Throughout the period of school closure, we are working hard with a common goal of ensuring everyone within the Thorpe Hall community feels informed and supported during this challenging time.  Headteacher, Andrew Hampton will send a daily message to parents via email. A copy of the messages can be found below.

Dear Parents and Staff,

I guess, to some extent, we are all educators now. Enforced home-schooling has certainly given us the chance to reflect on what motivates young people to learn effectively and the place social integration has in school life.

Ironically, I have for many years taught a lesson to Year 7 every September about what would happen if we sent everyone home to learn using technology. I ask the pupils to consider what would be better and what would be worse. Over the 12 years or so that I have taught this lesson the constraints in terms of what the technology can achieve have become fewer, throwing into sharp relief the main issue – that of friendship and social interaction. But even that isn’t too bad; we have all become familiar with ‘Zoom’ and ‘Messenger’; and which us of really knew how powerful and flexible devices like PlayStation and X-Box are in bringing people together?

It is new territory for all of us. Teachers, forced to adapt their teaching styles, have reached for visual aids and video and found them to be very effective tools, so much so that I suspect many will retain these resources once schools re-open. Pupils have found that they are perhaps more resilient and resourceful when it comes to learning than they thought they were. Being based at home means that they have to motivate themselves far more and not rely on the nudge from the teacher to retain focus. I have seen a real thirst for learning in the online world that I do not always witness in the classroom.

Though many are stressed and anxious, Parents have been able to connect with their children in a way that never normally happens – through formal learning activities. This will have given them a unique view of their children, how they learn, how they stay focused and what motivates them. It feels like, when this is all over, education will be different, and it will be better.

Meanwhile, I have been struck by how accurate my horoscopes have become: ‘You’ll be spending a lot of time at home?’ Spooky.

Yours

Andrew Hampton

Dear Parents and Staff

I suspect today might be the day that, in some households, the novelty of home learning wears off. The key to sustaining focus and effective learning at home is, I think, routine. Forgive me if that sounds very obvious!

I have spoken to a number of parents who continue to require their children to get up and out of bed by a reasonable time, have breakfast and be dressed and ready for schoolwork by 9:00 am. By sticking to a set routine, things will normalise quite quickly and home-based learning will feel not too different from school-based learning.

The trick, in my view, is to gauge how long each session should be. In the Upper School, the length of learning sessions is defined by the existing timetable. However, in response to the feedback from you last week, teachers will be looking again at the amount of work they set. Where appropriate, some 80 minute lessons may be reduced by a few minutes to match expectations with what can be realistically achieved. A pupil who finishes early can always request an extension task if needed.

In the Lower School, there is more flexibility to design learning around the potential concentration span of each child. Again, in response to your feedback, Lower School teachers will be increasing the number of video and audio lessons they send to you.

Mr Ramdin and Mrs Peterson will also be working this week on facilitating the use of MS TEAMS. This is an additional online platform which will allow audio interaction between pupils and teachers in real time. I know that this means that the school has introduced yet another online platform but ‘needs must’ and I think it is something pupils will get used to quite quickly.

Thanks for taking the time to read these daily emails. I hope to offer some encouragement and help every day.

Yours

Andrew Hampton

Dear Parents and Staff,

It feels like it has been a long week! Families have reported that they are a lot more tired than they thought they would be, given that they are at home.

I think the pupils need a reward for their hard work and so school will end just a little bit early today, at 3:00pm. I will make an Assembly video which will be posted on the school’s website at 2:45pm so we can watch it together, as a community at around 3:00pm. I will send out the web address so that it is easy to find.

Thank you all for your feedback. There were huge amounts of support and positivity, which is great and some very useful suggestions, many of which we can and will act on. In particular, there were requests for more teacher-pupil engagement in real-time in the Lower School. To that end, we are going to introduce TEAMS in the Lower School over the next few days. I have also noted that the audio and video teacher-talks have been successful and popular, so we will see more of those too.

Surprisingly controversial was the giving over of some single core subject lessons to exercise and creativity in Key Stage 3 (Years 7 to 9). These lessons are discretionary from the teachers’ point of view and were welcomed by some but criticised by others. Given that the overall scores for workload were high, I am not mindful to make these lessons compulsory.

As much as anything, your feedback revealed how tough it is providing home learning that suits everybody. There are households where the adults are still working hard and others where the adults have been able to dedicate their time to supporting the learning of their children. I would ask for your continued support and patience as we continue to make adjustments to try to find the very best fit for all.

At the end of Week One, I have to say that I am incredibly proud of the way the Thorpe Hall community has responded to this situation. The teachers have worked really hard, often well into the evening, and with imagination and perseverance. I would like to thank them and indeed all of you for an excellent first week.

I hope you enjoy your weekend.

Yours
Andrew Hampton

Dear Parents and Staff,

After just a couple of days of home learning, I hope things are beginning to settle into an emerging routine. As the days go by, I will be making suggestions as to how the ‘school day’ routines might be enhanced. For now, though, I am aware that across the whole country people are finding imaginative and exciting ways to make the most of the situation we are in.

The school is planning to build on the sense of remote community through the use of video and some lovely ideas have already been put forward. There will be further chances to hear about those ideas as well as sharing the best moments of home learning with everyone else.

The first feedback survey was emailed yesterday afternoon. In the Upper School, the survey was sent to pupils with the instruction to share the completion with parents. If your child did not share that with you and you would like the chance to complete the survey for yourself, please do email me (sec@thorpehall.southend.sch.uk) and I will send you the link. I would like to digest the results this afternoon, so by then please.

Having spoken to the leadership team yesterday afternoon, things seem to be going smoothly, so there are no adjustments needed to learning arrangements for today.

Have a good day.

Yours

Andrew Hampton

Dear Parents and Staff,

The launch of home learning seemed to go very well, so well done all those who engaged and stuck at it for the whole day. It was tiring for sure, but then a school day should be tiring!

We had some issues with a couple of the online platforms not coping with the global traffic – especially in Maths. We will hope that those companies can solve those problems, or we will look at alternatives.

I have gathered various pieces of feedback so far, hearing from one Year 7 class and all the teachers. In the Lower School, teachers will work towards posting the day’s teaching activities earlier than 9:00am so that parents can prepare resources. That should happen over the next couple of days and some of those activities may be posted the evening before.

In the Upper School, teachers are being asked to give a few minutes breathing space between lessons so that pupils can stretch, go to the loo etc. Sticking to the daily timetable seemed to work well but I acknowledge that it is quite intense.

A decision about CHOICE Afternoon has not yet been made and I will email the pupils in Key Stage 3 directly with what they might spend the afternoon doing.

Most importantly, today is the first feedback day. I will be sending home surveys to be completed at around 3:00pm. I would like you, please, to complete the surveys with your child so that I get a flavour of both your experience and the experience of the learner.

Have a good day.

Yours

Andrew Hampton

Dear Parents and Staff,

Last night’s Government announcement was clear that social distancing is now something we all have to take very seriously in order to save lives. The instruction to stay at home could not be clearer and that includes restricting movement between households unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. Children will be eager to see each other and continue their friendships – they should do so digitally, not in person.

I am sure you join with me in expressing our admiration and support for those in the medical profession who will be on the front line of the fight against the virus.

Today we launch our home learning programme in earnest. Many of you and your children will have received emails from teachers piloting teaching methods, giving instructions and generally setting things up. You will also have received an email from me outlining what I feel should be everyone’s expectations of how home learning will work. Never was the idea that home and school is a partnership more relevant than now!

Remember, please, that most (if not all) the teaching and study activities being offered are designed to be done without lots of parental support or intervention. ‘Getting stuck’ is very much part of a successful learning experience and learning how to move forward is an important skill. The very youngest children will turn to their parents for help, but the more mature know that they can message or email their teacher for help; I would encourage you to guide them to do that.

As I wrote yesterday, there will be feedback surveys being sent out tomorrow afternoon so that we can work with you to make any necessary adjustments to how home learning is being managed.

In these difficult, anxious and stressful times, Thorpe Hall will be there for you and your children, providing a sense of continuity and stability.

Please try to stay well and stay at home.

Yours

Andrew Hampton

Dear Parents of Lower School pupils,

Throughout this next period, I shall be doing my best to write to you all every day.

In ‘normal’ times the teachers teach, the pupils learn? and the parents help, support, cajole, celebrate, mop up tears, feed, read stories, check homework, wash clothes, create revision timetables and generally parent. Now, in these extraordinary times, you will have to help with your child’s learning in a way that you may never have had to do before. I want to guide you in this new task and help form a new and supportive bond between school and home.

In the Lower School, teachers will be setting activities and tasks at around 9:00 am and will then support pupils’ learning through the day using class Dojo. Supporting home learning for children aged 4 to 10 is very much about knowing how long they can viably hold their concentration. Learning at home is not as easy as learning at school, and we all have to build different expectations into our thinking.

The best thing you can do is to set aside short bursts of time to sit with your child and encourage them to engage with the activities set by the teacher. Some of those activities will be earnest and require real effort and application, others will be more creative and light. The older your child is the more time can be given over to self-directed study, working on their own without the need for close supervision. In the early weeks of this isolation self-directed study will be hard, but the objective for every family will be to extend the children’s concentration span and encourage self-reliance. At a time when there are few positives to be found, this is an ambition which, when achieved, will be a huge bonus to every single child.

Every child and family will respond to this new way of learning differently. Some families will enthusiastically embrace the new challenge and want to get going from the first moment. Other families will find that learning has always been something that happened at school and will need to form a new dynamic around child, parent and school work. There is no right or wrong to this and it is important, I think, not to add to your own stress and anxiety by becoming over concerned about learning at home.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think learning at home is important, it is just that we all have to acknowledge that in many families it will prove a lot harder to achieve than we thought. For some, there will be issues around the distribution of internet-enabled devices and suitable workspaces. Some parents will be actively engaged in working from home and will have little or no time to spare. The internet and the apps we are using may be flaky for the next few weeks making home learning even more challenging. This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, so we will move forward together, learning and adjusting as we go.

To that end, there will be the first of regular feedback surveys sent to you on Wednesday afternoon, so that you can tell the school what is working and what is not.

More tomorrow.

Andrew Hampton

Dear Parents of Upper School pupils,

Throughout this next period, I shall be doing my best to write to you all every day.

In ‘normal’ times the teachers teach, the pupils learn? and the parents help, support, cajole, celebrate, mop up tears, feed, read stories, check homework, wash clothes, create revision timetables and generally parent. Now, in these extraordinary times, you will have to help with your child’s learning in a way that you may never have had to do before. I want to guide you in this new task and help form a new and supportive bond between school and home.

In the Upper School, teachers will be setting activities and tasks according to the existing timetable. We will trial this for a few days and see how things go. If this model proves too hard to stick to then we will take feedback from you and adjust as we go along. The first opportunity to feedback will be on Wednesday afternoon – you will receive a link to Google Form.

Supporting home learning for children aged 11 to 16 is very much about knowing how long they can viably hold their concentration. Learning at home is not as easy as learning at school, and we all have to build different expectations into our thinking. Some lessons in the school day will be tougher than others – they will all be designed to be undertaken by your child without your specific support. Some lessons will be earnest and require real effort and application, others will be more creative and light. Mr Turner and I are engaged, today, in auditing the quantity of study opportunities being planned by teachers and hope that we can strike the right balance. We want your child to be occupied but not overwhelmed. In the early weeks of this isolation, self-directed study will be hard, but the objective for every family will be to extend the children’s concentration span and encourage self-reliance. At a time when there are few positives to be found, this is an ambition which, when achieved, will be a huge bonus to every single child.

Every child and family will respond to this new way of learning differently. Some families will enthusiastically embrace the new challenge and want to get going from the first moment. Other families will find that learning has always been something that happened at school and will need to form a new dynamic around child, parent and school work. There is no right or wrong to this and it is important, I think, not to add to your own stress and anxiety by becoming over-concerned about learning at home.

That doesn’t mean I don’t think learning at home is important, it is just that we all have to acknowledge that in many families it will prove a lot harder to achieve than we thought. For some, there will be issues around the distribution of internet-enabled devices and suitable workspaces. Some parents will be actively engaged in working from home and will have little or no time to spare. The internet and the apps we are using may be flaky for the next few weeks making home learning even more challenging.

If things go wrong for your family in terms of accessing the lessons and learning opportunities in these first few days please don’t despair. We will make adjustments and get it right for everyone in time. This is going to be a marathon, not a sprint, so we will move forward together, learning and adjusting as we go.

To that end, as I said above, there will be the first of regular feedback surveys sent to you on Wednesday afternoon, so that you can tell the school what is working and what is not.

More tomorrow,
Andrew Hampton