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Head's Blog

10.05.22

Welcome to the first WeLink of the summer term. I do hope you have had an enjoyable Easter and May Day holiday breaks, enjoying the settled weather. With the new term we welcome Mr Murray, our new Head of Music. The impact of Covid together with staff shortages have conspired, resulting in few grand events in the creative arts in recent times. We are therefore delighted to announce that a school production of Matilda will happen (with rather short planning time) in the summer. We are up and running. 

Summer Exams

We are also up and running with regard to the summer exams. Although students have already sat their art practical and language oral exams the first written GCSE papers start next week. With regard to Year 11, our Learning Support Centre team, under Mrs Edney and Ms Browning, and Ms Connor, Head of Learning, are available for students to see and parents to contact if there are personal issues to be discussed in the run up to and during exams. If you missed our recent Parent Information Evening on “Supporting your child through exams” the presentation can be found on the school’s website – under the “Parent Forum and Information Evenings”. It makes a good read. As a parent of three, the youngest boy in year 13 (who, along with his peers, has not sat public exams since year 6 SATs), I do know how fraught the exam period can be. He seem, however, rather less bothered by the whole thing – but then he doesn’t say a lot! As teachers we would say to parents, look out for signs of stress (more irritable than normal, off their food?), talk about anxiety (if you can(!) remembering that exam worries or stress is quite normal, talking openly about how you manage own stressful situations), creating routines (food, exercise, friends, downtime – help with exam planning), be available to listen and be flexible to their needs (if they want to talk (!), just being there), unwinding after an exam (so they relax, do something different and don’t dwell on what they could have done better before starting revision for the next paper), and encourage them to talk staff at school if needed – we are here to help. 

Ukraine Fundraising

Finally, I’d like to comment on the fund-raising for Ukraine and our partner school in Moldova, that finds itself in close proximity to the tragic events in eastern Europe. On the non-uniform day and Sixth Form appeal, the school raised nearly £1200 for the Disasters Emergency Committee. I think, I’m correct in saying this is the largest sum we have raised during a non-uniform day. In addition, we have individual students pro-active in doing their own find-raising. On Friday we held the Vintage Kilo Sale, overseen by Sixth Formers, and in the evening our Moldovan Quiz Night – which was very well attended, great fun and with further funds raised. “Global outlook” in action.  

Mr P Fry, Head

05.04.22

Welcome to the last WeLink edition of the Spring term. It has seemed a very odd term in many ways. On the one hand the school has largely returned to normal; if you browse through the last few editions of WeLink you will read reports about an array of activities and events – trips, clubs and societies, fixtures and fittings, visitors to the school. But on the other, student absence from school is higher than normal, staff absence through Covid is a persistent challenge and there remains uncertainty in how the forthcoming exam season will be successfully managed.  

A number of local secondary schools have had year groups working remotely at home due to staff shortages. Covid certainly remains a challenge – although as of last Friday most of the specific Covid-19 guidance for schools has been withdrawn from GOV.UK.  We hope we can limp through to Easter. However, as a timely recap:  

  • Adults with the symptoms of a respiratory infection, and who have a high temperature or feel unwell, should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people until they feel well enough to resume normal activities and they no longer have a high temperature. If they have a positive Covid-19 test result they should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days.  
  • For children and young people aged 18 and under, the advice is three days. Children and young people who are unwell and have a high temperature should stay at home and avoid contact with other people. They can go back to school when they no longer have a high temperature, and they are well enough to attend.

School Site

In terms of the school site, the current building programme is on the verge of completion – the new English and Humanities block opened in the autumn, the new bike station in January, science labs at half term, a new conference room at Easter. New signage to the school is in place (as a national centre for maths teaching we have frequent visitors!) with new signage and murals in school being put in place over Easter. The space used for the contractor’s compound becomes available soon – but will need landscaping before we can use. We desperately need our outside social space to be available!  

Non Uniform Day and Uniform Policy

This week in the run up to Easter we are holding a non-uniform day. The Student Council have agreed the funds raised will go to the Ukrainian Red Cross refugee appeal. Students wishing to take part are asked to pay £1. You will have received a letter with details. Whilst on the theme of uniform, if you are about to purchase new shoes for your child – please remember they need to be plain black polishable school shoes. If your child is about to have a piercing, then please remember just one small stud ear-ring conventionally worn in each ear lobe is allowed in school. If your child arrives after Easter with alternative piercings they will be asked to remove it and if this is not possible, they will not partake in social time at break or lunch. With regard to hair-cuts (and Easter is often when students shed their winter plumage!) we have a “one head, one hair-cut” rule with no exaggerated steps, lop-sided styles etc; if you are unsure please check the uniform policy

Staffing Update

Finally, a staffing update. We have said farewell to a fair few staff this term culminating this Friday with Ms Hussain leaving the English Department for a new life in Kent. We wish her all the very best. On Monday this week we welcomed Mrs Fulbrook as year 7 and 8 Pastoral Support Assistant; Mrs Fernandez also begins her role on Monday heading up the main school office. After Easter we welcome Mr Murray as Head of Music, Mrs Toms as English Intervention Teacher, Mrs Bassford as our Attendance & Family Liaison Manager and Mrs Eggleton as Sixth Form Administrator. Mrs Grant and Mrs Lacy join us for the summer term covering Ms Hussain’s timetable. 

May I wish you a happy Easter break. We shall see our students back at Willink on Tuesday 26th April. 

Mr P Fry, Head

22.03.22

I hope you enjoyed the fine weather this weekend with spring clearly in the air. On Thursday a group of Governors certainly enjoyed the fine weather, undertaking a walkabout in school, meeting students, staff, visiting lessons, seeing students at social time, seeing the school at work on a typical afternoon. Such visits occur termly and observations are reported back to the Full Governing Body. 

The three themes this week are attendance (again!), Ukraine and social media.

Attendance

Having had a couple of weeks with Covid having been off the front pages, we were seeing a rise in absence of students and staff towards the end of last week. We are joining the campaign for the continuation of free lateral flow tests as we think it so important that students and staff can quickly access a test if they have flu like symptoms and just want to make sure they are negative before they come to work/school. Year 11s start their set of pre-public exams this week focusing on the core content necessary for the summer exams – and providing some evidence of performance should they miss an exam in the summer. We wish Year 11 all the very best. 

Ukraine

Ukraine remains the focus of our international work. Assemblies have been held concerning the fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law and justice, liberty, mutual respect, tolerance of other beliefs and cultures. Last week we sent £1K each to our partners Ion Creanga School and the Bethania Development Centre in Tintereni, Moldova; we know that any money sent will go directly without overheads to help those in 'our' village to support the stream of Ukrainian refugees. If you wish to contribute funds to this cause please visit the Just Giving page via the school website, set up by Carole Scott, parent of former Head Student and Flying Pig, Will Scott.

The School Council have also asked for a Non-Uniform Day to raise money for the DEC Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal. This will take place next week after the Y11 exams. More details will be forthcoming via the Parent Digest. 

Social Media

Finally, social media. Social media - the good, the bad and the ugly facets - was the focus of last Wednesday’s Parent Information Evening (PIE), streamed online with a following Q&A session. A timely session given that the day before misinformation on social media led to an ugly incident in school involving a physical assault, three students being suspended – tolerance, mutual respect and compliance with school rules out the window and a lot of staff time having to be spent dealing with the matter. The PIE is available to view via the website together with parent information about Apps used by students. An essential viewing for those parents with children tied to their smart phones! A reminder that phones are not to be used in school from 8.40am to 3.05pm, unless under direct staff supervision. We have clocks and students have lanyards with their timetables should they be lost – they don’t need phones. Parents can contact the school in an emergency in the traditional way; equally, students can contact home via their Head of Learning or the School Office. Students are expected to give staff their phones if they are using them contrary to the Behaviour Code.

Mr P Fry, Head

08.03.22

Two years ago this week we cancelled our trip to China and our partner school Tian Jaibing Senior School near Xi’an; the Covid-19 virus was spreading across Europe. Thankfully, we are in a better place just now. Two years on and this week we have cancelled another trip – this time that planned for July to Moldova.  

The Russian invasion of Ukraine is tragic and distressing for everyone, but for a group of staff and Sixth Formers it is deeply personal.  

The Flying Pigs - Fundraising for Moldova

The “Flying Pigs” trip, so named because of the unique and barely believable nature of the trip, is led by Mrs Downey and has been every year from 2004 until the pandemic.  A group of students, staff and volunteers from Willink visit Tintareni, a village about the same size as Burghfield Common.  They have run a summer school for up to 150 children, preparing and resourcing all the sessions at Ion Creanga, our partner school.  They have supported community projects and community work with the young and elderly. Sadly, Tintareni is only about 25 miles from Transnistria, a Russian held area of Moldova, and shelling can be heard in the village. The gym which we painted a few years ago, where our Sport team entertain children, is now home to Ukrainian refugees, as Tintareni is on the main road from Odesa in Ukraine to the Moldovan capital city, Chisinau. So, after two years when the Flying Pigs were grounded by Covid, and just when we were assembling and starting to train another eager group, something happens that makes the trip impossible.  

The Willink is proud of its International Status and our motto “Village School, Global Outlook”. 

We will be raising money to send to our partner school.  With traditional outstanding Moldovan hospitality, the poorest country in Europe has collected resources and opened their homes and their hearts to refugees. Homes that have hosted our students. But hard cash is the most useful.  We have a long-term relationship with the headteacher,  and can trust that it will be spent wisely. Details about how we can support our partner school will be shared later this week. 

Talking to students about the war in Ukraine

The war in Ukraine, of course, has implications for all of us working in schools and for our young people. The upsetting scenes we see with parents saying farewell to their children as they board trains taking them to the west are reminiscent of British children, such as my father, boarding trains out of London at the outbreak of WW2. We can only imagine the heartfelt loss in such scenes. Willink teachers will, quite rightly, talk to their classes about the current situation. Students are asking questions and raising concerns. This is not constrained to history or politics classes, it is happening throughout the day: in tutor time, in geography lessons and in corridors. Teachers will help give a historical context over the configuration of Europe, or the formation of NATO and the EU, and to reassure and comfort children anxious about relatives in the Ukraine or who are themselves of Russian background. We have both staff and students personally affected. Only last week the Department for Education produced guidance for teachers in tackling sensitive political issues. Now is certainly a time for teachers to help young people to navigate their understanding of controversial issues. In 1938, Franklin D Roosevelt put it rather more succinctly “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.” 

Farewell Mrs D

Finally, we are saying farewell to Mrs Donnithorne at the end of this week, as she and her family start a new life in Devon. Mrs D, as she is affectionately known, has been at Willink for eleven years, firstly as a Learning Support Assistant and for a good number of years as our Pastoral Support for year 7 and transition from primary schools. We wish her all the very best for the future.

Mr P Fry, Head

15.02.22

There are three theme’s I’d like to write about as we approach the half-term break: attendance, summer exams and staff leavers. 

Attendance

Firstly attendance. We seem to have plateaued at about 92% attendance, 5% below our normal pre-Covid figure. Absent last week was particularly high in year 7 and only a little better in year 8. We know that vaccination levels are lowest in these year groups. In year 7, 10% were absent due to Covid, in addition to “normal” absences. Of significant concern over the longer period is the increase in Persistent Absence – students who, for a variety of reasons mainly related to mental health, find coming to school difficult. Of concern last week was staff absence, again related to Covid. On Tuesday afternoon as we were looking at the situation for Wednesday, I was on the verge of contacting parents with the news that a year group would have to be kept at home. All available teachers were allocated to classes, all staff able to cover classes were deployed, we had booked supply staff and no more were available, some classes were planned to be combined, staff training pulled. A risk was taken that no more staff would be off on Wednesday and with one teacher returning and no more ill, we squeezed through. Whilst there is talk of the end of Covid, it very much didn’t feel like it; absences and the pressure on staff are considerable; and we thank them. Not normal times at all. Please support us to keep the school safe and functioning by ensuring twice weekly Covid testing continues to be done. Hopefully we get to half term this week unscathed without having to bring back measures to reduce the spread. 

Summer Exams

On to summer exams. Last week Ofqual and the awarding organisations published advanced information about what external exams for year 11 and year 13 will look like in the summer – with the aim to make outcomes as fair as possible. There was information on the standards that are going to be set – not 2019, not 2021, but somewhere between the two and nearer 2020 than 2021! Information on the prior or advanced information for different exams; for different papers, in different subjects, for different syllabuses with different exam boards. And information on how might special consideration work if, for example, a student misses an exam paper, revision or teaching time. There is still debate – what happens, for example, if a student’s attendance is all good, but their teacher, let’s say a specialist teacher that teaches content no one else in the school teaches, is away for a significant time. Last week we held a Parent Information Evening on the summer exams which hopefully answered many questions. If you were unable to attend, the PIE is available via YouTube and the school website

Leavers

Finally, leavers. It is unusual for us to say farewell to staff at February half term. This year we have a few: we are saying good-bye to Mrs Eddy who, after five years as part-time teacher of English and, latterly, music is moving to a full-time post as Teacher of English at Thames Valley School in Tilehurst. Our English Intervention teacher, Mrs Holloway is also leaving, in this case to have a baby.  From our Admin staff team we are saying farewell to our Business Support Officer, Mrs Mortimer, who is taking up a post at Mortimer surgery, Mrs Moxon, our Attendance and Family Liaison Manager, who is moving to a pastoral support position at Theale Green, and Mrs Tomas, who is retiring from her position as Sixth Form Administrator. 

Mr P Fry, Head

01.02.22

Year 9 Options Evening

It was wonderful to see so many parents and carers of Year 9 students last week at the Options Evening; a reminder of the importance of face-to-face gatherings. That said, our parent consultation evenings for the foreseeable will be virtual with the likely mix of face to face or virtual going forward – the convenience versus the merits of building relationships outside the virtual world.

Equal Opportunities for All

At the Options Evening, the purpose of our curriculum was outlined along with the subject choices available. Yes, we aim to help students to acquire the curriculum knowledge, understanding and skills relevant to adult life, employment and leisure in a fast-changing world. More broadly we aim to develop in our students a lively, enquiring mind and the ability to question, to debate and to apply themselves to tasks and physical skills. However, we also aim to promote equal opportunities for all, to counter racism, sexism and all other forms of discrimination and encourage respect for religious and moral values and tolerance of other races, faiths and beliefs and ways of life. It is this latter focus on values that has been the discourse for students this week during assembly time and tutor time – understanding about Holocaust Memorial Day, an assembly on protected characteristics, hate crimes, misogyny, and sexual harassment. These are such important issues for our young people to be familiar about.  

Covid 19

At this point you are probably thinking, he hasn’t mentioned Covid yet! Well, we continue to follow the advice from UKHSA and, as we have seen stability in positive cases of Covid, decided that as from Thursday last (the end of “Plan B”) that students are not required to wear face coverings in classes, in communal areas or around the school. However, Covid has not gone away. On any particular day last week, we had over 30 students self-isolating and half a dozen staff. We also know that the virus is particularly prevalent in primary schools. We shall continue to follow and promote public health guidance on testing, self-isolation and managing confirmed cases of COVID-19, maintain appropriate cleaning regimes focusing on touch points and any shared equipment and keep occupied spaces will ventilated. May we ask you to check that your child continues to undertake twice weekly LFT testing and ensure they do come to school with a face covering – they will still be required to be worn when working in close contact with staff and, of course, are required in some shops and transport. We shall watch the school and local data carefully and should the number of cases rise, we shall resort to requiring students to wear face coverings once again. 

 Recruitment

Finally, we are looking to recruit to our support staff: we have administrative posts available in the main office and working with students as cover supervisor or family liaison. Please see the school website for details.  

Mr P Fry, Head

18.01.22

May I wish you a rather belated “Happy New Year”. We welcome Mrs Allen who has joined us as Teacher of Music taking over Mrs Lawrence’s role until Easter.

Attendance and Staffing

I am pleased to say that, in terms of attendance and staffing, the term has started rather more smoothly than we may have feared. Our ‘Medic Centre’ undertaking Covid testing worked like clockwork (incidentally identifying a couple of dozen positive cases), attendance at our “Rise & Shine” assemblies was really high and our remote provision was well received – and rather more advanced than a year ago! Attendance last week was 93% with Covid accounting for a daily average of 30 absences ……… plus 3 covid related teacher absences and 3 covid related support staff absences above the norm. Many schools have been affected far more; the impact is localised. However, attendance is a lot lower for our vulnerable learners and much work is being done to help improve attendance and get them back on track and into the rhythm and rituals of schooling. Hopefully, we can get through the next couple of weeks without further disruption. Thank you for checking your child undertakes the twice weekly test and that a face covering is part of their equipment ready for school. On Monday 24th, of course, we host the second round of Covid vaccinations. 

Year 11 Virtual Parent Consultation

This week we hold our Year 11 virtual parent consultation – an important event, even in a normal year. This year it follows the mock exams. In a couple of weeks, the Department of Education will be issuing final guidance and adjustments on this summer’s exams. The expectation is that there will be a full set of public exams in the summer; to provide further experience for our students – and to provide evidence of attainment should there be student absence – a further set of year 11 and year 13 Pre-Public Exams (PPEs) will take place in March.

Questionnaires

As mentioned in the last edition of WeLink, a “thank you” to parents and carers who were able to complete the annual survey of parents. We received just over 500 completed questionnaires, down on previous years. After a difficult year it was gratifying that over 95% of respondents felt positive about school expectations, quality of teaching, safeguarding, school leadership and supporting student independent learning; and over 90% felt positive in their child making at least good progress, pastoral support, home-school communication, and, overall happiness with their child’s experience in school. However, only 85% of parents felt their child enjoys school and a similar proportion only perceive behaviour to be at least good – both figures were lower than in the last survey. We suspect Covid has had a part to play in reduced enjoyment. However, the lower figures are noted and are something for us to address. 

Policies

Finally, we received a few useful comments on our “Relationship, Health & Sex Education Policy” consultation. This policy together with our updated “Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Policy” will be finally approved by Governors on Monday (17th January) and will be available for viewing via the website later this week. 

Mr P Fry, Head

14.12.21

Welcome to the festal edition of WeLink. Writing this piece on Monday, the situation we find ourselves in reminds me of the 1993 American fantasy comedy film “Groundhog Day” starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell (a good family viewing over the holiday I may say), where one day is repeated over and over again. The run up to the Christmas break this year feels very much like last. We are managing a visit to the pantomime - an important cultural experience for young people – but our normal pre-Covid Christmas events such as the school production, the talent cabaret, the senior citizen concert, the Christmas Fair, the carol service, and our Celebration of Success were not to be, once again. That said, the stops have been pulled out in school and the term ends with a flurry of House matches, the annual House carol competition in MFL, club and societies’ Christmas events and a virtual Christmas Cabaret …… not to forget mock exams for year 11!

Return to School Testing

As you will be aware from my SchoolComms message last Friday, the Government has asked secondary schools to organise and staff Covid testing at the beginning of term. As before our volunteer Examination Invigilation Team (come medics) have agreed to take on the task and we greatly appreciate this. It is crucially important that students attend their allocated slots (see schedule in this edition of WeLink and via the Parent Digest), including Sixth Formers who have been double jabbed – so we can stop the Omicron variant making inroads at Willink in the new year. When they attend, we shall assume parental consent for testing. May I thank parents and carers for their support with this programme – and also for insisting your child undertakes twice weekly lateral flow tests - more packs will be issued to students this week. Following national guidance, if your child is identified as a close contact of a positive case, they are expected to be in school but to take a daily LFT for seven days. In school, that is, unless exhibiting one of the usual symptoms! And a further “thank you” for ensuring your child comes to school with a face covering and an understanding of why it is important to wear it in enclosed spaces or as the guidance demands. We have about 30 students who presently come to school without a face covering – so please support us where needed. Let's hope that Omicron doesn't cause a fresh wave of chaos and that a Plan B for education doesn't turn out to be a last-minute series of panic measures. Which is, of course, exactly what happened last Christmas. Look out for a SchoolComms message on or about 3rd January if that is the case! Back to Groundhog Day.

Remote Learning

Accompanying the staggered start to the term will be a programme of remote learning – a mix of live lessons, recorded lessons and independent work. Please refer to the attached information from Mr Ballantyne so you are familiar with our remote learning procedures.

Learning Review Day

Learning Review Day was successful this year with 85% of tutor meetings taking place on the day with subsequent follow up for those parents unable to meet the time slot. Please do let your child’s Head of Learning know if this is not the case. Thank you for completing the annual parent survey and it is reassuring that 85% found the LRD conversation very useful and over 90% report that school-home communication is good. However, turnout was low with only just over 500 surveys completed, so we shall need to improve communication about this survey next time around. There will be more details on the findings in the next edition of WeLink.

Staffing changes

As is normal there are some staff changes at the end of term. Mr Williams (Cover Supervisor) is leaving us after three years to return to the world of finance. Mrs Lawrence joined Willink in September 2007 as a newly qualified teacher and leaves us as Head of Music to take up the part-time position of Teacher of Music at Hurst Lodge School in Yateley. We wish them both all the very best for their future. We thank Mrs Lawrence specifically who won’t disappear completely as she will be joining us on a Friday each week to continue to teach her year 10 and year 11 classes up to Easter. Mrs Ross will be taking on the reins of leading music along with drama until Mrs Lawrence’s replacement joins us at Easter. 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 from Tuesday 4th January 2022.

Mr P Fry, Head

30.11.21

Welcome to the second to last WeLink of a very busy term. Since the last edition we have welcomed our year 11s, together with a couple of dozen external students, to our Sixth Form Open Evening - an event pitched to looking towards their futures. This was followed this week by “Moving Forward Friday” when students, meet current sixth formers and get a dose of sixth form life. There were also sessions from Reading College and Basingstoke College of Technology to provide an alternative college perspective.  

Learning Review Days

Meanwhile, students in all year groups have been reflecting on their learning and progress this term, in preparation for their Learning Review discussions with parents and tutors. Whilst most sixth formers are in exams and most year 11s in mock examination preparation during these two days, years 7-10 will be engaged in Independent Learning Projects – research projects to be completed at home during Learning Review Day. This has taken on the additional purpose of re-familiarising students with online learning strategies – useful for future learning and, of course, should there be another lockdown! Tutors are so looking forward to meeting parents face-to-face; building a close connection between tutor and parent is so important and is an opportunity not just to discuss academic progress but also personal development concerns. Staff are based in their classrooms so social distancing can be maximised With meetings no longer than 15 minutes and hand sanitizer at the ready, the event is Covid protocol compliant! We do ask that you do take a Lateral Flow Test prior to the meeting and wear a face covering around the school. We really do hope you take this opportunity for one-to-one dialogue. It is an opportunity for us to say “thank you” for your support since we last met and to convey thanks to staff for their commitment and resilience during these extraordinary times. Please also complete the Parent Survey so we can reflect upon the key messages this last year; this will be sent to you on Wednesday with the submission date next week - but please fill in early so as you don't forget.

Exams 2022 Contingency Arrangements

Of interest, specifically to parents and carers of our Y11 and Y13 students, is the government has recently published the contingency arrangements should examinations not take place in the summer of 2022 due to a resurgence of Covid. The full details can be found here: 

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/contingency-arrangements-gcse-as-a-level-project-and-aea/outcome/decisions-on-contingency-arrangements-2022-gcse-as-a-level-project-and-aea

In essence schools should prepare to compile the results of tests undertaken under exam board complaint conditions, this side of Christmas, in the spring and again after Easter. We shall distribute more information in due course. Mocks will cover only work previously taught and students should revise for mock exams as directed as they would in a normal year. 

Omicron Variant

Lastly, following concern over the new Omicron variant, you will be aware from Monday's Schoolcomm that students are now expected, unless medically exempt, to wear a face covering in communal places. Schools were told on Friday that they are expected to undertake en masse student testing for Covid after the Christmas break. No doubt more details will be forthcoming and I shall be able to share the details prior to the Christmas break. 

Mr P Fry, Head

16.11.21

Since the last edition of WeLink, Willink students have been engrossed in community work.  

On Friday we held our first non-uniform or mufti day of the year. In previous years, students have brought gifts for the School PTA Christmas Fair and funds raised put towards a school project and designated charities. This year with no Christmas Fair, for the privilege of not wearing school uniform, students were asked to bring in goods for the West Berkshire Food Bank. The response from families has been overwhelming. Our conference room has been overflowing with cartons of milk and fruit juices, tins of all sorts, shampoos, chocolates etc. Today our Sixth Form have help load and transport. On behalf of the WBFB a huge thank you for your kind gifts. 

Remembrance Services

We are also proud that scores of our students took part in local Remembrance services this Sunday. Members of our Armed Forces group took leading roles along with students who are members of the scouts and cadets outside of school. 

Refugee Children

With regard to our wider community, The Willink is looking forward this week to welcoming four refugee children from Afghanistan. A statement from the charity Refugee Education UK (2021) helps articulate why this is so important: “Education is protective; it is how these children will begin to rebuild their lives and look towards their futures.” Whilst education is priceless, wellbeing will be the immediate priority; refugees from Afghanistan will have undoubtedly experienced trauma and will have left friends and family behind. Schools can provide a sense of belonging and ensure young people can experience the routines of normal school life. We hope they have a happy and successful time with us.

Anti Bullying Week & Social Media

This seamlessly moves into care in the community – this week is Anti-Bullying Week with the theme for this year “One Kind Word”. Our Anti-Bullying Policy can be found on our website and our online 'Report and Restore' function allows students to report incidents should they wish to instead of reporting direct to staff. We really do need to know before we can deal. 

Finally, we have become aware of a craze among young people for using the social media platform TikTok to post imagery and commentary about school staff which is defamatory, offensive and, in some cases, homophobic. I hasten to add we are not aware of such incidents at Willink but are carefully monitoring the situation.  Of course, this is hardly the first time that social media has been a problem for schools. We know that excessive social media use is damaging the mental health and wellbeing of young people. We also know our students encounter cyber-bullying and upsetting material on social media – such as sexual content, self-harm or hate speech. An Online Harms Safety Bill is being considered by Parliament and due to report by 10 December - this should impose duties of care on providers of online content-sharing platforms and search services. However, we, the adults – and especially those big technology companies – still have to protect, inform and educate the young people in our society on how to conduct ourselves in an interconnected world.

We thank you for your support. 

02.11.21

I do hope that you found some downtime last week and are recharged ready for the run up to Christmas! Last term finished well with a return to near normality with school trips back on and year 11s participating in a successful, if rather curtailed work experience programme – we are so grateful to employers for engaging at a time when Covid still puts restrictions on the workplace. However, Covid induced absence was a concern that we could also not shake off and disjointed learning or gaps in learning continue to be felt as a result. 

Covid 19 Information

As you will be aware from the media, Covid-19 infection rates have significantly increased in school-aged children since the start of the academic year. Although the immediate health risks of Covid-19 infection to children and young people are low, the potential harm from missing or disrupted education is significant.  

Following a review of current guidance, West Berkshire Council and the Berkshire West Health Protection Board are recommending a number of measures aimed at reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission within schools. We are now advised to: 

  • Use face coverings in communal areas (unless exempt) for staff, children and visitors e.g. when moving about inside; when moving about on the school site. Face coverings should continue to be used on public and school transport. 
  • Encourage the use of face coverings for parents visiting the school site, particularly when indoors.  
  • That any child or member of staff who has a household member test positive for Covid-19 should be advised to take a daily lateral flow test for 7 days, in addition to taking a one-off PCR test. Anyone who is exempt from self-isolation (those aged under 18 or adults who are fully vaccinated) and who tests negative can continue to attend school during this period of daily lateral flow testing.  
  • That any child or member of staff who is identified as a close contact of a positive case via NHS Test and Trace should be advised to take a daily lateral flow test for 7 days, in addition to taking a one-off PCR test. Anyone who is exempt from self-isolation (those aged under 18 or adults who are fully vaccinated) and who tests negative can continue to attend school during this period of daily lateral flow testing. 

We also encourage parents and carers to take regular twice weekly lateral flow tests. These can be ordered through gov.uk or collected from a local pharmacy. Vaccination remains an important part of helping to reduce the transmission from Covid-19 and we encourage everyone to attend for their vaccination (1st and 2nd dose) if not done so already. Booster doses are now also available for those who at most risk of Covid-19 and who had their 2nd dose at least 6 months ago. Hopefully, then we can keep the school running relatively normally with attendance back to where it should be. 

These enhanced measures are anticipated to remain in place until the end of December, although these will be reviewed in 4-weeks with any decision to amend or remove the measures based on the following: the case rate per 100,000 for school aged children; rate of increase (or decrease) in case rates; vaccination rates in school-aged children; the emergence of any new variants of concern; any adverse outcomes for those with Covid-19, and any other viruses in circulation. As a result of these measures our parent consultation events will continue to be virtual. We dearly hope we can arrange our Sixth Form Open Evening to be face to face and will communicate with you shortly in this regards. 

Relationships, Sex & Health Education Policy

In other news, we would like your feedback on our draft Relationships, Sex & Health Education Policy which can be found via this link.  Schools are required to consult with parents over the approach and content of this curriculum area – which should be planned and sequenced and revisit key topics.  The policy should establish a clear rationale for study, set firm expectations of what students need to know and understand by the end of year 11, ensure content is age-appropriate and support teachers in delivering new content. We are, of course, well placed as we have a team of specialists delivering our RSHE programme. Please send any comments to Mr Sizer who is reviewing the content of the policy by the end of November. 

12.10.21

So we are off! Following considerable Covid preparatory work by Mr Debuire and his team, we have launched our first foreign trip since February 2020. The year10/11 trip to Spain left on Sunday. Tougher restrictions on travel caused by the pandemic and Brexit have not deterred our illustrious staff from such ventures. Last week we also held our geography trip for all GCSE students, and we had considerable numbers of students, more than pre-Covid, participating in sports clubs and fixtures. This is all very good news as we strive for normality.  

School Attendance

That said, attendance last week was 5% lower than the equivalent week in 2019 (that is some 60 additional student absences) underlining the on-going impact the pandemic is having on learning. Public Health England have also informed schools of an increase likelihood of flu related absence as we move towards Christmas. Therefore, as we face an uncertain winter, a timely reminder that we are holding Flu and Covid vaccinations next Monday and parental consent needs to be provided this week. There is no planned catch-up for these vaccinations. Hopefully, this will maximise students' time in the classroom and negate the need to reintroduce additional measures such as increased testing, or face-coverings or the restrictions of bubbles. Another tool available to schools are Co2 monitors. The DfE have confirmed the roll-out to schools is underway and we should receive this term……  

The Mental Health of Children & Young People

NHS Digital have just published the results of their recent survey exploring the mental health of children and young people, following an original survey in 2017 and covering the period February/March 2021, during the pandemic. A sample of 3,667 children and young people participated. Key findings included: rates of probable mental disorders have increased since 2017; in 6 to 16 year olds from one in nine (11.6%) to one in six (17.4%), and in 17 to 19 year olds from one in ten (10.1%) to one in six (17.4%). 39.2% of 6 to 16 year olds had experienced deterioration in mental health since 2017 while 21.8% experienced improvement.  The proportion of children and young people with possible eating problems has increased. Problems with sleep on three or more nights of the previous seven affected over a third (38.4%) of 11 to 16 year olds, and over half (57.1%) of 17 to 19 year olds. While 10.6% of 6 to 16 year olds missed more than 15 days of school during the 2020 Autumn term, children with a probable mental disorder were twice as likely to have missed this much school. On a national scale this is, of course, deeply worrying. If you, as a parent or carer, are experiencing greater challenges and growing concerns and your child’s education is suffering as a result we really do need to know so we can help and support.

GCSE & A Level Examinations 2022

This last fortnight we have held our introductory Parent Information Evenings. If you were unable to attend, the staged video versions are on the website. Following on from the advice about exams, we now have received more information from the DfE and Ofqual about examinations in 2022. This included adaptions, gradings and proposals for potential contingency arrangements. In outline, there will be optional topics and content in GCSE English literature, history and geography; a minimum number of practical activities will be required in A level biology, chemistry and physics. Students taking GCSE, AS and A level art and design will be assessed on their portfolio only. Exam boards will provide advanced information to schools about the focus of the content of exams for all GCSE, AS and A level subjects except GCSE English literature, history and geography in early February. Students will be given a formulae sheet for GCSE mathematics and a revised equation sheet for GCSE physics. In terms of grading 2022 will be a ‘transition year’ to reflect the fact that we are in a pandemic recovery period and students’ education has been disrupted. Ofqual will therefore aim for grades in 2022 to reflect a midway point between 2021 and 2019. This means that results overall next year will be higher than in 2019 but not as high as in 2020 and 2021. As for results days, they will return to their normal format, with AS and A levels being released on 18 August, and GCSEs on 25 August. And ……. reassuringly, we are promised a plan B! Once we have more details we shall share with you.

KS3 Milestone Assessments

Finally, the details of this year’s Milestone Assessments for years 7-9 and new Homework Schedule are on the website.

28.09.21

So far, this term has been very different to September last year. We have welcomed visitors to our Open Evening and Open Morning and parents and carers to our information evenings for years 7, 10 and year 11. It has been wonderful meeting you all actually in person. We are delighted we can hold school tours whilst students are in session. Monday mornings are set aside for tours this term, but they can be arranged for any time by making an appointment. For September 2022 we believe about 40 places will be available to students, without siblings already at Willink, living outside our catchment.  

The Big Ask

Also, on a positive note you may remember back in March this year the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, launched a consultation with young people called ‘The Big Ask’. Willink students participated, along with half a million other 4-17 year olds. The results have been analysed and a report called ‘The Big Answer’ has just been published. At a time when we need a boost, the report certainly does just that. In summary, these are the headlines:  

  • Children were united in showing a new consciousness of the importance of health and wellbeing. The pandemic has affected their wellbeing and now they want good mental and physical health to be a priority in their lives 
  • They care deeply about family – families of all kinds. They care about being part of happy homes. Providing families with support is especially important as we recover from the pandemic, in particular for homes with vulnerable children 
  • Children care deeply about community. They want to get outside and play. To have enough to do in their neighbourhoods. They want to feel safe and protected in online spaces 
  • Children are pleased to be back in school. As we recover, they have asked for support to make a success of the opportunities returned to them. This is especially important for children who found learning harder in lockdown 
  • They described ambitious plans for the world of work, their futures and the world in which they inhabit. Many of them want to do civic-minded jobs which help other people - to be part of the recovery from the pandemic. They want to be treated fairly as they choose from a variety of pathways towards a fulfilling career 
  • The same ambitions were true of children in care. They described gratitude at the level of support they currently receive, but also clarified where they need more support.  

Covid Vaccinations

It is, of course, not quite business as usual. Along with other schools locally and across the country we do have unnerving attendance patterns; bang on 90% for last week, a good 6% below “normal” levels. Monday this week was no better. We have noted that some absence is due to children waiting for PCR test results, rather than using LFTs in the first instance. Of course, the promised vaccination programme for 12-15 year olds is potentially the way that schools can stem the inexorable rise in Covid cases and reduce the disruption to face to face education this winter. On Monday parents and carers will have received Department of Health information on the vaccination programme. On the same day the school received hoax anti-vaccine letters under a fake NHS logo; we have not distributed this material. To reiterate, the school does not have a position on the vaccination programme and the merits of it for an individual. We are not health professionals. Like all school-based vaccination programmes, the vaccines will be administered by healthcare staff working closely with the school and following the usual approach to school-based immunisation. The NHS School-aged Immunisation Service will be the primary provider of the vaccination programme for healthy 12 to 15 year olds and will be legally responsible for the delivery of the vaccine. Consent will be sought by the SAIS provider from the parent or person with parental responsibility in the same way as for any other school vaccination programme. You will also be provided with a contact number for the SAIS team in case of any queries. 

14.09.21

Welcome to the first edition of WeLink this academic year and a special welcome to parents, carers and students new to the school. WeLink is the schools fortnightly review of goings on at Willink and complements the weekly Parent Digest that is the one stop information shop on what is happening. Please do contact the school office if you are not in receipt of either. 

I usually take the opportunity of writing my fortnightly blog for WeLink on my musings on the world of education. As it stands (and the last couple of years has proved things can change quickly) we have had a calm start to the term.

Annual Prize -Giving

Talking about calm and serene – our annual Prize-giving on Wednesday was anything but, as the rain started just as the speeches got underway. The event is lovely when outside, but we all scurried under cover. However, what we have learnt from the pandemic is to improvise, we were soon back on our feet and on our way, this time with welled up tears rather than swelled up wet feet! It was important not only to congratulate students (a bit like the year 11 prom, we were determined not to cancel again) and thank parents for their support but also to praise staff for what was the most challenging of years. Here is an excerpt from my speech about the commitment of staff this last year:  

“This last 18 months staff have had to rapidly adapt to changing circumstances on many occasions. They 

  • they have overseen the acquisition, deployment and “customer” support of laptops and devices ensuring students and staff are not left unconnected 
  • they have quickly become experts in delivering remote learning – live lessons, virtual “rise and shine” tutor time, assemblies, recorded lessons, remote assessment e.g. we modelled our remote access Y13 mocks on the Swedish exam system.  
  • they have become adaptable and flexible in curriculum design, dissecting the curriculum to ensure coherence and ensuring students can progress as much as possible 
  • they squeezed in foreign language trips (well to Wokingham!), Y11 Prom, sports day, activities week – when other schools may have been unable to.  
  • led largely remote professional development opportunities for staff in school, our teaching school alliance and through the Maths Hub.  
  • they have run on-site provision for the children of key workers and vulnerable children during lockdowns;  
  • they have delivered food supplies to our more vulnerable families 
  • provided ongoing pastoral support for our more anxious and vulnerable students 
  • managed complex Covid safety measures; handled the odd positive case  
  • set up testing stations to enable students to return to classrooms; currently we have our team of exam invigilators/come medics undertaking student Covid testing 
  • managed the improvement of premises -  with shortage of staff and supplies 
  • they have taken responsibility for assessing students following the cancellation of public exams…… that is the setting of assessments, marking, standardising against grade descriptors set by the exam board, moderating standards and setting the grade - in effect undertaking the work of exam boards 

Staff have done all this while being concerned and anxious about their own and their family’s welfare and well-being. They have done all this in a calm, professional and unflappable manner, providing our students with a sense of continuity amidst the turbulence caused by the pandemic, and against a backdrop of constantly shifting guidance from the government which, I would say, has not supported schools adequately during this period and left us shouldering far too many responsibilities which are public health rather than education tasks”. 

Exam Results

In other news, my letter of last week provided information on our summer’s exam results and student destinations; please refer to our newly styled website for the details. 

Covid Testing

And finally, our in-school Covid testing programme worked like clockwork – thank you to parents and our team of volunteer medics (our re-trained and re-deployed Exam Invigilation Team). Students are now in receipt of home testing and we urge parents to ensure their child(ren) regularly take the test on a Sunday and Wednesday evening. Although we have an enhanced cleaning programme, ensure good ventilation, ask students to wash hands or use hand sanitizer before each lesson, and encourage the wearing of face coverings when in confined places, bubbles have gone and students mix across the years. Testing is the main form of mitigation against the spread of the virus. Of course we await the detailed advice from Public Health England to parents following yesterday’s announcement from the JCVI regarding the offer of vaccinations for 12 to 15 year olds. It is likely that schools will be asked to be the venues for a vaccination programme and we shall keep you informed once we have information.