I hope you had, in the circumstances, an enjoyable if surreal VE Day Holiday weekend. It ended, of course, with the statement from the PM to gradually ease the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions with more detailed guidance issued on Monday. I would like to clarify some of the messages regarding secondary schools and sixth forms and to reassure you we are doing all we can to keep you up-to-date about information relating to your child/ren – however, information we receive is changing almost daily.
All of us at The Willink are devoted to the care and education of our students. Of course, we all want to do our bit to serve the national interest and we all want children back in school; however, as Head my first priority is the safety and well-being of every child and adult who sets foot inside. The Government’s guidance relating to schools is dependent on several conditions being met, as with all measures to ease lockdown. From now until 1st June we shall continue to operate as we currently are, i.e. provision is open only to children identified as vulnerable or children of key workers. If your child is not in these categories, please continue to make best use of the online learning that is available so that they keep up with their education as much as possible. From Monday 1st June, the Government has said, if the conditions are met, that there will be a phased return of schools and colleges and has stated that they “will ask secondary schools, sixth form and further education colleges to offer some face-to-face support to supplement the remote education of year 10 and year 12 students who are due to take key exams next year”, alongside the full time provision offered to priority groups. We are starting to plan for the partial return of some students, and are optimistic about this partial return happening – albeit not in the class teaching format as seen pre-20th March. However, rest assured we shall put extensive safety measures in place and conduct rigorous risk assessments before we make any decisions.
Throughout this pandemic we have all had to adapt what we do, how we do it and when we complete daily tasks and that will remain the case when staff and students return to school. We will not open the school further unless the national guidance can be safely applied. In the meantime, the safety of our students, staff, their families, and our wider school community remain our priority.
In other news …
We shall be holding virtual assemblies with both year 11 and year 12 next week. We shall also be reviewing our online provision and support for students in years 7, 8 and 9 who may not return to school before the summer break.
A survey will be issued next week.Following feedback from students and teachers, the weekly timetable for year 10 will be amended from next week with the addition of a science lesson - replacing a well-being session on Monday.
The extra lesson will enable a greater depth of learning in science.A reminder that if you wish to contact your child’s subject teacher, then the email contact details can be accessed through your child’s RM Unify email.
If you child is unwell, would not normally therefore be in school and is unable to complete the online work set, then please email the school: email@example.com. or ring the school office. This is to let teachers know that there will be an intermission in the work submitted.
Finally, I wanted to let you know how proud we have been of our students over the last few weeks. Whether they are among the small number who have been in school or, like most,
they have been at home, I know that they have been a credit to themselves and the school.
We encourage you to send items and photos to our WeLink editor Mrs Hiscock (firstname.lastname@example.org) for inclusion in subsequent editions. Of course, we know
that they are receiving intensive support from parents and school staff.
I shall write again in next week’s WeLink, or earlier if we receive more information, on the latest information on re-opening. Watch this space.
Happy May Day! I have not checked today’s lessons, but I guess somewhere students will be making a Maypole – with streamers safely 2m apart! Please send your pictures to the editor.
We are receiving very positive feedback to the work now set remotely for our students – within the context of the unprecedented circumstances we find ourselves in. But please continue the feedback, particularly if the work set is not working for you.
Just as we settle into a routine, Boris Johnson is due to publicise the plan for the gradual lifting of the lockdown next week and we shall need to look more to the future – but a different future to the past. As you may have heard the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson has been talking this week about a ‘phased’ return of schools. He said: “when we bring schools back… they will return in a phased manner… as all pupils going back at once would not be realistic or practical.” The leader of Association of School & College Leaders, Geoff Barton, has suggested that this might be Years 6, 10 and 12, with 1st June being the earliest realistic date. The Secretary of State also said that he did not expect this term to be extended into the summer holidays and that the government is looking closely at the experience of other countries where some schools have opened. There is no getting away from the fact however that social distancing presents some significant logistical problems. It looks like online learning or hybrid learning will be here to stay for a long time.
We have now had four weeks of Home School, a timetable is in place for years 7-10 and 12 and year 11 have been asked to create their own timetables, look at activities to prepare them for September. Tutors have been in touch with the majority of students and will continue to keep in regular touch in various ways. If your son or daughter has not had their “keeping in touch” contact from their tutor please do let the Head of Learning know.
Specific to year 11, there are various activities for the year group to try. Working with the sixth form team, we have also created a 'Moving Forwards' folder on SharePoint; this has a range of activities focused on developing schools for subjects the students want to focus on in September. The activities are suitable for all students whatever their plan next year.
Can we please ask parents and carers to take a moment to check with your child / children? Have they been checking Class Charts? Have they been receiving and reading emails? Have they tried any of the activities from the Activities List?
We are speechless as to the amount of money we have already received towards our Willink-20 appeal. We have secured donations totalling £3900 for families in need in the local community, an increase of £1400 on this time last week. Both the donate button and information on how to access Willink-20 can be found via the school website.
Following last week’s Government announcement about “laptops for learners” we are liaising with the LA over the supply of computers for disadvantaged learners in year 10. However, we are still very much short of devices so if you have an unused iPad 3 (or higher spec), Chromebook, laptops capable of running Windows 7 or higher, in full working order, with working leads and power adapters - then please do contact our IT Team.
Finally, we say farewell this week to our Textiles Teacher, Jess Lynch who is leaving us for a post at Abington School. Jess has been in regular contact with her tutees and is part of our “Scrubs for NHS” team – a role she will continue in school until further notice. We wish Jess all the very best.
Welcome to the summer term at Willink. I’m guessing that for everyone it’s been an Easter holiday like none we’ve ever experienced. All of you are likely to have found it hard fully to switch off at this time of lockdown with lost routines, swirling speculation, and with just one story filling our waking (and dreaming) hours.
The latest information on school closures for parents can be found here : https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/closure-of-educational-settings-information-for-parents-and-carers/closure-of-educational-settings-information-for-parents-and-carers
Years 7-10 and 12.
May I thank parents and carers who have contacted us regarding the Home Learning. To aid parents and carers
- Work should be set following the new lesson timetable.
- The 'Name' of the work in the top bar should state: Subject, Date and Lesson time for the scheduled lesson. E.g. English, Wednesday 29 April, Lesson 2 - this avoids confusion - particularly when work is being set by staff not typically the class teacher for that group)
- Work should be loaded on ClassCharts between 6pm the day before and 8am the day of the timetabled slot.
- Each post should only include work for that 50 minute lesson and any extension work should be clearly labelled as extension.
- Resources should be attached as PDF as we are aware that Publisher, PowerPoint, Word, Excel are not supported by all devices. Some departments will provide the Word document in addition to PDF and labelled it as duplicate - this supports students to edit/type on the document.
- We have asked teachers to avoid unnecessary printing – we understand that paper and cartridges are both a significant expense and not at all easy to purchase.
- Tutors or pastoral support staff have been asked to make regular contact with students to keep in touch and raise matters of concern.
Students have done everything they possibly can to secure good GCSE grades. No more work can be accepted to count towards grading. The school (not individual teachers) will calculate grades, clearly teachers will have a very big say in this as they know their students best. To do this we will take into account your Christmas mocks, your PPEs, class work and course work how they have worked since Christmas and any known special circumstances that might affect outcomes. The exam boards will decide what the grades are, so our suggestions might change. The school is not allowed to discuss grades with students or their parents; the suggestions we make have to be seen to be independent so we cannot have any conversations. We will not be allowed to tell you the grades we suggest, nor will we tell you your recent PPE grades.
Year 11s should now focus their learning on curriculum areas they might wish to follow in September. Learning resources titled “PiXL Futures” will be shortly sent to students via ClassCharts for students to complete over the next month. These are bridging resources and activities to be undertaken – they all cater for students who are not staying with us but going on to college or elsewhere. For more information please click here. After half term bespoke subject course work will be set for students in preparation for studying A levels and advanced courses with us in September.
I hope Year 13 students are keeping as active as they can, both physically and academically, in preparing for the next phase in their education or moving to employment. Tutors have been contacting students to touch base by email and are available to talk should students wish to. We are, of course, keeping abreast of the latest updates from UCAS on university admissions. It is important that all students who are planning to go to university in the autumn should have applied for finance through the Government Gateway https://www.gov.uk/apply-online-for-student-finance . The deadline to guarantee having the money available for the first day of term is the end of May. Latest news on the dates for Firm and Insurance offers to be accepted through UCAS can be found on their website at https://www.ucas.com/undergraduate/after-you-apply/types-offer/replying-your-ucas-undergraduate-offers . If students have made their final decision with UCAS they need to apply for their accommodation at their firm choice university.
If students are not planning to go to university keep checking for apprenticeship openings, the Indeed website is a good place to check for regular updates. We have sent students a useful resource with specific ideas on reading, watching and research exercises for a wide range of university courses, please do talk through these with your son or daughter. Careers appointments can still be made with our Independent Career Advisor, Clare Desai. If you or your son or daughter has any further questions please do get in touch with a member of the Sixth Form team directly or through email@example.com.
Finally, I can report that in the first week of trading the Willink-20 appeal for donations towards supporting the less fortunate in our local community has raised a tad under £2500. Should you wish to contribute to this fund please look at our website for details.
In our appeal for Devices to support online learning (see letter Coronavirus 7 for details should you wish to join this appeal) for those without or limited online access we have received a donation of 15 laptops from Veritas. We thank Veritas. Since our appeal was launched HM Government has announced support for vulnerable and disadvantaged children and young
people who do not have access to a digital device during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. However, schools are unable to access this support direct and the number of devices is limited and not available in the short term so we still require your support in this area if at all possible.
Take care and stay safe
We hope that you are staying safe and well during this difficult time. Covid-19 is undoubtedly one of the greatest global challenges of our time and we must all now adapt and adopt profound changes to working, children and adults alike.
Our resilience will be severely tested over the coming weeks and it is important that we do not underestimate the impact of school closures and isolation on our mental health. Below identifies a helpful source for children and families who are anxious about the virus or who are finding it difficult being cooped up for weeks on end! Remember also:
Joe Wicks, the Body Coach is delivering an exercise video daily from 9am on his YouTube channel
Being active and raising the heart rate is exceptionally important for our mental health and wellbeing. The charity 'Mind' has useful information about how to look after your wellbeing during the coming weeks: please see 'Coronovirus and your wellbeing'. It covers everything from hand washing and anxiety, to keeping your mind stimulated, keeping active, connecting with people and deciding on your routine. The website comes highly recommended by mental healthcare professionals: https://www.mind.org.uk/
Thank you for the feedback that we have received regarding the work set for students. As you might expect, we are reviewing the learning set at the end of the first fortnight of its operation. As a result, we will be making some minor revisions to our provision, the details of which we shall share after Easter. The BBC are going to produce some lessons and we may well refer to these. We shall not be setting work over the Easter period, however, if you are short on creatively thinking what to do please have a look at these “projects”.
Willink teachers have worked incredibly hard to provide stimulating and challenging work; it is inevitable that this needs a degree of review and re-calibration as we all get used to the new way of working. Please do help your child to manage her/his workload and help her/him to achieve the right balance between work and non-work activities. If work is taking longer than the amount of time specified, or goes much over the allocated lesson time, please suggest your child stops working and ask her/him to relay this to their teacher. Each student will receive an email or call from their Tutor, so do please raise any issues with them.
At present we have no further details on how GCSE or A Level grades will be awarded in the summer. We shall inform you when we do. We actively encourage all students in exam years to continue their studies as this is excellent preparation for when their studies recommence. We recognise that not all students have the means to easily access online learning due to economic circumstances and competing for hardware with parents working from home. Accordingly, we are asking our families to donate any old iPads, Chromebooks or laptops they no longer require. Remote learning is vitally important to enable children to continue with their education. However, we do have children who are unable to access online learning because they do not have access to computers at home. The devices you donate will be provided to families with children within our school community, so that they are able to access our best resources and get immediate support and feedback from our teachers.
We are specifically asking for:
- iPad 3s or higher
- Laptops capable of running Windows 7 or higher
It is important that any donated devices are cleaned/disinfected, using ethyl or isopropyl alcohol on a soft cloth (follow manufacturers’ recommendations). They need to be in full working order, with working leads and power adapters for laptops and Chromebook (not essential for iPads), and completely reset. We are able to remove existing user accounts and check devices over. Owners will need to supply the password to an administrator account if they are Windows laptops. Alternatively,
instructions for resetting an iPad can be found at https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT201252or https://www.techadvisor.co.uk/how-to/mobile-phone/reset-iphone-ipad-3296944/
Instructions for resetting (‘power-washing’) a Chromebook can be found at
Instructions for resetting a Windows PC can be found at https://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/gadgets/a29396384/how-to-wipe-computer
If you are able to help, please leave a message on the school answer phone, and we shall get back to you about the logistics of delivering the devices after the Easter break. The machines will be quarantined, cleaned and returned to their original factory settings before being distributed to our more vulnerable learners. Thank you in advance if you are able to support this initiative.
Best wishes and take care.
Welcome to this edition of WeLink. Wow, a lot has happened since the last edition! We have changed the issue day to Friday and intend for it to be sent out weekly during this period of school closure. It is an opportunity for students to write their stories and send pictures to our editor, Mrs Hiscock firstname.lastname@example.org.
I must admit it is an odd existence. It is a week since most of us have seen each other – at least in person. As Mr Sizer once said in one of his long assemblies (or was it Lenin?): “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” This has been one of those weeks. The beautiful weather is also making it all surreal – on the one hand a beautiful spring, fresh air and birds chattering, on the other knowing that the next few weeks will bring us a major health crisis.
I have to say our staff are just brilliant – yes, students too! Just look at the stories of help, good cheer and resilience in this newsletter. I do hope students are receiving enough work to do – we shall be reviewing this next week and will send out further information. My thanks to staff who have come into work to support (and I know many more wanted to) – admin, cleaning staff, IT, teachers, teaching assistants and site staff. It is a real team effort to ensure we are open and available for our most vulnerable students and children of key workers to support the national effort.
Whilst we are reassured that parents have taken seriously the call to keep their children at home, we know there are some children and young people in the vulnerable category who most definitely need the sense of structure and care that only a school can provide. Moving forward it is important we provide ongoing childcare for these children and children of key workers; provision for over the Easter holiday period will be planned next week.
There are still many questions around what GCSE and A level grades will look like this year and how they will be arrived at. We are expecting government guidance to be published next week.
If there is more information to convey between now and next Friday, I shall communicate via a Schoolcomms letter.
Meanwhile, remember to keep your physical distance and keep those hands clean.
Last Monday we participated in the annual BBC News Report – focusing on news stories such as climate change, recycling, food, and school uniform. The students were keen, proactive and energetic, gathering the news stories throughout the day. Please go to our website to see the product of their work. Oh, for normality. Alas, one story is dominating the news for all of us – COVID-19, an unwelcome take on “village school, global outlook”.
I am conscious that in writing this piece, the situation may have changed. COVID-19 is obviously a deeply serious matter for all of us, those with vulnerable family members, society at large – the next few months are going to be challenging and far from normal life for all of us.
Specific to education we have the challenges of keeping open schools and colleges when a growing number of staff are away from work because they are self-isolating; the potential for disruption to GCSE and A-levels and what contingencies will be put in place; and how we ensure children do not go hungry and that vulnerable young people are safeguarded if schools are closed. We are discussing the issue and implications daily, though the decisions will be largely made for us. We shall endeavour to keep you informed through WeLink, SchoolComms messaging and information on the website.
We shall continue to follow the advice of Public Health England. As the UK moves from the containment stage to the delay stage, we are all told to stay at home and self-isolate for fourteen days from the point of displaying even mild symptoms of a new continuous cough and/or a high temperature. This includes any member of the household. Where a student is in self-isolation, they will be recorded as unable to attend due to exceptional circumstances. The advice is set out here:
Following current guidance, all foreign trips have been cancelled (if they have not been officially cancelled it is because we are working to ensure a full refund) or planning on them suspended. Other trips and off-site activities will be decided case by case following a risk assessment to take account of the latest health advice. Daily we are urging students to wash their hands frequently or use a hand sanitizer. Many students are using their own personal hand sanitizer. Reminders are posted around the school. Cleaning is prioritizing door handles and handrails.
Sadly, today we are closed to year 8 students due to staff absence and we are currently planning for further partial closures as used for “snow-days” – but hope to provide some notice to parents. In addition, we are looking at how best to provide work for students – particularly exam years – and ways in which we can best support our most vulnerable students. We shall provide further information for parents later in the week.
Can I reassure you that everything that can be done to support our young people will be done. Look after yourselves.
I do hope you have had a refreshing half-term break. Welcome to term 4 - a short term but a crucial one for our exam years as they complete their courses and begin revision for the summer exams – GCSEs start in 40 school days!
We often discuss with pupils the importance of high attendance and the correlation with high achievement – our recent year 7 and year 9 parents’ consultations achieved hit 95% attendance which is impressive. With larger number of students in each of these years we decided to divide the years and hold two parent consultations per year group. Hopefully you have been able to meet all the staff you wished to. If you didn’t please do contact the member of staff for feedback through the school office. If you have suggestions on how we can improve parents’ consultation please do let us know – we are eager to hear from you.
Of course, the big news following half-term is the evolving situation around the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. West Berkshire Council is working closely with Public Health England and schools. The Council has a team of people monitoring the latest information and regular updates are being provided. There is a plan in place – Berkshire Pandemic Influenza Response Plan and this will be activated as necessary. Schools are advised to follow the advice given by Public Health England (PHE) who are leading on the Coronavirus response in the UK. Advice is being provided to schools regularly. The latest general advice is available to view through: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public
If you do have a concern please contact us. Our desire to continue with business as usual will obviously need to run alongside the need to protect staff, pupils and visitors. We are best placed to do so by following the advice of PHE and any decisions taken will be in consultation with West Berks Council and PHE. In school, students are being reminded of the need to regularly and thoroughly wash hands, and basic hygiene if they cough or sneeze. Our soap dispensers are regularly inspected and refilled. However, students may wish to use a hand sanitizer for their own personal use.
On the theme of health we have recently reviewed our Sex and Relationships Policy. All our current policies can be found on the school’s website.
Finally, with Spring now upon us an advanced notice that there will be a Volunteer Painting and Decorating morning on Saturday 21st March from 9am. Please book your place by contacting the school office by Wednesday18th march. There is much to mend, inside and out, and you are most welcome to come along.
So what is in a name? This weekend we were visited by Storm Ciara. In 2015, the UK Met Office launched the "Name Our Storms" campaign, in the hope of raising public awareness of severe weather. A storm is named when it has the potential to trigger an amber/orange or red warning and have "substantial" impact. The warning system is based on potential impacts from severe weather and the likelihood of such events happening. It takes into account include the time of year, the location - is the stormy weather hitting an area of high population which would again have an effect on more people? A list of names of storms are compiled from names chosen by the public. Storms are named in alphabetical order but we have not gone further than K - Storm Katie, which hit the UK on Easter Monday 2016. So, if your name starts with a letter towards the end of the alphabet it is highly unlikely ever to be used.
Unlike Storm Ciara, the coronavirus, that has infected thousands of people, closed borders and put parts of China into lockdown does not yet have a proper name. It has also been given the temporary title 2019-nCoV. To try to distinguish this particular virus, scientists have been calling it the novel or new coronavirus - named for their crown-like spikes when viewed through a microscope. The task of formally naming the virus is the responsibility of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV). To avoid a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals the ICTV name for the new coronavirus will not include geographical locations, people's names, the name of an animal or a kind of food or references to a particular culture or industry.
As you will be aware from previous editions of WeLink the Willink has been designated a national Maths Hub – but up to this point the designation has been “South West 5”. The task of formally naming the Maths Hub is the responsibility of the DfE and the National Centre for Excellence in the Teaching of Mathematics. Following consultation with students, our maths staff and the NCETM, our new name was released last week. The name must be linked to maths education, avoid any link to the lead school i.e. Willink, be easy to say, avoid copyright, not be confused with other commercial enterprises or have connotations detrimental to the school. So, in September we shall be the lead school for the Mobius Maths Hub. The Mobius strip or band, is a surface with only one side (when embedded in three-dimensional Euclidean space) and only one boundary. Its discovery is attributed to the German mathematicians August Ferdinand Möbius in 1858. If you google "Maths Hubs UK" and then "find my hub" it will provide a list and the website for each Hub. The Mobius Maths Hub will leading maths education and subject leadership currently covered by the Boolean Hub (Bristol) and Bucks, Berks and Oxon Hub (based in High Wycombe).
It is more than three years ago now that Ofsted (the schools’ inspectorate) began recruiting practising Heads to undertake inspection work. In undertaking this work it is a real privilege to meet and discuss with staff their work in their context. Following the publication of the new Ofsted Framework in September, one area of heated debate on inspection is the curriculum – a pertinent discussion point for us in a week when we have our Year 9 Options Evening and discussion in many homes turn to curriculum choice.
Sir Dan Moynihan, leader of the Harris Federation Academies Trust, is concerned that schools are being marked down for running GCSEs over three years rather than two. He told The Times last week that a wider curriculum for an extra year was fine for “SW1” but not for disadvantaged children. “For many of our children qualifications are all they have in their hands at a job interview or college application and beyond,” he said. “They have no networks, no contacts, no professional people in their family to help them on in life. Their GCSEs are crucial. Ofsted is valuing curriculum over qualifications.” Replying on Radio 4, Ofsted’s Sean Harford argument was that it must be better to focus more on the stuff of learning – the depth and breadth of what we teach children – and less on test and exam results, which are heavily dependent upon prior attainment and disadvantage.
It would certainly seem logical that if we focus on what we teach and how we teach it, then we ensure that all children have a common entitlement to a broad and rich curriculum, and logic would suggest that a great curriculum, which is planned and taught well, is also more likely to lead to successful results in tests and exams. However, the government has busily been reforming GCSEs over the past few years in order to deliberately make them more difficult and content-heavy. So, it is not wholly unsurprising if some schools decide to give pupils three years to prepare for GCSEs. Further, those schools choosing to become academies were promised autonomy over the curriculum. School Leaders, the narrative went, are best placed to make the decision on behalf of their pupils and their communities, not officials in Whitehall. It would seem a bit unfair if inspectors then takes a dim view of this practice.
In reality, the balance between curriculum breadth and GCSE preparation is a fine judgement that is likely to change from school to school depending on what works best for their students. At Willink when I’m asked when GCSEs start, I usually reply in year 7! This is to emphasise that building the blocks of learning, securing learning and addressing misconceptions takes time. But we do believe the curriculum should be well-balanced and be as broad as possible for as long as possible enabling pupils to flourish and achieve their full academic and personal potential.
I do hope you had an enjoyable festive break.
We welcome new staff to Willink this term: Mr Fido (Head of Computing) and Mrs Elston (French and German). We wish thema happy, rewarding and successful experience with us. To support our language curriculum we have also called upon the services of Mrs Andrews and Mrs Smith two of our cover supervisors, bothwith language degrees. We also welcome, from maternity leave, the return of Mrs Miller as cover supervisor. They all start at an extremely busy time of year with much to pack into a very short (6 week) term.
Of interest to our readers will be the outcome of the Parent Survey that took place in December during Learning Review Day. It is reassuring to receive such high levels of confidence from parents with over 90% satisfaction in all but one category - that of helping pupils to have a healthy lifestyle. We shall reflect on this. Please see the attached results summary. 43 of the 610 respondents felt home to school communication is less than good, so we shall also need to work on this. Just before the Christmas break we heard via Facebook about an incident alleged to have happened in school. Despite the Facebook conversation saying we had monitored the incident via CCTV and were successfully dealing with it, we were not aware of the incident, had not dealt with it and in the end we could not find evidence of it happening! So the message from this bizarre incident is: please do continue to provide feedback and do communicate with us directly.
Should you wish to contact a member of staff, please email: email@example.com and in the subject line put FAO and the teacher’s name. This will allow your enquiry to be directed to the right person and we can monitor responses. We remind parents, however, that it is not always possible to respond immediately, due to other commitments including teaching, but we will respond by the following working day.
May I wish all our readers all the very best for 2020!
Welcome to the festive edition of WeLink. There has been a lot going on since the last
edition – not just in the world of politics! We have held Learning Review Day – the review of which I shall write about in January. Our school production We Will Rock You ran for three nights; the cast were wonderful and we thank our drama, music, technical and admin teams for putting on a brilliant performance. On Friday Year 7 visited the Pantomime – an important element in building cultural capital! We were also visited by detention team Chase, Jasper and Rosie. Our furry friends went in every class, met every student and criss-crossed cupboards, lockers and toilets. Assistant Head, Mr Ballantyne who accompanied one team put on 8000 steps! Nothing was found. We shall repeat the exercise sometime in the year to support our effort to keep the school drugs free.
This week our festivities continue with our Celebration of Success when our recently released Year 13s return for an informal gathering to meet up with each other and their old teachers and share stories of life post Willink. We also hold our Christmas Carol Service at St Mary’s Burghfield on Wednesday and our Senior Citizens Concert on Thursday.
As is normal there are some staff changes at the end of term: Mrs Collen is leaving teaching to join the education wing of the Berkshire Fire & Rescue Service whilst Mr Price leaving us as Head of Computing to lead Leighton Park School’s computing department. We thank them for their services and wish them all the very best for the future. Fortunately, have secured replacements for their roles for January – probably the worst time to recruit. We are also delighted to announce that we have permanently appointed Mrs Fiorin as our
Finance Manager having overseen that role since Mrs Adye left in November. This means we shall be looking to appoint a Finance Officer – full details are on the school’s website.
Finally, please remember that school closes at 12.40pm on Friday. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a peaceful Christmas and look forward to welcoming students back to school on Monday 6th January 2020.
At an ASCL Conference this week, representing West Berks secondary headteachers, I sat near two Heads representing Hillingdon and Islington who reported a notable recent rise in knife crime, drugs and gang culture in their neighbourhoods. Whilst concerns are on the rise here too, I was struck by the scale of the incidents they were recounting. So, with this backdrop we hope that parents who came to our Parent Information Evening this week on County Lines found it informative, if a little depressing. This was an education drama performance from Alter Ego creative solutions about child criminal exploitation in secondary schools throughout Thames Valley. Whilst on a different scale to parts of London (where the lines often begin), we are aware that our students are vulnerable to being exploited - particularly with respect to drugs. We do have a clear policy and procedures on drugs and whilst we work ceaselessly to support individuals and families we are determined to keep the Willink a safe place free from drugs.
On a different theme, we are in the middle of a busy few weeks – and not just for politicians! Students across the school have been reflecting on their achievements and progress since September in preparation for Learning Review Day. In addition to the three-way conversations with tutors and parents, students in years 7-11 undertake Independent Learning Projects at home during LRD. These ILPs develop skills in research, organisation, time management and application - skills which are appraised when they return to school. As for year 11s, whether in school or home, they have a carefully crafted revision programme for their pre-public exams which begin on Monday. These exams will provide them and their teachers with valuable information – not just what they understand (or not) but also on revision organisation and techniques – and how to help support them moving forward towards GCSEs in the summer.
Learning Review Day is also the day when we ask parents and carers whilst visiting the school to complete our annual Parent Survey, providing us feedback on how well we are doing. This provides us with a large number of responses – rather more than Parent Voice. But please feedback using this link too! We will report back findings and actions arising from the Parent Survey in the New Year.
A rather more uplifting drama performance is taking place at 7pm on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week - our School Production We Will Rock You – a jukebox musical based on the songs of Queen with a book by Ben Elton. We hope to see you then. It promises to be a great evening out.
Last week we held an Employers Evening – our inaugural careers fair. We hosted a couple of dozen exhibitors including from higher and further education, police and other public services, armed forces, high-tech firms including Microsoft, the NHS, local government, dentistry and law firms, and AWE. Following this success, we now intend to hold the event annually. If you were unable to attend this time around it is certainly one for the diary.
We also used the week, Anti-bullying Week, to reinforce the message with our students that the Willink School has zero tolerance of bullying. Our approach is outlined in our policy which can be found on our website. Parents may be interested in our online 'Report and Restore' function which allows students to report incidents electronically should they wish to instead of reporting direct to staff. However, students can also report issues in person to their tutor, teachers, Head of Learning, Pastoral Assistants, Inclusion Mentors or any other member of staff.
Also, last week, we received the following reminder from the Department of Education about the strictures placed on schools during the run up to an election:
“During this period of heightened political activity and sensitivity, you should ensure your school and staff avoid activity that could be construed as partisan or favouring a particular political party.
You should not use school ICT facilities for the distribution of political material, including that produced by third parties, either within the area of the school site or beyond.
Local-authority-maintained schools’ delegated budgets are only for any purposes of the school or such purposes as prescribed in regulations. Schools should not use their budget for other purposes”.
All of this is, of course, eminently sensible. We certainly encourage all candidates to come meet our students, particularly those in the Sixth Form. I guess the reminder is a sign of how education is never far away from the political surface. After all, in the last general election a survey of 1,000 parents of schoolchildren conducted by YouGov ranked education alongside health and Brexit as the most important election issues. And, of the 43 per cent who named education as a prime issue, four out of five said they were more likely to vote for candidates who would tackle school funding. Since when – despite recent spending promises of £7.1 billion on schools – the funding crisis across education has unquestionably deepened. It is important that the education sector is heard during the general election debate – loud, clear and, of course, strictly impartial.
Finally a reminder about the Parent Information Evening, this Thursday at 6.30 – 7.15pm in the School Hall. During this event, senior leader, Dave Green will explain flight-paths, Attitude to Learning reports, target grades and Learning Review Day reports. All parents are welcome, but it will be very useful for Year 7 parents and those new to Willink.
I do hope that you found some downtime last week and are recharged ready for the run up to Christmas! Some schools of course, have had an extended break in October. At Willink we take the view, to maximise the time for exam classes in lessons, that time should be added to the summer break rather than in the autumn. If you were caught out this time, and it is school policy not to authorise holidays out of term time, may I recommend checking term dates on our website. To suit our needs our school holidays often differ slightly to the term dates publicised by West Berkshire.
If you missed out on last term’s Parent Information Evening on young people and the effect of screen time on their cognitive and emotional development or, indeed, the use and abuse of social media, they please check out our advice on the website. For the diary, this term’s PIE is on Thursday 21st November and will be on the curriculum and assessment, focusing primarily on key stage 3.
Finally, having mentioned Christmas, please do use the SchoolAngel tab on our website to access your online shopping and raise funds for the school; every little helps!
Finally, we have been given the go-ahead by the DfE to publicise our designation as a Maths Hub. In case you missed last weeks press release and article in the Newbury Weekly News, here it is in full:
The Willink School, Burghfield Common, has been selected as a Maths Hub Lead school for the South West of England following a successful bid to the Department for Education (DfE). Maths Hubs help schools and colleges lead improvement in mathematics education in England. They harness all the maths leadership and expertise in primary, secondary and post 16 sectors within an area to develop and spread excellent practice to continually improve the level of teaching for this key subject. There are 37 Maths Hubs that together, serve all the regions of England. Each Maths Hub is a partnership, led locally by an outstanding school or college or Teaching School. The lead school identifies strategic partners, who help plan and evaluate the hub’s work, and operational partners, who help carry out the hub’s work. Essentially, The Willink will be a maths leadership network centre involving schools, colleges and other organisations with maths education expertise from across it’s dedicate area.
Peter Fry, Head at The Willink said: “The Willink is both delighted and proud to have been selected to be the Lead School for a new Maths Hub serving schools in Wiltshire, Swindon, West Berkshire, Reading, Wokingham and Bracknell Forest. Becoming a Maths Hub builds on our excellence in maths, but also the partnerships created to improve initial teacher training, providing support for local schools and professional development. The new Maths Hub will begin work in summer 2020 and we are looking forward to working in partnership with schools across the whole hub area.” Dominic Boeck, West Berkshire’s Executive Member for Education said: “This is a very exciting opportunity for The Willink that will go on to provide endless opportunities for developing and sharing of best practice that will benefit a great number of pupils and students.”
This year we are shadowing the work of the Boolean Maths Hub, based in Bristol, and the Berks, Bucks and Oxon (BBO) Maths Hub, based in Hugh Wycombe, before we are fully fledged ourselves and take over areas previously catered for by them. We shall need a new name, facilities and create some new posts. So exciting times!
Avid WeLink readers will be familiar with my account of the dire funding situation for schools that has materialised over the last four or five years. The government’s recent commitment to increase school funding by £7.1 billion is a welcome recognition of this underfunding. That said, about 80% of schools will still have less money per pupil in 2020 in real terms than they did when the cuts began to bite in 2015, and a further £2.5bn is required to reverse the cuts, particularly in post 16 education and special educational needs – to support the most vulnerable children and young people in the education system.
Happily the Willink is on track to come out of deficit in April 2020. However, we shall need to be prudent and consider carefully our spending priorities. One of those priorities is books for the Learning Resource Centre and maintenance of our IT infrastructure. This links to our Sponsored Walk – can we please ask that any outstanding money raised is sent into school by the end of this week.
On a similar theme, may I remind parents of the painting and decorating morning on Saturday 19th October. The day begins at 9.00am with breakfast and finishes by 12.30pm. Brushes, rollers, paint and refreshments are provided! All help is gratefully received. If you are able to come along please contact the school office – this helps us to plan the day.
We also invite parents and students (and parents of prospective Willink students) to our Parent Information Evening this Thursday at 6.30pm to see "Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age". Screenagers is a thought-provoking, award-winning film which explores aspects of family life. It depicts conflict over social media and video games and includes insights from expert psychologists, scientists and academics. The film offers solutions over how we, and our children, can better navigate the digital world. It will certainly help family discussions on the theme!
Finally, please look out for information regarding Milestone Assessments and Homework which will be sent out with this week’s Parent Digest.
It is has probably happened too early to call it an Indian Summer, but I hope you have enjoyed it. We certainly took full advantage of the weather for our Sponsored walk on Thursday last. One thousand students and staff undertook the 6 mile walk across the “wilderness” of the Ufton countryside. All safely returned. It is a great social activity and good for the mind, chatting with students and staff in a completely different setting. Last year it was “hike for hygiene”, this year “books and bulbs” – raising funds for our Learning Resource Centre (not just books) and bulbs ….. digital bulbs and kit to maintain and develop our IT network and resources. Remember, this year we are claiming gift aid on monies received. I shall keep you posted with the fund-raising in subsequent editions of WeLink.
Our Open Evening on Thursday was very successful too and it was great to see so many students willing to give up time as subject ambassadors or tour guides. Feedback from visitors said they were great. Of course, visiting the school while in session is just as important. Monday mornings are set aside for tours this term, but tours can be arranged for any time by making an appointment. For September 2020 we believe about 50 places will be available to students living outside our catchment.
During Open Evening I did have a discussion with a parent of a prospective future Willink student about the value of learning a language and whether students should take a language to GCSE. Last week a British Council report revealed a 19% reduction in entries for GCSE languages in 2019 and a 54% reduction in undergraduates studying languages in the last decade. Whilst it is true that languages are difficult, that on average nationally students gain one grade lower in their language GCSE than other GCSEs (explains why it is extremely difficult to gain a top grade), that Britain is the worst country in Europe for language learning, that our students’ average grades would be higher if they did not study a language ……….. we believe a curriculum with a strong language element is the right curriculum for most students. As the debate around Brexit continues and changes are brewing in politics, trade and immigration, having a population that speaks more than one language could become increasingly important. Who knows, when Brexit finally concludes, people across Europe may be less inclined to make their second language English! Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders recently said “we need to rejuvenate language learning in Britain, and remember that being part of an international community, being able to communicate with people from other nations, matters”. By half term, a third of our year 7s will embark on their study of Mandarin, with the rest of year 7 to follow later in the year. Mandarin will join French, German and Spanish as our fourth language and the Mandarin Club starts next week. WeLink shall keep you posted on these developments too.
Welcome to the autumn term at the Willink. An even warmer welcome if you are a first time student or parent new to Willink. May I just remind parents that they 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 do not want to repeat the content of my letter sent to you last week, suffice to say we are up and running with a full complement of staff. There were a few teething problems with our new catering service, mainly to do with students wishing to buy food without money in their accounts, but also the speed of service as staff come to terms with the new system. However, all feedback on the quality of food and new facilities has been extremely positive!
I hope you were able to catch the headlines concerning our excellent examination results through the media and via my “welcome back” letter. If this missed you by please view the details on our website. Early results analysis indicate our results at GCSE (86% grade 4+ in English and mathematics) were amongst the highest of non-selective schools in Berkshire; analysis also predicts a strong Progress 8 score of +0.37.
In my last piece for WeLink I said I would write about the school’s trip to Moldova in July, the school’s 15th trip, my first. There is more on this trip within this edition, but the trip, masterminded by Clare Downey, epitomises the Willink spirit and our moto “Village School, global outlook”. During the trip our students, great ambassadors for both the school and country, led a 5 day summer school, in two village schools for 150 students - of lessons in maths, technology, creative arts and sport. They undertook meals on wheels for the elderly, completed painting and decorating in the school and lived with families in our host village. Each day our students were challenged and learnt generic skills of leadership, organisation, resilience, initiative and communication. The Eon Creaga School and the local community too gain a great deal from our visit – a cultural exchange and greater international understanding. This year the trip hosted a visit by the British Ambassador to Moldova and a visit from Moldovan & Romanian TV. I am privileged to have taken part. It makes one reflect on your own values. It was also wonderful to spend time with some of our fantastic students. The Moldova trip is just one example of the great opportunities provided for our students by Willink staff.
There are two final items from me. Firstly a reminder of this years’ Sponsored Walk on Thursday 19th September – the theme is “books and bulbs”, raising money for our Library, reading and IT equipment. Money spent on these resources enable us to continue our recent improvements in school facilities and accommodation. Secondly, an early “heads up” about our first Painting and Decorating Day on Saturday 19th October. If you are available please reserve your place on the painting team by contacting the school office.
I hope that I shall see you at one of the “settling into the year” evenings or with brush in hand!