Return to College

16 March 2020

Dear Parent/Carer

I wish to write to parents following what has been a difficult and unavoidable period of closure for the college. It is not lost on me that the college now faces a further threat of disruption due to the COVID-19 virus. However, the staff at Blessed John Henry Newman Roman Catholic College will do all we can to safeguard the educational provision of the students we serve. We have not rested on our laurels during the period of absence but instead used this to better prepare for any eventuality that the government seems fit to take in response to the situation.

Parents are only too aware that the two weeks enforced closure has been a huge strain on your childcare arrangements and the education we offer at the college. We are very sorry for this and want to return to normal as quickly as possible. I wish to set out now the extent of the difficulties we faced, not to frame an excuse, but instead offer an insight into the complexities of the situation.

The building is neither owned nor operated by the college. Indeed, our very use of the building is tightly framed in the contractual arrangements of the Privately Funded Initiative (PFI) contract between the owners and the Local Authority. Our influence in this relationship is not as great as we would wish, and we know that the contract complexity makes interaction difficult. Throughout this period of partial closure and previously during other incidents of note, the college has been reliant on the interpretation of the contract and both the building owners and management company. At times, these systems of cooperation do not adequately accommodate the demands of a vibrant and large college, despite this, we do all we can to ensure that the experience of our community remains positive.

Students and parents alike are aware that our heating system is intermittent and that leaks are a far too frequent occurrence in a building that is less than eight years old. For those parents that have entrusted elder siblings to the care of the college, you will also know that this has been the case since the very early days of our occupancy of the building. Despite this, we have consistently sought to keep learning unaffected and to ensure that students and staff remain safe in their duties. This has often meant that the college and students have tolerated difficulties in favour of remaining in college. More recently, the heating system has become far less reliable and the leaks far more frequent, leading to a number of serious leaks in the building since I have become headteacher. Whilst these difficulties have existed, I can assure parents that Governors and I have done all we can within the confines of the contract, to seek permanent and lasting solutions to such matters. Regrettably, these have not been as fruitful as we would wish.

The leaks which occurred at the end of February and early March were unprecedented. Whilst the college and staff are accustomed to the loss of a room or temporary heating variability, we had never lost sufficient learning space to be unable to find a solution. During the recent events, over 50% of the teaching spaces were flooded and heating to a large part of the building was not functioning in line with the contractual agreement. This, together with the significant and obvious safety implications meant that Governors had no choice but to issue a partial closure of the college. We remain reliant on receiving confirmation of key documentation that rightly is sent to the Local Authority who provide assurance to the Governors, that the building and its operations are safe and within expected contractual aims. As you can imagine with such large-scale flooding and significant water quantity, this goes beyond simply drying areas out and includes refitting of carpets, deep cleans, electrical safety tests and more to bring the building back to its operable state. The college itself has limited influence in the speed in which such matters are resolved and yet, have ensured that our staff stand ready to do all we can to remove obstacles to this goal. What we cannot do however, is accept a standard of completion that is either inappropriate or unsafe. This includes ensuring that any heating solution offers sustained temperatures without the risk of further leaks.

I am pleased to say that we are in a position now whereby assurance has been given to the Governing body, that the remedial work and system function is such that the college can reopen as follows:

  • Tuesday 17th March 2020 – Year 11, 10 and 9
  • Wednesday 18th March 2020 – All years.

The risk of further leaks has been reduced significantly, but not entirely. The temperatures in the building is sustainable and we look forward to the return of our students. Despite this, we must now also prepare for the impact of COVID-19.

Many of you will have seen the statement from the Prime Minister as to the nation’s response to the COVID-19 threat. We know that this is a dynamic and unprecedented situation and that we all have a part to play in combatting the risk to our community. It appears that at some point, the Government may consider closing schools, something that will only add to the frustration and concerns of Newman parents and students alike. I wish therefore to set out our measures and offer advice on how we as a college will manage this period. Before doing so, I must state that at this point, NO CONFIRMED CASES OF STAFF OR STUDENTS TESTING POSITIVE FOR THE DISEASE HAVE BEEN RECEIVED. However, in order to delay:

  • From 16th March 2020, if your child has the most common symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) which are recent onset of a new continuous cough and/or high temperature, however mild, stay at home and do not leave your house for 7 days from when your symptoms started. You do not need to call NHS 111 to go into self-isolation. If your symptoms worsen during home isolation or are no better after 7 days, contact NHS 111 online. Please do inform the college via reception of the MyEd system of your child’s absence. [1]
  • College trips and parental events will be reviewed on a daily basis with the wellbeing of our community and direction for Public Health England and the Department for Education taken priority.

These measures will extend not just to students but to staff also. We will do our best to minimise disruption. Self-isolation for the seven-day period does not necessarily mean that the individual is carrying the virus. However, it is our responsibility to pragmatically follow the advice offered by the government.

We have introduced measures that now mean that staff and student must wash their hands prior to entering the canteen and that hand gel is to be applied. This will remain the case over the coming days together with asking for greater detailed cleaning in high traffic areas such as handrails. I would ask that parents, where possible, allow students to bring their own hand gel in an effort to sustain our limited stock.

We have made substantial plans to prepare materials for home learning. We are encouraging all students to take advantage of the use of Microsoft Office 365 accounts including the use of Microsoft Teams for online lessons and teacher feedback. We are working with the examination authority to ascertain their contingency plans in support of Year 11. We will continue to do all we can to serve our community and model the values our college is proud of.

I wish to thank the many parents who have sent messages of support and solidarity. I again, apologise for the disruption that this has caused and the strain that this will have placed families and students under. Whilst this is beyond our control, none of us at Newman believe that we have ‘jobs’, but instead that we have the privilege to live out our vocation in service to our students. Please continue to review messages sent by the college via the MyEd system and I thank you all for your support in these difficult times.

Yours sincerely,

Mr G R Potts

[1] as of 13th March 2020