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Chair's Report - Autumn 2020

It was good to see the school at the beginning of term back and ready for action. But it was a very different school from the norm, with Covid precautions making life at RPHS a matter of one-way systems, bubbles and blended learning. The school has been unable to welcome visitors and Governors did not step inside the building once during the term. Our challenge and support became a matter of Zoom meetings and telephone calls. Nonetheless, even at a distance we remained members of the school community.

I must start by thanking our Headteacher, Kirsten Heard, and her team for their tireless work during the term. Many have worked with scarcely a break since the initial lockdown in March, and much of the school’s success in keeping open and active is due to them. We should also thank our students, whose behaviour and attitude to learning have generally been excellent. It is greatly to their credit that they have adapted so well to the new ways of working made necessary by Covid: I must pay particular thanks to our new Year 7s, who faced the double bind of the transfer to big school as well as the new restrictions.

I am also very grateful to colleagues on the Governing Body, who have been very patient and understanding about the frustrations of governance by Zoom. That we completed our normal programme of meetings during the term is tribute to their resilience. During the term, we welcomed one new Governor, Carolyn Barnes, who comes to us with a wealth of teaching experience and expertise: she must wonder if some of her colleagues exist, and I hope she will be able to meet us all face to face very soon.

As ever, progress for the term is recorded here under the headings of our Forward Work Programme for the year, which we agreed at our September meeting.   

1. Challenge and support for the Headteacher and Senior Leadership Team (SLT) in devising and implementing recovery plans to restore the school to full-time attendance in line with Department for Education requirements; and to enable students and staff to catch up with the curriculum, so they are back on track and in line with the School Improvement Plan objectives and timetable by December 2020.

This was the biggest single work item during the term. Governors were impressed with the work that indeed began in the summer term and lasted over August in preparing the school for the new Covid regime. Governors reviewed and commented on the risk analysis and recovery plans prepared by senior staff and visited the school at the end of August to inspect the physical arrangements being in put in place to ensure the health and safety of our students. We were very pleased with what we saw. The school’s plans were kept under review during the term, and I reported fortnightly to fellow-Governors as part of my regular report-back from the scheduled round-up calls with the Headteacher.

2. Challenge and support for the Headteacher and the SLT in implementing the School Improvement Plan, particularly in delivering its objectives; and in meeting the performance targets for the year agreed by the FGB.

Our recovery action points were directed at how to get the school back on track to the School Improvement Plan, which serves as our corporate planning document. We reviewed and approved modifications to the SIP during the term and our aim is still that RPHS should obtain Outstanding status. To this end, our Standards & Quality Committee also set performance targets for outcomes at Key Stages 4 (GCSE) and 5 (A level and equivalents). We will be monitoring progress on these during the remainder of the academic year.

3. Monitoring the agreed budget for 2020/21 to end the year to plan, husbanding the resources available while maintaining so far as possible the scale and scope of the curriculum.

Our Business Committee monitored spend against budget, which has been complicated this year by additional expenditure on Covid-related measures to protect students physically and academically. Some additional funding has been received from the Department for Education and more is expected, and we will need to keep the match between these two under continuous review.

4. Continuing the drive to improve teaching and learning outcomes in the school

We have been pleased to see that the drive continuously to improve our teaching and learning has been maintained, with classroom drop-ins and support for teaching staff kept up. We were especially pleased to see the support for Newly Qualified Teachers and for those in their second year in the profession. We are also pleased that more staff are gaining the opportunity for Subject Knowledge Enhancement (SKE) to widen and deepen their expertise as part of their continuing professional development.

5. Continuing to raise aspiration at all levels and with all pupils across the school

This continues to be an important priority for Governors. We want to engender a climate of success in the school, where every student feels there is no limit to her or his capacity for building on their skills and talents, no matter what their abilities. We believe the school is making good progress in this field.

6. Closing the gap for Pupil Premium students’ progress and attainment at the school

We were pleased to see evidence of the gap closing between PP and non-PP students. As has been reported nationally, the pandemic threatens to disadvantage further those students who may come from disadvantaged backgrounds. We do not want that to happen at RPHS and we support the efforts that staff are making to contain and combat the issue.

7. Maintain the school’s deserved reputation for excellent Safeguarding and for maintaining students’ welfare.

This has been a particular area of concern across the country since the spread of Covid. Governors were particularly impressed and supportive of the work done by the school during the first lockdown to keep in touch, at times on a weekly basis, with their vulnerable students, and we have been pleased to see this work continue during the term. We believe that for some students this has been an important factor in their development.

8. Continuing support for the development of a sports strategy for RPHS

The opportunities for sport this term have sadly been limited because of the constraints of the Covid precautions. But the school has done its best to maintain PE and fitness levels generally and we hope that school sports will again be possible as the present restrictions are relaxed.

9. The marketing of RPHS

This has been a very challenging area this term. It has not been possible to mount school visits to our feeder primary schools as usual, nor have we been able to hold our very popular Open Evenings and Open Mornings for prospective students and their parents to visit us. But we were pleased to see the videos and virtual tours that were launched via the school’s website and were impressed by the professionalism of their production and the willingness of those staff appearing to take part.

10. Increasing parental involvement

This is another area that has suffered because of Covid restrictions. But Governors were pleased to note that the school has retained and stepped up its regular email communications with parents and used these additionally as substitutes for parents’ evenings and parents’ information evenings.

11. Access Centre

Governors have been very pleased to see the continuing care that our specialist staff have taken of our students in the Access Centre, for whom the Covid arrangements in school pose special challenges. We have been impressed too by the attitude of students in the Centre, who have adapted well. It has all been a real test of those qualities that gained us national accreditation and the Centre has come through with flying colours.

12. Improving the school’s profile within the community

Opportunities for raising the profile of RPHS within the local community have been limited this term by pandemic restrictions. A particular – and not altogether welcome – focus at the end of term will be the planning appeal by Redrow against the local authority’s refusal to allow them to build a series of over-large blocks of flats on part of the adjoining Tesco site. RPHS will be joining with Merton Council and is working with local residents’ groups in opposing the appeal.

Michael Ross

Chair of Governors

December 2020