Update and thank you

Dear Families

It seems a long time since I emailed you all; I hope this finds you safe and well and looking after each other. It has been a joy to see so many of you over the last few weeks, with the vast majority of children being in school for some sessions; over 400 children have returned at some time or another and seeing them all safe and well and happy to be here has been fantastic. I am sorry the arrangements for the ‘goodbye’ and ‘hello’ sessions were a bit complicated – they were complicated for us too! We felt it was really important for children to finish this school year and start looking forward to the next one. We are really looking forward to it!

And what a school year we have had, with many of you playing the role of teacher for so many months now. As I said in my report letter, we do understand that this time has brought real challenges for some families, both around home schooling and the worry of the national situation. We know these worries are lessening for some but for others the future of their employment is still a major concern. Over the summer, our staff will be in and out of school including for Shining Stars. If you do need us, you can email us or come to our Book Swap every Friday between 10am and 2pm.

I want to say a huge well done and thank you to all our children and their families for all they have done to support each other throughout the last 4 months. We are so proud of how you have worked together and cared for each other in such challenging circumstances. As we keep saying ‘ your best is good enough’ – it certainly has been and will continue to be so through the summer and in to next term. Our home learning activities will remain on our website including videos from children’s new teachers. I would like to say a massive thank you on behalf of all the staff for the kindness of the gifts you have brought in for us and the kind words you have written and spoken. It has been a privilege to serve you as a community throughout this time.

I would like to say a huge thank you to our staff team; they really have been a team throughout this. Every one of their roles has been vital in keeping our school safe and happy and supporting families at home. I couldn’t be prouder of them and of the positive attitude they have shown throughout. I would like to include our school governors in this, led brilliantly by Hilary, who have worked closely with us to support our work.

I would like to say a huge well done and congratulations to the Year 6 children who officially leave us today. They have been a wonderful year group (with all the quirks and issues any bunch of children have!) but seeing most of them in school this half term has made me realise what a great bunch they are and how ready for high school they are. We wish every one of them all the very best for the future and hope they will keep in touch if they need help or to let us know about all their successes. Well done, all of you, and thank you for the joy you have brought to St William’s over the last 7 years.

This is the strangest end to the strangest term I have experienced in my 18 years as a headteacher. As I keep saying, we have never done this before either. Our planning over the last few weeks has been about a safe return for everyone in September. I have attached the outline of our plan; we can’t pretend this situation is over yet but we are expecting to move to the next stage with school open for all children. We will send further details on 17th August when we will have a clearer idea of our plans but we expect this overview to be what happens next term.

So, forget home schooling (but keep reading!), try and relax and enjoy the sunshine, enjoy your time together on holiday or at home. Keep safe and keep looking after each other. Today of all days I would like to throw my arms around every one of you and say thank you and what a brilliant team the families and staff of St William’s are.

Take care everyone and keep being wonderful!

Sarah Shirras

Parent letter – 8th June

Dear Families

I do hope this finds you all safe and well after the damp and grey weekend. It was such a shame not to be able to make the most of the relaxing of lockdown to meet up with family and friends in open spaces… without getting very wet! The sunshine over the last few weeks has been a real joy but the rain is much needed too.

Last week continued to be a really successful one in school. Children arrived with smiles on their faces, delighted to be back to see each other and school staff. It was lovely to see them and to see you, their families. We had a lot of coverage in the local newspapers last week. They had stories about our return to school and pictures of our classrooms. They look very different from some of the classrooms in other schools; seeing our rooms full of smiling, waving children just added to their appeal! As well as more children returning to school, our snake of stones, Mr C, has continued to grow and his body now has over 300 stones. He really is lovely! We are in negotiations to set him in cement so he can stay there for ever! The beautiful birds Remi hung in Mousehold were a wonderful idea; I only found one on my walk yesterday so hope the others were still there and just hiding from me! Tomato plants are sprouting in many of your houses. We had a bumper crop of birthdays which we continue to celebrate on Facebook. The Book Swap continues and stationery is available at the front of school. Our Home Learning is still available for all Year Groups.

Since lockdown started, we have had 3 new children join our school.What a strange experience this must be for them! We are delighted to welcome them and their families to our school and to have met them at social distance (including over a garden fence!).

The next two weeks – weeks beginning 15/6/20 and 22/6/20

As I outlined in my email of 16th May, our planning for the return of more children has been focused on the experience for the children and the safety of them and the staff. Last week was well managed with low pupil numbers in our classes and a happy and confident atmosphere; we do not want that to change. We would like to encourage more children to come in to school in as safe a way as possible, continuing to be manageable for everyone. We want children to be with known adults in known spaces. Our maximum group size across school will be 10 children. The following is the offer we are making for the next two weeks:

Year 6

We will be carrying on with the same sessions as we have now. 6P will come to school from 8.30am – 11.30am and 6M from 1pm – 4pm. Each class will be split in to 3 groups, as now.

Year 1 and Reception

Year 1 and Reception will be offered 3 sessions per week across mornings and afternoons on 3 different days. They will be with a consistent group of children with the adults they are working with now. That is Mrs Stamper and Chelsea in Polar Bears, Miss Smith or Mrs Knight and Mrs Wishart in Pandas, Miss James and Mr Hamment in 1J and Miss Coleman and Mrs Peters in 1C. These sessions will be 9am – 11.30am and 12.30pm – 3pm.


Nursery children will be offered one morning session and one afternoon session on different days. These will be 9am – 11.30am and 12.45pm – 3.15pm.

Tomorrow, parents of children in these Year Groups will be sent a survey to ask if they want their child to attend over the next two weeks. If your child hasn’t attended until now, this is their chance to join us from next Monday. We want you to consider this carefully; however, as we always say, it is your decision and you must make it in the best interests of you and your family.

We have already had questions about potential child care over the summer. At present, we are not being asked to open school over the summer and it is unlikely we will be asked to do so. This is not definite though as, like so many things at the moment, guidance and expectations might change. The problem so many of you have is that, apart from child minders, there is no other option for you for child care to enable you to return to work as of now. We are starting to think if there is a way we can help you with this. We are thinking of opening Shining Stars as child care for 4 weeks of the summer holidays. In our survey tomorrow, we will ask you if this may be of interest to you (this would not be available to current Nursery children). Our initial thoughts are this would be from 7.30am – 6pm and would cost £20 per day (this is in line with other local providers). For the Year Groups above, this will be in the survey with your choice to return to school. If your child is in Years 2 -5, you will get a survey just about this. The more people who complete the survey, the better we can plan for the next few weeks and months. Thank you.

Take care everyone. We have been delighted to see more of you but still miss those who are at home. We continue to try and do our best; as we keep telling you, that’s all any of us can do and it is enough! Please get in touch if we can help in any way. Most importantly, look after each other.

Sarah Shirras

Parent letter – 16 May 2020

Dear Parents

I am sorry to contact you all on a Saturday but I have been listening to the news and looking through the front pages of the newspapers and thinking what a worrying and confusing time it must be to be you, seeing so much professional disagreement about what is safe or not. I had originally written this email to send to you on Monday, but hope it will reassure you today.

In my email last Tuesday, I said it had been a very strange 48 hours, but the twists and turns of last week didn’t end there.

We spent Wednesday agonising over how to manage the return of the named Year Groups to school from Monday, 1st June. We ended up with a plan that we felt was safe, giving the children a happy and purposeful return to school. The return would be slow and carefully managed with their well being at its heart. On Thursday evening, the Government issued additional advice that threw our plan up in the air! Friday saw us agonising over whether to stick with our plan or follow their advisory plan. We have decided to stick to our plan as we believe it the best we can offer your children as well as being supportive to our staff.

The Government guidance says all children in Nursery, Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 should return for full days in half classes of 15 children. If you add in our Key Worker children, this would mean 220 children being on site for full days from 1st June or very soon after, including over lunchtime. These children would need to share toilets and come and go from school at roughly the same time as each other. In practical terms, using Polar Bears as an example, these Reception children, who will have been out of school for over 2 months, would all return together. Mrs Stamper would be in her class with 15 children, including eating their lunch there. Next door would be 15 Pandas, sharing toilets with the 15 Polar Bears. The other 15 Polar Bears would be in a Year 2 classroom they have never used before with a teacher they would not have met before. Similarly, 15 of each Year 1 class would have to be relocated to Year 3 classes with teachers they may not know, sharing toilets (that they have never used before) with Year 6 children from the same corridor. For some, this may be an adventure but for others a hugely daunting experience. Every safeguarding rule says children need known and trusted adults, and never more so than during this worrying time. The Government guidance also said, as so many teachers would be involved in this plan for return, home learning for Years 2, 3, 4 and 5 from their teachers would come to an end.

This is the reality of the Government advice. It is the offer that many schools have given to their families. Some schools have very publically told their parents how awful it would be, appearing to try to put them off sending their children back to school as the school lacks confidence in the safety of this plan and also the physical atmosphere the children will return to – bare, unknown classrooms and unfamiliar adults.

I do not believe this arrangement is safe, manageable or desirable at this time. I am not prepared to offer this to you and your children. Our school Governors agree with me on this.

I am never going to make an offer of returning to school to a place that does not feel like the school they left with happy, confident adults being delighted to see the children, caring about them and their well being. I will not offer you something, tell you how awful it will be and hope you will not take the offer up.

The thinking behind our plan includes:

  • Everything we do has been risk assessed thoroughly, using a format provided by the Local Authority Health and Safety team with Union consultation.
  • Our plan and Risk Assessment has been scrutinised by our governors
  • Staff have been consulted at all times and involved in what is being planned
  • The wellbeing, safety and happiness of the children has been considered in preference to adherence to the models being given to us
  • The fact children have been away from school for such a long time, and how that will make them feel about returning and how they will cope with this, is vital in the first few days and weeks of any return. Many children have had limited experience of people beyond their household or of being out of their house. In some households, there have been pressures on families that have meant there has been some sadness.
  • Children should be in known rooms and outside spaces with the staff they are used to being with as far as is possible
  • The teachers will be carefully planning what the children will do. This will involve some academic work but will prioritise emotional and social learning.
  • We have been working in school with groups of children since lockdown began. We have learnt a lot from this.
  • Managing cleaning is more important than ever. We have a wonderful cleaning team.
  • The total number of children on site needs to be kept to a minimum in these early stages and movement around the site tightly controlled; this will not stop small groups of children using our vast outdoor spaces safely.
  • Parents must feel confident to send their children to a place that is safe, happy and has prioritised the children above everything else
  • We will be keeping children in small groups (hubs), without mixing with other small groups, to limit social interactions; this includes children not eating their lunch in school in the first stage and not having an extended outdoor lunchtime where they could mix with a much larger group of children.
  • We want families to feel confident in our offer and consider taking it up, helping us keep contact with as many children as possible across a week.
  • Staff will not be wearing PPE around children

Most importantly, they are your children. You must do what you believe is right for them and for your family. It will not help any child if, by sending them to school, you become very anxious.

Our initial offer, outlined below, is for 2 weeks. On Monday, if your child is in one of these Year Groups, we will send you a very simple survey to ask if they will be attending, if they won’t be attending or if you have any further questions. Once we know who is coming, we will send you a more detailed plan covering which day, what to wear, which gate to use…

After the first two weeks, we will contact you all again to explain how we will move in to Stage 2 (planned to start on 15th June). If your child has not attend during Stage 1, this will be their chance to join in with their Year Group if you are confident for them to do so. Home learning will continue for all Year Groups throughout this time.

Year 6

Year 6 will work in hubs of a maximum of 10 children. This ensures social distancing in classrooms for children and teachers. We have set our classrooms up to accommodate this, removing extra furniture. The rooms feel very safe but quite empty; soon the rooms will be filled with laughter and smiles! The rooms are spread across our Key Stage 2 classes to limit the use of toilets and of external doors. Each child will have their own desk and resources (stationery, scissors, rulers etc) which no other child will be using at any time. They will not be able to mix with children from the other two hubs that are at school at the same time. For this first stage of our return, 6P will attend school in the morning (8.30am – 11.30am) and 6M in the afternoon (12noon – 3pm). This avoids too many children being on site and avoids lunchtimes, which will be a difficult time to manage.

We want Year 6 to have emotional and social support at this time, including around their move to high school. We have things we want to revise with them and new learning we believe is important at this time.

Nursery, Reception and Year 1

Children will be in hubs of no more than 6 children. They will work in their familiar spaces (for Reception and Year 1, their usual classrooms) with their usual adults. We are offering one morning session (9am – 11.30am) for each hub in each of the first 2 weeks, eg a Monday morning in both weeks; a Tuesday morning in both weeks etc. Each Year Group will have its own way in and off the site so there is no chance of breaking adult social distancing. We are realistic that we cannot guarantee that children of this age can maintain social distancing at all times but we will try. Their classrooms are being arranged to encourage this and they will move around school with a ‘spacing rope’, marked off to help keep them apart. We will use our outdoor spaces as much as possible. Some resources have been removed from classrooms (eg dressing up clothes) so that those that are in use are easier to clean each day.

If there are siblings in other returning Year Groups, we will be offering them sessions on the same day.

If, by making this a slow and phased return, parents from Years N, R, Y1 and Y6 have issues going back to work, there will be a chance to talk to us about this.

I hope you understand the time and energy we have put in to offering you something we believe is in the best interests of our whole school community. As I have said, the parents of the Year Groups involved will have a chance to ask further questions in the survey that will be emailed to you on Monday.

Take care everyone. We miss you all and want to see you all as soon as it is safe to do so. Most importantly, keep taking care of each other.

Sarah Shirras