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The next steps back along the road...

After a week of glorious sunshine the arrival of a mid-latitude depression over Britain returned us to a more winter-like weekend of leaden skies and blustery intermittent drizzle. No matter - I was feeling defiantly cheerful as I headed into school on Saturday morning, for two reasons. Firstly our weekend letting to Little Kickers has resumed in the Sports Hall; hoards of diminutive footballers, both boys and girls, have now resumed their frenetic activity at the weekend at BWS, scampering around bewildering patters of plastic cones and hoofing footballs whose diameters are knee-high for them. Proud parents lined up along the edges of the indoor pitch, socially distanced of course, but the important thing is that they are there! The school facilities are a significant community resource and should be in use when we are not in session, but I always feel that it is a bit sad when I visit the site in day time and it is silent. That was far from true on Saturday morning.

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A very social network...?

I write this at the end of a bank holiday weekend where sports organisations have led a news blackout of the various major social media platforms that have become so important to so many. There was some debate within school as to the wisdom and effectiveness of such a step - after all the IT leviathans which operate Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the like will barely recognise that such a gesture has been made in one small country, given their global reach and audience of billions. Any action to make things better should be pervasive and enduring, so a protest that has the staying power of just three days is bound to have a limited impact. Life will return to normal on Tuesday and a tokenistic gesture will have merely made everyone who took part feel better rather than making real change more likely. On the other hand this weekend is traditionally one where social media enters the national consciousness like few others. The culmination of the Premiership Season, in particular, guarantees that an absence of engagement by the richest sports clubs in the UK will be noted by millions. Maximum impact and effectiveness with the generations for whom digital media has become the way of trawling through news. What draws the eye better than a gap in the wall paper after all?

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These are NOT exams by the back door…!

…at least that is the argument used by the DfE, OfQual, JCQ, all of the exam boards and everyone else who has an interest in assessment of secondary pupils in the UK. There are animated discussions going on in schools across the country about the best way in which to arrive at a grade for every member of Year 11 and Year 13 in every subject – how to give them the opportunity to show what they can really do without tripping up and falling over. It does feel a bit like we are being asked to do the exam boards job for them – set the tests, do the marking, accumulate and store the evidence, moderate the samples, standardize the results and decide the grade boundaries – and then have external quality assurance to mark some (but only some) of the evidence submitted to the boards. It’s all a massive bureaucratic exercise and all a bit of a leap into the dark in yet another unprecedented year.

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HM End of Term Blog

The end of the spring term for schools has arrived, but the excitement of the return and the prospect of a well-earned break has been tempered by the appalling testimonies posted on the ‘Everyone’s Invited’ website. The accounts make for very grim, depressing and in places horrifying reading. Though the vast majority of the stories focus at present on a narrow range of schools, what has been said should make every school look critically at what they can do to help establish a culture of respect between students and tackle problems where they are identified. Sexual harassment and sexual violence are abhorrent features that are found in society at large sadly, but schools must do their bit to make things better. The position is laid out well in the recent statement from ASCL’s general secretary, Geoff Barton:

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End of term matters...

The final days of the Spring Term 2021 have brought the arrival of a significant amount of guidance from all of the bodies which are involved in secondary assessment - the examining boards, OfQual and (especially) JCQ, the Joint Council for Qualifications. We now have a clearer picture of both the processes within school and the evidence needed to back up the allocation of grades for candidates at the end of their GCSE and A level courses. In actual fact the assessment and evidence gathering procedures which have been proposed by our Heads of Departments are sensible and fit for purpose - as well as humane. Given the circumstances of this year (and the last), it is in no-one's interests for our students to feel under the assessment kosh, but equally we do need to ensure that we are able to gather the evidence needed to show the standards at which they are working in a fair and equitable way. What still has to be made clear nationally is the QA processes that will be operated by the exam boards. This will appear next week

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BWS back in the groove...and an eruption

After a truly mammoth effort by all concerned, the testing has come to an end - in school anyway. Year 9 came and went on Friday morning, and by the end of the day the chairs and tables had gone, the boxes of Covid-related materials had been re-stored and the tarpaulins lifted from the floor. From the beginning of this week the boys and girls will re-occupy the Sports Hall for...sport!. It will be marvellous to see the restoration of the early morning cricket nets, the full court basketball and the massed yoga take over once a week. Incrementally and steadily we are starting to re-experience what life in school should be like, and each new facet is a revelation. Classes are all running, practices are happening, music is being made; it really is like the awakening of a slumbering giant.

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The boys (and girls) are back in town....*

By the third day of last week they had all returned, streaming in through the gates and filling in where there had been an uncomfortable vacuum. Noise and bustle returned in force, with the difference being most felt at break and lunch times as Bishop's boys and girls milled around and flowed from room to room. The sounds of chatter, laughter and excitement echoed around the playgrounds and classrooms once more, and the sounding of the bells regained meaning. The sense of energy regained was palpable, and it was lovely to see young people simply enjoying being together once more in an environment that had become sadly unfamiliar. It is absolutely obvious that our boys and girls were keen to be back and they have settled very quickly back into their niches. Let's hope that the change is as irreversible as the politicians intend.

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Testing testing

According to the politicians we are on the edge of 'something truly momentous' as schools across the nation start to see the return of children of all ages to the classroom. We started slightly early at Bishop's; on Thursday last week the Sports Hall started to fill with multi-coloured chairs, tables, boxes full of PPE and the paraphernalia of LFD testing ready for the arrival of the entire Sixth Form the following day. Early the following morning there was a tangible change in the atmosphere within the school site. A sense that the wait was almost over, that life was returning and an accelerating sense of purpose. More cars in the car park, fighting for space with the constructors' compound, and both staff and materials moving with increased energy from place to place as the final pieces of the testing jigsaw were fitted in to place. The volunteer helpers arrived, the Bursar briefed, aprons, masks and wonderful latex gloves went on. Everything was ready...

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Here we go again

The flurry of major announcements from HM Government last week will have spurred schools into action countrywide. Here I have just written out to parents to chart the way forward for the next couple of weeks, a letter that had a complicated and intensive gestation as you might imagine. The challenge presented by having to carry out around 3,500 lateral flow tests in school over the first two week back in considerable. As I write this sitting in glorious Spring sunshine at my PC I am still am not sure whether the arrangements that I have sketched out will work, but we will do our very best! The sixth form are the first to engage as they will travel in to school on Friday of the coming week for a test and nothing else; their lessons will evaporate for the day as it would be just too complicated for everyone if teachers and students had to worry about remote lessons as well as testing all at the same time. A day to clear their heads will do the students good too - they can get their ducks in a row ready for Monday 8 March when their face-to-face lessons will begin.

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Next Slide Please

Browsing on twitter over the half term break I happened to glance at Professor Chris Whitty's feed, where as you might expect he makes the case for research and initiatives in public health. All very rational, based on sound science and statistics and aimed for public benefit. I then read some of the comments posted in response, and found them very difficult to comprehend - they seemed to be an odd mixture of the quasi-medical (touting various non-evidence based 'cures' for viral infection), quasi-numeric (employing slanted and unrepresentative stats), anecdotal (eg 'the hospitals are empty'), conspiratorial ('they are plotting against us all') together with some that were simply unhinged and sadly some personal abuse too. I am at a loss as to why anyone should choose to post such material; some might be seduced into thinking that such reading matter presents an alternative strategy for addressing the current health emergency. The current very high levels of take up for vaccination among the general population thankfully shows that the lunatic fringe is getting comparatively little traction, and thank goodness for that.

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