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