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Chair's Report - Summer 2020

The summer term has been unique in the history of RPHS. Not since World War II has the school had to function with so many students off-site – in this case, sitting at home in front of PCs, laptops and phones rather than as evacuees in the countryside. It has been a real test of our resilience as a school and of our ability to innovate and adapt to the unprecedented situation presented by the COVID pandemic. 

During this period, Governors have been very appreciative of the strong leadership offered by Kirsten Heard as our Headteacher and of the support she has received from her Senior Leadership Team and their staff, teaching and non-teaching.  Their dedication, teamwork and commitment and their capacity to innovate have been remarkable. Together with their care for our students’ wellbeing, these have been the key qualities that have enabled the school to make the best of our difficulties. We must equally pay tribute to the resilience of our students, who have faced up to the situation and acted calmly and with great maturity – most especially those at Year 11 and Year 13 who have been denied the chance to demonstrate their abilities in public examinations this summer. 

Rather than follow the usual format of recording our actions under each of the heads in the Forward Work Programme, this report looks at our response to the different aspects of the crisis.

Lockdown and RPHS

The school had been able to make some preparations for lockdown and these were actioned at the end of March. Throughout the crisis, in line with Government guidance, we have welcomed around 20 vulnerable and key worker students each day – as elsewhere, these have been lower than anticipated. Other students have been offered homework online via Show My Homework with hard copy packs for those without IT facilities at home.

The school has coped well with the deluge of tardy and sometimes confusing advice from the Department for Education and a sometimes patchy response from the local authority. The provision of laptops for those without access or without adequate access has been a particular issue for us.  Governors have been grateful to staff for their ability to keep in touch with all our students via phone calls home, with closer contact being maintained with our vulnerable students.

Governors were also pleased to note the way staff coped with the Government’s instruction to assess and grade students for their GCSE, A-level and vocational qualifications. This was an unprecedented and complicated exercise vital to our students’ future. It was a great tribute to our teachers that they were able to assemble this information so quickly and that senior management calibration of the results showed that the proposals put to the exam boards were robust.

Reopening the school

The return of groups of Year 10 and Year 12 students after 15th June required close planning, both in terms of what teaching they were to be offered and the physical arrangements in school to ensure we kept in line with Government social distancing requirements. Governors approved the school’s plans, including a risk assessment, ahead of their implantation and have monitored their effects. We have been pleased to note that to date 60 Year 10 students have attended sessions, the maximum permissible; the figure of 25 Year 12s is less than anticipated but we note plans are in hand to increase this number.

Governors have also been pleased to see the school roll out its online offer through Microsoft Teams. We are convinced that this will form part of a necessary blended learning package that will make it possible for all students to return to school in September as the Government have indicated. We are grateful to those 40 or so teachers who are working on this scheme but key to it will be access to laptops. We are grateful to all those who are helping us increase their availability where necessary to our families.

Governance

Governors too have had to adapt to the crisis. I am very grateful to colleagues for their forbearance. We have joined the Zoom generation, and in the course of the term have held one Full Governing Body meeting, one Extraordinary FGB meeting and two meetings of our Business Committee. I have reported each week to Governors on my round-ups with the Headteacher and have been able to maintain the dialogue in what has been throughout a fast-moving and challenging situation.

I must also mention the contribution of at least four Governors to the school’s community box scheme. These boxes comprise food and other household items and have been given weekly to between 60 and 100 of our families who need them because of the effects of the crisis on their income. The scheme is in the best traditions of RPHS and it is good to see Governors providing such practical support.

On membership, Stephen Benjamin had to step aside from being Chair of Governors in March for health reasons. On the plus side, we welcomed Hannah Davidson as a new Co-opted Governor. Hannah is herself a teacher, but in another borough, although she lives locally. She has made a strong early start to her career with us. Finally, I cannot end this section without paying a warm tribute to Marina Szanto, who will be stepping down as a Governor at the end of term. Marina has been an outstanding Chair of our Standards & Quality Committee. As a retired secondary Headteacher herself she has given the Governing Body a very real source of expertise in challenging and supporting the school on curriculum and teaching and learning issues. She is going to be greatly missed personally and professionally. We are putting in hand the selection of her successor.      

Conclusion

This has been a very difficult time for all of us who are connected with RPHS. But Governors, like our staff, our students and their parents have met the crisis head on, and as ever have done all that we can to preserve and further the education and welfare of our students. Next term will be no less challenging as we seek to recover lost ground academically and reform for the new academic year. We are in a good place from which to do so, and I am grateful to all our Governors for their hard work in support of the school and our students.

 

Michael Ross

Acting Chair of Governors