I can now report that there is a plan – particularly important for parents of students in years 11 and 13 – that the start of next summer’s examinations will be delayed by three weeks. This, of course, will be of marginal benefit when compared to the loss of learning from the national lockdown and ongoing disruption in some parts of the country. However, there is a bigger issue in that the exams must be made fairer. Students need to be given greater choice over the topics they answer questions on so that they can select those which they have studied to sufficient depth. Students in West Berkshire will have a different experience than, say, students in Liverpool and changing the format of the exams is vital in addressing the fact that they will have had different learning experiences due to the Covid pandemic and in ensuring that all students have an equal opportunity to answer questions fully. Those who have suffered more disruption will be significantly disadvantaged no matter how good remote learning is. We also need a back-up plan – a plan B - in the event that students are unable to sit exams next summer. One idea doing the rounds is a requirement for schools to hold mock exams in controlled conditions with exam-style invigilation, marking and grades awarded. These mock results could then be used to assess results where students have had their preparations severely disrupted by covid-19 outbreaks, or in case they are unable to sit some or all of their exams in the summer. However, there are quite a few drawbacks. One criticism of using mock results is that schools approach them with differing degrees of rigour, making them hard to compare. Using mocks as a fall-back position, of course, piles more pressure on students to revise for mock exams rather than studying new material. Creating high stakes assessments will also lead to challenges such as generous marking or ‘teaching to the test’. Hopefully, the Government will publish plan B very soon - as very soon we move into the mock exam season. We at Willink propose a second set of assessments in the spring to provide a rounded view of progress and identify areas to work on.
In other covid news, the school was visited by West Berks Health & Safety team last week, meeting staff, looking into our systems, observing students in lessons and break. The difficulties in managing ‘bubbles’ were acknowledged. The team made some recommendations with regard to office space, signage, using the QR code in reception, but overall the report was very positive in the measures the school has deployed in school to mitigate against the transmission of the disease.
Finally, please refer to the school’s homework schedule for information on homework and look out for the information on Milestone Assessments which will be attached to next week’s Parent Digest.
As I write this week’s Blog, it is no surprise than Covid-19 again dominates the news and indeed our work in school. We had 137 viewers for the entirety of our very first online virtual Open Evening last Thursday week – which was great. Actually, this was our first venture with Teams Event and, although nerve racking and we had our fingers crossed, the technology stood up to the test. Following this technological success, we are holding our usual "Introduction to the Year" Parent Information Evenings this week via the same medium. To access the year 10 (Tuesday), year 12 (Wednesday) years 7 and 11(Thursday) events, please refer to our website or last week’s Parent Digest.
Up to last Thursday the weather was kind to us and we kept windows and doors wide open to maximise ventilation. As the weather changes it is not practical to keep all windows and doors wide open and a balance between comfort and ventilation needs to be sought. That said, keeping windows open slightly and opening external doors is important to help reduce the spread of infections. Having the heating on, but windows ajar does not sit well! To mitigate against the cold, we shall allow a little latitude with uniform. Should your child wish (during cold weather) they may wear a dark coloured plain base layer beneath their polo shirt. This is in addition to, but not to replace, the school jumper. So if your child feels the cold, we ask them to put on a base layer before leaving home. Students are not to wear coats in classrooms.
With regard to the Sixth Form for reasons of keeping social distancing, when it is feasible, transport and their individual timetable or personal circumstances allow, we have asked students to arrive for their first lesson of the day and depart after their last lesson. Of course, private study facilities in the Sixth Form and the Library Resource Centre remain open.
Finally, on to face masks/coverings. Up to this point we have encouraged their use in school. They are, of course, mandatory on school and public transport. Given the increase in positive covid test results locally, albeit from a very low level, we have decided to activate Government advice and ask students and staff to wear masks when they are in the corridor at lesson change over, going to and leaving lessons. Corridors at lesson changeover are the one area and the one time where social distancing is difficult to maintain and students in different year group bubbles can come into close proximity. We would like to introduce this “policy” during this week; however, for next Monday, at the latest, please make sure your child has a face mask/covering with them as they will be expected, unless they have a specific medical condition, to comply with this request.
Welcome to the first edition this year of WeLink. An even warmer welcome if you are a first-time student or parent new to Willink. The intention is to publish WeLink fortnightly - as we did in the age pre-Covid. May I also remind you that you should also be receiving our weekly Parent Digest that keeps you up to date with all the events and happenings at Willink. Please do contact the school office if you are not in receipt.
I shall use WeLink to give you a regular update on how we are managing the re-opening of school. Thank you for your continued support in getting all students back into school safely over the past fortnight. All of us are committed to providing the best education possible for your child, while securing the health and safety of our whole school community. Thank you for continuing to follow public health guidelines and encouraging your children to do the same. You will be aware of the steps we have put in place to ensure the safe return of all students to school – and we shall review these on a weekly basis. We know that you will be keen to understand the impact that we have had in our first week and a bit of the term, and what our plans are to ensure all students catch up with any missed learning, and what will happen if a student or larger group of students are asked to stay at home over the coming months. Attendance during the first week averaged 95.5% which is brilliant and similar to that at the beginning of term last year and similar to attendance at the beginning of March. During lockdown more and more lessons, tutor time and assemblies were delivered remotely and we are busily confirming plans for remote learning in case of full school closure, cohort isolation, or individual isolation. Much work has also been undertaken in terms of mental health and well-being – please contact Mrs Browning (Assistant Deputy) for details.
One of the results of the attention on Covid and the re-opening of schools has been, inevitably, a lack of attention on future developments. Of course, September sees The Willink coming on stream as the lead school for the Mobius Maths Hub leading the way in maths education. I am also delighted to report that this September, The Willink has added impetus to its language teaching by being invited to join the Mandarin Excellence Programme. The MEP is funded by the Department for Education and delivered by the University of London Institute of Education in partnership with the British Council. This project will enable selected students, initially in year 7, to achieve fluency in Mandarin Chinese. With our motto “village school, global outlook” we know that languages are crucial for work and life in the global race. Few state schools offer three languages to A level as Willink does: French, German and Spanish. Teaching four languages is rare. China is recognised as the world’s second biggest economy, so it’s vital that more young people leave school with a good grasp of Mandarin. Relationships with China may be tense at present, but it is clear that Mandarin will be one of the most important languages for the UK’s prosperity over the next twenty years. Whilst the ability to speak a foreign language is an incredibly useful asset for students, both professionally and personally, studying Mandarin will give our students a competitive edge in an increasingly connected world, enabling them to explore and engage with China, its culture and economy.