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Letter to parents and carers 9 September 2020

Dear Parents/Carers

I am aware that I have written to you several times over the last few months and I am also aware that there is such a thing as information overload or fatigue. I do appreciate the time you take to read these letters from me. It is important that you do because some of the things I need to say to you are of critical importance in the context of trying to protect all of the pupils and staff of the school, as well as their extended families.

We are now in our third day of ‘full’ school, with all of our 1800 pupils on site. It has been a busy time and we are using it to review the arrangements we have put in place to ensure safety for all and to amend them if and where necessary.

I need to explain some of the routines that continue to be critically important and also to explain why we cannot allow these routines and procedures to be breached.

The Concept of the ‘Bubble’

The school is divided into six ‘learning zones’ and these learning zones are occupied by single year groups or, in the case of Years 12 and 13, the Sixth Form as a whole.

It is really important for you to remember that this is our main Covid mitigation strategy. Year groups are not allowed to mingle with other year groups. They have breaks separately, they eat lunch separately and they enter and leave the school separately.

Please do not confuse the concept of the ‘bubble’ with social distancing. Social distancing is something we can only ensure between adults in the school and the pupils. This is fully in line with the national and local guidance. The medical advice is that pupils, especially younger ones, are less likely to suffer a serious illness as a result of catching Covid, and (although the evidence here is less clear), less likely to pass it on to others.

Therefore, pupils within year groups will continue to mix with each other in fairly close quarters. This is inevitable, given the limited size of the school. It is deemed to be acceptable by the Welsh Government and by the local authority.

What is critical here though is that if (God forbid) a pupil tests positive for the virus at any point, it becomes easier to identify the people they will have come into contact with and to trace and test them. That’s why you will have heard on the news that, last week, a school in Cardiff sent a Year 7 class home to isolate (because they had only Cont…/ 2 been taught in their form groups that week) and this week a school in Bridgend sent a whole year group home (because they had started to operate in a way that I guess would be something like we do here).

If a school did not operate ‘bubbles’, then a single positive case could trigger the whole school being sent home because pupils had freely mixed together and it would be impossible to say who they had come into contact with over the course of a few days.

Our Procedures

With all of this in mind, you should be able quickly to see why it is so important that all pupils observe our basic safety measures at all times.

Specifically, the different entry and exit times, and different entry and exit points, are not negotiable. I know that if you are a parent/carer of a pupil who lives in Upper Killay and, on a certain day, your son or daughter needs to enter the school through the Aneurin Way entrance, it is a pain to walk an extra 800 yards to get to the right entrance. However, it is one of the main ways we are keeping people safe. After all, we are in a global pandemic and cases, as you are seeing in the news, are already on the rise again. Please work with us here. Don’t embarrass us or yourselves by asking for special arrangements for your son or daughter in this respect. There will be none. This is because health and safety trump everything at this time.

Entry times are of critical importance just now.

I can’t quite believe I am saying this after 22 years as a headteacher, but please do not send your children to school too early.

There’s a really good reason for this request and I’ll explain it to you here. Our two entry times are 8.30 and 8.45. We have three entry points. Therefore, the six ‘bubbles’ can enter safely and separately. That’s what we can ensure once inside the school gates.

This all goes completely out of the window if pupils arrive early. For example, let’s imagine a day on which Year 7 are meant to arrive at 8.30 and enter through the front entrance and Year 10 are meant to do the same at 8.45. If Year 10 pupils arrive at 8.25, say, in plenty of time for 8.45, they actually end up mingling with Year 7 outside the school, compromising the concept of the bubble.

Please, therefore, ensure that if your son or daughter is due in school by 8.45 that they arrive within the ‘window’ of 8.35 to 8.45. I know this is a tight slot, but it’s important. Please help us in this. We will be challenging pupils who arrive unacceptably early, as it poses a health risk to others.

Following my logic, you’ll see that the people your children choose to walk to and from school with are also of real importance. Put bluntly, it’s pretty pointless for us to keep Cont…/ 3 Year 9 pupils separate from all other pupils, for example, if they chose to walk to and from school with pupils from Year 10.

Some of this makes for depressing reading. If you’re like me, you swing from feeling super-vigilant one minute to feeling fatigued and overwhelmed by it all the next. Yet we are where we are, and I’m counting on all of you to try to understand and support us at this incredibly difficult time.

And the uplifting news? Simply this. It has been fantastic to see all of our pupils again and, in nearly all cases, their behaviour and attitude towards this crisis have been impeccable. Yes, we can have less tolerance of dangerous behaviour and a tiny handful of pupils are already at home being educated remotely because they could not act in a way that ensured the safety of others, but on the whole, nearly everyone has acted in a way that shows kindness, empathy and understanding.

In the end, no one can ask for more than that.

I know I say it every time I write, and I apologise if it’s getting a bit repetitive, but I do mean it when I say that I hope you are all safe and well and that you stay that way. 

With warm wishes 

Hugh Davies