1st January 2021
I would like to start by wishing you all a happy New Year and hope that you managed to celebrate despite of the situation. Let us hope that as we move through 2021 we get back to some normality!
Over the coming months I expect we will still have a number of challenges to face and I want to assure you every decision we make will have the children at the heart of it and we will always do our very best to do what is right and to keep everyone safe. We are a positive and supportive community at Palatine and I know we will all continue to work together to support one another over the coming months.
At 6pm last night the DfE issued new guidance to special schools in regards to opening next week and the rolling out for testing programme. Unfortunately for the special schools that cater for primary aged pupils only this guidance was not clear and at times contradictory and despite documents stating the government helpline was open from 9 am today this has not been the case!
Thus I have worked with other special school colleagues to work through this ascertain what needs to be doing.
What is clear is that:
- By mid-January all schools including mainstream primaries will be taking part in the testing programme (at least for staff).
- All special schools regardless of the age of their pupils have far more staff than primary mainstream schools which means the testing implications are significant. For instance at Palatine we have close to 100 staff in the building.
- Staff work in very close proximity to the children as do colleagues in the secondary and all age special schools. This poses us with many more challenges in regards to everyone’s safety. We also face more challenges in regards to testing because of the needs of our pupils. The government has recognised this and in last night’s guidance stated that we had an extra INSET day to help us prepare for this:
“State-funded schools can take an additional inset day to help them set up for testing … This inset day is in addition to the usual allowance.”
In line with all other special schools in West Sussex we will be closed on Monday 4th January for this additional day. This is because the government are running two of their three training webinars on Monday. It is essential required staff attend these so we can understand what our roles and responsibilities will be and so that we have time to prepare for the logistical arrangements required (building alterations, staffing training and recruitment, risk assessments and training around testing). I am determined that once the testing starts it will do so with as minimal disruption to our school and our pupils as possible and in order that this be the case we need to have planned as carefully as we can using all the guidance and training available.
I appreciate that this is really short notice and share your frustrations about this. On reflection with other colleagues we felt the way to minimise disruption was to use Monday for this day so as not to disrupt the flow of term any further than needed. I assure you that I am reading and acting on information from government as I receive it. Thank you for your understanding and support with this.
I am aware that a number of you will also have concerns too about the children coming to school whilst we are under Tier 4 restrictions and because of the new strain of the virus. The guidance from Public Health England is that the risk assessments we have in place will keep us as safe as possible and no new actions need to be taken aside from taking part in the testing programme (which is no longer voluntary) and which will be rolled out to all schools during this half term. However, as we have done throughout the pandemic we will talk to you individually about the current circumstances to discuss any concerns you have. Therefore, on Monday your child’s class teacher (or another colleague in their absence) will telephone you to touch base and chat through any issues or concerns relating specifically to your child. Please note they will not be able to answer any questions about testing as the leadership team and other required staff members will be attending the seminars and training to find out how this will work. I am expecting at this stage I will only gain logistical training and an understanding of requirements around staff testing with information specifically around primary aged pupils being provided in the next few weeks. What teachers will be able to talk through with you are any concerns you have about your child’s safety in school whilst we are in tier 4 and the current stage of the pandemic. We will, of course, share any news with you in regards to testing as soon as we have it.
All pupils except those who are clinically extremely vulnerable should return to school for the start of term on January 5th 2021.
Thank you so much for working with us through these challenging times. I do appreciate your flexibility and willingness to work with us!
With warmest wishes for the New Year