Bay House and Brune Park schools in Gosport will start next term with a two-day week

TWO secondary schools will start next term with a two-day week as they adjust to coronavirus social distancing – sparking fears from parents.

Tuesday, 21st July 2020, 7:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 21st July 2020, 9:52 am

A letter sent to parents by Bay House and Brune Park Schools, which are part of the Gosport and Fareham Multi-Academy Trust (GFM), proposed in addition to sixth form students that only two year groups would be onsite on any one day during a ‘transition period’. The plan also included staggered start and finishes to both the school day and lunchtimes.

Explaining the decision the original letter stated: ‘We feel it’s crucial that current guidelines continue to be adhered to when school reopens in September. Because we are determined to keep all of our students and staff as safe and protected as possible we have decided that the GFM secondary school timetables in September may appear quite different to what was once considered the norm.’

The school also said they wanted to see whether they would need to re-evaluate social distancing measures once more children were in school.

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Chief executive of the Gosport and Fareham Multi-Academy Trust, Ian Potter, has reassured parents that all children will return to school after the two week transition period.

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However, following the education secretary’s pledge that all pupils in all schools will return in September, the plan has sparked concern amongst some parents with many contacting the schools and posting comments on parental groups’ social media sites.

One parent who contacted The News and whose son is due to go into Year 11, said: ‘My son has already missed a lot of school and this suggestion of a transition period back into school is not helpful for him. If they were going to limit timetables then surely GCSE should have been a priority?’

‘It’s also not helpful for parents who have work commitments. After the education secretary’s announcement this was not expected.’

Parents at Bay House and Brune Park Schools are concerned that pupils will only be returning for the two days each week for the first two weeks of term. Picture: Keith Woodland

Another area of concern was over the suggestion going forward of a more ‘blended curriculum model with a greater emphasis of online working from home with the the letter stating ‘we also strongly believe that this new way of working lends itself to a much more 21st century school model’.

The parent, who asked to remain anonymous, said: ‘This is just far too vague. My son has learning needs and so I’m thinking of not going back to work this year so I can support him to get to where he needs to be.’

It was a sentiment shared on Brune Park Parents Facebook site.

One poster commented: ‘I'm not happy about it. It's an important year for them - not all kids work well from home. They need to be back in a proper school environment.’

Another added: ‘Fuming. I hope it’s only two weeks. The government said that kids return to normal schooling in September – this isn't.’

There were some posts of support for the schools’ more cautious approach with one parent stating ‘I like the idea of a transition period to ease them back into the school routine as by September it will be over five months they've had off.’

In a move to reassure parents, GFM chief executive, Ian Potter, has written a second letter confirming that all children will return full-time by the end of September and acknowledged a lack of clarity over the concept of ‘blended learning’. He also said that some parents had been supportive of the phased return – particularly in GFM primary schools.

Mr Potter stated: ‘The letter I have personally written to parents offers them reassurance that all students in the GFM will be returning to school with a full timetable in September, in line with government policy.

‘We apologise for a lack of clarity in our first communication with parents that implied the schools were thinking of moving forward with an extended programme of blended online and offline learning. That is not the case.

‘The first two week “probation period” is being deployed in schools up and down the country to support settling in for students as we all readjust to delivering classroom learning in a Covid-secure way.

‘We have to plan and prepare for flexibility should the need arise for school closures further down the line.’

Within the new letter Mr Potter did acknowledge there may be a continued need for a ‘short period of personalised online learning either at the start or at the end of the school day’ due to staggered start and finish times.

After Gavin Williamson announced last month ‘we will bring all children in all year groups back to school in September’, the baton of responsibility was passed into the hands of headteachers. While welcoming the sentiment the logistics of managing this pledge has drawn criticism from many of the region's headteachers.

Simon Graham, headteacher at St Edmund’s Catholic School, previously said: ‘The concept of a group bubble of 220 students in a school of 1,200 being moved around school for different lessons and with staggered lunch and break-times with the same number of staff is impossible to timetable.’

Copy of Mr Potter's second letter

We would like to thank our community for the response to letters from our school leaders describing our thinking about how to manage the start of the new school year. The majority have been supportive of the two week transition period, recognising the need for caution in managing reopening. We recognise, however, that for some this is seen as an unnecessary way to mitigate the risk of the virus. Across the primary phase many parents have supported the importance of a gradual transition back to school, helping children to feel safe and confident in the systems that have been implemented across all the school sites. The opportunity for teachers and children to complete extended transition will support the development of positive relationships and firm foundations for the year ahead. The scale of our GFM schools and the risks associated with bringing thousands of people onto our sites in September makes the management of having our schools Covid-secure a vital consideration because we want all to feel confident about being in school.

Please be assured that it is certainly our intention, as far as possible, to have all year groups return to on-site teaching every day after the two week transition period. Staggered start and finish times may mean, for example, that a . We recognise that whilst many children and families have told us about their positive experiences of online learning there have been some challenges with this provision and we are keen to learn lessons from this period.

Please be assured that our priority is to keep your children safe as well as to provide them with the best school experience we can in these uncertain times. However, we accept that we have not communicated clearly enough to explain the complexity of the decisions we are having to make.

The government guidelines about a safe return to a 'Covid secure' school include the necessity for staggered start and finish times, staggered breaks and lunch times. Each 'bubble' must also have its own social space and strict hygiene routines around toilet facilities. The DfE has published detailed guidance about the health and safety 'system of controls' that schools must implement but acknowledges that there cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach where the system describes every scenario. We are working to make informed judgments about how to balance delivering a broad and balanced curriculum with the measures needed to manage risk. Both Bay House School and Sixth Form and Brune Park Community School are very large schools with seven year groups (including the Sixth Form at Bay House) and the logistical challenges this represents are, of course, considerable.

We are currently exploring different models to secure the best education for our young people. The situation is made more complex as we do not yet know how prevalent Covid-19 will be in the community in the winter months.

We are keen to give you more information as well as consult with you on our dynamic risk assessment and ongoing decision-making. We think the best way to do this would be through an online video broadcast. Details of this broadcast and the method by which to offer your feedback will be published on our website shortly.

Our apologies for having added an element of increased uncertainty in these challenging times.

I wish everyone a restful and safe summer.

Ian Potter, GFM CEO

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