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On Monday 22 February, the Prime Minister announced the return of all schools with effect from Monday 8 March 2021, following students being tested for Covid-19. We have written to our families detailing individual arrangements for testing, and will communicate again when any further details are released.
As with all aspects of the pandemic thus far, we continue to keep the national guidance under close review, and we will update our families with any further developments once we become aware.
What controls are in place?
In line with DfE guidance, the following system of controls is paramount in school:
- Minimise contact with individuals who are unwell by ensuring at those who have Coronavirus symptoms, or who have someone in their household who does, do not attend school.
- Ensure face coverings are used whenever social distancing is not possible, and in communal areas.
- Clean hands thoroughly and more often than usual.
- Ensure good respiratory hygiene by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach – this includes ensuring a high level of ventilation in all rooms, so you may wish to discuss with your child about wearing an extra layer of clothing under their uniform during the colder months.
- Ensure enhanced cleaning, including cleaning frequently touched surfaces often, using standard products such as detergents and bleach.
- Minimise contact between individuals and maintain social distancing whenever possible, according to the individual school’s particular circumstances (i.e. not all schools will be able to operate in the exact same manner).
- Keep occupied spaces well ventilated.
- Where necessary, wear appropriate PPE (for example, when a member of the school community falls ill).
- Promote and engage in asymptomatic (lateral flow) testing.
Additionally, in response to any infection:
- Engage with the NHS Test and Trace process.
- Manage confirmed cases of Coronavirus amongst the school community.
- Contain any outbreak by following local health protection team advice.
What are the dates for the start of students’ return to face-to-face lessons?
Our testing programme will run from Monday 8 March, and students will be invited into school for their first Lateral Flow test in a separate letter. On the day after their first negative test, students will return to face-to-face lessons. Any student needing to self-isolate will be able to engage with lessons remotely, as in term 2.
Please do not send your child into school if they are displaying symptoms of Coronavirus, as Lateral Flow tests are only for individuals who are not displaying symptoms. If your child is unable to attend their test or their face-to-face lessons, please contact our absence line.
How does the Covid-19 testing process work?
Initially, your child will be able to access Lateral Flow testing in school, to ensure that they understand the swabbing process. We will be able to deploy at-home test kits after this, which will allow you and your child to view their test result within 30 minutes. Tests take place twice per week, provided consent has been provided (parents/carers need to give consent for under-16s); you will be emailed a consent form in a separate letter.
Any student who tests positive will be required to self-isolate, along with their household. Anyone who tests positive via their Lateral Flow test will need to take a PCR (laboratory-based) test as a follow-up.
The process of testing at home is shown here:
You will be asked to notify us via an online form, each time your child takes a Lateral Flow test.
I have heard that other members of our household and support bubble can be regularly tested once my child returns to school, is this correct?
Yes, this is the case, although we are unfortunately not able to supply test kits for family members.
There are different ways for a household, childcare or support bubble to collect their test to take at home, twice-weekly:
- through your employer, if they offer testing to employees;
- by collecting a home test kit from a local test site – anyone aged 18 or over can collect 2 packs of 7 tests;
- by ordering a home test kit online – please do not order online if you can access testing through other routes, this frees up home delivery for those who need it most.
If you have any queries about the tests, and you live in England, please call 119 (free from mobiles and landlines). Lines are open every day from 7am to 11pm.
How will live, remote, lessons operate if my child has to self-isolate or shield?
Our online provision follows the curriculum as is laid out in the documentation provided here and lessons are delivered via Microsoft Teams. Students follow their usual school timetable, which includes Tutor Periods, Assemblies and lessons as usual. Lessons are delivered live, in real-time, and work is submitted by students via Teams, or a platform that has been linked to Teams by the class teacher. The teacher will assess students’ work via Teams, or their own subject-specific platform, and Teams as a platform is well-designed to enable teacher-student dialogue.
We are committed to improving the standards of assessment and dialogue throughout the lifetime of Virtual Valley Park, and will use virtual quality assurance processes to drive improvement, where we are unable to monitor physical classrooms.
Students who are at home join their in-school class via Teams and they will be able to access the same high-quality lesson materials as any peers who are in school (account will be taken, however, of the fact that students who are at home will not have access to the specialist equipment required for some practical subjects).
SEND support via our Foundation Learning Department and our SENCOs continues whether students are learning from home or from school, and is ready to adapt to the specific needs of each child.
Any parent/carer who has questions, should contact their child’s Head of Year in the first instance.
A number of online training videos, incorporating e-safety principles, produced by our Computer Science Department, can also be found here. If there is a topic that you would like to see us add, get in touch and let us know!
As you can imagine, it is very important that any technical difficulties relating to your child’s iPad are reported promptly to our IT Support team.
Email IT Support TeamSimilarly, please inform us as soon as possible if you have connectivity problems at home that may prevent your child from participating in remote lessons.
What will happen if I need to come into school for a meeting?
We would respectfully ask that any requests for a meeting with a member of staff be made via email.
To ensure the safety and wellbeing of all members of the school community, including our Receptionists, we will be unable to accommodate walk-in appointments. Please do not put our staff in the difficult position of having to turn you away.
We now hold meetings virtually (including parent consultation events) to protect all parties, and the very small number of visitors who do arrive will be requested to stand well back from our Reception desk, to protect the colleagues who work there.
Will my child have to wear a mask?
The national guidance regarding face coverings has been upgraded with effect from 8 March, to include the wearing of face coverings by all members of the school community in communal areas, and in all circumstances where a two-metre social distance cannot be maintained. This will mean that students and teachers will now wear their masks in the classroom.
Anyone using public transport must ensure that they wear an appropriate face covering, and that they dispose of it safely when it is no longer needed. Reusable fabric masks must be stored securely until they are next needed, ideally in a plastic bag.
If you wish your child to bring more than one mask, then this is fine so long as storage is in a sealed plastic bag, or masks are thrown away safely after use. We will continue to reinforce the healthy use of face coverings in our work with students, and hand sanitiser is available in all rooms as well as in over 60 locations around the school site – we are grateful to families for their support in reinforcing this message with students at home, too.
- Hands should be sanitised before and after putting on/taking off a face mask;
- Removed masks should be stored in a sealed plastic bag, or thrown away in a waste (not recycling) bin;
- Face coverings that have become damp through wear should be replaced.
What about Canteen provision?
There will unfortunately be no Canteen provision on the school site until term 5, so students and staff should bring a packed lunch with them (we will continue to supply FSM vouchers).
Once the Canteen does reopen, there will be a take-away service at break times in the Canteen, as well as before school (from 7.30am), after school (from 3.05pm) and at lunchtime (1.20-2.00pm).
We expect all members of the community to wear a face covering whilst queuing and when inside the Canteen building. Access is via a one-way system and students return to their year group area in order to eat.
We have a timed lunch-time rota that changes daily (reminders are shared by Form Tutors) so that different year groups can take it in turns to “go first.”
Will the school be operating a rota – i.e. will my child only be in school for part-days or on certain days per week?
No. We are not permitted to operate a rota system, unless this is the only way that we can staff an on-site provision (as happened in Term 2).
Attendance became mandatory again for all students from 8 March and we are responsible for recording attendance and following up all absences (including for students who are isolating and not participating in our at-home provision).
Will the school be operating a staggered start to the school day?
As in previous terms, we will not be staggering the start of the school day. Tutor time will commence at 8.40am as usual. We have given careful consideration to the possibility of operating under a staggered arrangement, but this is not compatible with running the broad and balanced curriculum that we are expected to provide, and it would cause difficulties for our students using public transport for their journeys to and from school.
Our timetables enable students to undertake a variety of different subjects, so we are not able to offer a significant staggered start without also withdrawing certain lessons. The government guidance is very clear that schools need to offer a broad and balanced curriculum without restriction, and we know that many other secondary schools have a similar issue here.
We also understand that some families may struggle with any significant changes that are made to the start of the school day and do not want to make this situation any more challenging for parents/carers than it already is.
It is recommended that students who are travelling to school under their own steam (e.g. walking, cycling) arrive prior to 8.40am and wait in the area that has been allocated for their year group. The main gate is much less busy earlier in the morning and typically becomes much more congested from 8.15am, so families should build this into their morning routines if possible. Students should wear a face covering just as they would when in a corridor moving between lessons.
Please talk to us if you are having difficulties with buses and/or public transport, so that we can work collaboratively on a solution.
Will the school be staggering students’ departure from school?
Yes, slightly – we allow campus students to leave either through our pedestrian gate or via the top of our car park. Since the car park will be used as a thoroughfare, we will not therefore be able to admit any cars to the site (or allow any cars to depart) between 2.50pm and 3.15pm, so that we can ensure a safe exit. We hope you understand that we have endeavoured to keep time changes to a minimum so that lesson times are not too disrupted.
- Year 7 will be dismissed at 2.55pm;
- Year 8 will be dismissed at 2.55pm;
- Year 9 will be dismissed at 3.00pm;
- Year 10 will be dismissed at 3.00pm;
- Year 11 will be dismissed at 3.05pm;
- Sixth Form will be dismissed at 2.50pm.
As the gates are busy areas, students need to wear a face covering as they depart, which can be removed once they are in a quieter area away from the school gate.
If you are collecting your child from school, please support us (and keep yourself safe, too) by arranging to meet them away from the busy school gate.
Does the school have a one-way system?
Yes, in line with government suggestion, we have implemented a one-way system throughout the school that should be observed by staff and students at all times, even at quiet times of the day.
As with all our Covid-19 strategies, we will keep the efficacy of the one-way system under review and will amend as and when required – we know that this is not ideal, however it is a key protective measure in the fight against infection. Now the weather is improving, we will actively encourage students to move between lessons outdoors wherever possible.
Will my child need to have their temperature taken each day?
No, this will not be necessary. Guidance from the government states that taking the temperature of students is not recommended, as it is not a reliable means of identifying Coronavirus.
My child is in the Sixth Form and has subjects usually at Invicta. Will these still be possible?
Yes, lessons will be able to go ahead at Invicta. The expectation that students will wear a face mask/face covering is campus-wide, and so similar expectations to those at Valley Park will be in place when they visit Invicta.
I know that students are kept in ‘bubbles’ – what does this mean?
For secondary schools, ‘bubbles’ are the groups of students between which we must minimise mixing. In order for us to run our full curriculum, our ‘bubbles’ are:
- Year 7,
- Year 8,
- Year 9,
- Year 10,
- Year 11,
- Campus Sixth Form students.
Each bubble has been allocated an outside area of the school and, wherever possible, at break and lunch times, students will be outside where the risk of infection is lower. Arrangements have been made for students in the event of inclement weather, and we have also introduced a one-way system (see above) to ensure that students spend less time outside during lesson changes now that the weather is less favourable.
Wherever possible, ‘bubbles’ will be kept apart in order to minimise the number of contacts that a child has during a typical school day. We will operate this arrangement because it will not always be possible to keep students two metres apart from one another, so risk is minimised by reducing the number of interactions, and by students wearing their face coverings throughout all transitions.
Will my child be with the same group of students for all lessons all day? Will my child be in the same room all day? Will teachers remain in the ‘bubbles’ too?
Our timetable permits students access to specialist classrooms and workshops, so students are not taught in the same room all day. We will continue to keep this arrangement under review, however we do not currently anticipate any further changes at this stage.
Teachers need to move between ‘bubbles’ in order for us to operate a full curriculum with specialist teachers delivering separate subjects; social distancing will of course be in place between students and teachers, so this is in line with the government guidance.
If children are being taught in ‘bubbles’ does this mean my child will have to change their options? They don’t study the same subjects as their peers.
No. For students in Year 8 and above, having year group bubbles means that students can attend their usual classes/lessons.
Where is my child’s outside space?
Year groups have been allocated the following areas, and these have not changed for Term 4 onwards:
- Year 7 – patio outside the Annexe.
- Year 8 – patio behind Mrs Hutchinson’s office.
- Year 9 – area outside the Canteen building.
- Year 10 – front of school.
- Year 11 – Plaza in front of Taylor Building.
- Sixth Form –area behind Taylor Building, and the top floor of Taylor Building.
Where students need to pass by or through a different ‘bubble’ location, they must already be wearing their face covering.
If the school is relying on outside areas before/after school, at break time and at lunchtime, what will happen if the weather is very bad?
Tutor rooms have been allocated according to year group zones, and we will be able to deploy these rooms, our Gallery and Hall spaces in the event of poor weather. Outside and inside areas will be supervised at break and lunch times only.
Will classes be split, i.e. will there be 15 students per class or tutor group?
Unfortunately, this is not possible due to the increased number of rooms that we would require, and the number of additional teachers that would be needed. In line with government guidance, we will be keeping students in bubbles to minimise the number of interactions in any given school day, but we are unable to reduce class sizes significantly.
We have reviewed all classrooms in school to ensure that only the biggest rooms are used for large groups and we will continue to monitor lessons very closely. Although it is not possible in some classrooms to have all students facing the front of the classroom, we have taken steps (including moving furniture to provide more space and/or additional seating) to minimise instances of students facing one another.
How will the school moderate demand on key areas (for example WCs and in the Canteen during break and lunch times)?
We extended our morning break time by 10 minutes (from 11.00 to 11.30am) back in September, to allow students additional time to access toilet facilities and to eat either their own snack from home, or one purchased from the Canteen. This arrangement will continue.
We have rearranged staff duties at break and lunch times to ensure that supervision is in place in all student areas across the school, and we will continue to require students to wear masks/face coverings in busy areas. The Senior Team supervises the Canteen facility at lunchtime, and will continue to do so once it opens in Term 5.
We are not able to divide up toilet facilities between separate year groups, but cleaning routines have been heightened throughout the school day, and handwashing facilities are available in all WC locations.
We know that many students visit their Head of Year and/or Student Support Manager at break and lunch times, and so both will continue to be available in their year group’s areas during break and lunch times.
Given the banks of lockers that a school of our size possesses, we have been very concerned about the number of students who would potentially need to use these at any one time. We have therefore taken the temporary decision to not use lockers until we are sure that we have a way to do this that will safeguard all users.
How will the increased frequency of cleaning be implemented in school?
Our Site Team is cleaning throughout the school day on an enhanced basis, paying particular attention to WC areas and frequently-touched surfaces.
All classrooms are equipped with antibacterial sprays and cloths so that students will sanitise their work stations (and their equipment, if they wish) before and after use; all rooms have antibacterial hand gel available for students to use once they have wiped their area down.
In classrooms, chairs can be wiped down and we have minimised the use of shared resources such as worksheets, text books and other equipment such as printers and photocopiers.
Rooms are ventilated as much as possible throughout our school days and students will be encouraged to move around school via our outside spaces wherever possible.
Mr Sargent will be asking our Student Council for their feedback throughout the course of the year.
One of the strategies for minimising the spread of Coronavirus is to wash one’s hands frequently, or to use sanitiser. Is sanitiser available in school?
Yes! We have equipped all classrooms with bottles of sanitiser and have also procured wall-mounted dispensers for key areas such as entrances to buildings and areas alongside doorways. If your child wishes to bring a small sanitiser container into school with them, then they are able to do so also.
Colleagues run through hand hygiene routines with students when they enter/leave rooms and we will also continue to promote these routines via posters, in tutor periods and in lessons. Please continue to help us by reinforcing hygiene routines at home.
In the unlikely event that we have an instance where hand sanitiser and other safety measures are not treated by one or more students responsibly or with respect, the student(s) in question will be dealt with according to the school’s behaviour policy.
How frequently am I expected to wash my child’s school uniform?
Guidance on the washing of school uniform states that uniform does not need to be washed any more than usual, and there is no need for any special type of detergent. Reusable masks, however, should be washed after use.
What equipment does my child need to bring into school?
Students should bring their school bag with them and will need the following as a matter of routine – these should be kept in a pencil case that can be easily wiped clean, so plastic is ideal (fabric pencil cases are to be avoided at this time, please).
Keep the following items in a suitable school bag, big enough to contain an A4 folder:
- A small selection of colouring pencils,
- Pair of compasses,
- Scientific calculator,
- Charged iPad.
Additionally, one or more plain face masks/face coverings + a sealable plastic bag in which to keep worn reusable masks after use.
Although we have plenty on hand throughout the school buildings and classrooms, your child may wish to bring a small hand sanitiser dispenser into school with them, and they are expected to carry their own small packet of tissues so that they always have a tissue close by.
All children who are using public transport must carry and use a face covering when travelling.
What happens in PE/Sport/Dance/Drama lessons?
Our risk assessment processes highlighted changing rooms as an area of concern and we took the decision back in September to have students in all year groups attending school in their full PE kit on days when they have a timetabled PE, Drama or Dance lesson. This also means that students (who are unable to use lockers) do not have to carry around a full PE bag all day.
Our expectation is that PE kit is worn respectfully in the same way that students wear their usual uniform, and form tutors will double-check that students aren’t wearing their kit too often!
Some children have ‘old’ green Valley Park hoodies that still fit them and have requested that they be able to continue to wear them. This is fine in the short term but will be revisited for September 2021.
You can check our uniform and PE kit list on the school website and we have two uniform suppliers – Pages and Simmonds – who can also advise.
We are having difficulties with uniform supplies due to Covid-19 causing delivery delays. What should we do?
Although we are not in a position to supply the missing uniform ourselves, please do tell us. Due to GDPR regulations, we cannot ask Simmonds and Pages for the names of anyone who is awaiting deliveries, but if you communicate it to us, this will avoid an embarrassing conversation for your child. We know these times are presenting their own challenges, but it always helps to know in advance.
These are the suppliers of our uniform:
A reminder that skirts have needed to be worn with black tights (rather than socks) since September, and PE skorts must be worn with black leggings underneath.
Will my child be able to borrow equipment from their teacher?
In the main, this is still not feasible as equipment that is loaned will need to be cleansed and/or quarantined before it is re-used. Whilst no one will want to see a child without a pencil, it can be easily seen that high demand for loaned resources will quickly lead to a situation in which there may no longer be any equipment left to loan. This is particularly important in subjects that require a scientific calculator – these cannot be sprayed with antibacterial spray and would need to be quarantined for 72 hours after use!
In terms of equipment in lessons such as PE, DT, Catering, Art, these departments have already been operating protocols to ensure that equipment is thoroughly cleansed and/or quarantined between uses. We have secured access to electronic books for students, so that they can continue to improve their reading skills without the need to share Library books, and homework will be completed electronically to minimise the risk from sheets being taken to/from home.
Will the school be holding assemblies?
Assemblies continue to be virtual, and can be accessed here:
What happens if my child falls ill, or develops symptoms? What happens if someone else in our household has to isolate?
We must ask that you support us in ensuring that anyone who is feeling ill with Coronavirus symptoms stays at home, so that we can protect our school community as much as possible.
As a reminder, the symptoms of Coronavirus are:
- a new and persistent cough,
- a high temperature,
- or a loss of (or change in) one’s normal sense of smell.
If your child becomes unwell during the school day, we will contact you and make the necessary arrangements for them to be collected and taken home. We will isolate them wherever possible, and we have PPE available for the member of staff who supervises them prior to collection, if needed. Once an ill child has been collected, we will have enhanced cleaning routines in place for the area within which they were located.
Once a student is sent home, they will need to follow the ‘guidance for households with possible or confirmed Coronavirus infection’ (here). We will obviously work closely with PHE and the Test and Trace service in the event of any confirmed case in school.
We are required to take swift action if we become aware that someone who has attended school has tested positive for Coronavirus, and we must send home anyone who has come into close contact with an individual who has received a positive test result. Anyone who has been sent home in this situation will be required to self-isolate.