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The Headteacher's Blog

Introduction

Welcome to Lydgate Junior School.

We aim to ensure that all children receive a high quality, enjoyable and exciting education.

We feel that our school is a true reflection of the community we serve. Lydgate children are well motivated and come from a range of social and cultural backgrounds. Within the school community we appreciate the richness of experience that the children bring to school. This enhances the learning experiences of everyone and it also gives all pupils the opportunity to develop respect and tolerance for each other by working and playing together. We want your child's time at Lydgate to be memorable for the right reasons - that is, a happy, fulfilling and successful period of his/her childhood.

Yours sincerely,
Stuart Jones

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Introduction

Welcome to Year 3!

The Y3 Team includes Mrs Dutton & Mrs de Brouwer (3D/deB), Miss Cunningham (3EC), Mrs Webb & Mrs Watkinson (3W/W) and Miss Roberts & Mrs Noble (3AR). We have three Teaching Assistants who work with small groups and help across the four classes: Mrs Dale, Ms Kania and Mr Swain. Mrs Proctor, one of the School Governors, also helps out in all four classes.

We will use this blog to keep you up-to-date with all the exciting things that we do in Year 3, share some of the things that the children learn and show you some of their fantastic work. We hope you enjoy reading it!

The Y3 team.

 

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Introduction

Welcome to the Y4 blog. We know that the question that children are mostly asked as they leave school is 'What did you do today?' The response is often 'nothing'! Well, here is where you can find what 'nothing' looks like. In our weekly blogs we will share with you what your children have been getting up to and all of the wonderful work that they have been doing. The Y4 team consists of the following teachers: Mrs Shaw and Mrs Drury in Y4S/D, Mrs Smith and Mrs Smith (this is not a typo!) in Y4S/S, Miss Norris in Y4HN and Miss Wall in Y4AW. The children are supported by our teaching assistants too, including Mrs Biggs, Mr Jenkinson and Mrs Tandy. We also have help from Miss Lee, Mrs Cooper, Mrs Flynn and Mrs Wolff. Some of the children are lucky enough to spend time in The Hub too with Mrs Tandy. What a team!

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Introduction

Welcome to the Year 5 Blog page.

The Year 5 teaching team includes our class teachers, Mrs Parker (5AP), Mrs Rougvie and Mrs Jones (5RJ), Miss Reasbeck and Mrs Ridsdale (5RR) and Mrs Holden (5SH). . Many children are supported by Mrs Hill and Mrs Allen (the Year 5Teaching Assistants) who work with children across the 4 classes. Our Year 5 teaching team aims to create a stimulating learning environment that is safe, happy, exciting and challenging, where each pupil is encouraged to achieve their full potential.

As a parent or carer, you play a massively important role in your child's development and we'd love to work closely with you. Please feel free to make an appointment to see us if you want to discuss your child's attitude to learning, their progress, attainment or anything else that might be on your mind. We'd also love to hear from you if you have any skills that we could use to make our Year 5 curriculum even more exciting. Are you an avid reader, a talented sportsman, a budding artist, a mad scientist or a natural mathematician? Would you be willing to listen to children read on a regular basis? If so, please contact your child’s class teacher. Similarly, if you have a good idea, a resource, a 'contact' or any other way of supporting our learning in year 5, please let us know.

We are working very hard to ensure your child has a successful year 5, please help us with this by ensuring your child completes and returns any homework they are given each week. If there are any issues regarding homework or your child finds a particular piece of homework challenging, then please do not hesitate to come and speak to us. In order to help improve your child’s reading skills, increase their vocabulary and develop their comprehension skills, we also ask that you listen to your child read and ask them questions to ensure they have understood what they have read.

We look forward to keeping you up to date on the exciting things that we do in year 5 through our year group blog.


The Year 5 Team

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Introduction

We are the children in Y6 at Lydgate Junior School. There are 120 of us and our teachers are: Mrs Purdom, Mrs Phillips, Mrs Loosley and Mrs Wymer. Our Monday and Thursday morning teachers are Mrs Farrell, Miss Lee and Mrs Grimsley.We are also very lucky to be helped by Mrs Ainsworth, Mrs Cooper, Mr Jenkinson and Mrs Hornsey. We use this space to share all of the great things that are happening in our classrooms. Join us each week on our learning journey....

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21 Apr 2018

Tell it how it is

Spinning the positive message

Obviously we say it our way, and put news out in a positive light. We do dress things up a bit, choose to keep quiet about less favourable elements of what we do, and talk up the positive.

The cynical or negative minded might look at what any organisation claims as successes and turn over the facts and put the negative. I guess they might see how we talk about the school’s work and outcomes as ‘spin’. Wikipedia wouldn’t – its definition says it needs experts to ‘spin’, and aren’t that! And we don’t charge!

We do structure what we put out to the public of course, we choose the order we talk about things, and we stress parts we want to.

Examples:

  • When we talk about test outcomes we stress the high percentage that achieve the standard and do not focus on the percentage that misses it,
  • When we talk about the opportunities of clubs and activities we do not talk about how many children cannot access them due to capacity limits,
  • When we talk attendance we do not talk absence,
  • When we talk about provision that meets needs, we do not talk about unmet needs and missing provision,
  • When we talk funding we do not talk about what we have dropped to save money,
  • When we talk about engagement we do not talk about children who do not participate in extra activities (though it might be implied).

I received notice this week that our HR-provider advisor was moving to a new post. The email recognised the much-appreciated support and advice she had given to schools, and wished her well in her new job. What did it not do? The email did not say who, if anyone, was picking up that work, and did not talk about a replacement process. Perhaps this was a clever way of telling schools that a quiet cut was taking place.

There are things that I simply avoid writing about, in Newsletters or here on my blog, partly because I fear the reception and perception of what I might discuss and describe. The newly-appointed Minister for Administrative Affairs (Yes, Minister) was told that his decision was ‘brave’, by which the staff meant wrong or foolish or naïve. For me to talk openly about staff reductions and how they reduce what we can offer to children and families, or about behaviour incidents and how they impact on overall safety, relationships and learning, or on site conditions and how they present an image of poor security would undoubtedly be ‘brave’ unless I really wanted to make a political point.

For me the problem of ‘spinning’ is loss of trust – if we overly positively present news that is clearly not that good we lose face, lose trust and lose respect. We are, perhaps, less likely to be believed in future. This may be one element of disillusionment with the politics.

I have looked many times at data and shown how selective presentation can skew the message and interpretation. The same goes for using selective quotes.

I was thanked at our most recent Governor Committee meeting for presenting a succinct report on staffing issues. Not ‘the whole truth’ though all true. Is being selective in what is presented okay because there isn’t time to present it all? Is there trust so that you know we are presenting the important stuff and in an honest way? Does trust require that we sometimes give the negative news as well so you can see we are not sugar-coating everything?

Anyway, to finish in a typically flippant fashion, here’s a picture that represents spin:

 

(Those light-up spinners that are sold all along the promenades on your summer holiday abroad.)

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13 Apr 2018

Collective Worship, Summer term 2018

I understand that our themes for Collective Worship, and a perceived imbalance towards Christian themes, were one of the issues raised by a few parents in their response to the recent Ofsted Inspection questionnaire.

The list below shows what I intend to cover this term. Some have a clear Christian basis, some a faith element only, and some might be seen as totally secular – more ethos and social than ‘worship’.

Being Determined

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

 

Discipline

Training and strengthening by saying, ‘no’ to temptations.

Tolerance

I have a dream, that one day…

Cooperation

Tug of War

Honesty and Truthfulness

http://www.assemblies.org.uk/pri/242/a-tissue-of-lies

Reliability

Nemo

 

 

Caring

Protective Clothing

Patience

William Wilberforce (abolition of the slave trade)

Happiness

The dog, the goose and the jar

Understanding

God Understands Everything

Love in Faith

Why smiles matter / how smiles make a difference

Revolution - change

Making a difference, making things better and better

New Horizons

Leaving and moving on

 

The simple answer as to why we (schools, not just this school) still have a daily ‘act of worship’ is because the Law requires it. ‘Assembly’ has been the tradition, but ever since the 1944 Education Act schools have been required to provide some form of ‘worship’. The most recent requirements and clarifications are looking old, at 24 years ago, but the lines of the 1994 DfE circular still apply.

As long ago as 2004 the then Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, stated that 76% of Secondary Schools were failing to meet their legal requirement on daily acts of worship. If three quarters are not doing what the law requires (but are not being closed down / taken over / locked up / named and shamed) why do we bother? As is most often the case there is a really lengthy answer available that covers education policy history, a chunk of politics, school inspection reports, Law, practice, differences of opinion, accountability, responsibilities, and the needs of our school community. There are dozens of reports and research articles available from academics and secular and non-secular organisations.

The simple answer is in our recent Ofsted Report:

https://reports.ofsted.gov.uk/inspection-reports/find-inspection-report/provider/ELS/106998

School Short Inspection Report,

Lydgate Junior School

Leaders are determined that pupils should achieve well both academically and as rounded individuals who are respectful and make a positive contribution to their school and community. The curriculum ensures that pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is given high priority. Consequently, pupils demonstrate tolerance and respect for others and they value being able to contribute their ideas and suggestions.

Ofsted, April 2018

Pupils ‘demonstrate tolerance and respect’. The curriculum ensures ‘that SMSC development is given high priority.’ Our Collective Worship provision therefore adds to the development of our pupils and is in part responsible for their continued outstanding behaviour.

We do it because it works.

 

If you want to know what the legal requirements are for schools it is covered by Circualr 1/94, found here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/collective-worship-in-schools

Circular number 1/94

Religious Education and Collective Worship

All maintained schools must provide religious education and daily collective worship for all registered pupils and promote their spiritual, moral and cultural development.

Local agreed RE syllabuses for county schools and equivalent grant-maintained schools must reflect the fact that religious traditions in the country are in the main Christian whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of other principal religions.

Collective worship in county schools and equivalent grant-maintained schools must be wholly or mainly of a broadly Christian character.

DfE 1994

 

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30 Mar 2018

Post-Ofsted Fatigue

Many school staff report an emotional hang-over post-Inspection.

The Inspection visit itself is not the only time or source of tension and anxiety – there’s the three to five year build-up, the readiness period of a year or two, the interim self-evaluations, self-review, local authority interim evaluations and visits, target setting, getting and missing, annual performance tables, data, change in data formats, the wait for publication, the anticipated reception and response by stakeholders to the report, the action planning, the discovery that nothing new or unknown comes out, the need to teach the next day and every day, the dawning realisation that nothing has changed, the expectations that we can and will improve further, and the killer which is the instinct to focus on areas to improve rather than the heaps of praise given.

I guess it’s the same as ‘the day after the Lord Mayor’s Parade’ – we build it up, we ready ourselves, we adopt the brace position, we put in massive effort and additional time, we lose sleep, we are often not even observed, we almost anticipate a massive shift based on the make or break nature of the Inspection process.

Research by nfer for Ofsted have shown that, not surprisingly, more staff in schools with good outcomes are happy with the process than in schools judged to ‘require improvement’. More Headteachers report being happy with the process and outcome than teachers do. Schools with negative outcomes from their Inspection report increased staff absence and turn over shortly afterwards. Staff morale can drop and workload simply increases. Yesterday I watched our Support Staff be underwhelmed when we shared the report - they got hardly a mention having been hardly noticed during the one-day Inspection. They clearly hoped to see something about the impact of their work.

I experienced a huge fatigue following our recent Inspection, lasting a couple of weeks. Work was not enjoyable, negativity invaded my thoughts on everything I reviewed, and I was certainly grumpy and irritable.

But now here we are. Fewer than 20 school days from the next set of end of key stage tests and again everything depends on the outcomes, or so it seems. I have caught myself at times and had to give myself a reminder that the scores are not what we are about. These are children who are learning, not numbers being boosted. It must be about promoting children’s learning, not stressing over what a future Ofsted might think about the eventual aggregate number on a chart.

And so we are back at. We are teaching, intervening, boosting, training, redirecting staffing, ‘gap filling’, applying for special arrangements, practising, and children are learning, playing and enjoying school.

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23 Mar 2018

Snow and Adverse Weather

We do not open because we have an attitude of ‘we always open’. If circumstances made it unsafe for us to open then we wouldn’t. We open, then, because we can, and because we are safe to do so. By safe I mean that the school site and buildings are safe to enter and exit, are working well, are well-staffed and have the facilities necessary to open and remain open. Each time we open we reinforce the evidence that we can and should. We do not take risks in opening or with a decision to open. The site has been inspected and worked on. Water is running, toilets working, heating is on, paths are clear enough, emergency exits likewise, school meals are available, enough staff are present to supervise and teach.

The area around the school site (outside it, on the pavements and roads in the vicinity) are not within our control the same way, and are not our responsibility to clear. I could argue that, as parents haven’t handed over their children until the gate then it is their decision to make up until then. Indeed some exercise that ‘right’ and keep their children off school feeling / expressing the feeling that it is not safe to travel. However, like an organisation hosting a major public event, we do consider the local conditions. We inspect outside the school site, though near to it. We do not go to every street of every pupil. That surely is for the parent to decide – not safe to even step down your front path? Parents’  local knowledge and decision.

Around the issue of staffing we have an area of grey – until staff are here or have told us they won’t be able to make it we have the usual level of doubt. On a normal day, with ‘normal’ weather some staff arrive on-site just a moment before their shift starts. They are perfectly entitled to do this, and are never pressurised or ‘required’ to be here earlier than they are paid and directed to be working. On a ‘normal’ weather day I cannot say until that last vital colleague arrives whether we have a full complement and what our initial teaching arrangement needs to be. We assume, not having heard to the contrary, that colleagues are on their way in, and will therefore arrive.  It makes no difference what the weather is – the staff arrival situation / question is the same. Should we require staff to phone in their updates and intentions just because of the weather? Perhaps so, but there is doubt on any day.

When pressed, if pressed, we could accommodate children in fewer but larger classes than normal if we had fewer teachers than planned but all the children. However, if ever we did have a day with not all our teachers here it is likely that we would also have fewer than all our pupils. We could probably put four classes into three or whatever with the three / two or whatever number of teachers.

We are supposed to open 190 days a year for pupils and that is our intention. By being open in adverse weather we demonstrate one key characteristic and one key definition.

We want children and organisations to be resilient. The school demonstrates resilience when it manages just fine with some bad weather. Colleagues do it in spades by being here, ready, prepared and well-equipped. We display a good model. By opening we help other organisations that rely on our parents (their staff) turning up for work. If we close and the parent has to stay home we damage other organisations and services, too. We potentially cut family income if the parent is not paid on a ‘snow day’.

The definition in question is ‘exceptional’. For me to authorise a Leave of Absence request there needs to exceptional circumstance behind the request. Not shutting because of adverse weather shows the level at which we mark ‘exceptional’. We can expect, in winter, in Sheffield, on the edge of the Peak District, and on top of one of the seven hills, for there to be some snow each year. It is, by its recurrence, simply not exceptional. We can expect it, and therefore prepare for it to some degree so as to lessen the impact.

Closing, because of adverse weather, is an option, but adverse weather is not actually a reason in itself. We would make a decision to close because it was not safe to open, or because reasonable steps could not be taken to make it safe to open. This is the same as during an official strike action, or invasion of a cloud of wasps, or if the boilers break down.

Opening later than usual is an option some schools and businesses take. They must have information that suggests that it would not be safe to open as usual but would be safe to open later. Perhaps they know enough staff will have arrived then, or the boiler will be fixed, or paths cleared.

Another school, a neighbour, opening at a different time does prompt questions from parents and for some makes the day harder. Why do we not coordinate? The answer is that we should – we should all open at our usual times. Secondary schools do not ask our opinion about their normal timings. We do not close early when a Secondary School closes early to allow for an early start to parent evenings, for example. The local Infant Schools do not ask or inform us if they are opening late. There is no established method for any school (other than, perhaps, in a Multi-Academy Trust) to inform another about not opening. If we can open on time why should another school force us to change our decision? I understand how this might help the parent or carers with children at two schools, but how does it help the parent with children only at one? Why should they be delayed in continuing with their day? Why should we not get on with teaching and learning if we can?

We do not know every factor that forces other schools into making different decisions to ours. Something as simple as how the wind circulates a building can impact, or whether the Caretaker lives on site. The angle of paths to entrances might mean they catch no sunlight in winter and are difficult to clear, or too many staff members cannot attend on time to provide proper cover. Their decisions are for them to make based on what they know and have to consider.

Each morning we blow a whistle at 08:35. This is the point in the day from which we are responsible for supervising children on site – ten minutes before the start of the school day. The doors are opened and children enter. The 10 minutes before the bell allows space and time in cloakrooms for 479 children to enter easily and comfortably. At 08:45 we ring the bell to indicate the start of the school day – it is when the register is taken. Obviously you cannot ‘take’ a register in no time at all and there will be a certain amount of time when the teacher has the register open on screen. Perhaps they should work in different orders each time they do the list; sQuid certainly allows this with ease. In practice if we do not have a cut-off time then we allow registers to stay open all morning – there has to be a point at which we say the register has been taken and a child is late thereafter. 08:45 is it: not in class then and you are late.

There are two official types of ‘late’, before and after the register closes. These terms or times are actually an administration definition and action. 'Closing the register', as a phrase, goes back to when it was an official, literal, action – the register book was closed shut. It then required an extra job to bring it back to the desk, open at the correct page and change a recorded mark. The teacher has the register open and starts it at 08:45. It is open as an electronic register until they have gone through all 30 children, to establish who is present and what their meal choice is for the day. At the point they ‘Save’ the register it is closed to them – they can make no further alterations. ‘Late before the register closes’ is the grey area / period between a teacher finishing their part of the job and the Office finishing theirs. The admin team have to check all registers are saved (electronically) and all children attending a before-school club, peripatetic instrument lesson or an intervention are marked in. At this point they ‘close’ the register. Children arriving after this point are ‘late after the register closed’. How long does it take to get to class, or to complete a register? I assume they are about the same period of time. A teacher starts the register at 08:45, and a child walks through the gate at the same time. By the time the child has walked to the correct cloakroom, taken off coat and bag, removed what they need from the bag, put the coat on a hook and bag under the bench, and perhaps gone for a wee, the register is done. The way to be on time is to be on site before the register starts i.e. between 08:35 and 08:45.

We send a text / email to parents of children who are late more than once in any week. It informs the parent that their child was late more than once in the last week. It does not threaten legal action or the intervention of the Attendance Service. It reminds parents about punctuality and when school starts. It alerts some parents that, though they sent their child off in good time to arrive before the start of the school day, their child was not here on time. Many parents find this very useful.

Whatever the weather may be, if we are open at the usual time, register is at 08:45 and arriving after that point is ‘late’. Adverse weather may be the reason, or its impact on transport more accurately, but the child is still ‘late’ arriving, just as a member of staff would be late if they arrived after their shift start time. We have to save registers for all sorts of reasons – it tells the kitchen how many meals are ordered, and it provides a headcount in case of emergency evacuation. So we save the register, closing it, and arriving after then is considered ‘late’.

There are many codes available to schools to record reasons for absence but none exists in the list for ‘adverse weather’. There is illness, educational visit, authorised leave, dual registration, unauthorised leave, no reason yet given, late before register closes and so on, but no code for ‘adverse weather’. There is a code to show that school was shut for all pupils, or for some, but this is because the school has made that decision. Therefore absence in adverse weather, perhaps because the parent could not safely travel due to road conditions and having a young infant with them adding to difficulties, is recorded as an absence. In the vast majority of cases it will be authorised on the first day (as I do not know what the road conditions are like on every road in Sheffield) as long as a parent informs school of the situation. It is highly unlikely that any more will come about from that absence. It may, though, be a factor considered in ‘persistent absence’ cases when we are reviewing data with the Attendance Officer.

Prosecutions by the Local Authority for poor attendance do happen. A recent report showed, by access to nation-wide data through a Freedom of Information request, that Sheffield has an above average rate of prosecutions per 1,000 pupils. This school has a record of none in the last five years. Our average attendance is significantly above the national average and target. Around 10% of absence is for leave of absence. Only 0.3% is unauthorised absence. This is not to say I would not ask the LA to consider a prosecution, but that I have not felt it necessary or helpful to do so. A child with persistent absence (below 90%), where attendance plans are not working or being supported by the parents, who lives just over the road, and who does not come to school in the snow, might cause an individual decision to be made.

The primary legislation on school admissions gives the parent the right to express a preference for the school they want their child to attend. In practice this means most go to the local school and some travel from outside the catchment area. Theoretically, a parent could send their child to school in a different authority or city – a child at our school could live in Derby (as long as they got a place first). The parent then has a responsibility alongside that right – to get the child to school on time each day. Parents choose to send their children to our school, and those from further away or with more difficult journeys, perhaps with two buses, knowingly choose to do so. That snow makes the journey difficult is entirely foreseeable and could be seen as something the parent should think about before applying for a place.

Only when the LA offers a school place more than 3 miles way from home (for children aged 8 and over) does it then offer transport costs. Less than this and the parent is expected to pay the cost themselves as the journey is considered to be within reasonable walking distance. Walking distance is a fundamental part of school place allocation. Obviously adverse weather does affect the state of pavements as well as roadways. This can make walking to school difficult. As explained earlier however, decisions about conditions on the parent’s street and whether it is safe to travel are for the parent to make, as it is for colleagues.

The policy for staff attendance in adverse weather says:

All staff (teaching and support staff) have a contractual obligation to be at work. Staff should be prepared to make alternative travelling arrangements for arriving at school on time or as soon as possible after the normal start time should adverse weather conditions make this necessary.

Staff with disabilities may be granted special leave with pay subject to Headteacher approval.

Some staff have childcare or other domestic arrangements which may make it difficult for them to change their early morning routine in order to arrive on time. Delays in travel may therefore be unavoidable.  However, staff must make every effort to arrive at school on time or as soon as possible thereafter.

It is recognised that some staff may need to take time off to care for dependants. Although staff do have the right to time off to care for dependants in such unforeseen events, this statutory right does not give an entitlement to unreasonable periods of extended leave.

There may be difficulties for staff with long journeys.  However, all staff must make every reasonable effort to attend on working days. Where pupils are not present staff can undertake relevant training or planning activities. Staff may be permitted to undertake some work at home, however this is subject to Headteacher approval and must be for specific agreed activities.

With no definition of what ‘every reasonable effort’ is or what ‘every effort’ means the Headteacher is still left to use discretion. It is clear however that snow, ice, cold etc. are not to be used as excuses – it is reasonable for an employer to expect an employee to try to come to work every day they are paid to attend. This is the same as for pupils – they should attend every day also, and try to be on time every day, too.

Personal factors will be considered. Disability or pregnancy may make travel more hazardous and less advised. This is the same for staff and parents and pupils.

On matters of pay, the Policy states:

Under the school’s leave of absence policy the Headteacher can choose to authorise paid leave for ‘other reasons’. It is entirely the Headteacher’s decision whether or not to use this discretion to authorise payment in circumstances such as staff with long and difficult journeys, or staff who may be injured or pregnant etc. that may present a higher risk in getting to work. Where the Headteacher chooses to make such decisions, they are obliged to ensure all staff are treated fairly and consistently.

Staff are likely to be very well-aware of the way in which the Headteacher exercises such discretion in all situations covered by the Leave of Absence Policy, and for those shorter period absences that do not require a full session out of school. (For example, next week – w/b Monday 26 March – a part-time member of staff has agreed with a colleague to swap around the hours worked so that they can attend their own child’s Sports Day event at EIS, Attercliffe. The swap will cause a move of the colleague’s PPA, and possibly some small changes to the curriculum timetable for the week. The Headteacher could refuse permission for this, or only allow time off without pay, as neither the Leave of Absence Policy nor the Flexible Working Policy gives this ‘time off’ or flexible working as a right.)

There is, then, a reasonable expectation that the whole school community will make efforts to get to school on time every day. There are factors at play that may make this difficult. However, the ACAS Winter Weather guidance makes the point that employees who are parents should consider how they are going to travel to work if travel is disrupted, and consider child care arrangements as a standby if needed. What we expect people to do is to think and plan ahead. These weather conditions are not unheard of, as they are not conditions that occur only once in fifty or one hundred years. That would lead to a true exceptional circumstance, mostly likely. We leave home earlier if possible, use a different route to the shortest if necessary, have a second-choice child care informally on call, get things ready the night before. It is reasonable for an employer to expect this of employees, and for a school to expect this of parents and pupils.

We do and we will show understanding for all those who have difficulties on such days as these. No-one has ever been reprimanded here for non-attendance on a day with adverse weather conditions, neither a child nor a member of staff. We do understand that things can be hard – child minders may fall through, partners may be unavailable, roads may be blocked, cars don’t start, public transport terminating short or delayed, and so on.

Making a decision to open or close is very hard, with so many fluid factors to consider, and a difficult timeline on which to work.

  1. Staff members are not asked to call in every day to tell us they are on their way to work and expect to arrive on time, so why would we expect anything else on any other day? They are expected to let us know if things are different – they will be off or are delayed and will be in but late. So we make the reasonable assumption, like we do on every other day, that we will be fully staffed, or suitably staffed and able to open unless we hear otherwise. Of course, until colleagues set off and start their journey to work they will not encounter the conditions between home and work. Only en-route will they really be able to tell how they are doing. Colleagues use all the usual media for travel updates (such as local radio, Facebook neighbourhood groups, AA Road Watch, Highways England) but still cannot be sure until they experience it for real. And until staff arrive, as described earlier, I do not know for sure. Should I therefore decide to close, or open late,  every day?
  2. Say it snows overnight. The Caretaker does not come out at 02:00 to start clearing paths, but starts work a little earlier than usual. The condition of paths / ability to clear the snow cannot really be judged until efforts begin. Sometimes snow is light and fluffy and easily blown away, other times wet and heavy. Sometimes there is ice underneath from the previous days and sometimes the floor is virtually dry underneath. When the clearing work starts the site may not be useable, but it soon can become so. Additional premises staff are called in to assist on particularly heavy days and the impact of their work can be rapid. However, it is usually after 08:00 before a definite decision can be made about site safety and access.
  3. Mondays can be harder than Wednesdays because of a weekend’s accumulation.
  4. Kitchen staff, not employed by school but by the catering contractor, may not be able to arrive. No meals service would mean school could not open. Until we know we do not know for sure. Only the cook in charge starts before school on a normal day so this element is impossible to call any earlier.
  5. Kitchen deliveries may impact over the medium term. The kitchen does store ‘emergency rations’ (enough for a couple of days) but an inability to deliver for a longer period than this might lead to a closure decision.
  6. The temperature does tend to rise during the day and this can have significant impact on the surface conditions. What looks impossible at 08:00 can look unchallenging at 10:00. We have to have an eye for the weather forecast and to use our local knowledge. We know, for example, that our lower playground will take a day longer to clear of snow due to its shaded location. We also know that the application of grit salt will make all paths perfectly useable on almost every occasion within half an hour.
  7. Weather forecasts are not perfect predictors and very local variations can occur. This can have either a negative or a positive impact on our decision making. A forecast of ‘heavy snow’ does not mean that it is guaranteed to a certain depth in all areas, but that there is a higher percentage chance of heavy snow – this is not the same thing at all. Making a decision too early can be presumptive and unnecessary.

The greatest negativity over our opening each snowy day this winter has probably been about school not making a visible daily declaration of the fact. We get compared, in our non-informing daily, with schools that do send out a message. Those schools are, however, frequently informing parents about changes to the normal routine. When ours stays the same i.e. we are open for all pupils and at the usual time, we should not need to state the fact.

Two LA policy decisions and public information streams reinforce this position, that we should assume services are open as normal without expecting that fact to be restated. Sheffield City Council, on its own website, lists school closures and altered opening times. The page states, ‘If your school is not opening as usual, you should hear from your child’s school via their usual methods in the first instance’. The page does not say what a school will do if it is open as usual. We can assume that you will not hear as there is, effectively, no news to give. The Policy on Attendance at Work During Adverse Weather Conditions states, ‘It is therefore important that the decision about partial closure, later opening or school closure is clearly communicated to parents, pupils and staff as early as possible using the schools’ agreed communication strategy for such occasions.’ It makes no mention at all of communicating that school is open as usual.

Communicating that we are open is not, therefore, the expectation of policy, best practice or local authority. It may be that some parents would like to have this communication, but we have conversely had negative feedback on the occasion this winter when we did inform parents by text. The text was sent in response to the high volume of calls seeking clarification because of other schools’ decisions to close or open later. Our practice is to inform parents once, during the autumn term, that we will not be issuing daily updates but will inform parents if we are forced to close, partially close or change our operating hours.

It would be helpful to all concerned if messages from other schools indicated that their decision is taken independently, and that it does not mean that another school will follow suit. This is asking too much of a short text message, however.

How ‘adverse’ adverse weather has to be to start posting updates is unclear. Some would want at any chance of forecast snow, some when the Snake Pass is closed, some when there is snow on S10 pavements, some at 07:00 each morning. Some are fine without any of these.

What I haven’t listed here are the factors we constantly consider throughout every school day that might impact on our ability to operate as usual. We do not, nor does any school, post updates and information about opening arrangements around issues such as water supply, gas supply, fire alarm activation, internet outage, staff absence or attendance, wasp nests, oven faults, boiler or air-con failure, wind, high temperatures, hand-wash stocks, emergency lighting failure, after school activity leader absence and so on. What we do with all these is to inform parents of change – if a Club cannot run we tell those children and parents affected. If we have a long-term staff change we tell the children affected and the parents of those children. We do not as daily practice tell parents that these potential factors in forcing a school closure are not impacting and that school will open as normal. It is, perhaps, the visibility of snow that makes parents more aware and more wary.

Being open as usual is the most effective and clearest indication that we can and are open. It is the best indication for parents for future events of bad weather. We have never said that we will open whatever, but that we will tell all stakeholders about changes if and when they occur, and as soon as possible in each case. Otherwise everyone should assume we are open.

Do staff feel pressurised to walk to school in difficult circumstances; do parents? They shouldn't feel unduly 'pressurised' of course, but they should feel an obligation or responsibility to do so. Whether we are setting an impossible standard is difficult to say. We (senior leaders) are certainly setting an example. We are generally fit and able, and we are willing to don appropriate gear and walk to school if necessary. Some senior leaders have the added challenge of their own children’s care which must make getting to school on time on such occasions more difficult.

The school year is only 190 days long, and we will continue to make efforts to open every single one of them.
... (Read More)
16 Mar 2018

At the end of that round; no lates

This week saw a dramatic drop in the number of children arriving ‘late’ i.e. after the bell has sounded for the star of school.

Just four children on Monday, four again on Thursday and NONE on Friday were seen to come through the top gate after 08:45. How has this turn-around come so quickly, from twenty eight or more a day just five or six weeks ago?

Some outrageous / silly ideas:

Families got so used to an earlier start in the snow they have continued and are now early to school,

The attraction of Bike It Breakfast is too great to resist,

Lighter mornings are waking children earlier,

Spring air is invigorating and children walk quicker,

The cold weather means parents do not want to hang about so they are walking quicker,

Everyone looks forward to the cheery greeting at the gate,

Lack of snow just means the pavements are clear and travel is easier,

New shoes,

Neighbouring schools are opening at normal times so siblings are not holding up our pupils,

Our push on punctuality is working (texts to parents of children who are late twice or more in a week),

The chance to see our new register routine is too attractive to miss (sQuid has changed things a little in class),

Instead of being late children are simply staying off all day?

The extra five or six weeks of age is translating into extra height, strength and stamina and so the children can walk without needing a rest on the way?

Parent power following our push on punctuality,

Our clocks have been turned back five minutes and children are not technically locally late?

Random chance?

In case it is the ones we have created (such as being at the gate and the front doors, recording all late arrivals and reporting them to parents) then we will continue these all term.

And then we will move on to our next little issue – the growing challenge which is lack of school uniform being worn in a couple of classes. Without ever ‘having a go’ at a child we will persuade them to wear uniform with pride, we will explain how we already bend a fair bit, and we will contact parents directly for regular irregulars to elicit their support.

... (Read More)
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