Well done to everyone at Thomas Harding. We have made it. Not only that, but we have made it to half term with our bubbles intact! Thank you to each and every member of our school community who have helped with keeping the school as safe as possible for our pupils and teachers and for all the support you have shown over the first eight weeks. It has been a real test of endurance, but our school has a real 'can-do,' solution focussed outlook and everyone has worked as team to ensure that the reopening was a success.
It has been really nice to chat with pupils about some of the work they have been doing and I have been impressed by the number of pupils who have been singled out by their class teachers for their continued and sustained effort as we near half term. Of particular note, were the children who visited to show me their homework projects, linked to Black History Month. Roman in year 4, had chosen to research Louis Armstrong. It was so inspiring to hear him describe how the battles that Louis overcame have resonated with him and his own determination in music lessons. Similarly, Michelle and Tammie (year 4) were also inspired by the pioneering spirits of Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. Listening to them describe their aspirations for changing our world for the better, reminded me off how important it is to help children find aspirational role models, and to support them to see the link with their own lives and future potential. Whilst it is frustrating that we still need to mark Black History in this way, we do recognise that educating our children is the key to future change, as we build together towards a future when all history is integrated. We are beginning to work towards this as a school, Mrs Chahal, our history leader is writing a Year 6 topic that will be based around 'Empire' and will include learning about the partition of India, Windrush and other aspects of British History that we believe are key to the children in our community.
This last week, I have spent a considerable amount of time teaching, which I love of course, as at my core I am still a passionate teacher, and I always feel incredibly fortunate when I can get into the classroom and spend time on our core purpose of teaching and learning. This week, I was part of the exciting art and STEM project for the garden in Year 3, when I taught in 3C on Tuesday afternoon. The children have been designing individual stepping stones for the garden. As always with the design process, you often hit bumps in the road, and need to evaluate and adapt your plans. This was beautifully illustrated to the children, when during the 'making' phase, we found that the concrete was setting faster than we anticipated! The children duly adapted their plans accordingly, but we were disappointed that the gem stones had not set fully into the concrete. However then there was a stroke of genius, when Miss Arnott and Miss Thornhill had the idea to use epoxy resin to seal the top of each of the stones. I have to say, the finished stones are fantastic, and will be a wonderful addition to our community garden. The year three children have also has an invaluable real life model, of the design process, which they are unlikely to forget!
Following on from last weeks Sports Captain election, I am delighted to reveal the results to you. The newly elected captains have got some exciting ideas for holding sports events and clubs during this more challenging time, so I really look forward to working with them next half term!
So, as we step into half term, there are certainly some tired pupils (and staff) who are looking forward to a break. Assuming there are no sudden changes of direction from the DfE, it is probably the first break we will have had since February half term, where we will not have to be planning something different in terms of operational procedures. Let’s hope I haven’t spoken too soon. We will be picking up a pace as soon as we return, with Parents consultations and the 11+ Transfer Test in the first week back, so I wish you all a peaceful and relaxing week with your families. See you on the other side!
This week we had our annual target setting meeting with the ODBST trust. This is a meeting that takes place every autumn term, and it helps us to develop our strategic direction for the year. Mr Turner and I, sat with the trust and 2 of our governors to set academic targets for the coming year. Once this meeting has taken place, we can really start to see the journey that the school needs to take for the coming year.
As we move towards half term, real progress has been made with our Thomas Harding 'Catch up Plan' As with everything at THJS, it has been written to expressly meet the needs of our own children. Next week, SLT are meeting with each year group team to discuss the academic baselines and to plan interventions and catch up provision for those children who will need significant support in the first wave of support. We will be releasing more details after half term.
Throughout this half term, each year group has been following our recovery curriculum that was carefully written and designed for our pupils following their return to school. The rationale behind its design, is to reset, repair and rebuild our pupils as learners, with a focus on social skills and personal well being. We have also used the opportunity to revisit STEM and art skills in the creation of our long term project - the Aspire and Grow Together Garden, based around the text of 'Frog Belly Rat Bone'
Each year group has been building and creating pieces of work for inclusion in the garden, as well as planting a wide variety of bulbs and flowers.
In year 3: they have been creating an ‘ultimate bug hotel’ linked to ‘living things and their habitats in science’. They have also designed and created stepping stones from concrete, gemstones and resin. (see right)
In year 4: they have been creating monster statues linked to their skeletons and muscles learning in science.
In year 5: they have been creating wind chimes, linked to their ‘sound’ science topic. They have also planted daffodils, so that we will have a burst of colour in the garden in early spring. As you will know, as part of our recovery curriculum, the classes and year groups have been using their STEM and Art skills to create masterpieces for our newly designed ‘Aspire and Grow Together’ Garden.
In year 6: they have created intricately painted stones in art, beautiful flower sketches, and a flower bed that spells out the word ‘HOPE
Following last weeks elections, we were able to announce our 6 newly elected House Captains this week in assembly. For the first time ever, and due a huge number of high quality candidates, we decided to extend the house committee to include 2 additional members, a head boy and a head girl. These were chosen by number of votes in the House Captain election, when it was noted that they both received the most overall votes from their houses. They will fulfil the many varied roles expected of our house captains, as well as some additional duties throughout the year.
Such a Busy, Productive Time!
We have had an incredibly busy week in school. There is so much going on behind the scenes, in order to ensure that school runs as smoothly as possible. in fact, despite Covid-19 taking up so much of my time each day operational matters and improvements that you would expect in the autumn term, still continue apace. This week for example, we have had a fantastic maths staff meeting - led by Mr Turner in which he outlined the way that teachers can ensure that their teaching incorporates the content that children have missed in the summer term. We spent a long time looking at the DFE's new 'Ready to Progress' criteria, that will ensure that there is consistency for pupils as the progress from one year group to the next.
Mr Turner is leading our Catch- Up Programme, and work will continue on our plans for this as we move towards half term. We are currently considering several models, but the final plans are likely to include some small group interventions, and 1:1 tuition, all delivered by our teachers to those children that have been assessed to be most in need of catch up support, following lockdown. The Government funding is coming in 3 waves, and so we hope to support as many individual children as possible across the course of this academic year.
On Monday night, we had some fantastic training from Mrs Smith around some of the recent changes that she has made to our Art Curriculum. We have been gradually overhauling each of our non-core curriculum areas, to ensure that they match the needs of our children, and also our ASPIRE values perfectly. Our new art curriculum has a carefully planned progression built in for each of the key areas that we teach at Thomas Harding (drawing, painting, sculpture, collage, textiles and printing.) In line with our aspiration and success values, we also now teach about the work and achievements of key artists through history, in each of those key disciplines. Probably the highlight of the meeting for all though, was when she asked us all to ACTUALLY do some drawing! Imagine a room full of teachers, drawing - we impressed ourselves with our growth mindsets I can tell you! We left the meeting with a far greater appreciation for the children and the resilience they need to be successful.
House Captain Elections.
We have three houses, in school, named after rivers that are local to our school, they are: Chess, Misbourne and Wye. Every year, at the start of the autumn term, we hold elections in each of the three houses, to elect our House captains, These are prestigious and well respected roles that children can aspire to in their final year. This year, we had a record number of written applications in the first round – so a second round was held in classrooms. The final round was held today, in a virtual, whole school assembly.
I was so proud of the incredible speeches that the children delivered. It is clear that their understanding of what makes us a special school is as strong as that of the Senior Leadership Team, especially as they all aspired to lead through our school values! The results will be announced next week, once we have let the children know.
Hasn't it been a very strange start to the term and school year? At a time when we should all be pulling together more than ever, it feels as though we are being held apart by the Covid-19 restrictions. Thankfully, we were able to rectify this somewhat, this week when we were fortunate enough to welcome some parents into the playground for a socially distanced coffee morning. We started this event, last year for the new year 3 parents, and we had incredibly warm and positive feedback from many parents, who welcomed the opportunity to meet up and discuss the transition arrangements over a cup of tea or coffee! This year, we felt it appropriate to extend this opportunity to all year groups, so we held a coffee morning for each year group on separate days across the week. This was also an excellent opportunity to showcase our new 'Aspire and Grow together' garden project, which many parents had heard so much about through their children!
When we sent out the coffee morning invitation, we also sent out a survey, asking parents about transition, home-school communication and how their child had settled back into school this term.
It was lovely to have such overwhelmingly positive responses, with all parents who responded, reporting that there was good communication between school and home. It was also hugely reassuring, that although the responses indicated a strong level of fear around the reopening of schools, and the possibility of a second wave of the virus, everyone reported feeling that the school's response to Covid-19 had been strong and robust. All felt happy that their child was safe in school. A significant number of parents also thanked us for listening to their opinions, and allowing parents to have a voice in our plans - which is something we absolutely pride ourselves on! There were a few areas that were raised, that we obviously need to work on, for example: parents would like a clear stationery list to be provided, lists of reading books for each year group and the calendar clearly needs to be updated more frequently! These are all in hand, and we will be acting on them this term. A huge thank you to all parents who attended, or who completed and returned the survey.
As you will be aware, we have changed our lunch supplier this term, due to the huge and ongoing concerns that we had last year around the reliability and quality of our previous supplier. There has been a number of teething problems as we have adapted to the new system. These issues were anticipated but actually impossible to mitigate for prior to opening. One example of this, is that our new supplier does not support prior ordering of the food. Over time, the ordering becomes more accurate as the supplier learns the ordering needs of the children in our school. Of course, this means we needed contingency plans for the first days, in case any food ran out! Thankfully, this did not happen, and as the days have gone by, our ordering system has become ever more accurate. We have been pleasantly surprised at the quality of the food and we have seen a huge increase in the number of children having school hot dinners!