Learning from each other
Dear Parents & Guardians,
There is no such thing as a quiet time of year but, as we reach the mid-term break, it does feel like the past few weeks have been particularly busy.
No less than any other school in the area, maintaining normal routines has been very challenging while infection rates have remained high. The teaching of examination courses has continued, with minimal interruptions. Last week, our Year 12 received their GCSE English, Maths and Science results from the November sittings and, pleasingly, most students achieved or exceeded their targets. Yesterday and today we conducted progress interviews with every Sixth Form student, which was a very positive experience.
All in all, our students and staff deserve a good break.
External communications: consultation feedback
You will recall we ran a consultation on communications in December. Thank you to everyone who took part. In total, we received 197 responses, which included parents and guardians with more than one child at the College.
Although the feedback was mostly positive, there were also constructive points which are already informing our approach.
- 88.4% of respondents found Shimna News to be informative. Opinion was divided equally between those who wanted it to continue as a weekly bulletin, those who would prefer it to be fortnightly and those who prefer it to come out half-termly.
In practice, the re-launch of a Shimna Facebook page means Shimna News is likely to become a half-termly communication.
- Our decision to return to Facebook was taken as a direct response to survey feedback. While 73.8% want to hear from the College on social media, a significant minority - 26.2% - do not.
Of those who wanted Shimna to return to social media, 85.1% favoured Facebook, compared with only 21.3% for Instagram and 17.8% for Twitter.
To safeguard students and staff, all material posted on our Facebook page originates from the College website, which affords us greater protection over our image rights.
- We decided not to activate the comments section. An increasing number of schools have come to the same conclusion, as seen in the legal issues that can arise when comments are inappropriate or even abusive. This is not a space we choose to operate in.
There are better ways to keep in touch. We have an open door policy, which means parents and guardians are always welcome to come in. You can also write to us at email@example.com
Another option is to join our excellent Parent Council, whom I met last week to canvass opinion on a number of matters.
Based on the success of the external communications survey, we will continue to consult with parents and guardians on a regular basis.
On that note, shortly after half term I will be inviting you to take part in a review of other areas of College life, including curriculum, canteen provision and uniform. If you have any suggestions for other areas to cover, please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
- Over three-quarters of respondents (75.2%) rated the College website as good or excellent. As I trust you’ve noticed, we have responded proactively to calls for the content to be kept up to date. We have published a number of great student stories since the start of term, as well as sharing our fantastic admissions film.
- Finally, most parents and guardians have expressed interest in a one-stop College app, which we are actively exploring.
The journey back to normality
We are guided by Public Health and the Department of Education on these matters but are hoping for a further relaxation of restrictions over the coming weeks. Even so, we have begun the process of returning to normal routines, such as holding assemblies.
We were also able to host a series of socially-distanced open events for prospective families. Although they were very different to our usual open day, they were a resounding success. This was largely thanks to our student ambassadors, who either assisted with presentations or conducted tours of the College. It was heartening for our visitors to see so many extra-curricular activities running as normal. Thank you to everyone for doing us proud.
We are deeply conscious of the current and long-term impact of the pandemic. This includes the financial pressures on many households. On that note, I have been made aware of some concerns about our use of automated messages to alert parents and guardians about credit balances for lunch. I sincerely apologise if any distress was caused. The measure was a response to the issue of students arriving without cards or credit, which puts the canteen under significant pressure. The installation of two top-up card machines has done much to ease these pressures.
Although the College operates within constraints, we continue to support families facing financial difficulties so please do contact the College directly if additional help is needed. The welfare of our students is paramount.
Indeed, I am delighted to announce that, from Monday 21 February, we will be reinstating breakfasts in the canteen. Food will be provided from 8.30 am and, for the next half term, breakfasts will be free. This will help to start the day on a positive note.
The impact of the pandemic on schools is uncertain but there is evidence already of its adverse effects, as seen in the work of Barry Carpenter, Professor of Mental Health in Education. Simply put, the journey back to normality is unlikely to take us back to where we started.
With that in mind, we have started to develop an in-house programme based on building our resilience. This bold and ambitious development is being led by Mr Milligan, formerly of the Drama Department. We will tell you more in due course.
Consultation: mobile devices at Shimna
Once the mid-term break arrives, I will have completed one full term as Principal. Although continuous improvement is a key aspect of my role, most of what I have experienced at Shimna is overwhelmingly positive.
However, one aspect troubles me: the widespread use of mobile phones by students during the College day, which on occasions leads to improper activity.
While misuse of mobile devices is not unusual in schools, Shimna is relatively unique in allowing such free access. Most schools, in Northern Ireland and beyond, have restrictions to a greater or lesser extent, partly based on the findings from research into digital addiction and the dangers of online activity
The mid-year point is a good time for a full discussion. Student opinion has already been canvassed through the Student Council while, in recent weeks, Form Teachers have debated the pros and cons of restriction. Last week, I also canvassed the views of staff.
I would now like to involve parents and guardians. If you would like to participate, please complete this short survey by noon on Tuesday 22 February
To access the survey, you will need to enter the password which has been sent out via School Comms.
Having seen how demanding this first half of term has been, I am very sympathetic to requests from parents and guardians for a full week break in February. Many of you, I know, would appreciate the extra time to travel and see loved ones. This is now in the calendar for 2023.
Best wishes for a restful half-term break.