Years 11 and 13
Both our year 11 and 13 students are now fully in exam mode. We have sent them off with final year group assemblies and celebrations – a sort of rite of passage. They were great fun. We shall see them all next at their Proms and for year 11 their Sixth Form induction. We wish them all the best.
We understand exams can be anxious. At Willink we have a tailored support programme for our students. Considerable time is spent creating an individual timetable for students mixing targeted revision sessions, drop-ins to staff who make themselves available at specific times, and private supervised study. We discuss the level of support with staff, students and parents. What is important for all students is that the level of support agreed is carried out – top attendance and concentration at revision sessions is essential. Our Learning Support Centre staff, under Mrs Harbidge, and Mr Jubb, Head of Learning, and the Sixth Form Team 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. We have also discussed with students’ their mental well-being during exams, about stress and anxiety. Please see our PIE information “Supporting your child through exam stress” for details.
Staffing and Behaviour
As two-year groups enter exams, we now inevitably turn our focus to next year. We congratulate Mrs Schofield who has been appointed Assistant Head and will be joining the senior team in September. A few weeks ago now, we appointed Mrs Czekaj as Maths Hub Lead – so appointments are falling into place. As you will be aware we are tightening up on aspects of behaviour, focussing initially on contraband - phones, jewellery and air-pods. Once we are satisfied with improvements, we shall focus on tightening up other aspects of uniform and behaviour. We are using the adage “keep it simple, execute consistently” as we re-set expectations post year 11 – a code, I know many parents follow. Whilst a small proportion of our students do find following reasonable requests difficult and would prefer few boundaries, we are very much aware of the strong support from parents. Thank you.
I hope you enjoy this week’s edition of WeLink. This edition is the final one edited by Mrs Davies; we thank her for her work over the last few years and helping make WeLink an unmissable read for many.
Let’s hope the weather holds and next week’s Bank Holiday is a fine one.
I do hope you had an enjoyable Coronation Bank Holiday weekend and that the weather didn’t intervene too much with the festivities.
Thank You Volunteers!
Following on from Monday’s “The Big Help Out” and the national focus on volunteering, I want to pay tribute to the many volunteers – governors, sports coaches, mentors, parents who listen to children reading, members of the PTA and so on – who help keep education running. Much of our co-curricular programme, including Duke of Edinburgh, clubs, societies and fixture depend on volunteers! Then there are the local sports clubs, scouts, cadets etc – all adding to the rich opportunities for our young people. And we have dedicated student volunteers too. The number of volunteers nationally has declined since the pandemic so this is a chance simply to celebrate the understated power of volunteering and thank our volunteers.
What with Bank Holidays and industrial action there is little to report on – other than a wonderful Summer Music Concert. We have received critical acclaim: among the comments:
“We thoroughly enjoyed all the acts especially the unique combination of drums, keyboards, bass and two French horns! I bet that’s never happened before – ground-breaking stuff.”
“I just wanted to email to congratulate Mr Murray, the arts team and of course the musicians on a great concert. It was lovely so see such a range of instruments, talents and groups performing and supporting each other.”
“Thank you for rebuilding music at The Willink and clearly serving as an inspiration for the students who performed and I am sure many more besides. Long may it continue."
In other news, the general secretaries of the education associations (ASCL, NAHT, NASUWT and NEU) announced on Friday last that they intend to co-ordinate their unions’ industrial action moving forward. The issue over school funding, pay and recruitment is not going away and one can only see at this point, and unless meetings take place, that action will be intensified in the autumn. If you feel strongly on this matter, may I urge you to contact your local MP for them to urge action and find a solution. We desperately need a consensus and a plan on how these issues are to be resolved.
Finally, this week we switch from formal lessons in years 11 and 13 to bespoke revision lessons and the start of the exam season. We wish all our students all the very best!
Welcome to the first WeLink of the summer term. Though there is nothing so far in the weather to indicate summer is on its way! I do hope you had a fulfilling Easter break.
Since the last edition of WeLink, Mr Ballantyne has been appointed Deputy Head, following Ms Browning’s appointment as Head. We congratulate him wish him great success. He will join Mr Sizer in this role. This means we are looking to appoint a new Assistant Head to join the senior team in September; interviews will take place in early May. We also have a number of teaching and non-teaching posts advertised at the current time, so if you have interest in teaching, cover team, pastoral support, Maths Hub or joining the administrative team, please peruse the school’s website for details.
This is the time, of course, we turn attention to public exams If you missed our Parent Information Evening presentation on “Supporting your child through exams” please also visit our website – under the “Parent Forum and Information Evenings”. There is good information in this presentation about, creating routines (food, exercise, friends, downtime – help with exam planning), looking out for signs of stress (more irritable than normal, off their food?), talking about anxiety (remembering that exam worries or stress is quite normal, talking openly about how you manage own stressful situations), being available to listen and being 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 encouraging them to talk staff at school if needed. With regard to Year 11, our year team led by Mr Jubb and our Learning Support team, led by Mrs Harbidge are available for students to see and parents to contact even if just as a listening ear. We can then act on concerns.
Arts in Schools
In other news, during the Easter break, an optimistic report was produced - a powerful manifesto for the Arts in Schools. This is an area of the Willink curriculum that suffered during the covid years, and we very much welcome the report and see the value of arts as integral to the international dimension to our curriculum. Also, last week, the work of Maths Hubs was recognised by HM Government as spearheading the drive in realising the flagship policy of maths for all to 18. Whilst some may feel this is an odd time to publicise and capture the headlines against the most significant crisis we’ve seen in teacher recruitment and retention, with deepening concerns about young people’s attendance, behaviour and mental health, and with no sign of improvements in funding – highlighting the impressive work of Maths Hubs, nevertheless, is welcome.
Finally, you will have received my letter regarding the two days of industrial action by members of the NEU to be held on 27th April and 2nd May. Being in this situation given the disruption to education over the last couple of years is tragic – for all involved in education. The NASUWT and NAHT are re-balloting members, whilst the Association for School & College Leaders (ASCL) are balloting for industrial action for the first time in their history following a pre-Easter survey that resulted in 87% of those voting indicating a rejection of the government’s offer on pay and conditions – the key reason being inadequate funding. This impasse shows no sign of abating – but rather deepening into the summer and possibly beyond.
This week two main stories dominated the Willink chatter:
International School's Award
The first, was the school’s International School’s Award. On Monday the 20th on behalf of the school our International Education Co-ordinator, Señor Debuire attended the International Awards ceremony organised by British Council at the Houses of Parliament. The ceremony was also a showcase of inspiring education projects from around the country that celebrate all the international perspectives that opens the mind and aspirations of so many students across the UK and across the world. British Council Chief Executive, Scott MacDonald specifically praised The Willink for the school’s enduring adherence to the principles of international education and being in the “top league” of schools with successful international projects for nearly 20 years! Our “global outlook” is, of course, written large in our DNA. It permeates the school, forms our motto, tenets (engage, respect and achieve) and values, curriculum, house system, charity fund-raising and our micro-financing project KIVA, to our outward facing collaborative philosophy. It is something, of course, we have to continually work at – we do have a small group who find it very challenging to meet our expectations.
The second story was the tragic death in January of Ruth Perry, a Head Teacher in Reading, following a school inspection. The inspection report, published this week, downgraded her school - a school to which she had devoted her life. A Head Teacher in West Berkshire this week initially barred inspectors from visiting their school as the story hit the headlines.
It’s a tragedy which has thrown into sharp focus school inspections – much of the commentary has been about the grading of schools. Checking on performance and standards is necessary but no system should ever have such a devastating impact as this on an individual nor, indeed, an individual’s job, livelihood and professional reputations in a single stroke.
On a happier note, I wish you a relaxing Easter break and our best wishes to year 11s and year 13s embarking on their Easter revision programmes.
Welcome to this week’s WeLink. My three themes this week are, staffing, snow and strikes.
Across the education sector staffing and recruitment are a significant and growing concern. There are far fewer teacher trainees out there. It seems fewer still are looking for senior leadership roles. The latest teacher recruitment figures are dire, but retention is eye-wateringly problematic – and pay isn’t the only factor. Talking to one local Head/CEO on Friday, they had been recently to Canada on a recruitment drive and returned with a handful signed up – such is the crisis. The Willink is so fortunate, therefore, to have high calibre internal candidates well-trained and experienced ready to step up. As you will have read via my letter on Thursday, we are delighted to have appointed Ms Browning as the new Head. We have also appointed Mrs Czekaj as our new lead for the Möbius Maths Hub – again success against some formidable external candidates. Our congratulations to both Ms Browning and Mrs Czekaj on their appointments.
Last week we had a flurry of emails questioning the decision to close the school due to snow – mostly from individuals who live locally but do not know the school. The decision to close a school is not taken lightly and takes into account a number of factors - the local conditions, the site conditions (with regard to health and safety), weather forecasts, predicted staffing levels and in consultation with staff, some of whom have considerable journeys to work. Although it is likely that clusters of schools are affected in the same way, each school will have factors that contribute to making these decisions weighted differently. The decision whether to close, have a late opening or stay open is taken early, so, if the decision is to close, messages can be sent promptly, and our remote learning procedures are implemented.
Thirdly teacher strikes. In my letter on Friday, I alluded to a possibility that strikes could be averted. Gillian Keegan, the Secretary of State for Education was due to speak at the ASCL, school leaders conference on Friday, but then in a positive move told the union she won’t appear in case she was needed for urgent pay talks. However, was announced on Friday that the government won’t enter formal talks unless the National Education Union (NEU) calls off this week’s strikes. Meanwhile, the NEU insists the DfE drops its “pre-conditions”. There was no hint of an offer and the Secretary of State has also rejected calls for mediated talks via the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. So, there is no settlement and, barring a last-minute miracle, the strikes are on. This cannot go on. Teachers, leaders, families, communities, and especially the nation’s children and young people – all need this matter settled. We need to be able to recruit and retain great teachers and leaders in a way that isn’t happening. A key moment may be next week’s budget. If there’s no extra investment, other teacher unions are likely to reconsider their positions and more and extended industrial action may follow.
World Book Week
Welcome to the WeLink’s World Book Week edition. I do hope you find some quiet time to read. We have a range of events planned this week to encourage more reading - including the highly fought over “Turn your Tutor Group’s Door into a Front Cover” competition. No doubt there will be pictures in WeLink’s next edition. On a more serious note, as Mrs Davis our Library Manager says – a “whopping” 3663 books have been lent from our Library since September!
Also, in this issue you will be able to read about Willink’s recent production of the Teen Edition of “SiX”. The musical, that follows the lives of Henry V11’s wives, was absolutely brilliant – led by a group of extremely talented sixth form students, very ably supported by a very high-tech Tech Team. Given these role-models the future of Creative Arts is very secure at Willink.
Sixth Form Interviews
Whilst on the theme of the Sixth Form, we have received detailed feedback on the external review that was undertaken prior to half term and that was mentioned in the last edition. The report highlights lots of positives. The main findings were:
- Lessons are well planned and scaffolded and also provides for metacognition opportunities for students to explore their own knowing, learning and understanding.
- Students welcome the independence of independent study, but may need more guidance on how to reflect on, and use, feedback.
- The curriculum is broad and varied, accessible and inclusive.
- Students agree with the sentiment behind the vision and values “village school, global outlook”, and many agree they are encouraged and supported to be resilient, global citizens, but students do not make a link between their futures and their learning.
- The Extended Project Qualification and the Massive Online Open Courses help to enrich the curriculum and students feel that more enrichment opportunities are ‘coming back’ as we progress away from the difficulties of the last few years.
- Students feel very well supported. Most feel that they are all known and understood by their tutors and others.
- Most students are positive about their futures and feel the sixth form has supported them with their future progression.
- Communications could be improved. Students would gain from a greater focus on careers and personal development.
Our thanks to Mrs Schofield, our Head of Sixth and the Sixth Form team for leading on this.
Almost lastly, just a reminder about the industrial action that is taking place this Thursday 2nd March. There have not been any further developments since my letter of Friday 24th February. The school will be open for students in years 11, 12 and 13 only.
Finally, we are currently reviewing our school’s Curriculum Policy; we would welcome comments from parents and carers by Monday 13th March. Please contact the school office – headed “Curriculum FAO Mr Fry”. To view policies please follow this link to the school’s website.
Welcome to the February edition of WeLink. It trails a rather busy fortnight – teacher industrial action, a packed house for the year 9 Open Evening and parent consultation, the Maths Hub National Conference and a Sixth Form review.
Thank you for your patience with regard to the day of industrial action. It is important to emphasise that the issue is about much more than teachers’ own pay. It’s about young people’s entitlement to a properly-funded education with a qualified teacher in every classroom – this sometimes gets lost in media reports. That said the day was accompanied with a range of emotions - relief that things ran smoothly, empathy with striking colleagues and worry about our students. On Wednesday I went back to my roots as a geography teacher and joined Mr Burgess and the department on the year 11 fieldtrip to Windsor – in the manner in which students conducted themselves and interacted with the public they were a fantastic credit to themselves and the school. Meanwhile, the remainder of year 11 and the Sixth Form were engaged in a welcomed day of structured revision. We really hope that a resolution to this bleak impasse for the teaching profession can be found and that the next day of industrial action, currently scheduled for 2nd March, can be avoided.
As a side-show there are moves by the Department for Education to restrict student courses post 16 by reducing the vocational offer to just T-Levels; this will not affect our Sixth Form course offer this September but may, unless sense prevails, from September 2024. BTECs, as we offer now, do provide a stepping stone for many students into higher education and should be preserved. We shall keep you posted on this matter.
Outside of school, as the lead school for the Mobius Maths Hub we joined the other 39 national maths hubs for the annual conference in Birmingham last week – and a few days later headed up a local leaders’ network for primary maths in Swindon; leading the development of maths in our region is a role we take very seriously.
Shelters Around School
Meanwhile in school we hosted a visit from Streetscape – this is one company we are considering using as we investigate the construction of a number of shelters and canopies for our students for use during social time, particularly inclement weather. The spaces students can go at social time is limited.
Review of Sixth Form
And then on Friday, we hosted an external led review of our Sixth Form. Getting on towards 70% of our students now transfer into our Sixth Form and this coupled with a growth in the number of external students is putting a strain on the systems, organisation and facilities. Students and staff were involved; once we have the full report we shall share the key matters, via WeLink.
Finally, following consultation, staff and governors have reviewed and approved two key policies this last fortnight: the Drugs Policy and the Relationships, Sex and Health Education Policy. To view these policies please follow this link to the school’s website.
03.02.23 - Mr Fry Announces His Retirement
On Friday 3rd February 2023, Mr Peter Fry shared a letter with parents and carers announcing his plan to retire from teaching at the end of this academic year. Click here to read this letter.
Welcome to this week’s WeLink. My three themes this week are parent consultations, vaping and industrial action.
This week we held our Year 11 parent consultation. If effectiveness is measured in attendance, with almost 95% of parents attending it was particularly successful. Those parents attending will have found it a bit of a squash – we need to expand the venue used. Post covid, we had considered whether a virtual meeting would be more suitable, but given the feedback so far from parents and staff it seems the face-to-face meeting has so many merits in sealing parent-teacher relationship and communication – and they are here to stay. This week we hold the Year 9 curriculum options evening and parent consultations over the subsequent two weeks – we hope for a similar turn-out!
Secondly, vaping. You are probably aware as we are, of an increase in the number of incidents in our local community where children and young people are being exposed to potentially harmful substances, such as nicotine when using e-cigarettes and/or vapes. There have also been reports of children and young people experimenting with THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) vaping. THC is the psychoactive compound in cannabis and is illegal in the UK. We are aware that there have been reports of young people becoming unwell and needing medical attention after using vapes. Vapes can come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. Some common styles include ones which look like a thick pen or highlighter pen. These devices are usually very small and can be concealed on a person or blend in with school equipment, therefore they can be easily mistaken or missed. As with cigarettes, retailers cannot sell vaping items to people under the age of 18. Local councils will pass on to Trading Standards any reports of shops selling to underage young people. It is, therefore, clear that young people under the age of 18 should not be purchasing or be in possession of alternative nicotine products such as vapes. Whilst the sale of items as detailed above is illegal, students have reported to us that they are able to acquire devices online or from older siblings, friends and, unfortunately in some instances, even parents/carers. We shall continue to educate students regarding the dangers of vaping and remind students of our behaviour policy and the list of prohibited items. When students have been found in possession of a prohibited item, a strong sanction is always applied. There will be a letter to parents, attached to this week’s Parent Digest, sent on behalf of school leaders across the LA providing more detail, parental guidance and sources of support – worth a read should you feel your child is susceptible to peer pressure on this matter.
Thirdly, industrial action. Schools were informed last week that members of the National Education Union will be taking strike action on Wednesday 1st February, Tuesday 2nd March and Wednesday and Thursday the 15th & 16th March. Given the number of NEU members at Willink and the impact of closures at other schools where Willink staff have their children, at this point in time, I expect we shall have to restrict attendance on Wednesday 1st. We shall endeavour to keep face-to-face learning for exam years and provide supervision for our vulnerable students at the very least, plus the provision of remote learning where possible. I shall write to parents towards the end of the week when more information becomes available.
A Happy New Year to all our readers! I do hope you had a good break.
At the beginning of term, we welcomed some new staff: Ms Bean (Mandarin & English), Mrs Grant (English), Mr Hulley (Design & Technology Technician & Student Mentor) and Mr Hall, Mr Luke and Ms Kytiri who joined us as Learning Support Assistants. We also welcomed Mrs Connor who, re-joined us after a term’s absence, as Second in English. We hope they have an enjoyable and successful time with us.
Celebration of Success
Coming back to start a new term on a wet dark Tuesday morning was a shock to the system for most, but meeting and greeting our ex-year 13 students at our Celebration of Success event was a delightful pleasure. It is a proud moment to see our students now fully fledged. This is probably a good moment also to advertise Willink Alumni – our organisation for ex-students to keep connected with the school: for full details please contact the School Office.
In other news, or not news, we have not received specific information about health matters from the local authority or UKHSA – you are probably aware from your own family that there is more flu and other respiratory ailments about, so the advice is to take precautions with personal hygiene as learnt through the pandemic.
In the news last week was an unexpected call from the Prime Minister for maths to be taught to all young people to the age of 18. At Willink just over half our students in the Sixth Form typically study Maths or Further Maths at A Level and AS Core Maths is an available option for students who don’t study an A level in the subject, but who study subjects with some mathematical content. As the Möbius Maths Hub lead school you’d probably expect us to welcome the new commitment, but the idea was introduced without consultation and amidst a recruitment shortage in maths teachers. The problem is also unclear for which maths for all is the solution.
In the news this week will be the outcome of the various ballots for industrial action undertaken by teaching unions. We shall keep you posted how this unfolds.
End of Term
So here we are at the end of a long term. Looking back at where we were 12 months ago: testing, face coverings, isolation, reporting cases, distance and remote education - we have come a long way. It feels so much more human in school now. We can see smiling faces, interact with each other so much more easily (as we found with parents during Learning Review Day), talk about teaching and learning and plan for the future with a positive attitude – rather than organising covid testing, purchasing supplies of hand sanitizer and staffing one-way systems!
Learning Review Days
I do hope you found the LRD experience useful not just for reviewing work this term but also setting the course for the spring term. Turnout was high with 90% of tutor meetings taking place on the day with subsequent follow up for those parents unable to meet the time slot. Over 520 families having responded to the LRD questionnaire so far – the survey is still open. We are touched by your kind personal comments about how the school has made a difference to your child and how it has responded to challenges this year - and particularly delighted that over 90% of you have indicated through the survey that you are satisfied and see great strengths in the school setting high expectations, the quality of teaching, the quality of leadership across the school, independent learning, student progress, school to home communication and safeguarding.
The Schools Bill
In other news, it’s official: the Schools Bill is no more. Just eight months after being launched its demise was confirmed this week by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan. It is a shame that some good measures in the Bill are lost, most notable stronger powers for Ofsted to identify and investigate illegal schools and a plan for a mandatory register of children not in school. However, its central aim was to underpin a move to full academisation with every school in a trust by 2030. Thorny organisational changes were hardly likely to stimulate parents and school communities, and can prove a tiresome distraction for school leaders and governors who are trying to cope with financial pressures and an increasingly serious teacher supply problem.
As is normal there are some staff changes at the end of term. Mrs Sayers leave us on maternity leave; Mr Wall steps up as Acting Head of English. Ms Goddard leaves us as part-time Teacher of English to join Theale Green School as Second in Department, whist Mrs Zhang leaves us as part-time Teacher of Mandarin for Abingdon School. Mrs Owens, our data administrator is leaving us and we are also saying farewell to teaching support Mr Proctor and Miss Davison. We wish them all the very best for the future.
Canteen Queueing at Lunchtime
As the school has grown in size, the queue for lunch in the canteen has become busier. To reduce congestion, and to be as fair as possible, from January we will trial staggered queueing for food at lunchtime. In Week A, girls will join the queue first at 12.40, followed by boys at 12.50. In Week B we will alternate with boys queueing first. We have been in discussions with the catering team to ensure that enough food will be available for students joining the second queue.
When we return to school in January we look forward to seeing students wearing their Willink uniform with pride. Our uniform sets high expectations and gives students a sense of belonging to a wider community where everyone is on an equal footing. Having a clear uniform policy helps us keep conversations with students free of any distractions and allows teachers and staff to focus on teaching and learning.
To that end, please ensure your son or daughter is in full uniform, including black shoes, wearing no hoodies or sports tops and leaving jewellery or gadget Christmas gifts at home. We know times are hard so if you need to talk to someone about assistance with uniform, please get in touch with the school.
Finally, please remember that school closes at 12.40pm this Friday. I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a peaceful Christmas and look forward to welcoming students back to school on Tuesday 3rd January 2023.
Learning Review Days
Welcome to the penultimate WeLink of the calendar year. There is a lot on! Across the school students have been reflecting on their achievements and progress since September in preparation for Learning Review Day. We are so looking forward to meeting parents and carers, face to face for the first time in three years. Some parents of students in year 9 may never have met their child’s tutor! Virtual meetings serve a purpose, but having the personal contact of a face-to-face meeting achieves so much more - as we know from our personal lives. Meanwhile, students in year groups 7 -10 will experience independent remote learning from home. This helps students develop skills in research, organisation, time management and application - skills which are appraised when they return to school. As for year 11s, of whom most will be in school, they have a carefully crafted revision programme for their mock exams which begin on Monday. These exams will provide them and their teachers with valuable information – not just what they understand (or not) but also on revision organisation and techniques – and how to help support them moving forward towards GCSEs in the summer.
The Learning Review Days have also been selected by the School Council for students to bring contributions for the West Berkshire Foodbank; we hope that the school’s part-motto “village school” will be fulfilled! During LRD we are asking parents and carers to complete our annual Parent Survey, providing us feedback on how well we are doing. We really appreciate you taking time to complete this survey. We will report back findings and actions arising from the Parent Survey in the New Year.
Events in School
Talking about a lot on, we have the Year 11 Moving Forward Day on Wednesday (when students experience opportunities on offer post 16 be it at Willink or elsewhere) and, before the end of term, a number of festive events including the pantomime trip, Christmas Dinner, Christmas Concert and, starting this week, the school production, Around the World in 80 Days. Tickets (which enable production licences, props and equipment to be purchased) are available from Scopay and the Finance Office. We hope to see you then. It promises to be a great evening out.
Investing in Education
Finally, following my comments in my last blog about investing in education (but probably not because of it!) the government’s Autumn Statement did bring some cheer. The extra £2 billion funding suggests the voice of schools, parents and communities about the desperate state of education funding has cut through and been listened to by the government. However, there was no additional funding for special educational needs, specialist support services and post-16 provision which are both facing extraordinarily difficult financial circumstances. Whilst this commitment to education, made in the context of a bleak economic picture is recognised, this comes after a decade of real-terms cuts to schools and colleges and that besides funding, the education sector is facing a teacher recruitment and retention crisis largely caused by the erosion of the real value of pay since 2010.
Governor School Tour
On Monday we were delighted to host a group of Governors to tour the school and see the work of students and staff first hand. No areas were off limits! We usually schedule such tours each big term and this, together with individual visits to curriculum areas, help Governors visualise the school they discuss through meetings and committees. They look at the fabric and resources, lesson changeover and SEND as well as overall ethos, behaviour and attitudes to learning. With this week’s second Open Evening of the year (this one for Sixth Form) it reminds me to remind you that we do welcome parents of students in all years to sign up for a school tour – please contact the school office for details – and we shall try to select a dry day!
This week is Anti-Bullying Week and has the theme Reach Out. The theme of Reach Out came about following consultation with teachers and students who wanted a theme that empowered them to do something positive to counter the harm and hurt that bullying causes. The idea is that it reminds us all whether it’s in school, at home, in the community or online, that we each deserve respect and show each other the support we need. We remind our students to reach out to someone they trust if they need to talk. Reach out to someone they know is being bullied. But it doesn’t stop with young people. From teachers to parents and influencers to politicians, we all have a responsibility to help each other reach out, reflect on our own behaviour, set positive examples and create kinder communities. We know bullying occurs at Willink, sometimes in school, often online. Most weeks there is an incident that comes to our attention. Our approach is outlined in our policy which can be found on our website. Students can use the online 'Report and Restore' function on ClassCharts which allows them to report incidents electronically should they wish to instead of reporting direct to staff. Anti-bullying is also related to our Fundamental Values – a policy that has recently been approved by Governors. But we are aware that a policy does not create a culture where bullying itself is ostracised.
Finally, this is a week of high stakes politics – COP27, G20, the Autumn Statement and Willink’s first meeting of the newly elected School Council! The School Council’s Eco Committee meets on Tuesday (today), starting with a workshop on waste given by local company Hubba and then publication of our Eco strategy. As for the Autumn Statement, let’s hope that industrial action in schools can be averted. Any steps towards industrial action will be carefully considered. But, funding shortages, pay erosion, loss of student support services, and the teacher supply crisis are themselves damaging children’s education. Hopefully government will do the right thing: invest in teachers, invest in education and invest in the future.
I do hope you had a refreshing break and are in gear for the second part of the autumn term at The Willink. I’m sure we all hope for a period of calm following the chaotic, morale-sapping, unseemly political turbulence of these past few weeks. Quick quiz: can you name, in chronological order, the five Secretaries of State for Education, since July? Those of us in education really do hope the matter of the funding crisis, the woeful state of teacher recruitment and retention, pay and conditions of teachers and support staff, pupil behaviour and mental health concerns can quickly be prioritised and addressed – and that industrial action can be averted. At least we are not looking at the possibility of a lockdown as we did last autumn!
Thank-You to Ian Pearson
In contrast to the current turmoil, I must pay tribute to the constancy and commitment of West Berkshire’s Head of Education, Ian Pearson, who retired at the end of October (this week!). Ian worked as a public servant for West Berks for 24 years and certainly during my time as Head at The Willink was a great supporter of the school. We wish him all the very best for the future.
Back with school matters, we have recently reviewed a few school policies that may be of interest to parents and carers: accessibility plan, SEND, equality information and objectives and our remote learning policy; the latter being relevant as we approach the learning review/remote learning days. As always, please see the school website for policy details.
Finally, we welcome the return of two ex-members of teaching staff back to Willink. Mrs Wise joined us on Monday as Inclusion Mentor, working with some of our more vulnerable and challenging students. Mrs Wise was previously with us as a science teacher and Head of Learning. Secondly Mrs Lawrence, our ex-Head of Music, re-joins next Tuesday, picking up classes on currently being taught by Mrs Andrews.
The weekend before last I was invited by the Humanities Faculty to accompany the Year 9 History trip to the World War 1 Battlefields in Belgium and northern France. Apart from the need to leave home at 2.30amon Friday, the trip was superbly organised and it was a privilege to accompany Miss Argent, Mrs Harbidge and Mrs Jonas. All the near 50 students conducted themselves with decorum throughout the trip. A particularly poignant moment came when a group of our students laid a wreath at the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres at the “Last post” ceremony. The memorial is dedicated to over 50,000 British and Commonwealth soldiers who were killed in the Ypres Salient and whose graves are unknown. Along with the wreath we attached a card listing the names of soldiers from Burghfield and Mortimer who fell; one of our students was selected to read the citation to the fallen. In this edition of WeLink students who went on this trip give their account of the experience. We were very proud of all our students.
Meanwhile, two students, one also in year 9 and one in year 8 had words with each other on the Friday and planned to have a fight. They were aware of the advice, support and expertise staff have in defusing tensions, but rather told their “friends” and their parents, hiding their intentions from staff. Although they knew a fight was quite possible in school on the Monday the parents chose to let their children sort it out themselves rather than inform the school. So, with an assembled crowd and camera at the ready the protagonists duly arrived on the drive – an area out of bounds at break and lunch. The fight was nasty – bruising and a ripped shirt. Three children were suspended (one for filming and sharing content) and their place in school long term is now in jeopardy. The contrast between the two stories cannot be more distinct.
Use of Mobile Phones
What is particularly sad, disconcerting and disappointing is twenty or so children thought it okay to be bystanders. Film suggests some children whipped up rather than discouraged. We have contacted parents of those children and we have also decided to tighten up our rules concerning the use of mobile phones. Whilst the vast majority of our students do not access their phones from the moment the bell goes at 8.40am to the end of school at 3.05pm a few per cent find it difficult to be detached from their phones and may use toilets as phone kiosks. Up to this point we have confiscated phones in line with our Behaviour Policy and Home School Agreement, giving them back at the end of the day or the end of the week. Now for those we sadly cannot trust, we shall remove phones at the beginning of the day and return them at the end.
Open Evening and Open Mornings
Although the last couple of weeks have been shortened, what with the Queen’s funeral and our Open Evening and training day, we have entertained so many visitors to the school. About 200 families attended Open Evening, Open Morning was very busy, and we’ve hosted groups of visiting maths teachers and teachers studying national qualifications with us. In addition, we have held settling-in evenings for parents/carers of students in years 7, 10 and 11(with year12 to follow) – presenting the key information, our expectations and dates not to be missed for students embarking on new courses. If you have been unable to attend in person, the presentations can be found via the school website. We also have school tours each Monday up to half term. If you wish to have the “grand tour” (and some of you will have missed the opportunity during Covid restrictions) do contact the school office to book an appointment. Likewise, if you would like a tour of sixth form classes accompanied by Sixth Form students.
Policies on Homework and Assessment
As we embark on another year we have updated our policies on assessment and homework. Unlike many schools we don’t have a homework timetable with dates for when homework is set, but rather homework is planned as part of schemes of work so we indicate the amount and type of homework you can expect your child to receive over a fortnight. Please click for the homework schedule and the homework policy. Students are continually assessed as teachers reflect upon the work students complete, the questions asked, the answers provided. In addition, students undertake termly Milestone Assessments in each curriculum area. Milestones are composite or summative assessments and test a broad curriculum content. These assessments can be a variety of activities, (extended projects, exams, producing an artefact, essays, presentations and so on) that together form the evidence used by teachers to assess the overall progress in the acquisition of knowledge, understanding and skills each student is making in each subject. We track student attainment and progress in each subject through these Milestone Assessments. They complement the regular formative assessments (oral and written) carried out across the curriculum during lessons that aim to tease out levels of understanding of key components or subject matter. Each student has a ‘flight path’ (expected progression over time) and targets for each subject. This year’s Milestone Assessments for years 7, 8 and 9 can be found here.
Finally, Covid. Thus far it is not in the news, but unfortunately, we are seeing locally an increase in the number of Covid 19 cases reported – albeit from a very low base. A rise amongst secondary students is being reported in other parts of the country. So just a plea to be alert and cautious going forward as the new school year coincides with the onset of colder weather. Attendance at school is one sure fire way to achieve success.
Welcome to the first edition of WeLink for the school year and a special welcome to students, parents and carers new to Willink. We only returned to school on Monday. It has been, of course, had a momentous week – a week when the sun hardly shone, a new Prime Minister at the week’s beginning, the sad death of our Queen Elizabeth and the proclamation of a new King, Charles 111.
HM Queen Elizabeth II
Much has been said about The Queen in the media over this last few days. Her dedication to public service has been an inspiration to children and adults alike over the past 70 years. She will be hugely missed by the nation, including all those in the world of education where many people will have fond memories of jubilee and other royal events during her reign. This is a time of uncertainty for most of us, as we navigate our own emotions whilst calmly helping children and young people to understand why and how we mourn; what it might mean to live through the end of the second Elizabethan age and the beginning of the new Carolean age and to understand how to cling to optimism even when life feels ever more challenging.
GCSE and A-Level Results
I do not want to repeat the content of my letter sent to you last week, but I hope you were able to catch the headlines concerning our excellent examination results through the local media and via my “welcome back” letter. Please view the details on our website, if this passed you by. Early results analysis indicate our results at GCSE (70% grade 5+ in English and mathematics, and a tad under 40% grades at grades 7+) were amongst the highest of non-selective schools in Berkshire; our A levels results too were very positive with 38% top grades, 90% C grades or above and all exams passed. Our congratulation to students in year 11 and year 13 who achieved so well and our thanks to the Willink family of teachers who worked so hard on their behalf.
Finally, I’d like to publicly thank Mr Debuire on his leadership of a successful bid to extend our work and turn the page of our story as an International School – I shall leave it to him to write about what this means for the school.
WeLink and Parent Digest Publications
May I remind parents and carers that in addition to WeLink you should be receiving our weekly Parent Digest that keeps you up to date with all the events and happenings at Willink. Please do contact the school office if you are not in receipt.
Welcome to the final WeLink of the academic year – the first for our new editor Gemma Davies. It comes at the end of an extraordinary couple of weeks – year 6 into 7 transition days, year 11 into 12 transition days, year 11 Prom, year 13 Ball, activity week, home trips, foreign trips, sports day, a charity walk on behalf of the Moldovan & Ukrainian appeal, new parent tutor meetings, and rehearsals for the school production - which is brilliant, by the way, and for which there are still tickets going for Friday! Meanwhile we have seen three Secretaries of State for Education and an Under-Secretary of State for Education whose behaviour fell well short of the standards expected of them! I think we are all overheating, tired and need a break!
It was delightful to meet so many parents on Monday evening at Prize-giving to celebrate their child’s successes. But, as at Sports Day when not all 1000 athletes can race, there are so many more students worthy of praise. I have had the pleasure of signing over three hundred merit certificates to a further tranche of students who have amassed hundreds of merits and Successful Sixes. Whilst a handful of students in each year group do struggle to abide by our values and guidance, at the end of a challenging year it is so reassuring to know that so many students have had a successful year and do the right thing.
Challenging year? It certainly has been stop-start. Covid, of course, provided the backdrop: in school covid-testing overseen by our team of exam invigilator/medics, a pop-up in-school vaccination centre, face coverings and twice weekly lateral flow tests, mass testing after Christmas with advance of the Omicron variant, virtual parent meetings, stop-start preparation for external exams – in case there were no exams, in case there were exams. For some, school attendance fell that had impacted on learning. Sadly, we had a reduced service on trips, co-curricular activities, the arts. We welcomed students from Afghanistan and more recently Ukraine, raising funds for the local foodbank and our friends in Moldova. Challenging year – yes, but the spirit of Willink, the village school with a global reach, has shone through.
At this time of year there is always sorrow as we say farewell to colleagues who are leaving us: This year we say goodbye to:
Mr Walker, Mr Meadham and Mr Lake, who as ex-Willink students and members of the support staff are moving on to university and beyond.
Ms Platt (Textiles) and Ms Williams (PSHE) have both been teaching a year with us and are now moving to pastures new.
Ms Taylor (Languages) is going travelling and Mr Fitzsimons (PE) going home to Ireland. Both been with us two years.
Mr Gilliam is retiring as Design Technician after 5 years at Willink, as too is Mrs Ellams; she joined us in 2004 as the School Sports Coordinator before becoming a fully-fledged member of the PE department. Also, we are saying goodbye to Lesley Young, a Learning Support Assistant, who is leaving us at the end of the year.
Lastly, Mr Read is hanging up his boots and taking to the wheels as the Hampshire Bikeabilty Coordinator. Mr Read joined Willink in September 1999. He has been Mr Willink, always positive, loyal, takes one for the team, thoroughly reliable and whom has made such an impact on the lives of so many students and staff. To all our leavers we wish them all the very best in their new ventures.
May I wish you all a great summer. Please remember, if you are purchasing new uniform that it is compliant with the school policy which is on the school website. We look forward to welcoming the new year 7 and year 12 on Monday the 5th and the rest of the school on Tuesday 6th September.
Welcome to the penultimate WeLink of the term. The final edition, to be issued on Thursday 14th July promises to be a bumper edition, so keep your eyes peeled for that one. Much is happening between now and then of course – activities week, trips, prize-giving to name but three. In the meantime, in this edition a note about our editor Sarah Hiscock, some insight into Sports Day and an update on the Maths Hub and Teaching School Hub.
Farewell to Sarah Hiscock
At the end of June (Thursday), Sarah Hiscock will be leaving us …… finally – I say finally because with Covid and enhanced remote working opportunities, although she and her family moved to Pembrokeshire some time ago, Sarah was able to carry on her role with us. Sarah has masterminded our PR and marketing strategy for both the Maths Hub and school for some time. Publicity, the new murals, prospectuses and the relaunch of the website have all come under her remit. She was also instrumental in the school's first promotional video. We wish her all the very best in her new ventures and send her our very ‘cofion gorau’.
Thanks to our Digital & Commerce Faculty and PE Department
Our special thanks last week go to our Digital & Commence Faculty for showcasing media and film and to our PE Department who over two days orchestrated our annual sports fest – track and field. This is where students strive for points for their Houses, their personal bests and, as happened this year, new school records. The weather was kind with a breeze. It was a lovely whole school event. More than 50 parents were in attendance, far more than attended pre-Covid and more than we anticipated - we shall erect turnstiles and issue tickets next year!
Mobius Maths Hub
As we are nearing the end of our second year as a Maths Hub lead school and first year as regional lead for Teaching School Hub Berkshire, I thought I’d give an update on these key operations of the school. Sometimes I am asked how being a Hub helps my child. As a centre of excellence and one of just 44 schools across the country we lead and manage professional development for teachers and leaders of maths from primary to post-16 for western Berkshire (from Bracknell westwards), Wiltshire and Swindon. Workshops and training is free (staff cover and expenses is paid for by the DfE) to schools and teachers wishing to develop mastery approaches to maths teaching or develop enhanced subject leadership knowledge and skills. We utilise the experience and expertise from fantastic practitioners from the primary phase to colleagues at Reading University. Willink staff lead aspects of the programme. Our students gain by being exposed to some great teaching, great thinking in maths.
Teaching School Hub
As the regional lead school for Teaching School Hub Berkshire, we lead the Early Career Framework programme for newly qualified teachers locally and, more widely, the DfE National Professional Qualifications for established staff who are looking to develop their expertise in leading teaching, or as subject leaders, behaviour leads, senior leaders or those with ambitions to become Heads. Again, the Willink provides co-ordination and experts for the delivery of the programme and, as in the case of the Maths Hub, our staff benefit from participating in the training. Investing in our staff is a sure way of keeping the school in the forefront of innovative change and development and provides the very best provision for our students.
We hope you find these new House logos bright, refreshing and uplifting. There will be a range of equally bright newly designed murals placed around the school next month, making the school fabric upbeat and welcoming. They will be as similarly fantastic as the logos.
Events in School
Last week we held our annual House Drama Competition. Not one of the largest events in the school calendar, but one that took on greater significance this year. It was the first public performing arts event since December 2019! The School Hall was pretty full, refreshments were available and the students performed very well during what was a lovely warm evening. It was great to see real parents not the holograms of recent months! We have also held the Mandarin Festival, the Yoto Carnegie Shadowing Conference, and an Oxbridge Conference in the last two school weeks. This week we have sports day track and field on Thursday and athletics on Friday. (Parents are welcome to come along from 1pm on Friday). It is great to see such opportunities now available and students so engaged. As we say “Engage, Respect, Achieve”.
This time of year is also very busy in terms of staffing. For teachers the 31st May is the final date for resignations. We did have a member of staff resigning with days to spare and one with a few minutes to spare. As it is, however, at time of writing we are just looking to appoint a PE Teacher for September. But, we also have opportunities for non-teachers to join us as a Food & Nutrition Technician or as a Design & Technology Technician or as a Behaviour Support Assistant. So if food is your thing or DIY then we look forward to your application! The behaviour post is to help run our Inclusion Room – so if you are robust and can administer “tough love” then this may be for you. Seriously though, if you are interested in joining us, please see the school website for details.
This week we have some staff being interviewed by Ofsted Inspectors looking into our work with the Teaching School Hub and delivering professional development courses for school leaders, an in-depth review of our English and Languages curriculum led by an external consultant and the very first face to face meeting of the Strategic Board for the Mobius Maths Hub. We shall give you some feedback on all this in a following edition of WeLink. Meanwhile, enjoy WeLink, enjoy the sun!
Firstly, exams! They are on our mind more than usual given the two years without them. We wish both our year 11 and year 13 students all the very best for their examinations. Year 11 are already in exam mode, year 13 start this week. We sent them off with final year group assemblies and celebrations; great fun with the year 11 picnicking on the Three Fields and year 13 dressing up in the job of their childhood dreams! We shall see them all next at their Proms and for year 11 their Sixth Form induction.
As for the exams, well, the first full week has gone pretty smoothly. We have navigated the anxiety of young people, dealt with a few concerns of parents and overcome the logistical challenges of setting up exams and deploying invigilators. There can be half a dozen venues for some exams – due to the size of the cohort or the special circumstances of students requiring individualised support. Our special thanks to Mrs Vause, our Exams Manager, Mrs May, the Assistant Exams Manager, and the army of invigilators.
Secondly, uniform. A new policy has been agreed by Governors. There are two key amendments are the selected school outfitters and the wearing of school shorts. We think the policy is clear, but there are some students (and a handful of parents!) who misinterpret the uniform code. Regarding the uniform outfitters, Oliver Embroidery in Burghfield, who replace Liss Sport, and M&S are our two sources of uniform. All contact details are on the policy. As for shorts, the School Council, led by Archie, Y11 and Lily, Y10, have been lobbying for students to wear shorts for quite some time. The School Council have conducted student surveys, researched and contacted other schools, looked at design and costs and presented to Governors. The details about the shorts are in the new uniform policy; shorts can be purchased from David Luke.
Lastly, a brief update on premises. A new enlarged Conference Room was completed a fortnight ago. New signage has recently been put up around the school and the entrances to the site (as the venue for the Maths Hub and work for Teaching School Berkshire we are hosting far more adult visitors). There will also be new artwork for departmental areas and celebrating our new Houses. The piazza between the Admin Block, the new English/Humanities Block and the Cadet accommodation is ready for surfacing. At the stage of consultation is the possibility of a 3G pitch being located on Three Fields and at an even earlier stage of consultation we are exploring how the school can support the organisation and layout of the community library. When we have something a little more concrete, excuse the pun, we shall update you with developments.
Mr P Fry, Head
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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
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
There are three theme’s I’d like to write about as we approach the half-term break: attendance, summer exams and staff leavers.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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