To All Wyvern Academy Parents and Carers,
Thank you for your understanding over our need to close to pupils today in order to be able to do what is necessary to reopen safely. This task has completely occupied us all day and, regrettably, it became clear that a second day of full closure was going to be needed, hence the SMS text message that went out earlier to say we are also closed tomorrow, Wednesday 6th January 2021.
What I would like to reassure you of, first of all, is that we would not be doing this if we did not absolutely need to. Wyvern is different from other schools (and other special schools) in many ways- not least the sheer number of staff involved and the complexity of our pupils’ needs. I completely understand the impact on our families of school closures and place closures because we went through all this in March last year, to which comparisons will inevitably be made, and also lessons learned. It was horrendous for so many families and we were then, as we are now, limited in what we can offer by the number of staff available to work.
Our staff have children in schools who sometimes won’t offer a keyworker child place if both parents aren’t keyworkers (in flat contradiction of actual government instruction) and they, or household members, have serious health issues that they are waiting for safety guidance about. The safe working of staff in school has to be a huge priority, as without them we have no capacity. Unions are being very active at the moment and staff are rightly consulting them over our planned safety measures. We have consulted the entire workforce today and had an incredible response but this has taken time to get right. I have to have a willing and positive team here and building confidence has meant taking some hard decisions.
Back in March last year we had around 16 or 18 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000. Today in Dorset that is more like 258 cases per 100,000 and we know the new strain is significantly more transmissible. Pressure on the NHS locally is significant. The risks to staff in school are very real and we do not have the ability to socially distance from pupils or in many cases successfully keep masks or aprons on.
The late announcement by the Prime Minister last night at 8pm, and much of what has come out to schools since has contained barely any direction or detail for special schools and little or no recognition that we are being expected to be so very much more open than the other schools. There has been a wholesale raising of parents’ expectations that pupils with an EHCP will all be offered a place. This may be true of mainstream schools where only a small number have an EHCP but is a totally different matter in a special school where every child has one.
Each school, special or mainstream is in different circumstances and I’m sure are working their hardest to meet the most need they can while trying to keep safe in a national lockdown. We at Wyvern are working to get as many pupils back as it is safe to do so. What is clear is that this cannot be all pupils unless we have sufficient staff.
Among a number of tightened and new measures in school, we will be operating the class bubble system more strictly when we open, which I anticipate will be Thursday 7th January, and will not be moving staff across bubbles to try to fill gaps if members of staff are off. This means that we will have to close pupil places or whole classes if staffing levels fall below safe ratios. This is a desperately hard decision to take and will be done firstly using the criteria for priority in the government guidance. Children of keyworkers and specific recognised vulnerable groups, within the overall vulnerability of the EHCP category will be used, because we have to have criteria to use. What we cannot do is ascribe places based on who calls or complains the most, but please don’t think for a minute we are not aware of, or interested in how things are. We are, most definitely, and as before, will be keeping in regular touch with you if your child cannot attend.
Importantly we will shortly commence the rapid, lateral flow testing. This will start with staff and will positively affect staffing numbers I’m sure. We have to offer tests to all secondary age pupils (year 7 and above) as well, but as I’m sure you will know, this will just not be possible with a significant number. Nevertheless we will try and those parents it affects will be receiving a consent form which is the first step in the process and which we will need completed and returned as soon as possible. The more testing we can achieve the safer we will be in school, as it is asymptomatic testing and therefore picks up what cannot be seen.
Keeping the virus out of this school will require a huge effort on everyone’s parts, including yours and so again I ask for your understanding and cooperation when I say we cannot have children who are clearly not well in school. The situation is difficult enough without cold and flu germs making staff and children ill as well.
This has been a rapidly changing situation to manage, it is likely to go on and I know it will have been a deeply worrying and difficult time for many of you already. Please trust we are doing our best to get our provision right, safe and extended to as many pupils as we possibly can and will be constantly working towards being fully open over the coming weeks.
I will be contact again as soon as I have more information for you.