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Holmleigh Park High School

Letter from the Head - 8th January 2020

Back to Online Learning, with some differences!

Dear all,

Well, this isn't the letter I thought I'd be writing this week. The staff were all hugely excited to welcome students back, and I know many were in tears on Monday evening after the Prime Minister's announcement.

Instead we've had a week of - frankly - chaos from the Department for Education, and I'm sorry for clogging up your inboxes while trying to keep you updated. Despite this, staff and students have been brilliant. We've set up our mass testing facility, and the staff and children of key workers attending school each day have all been tested (happily, all were negative!). The process worked well, and we expect that when the current lockdown ends, we will be able to offer all students a test - so at least your time spent filling in consent forms wasn't in vain!

This week, however, I want to focus on a few changes to our online learning. We've had excellent attendance this week, with all year groups completing over 80% of their lessons. I'm particularly pleased with Year 13 who have had 100% attendance for almost every single lesson. Given the disappointment they felt over their exams being cancelled, we're hugely impressed by their resilience and determination to keep going.

We're really keen to keep pushing towards 100% completion rate, and will be introducing a few changes next week to support with this:

1. Timetables

First of all, we'll be simplifying the timetable in Years 7-10 to make it easier for students to follow along. From Monday, all students will be following the timetables on this page. This is what we did in the summer, and it made it much clearer what was expected from students. Please note that some students will change teacher as a result.

2. Parental Contact

The main thing we learned from the last lockdown is that parents want to be kept up to date on their child's progress. Starting on Monday, we'll aim to call you at least once a week to report on how your child has done.

3. Live Lessons

There is a debate amongst teachers about whether live lessons or pre-recorded lessons work better. Across all Greenshaw schools, we generally prefer pre-recorded lessons for most year groups for the following reasons:

  1. The main reason is exactly the same reason why most people prefer watching Netflix or iPlayer over normal, terrestial TV: video lessons allow students to be a bit more flexible with your schedule, and we think this makes it easier for families to support their children.

  2. Videos also allow students to go back over content and learn at their own pace - which we think is a much more effective way to learn.

  3. Teachers are freed up to focus on feedback, and will be able to focus much more on answering students' questions and providing feedback on students' work which has been submitted. We really encourage students to use the "Class Stream" option on google classroom to submit any questions they have on each lesson.

  4. Perhaps most importantly, videos are far, far better for families who have limited internet access. They use a small fraction of the data which would be needed for live calls, and they work much better on devices for children who don't have their own laptops. Because there's no set schedule, children can also share computer access without their learning suffering.

However, we also think there's value in students being able to see each other and speak directly to their teachers; it might not be the best way to learn, but it definitely helps students feel like they're still connected to school. We've therefore decided to introduce a live registration period each morning.

Students will be expected to be online at 08:30 every day, and on a live video call. Every Monday, this will be an assembly with their Head of Year, and on Tuesdays to Fridays, students will meet with their tutor group. As well as taking a register, their tutors will be going through key announcements, giving students feedback on their online learning, and introducing some discussion topics. We appreciate not all students will be able to join (for the reasons above), but we think by providing a very clear time at which the school day begins we'll make it easier for students to remain engaged.

4. Extension Tasks

One of the advantages of videos is they allow students to go at their own pace. We've noticed this week that while the average time students are spending online seems about right (between 4-5 hours), some students are getting through all of their lessons quite a bit quicker.

If that's the case, there are three things students could be working on:

  1. Assessed Work. First of all, it's worth checking students have completed the right amount of written work. Most of our video lessons are around 20-30 minutes long, but the idea is that students pause the video when they get to a task (this keeps the videos from using too much data). Every lesson will include a Low Stakes Quiz at the start and an Exit Ticket at the end, as well as written work in the middle. Done properly, these tasks should take another 30 minutes or so, taking the lesson to around an hour. It's definitely not enough to just watch the video!

  2. Online platforms. We are still setting weekly homework on Hegarty/Sparx/Tassomai/Bedrock, which will help students ensure they continue to build core skills.

  3. Extension Tasks. From next week, we will also be setting students extension tasks. These are optional tasks in case students find lessons too easy, to make sure that even our quickest students have access to at least five hours of work per day.

I hope that the above changes will make sure that your children have an even better online experience. We're trying to strike a balance between setting very high standards, and giving families as much flexibility as possible to learn in a way which works for them, and if you have any feedback, please do send it to us at [email protected]

Finally, can I thank you again for your support. In a very difficult and draining week, the emails and messages we've received through our Instagram and Twitter have made all the difference.

Best wishes,

Mr Farmbrough