Eaton Bank Academy

30/4/21 – School updates


Dear Parents and Carers,

It has been another busy and successful week in school. We are moving forward in good time with the internal assessment programme that will generate the final grades for students in Years 11 and 13.  Running an entire assessment system in six weeks with guidance that changes as it emerges on a daily basis was always going to be a challenge for schools. However, our staff and students have responded magnificently and we feel we are delivering on our commitment to ensure that students get a challenging but fair opportunity to demonstrate their skills knowledge and understanding.  Thank you to all parents of Y11 and Y13 students for your support in this; managing teenagers through the traditional ‘exam season’ is always a stressful activity for all involved. We really appreciate how well you are doing in such an unusual scenario as this year has presented, which I am sure you will agree, in its own way is no less demanding or stressful! 

There has been a bit of ‘feast and famine’ around the home LFD tests this week so you may have discovered that you now have ‘7 packs’ and just for good measure, two sets of them! Thank you for continuing with this.  We know it is an imposition and difficult to maintain at times but it has a use in protecting the community and identifying any possible cases.  It is heartening to see CV-19 cases dropping so low in tandem with the rapid increase in vaccine uptake.  Congleton seems to be curiously above the Cheshire East average (slightly more than twice the Cheshire East 16/100,000 infection rate).  If nothing else, this serves as a reminder to us all to remain vigilant and adopt effective practices in order to keep each other safe.  

It was lovely to see the resumption of extra-curricular sporting activities this week and the Y7 5k fun run on Thursday was a real highlight.  

There are a number of schemes running over the next few months to try to get children more active; I will be giving out more details over the next couple of weeks.

I do hope that you all have a lovely, long weekend.  Bank Holiday weekends are traditionally the time to kick start home improvements … if you are looking to do some DIY this weekend, I’m no style guru but the word is that gold wallpaper is ‘so last week’. Keep your receipts too…a Bank Holiday weekend is a long time in DIY🙂. 

Have a great weekend.

Best wishes,

Ed O’Neill 

23rd April 2021

Dear Parents and Carers,

I hope that you all had a restful Easter break. The sunny weather has made for an uplifting start to the summer term; the students have returned refreshed and the easing of lockdown restrictions have put a spring in our step. The students seem to have come back for the summer term with new vigour and focus. The uniform has been predominantly excellent and I would like to thank you for your support in this; having growing children in an environment where it has not been easy to shop for clothes definitely makes things tricky.

The regulations around mask wearing in lessons have been extended until May 17th. The students have adapted to this really well though and are always supportive of the measure. They are definitely doing their bit to keep themselves and others safe and well. Thankfully case incidences of Covid-19 have dropped significantly across Cheshire East. Please be assured that we remain vigilant in school and are never going to be complacent where student and staff health and wellbeing is concerned. The next batch of home testing kits is expected in school next week and we will be passing them onto students as soon as they come into school.

With lockdown restrictions slowly being lifted we have started to reintroduce activities after school and sports clubs. We hope that students will be keen to participate as fully as possible.

Enjoy the early summer sun and have a lovely weekend.

Best wishes,

Ed O’Neill

26th March 2021

Dear Parents and Carers,
It has been a busy couple of weeks since I last wrote. The Home Testing Kits we sent out from the 15th March seem to have been used really well. We are looking at sending out the Home Testing LFD kits next week which will cover the Easter period. The DfE have asked all Headteachers to write to parents to emphasise the need to maintain the use of the LFD kits over the Easter period and to keep schools informed if any positive results emerge. Thank you in advance for your support with this process.

Mr James will be writing this week to all parents about our post-Easter uniform expectations. It is always a timely moment as the seasons change and we enter the Summer Term to look at our uniform and ensure we are meeting the right standards.

As a member of the Education Recovery Group (ERG) we have asked the DfE to give schools as early a steer as possible about their expectations/guidance about the wearing of masks/face coverings in lessons in the Summer Term. Nothing has been forthcoming as yet and second-guessing likely outcomes has become harder than ever. As soon as I know anything I will let you know. There have been a modest number of CV19 cases emerging in
secondary schools around Cheshire East but I am not sure how much that is reflective of the country as a whole or if it gives any indications about the likely direction of travel on mask wearing in classrooms in the future.

Assessments have started for Y11 and Y13 students and will continue across the next week and again after Easter. Guidance documents from JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications) are expected today along with more information after the Easter holidays. We are confident our processes are working well and doing exactly what we want them to: give the students the best, fairest platform for success, whilst maintaining standards and rigour. Our system
isn’t perfect but we do think it is fair and will best serve the students. It is constantly evolving though as we adapt to changes in direction from JCQ, OfQual or DfE so please do bear with us.
Finally, I’d like to wish you all a fantastic weekend and remind you that we finish for the Easter holidays at 3pm on Thursday next week.
Best wishes,
Ed O’Neill

24th March 2021

Dear Parents and Carers,
Unfortunately, we have this afternoon found out that there was a positive CV19 case on the Paul’s Coaches bus.  As a precautionary measure and in consultation with Cheshire East and Public Health England we have taken the decision to ask all travellers on the coach on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to self-isolate for a period of 10 days.  This is far from ideal but we do feel it is the right move to protect all the travellers on the bus and the school community. 
Families of students on the bus in question do not have to self-isolate (you are deemed to be a ‘contact of a contact’ and therefore not at risk) unless any member of the household develops symptoms or tests positive through a Lateral Flow Device or PCR test.  Please remember that a home administered LFD positive CV19 result does need to be followed up by confirmatory PCR test. 
For everyone else (ie all those students not taking the Paul’s Coaches bus), there are no implications and all other students other than those on Paul’s Coaches should come to school as normal.  
Thank you for your good will and cooperation in this matter.  Returning to school was always going to have a few bumps in the road and this may not be that least of them but with careful planning and support across our school community we will move forward together.  At this moment I think it is useful to reiterate Cheshire East’s simple and powerful roadside message: ‘Stay strong…we’ve got this’.  
Best wishes,
Ed O’Neill

11th March 2021

Dear Parents and Carers,
We are almost through the process of testing students three times with the Lateral Flow Devices. The teams that have been operating across the past two weeks have managed the processes brilliantly and I am enormously grateful for the very significant number of volunteers we have had from parents and the local community. The difficulties of registering all the tests and the enormous administration beyond the physicality of conducting the tests has remained a very, very difficult complication. Your patience for
bearing with us on this matter is greatly appreciated. Now that we have almost completed the process though it feels like just another of those ‘need to do things differently’ moments that the Covid pandemic has brought to bear on us all. It is however undoubtedly a brilliant testament to the power of collective enterprise, exceptional good will and extraordinary efforts from so many of you.

We have now received in school an initial batch of 2000 Home Testing kits for students. We will begin distributing them to students from 15th March. Before we do so, please let us know if you do not want to receive a home testing kit. There seems little point in sending them home if they will not be used. Our stance is that they are another element in maintaining vigilance against the disease and will help in the prevention and spread of Covid
19 and in keeping our community safe. However, they are a voluntary option. Please email only if you do not want to receive a home testing pack for students. We are making this an ‘opt out’ process. If we do not hear from you, a kit will be coming home. We will also make sure that training videos, leaflets and advice on conducting the tests at home will all be on the website by the end of this week.
Best wishes,
Ed O’Neill

4th March 2021

Dear Parents and Carers,

I hope that you are all well. We are working hard to get everything in place for the resumption of school on 8th March. I know that many local secondary schools have gone for a staggered start through the period 8th – 12th March (some are even moving the stagger into the following week) but we feel it is best all round to get everyone in as soon as possible and get the school up and running. There will be some disruptions and delays through that first week as we try to run a full school teaching programme and an on-site mass testing station. However, we feel that the complexities this will bring are outweighed by the benefits of having all the students back on site.

Thank you all the parents who have responded to the Covid LFD testing programme. We have had an enormous uptake across the school, which is fantastic. The testing station and the volunteers staffing it have worked incredibly hard this week to move through the processes as smoothly as possible. The students have been brilliant too: although obviously nervous they have been really well organised, polite, considerate and helped make the process really efficient. We think that from 15th March there will start to be a release of Home Testing LFD kits which will take the pressure off the school testing station. There are a number of details around this that are yet to be confirmed though. As soon as I know more I will let you know.

When we return on 8th March we will be following the same timetable structure as we did from September 2020 (including year group zones, split breaks, split lunches and staggered finish times). As a reminder of all expectations and procedures, Mr James will be sending out the updated Parent Handbook to all parents and carers by the end of the week.

Finally we have the issue of masks in classrooms. The government has really made a mess of this. The messaging to schools is that we ‘must’ follow the ‘recommended guidance’. That’s not helpful at all!! It means that the DfE has left the decision on mask wearing in lessons entirely down to individual schools.

In that spirit, here is our position on the matter: Students have already been used to wearing masks in corridors, social areas, high density areas and only removing them to eat or drink. Wearing them in the classroom has thus far been entirely optional at Eaton Bank Academy. Whilst, as I have previously stated, we are not medical experts or epidemiologists, and we recognise that there is a wealth of (sometimes slightly contradictory) evidence on the issue, we feel that wearing masks in classrooms is an important measure to mitigate the risk of spreading Covid-19 amongst pupils, staff and through families. It is a part of our mitigation plan to get the risk of infection down and allow the school to remain open.

The DfE’s recommendation is that students wear masks inside the school building wherever 2 metre social distancing cannot be achieved (that covers every busy classroom in the school). We are requesting that parents support this. We will obviously fully ventilate the classrooms, be aware of student needs (taking masks aside to ask a question, present ideas or drink water, etc) and encourage students to be outside as often as possible through the school day. The DfE have promised to review the issue after three weeks when the Easter holidays start. It is not compulsory. Our view is that it is one of the ways in which we are all supporting each other in keeping the school and the community safe.

However, if you feel you can’t support us on this issue, please drop a line to school via email on the ‘’ address and we will collate and disseminate the information across the school to staff. As ever, thank you for your brilliant support.
Best wishes,
Ed O’Neill

26th February 2021

Dear Parents and Carers,

Well, we knew this week would be exceptionally busy!  In an attempt to avoid information overload I will try to keep this as brief as possible and summarise as effectively as I can the key updates.

School resumption and the LFD testing programme

Firstly, we are all looking forward to 8th March and the return of all the students to school. We are planning on having all year groups in on 8th March at our normal start time of 8-45 am.  It is a full resumption of normal service.  Details are coming out today about the Lateral Flow Device testing programme we will start operating from March 2nd onwards.  We have around 3000 tests to get through for all students over the course of the next two weeks and so we are aiming to get ahead of the inevitable logistical difficulties and minimise disruption to lessons by starting earlier than 8th March.  Please remember tests are not compulsory, though the government is keen to stress that taking a test is a benefit to the whole school community and will contribute to keeping each other safe.  More details will be sent by Mr James about the testing programme. Please read it carefully and follow the processes and advice offered. Below is the link to the consent form for LFD testing to happen.  This needs to be completed otherwise the tests cannot be undertaken.
Fill | Consent form for COVID-19 Testing Eaton Bank AcademyThis consent form is for participation in tests designed to detect asymptomatic coronavirus cases. Anyone experiencing symptoms should follow government guidelines to self-isolate, even if they have had a recent negative lateral flow test. Consent relates to the following groups of students/pupils and staff as follows: • For pupils and students younger than 16 years – this form must be completed by the parent or legal carer. Please complete one consent form for each child you wish to participate in testing. • Pupils and students over 16 who are able to provide informed consent – can complete this form themselves, having discussed participation with their parent / carer if under 18. • For any pupil or student who does not have the capacity to provide informed consent – this form must be completed by the parent or legal carer. Please complete one consent form for each child you wish to participate in testing. • Staff will complete this form themselves. • If you do not consent to your child being

Masks in lessons

The government has made a bit of a mess of the messaging around masks in lessons.  Firstly saying they are compulsory in lessons, then not, then saying the message is around strongly advising wearing them.  Our stance is that, until Easter, we would like to see all students wearing masks in lessons, unless there is a clear medical reason for this not to be the case.  We are not public health experts of epidemiologists but we can see the common sense and inherent safety in this advice. They are a protective barrier. They protect the wearer and those around the wearer.  We all know that the country is not free of cases of Covid-19 and incidences are clearly higher now than in September.  The transmissibility of the variant strains is stronger.  Everything we can do to minimise the risks is better.  We, like you, want the students back in school and we want to make things as safe as possible. I do hope that you are able to support us in this drive to maintain the safety of the whole community.

Y11 and Y13 Grade Awarding

The outcome of the consultation was released yesterday and the advice to schools is in line with what we expected.  Early reporting that grades would exclusively be awarded by teachers and that there would be no constraints on grades awarded were really quite wide of the mark.  Within the advice from the DfE there are quite rightly very strong expectations around integrity and honesty and robustness in the processes followed by schools to get to the final grades.  There is also a good degree of flexibility in what can be used (and there are no ‘high stakes’ mini exams either).  As the information is very recent we are still working on finalising our approach but we will know more early next week and will hopefully be able to bring much-needed simplicity, clarity and reassurance to our Y11 and Y13 students.  They have been excellent in their patience and application but I am sure they are not enjoying this period of uncertainty one bit.

That’s it for now. It is brilliant to have a coherent plan out of this current lockdown and I think we must all be looking forward to something like the resumption of normality in the coming weeks. I am sure that you have already booked your impending haircuts, are looking to the possibility of going out for a meal or are even threatening to dust off your dancing shoes at the prospect of the opening of nightclubs on 21st June 😊 (there’s no doubt, if like me you have children who are 18, that this date has not gone unmentioned!).

Whatever your plans, have a lovely weekend and stay safe and well.

Best wishes,

Ed O’Neill

23rd February 2021

  Dear Parents and Carers,

We were delighted to have it confirmed yesterday by the Prime Minister that schools will re-open for all pupils on the week commencing March 8th.  As I am sure you will agree, the news about the success of the vaccine roll out and the impact of the lockdown in reducing cases and transmission is really encouraging.

The guidance released to schools has stated that students will be offered three Lateral Flow Device tests (LFDs) on their return.  Currently the advice is to administer them each 3-5 days apart, though we will have to see if that advice changes in light of the logistics involved in re-opening schools.  We are currently in the process of working out the processes around the testing of approximately 1000 students.  Once we have finalised our plans, I will communicate these with you.  There are a number of confirmatory meetings with the DfE and Local Authority going on towards the end of this week which may mean that it is Monday before I have absolute clarity on some key logistical details. Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests are not compulsory and form only one part of a safe return to school.  The aim of testing in this manner is to be able to find students who are do not have any symptoms (asymptomatic) but are carrying the virus and therefore have the potential to spread it.  Receiving a negative result on a test, does not necessarily mean that the person is Covid free.  It means that at the point of taking the test, they were not carrying a huge viral load.  Therefore, it is important on their return, that all students still follow all the safety measures in place.  All students and staff will have to wear a face covering (unless medically exempt) in all areas where social distancing is not possible.  This now includes classrooms.  These regulations are in force until the Easter holidays when they will be reviewed.

I will be in touch early next week at the latest, when I will have more details about how and when your child will return and with information regarding consent for the lateral flow tests.

Mr James is also going to write to all students to let them know about the decisions made yesterday and what that means for them. 

Thank you for your support, patience and understanding with this.

Best wishes,

Ed O’Neill

12th February 2021

Dear Parents and Carers,

I hope that you are all well and keeping safe.  We have reached the end of the half term today and it is a good opportunity to stop and reflect on what has been achieved.  This period of lockdown feels – by some margin – to have been more difficult to the one we endured from March last year. Despite that, the engagement of everyone connected to the school has been brilliant.  School staff have all worked hard and been incredibly creative and flexible in their approaches to delivering lesson and parents’ evenings, administering the school, pastoral care and support; students have been fantastic in their endeavours, commitment and engagement and you have all been totally amazing in your support for school and your sons and daughters and your undoubted myriad forms of flexibility in running home and work simultaneously. None of this has been easy but it is a magnificent thing to be able to step back, survey the scene and be genuinely inspired by the power of a community.

There are lots of things coming together in the next few days and weeks. Sometime in the week commencing 22nd February we should all get sight of the plan to gradually open up society again.  This timeline is also crucial for schools, given that the clock will start ticking on a two week notice period to re-open to a broader number of pupils.  This week in our ERG meeting it became clear that the DfE are making noises ranging from ‘everybody back at once’, to ‘be cautious as we don’t want schools to close again’.  My best guess is that sometime in the week commencing 8th March we will start undergoing a phased return of students (most likely those in Y11 and Y13 in the first instance).  Lateral Flow Device (LFD) testing remains a key part of the government’s strategy for students to return and so the expectation remains that all students will have 2 LFD tests to support their return to school.  Quite what that means in real terms of logistics and timing is anyone’s guess – should it be before students come back, as they come back, after they come back…? All of these things need resolving but rest assured we will try to be as efficient and creative as possible with a total focus on safety in all that we do.

The consultation from OfQUAL should be published in the first week back after half term too (we have been assured it will be before the end of February).  This will define the strategy for grade awarding in the summer including timings, results days and rights of appeal.   We have a good idea as to what will be the outcome and we are making very effective plans already but it will be reassuring to see the final details and move forward with absolute certainty.  All in all, it should be a packed newsletter on 26th February!

I hope that you have a relaxing week.  Thank you for your fantastic support.

Best wishes,

Ed O’Neill

12th February 2021

Dear Parent/Carer,
Thank you to everyone who has sent positive messages of support to our school and staff over the last half-term. We are especially proud of the standard of remote education we have been able to provide to our students. The hard work of the entire Eaton Bank Academy staff, firstly to learn about Microsoft Teams and then to develop their own skills to allow learning to take place and support students has been an amazing achievement and is a true example of growth mindset. This rapid movement forward from where we started about a nine months ago could not have been possible without our fantastic students and your support, thank you!

Last week our students completed a comprehensive ‘Remote Learning Survey’ (along with all the other schools in the Fallibroome Trust) to help us get a picture of the students views of our remote education. Although we would all love to be back in school as soon as safely possible the results of the survey show how highly the students value our staff’s efforts.
These are some of the highlights from the survey,

• Eaton Bank Students rated our remote learning as 4 out of 5 stars.
• 62% said they are learning at a rate which is equal to or better than when in school.
• 89% of students said they have been working independently the majority of the time
• 72% of students said they are communicating with friends regularly
• 85% of students said they felt part of the school due to the regular assemblies and form time.

We were also pleased to see that the laptops we were able to loan out to students have allowed as many students as possible to have a working device to support their learning.
Thank you for your continued support and enjoy your well-earned rest from home schooling,

Stuart Carvell – Assistant Headteacher

5th February 2021

Dear Parents and Carers,

I hope that you are well and that you have had a happy and productive last few days. What started as a sad week with the death of Captain Sir Tom Moore at least offers some rays of hope for the near future.  The Chief Medical Officer announced this week that we are “past the peak” of this latest wave of coronavirus and there is further good news in that more than 10 million people have already received a vaccine jab against the virus.  Messages of hope are always balanced against the sadness for those whose live have been claimed by the virus but we can at least see that the tide is beginning to turn.   Much is being made of pressing for timescales out of lockdown at the moment. Equally, there seems to be a trend for catastrophising the plight of children’s and teenagers’ education.  So much of this is political posturing.  On the ground in schools we were all quietly confident that students would be able to catch up quickly from the last lockdown scenario, which from September 2020 they did brilliantly.  My feeling is that the conditions around remote learning have changed significantly this time around.  Everything from the kit available to the types of lessons being delivered means that students have been offered a really good level of engagement and learning.  I am also confident that, when students do eventually return to school, the catch-up process will be much quicker than people expect.  Children and teenagers are more resilient and determined than they are being given credit for if you are to believe what you see in the press.  Besides, they have had your expert tuition as well!  The next time we advertise for a teaching appointment I am expecting thousands of applications 😊.

A big thank you to Mr Malbon who has organised a brilliant virtual House Competition for all students and staff, encouraging everyone to get out and walk, run, cycle and post a picture of their activity.  It has gained lots of followers and participants and has proven to be a real tonic and alternative to endlessly staring at a screen.  The competition is running until the end of next week, so please encourage your sons and daughters to participate.

The shift in our structure of online learning seems to have worked well.  The feedback I have had has been very positive indeed.  Do please get in touch if you have any ideas or recommendations that you feel will benefit our remote learning programme. On that theme, if you feel you have ever been part of a desperate online Zoom/TEAMS meeting and wondered if it could get any worse, I would recommend having a look at the Handforth Parish Council’s zoom meeting which has become something of an internet sensation.  I think it will make you smile and I’ll include a link to it below but please be warned their is some choice language at the very start! At least you’ll re-appraise the worst remote meeting you have ever attended!

Have a lovely weekend and keep safe and well.

Best wishes,

Ed O’Neill

Insults and expletives turn parish council Zoom meeting into internet sensation | UK news | The Guardian

“Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow.  Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.  Walk beside me and be my friend.” (Albert Camus)

29th January

Dear Parents and Carers,

I hope that you are all safe and well and looking forward to a relaxing weekend.  Quite a few topics have been bubbling around education in the last week, so it is probably quite timely for an update.  It is always unhelpful when speculation zooms around the national press about return dates to school.  We all want to get back as soon as possible but forcing the issue to a fixed date at this point is probably not sensible and creating false hope is not good at all.  This week the 8th March was provisionally mooted by the Prime Minister but with a number of caveats attached to it.  Central to getting schools back is the vaccine.  In simple terms, if they can vaccinate teachers over half term then the 8th March re-opening will start to have some credibility about it.  I am hearing whispers suggesting that is the plan and is broadly on target but nobody is  committing to that just yet. 

In the meantime we will continue to maintain our remote learning provision and keep adapting to ensure we are making the most impact and maximising learning.  I hope that your sons and daughters have found the different structure of this week more helpful.  Having those extra breaks away from the screen is hopefully allowing for moments to refresh, get some fresh air, etc and gather thoughts.  We will keep monitoring how things are going and we do appreciate your responses and ideas too.  They help us to adapt and flex the process to suit what works best.  Please do send any ideas through the ‘’ email channel.  Mr Bollan has asked me to remind parents to ask sons and daughters to ensure that, having completed an assignment, to then click on ‘hand in’ as soon as it is done.  It appears little log jams are happening which aren’t helpful to students or teachers!

The consultation on grading for Y11 and Y13 closes today.  It is, by all accounts, the largest consultation response OfQUAL have ever seen by some significant margin.  The flip side of that is that there are already suggestions that the outcome won’t be known until the end of February.  As part of the ERG group I have pushed the local authority to stress to the DfE the importance of turning round the outcomes of the consultation as quickly as possible.  Time lost in deliberating simply adds more pressure onto students and schools.  Reading between the lines though (and looking at what has already been decided by the Scottish Curriculum Authority who appear to be a couple of months in advance of OfQUAL) we think that the outcome from the consultation will be to ask schools to conduct a range of ‘controlled assessment’ tests, based on actual exam papers and exhibiting as broad a coverage of the course as possible.  The watchword from Scotland is ‘quality’ not ‘quantity’ of these assessments, which is sensible as it takes away the possibility of ‘high stakes’ individual tests and papers which could prove unfair for all sorts of reasons.  All things considered we plan to start to get the Y11 and Y13 students working from now towards getting ready to start internal assessments from Easter onwards. We don’t feel this will be a bad move; whatever is decided by OfQUAL, having a body of evidence of a student’s ability drawn from actual exam responses cannot be a bad thing.  Given that these controlled assessments can be done in school and broken up to be manageable and well-paced, it is also perhaps the only way to square the diametrically opposed issues of maintaining year on year standards and providing a fair environment for students to demonstrate their abilities.  Rest assured that we are mindful of the importance of carefully guiding and supporting our students throughout the next few weeks to ensure they feel secure, well prepared and ready to showcase the full range of their abilities.

Thank you to all parents for last night’s Parents’ Evening and Options Evening.  Once again it seems to have been a huge success.  We have received a lot of comments from parents to say that they like the new format as it adds greater efficiency, privacy and – despite the slightly more reduced contact time of 5 minutes – conveys information more precisely and effectively.  There are undoubtedly some aspects of the last twelve months that will shape our processes and practices for the better and this may well be something that will go down as a ‘Covid keep’.  We will see how things work over the next few months and take views from parents and carers as we move towards the end of the academic year so that you can give us a more detailed sense of how it works from your perspective.

You will be pleased to know that we are not planning to implement the Chinese government’s new Covid-19 swabbing strategy 😊.  They have definitely reset the bar on being rigorous and innovative in their swabbing discipline!     

I will leave you on that note, as I contemplate the risks associated with requesting a ‘home haircut’ over the weekend.

A sloth looking at the camera

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

As ever, do get in touch if we can be of any help or support.

Best wishes,

Ed O’Neill

25th January

Dear Parents and Carers,

I hope that you are all well.  We have been working over the weekend on ideas to freshen up the structure of the school day.  The remote learning curriculum is very different in intensity and engagement to the normal school curriculum and we are adapting our thinking and processes to ensure that students and staff are able to get the most out of it.  Thank you to the very many parents who got in touch with me over the weekend to offer ideas and suggestions about how we can move forward and ensure that students have flexibility and rigour in the school day whilst also finding some time for relaxation, exercise and some fresh air away from the computer screen.  Many of you are rightly concerned about screen time dependency and the debilitating effect this can have; equally it is coming across that the pace of the day being experienced at home is leaving students feeling a little lost or that they are struggling to keep up at times. It is inevitably a difficult balancing act and I know that parents will have a range of views and ideas on what works best but we have been listening to parents and to staff and students and we are proposing the following changes to how we do things:

  1. The school day will remain the same in terms of start times of lessons but each lesson will be 50 minutes long to create more breaks between lessons.   This means that there will be ten minutes between lesson 1 and 2, 25 minutes for breaktime, 55 minutes for lunch and ten minutes between lessons 4 and 5.  In reality the normal/physical school day has movement times around school in it that probably means the lesson lengths aren’t going to be too dissimilar.  We don’t feel that lessons will be reduced in quality by doing this but we do feel it will allow for energies and efforts to be revitalised and focus in lessons to be that bit sharper.  We will continue to register students at the start of each lesson.  We will start on this new school day structure from tomorrow (26/1/21)

The school day:

8:45 – 9:00 am                Tutor Time

9:00 – 9:50 am                Lesson 1

10:00  – 10:50 am           Lesson 2

10:50 – 11:15 am            Break

11:15 – 12:05 pm           Lesson 3

12:05 – 1:00 pm              Lunch

1:00 – 1:50 pm                Period 4

2:00 – 2:50 pm                Period 5  

  1. We are going to aim to vary lessons a little more.  We will still be doing live lessons and registering live at the start of every lesson to set the lesson going.  Some lessons will be live throughout; some lessons will have assignments to complete and submit to increase student engagement with specific directed activities; some will have video recordings of the teacher setting up the assignment and giving instructions on the learning for the lesson.  We feel that the greater variety this offers will support student learning, greater independence and enhanced engagement through the variety of stimulus and approaches.  It will also put the students in a little more control of their learning and timekeeping whilst working within the framework of a fixed timetable schedule.  There are no perfect solutions to the situation we are in but we feel that what we are proposing will maintain the rigour and effectiveness of the learning we want to achieve and provide the right balance for students too.  We will be keeping a close eye on how things are going and will listen carefully to your thoughts and observations about the process.

Once again, many thanks for your continued support.

Best wishes,

Ed O’Neill

22nd January

Dear Parents and Carers

I hope that you are all keeping well and safe.  Speculation continues about when schools will fully reopen but in interviews this week, Gavin Williamson hinted that it would certainly be nearer to Easter when students would be back in school.  It is therefore even more important that our students engage in their learning at home.  Many are fully focused but we do recognise the challenges that everyone is facing.  We are also acutely aware that too much time staring at the computer screen is not good for anyone.  We are actively looking at ways to make the experience of online learning more fruitful and engaging.  One suggestion has been to build in some more breaks between lessons so that staff and students can get a breather and a bit of fresh air between lessons.  We are looking at that as an option as well as a few other changes to make sure that variety, engagement and effective learning remain at the forefront of what we are doing.  I will be back in touch early next week to let you know about any plans to freshen things up.

The consultation on awarding grades for Y13 and Y11 is ongoing until 29th January. I will be talking to the staff about my thoughts on how best to respond to it and encouraging them to exercise their own thoughts but to make sure that we respond.  Shaping what will be a very complex process is vital.  One suggestion on the consultation is that students remain engaged in their learning for as long as possible into the summer term.  This seems like a really sensible idea and will allow for students to cover and gain mastery over the subject content for their respective courses. It also seems likely that some form of test or assessment will be used to shape/support/confirm teacher assessed grades.  I would anticipate that schools will also be asked to put together portfolios of representative work from students, which point toward a likely grade.  If that is the case, all work completed and all work still to be completed will be of real value in securing the right outcomes. As more information emerges I will let you know.

There have been changes to the regulations on Lateral Flow Device (LFD) testing.  The expectation on schools this week is to introduce twice weekly LFD testing of staff and when the students do all return to school, to organise a double LFD test on all year groups, which should be at least three days apart.  We will also continue to offer weekly LFD tests to our ‘Key Worker Plus’ group in school as we feel that, as a screening strategy, it can only be a good thing to do.  That is this week’s position but it is quite possible that we will have lots of changes happening in this area before the students return en-masse to school.

For those of you who watched the inauguration of President Biden this week, I am sure that you will have been moved by the performance of Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate.  She hoped that her poem, “The Hill We Climb”, would represent a moment of unity for her country but her words are significant and inspiring for us all.

I particularly like the following lines, which resonate with power, insight and hope:

“So while once we asked, ‘How could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?’ now we assert, ‘How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us?’…

 For there is always light,

if only we’re brave enough to see it.

If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

I have pasted a link to her speech, should you want to take 5 minutes to sit, relax and listen.

As always, thank you for all of your support and have a lovely weekend.

Best wishes,

Ed O’Neill

15th January

Dear Parents and Carers,

I hope that you are all safe and well.  Whilst the statistics around infections and mortality rates remain shockingly high at present, glimmers of hope for the future are appearing, both in a potential slowing down of infections nationally and the expansion of  the vaccination programme.  It was great to hear that a pharmacy in Macclesfield was part of a pilot to deliver vaccinations this week. Hopefully Congleton will be able to follow on shortly.

Thank you to all our Year 11 parents and teaching staff for last night’s digital/remote parents’ evening.  It proved to be a very effective and hugely well attended evening.

Following the interchange of letters between the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, and Simon Lebus, Ofqual’s interim chief regulator, earlier this week, a two week consultation has now been launched regarding the awarding of qualifications in summer.  It will be a hugely complex task to get things right this summer; previous school patterns of results were changed beyond recognition last year. Based on the need to have some sort of credible yardstick to measure things, you can easily see why Williamson has clung so strongly to keeping examinations this year.  However, without the benefit of having  the exam modularity we once had as well as the ability to have a level of accountability through coursework/controlled assessments, this has become infinitely more complex.  Although Gavin Williamson has alluded to the possibility of some external assessments taking place, nothing has been finalised.  We will, of course, contribute to this and as always, I will communicate the outcome once it has been reached.  Inevitably this is an unsettling time for students in exam year groups; the only thing in their control is their commitment to work.  It is really important at this stage that they continue to apply themselves to all of their lessons and seek opportunities outside of the lesson to embed knowledge and skills.  If you are concerned about your child’s engagement in their learning, contact us straight away and we will get them back on track. Rest assured that from our perspective, central to all we do will be having the students’ best interests at heart.

Marcus Rashford has hit the headlines again in reaction to the food parcels that had been sent out to families this week.  Irrespective of your football loyalties, it is really admirable and heart-warming to see such dedication and kindness.  The Government scheme should take effect from Monday 18th January, although we have been allocated a slot later in the week to log into the system to process the vouchers. If there is any gap between the systems, we will issue our own vouchers until the government versions come through so as to ensure continuity of provision.

Our Lateral Flow Test mass testing centre is now fully functional and staff on site are being tested on a weekly basis.  Students who are in school are also being offered the opportunity to be tested but this remains voluntary.  We managed to get through 60 primary school staff as well as 20 of our own workforce today.  Concerns have been raised about the effectiveness of using the tests by the medical regulator, which has withheld approval so far based on the fact that a negative test may not be accurate and could give false confidence to its recipient.  We are very mindful of this.  We are working on the basis that we will not use the tests for serial testing (ie as a substitute for isolating: the DfE’s plan was to keep testing possibly positive cases every day for seven days to allow them to stay in school).  Taking a ‘glass half full’ approach though, if we continue with the broad screening programme we have started, if we manage to identify any positive cases at all and can thereby minimise further infection it will have an effect on reducing transmission and is therefore a useful thing for us to have done.  I’ll keep you posted.  It is always possible that the screeching brakes of a U-turn on the process will be heard in the not too distant future!  If that is the case we will respond accordingly.  Almost needless to say but we are committed to doing whatever will help get us out of the crisis we all face as quickly as possible.  

We have received a lot of positive feedback from parents and students throughout this week.  Thank you and please do keep sharing.  As a staff we regularly share our own good practice but it would be really good if we were able to share what parents/carers are doing at home to support your children.  I am sure that you have all found things that work particularly well and we can share your best tips with other parents/carers.  Please email us at:  We will create a section on the website to collate them all together. Rest assured we will make sure that we anonymise all tips  We all know how embarrassed teenagers can get!

Whatever your plans for the weekend, do stay safe.

Best wishes,


Ed O’Neill

13th Jauuary
Dear Parents and Carers,

I hope that you are all keeping well and safe.  Today has brought a flurry of updates which are worth mentioning.  Following the high profile revelations and imagery around Free School Meal provision across social media yesterday, the government is about to reintroduce the voucher scheme which worked really well across the summer.  This should take effect from Monday 18th January and allows families to download supermarket specific vouchers.  Ms Messham will be managing that strategy again and will be in touch (as relevant) in the next few days.

This morning Gavin Williamson released some information (to go into a two week consultation process) with regard to how to award grades to Y11 and Y13 students. Formal exams were always going to be exceptionally difficult to manage and administer and keep fair this year, given the differing experiences of students across the country in relation to Covid 19 cases. However, having formally cancelled exams for this summer, one of Mr Williamson’s proposals from today is that schools conduct “externally set tasks or papers”.  We will see how that survives contact with the reality of where we are, how schools will be able to operate and the in-built inequalities that Coronavirus has created.  As soon as I know more I will endeavour to explain how things are going to move forward in this area.   

Y11 Parents’ Evening is tomorrow.  Meeting links will be on the home page of the school website and all parents of Y11 students will be receiving a ‘how it works’ advice guide shortly.    

We began formal CV19 Lateral Flow Testing of students and staff today.  All went really well and the students were excellent in their approach and management of the process.  We are also supporting our local primary schools by offering their staff the opportunity to safely make use of our Lateral Flow Testing facilities through the week.  Hopefully this will screen out any positive cases and provide a degree of reassurance across the community and within the schools.

Stay safe and well.

Best wishes,

Ed O’Neill

11th January

Dear Parents and Carers,

I’ll try to reduce the number of updates I send this week.  I had lots of responses to the issue around using Xbox and PlayStation for access to TEAMS.  It does seem like it is entirely feasible.  Adding a keyboard makes for a much better experience too.  If you are keen to give it a go then I think the basic gist is to get to the internet browser available on the device, access One Drive and follow the log-in process from there.  Thanks to all who sent in advice and hardware tips too!

Below I have dropped in a link to a DfE website page about increasing data allowances on mobile devices.  There are some clear criteria to be able to apply for the free data increases.  If you feel you qualify for this and need our support, let us know and we will help with the application.

Y11 Parents’ Evening

We have Y11 Parents’ Evening this week.  Out first go at doing it entirely online worked out really well.  Just before Christmas we had a Y8 Parents’ Evening and for the vast majority of parents this seemed to work out very well.  Indeed, many wrote into school requesting that we never go back to the old in-person style of parents’ evenings!  We will be on hand for Thursday’s parents’ evening again to ensure that, if any technical difficulties arise, we can address then really quickly.  At the weekend there were some reports about one of the ways that a grade might be calculated.  The Sunday Times reported that OfQUAL may be about to announce that students are to sit a ‘mini test’ in school (or at home).  Well, we will see what happens; there hasn’t been any consultation yet and the DfE and OfQUAL know only too well the danger of assumptions and ploughing ahead without consulting anyone. Whatever this turns out to be, we will not really know where things are going by the time of the Parents’ Evening.  Although Gavin Williamson said he was going to ‘trust teachers not algorithms’ I think we all know that soundbites and headlines don’t always translate into the reality of what happens. The burning question from parents may well be ‘What grade will my son/daughter get?’ but we are not in a position to answer that at all, as so many as yet unknown factors may have to be taken into consideration.  Staff will therefore be concentrating on where students are up to, what else needs to be done, attitude to learning, updating on mock exam outcomes, key learning still to cover, etc.  Given that so much is unknown about how the grade awarding process will be conducted, staff are understandably a little nervous about navigating such unknown territory as this but we will ensure you are fully briefed on your son or daughter’s progress to date and next steps to consolidate their best possible outcomes.

Covid testing in school kicks in from Wednesday and I will report back in due course on how things go so that you have confidence and awareness in the processes we are running.

Stay safe and well.

As ever, if we can be of any help or support, don’t hesitate to ask.

Best wishes,

Ed O’Neill

8th January

Dear Parents and Carers,

Thank you for your fantastic support and the huge number of messages we have had sent into school this week.  Online learning is not where we want to be but the students and teachers have thrown themselves into the challenge with enthusiasm and gusto and the outcomes so far seem to be working really well.  Staff have reported back how excellent the students have been in their manners, application and keenness to get involved.  From our point of view we can measure (and we are) what’s going on with each student on TEAMS from a whole range of perspectives: attendance, time spent online, amount of usage of the chat facility, uploaded work, etc but it is in the personal engagement that most will be achieved.  We are only a week in but the engagement has been really impressive so far. Do keep in touch with us in terms of the online provision so that we can support everyone as fully as possible.  We have made huge strides forward since March 2020 but we are always looking to improve and make our processes more effective and efficient.

Y11 and Y13 exams Summer 2021

Following the Secretary of State’s statement to the House of Commons about Y11 and Y13 exams we have heard nothing more in terms of details or processes.  If you are the parents of Y11 and Y13 students then please reassure them that:

(a) there is still lots of time and lots of work and assessments still to be done – whether it is coursework, homework or practical work it will all still have a significant bearing on the final grades

(c) as we always do, we will be consistent and rigorous and work towards ensuring that the students get the fairest possible outcomes that give them the best possible springboard to the next stage of their lives.

‘New’ day Timings

A quick reminder about the ‘new’ day timings that we will all start following from Monday 11th January:

8:45 am              Tutor Group Time
9:00 am              Period 1
10:00 am            Period 2
11:00 am            Break
11:15am            Period 3
12:15 pm           Lunch
1:00 pm             Period 4
2:00 pm             Period 5

Use of X Box/PlayStation for TEAMS

Whilst I am generally very reluctant to suggest using gaming machines, there has been information circulating that it is possible to use an Xbox or PlayStation to access TEAMS.  If anyone has experience on doing this and can recommend that the process works effectively please let us know and we will then do what we can to support families in making this a useful platform for learning.

Testing Programme and Swab Squad Volunteers

We have now set up our ‘field hospital’ testing station and from next week we will commence testing all staff (and the students in school) every week.  This will be on a voluntary basis.  Anyone who chooses not to participate will not be denied access to school.  We have been working rigorously through the training modules and have received 6000 Lateral Flow Device kits in school. The design of the kits is to capture asymptomatic cases and work towards minimising the ‘unknowing’ spread of Covid-19.  Until we have a more substantive return of full year groups into school we will only be testing staff and Key worker students in school.  Parents and carers of the children in school will receive the consent forms and data security forms shortly.

As soon as we hear more about the possible return of students back into school we will be sending these same forms out to all parents so that we can hopefully screen all students immediately prior to their return to school.  May I remind everyone that if you have any symptoms of Covid-19 please do not come into school and seek a full PCR test at a national testing station.

I would like to recognise those parents who volunteered to come in and be part of the EBA swab squad, offering their time freely when they had any time off from their own busy working schedule.  Their altruism and sense of community is absolutely fantastic and I was deeply moved by the fact that so many parents wanted to help and support.  As we eventually get closer to students returning to school I will be getting back in touch for training and certification on the process (although many of the volunteers are already experienced swabbers/practising health professionals) and calling on their expertise and skills, as the initial phase of testing of the whole school is likely to be very busy indeed.  For now though I would like to extend my sincerest thanks for your offers to help.

That’s quite a thorough update for now.  Stay safe and well and have a good weekend.

As ever, if we can be of any help, please do get in touch.

Best wishes,

Ed O’Neill

“Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending” (Carl Bard)

6th JanuaryDear Parents and Carers,

Gavin Williamson presented to the House of Commons this afternoon and has confirmed the following:
(1) All GCSE and A Level examinations have been cancelled this summer (N.B. there will be no SATs tests either)
(2) Teacher assessed grades will be used to form the basis of the final grades awarded (trusting “teachers not algorithms”)
(3) A quality assurance programme will be put in place to ensure that grades are “fairly and consistently awarded”
All of this seems like an eminently sensible move forward. There is still much more detail to come on this subject and I will let you know more detail as it is released. The lack of clarity from the DfE on the public health issues around conducting BTEC examinations has been less sensible. By late last night the picture was one of ‘you can do the examinations if you choose to do them’. This is not satisfactory at all. We had a BTEC examination this morning with three Y13 students that seemed unfair to cancel at the last minute; however, next week’s Y11 Design and Technology OCR National examination is a different matter. We do not feel it is sensible to encourage possible Covid-19 transmission by bringing Y11 into school. We have therefore taken the decision to cancel all examinations in school from this point onwards. Pearson and OCR examination boards have said that there will be absolutely no detriment to any students who elect not to take the examination. It is not yet clear how, if at all, these assessments will influence the final grade anyway. I hope that you understand we have taken this decision for the right reasons; please rest assured that students will not in any way be disadvantaged by this decision.
I have been asked to reconsider school timings during the period of lockdown. This is to avoid splitting families across two break times and two lunchtimes if you have sons or daughters in both Key Stage Three and Key Stage Four. This makes a lot of sense. Therefore, during the lockdown period we will move to the old structure of the day. From Monday 11th January the school day will run as follows:
8:45am Registration
9:00 am Period 1
10:00 am Period 2
11:00 am – 11:15 am
Break 11:15
Period 3 12:15 – 1:00pm
Lunch 1pm
Period 4 2pm
Period 5 School finishes at 3pm
Stay safe and well. As ever, if we can be of any support, please do not hesitate to get in touch. Best wishes, Ed O’Neill