Guest post: The end of this term is something worth singing about

The end of the summer term has been cause for celebration in Wales, along with a palpable sense of relief. 

In our second post wrapping up the 2021 summer term, we turn to Wales, and Simon Thompson, Deputy Headteacher / Dirpwy Bennaeth of Cardiff High School / Ysgol Uwchradd Caerdydd.  

As I write this blog, the whole of the UK is enjoying a heat wave and the sun is already blistering outside in sunny Cardiff. The lyrics of a Shania Twain classic come to mind, “Yeah, looks like we made it!“. Term has finally finished for schools in Wales and there is an overwhelming feeling of relief that we’ve finally got to the summer break. Staff have crawled over the finishing line, energy tanks depleted long ago. This year has been unlike any other in my 25 years of teaching, but I think the education sector in Wales can look back over the plast 18 months with a sense of pride and achievement. Borrowing the Olevi model “Past, Present, Future,” I share with you my thoughts on education in Wales during the pandemic. 

The Past

On March 18 2020, the then education minister for Wales made an announcement: “Today I announce that schools across Wales will close for statutory provision of education. From next week, schools will have a new purpose. They will help support those most in need and will safeguard the vulnerable whilst ensuring continuity of learning.” Schools in Wales had to quickly repurpose and adapt, literally overnight, to provide emergency hub provision for children of key workers whilst remotely maintaining education provision through distance learning. During the months that followed, staff in Wales, both teaching and non-teaching, showed they were ready, able and willing to adapt to new ways of working and successfully ensured that pupils were able to continue to engage in education from home whilst also providing much needed care and guidance to support the wellbeing and achievement of all pupils, especially for some of the most vulnerable learners who found life without the norms and routine of daily school life so difficult. 

Fast forward to the new academic year 2020-2021 and staff adapted again to a whole new way of working.  ‘Bubbles’, ‘Mitigation measures’ and ‘Lateral Flows’ all became part of a new everyday language for schools across the country. To borrow an analogy from science fiction, staff in settings made a light-speed jump into the world of blended learning, with virtual classrooms, zoom meetings, webinars, and online assessment tools. 

Never have I seen such rapid growth in the use of technology to support education, which at Cardiff High School, we supported with a highly effective programme of professional learning which was mapped out to provide ongoing support and training for all staff.

In Wales, we then faced lockdowns 2 and 3 with significant disruption to both the Autumn and Spring Terms. The resilience and hard work by staff meant that pupils this time had a structured timetable to follow, providing a much-needed daily routine. This was coupled with face-to-face lessons with staff through our blended mix of both synchronous and asynchronous provision. 

The most vulnerable learners, in addition to children of key workers, were again provided with additional support with access to our school hub provision during these times. 

The Present

Schools in Wales have now finished the Summer term after again repurposing and adapting to provide pupils with a fair and accurate assessment of performance at GCSE, AS and A-Level qualifications. The process of CDGs (Centre Determined Grades) meant that schools had to design an assessment framework, administer, and run assessment windows, standardise mark and moderate pupil evidence, and also deal with any appeals. All whilst managing pupil and parental expectations, concerns, and anxieties. 

The school has in effect taken on the role of the examination and awarding bodies whilst also continuing to manage Covid-19 mitigations, carry out Test, Track and Protect functions, and of course maintain our core function of providing a high-quality learning experience for our pupils.   

The Future

Who knows what the new academic year will bring to education in Wales? I personally am hoping that we will see a return to a new normal, where the main priorities and functions of schools are solely focused on education. We are hopeful in Wales that this may be possible, as the vaccination rates continue to climb, albeit this is set in the current context of a rising incidence level of the new Delta variant and of course, the imminent relaxation of restrictions as Wales attempts to transition to Covid alert level zero, restoring the majority of freedoms to the people of Wales. What is clear, is that schools in general, and our school in particular, is well prepared for any eventuality. This whole pandemic experience has reaffirmed to me some key lessons. 

Our school has been so successful at managing these turbulent times due to strong leadership at all levels in the school. Clear, decisive, and inclusive leadership has never been more important, and the school has proven itself to be an agile learning organisation ; adapting successfully to new challenges through constant reflection, evaluation and refinement of systems and processes. 

Leadership is most successful when you are supported by a strong staffing body which is empowered through distributed leadership to be successful in its role and able to focus on the most important thing: teaching and learning. At Cardiff High School, we have continued to invest in, communicate with, prioritise and nurture our staff in order to successfully build capacity, goodwill, and resilience.  

And the final element to our success? A sense of humour and an inclusive school ethos where everyone is supported and challenged with a collaborative coaching culture. The Olevi TLC model has indeed borne out and as a school we have transversed each of the components and ultimately found that sweet spot in the model to ensure that staff and pupils have been looked after, have been safe and have been successful. 

We are currently planning for a strategic rather than operational focus in the new academic year, with learning at the heart of our plans. We are intent on reigniting, regenerating and realising a passion for learning in both our pupils and staff and are excited for September.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a restful and enjoyable Summer break. Hopefully better days are on the horizon. Diolch o galon pawb. 

Mr S Thompson

Deputy Headteacher / Dirpwy Bennaeth

Cardiff High School / Ysgol Uwchradd Caerdydd

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We are extremely grateful and inspired by this contribution from Simon, who is one of our stalwart correspondents.  I know he struggled to find time to put pen to paper but I am sure you will agree it was worth the effort. His account of how his school has responded over the last five terms clearly describes how a successful school based on a collaborative learning community with a can-do, will-do attitude can overcome adversity.  

We hope he and the rest of the staff at Cardiff High School have a well earned rest. 

Take care and stay safe

George