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A Message from James Smith

Posted: February 28, 2020

I am writing to reflect to you some conversations I have had over the past few days. I’ve been spending most evenings ringing round parents, and also speaking to their children in many cases, to check in on both how DC’s approaches are working and what could be improved, and on the situation as a whole. What I have heard has continued to help guide our approaches, and I wanted to pick up on three topics that I felt spoke to different aspects of the experience of our parents at this time.

Parent partnership for our younger students
One parent I spoke to who has a child in the early years of Primary reflected to me her experiences of helping her child with home learning. She spoke about the level of planning and thought she had seen from the teachers, and how much effort they were putting in to engage students during the Google Meet sessions, and was very grateful for this. She also expressed how difficult it was to juggle supporting her child in home learning with the many other responsibilities she currently has, and recognised a challenging balance also between the language used in learning plans being detailed enough to facilitate effective progress and also accessible enough for an audience of parents and adult carers with a variety of backgrounds, who are not professional educators. We talked about the importance of learning plans being adaptable for the many difficult situations our families are in across the community.

Parent partnership is a vital part of the educational process under any circumstances, but particularly at the moment parents and other adult carers are playing a crucial day-to-day role in supporting their children, especially in the early years, to access the curriculum wherever possible. I want to acknowledge that this is not easy, and that in many instances there are also other commitments – jobs, other care needs, and indeed managing a family through the challenging circumstances that exist across the whole city – that are also drawing on the energy of parents and carers across our community. I have heard so many times the gratitude and appreciation that exists for the efforts of our teachers, who are working so hard to support students in every year group. Let me say also that this gratitude and appreciation is there for our incredible parents and carers as well, who are proving the strength of the home-school partnership as each day goes by. In very difficult circumstances, to manage the situation together is so important.

Chris Barr’s email to Primary parents today will answer some further questions about the College’s current provision, which we hope will prove useful and informative.

Family Finances
The economic impact of the current situation is being felt in lots of different ways across our community. Some parents have had their jobs affected, while others are experiencing changes to income, and worries about how things will play out for their business or employer in the future. I spoke to one parent who is in this situation, and heard the understandable worries about how family finances may be affected, and how this anxiety is adding to the strain at an already-difficult time. Paying education costs are of course a part of every family’s thinking at the moment, and we are working with a number of parents who have experienced a recent sudden or unexpected change of circumstances, to look at how our Financial Assistance Scheme can support them. Details are on our website here. For parents who may not meet the scheme’s criteria but who may need other forms of support, we are also working jointly with our colleagues at ESF Centre to explore payment plans for some parents. Payment plans are there to help ease the timescale for meeting payment requirements. If you feel you would benefit from a conversation about either of these forms of support, please email me at I want you to know that we understand the burden and anxiety being felt by many parents whose circumstances are being affected by the current situation, and we are committed to helping wherever we can.

Supporting Year 13s in the lead-up to exams
Several Year 13 students and their parents have given generously of their time over the last few days to talk to me about how things are going for our graduating cohort. One student talked to me about how she feels the current online learning provision is actually helping her concentrate, focus and be additionally productive, and that teachers are doing everything they can to support her. She felt she was, despite the situation, making good progress and covering what was needed in each course to help get ready for exams. She was also anxious about making sure all internal assessments were completed effectively. Beyond academics, she – like many students – is also worried that part of being a graduating student is also the social experience of going through the exams with friends around you, and reaching major milestones in a young person’s life such as graduation together with her peers. She is concerned that things might feel very different for her cohort this year, something which we would all understand.

As the Covid-19 situation continues, the local education authorities are gradually introducing some new approaches to how students in the graduating cohort can be supported. Most recently, they have begun allowing schools to introduce some small group sessions for Year 13 students with external exams in the coming months. I want to be clear that the provision available remains very limited, in-keeping with both the letter and the spirit of guidance from the Education Bureau. Health considerations are of paramount importance and bringing large numbers of students back onto campus would be entirely inappropriate, and not at all in keeping with what political leaders and education officers have said or what is in the best interests of students. However, campus access for small numbers of Year 13 students, managed through stringent approaches to Health and Safety, can be used where required to support our graduating cohort as they prepare for the end of their studies at the College.

Brian McCann will write to Year 13 students and parents today to outline some thinking for how our approach to this is likely to work in the coming weeks. We have already been making use of small group on-campus provision since 17 February, prioritising the needs of students to access campus resources in order to complete necessary external assessment in a range of practical subjects. Every school has its own needs and priorities for course completion and exam preparation, based on its programmes and how they are organised. In the DC context, provision for assessment support in practical subjects will need to be our focus for the next few days also, up to Friday 13 March. After this, we will turn the focus towards supporting students who have been identified as having particular need for additional support in order to meet expected academic requirements. We will continue to review and adapt our approach to this over the coming weeks, with plans in place both for if the class suspension ceases on 20 April as is currently announced by the government, and for if a further extension is announced later. On-campus access is only part of the picture for how we help our graduating cohort through the current situation, and Year 13 students and parents will also see other measures being used over the coming days and weeks.

While the situation remains difficult, the conversations I am having with parents and students, and indeed the work of the College’s staff, reminds me that we have wonderful people in our community, all of whom are absolutely committed to supporting our young people. There are lots of challenges still that we will need to work together to address, and for this parent voice, feedback and your thoughtful suggestions have already played, and will continue to play, a vital role in shaping DC’s approaches. Alongside our individual conversations with students and parents we will be issuing a request for further survey responses next week to take feedback in this form once again about our approaches to online learning, and are grateful for your help with this. Amid the challenges, I am seeing more and more from the tireless work of staff, the support and commitment of our parents, and the enthusiasm and sense of responsibility shown by our students, the optimism we can all draw on that we will navigate these challenges successfully together.

James Smith