A message from Sally Lees, TST CEO

A message from Sally Lees, TST CEO

This week we welcome back our staff and pupils into all our Trust schools.  It is wonderful to see our schools buzzing again after so many months when most of our school community was working at home and our schools were eerily quiet. Our TST Small School, set up on the Homewood site, ran throughout the whole period from March through to the summer holiday and provided on-site learning initially for children of key workers and those with particular needs and from June onwards to more pupils in other year groups.  But everyone else was working remotely and so it is a joy this week to be re-united back in our schools.

Of course, arrangements are inevitably going to be different and there has been an enormous amount of work done to ensure that our school sites are operating in as safe a way as possible.  The virus continues to be present in our community and we need to take all the precautions we can to minimise the risk of spreading infection in school.  We cannot promise zero risk, but we can promise that we have done all we can to make that risk as small as possible and all our arrangements meet the requirements of the government’s guidance for schools.  We will be working closely with the public health authorities and following their guidance in managing any cases of the virus which do arise.

Managing the health, safety and well-being of our staff and students is our primary concern and we will do that whilst maintaining the highest quality of teaching and learning and delivering an exciting and engaging curriculum.  We understand that some pupils will have found learning from home quite difficult and we are ready to support them in building their confidence in the areas of learning they have missed.  Others will have enjoyed the greater level of independence in managing their learning which the lockdown afforded them and we want to build on that and give them more opportunities to take responsibility for and drive forward their own learning.

During the last few months, communication with parents has really come to the fore as we have shared the responsibility for our children’s learning.  We look forward to seeing the benefit of these close working relationships as we settle back into something like normality.  We have always believed that our pupils can really benefit if learning is a true partnership between home and school and this has been proved again over the last few months.  I would like to extend a huge “thank you” to all our parents for everything they have done to support their children during this period.  For many it has been a huge juggling act to manage work and home responsibilities whilst overseeing home schooling and we do not underestimate the difficulties this has posed.

All our schools will be seeing significant improvements to their premises this year as we have been successful in securing a considerable amount of government funding to upgrade the fabric of our buildings. There will be improvements to electrical systems and roofing amongst other things.  We are delighted to have been successful in our bids as it continues to be a priority for us to provide the best possible working environment for our pupils and staff. We are fortunate to have excellent facilities for students across our Trust but keeping the buildings up to scratch is an expensive business and these grants will really help us in that task.

Following the exams debacle over the holidays, we are very pleased that the Government eventually conceded that exam boards should use the Centre Assessed Grades as the minimum grade for students.  The outcome was the only fair one in the end, but a great deal of stress and uncertainty was experienced by many students before it was sorted out.  In the end, Universities stepped up and honoured the offers on the basis of the Centre Assessed Grades. We wish our “Lockdown Leavers” all the very best for their futures, wherever their next steps take them.

I am incredibly impressed by the work and dedication of all our staff which has ensured that our schools are ready to open this term.  Last March, they had to re-invent school completely in three days, in order to make sure that their pupils could learn from home, or have their learning and care needs met in school.  Now, they have to re-invent their approach all over again to ensure that the way they deliver the learning is as COVID safe as possible whilst still being interesting and effective.  Behind the scenes, an enormous amount of work has gone on to make this possible, spearheaded by the excellent leadership teams in all our schools. I am immensely grateful to them all.

I know we are all now looking forward to the term ahead with enthusiasm and determination to overcome the challenges of the times we live in and do a great job for our pupils. There may well be some difficult times ahead and we need to be prepared for some further disruption to learning if the virus spikes again in our area. But we are ready for those difficult times and in partnership with our parents and wider community we will overcome the challenges as we have done in the last few months.  It will just be great to have the children back in our schools again.

Sally Lees, CEO, Tenterden Schools Trust

2 September 2020