Headteacher Update Monday 1st March 2021
Dear Parents and Carers,
We, like you, are delighted that school is going to be fully open as of 8th March. I will now outline our plans for further opening, which are different for primary and secondary age students.
Your child’s class teacher will have been in contact with you to discuss their return to school, if you are still unsure about any aspect of this please do contact us at email@example.com and we will get back to you within the day. As always, we will work with you to make their return to school as supportive as possible. Transport have informed us that they will assume all students are returning full time so should be ready to collect your child five days a week from March 8th unless they are given alternate instructions.
We will be continuing with the system of controls which we implemented before Christmas, with the addition that staff will taking part in rapid testing of themselves using Lateral Flow Devices (LFD) either at home or in school. In addition to this all staff have been offered a vaccination, which should provide an additional layer of protection for both staff and students, helping to make our school as safe as possible at this time for your child.
Recap System of Controls to prevent the spread of Covid19 in school:
1) Minimise contact with individuals who are required to self-isolate by ensuring they do not attend school.
2) Ensure face coverings are used in recommended circumstances.
3) Ensure everyone is advised to clean their hands thoroughly and more often than usual.
4) Ensure good respiratory hygiene for everyone by promoting the ‘catch it, bin it, kill it’ approach.
5) Maintain enhanced cleaning, including cleaning frequently touched surfaces often.
6) Minimising contact across the site and maintaining social distancing wherever possible as outlined in our risk assessment with the use of class bubbles and zones.
7) Keep occupied spaces well ventilated.
8) Ensure staff wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) where necessary.
9) Promote and engage in asymptomatic testing, where available
10) In response to any infection we will always promote and engage with the NHS Test and Trace process and the Education Effectiveness team at the local authority
11) Manage and report confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) amongst the setting community
12) Contain any outbreak by following local health protection team advice.
COVID Testing- Year 7 upwards (Key Stage 3- Post 16 ONLY)
Asymptomatic cases comprise up to a third of all coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, and rapidly identifying and containing them will help stop individuals who carry the infection unknowingly spreading it. Rapid testing using Lateral Flow Devices (LFDs) will support the wider return to face-to face education by helping to identify people who are infectious but do not have any coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms. For school staff and secondary age students (where appropriate) we are moving to a home testing model, where you will be provided with LFD kits to use at home with your child. We aim to test all secondary age students on site by March 12th. Your child’s class teacher will be in contact if they have not already about when your child will be tested. The lateral flow devices used have received regulatory approval from the MHRA for self-use.
Testing our students in school before we provide you with home testing kit twice a week is aimed at re-familiarising your child with the testing process. In addition, we are currently preparing simple instructions and a short video, to guide you and your child through the process.
It is important that we highlight that testing remains voluntary but is encouraged. Where it is not possible to conduct a test on a student, it is crucial that they nonetheless continue to have access to face-to-face education. As a special school we have been given greater flexibility when delivering testing and it is recognised that due to the range of needs in our school community many students will require assisted swabbing, as they cannot self-swab and as such different approaches to testing will be needed. These approaches may include only taking a nose swab from each nostril or similarly if for some reason a nasal swab is not feasible, a throat swab alone will suffice. Aforementioned full support will be given through our guidance to help parents with the process. Our aim is to work with families and young people to agree the most appropriate way of them participating in twice-weekly testing. We will make sure that young people themselves are given the opportunity to express their views and preferences to the extent that they are able. Even if consent has been given, if the individual at any point is not willing to participate in testing then that choice should be respected. We have prepared a short consent survey, which will also capture your needs with regard to support with testing, we will not test any young person without a completed consent form, please click on the link here and return by Tuesday 2nd March 3.30pm:
Birch Wood Vale and Ashton House- Mask Wearing
Government regulations are to wear cloth masks when less than 2 metres from someone. In lessons some secondary age students may choose to wear masks and we would encourage this where the young person feels able to cope. However, there are exemptions for people with learning difficulties, so we will work with the students and their families to ensure that students only wear them in class where this is felt appropriate for the individual and that it won’t impair their progress and ability to learn. At transition times, when students are moving around the school, they will also be encouraged to wear masks as they did before Christmas. Outside at break times and when eating or playing sport children will not be required to wear masks. Sanitiser and hand washing will be routinely used throughout the school day.
Much of the planning has focused on well-being and next week we will write to you again explaining what we will be doing to ensure a successful and healthy return to daily school life.
We very much look forward to seeing everyone back in school on a full timetable. Thank you again for your support for all of the staff during this period of lockdown and as we approach another phase of school life during the pandemic. I am confident that the incredible Birch Wood community spirit will help us face this next stage together.
Headteacher Update 22nd February 2021
Dear Parents and Carers,
Having watched the Prime Minister’s address to the nation yesterday evening, I am pleased to report that my colleagues and I are looking forward to welcoming all classes back to Birch Wood from Monday 8th March. We recognise that some students may need support with transitioning back to school, so our staff will be on hand to make sure the programs in place are designed to best support their individual needs.
We will be continuing with our existing control measures, such as all staff wearing facemasks, bubbles, lateral flow testing and regular hand washing/sanitizing.
You will undoubtedly have a number of questions regarding your child’s return to school and we hope to be in a position to give you more information about our plans at the end of this week. Your child’s class teacher or form tutor will continue to stay in touch and keep you informed.
Thank you for your continued understanding and support.
Lockdown 3- Parental Survey 20.01.21
We really care about how we can improve and appreciate you taking time to complete this survey about our existing approach to the current national lockdown in response to the COVID19 pandemic.
We will use your answers and comments to ensure that we are doing everything we can to support families, children and young people with SEND. We aim to adapt our provision as much as is practicably possible to meet needs as outlined in student’s EHCP at this unprecedented time.
Thank you for your ongoing support.
Please click on the link below:
Update- 05.01.21- 3.20PM
Dear Parents & Carers,
As you will be aware, the Prime Minister has announced that a new national lockdown will come into force from tomorrow.
During the period of national lockdown, schools, alternative provision, special schools, and colleges will remain open only to vulnerable children and young people and the children of critical workers. Children with at least one parent or carer who is listed as a critical worker are eligible for a school place. It is not necessary for both parents to be critical workers. This decision does not suggest that schools are no longer safe places for young people. Instead, limiting attendance is about reducing the number of contacts that all of us have with people in other households. We have been advised that this is very important in the face of the rapidly rising numbers of cases across the country and the intense pressure on the NHS. The government will be reviewing the restrictions on schools and will ensure that children and young people return to face-to-face education as soon as the pressures are easing on the NHS.
Thank you for completing the survey regarding your child’s attendance to school during lockdown, if you have not managed to do it yet, the link is on our website and FB page (below).
Grange Drive Site
We have now created a process to provide education for the next 3 days at our Grange Drive site and aimed to provide education for all key worker and vulnerable children where requested, starting from tomorrow -6.01.21. Your child’s class teacher or form tutor will email or call you with this information shortly. We will now begin working on provision for week beginning Monday 11th January and let you know more information where applicable for next week ASAP.
Birch Wood Vale & Ashton House
Students are continuing with the existing plans until the end of the week, therefore those that are expecting to attend this week should continue to do so. However, we may need to change the current arrangements for attendance for the week beginning 11th January in the light of the new announcement. We will be in contact this week to discuss the details.
THANK YOU so much for all your kind messages, understanding and general support, this means so much to us. Whether your child is learning remotely or coming in to school we will be in touch regularly and are here to discuss any concerns you have.
School place from January 2021- Parent survey
Please complete this survey as soon as possible and we will do our best to consider the needs you have outlined and provide some time in school, where it is requested.
URGENT UPDATE FOLLOWING TONIGHTS BRIEFING
I am so very sorry for the lateness of this message. Although we have worked so hard over the Christmas period to consider everything in the government guidance and get testing in place, the announcement tonight by our Prime Minister has forced us to make a further difficult decision regarding opening tomorrow. As most mainstream schools are closed tomorrow our own staff numbers are now further depleted. We also need to work on safe opening between now and February, as we cannot ignore the very stark warnings about the dangers of overwhelming the NHS before the vaccination is rolled out more fully.
Therefore we have had to take the following emergency action:
- Grange Drive will be closed tomorrow to all students.
- Birch Wood Vale will continue with existing plans and will be open to those students we have planned for tomorrow.
- Ashton House will continue with existing plans and will be open to those students we have planned for tomorrow.
Safety must come first and we can not risk having inadequate staff numbers to meet the complex needs of our students.
We will be working hard tomorrow to look at the best provision we can put in place between now and February half term for all our young people and will be in touch with you all tomorrow with a survey, which will be followed with a proposed new plan for the rest of this half term.
Thank you for your ongoing support and I am sorry for any difficulties these changes may cause you.
Consent form for COVID-19 testing secondary aged students in school.
Please access the online consent form by clicking the link here
This 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 guardian. 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 / guardian 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 guardian. Please complete one consent form for each child you wish to participate in testing.
Update 31st December (pm)
A little clarification re new return dates:
Birch Wood (Grange Drive), Birch Wood Vale & Ashton House will be open to the following groups from:
Primary age children up to Year 6
Children of critical workers
Vulnerable children (particularly LAC & those with a social worker)
From 11th January:
Years 10, 11 & P16
From 18th January:
Year 7, 8, 9
However, we will discuss your family’s particular circumstances with you via telephone when all staff are back in work on 4th January and work with you to support your child’s needs. In the meantime we will also try to pick up emails via:
The reason for the the change is due to the government announcement yesterday, which detailed very high rates of infection, tier 4 for Leicestershire, a new COVID19 strain which is more infectious and a new school testing program.
We hope a staggered start will help keep us all safer.
Thank you for your ongoing support.
Update 31st December (am)
Dear Parents, Carers and Staff,
I’m sure many of you are worried about how things are going to work out now we are in Tier 4 and with the new announcement about a delayed start for many students. Our approach throughout the pandemic is to work together to find the safest way forward. Things have changed with the virus since term ended and so I am now forced to change our approach. With the new strain of the virus and very high levels of infection, it is as important now, as it has ever been to plan a safe, steady and controlled return to school. In doing this we can help reduce incidents of infection in school, keep the most vulnerable safe and plan our new testing strategy.
Therefore, it is with an extremely heavy heart that we may need to ask some secondary age students to return to school a little later in line with the new government announcement.
Secondary age students whose parents are key workers or who are additionally vulnerable- usually those students with a social worker- will not have a delayed start.
Below is the most recent guidance from Jane Moore- Director, Children and Family Services at
Leicestershire County Council
“Vulnerable children and children of critical workers will return to school the week beginning 4th January and those in exam years will go back to school on 11th January, with the remaining pupils going back on 18th January…
Secondary schools can continue to use the Leicestershire FSM voucher system for the weeks commencing 4th and 11th January.
Primary schools will return week beginning on 4th January” (5th January for BW)
The delayed start will impact all of Birch Wood Vale, Ashton House, 3JD, 4MP and 5CA at Grange Drive site. We will contact you on January 4th to discuss the specific arrangements for your child. I realise this could be a major concern for many of you, but we will work with you to ensure we get the right approach for your family. We’d like nothing more than to return all the students at the same time, but we know that under the current circumstances this could create more problems than it solves in terms of keeping everyone safe. It is our hope that by working through this together, all students will be back at school in the safest possible way, by January 18th at the latest.
Thank you for your ongoing support.
We have had a recent update from the government; please see below:
**Coronavirus testing for schools and colleges from January**.
“We have announced that teachers and students will have access to rapid testing to help keep schools and colleges open throughout the spring term. (preventing the need for immediate self-isolation.)
From January, starting with secondary schools and including all special schools and alternative provision, the education workforce will be eligible for weekly on the spot tests. This will help identify asymptomatic cases – which make up a third of all cases – limiting the spread of the virus.
This will be backed up by daily testing for staff who have been in close contact with a positive case therefore eliminating the need for self-isolation and allowing them to continue to come into school
Students will be eligible for daily testing if they have been in close contact with a positive case.”
Below is a summary of the key details of the announcement:
- Staff and students who are close contacts of cases will be eligible for daily testing, preventing the need for immediate self-isolation.
- Only if a daily test returns a positive result will the staff member need to isolate.
- Test kits will begin arriving at secondary schools and colleges for the first phase of rollout to staff from the first week of January.
More Information is available here:
Key things we asked were:
Q: Are the tests compulsory? Will my child be forced to take a test if I don’t want them to? What if teachers and staff don’t want to be tested?
A: The tests aren’t compulsory. However, staff and students who experience COVID-19 symptoms must continue to follow government guidance as normal, including immediate self-isolation and should book a test through nhs.uk/coronavirus or by calling 119.
Q: What about primary schools and early years settings?
A: We are prioritising secondary schools and colleges because they face greater disruption and because we want to ensure support for pupils and students in crucial exam years. The next step will be to roll out testing in primary schools. We are looking at how mass testing can best support the early years sector and we will work with local authorities and the sector to inform plans for mass testing in early years settings. We will announce more details as soon as we can.
****At Birch Wood we will let you know the details of how we intend to implement this and how it will change our current practice when we return in January. For the time being do get in touch if you have any questions.****
Just in case you were had any questions about the new COVID19 vaccination, here is some of the latest information form the NHS.
Headteacher Update- Confirmed Case- Friday 13th November 2020, 9.51am
Unfortunately we have received information that we have had a confirmed positive case of COVID in our Year 7 bubble at Birch Wood Vale.
This impacts form groups 7LC & 7DP only, who will need to stay at home.
We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause families and thank you in advance for your support in managing the situation.
We will be in touch with further information later today about the duration of their self isolation.
Headteacher Update re Shielding- 04.11.2020 6pm
Dear Parents and Carers,
I am writing to you in light of the most recent advice regarding shielding that has come out today:
The guidance states; ‘Those children whose doctors have confirmed they are still clinically extremely vulnerable are advised not to attend school while this advice is in place.’
At present there is not any specific advice for special school settings and please note this only applies to families who have received information that their child is considered clinically extremely vulnerable. In the meantime, we want to work with families to consider each child’s needs on a case-by-case basis and also seek further health input. We will begin by making contact tomorrow with families whose children were advised to shield under the last lockdown to discuss your views, this will also include working through your child’s individual Covid risk assessment. Our aim will be to find a mutual agreement about how to approach this until further advice becomes available, so that we can fully consider the potential risks and benefits of being in school together.
We are aware that families will hold different views as to what is the right approach for their child and that this is a very personal decision. We understand that many families will be very concerned about their child missing more time in school and we share these worries. Please let me reassure you that the team at Birch Wood are here to support you and work with you at this time.
If your child or family/bubble member develops symptoms or has a positive COVID test please inform the school as soon as possible. During school hours please ring the office where you will be put through to a member of Senior Management. If it is after 4pm Friday to 8am Monday please email firstname.lastname@example.org giving as much information as possible.
Headteacher update 12.10.20
Headteacher Update September 17th 2020
Testing Kits for students with suspected Coronavirus.
The government have said they will ensure that it is as easy as possible to get a test through a wide range of routes that are locally accessible, fast and convenient. In addition, the government have now provided us with a small number of home testing kits that we can give directly to parents/carers collecting a child or young person who has developed symptoms at school, or staff who have developed symptoms at work. School will provide a test to do at home for families where both staff and parents feel it supports parents in testing their child. It is hoped that this will support parents in ensuring their child does not miss school unnecessarily. Advice will be provided alongside these kits.
We ask that parents and staff inform us immediately of the results of a test.
Please find a copy of a Parent’s guide to re-opening Birch Wood School, which explains all the precautions we will be taking to keep safe and secure and help students adjust to school life.
Birch Wood School Risk Assessment August update
Update July 6th 2020
Dear Parents and Carers,
UPDATE: School Opening Autumn Term 2020
Now that the new government guidance is out about school opening, we have been able to update our plans for the new school year. Underlining these changes is our commitment to work alongside families to manage your child’s return to school in a way that considers personal circumstances and the potential that both you and your child may need additional reassurances and support. Furthermore, we aim to maintain our current high standards of health and safety with regards to preventing the spread of and managing the Coronavirus.
We will be writing to you to with regards to your child’s personalised return to school plan in the next few days, however the key differences from our previous arrangements is that:
- There is the opportunity for all children to be attending full time from September 14th. We will utilise a ‘blended learning’ approach until this date. This means students will be invited to attend school for a shorter week for a period of transition and also be provided with home learning activities during the week when they are at home until September 14th.
- To fall in line with government guidance about when school should begin to open up fully, transition back to school for most students who have not attended at all during the partial school closure will begin on Tuesday September 1st after the bank holiday Monday.
- We will use August 26th– August 28th to support the transition of students who will be starting at Birch Wood for the first time or those transitioning to a new building at Birch Wood, such as those students moving between Birch Wood Grange Drive and Birch Wood Vale. These student will attend full time from this point.
- Children who have been attending this term as part of our keyworker and wider opening can attend full time from August 26th 2020, since it is anticipated they will need less transition, although this can be tailored to your child’s individual needs based on the survey results.
In effect we have created a shortened transition period between 1st September and 14th September for the majority of our students who have not been attending school during the partial closure. These plans are based on the proviso that the rate of infection continues to be on the decline and manageable.
More details about your child’s specific return to school plan will be available in the next couple of days. We will use the online ‘Recovery Curriculum Survey’ on the link below (also on our website under ‘Key Information’- ‘Coronavirus Updates and Information’), to gauge your preferences and thoughts re your child returning to school. Our aim is to listen to what you want and work with you to reduce any potential anxiety.
We believe this approach will still allow new students and those returning to school after a long period at home the opportunity of transition with the benefit of additional support in a calm and safe atmosphere. It should give those students who have new teachers a chance to get to know each other, so that students are able to adjust and feel happy and comfortable with their new classes. Crucially we will work in partnership with you and base your child’s return to school on their needs.
As outlined previously, we plan to maintain high standards of health and safety which for the first half term would include:
- A two week transition period
- Staggered drop off and collection
- Regular cleaning throughout the day
- Regular handwashing and using hand sanitiser
- Use of PPE at Birch Wood Grange Drive and where students require close proximity working and personal care.
- Maintaining Key Stage ‘Bubbles’ and zoned areas of the school for different groups.
In the event that circumstances change locally or nationally which impact our plans I will let you know as soon as possible.
I look forward to seeing your responses to our survey, please could you complete this by 9.30 7th July 2020 (tomorrow morning) to enable us to put your child’s personalised return to school plan in place. Your child’s class teacher can talk you through the survey if you wish.
Recovery Curriculum and return to school survey link:
If you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact me; thank you for your continued support and patience whilst we put things in place.
Update 22.06.20 1.57 pm
Dear Parents and Carers,
Unfortunately we have had information that a member of staff at Grange Drive has tested positive for the Coronavirus. The class team bubble, including students and other contacts will now be off school for 2 weeks from when they last came in to contact with the confirmed case and can return after this point providing we have adequate staff in place. All parents and staff directly affected have been informed. The rest of the school is open unless you have been given specific alternative advice regarding your child. As far as we know this case is not related to the 2 previous situations last week where students had contact with confirmed cases outside of school. We have had advice about these situations from Public Health England and relevant action has been taken.
These events further highlight the importance of the safety measures we have in school. In the school environment we keep a very close track of contact and operate a tight regime of infection prevention, for example:
- smaller class sizes
- staff wearing PPE
- additional ‘cleaning as we go’
- ‘bubbles & zones’
- regular hand washing/sanitising
- observing the 2 metre rule wherever possible
- reduced sharing of equipment
- Managing transitions at the beginning and end of the day
I’d like to thank you for your continued support of our efforts to keep everyone safe by:
- keeping your child at home if they seem unwell or have potential symptoms
- understanding when we have to temporarily close parts of the school
- understanding why we have taken a careful approach to increasing numbers of students in school and the number of days in which it is safe for them to attend
- letting us know if your child or a member of the household has symptoms or tests positive for the virus
- sending your child in fresh clothes each day
- not sending in bags except plastic carrier bags from home
- using Tapestry instead of the home school diary to find out about your child’s day at school
Everything we are doing involves a massive team effort and the community around Birch Wood including all our families has really shone, so that in all this challenge and difficulty it really feels like we have seen the best in people. This helps us to keep going and keep trying to provide the best onsite or remote learning opportunities for all our students. We know how difficult the pandemic has been for the SEND community and we will keep raising awareness of this to help improve opportunities for our families and students now and in the future.
As the world around us shifts and we all try to follow new government guidance it is so important we all try our best to stay safe and look after each other.
Thank you and stay safe.
Update 18.06.20- 6.04
Dear Parents and Careers,
We have been running our ‘bubbles’ and new safety measures to help combat Coronavirus for over 3 weeks now and during this time I have been so impressed by all our students and how they have adapted to the changes we have had to make in school.
Unfortunately, we have now been made aware of 2 separate cases where our students have recently come in to contact with a confirmed case of Coronavirus outside of the school, which has affected some of the bubbles/groups in school. You will have been contacted by a member of staff if you child’s group has been affected and we will have asked you to keep your child at home until we have the test results of the families directly involved with the confirmed case. If you have not been contacted via telephone by us your child is welcome to come to school on their scheduled days. This is because their group has not been affected, as their group will not have had contact with the student’s in school who have been in contact with the confirmed cases.
I know this will be concerning information for many of you, but let me reassure you that the additional safety measures we have in place are helping keep our environment as safe as possible. As soon as we have more information about test results, (which have been coming through really quickly for most people) we will let you know. In the meantime do contact us using the advice and support email or via your child’s form tutor or class teacher if you have any questions.
We are steadily finding a way forward with managing the Coronavirus and opening up to more students, so that greater numbers of our families can safely benefit from our on site provision. We know how difficult this period has been for many of you and are grateful for your support and patience.
Please stay safe and take care.
Update 27 May 2020 regarding return to school on 1st June- Letters for Birch Wood School and Birch Wood Vale
Update 21st May 2020, 9.43
Dear Parents and Carers,
Thank you for completing the form to share your views on potential school opening arrangements next half term. We are working through our staffing availability and risk assessments and hope to have more information for you later today.
In order to prepare the site for gradually increased numbers we are closed over half term to students. Many thanks again for all your support and understanding whilst we try to create a safe environment for your child.
Please click the link below to complete the confidential form to provide us with information for safe opening on June 1st 2020
Exciting new community sign and sign video! Click letter for more information.
Check out our current and future virtual assemblies on our Facebook or Instagram pages or find them on Microsoft Stream.
Your child can log into Stream using their school email address and password if they attend Birch Wood Vale or if you’re a parent at main site, you can log in using the Parent email address and password which you use to access the Parent Portal.
Update Weds 13th May 2020, 5.24pm
Birch Wood Grange Drive is open to a small number of students tomorrow where we can staff this safely.
Parents of these students have been contacted by the senior leadership team today. If you have not heard from us please keep your child at home.
We are only waiting for results from a small number of staff, but I am very pleased to say that all the results we have had back so far have been negative for the virus🤞
We are currently working through the staffing for Friday and will contact parents about this tomorrow.
We are really sad for student’s who had planned to come in this week, but were unable to. The good news is we will be open to key worker children next week and also those students who are particularly vulnerable as per our rota system.
I will be updating you soon on our plans for after the May half term as more information becomes available from the government about the ‘R value’. We are so excited about the idea of getting more students in, but don’t want our eagerness to impact safety. Please be assured if we can (safely)- we will!🤩
Birch Wood Vale rota is running as normal.
If you have any questions please do get in touch in the usual way.
We miss you.
Please read this important update letter- May 11th 2020
5th May 2020 – Please read this letter about taking part in our weekly video assembly- thanks!
Update 27.04.20 7.50pm
I hope you are all keeping well and managed to enjoy the sunny weather a little over the weekend. Since I last wrote to you I have been in liaison with the local authority in order that I can provide you with the latest and safest approaches for our school community during COVID-19. Although many of you are able to keep your child at home safely, I know you may be wondering how and when they can return to school. My aim is that the steps we are taking now will mean we can respond swiftly as soon as it is safe for our children to return in greater numbers to Birch Wood and Birch Wood Vale.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) at Birch Wood & Birch Wood Vale School
Our priority has always been, and will always be, to safeguard the health and safety of the children and young people in our care. There has been a lot of new guidance from both the Department for Education (DFE) and from Public Health England (PHE), which we have tried our best to interpret and make relevant for our schools. This is a totally new and unprecedented situation, which without doubt impacts on how we are to safely manage student’s needs now and in the future.
As you are aware all student’s risk assessments regarding COVID-19 are currently being reviewed in light of changing government guidance. Risk assessments will now include reference to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to enable the safe management of how staff may work with children who require any physical support, when staff and students cannot follow social distancing guidance. These precautions are being sought in the best interests of our whole school community. Including guidance about social distancing and PPE in risk assessments will also help us to prepare for a time when your child returns to school, so that all students can be supported to understand the different ways in which we may have to work. Your child’s class teacher or form tutor should contact you this week to discuss some elements of the risk assessment. Over the next few weeks you will be asked to click a link to say you have read the risk assessment and agree with the contents.
We are currently working with the other special schools in Leicestershire and the Local Education Authority to ensure we have adequate supplies of PPE available to staff at Birch Wood. If your child accesses school during the COVID-19 pandemic, they may see members of staff wearing additional PPE – when this is required. The times that staff will use masks, face or eye protection will vary depending on the activity and individual they are working with. We will be providing photos of staff wearing PPE to help your child get used to how staff may look when wearing the various items. Also attached is a social story about PPE for you to share with your child in the event they need to access Birch Wood during the pandemic. We would be grateful if you could share the social story and photos if your child is coming in to school so they know what to expect and can feel comfortable about this new process.
In addition to PPE and social distancing measures, we support our pupils and staff to stay safe on site during this pandemic in a range of other ways including:
- Enabling very small groups of 2-4 students in a room
- High staff ratios, often 1:1/ 2:1 so that cleaning of surfaces and resources can be continuous and thorough
- Staggered break and lunch times
- Staff to socially distance in staff rooms
- Frequent hand washing for everyone
- Marking out 2metres in the corridors.
We know we cannot eliminate the risk that COVID-19 presents in school, but we are doing everything possible to reduce the risk to our community. Please be assured that the additional use of PPE are precautions that we are taking only when social distancing guidance cannot be followed. Every member of our community is precious to us and our aim is that everyone is able to return to Birch Wood in good health when the risk of COVID-19 has reduced significantly. If you have any questions about PPE at Birch Wood, please do use our support and advice services (parent’s helpline and email) to get in touch, there will always be someone who is able to talk to you.
Thank you for your continued support.
Further Update- Risk Assessment Letter
Update April 22nd 2020
Dear Parents and Carers,
I hope you are all keeping safe and well; I am acutely aware of the mounting pressures that families are currently under due to having your children at home for such a prolonged period of time. We continue to look at creative ways to support you remotely with your child’s needs and look forward to a time when we can welcome our students back to Birch Wood.
Home Learning- Parental Feedback:
In order to help us understand what learning approaches are helping you most at this time we are asking that you complete an online survey.
To access the survey please see below; it will take you to a short online survey which will allow you to give us feedback about the type of learning approaches which support your child best at home during Covid-19. We will endeavour to tailor the work to your preferences, so please do have your say!
I will be in contact with more information soon.
Home Working Questionnaire for Parents & Students:
Update letter April 6th 2020, 5.05pm
Your child may be spending longer on line, please make sure they know where to go with concerns.
Let them know how to report back to school if they have seen anything they are worried about.
The following links have some useful guidance: Childline, the UK Safer Internet Centre and Child Exploitation and Online Protection command (CEOP). Thinkuknow, the UK Safer Internet Centre, London Grid for Learning, Net Aware, Internet Matters and Parent Info.
Make sure you are aware of:
- What school are asking your child to do online and what sites they’ll be using
- Who from your school will be interacting with your children online, if anyone
It is also important to only get support from reputable organisations or individuals if you are getting additional support for your children (e.g. through online companies or tutors).
Anyone working with your child should be able to provide evidence of being safe to work with children; if you are unsure please contact the school for advice.
Mental Health and Wellbeing during the Coronavirus Pandemic
Currently, everybody in the UK is being asked to stay at home, except for certain specific reasons. The prospect for both adults and young people of not being able to leave the house much, if at all, may be upsetting, and may negatively affect your mental health. This is why it is important that you take proactive steps to give yourself a sense of normality, maintain a routine, and do things you enjoy.
On our student portal, we have posted lots of useful wellbeing and mindfulness activities and links under ‘Wellbeing’ and ‘PSHE’ tabs.
Below are further examples of useful links and ideas that you can do while staying at home:
Stay in touch – keep in contact with your family and friends, you can still connect from a distance – call your friends, have a video-call catch up with your family or check in with someone on social media.
Continue the things you enjoy – try reading that book you’ve been meaning to start, watch that new series on TV or try a new skill.
Get into a daily routine – you might find it helpful to plan out your time in advance so that you know what you are doing each day, and you have something to look forward to.
Look after your personal environment – create a space that you are able to enjoy and feel comfortable in.
Take a break from social media if you need to – if the updates are getting too much it’s okay to take a step back.
There are steps you can take to look after your mental health and wellbeing. A number of organisations have published guidance on mental health considerations relating to the Coronavirus outbreak, including:
- The Mental Health Foundation
- Young Minds –practical steps to take if you’re anxious about coronavirus
- Think for the Future (TFTF) works with young people to develop emotional resilience and a positive attitude to personal growth. They are producing a number of resources which will be useful to all students. Please click on the following links to check out their guidance on mental health, and managing emotions.
- There is a great deal of excellent support for student mental health and wellbeing online, including Child Line (www.childline.org.uk)
- Kooth (www.kooth.com) possibly good place to start in terms of counselling, information and advice.
These resources can help to dispel myths, but are more appropriate for older, more able young people:
- Mythbusters from the World Health Organization
- Data visualisation pack from Information is Beautiful (regularly updated)
- Visit the student portal, and go to the folder labelled ‘Wellbeing’. Each week you will find a selection of resources to help you to deal with worries, anxiety and how to stay safe.
Tips for talking to children
1. Where you feel it is appropriate deal with the news head-on and talk about it openly and calmly, giving them the facts
- Try take a look at:
- Educate them about reliable sources of information and how some stories on social media may be based on rumours or inaccurate information
- Encourage them to take breaks from listening to or reading the news – overexposure isn’t helpful
2. Encourage questions
- This will give them the confidence to reach out and ask, if they have anything to ask
- Use comforting tones and be honest when answering questions – it’s ok if you don’t have all the answers
- Allow for repetition – children tend to repeat themselves when they’re feeling uncertain or worried, so you might have to answer the same questions more than once as they seek extra reassurance
3. Be a role model
- Recognise and manage your own worries first
- Be open about sharing this with students – e.g. I’m also finding the news a bit worrying, so I’m doing X which makes me feel calm
4. Let them know it’s normal to be concerned
- If needed, reassure them that the effects of this virus on healthy young people are very mild
5. Promote awareness of our body’s immune system
- It’s constantly working against germs without us knowing. We can’t and don’t need to control this process
- Explain that we’re taking precautions against this particular germ because it’s a new one which our bodies haven’t come across before
- Remind them of the benefits of healthy eating, sleep and exercise – which help to fight germs
6. Be aware of children with higher levels of anxiety (e.g. those with existing phobias or obsessive-compulsive disorders)
- Get them to do activities such as counting, ordering and sorting tasks which can help with heightened levels of anxiety
- Encourage them to use relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing
- Detect any obsessive or compulsive behaviours early and intervene before they become entrenched patterns of thinking. Do this by challenging unhelpful thoughts and assumptions. Frame worries as situation-specific by relating them to the current situation, which is temporary and unusual
7. Keep doing your bit to help children reduce the spread of germs
- Remind pupils how and when to wash their hands
- Encourage them to sing ‘happy birthday’ twice when they’re washing their hands
Also use the social stories we have provided for you, see below.
Finally, do not forget that we have access to the advice and support email, where we can signpost you to further support from health services and social care wherever necessary.
Food Bank: Storehouse has teamed up with Melton Borough Council Crisis Team
Please find information from Storehouse below:
Storehouse has teamed up with Melton Borough Council Crisis Team as we strongly believe that partnering with the Crisis team and working together is the best, quickest and most sustainable way to ensure that people get the food and other supplies that they need.
We are sorting, packing and providing the Crisis Team with donations of food, toiletries, nappies and sanitary products and the Crisis Team will be co-ordinating the distribution of products to the front doors of people in need. The Melton Learning Hub and local supermarkets are also donating a lot of fresh produce too.
If you know if any families in a food crisis who don’t have local support from family, friends or neighbours, please point them to the Council website
https://www.melton.gov.uk/homepage/226/im_looking_for_support_covid-19 which outlines what they need to do to receive help. They fill out an online form and then after assessment a bag will be delivered to their doors. The council and their volunteers are doing a great job in getting the bags to people quickly.
If you know that a family won’t be able to fill out an online form they can phone the council on 01664 502 502 and they can be assessed over the phone.
Please do let us know at Birch Wood via your child’s class teacher or the advice and support email above if you are living outside Melton area and are struggling to get access to food and other essential supplies.
Educational Psychology Phone Helpline
Dear Parents and Carers,
I want to thank you all for your support this week and update you on the school’s current situation.
Firstly, I need to inform you that a member of staff who has been off work for over a week has informed us that they have been exposed to a confirmed case of Covid-19. In this situation the advice from Public Health England is to inform staff and families, you do not need to take any further action yourselves.
Sadly but inevitably we all heard the news yesterday that the UK has moved into a ‘lockdown’ position for at least 3 weeks.
The implications for Birch Wood are as follows:
- A very small number of students may be in school today and over the next 3 weeks as they are identified as children of ‘Key Workers’ (you will have been contacted by a member of SLT if different arrangements apply to you)
- Birch Wood Vale, Burton Road site is now closed and all students should report to Birch Wood School at Grange Drive.
- They will be supported by a small staff team on a rota. We will aim to have 2 teams on a rota who have offered to serve our community.
Many staff have committed to join these teams; this is amazing dedication, especially when their own anxieties around vulnerable loved ones, the severity of the message from Boris Johnson and personal health issues are factored in. These people leave their families to look after our students because they rightly commend the selfless action of the NHS front-line staff and wish to mirror this in their own action, I am humbled by their commitment.
More of our staff would have volunteered but are now in self isolation or withdrawal due to their own medical conditions. I completely support this decision. Stay safe all of you. We miss you. All staff who are well are continuing to reach out to all our students to provide home learning opportunities and support through telephone and email contact.
We will keep going as long as Government ask us to and as long as our staffing levels remain operationally safe. We will review our situation daily and weekly and stay in contact with all students.
Lives are at risk and influenced by yours and my actions; so thank you again for coming together as a community to do the right thing.
Stay safe and please follow the Government instructions below.
STAY AT HOME. KEEP YOUR SOCIAL DISTANCE
People will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes:
1. Shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
2. One form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household;
3. Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
4. Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.
That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home.
You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say no.
You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home.
Please do get in touch if you are struggling with anything- lets support each other through this.
PECS story about school closure
Update March 20th, 4.28 pm
Dear Parents and Carers,
We have been working hard to identify our families where there are key workers who are not able to find safe alternative childcare. We have also identified families where children are particularly vulnerable at this time. Offering places to these groups first has ensured that we are able to provide a controlled environment with small numbers of adults and children to prevent the spread of Covid-19. It has also meant we can operate safely with reduced staff numbers from Monday 23rd March. We have been making contact with those identified families today and they will now be aware of what we can offer. I am incredibly grateful for everyone’s understanding with this and how we have come together as a community to support each other to do the right thing.
We are chasing information from the local authority about how meal vouchers will be administered for children who get free school meals, I will let you know about this soon. We are also liaising with transport to keep them up to date.
We will be constantly reviewing the situation and hope we will be able to provide time in school for greater numbers of students in the near future. We will be staying in direct contact via your child’s form tutor or class teacher who will be making daily calls or emails wherever possible. I have attached a copy of our guide for accessing our home learning platforms, there will be many more learning ideas and resources coming your way next week.
This is a very sad day for us all as we enter the unknown, but it is my pledge to you that although we are having to close the school for the majority of students, we will continue to support you in any other way we can.
Thank you again for your personal support and words of kindness during this immensely difficult time for us all. I feel truly blessed to be the Head teacher at Birch Wood and Birch Wood Vale School and look forward to getting back to normal when all this is over.
Please take care and stay safe.
Update March 19th 2020, 7.56 pm
Thanks for your patience today, as we work out the logistics and safety of opening next week.
The government have yet to clarify who ‘key workers’ will be identified as; although we are clear this list will include all NHS workers, police and supermarket delivery drivers. We will be prioritising this group of students for school to open for from Monday 23rd March.
The government has said that school should also remain open for vulnerable children which includes those who have a social worker and those with Education, Health and Care Plans. For us this could arguably mean staying open for every child, which is not possible given the very clear advice in the same information published yesterday by the Department for Education, which states:
“The scientific advice shows that these settings are safe for this small number of children to continue attending – but asking others to stay away will help us to slow the spread.”
With massively depleted staff numbers from Monday 23rd March , I am very sad to say we will only be able to offer a reduced service in order to keep staff and children safe and to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
We are currently working through what this will look like in terms of how many children will be on site at any given time and aim to get this information to you tomorrow, but for many families I am so sorry to say it will mean we are closed. Our duty and responsibility to safeguard our students remains and we aim to stay in contact with every family providing work, resources, advice, regular telephone calls and emails. More information about how this will look will also be sent home tomorrow.
If your child receives free school meals, we will also be in touch with more information about how we will continue to provide this, with the support scheme that the government has just announced.
I am aware of the impact this will have on our families and I will ensure that we keep in touch with updates about this ever changing situation. I know if we work together as a community we can play our part in making sure we do ‘beat’ this virus.
Thank you for your ongoing support at this very difficult time.
Update March 19th 2020 12pm – ONLINE FORM
We are working hard to see how we can open our school and provide for students whose parents and carers require it.
This does NOT mean you have to send your child to school because it is open in some capacity.
If you would like to send your child to school please complete the form below and submit it by 5pm today if possible.
You do not need to complete this form if you have decided to keep your child off school at present, only complete the form if you require your child to come to school whilst the majority of schools are closed.
We will do everything we can to support your requests.
We will be in touch regularly with information as we have it.
Update March 19th 2020 11pm
Sorry this update is a bit late, but I was hoping to have some answers to all of the questions posed by todays government announcement. I need to start by outlining what I think most of our families already know; working in a special school is hard, but completely amazing. We have the most incredible human beings working here; they don’t do it for the money or the glamour, they do it because they have a deep desire to help and to make a positive difference. Sometimes I can see that the demands are almost too much to ask, but then I walk down the corridor and I see the smiles and beautiful interactions with the children. I continue to be humbled by our staff.
Our parents and carers teach us what love and dedication really means. You never fail to inspire me; you are my heroes in this world.
Of course I am saving the best to last…the students! Today the idea of not seeing them for a prolonged period of time simply gutted me. However, todays government update provided only questions. Our staff are highly specialist, our groupings are carefully constructed, our lessons planned to be personalised and our aspirations high…always. These students, the most vulnerable children deserve the best.
So I ask you all trust that we are working together to see how we can make things work under these very difficult conditions. I want to protect and care for our whole community and that means it really isn’t as simple as staying open regardless. I do give you my word that we will consider all options to ensure we establish the best course of action to keep everyone as safe as possible.
I will let you know as soon as we have a clear course of action regarding school closure. In the meantime, we are preparing access to learning resources for those students who are already at home and making plans to stay in touch with families.
Thank you again for your support.
Update 18th March 2020, 6.18pm
As many of you may have heard the government has decided to CLOSE schools on Friday.
At present we do not know how this will apply to special schools and children whose parents are key workers. We will let you know as soon as we have clear guidance.
Providing staff levels remain safe we will be open tomorrow.
I hope to provide more information later tonight.
Thank you so much for your continued support.
Update: March 17th 2020, 6.39 pm
The Birch Wood School community continued today with our attempt to be a steadying and positive force in our student’s lives. One of the highlights of our day is to greet our students as they arrive, many with parents and escorts. It certainly feels our little world has come under threat recently and that has brought sharply into focus just how precious every single member of our school community are to us.
All the staff at Birch Wood feel a huge responsibility to our students and families, as a result we are spending a lot of time weighing up what is the safest and most considerate path to take. Many of the students at Birch Wood do fall in to the ’vulnerable’ category, but to date there is no specific advice for them or special schools. As a result we will continue to follow the government guidance and stay OPEN for children and families who are not symptomatic of Covid-19.
However, I would also like to highlight that we support families who have made the decision to exercise social distancing or self-isolation and we are busy in the background creating a plethora of resources and support for use at home.
I also feel it is my responsibility to bring your attention to the government guidance which was published yesterday (March 16th), ‘Guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK & protecting older people and vulnerable adults.’
The advice outlines the following:
“We are advising those who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures.
This group includes those who are:
• under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (ie anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
• chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
• chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
• chronic kidney disease
• chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
• chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS),
- a learning disability or cerebral palsy
• problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
• a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
• being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
• those who are pregnant”
This advice applies to adults and NOT children, but as vulnerable children are not explicitly referred to in any guidance I have found, I felt it was important to highlight this information, so you can make fully informed decisions.
Additionally the advice technically includes all our vulnerable students who are aged 18 or older as they are adults, although the school also remains open to this group too.
We completely respect the decisions that all parents and carers make with regards to either keeping their children off school or sending them in, and whilst we can, we will continue to greet our students every morning and look forward to seeing their wonderful smiles.🙂
Thank you for your continued support, tolerance and calm.
PS- feel free to email if you have any questions, concerns, information or ideas, using the special email address
Update: March 16th 2020, 9pm
The additional guidance this afternoon from the government is that in all households where one person is showing symptoms (a new, persistent cough or temperature), everyone in the household must self-isolate for 14 days.
Non-essential social contact is also to be kept to a minimum.
Birch Wood is currently planning to open as usual as per government instructions, but this is providing we have enough staff. Amazingly, today we had normal staff and student attendance, but the new guidance could change things. I will let you know as soon as I become aware of any change to this plan due to staffing shortages or further guidance.
We have taken precautions to reduce the threat of spreading the virus within school and will continue to take proportionate and sensible measures.
I know this situation is worrying for many of you, but we are determined to find alternative ways to support students and families as best we can throughout this period.
Thank you all for your support and understanding at this time, it is truly appreciated as we navigate through this together.
This link will take you to a short book designed to support and reassure children under the age of 7. We think it will be useful for other age groups and young people with SEND. The author recommends printing this material so children can draw on it. Please let us know if you would like a printed copy of any of these resources by letting your child’s class teacher or form tutor know in the home school diary.
https://www.mindheart.co/descargablesBelow is a social story using PECS produced by our very own Communication Lead- Sarah W; it is aimed at helping our students with additional communication needs understand the virus and how to stay safe.
Update: Reassurance for parents and carers whose child has complex medical needs:
We support the decision of parents & carers whose child has complex medical needs if they personally feel it is necessary to keep their child at home. I am aware that some parents are concerned and seeking advice from medical professionals and I want to reassure you that the school will support individuals with what is a personal decision based on your unique circumstances.
Equally, we are also committed to giving the best school experience to those students who do come in to school.
If you are concerned about your child’s complex medical condition and school, Alison K our Health and Wellbeing Officer will be happy to talk things through with you.
Alternatively you could also use our designated email service: email@example.com
15th March Headteacher Coronavirus Update Letter
Birch Wood School continues to monitor any developments regarding the spread of Coronavirus.
The school community continues to follow Public Health England’s advice in a calm and measured way, due to the vulnerability of many students, please ensure that you follow the guidelines outlined in the link below.
In the event that anything may impact our learners attendance to either campus we will inform parents and carers by text message and display further information on this page.