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Latest news from around the school

Our daily message (10 June 2020)

Posted on 10 June 2020 by Mr Roundtree

Today’s message comes directly from me, and it’s a response to yesterday’s news: ‘Plans for all England’s primary children to return for a month before the summer break have been dropped by Education Secretary Gavin Williamson’. This is a difficult message to write because I’ve always tried to avoid presenting my own personal views on the tough times we’re currently in.

The problem

The government’s plan that children in Early Years, Year 1 and Year 6 should return to school was not one of the options that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) evaluated. In fact, SAGE recommended a rota system, where small groups from all year groups returned on a rota – one week in school, one week not. (This is similar to what the Welsh Government is doing, for example.)

The government’s plan to have all primary school pupils back at school for the last few weeks was always destined to be very much an ambition rather than than a realistic plan if systems to support it weren’t properly up-and-running. We’ve seen delays in accessing a test for Covid-19, which I hear from headteacher colleagues are still a problem, and the track and trace system not yet fully operational.

The issue facing us now is challenging. Schools in England followed the guidance coming from the Department for Education – we can’t realistically un-do what we were advised to do. Parents were led to feel confident and optimistic that even if their child didn’t return to school at the start of June, they would be back at school for at least the last few weeks.

The next steps

We need well-thought through plans from government that are developed with school leaders and not simply presented to them. The plans need to be ready for different scenarios.

The best-case scenario is that in September, all our current pupils will be back at school in September. But that doesn’t mean things are back to normal – we still need a plan. We need to adapt our curriculum. This is so that we can support children’s wellbeing even more than we normally do, and so that we can adapt what we teach so children can catch up on learning they’ve missed. We need to be able to do this with at least the support of, and at best the guidance from, government and Ofsted.

Where I read about concerns that schools may not be back to normal by September, they mainly relate to secondary schools having all pupils back. I’m cautiously optimistic that for primaries, this will happen. However, we need to be prepared for things not going to plan…

A worst-case scenario is that the virus remains widespread and we’re in a position similar to what we have now. I’d love to be able to go back in time, ignore the government’s ‘roadmap’, and put in place a better and fairer way to have all children in school for at least some regular time. We can’t realistically do that right now, but it would definitely be a a better way to start the new school year: all children attending school at least on a rota basis.

In a meeting with Leeds headteachers and Leeds councillors yesterday, I put forward the need for longer-term thinking and encouraged them to lobby the government more to do this. I’ll back up what I said with a more detailed picture of what I’ve said here. I’ll also be sending this to my own trade union, the NAHT. They have taken, in my opinion, a pragmatic, proactive and productive approach. I’m hoping the government might listen more than it has done to the views of this particular union.

Finally, some thanks. First of all, from the very start of the challenges we’ve faced, way back in March, the support from you has been so appreciated. You’ve encouraged us, guided us, thanked us – for all your feedback, I’m very grateful. Thank you.

 

Tomorrow’s message comes from Rachel Greenhalgh, the Chair of Governors for Sphere Federation. Friday’s message is directly from the Head of School and presents a school-specific picture of our school at this strange transition point.

Our daily message (09 June 2020)

Posted on 09 June 2020 by Mr Roundtree

Headlines this morning indicate what perhaps you had already predicted. From the BBC:

The plan for all primary school years in England to go back to school before the end of term is to be dropped by the government.

There had been an aim for all primary pupils to spend four weeks in school before the summer break.

But it is no longer thought to be feasible and instead schools will be given “flexibility” over whether or not to admit more pupils.

Although this is a realistic picture of the current situation for schools, we’re really sad that it’s unlikely all our pupils can return before the summer break.

The Prime Minister announced on 10 May his roadmap to open schools more widely. Reading more closely through government documentation, it was always an ambition rather than a promise, and one that relied very closely on an effective track and trace system in operation (we were assured of a world-beating one by 01 June although it appears this isn’t yet fully operational).

Since 10 May, there have been many conflicting headlines and news stories and opinions. At school level, we’ve had to consider many things to welcome more children back, not least the following:

  • increasing numbers of children of key workers across all ages, as more parents were expected back at work
  • maintaining provision for children who may be vulnerable in some way
  • fewer staff than usual, due to personal circumstances (eg a need to shield)
  • limited space to enable social distancing
  • evolving government guidance
  • how to maintain home learning for those not yet returning

We haven’t yet heard the government announcement about this, but in it, we’d really like to hear some sort of central, long-term plan that’s been worked through alongside school leaders.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to explore how we can safely welcome back more pupils each week whilst not neglecting those who remain at home.

Do contact us if you’ve got specific questions, comments or concerns about your own circumstances. If you’re at home with your child and are really struggling in some way, please do get in touch: call us on 0113 264 9149 or send an email to Miss Hague, the Head of School: [email protected]

We’ll do our best to support in some way.

 

Is your child attending school, or due to return soon?

If so, it’s really important you read our policy on social distancing and other Covid-19 safeguarding priorities. The content is closely linked to our risk assessment for opening school more widely. We’ve updated the previous policy following further guidance from Leeds City Council; the main changes are:

  • reference to safeguarding priorities other than social distancing
  • actions we’ll take to follow the policy

It’s important to remember this policy is here to keep everyone safe at school.

Our daily message (08 June 2020)

Posted on 08 June 2020 by Mr Roundtree

Our daily message today concentrates on home learning, and in particular Living and Learning. It’s an important one this week, so do please spend some time at home on this.

Living and Learning is our term for Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). Each week in school, we have a Living and Learning statement and we’ve started to tell you about this so that you have an opportunity to include this in your home learning activities, whether as an additional or an alternative task.

This week’s Living and Learning statement is ‘I see things from other people’s point of view’. Like the previous week, this statement links with the British value of mutual respect and tolerance. It promotes empathy and understanding; it’s about encouraging children to consider what makes themselves and others special, valuing the similarities and differences between themselves and others.

In light of recent events in America and subsequent protests across the world, please do make sure you fit some time into your week to discuss this with your child.

One of a series of ‘I Don’t Get It’ short films from First News (in partnership with Sky and the British Film Institute) asks why racism is still a big issue in our world. It’s not perfect (it fails to mention the role of Britain in the slave trade, for example), but might act as a good starting point.

Empathy Lab is a good base to keep returning to in order to promote empathy and understanding and therefore ultimately stop prejudicial behaviour. Their aim is ‘to inspire the rising generation to drive a new empathy movement… to build children’s empathy, literacy and social activism through a systematic use of high quality literature.’ Tomorrow happens to be Empathy Day.

For older children, this resource sheet with questions and prompts for discussion linked to this poster would be a good starting point.

Also worth looking at would be this experience of an American author, which asks the question what can this account teach us about the effects of racism on his daily life?

We really thinking stories are a really powerful way to break down barriers, whatever the barrier. Possibly more suited to younger children are these two stories read aloud by their author:

And here are three lists of books for all ages – they all feature themes of racism:

Our daily message (05 June 2020)

Posted on 05 June 2020 by Mr Roundtree

Yesterday, we listed four ideas for additional or alternative home learning, including providing design inspiration for the new Leeds Children’s Hospital and contributing to Leeds COVID Diaries. Our last daily message of the week features a couple more top tips to support home learning and an interesting article about the benefits of video games.

Before either of those things, though, a repeat of one part of yesterday’s message:

If you’re at home with your child and are really struggling in some way, please do get in touch. Call us on 0113 264 9149 or send an email to Karen Hague, the Head of School ([email protected]). We’ll do our best to support in some way.

Daily wellbeing activities

Although Purple Patch Arts’ mission is to improve the lives and life chances of people with learning disabilities, complex needs and autism, their daily activities are really good for everyone. The activities all fit around a weekly theme (this week’s was ‘Unsolved Mysteries – Climate Change‘).

Each day, there’s a fact of the day (yesterday’s was ‘Trees act like the lungs of the earth. Trees help the planet breathe by turning carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) into clean, pure oxygen.‘). It’s worth checking out the activity just for this. It could prompt your child to do some further independent research, or simply to build up a bank of fascinating facts to remember!

The fact of the day is then followed up with about five activities (yesterday’s included a science investigation, an arty activity and a film to watch to find out more about trees).

Creative connections

The aim of Fun Palaces is to ‘support local people to co-create their own cultural and community events, across the UK and worldwide, sharing and celebrating the genius in everyone‘.

Since the start of the lockdown, Fun Palaces has been asking people to share ways they’re connecting with neighbours, friends and family whilst safely social distancing. These Tiny Revolutions are easy steps anyone can take to connect a little more in their local community or pass time creatively in self-isolation. You can download a whole series of creative ideas – we like the Big Picture idea on page 4!

Video games in lockdown

Read this article about the hidden benefits of playing video games in lockdown. Benefits mentioned in the article include…

  • a sense of connection: ‘Even the most competitive online game is an opportunity for children to be in touch with school friends or a wider group of online acquaintances.
  • learning opportunities: ‘There’s a whole category of games that have been created solely to teach the player something. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but there’s also a lot of learning that happens in games not specifically designed for this purpose.
  • a way to stay calm and feel more in control: ‘Video games can offer a healthy and helpful escape from the real world, particularly at stressful times. In the game, the child can find a sense of control over things or attempt projects that in the real world they might not have the confidence for.’

The article goes on to provide some short advice for you to help your child enjoy positive experiences when playing.

 

Whatever you do, have a happy and healthy weekend, and a safe one, too.

Our daily message (04 June 2020)

Posted on 04 June 2020 by Mr Roundtree

Our daily message to you today concentrates on home learning – we’ve still got lots of our pupils at home and we’re not going to neglect them.

If you’re at home with your child and are really struggling in some way, please do get in touch. Call us on 0113 264 9149 or send an email to Karen Hague, the Head of School ([email protected]). We’ll do our best to support in some way.

In previous messages, we’ve encouraged setting up a routine to support home learning. In case you’ve missed this, we really like the Education Endowment Foundation’s resources to support parents and carers at home, especially this video and really simple tick list which promote routines.

Another piece of advice was to be flexible. This could be in two ways…

One is to be flexible in terms of occasionally breaking the routine so that it works for you and your child. Routines bring with them feelings of safety and security for your child, and breaking them can bring excitement and extra engagement (and ease some pressure for you), as long as it’s not too often.

The other way to be flexible is about the home learning tasks. The four activities here can be used as additional or alternative home learning tasks.

Design competition for the new Leeds Children’s Hospital

Calling all budding architects and designers! Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust is going to build a brand new Leeds Children’s Hospital and they need children’s help to design it.

The judges are looking for design ideas that will make a difference to patients, their families, carers and people who work in the new Leeds Children’s Hospital. The ideas could be:

  • an idea that is a practical help (for example, a new way of finding your way around)
  • an idea for how the inside or outside of the hospital might look to make patients, families and staff feel like it’s great place to be
  • an idea for something to keep patients in touch with their families and friends
  • an idea for a space to play, or relax, or spend time with friends and family
  • a new idea to inspire their design team in the future

Draw a picture, paint, make a model, write a poem, make it in Minecraft or Lego, make a short video… anything you like – it’s up to your child to decide! Find out more about the competition. Entries are open to anyone under 18 years old and the competition closes on Friday 12 June 2020.

Share your Covid experiences

Across the city, the lives of children and young people have been dramatically impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. They’re having to come to terms with a whole new normal way of living and finding different and innovative ways to cope. The Leeds COVID Diaries Project is a way to capture their experience and will provide a valuable historical snapshot of Leeds for future generations.

People of all ages across Leeds are being invited to share their stories, experiences and thoughts about the coronavirus pandemic, but they’re particularly keen to hear from children, young people and families.

It might be called COVID Diaries, but it doesn’t have to be a diary entry! Your child’s (or your own) entry can be absolutely anything you want and in any format. It can be hand-written, typed, drawn, painted, recorded etc and can be a blog, video diary, song, piece of music, social media post, a photo, a poem, a piece of artwork…  Find out more.

Storytelling and drama from Polka Theatre

For younger children, there are four stories to watch a story and then have a go at some of the related activities from Polka Theatre. You could perhaps spread this across four weeks of home learning, choosing one of the following for each week:

Leeds Children’s Mayor 2020

Despite the coronavirus outbreak, Leeds will still hold elections for the next Leeds Children’s Mayor (LCM) this year. Find out more.

Children in  Year 5 need to write a manifesto and then send it to us: [email protected]

It’s down to schools to submit the entrants, so send these to us by Friday 12 June. We’ll then make sure we submit entrants to the Leeds Children’s Mayor Team by Wednesday 17 June, the closing date.

Here’s a short video from Wania, the current Children’s Mayor, who explains what she likes about the programme.

Our daily message (03 June 2020)

Posted on 03 June 2020 by Mr Roundtree

Yesterday, our schools opened to more children than in the last few weeks – at Scholes (Elmet) Primary and at Moortown Primary, we welcomed around three times as many pupils than in April or June, and St James’ CE Primary opened again following a period of closure when the small number of key worker children attended Moortown or Scholes. We received some nice feedback from parents:

[My son] has come home from school today very happy, saying school was “good” (high praise indeed) and does not seem upset regarding how the school day/classroom set up has changed other than the issue everyone is facing in this lockdown re specific friends not being there. So thank you all again for your hard work in keeping everyone as safe as possible but just as importantly ensuring the children’s emotional well being in school.

Just dropped [my son] off at school. Fantastic welcome from [his teachers]. He went in all smiles…

Here’s the latest Families magazine which is a “surviving lockdown” issue. It’s full of resources and ideas to help with returning your child to school, home learning, pre-school play and has dozens of ideas for family activities and entertainment. (There are even some tips on giving your child a home-haircut!)

Our daily message (02 June 2020)

Posted on 02 June 2020 by Mr Roundtree

You might have seen or heard news stories presenting general overview of what it was like yesterday as schools opened up to more children. In today’s message, we’re presenting an overview specifically of our three Sphere Federation schools…

Two specific things have come up:

From St James’ CE Primary…

We’ve had nine children in today. We were expecting 13 but two parents decided last minute (one this morning) that they didn’t want to send their child to school yet. One child is ill but not with COVID-19 symptoms.

The process of coming into school this morning went well. It’s good that we’ve started with small numbers so staff and parents can get use to this routine.

We hope to invite more pupils next week into a new Foundation/KS1 bubble. We’ll leave some space for additional key workers who may need a place in the following weeks, although this is becoming a challenge with the KS2 bubble which is quite full.

From Moortown Primary…

We were expecting 34 children in school but only have 32. The mood in school is positive. Staff are being vigilant but are taking things in their stride well. When I’ve visited classes, children have seemed less confident than usual, but that’s natural and staff say they’re easing into it.

The only big issue was responding to concerns about whether children have been socially distancing at home. We’ve a policy on this and we’re strictly following the policy – this has meant one parent has been asked to collect their child.

Other than that, there haven’t been any other glitches or issues, just a couple of minor teething problems like some parents not understanding the exit route (quickly rectified) – so far so good.

From Scholes (Elmet) Primary…

We’ve 31 children in school. We were expecting a few more but over the last couple of days some parents’ remained concerned while others had their work shifts confirmed/changed.

It was good having low numbers of children because it’s meant that our staff can also get used to working around lots of other adults – it’s important that they social distance, too, so they protect themselves as much as possible and therefore stay healthy to come to school.

Most parents had read the communications that are being sent out. However, we did have some bags brought to school – they got sent home.

Moving forward, we’d like to know if there are any more key workers who are going to need us. These people will continue to be our priority. After that, we’ll look at other children who we deem as being vulnerable.

Our daily message (01 June 2020)

Posted on 01 June 2020 by Mr Roundtree

We hope you had a happy and healthy half-term break from routines. The weather was glorious, which certainly helped. Did your child do some of the optional home learning activities? It’s not too late – one of the activities on the list could be an alternative or additional activity to the daily home learning tasks the teacher sets.

We start the week with news about schools opening more widely, some information about the school bubbles, and – as always on a Monday – our new Living and and Learning theme.

Schools opening more widely

This half-term, schools are opening to more and more pupils, although perhaps not as widely as the government and media headlines initially suggested. Research from the National Foundation for Educational Research shows that parents are still roughly split 50-50 about whether they want their child to return to school.

Here are just three of many barriers that schools have faced:

First, our classrooms and class sizes mean we simply can’t accommodate all the children set out in the government’s original plans: children of key workers, children who may be vulnerable in some way, and children from Early Years, Year 1 and Year 6. (The average class size in English primary schools is almost 28 pupils compared to about 20 across Europe – point 4 from this article from the “Independent Sage” group explains this well.)

Second, more and more people are going back to work. This includes more key workers, and that means there are already more children for us to welcome back, which in turn means the specific year groups identified by government aren’t returning quite as quickly as the government called for.

And third, we’ve fewer staff at a time when we need more. To operate smaller groups, and to ensure social distancing and cleaning, we need lots of staff. However, not all our staff are able to be in school because of particular health conditions or other personal circumstances.

The school bubbles

We’re committed to having more and more pupils back, and making this happen as safely as we can. We’ve established bubbles in our schools. Some of these bubbles might have space for more pupils, others less so.

At Scholes (Elmet) Primary, we have eight bubbles at this stage: Foundation 2, Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, Year 4, and three Years 5/6. There are two adults for each bubble to allow for breaks and cleaning. Over the week, we’ll look closely at the number of children attending – we may find some parents who said they wanted a place change their mind, in which case we’ll offer the place to other pupils.

Living and learning during lockdown

Living and Learning is the name for all the teaching and learning we do around Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHE). As we start a new half term, our theme in Living and Learning changes to relationships. Each week in school, we’ve a Living and Learning statement. I listen to, share with and include others… is our statement this week. One of the Sphere Federation Health Leaders writes:

This Living and Learning statement promotes polite, helpful and kind behaviour. We want our pupils to know the importance of showing respect to everyone (whatever differences we may have) and to everything (whether it’s a school resource, a religious belief or whatever). Respect is central to one of our three school rules: We respect everyone and everything. 

You might want to read the poem, Say something nice, taken from The Little Book of Hopes with your child. While most of us are still at home, this week’s statement relates more to family than friends right now. You might want to encourage your child to spot when someone in your house follows this statement and listens to, shares with and includes others. How would they know? How does it make others feel?

Also, as we start a new month, check out the Action for Happiness Kindness Calendar for June with thirty actions to look after ourselves and each other.

Important message for next week #3

Posted on 29 May 2020 by Mr Roundtree

You’ll be aware that last night the Prime Minister confirmed that the five tests upon which the easing of lockdown depended have been met. As a result, primary schools will begin to open schools more widely.

The response to this from the Director of Children and Families, Leeds City Council, is:

The Leeds position is unchanged. It is important for children to resume their education so they can once again learn and interact with their peers but that this is done in such a way that the risks to pupils, staff and parents are minimised as much as possible. We know that every school is different and your offer to pupils will vary according to your unique set of circumstances. We will continue to support [headteacher] decisions about the timing and level of phased return for children to school that are based on the comprehensive risk assessments you have been diligently undertaking.

The position in Sphere Federation schools is unchanged, too. We’ll continue to prioritise the growing numbers of children from key workers (as more people are expected back to work, there’s more demand for places in school) and children who may be vulnerable in some way. After this, we’ll look at increasing numbers of children in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6, and we’ll aim to balance this by considering safety in school and the needs of children and families in other year groups.

At Moortown Primary and at Scholes (Elmet) Primary, the number of pupils next week is likely to be over three times as many as on a typical ‘lockdown week’ so far.

There are two more important messages for today.

Agreeing a place for your child

Only come to school if we’ve confirmed there’s a place for your child. Please note we only have a small amount of room for manoeuvre. We can’t allow more children without carefully checking the numbers we have already: each of the ‘bubbles’ can only take so many without undermining safety.

Social distancing

This morning, school leaders across the federation have agreed the following course of action if we have concerns about social distancing:

School leaders have prepared an extensive risk assessment to make sure that our children and staff stay safe in school from Tuesday 02 June 2020. Without our school community (pupils, parents / carers and staff) all adhering to the government guidance on social distancing, the measures we take in school will be undermined.
The policy has been prompted by concerns raised by parents and staff that others may not always have been following social distancing.
The government’s message about social contact is changing, but we will always aim to follow the current message in school, and equally expect families to do so out of school. This is especially the case if your child is attending school.
From Monday in England, you’ll be able to meet in groups of up to six people from different households outside as long as you remain two metres apart. This means that parents and carers must ensure their child stays two metres away from other people – children hugging and hand-holding, games like tig, tackling in football should all be avoided. The only people to enter a home should be members of that household.
If a child says something that indicates they or someone in their household has not followed government guidelines, we’ll do some or all of the following:
  • continue a conversation with the child in an informal, friendly way – this will help us to gain a better understanding and (hopefully) reassure ourselves that social distancing has not been undermined (we won’t ask any leading questions)
  • contact the child’s parents / carers to discuss what the child has said and to clarify the situation
  • isolate the child away from the rest of the children in their ‘bubble’ while we wait for more clarification from the child or their parents / carers
Equally, if an adult says something that indicates another family may not have followed government guidelines, we’ll follow this up.
Ultimately, we may have to ask a parent / carer to collect their child from school and they may lose their child’s place in the bubble. This is because our schools are close to capacity in terms of numbers in bubbles and there is a waiting list of other families wanting a place for their child.
We’d do this reluctantly, but this would be fair to other families in school who are following the guidance, many of whom are key workers and have less choice about whether their child should attend school, too. This is for the safety of all.
The final decision on whether a child can be in school safely lies with the Head of Federation.
Read all the key information about opening schools more widely.

Important message for next week

Posted on 28 May 2020 by Mr Roundtree

This half-term is proving to be super-sunny so hopefully you and your family have managed to spend some happy and healthy time outside. Please remember to make sure you’re all staying two metres away from others and not gathering in large groups, wherever you are, and remember to wash your hands before you head out and when you come back in again.

Here’s another reminder of what’s happening next week…

On Monday 01 June, we’ll be closed for all children. This is so that we can prepare for increasing numbers over the following weeks.

From Tuesday to Friday, school will be open for those using it as they are already and for some additional children. By now, we’ll have contacted you, we’ve agreed for your child to come back, and you’ll know that your child is expected.

Your child should only attend school if this has been agreed. Please don’t just turn up – we won’t have a safe place for your child at this stage.

Read more about Scholes (Elmet) Primary opening to more pupils.