups in Year 10. The feedback so far has been very positive and we are looking to continue and develop this approach as we move forward. Students seem to have enjoyed the live interaction with their usual teachers and, of course, the contact with their usual classmates. The focus at present is on Year 10, as we are particularly concerned that these students will, we currently believe, have to sit exams as normal next year.

Finally, a second letter was emailed directly to Year 11 students and parents at the end of last week. If you are a Year 11 parent and have not received this letter, you may want to check that we have your most recent email address so that future correspondence reaches you. In the meantime, the letter is on the website.

I hope that this blog finds you and yours safe and well.

Virtual Lessons

I hope that this latest blog finds you safe and well. We are now some weeks into the new reality and there’s no doubt that it is proving to be a very challenging time.

In order to provide a more realistic learning experience for our students, we are currently exploring the possibility of providing some virtual lessons through Microsoft Teams. If successful, the use of this software should give students live virtual access to their usual class teacher (and their classmates) for some carefully selected lessons. In order for us to be able to see whether the use of this software is successful with whole classes, we are trying this out initially with a small number of Year 10 groups. If one of your child’s teachers is involved, they will provide a specific time for your child to join the lesson and we strongly encourage them to participate if at all possible.

Of course, we recognise that every family has different circumstances and we are aware that there is sometimes only one computer in the house. If parents are working from home, a child may not be able to log in to a lesson at the allocated time. Each virtual lesson will therefore be recorded so that students in this position can watch the whole thing at a different time. In addition, Microsoft Teams works on tablets and mobile ‘phones.

What we don’t want to do is to create inequality, with some students able to access the virtual lessons and some not able to do so. If your child is unable to access the virtual lessons, do let us know via the questions@flhs.wigan.sch.uk email address. You can also provide any constructive feedback you may have on how the technology worked for your child through this channel. If all goes well with this trial, we will be expanding the number of virtual lessons, but please note that these will be limited – to deliver all lessons in this way would be impractical.

We are trialling this use of virtual lessons with Year 10 partly because we are concerned that while most students are working hard and making progress, some Year 10 students have not been engaging fully with the work set via other distance learning methods. I must remind this small number of students that this is a crucial year – in all likelihood they will be returning to school with less than a year to go before they sit their first Key Stage 4 exam and they really do need to engage with the work.

As I have said in previous blogs, we recognise the challenges of keeping students motivated at this difficult time, regardless of what year group they are in. As long as students are engaging with the work, they will make progress – but engagement will look different in every household. If you have any concerns about your child’s engagement with the work, do contact us on the questions@flhs.wigan.sch.uk email address and we will respond. We can provide support and advice to help you to sustain your child’s motivation through these difficult times.

Summer Term

Welcome to the first blog in what promises to be the strangest Summer term any of us has ever seen! I hope that you and yours are keeping safe and well and coping with this unique set of circumstances.

I am sorry to start the blog on what might seem to be a negative note, but our first priority is to ensure that all our students are safe. With this is mind, I must share with you a message from Greater Manchester Police about social distancing. GMP has asked all Headteachers to pass a message on to parents and students to express their concern that some young people across the borough are not observing social distancing rules. In particular, they are concerned about small groups of young people gathering in public areas such as parks. It goes without saying that this is, in the current circumstances, dangerous for the young people themselves, for members of their families and for the wider community. I would stress that this is a general message to all Wigan parents and there is no suggestion that our students are involved, but it is a timely reminder as the good weather provides extra temptation to spend time outside.

Of course, “home schooling” officially starts again with the opening of the new term and it’s time to get back into whatever routine works for you and your family circumstances. We understand the challenges of home schooling and I would like to thank you for the work you are doing to help students in tackling the work being set by teachers. Most students are engaging well, but a small minority are not and they do need to engage with the work if they are to avoid being behind once we return to school. As a minimum, all students should be checking in with Show My Homework every day. It is even more important for current Year 10 students to engage with the work being set. There are no plans for exams to be scrapped or changed in 2021 and Year 10 students will need to be ready for the challenges of moving into and through Year 11.

Please be assured that teachers are working hard to make the work as relevant and accessible as they can. It goes without saying that everyone in the country is managing this unprecedented situation and you can ask for help and support through our dedicated email address at questions@flhs.wigan.sch.uk. Heads of Year and other key staff are already making regular contact with a number of students and parents where there are identified needs. If you want to supplement your child’s educational diet, you will also find some really interesting challenges and ideas for activity on our Twitter feed. Added to this, the BBC has just launched their Bitesize material aimed at children of all ages.

Of course, Year 11 students are not forgotten! I hope that all our Year 11 parents received the information about the arrangements for exams just prior to the Easter break. Essentially, there is nothing that needs to be done by the students as grades will be based on their progress and attainment up until the closure of the schools. Please be assured that work has started on the provision of suggested grades to the various exam boards and that we will make absolutely sure that the information we use to create these grades is robust and fair. However, the exam boards will moderate our suggested grades and the final grade awarded may be different from any previously reported projected grade. On Friday last week, it was also announced that Key Stage 4 results day will be on 20th August, as originally planned prior to the current crisis. We will be in contact about arrangements for the receipt of results

nearer the time when we know what social distancing measures will still be in place on the big day.

Finally, I am sure you will be pleased to hear that we have made some good use of the Science equipment that is not currently being used at school. Our protective goggles, usually used for Science experiments, have gone to good homes within Wigan NHS. We also heard that the theatre nurses at Stepping Hill Hospital were running out of this vital equipment, so some have been donated to them.

Keep safe and well in these strange times.

Sad News

You may well already have heard the sad news that our former Head of Maths, Ian Brannagan, died last Saturday morning following a brave battle with cancer. Having spoken to Lindsay, his wife, I have her permission to pay tribute to him on this blog, as circumstances mean that we cannot pay our respects as a school in the normal ways due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

Although Ian had left the school, he was still very much a part of the Freddies family, having taught here for many years. Lindsay tells me that he certainly regarded it as his spiritual home and we certainly regard him as one of our own. Not only did he have many friends on the staff, he was also important to the many hundreds of children he taught and to their parents.

Ian was, first and foremost, a fantastic Maths teacher, who loved classroom teaching. He made a massive difference to those he taught because he combined good teaching with real care for those he taught. It is impossible to measure the size of the impact he had on the young people in his classes over many years and he will be sadly missed. I think it is fair to say that he made Maths enjoyable for generations of children and many will have succeeded against the odds because of his teaching.

He had that same caring attitude in his work as Head of Maths and guided many young teachers through their first steps into successful careers. His enthusiasm for the role and his wise advice helped many to become excellent teachers, making his overall impact even bigger.

The staff at Freddies will also remember his cheerful presence in the staffroom, laughing and joking with colleagues. Certainly, when I think of Ian I always think of him with a smile on his face and I believe that that is how he will be remembered despite the trials of his recent illness.

It is incredibly sad that we as a school can’t gather to celebrate his life due to the situation with Covid-19. I can assure you, however, that at some point in the future there will be a collective recognition of his contribution to the school – we just cannot say when it will be or what form it will take. In the meantime, his wife Lindsay has already embarked upon a mission to raise funds for the Christie Hospital and plans to run a marathon in his name.

I know that Lindsay is finding comfort in the many messages of condolence she has received and we will pass on to her any that we receive from students and parents. I am sure that those whom he taught will have many happy memories that they can share. I am sure that the contributions via Facebook and Twitter will also be gratefully received.

Ian’s untimely death has added to the feeling that we are currently being taught a very clear lesson: Take care of one another and value the time that you share with your loved ones. In the end, nothing else matters.

Keep safe and well over what will be a very strange Easter break.