The RP Weekly: 15 January 2021
The weekly digital newsletter from Rydal Penrhos School.
The RP Weekly
15 January 2021
Bucking a concerning national trend
Some significant concerns were raised by Wales’ future generations commissioner Sophie Howe on the “patchy and inconsistent” online learning methods being utilised by schools across the country during the latest educational lockdown.
This is not the case at Rydal Penrhos.
The Welsh Government confirmed to the BBC that there was “no legal duty on schools in Wales to deliver a minimum amount of online teaching”.
This is not the case at Rydal Penrhos.
While there remains plenty of uncertainty surrounding when schools will actually re-open, staff at the school have worked incredibly hard to put together a diverse and engaging online learning provision that is not too dissimilar to what they experience on-site.
Rydal Penrhos’ senior leadership team, together with teaching and support staff, are striving to ensure that each pupil’s goals are met and there is no loss of learning despite the current COVID-19 restrictions forcing a return to online methods that the school was more than prepared for.
It has taken a considerable amount of planning over recent weeks in readiness for the inevitability of a second lockdown period.
This was worth its weight in gold, with pupils of all ages hitting the ground running with a clear, concise online learning programme that has been supported in full by the school’s incredible parent group.
Here is the structure in place during the current lockdown.
Rydal Penrhos Prep School
Open fully 08:30-17:30 (packed lunches provided from home) – continuing with all lessons except swimming and coastal school.
Reception and Year 1
4 live lessons per day and one small group lesson
Year 2-Year 6
6 live lessons per day plus form time and assemblies
All classes have a 30 minutes physical activity lesson each day. Specialist lessons in music, art, RE, Welsh and Spanish are continuing for all year groups.
1:1 music/speech/drama lessons are continuing where possible and sorted out by the peripatetic teachers direct with parents.
Keyworker pupils from all year groups are accommodated and supervised by teachers and teaching assistants on the Prep School site.
23 live lessons, 6 form time sessions and 5 optional workout sessions each week.
25 live lessons +6 form time sessions and 5 optional workout sessions each week
27 live lessons, 6 form time sessions and 5 optional workout sessions each week
28 live lessons, 6 form time sessions and 5 optional workout sessions each week
28 live lessons, 6 form time sessions and 5 optional workout sessions each week
Years 12 and 13
Following normal timetable
In addition, pupils are meeting with each other and their form tutors on a daily basis.
Cooking is continuing and there will also be some live sessions in the coming weeks that pupils can participate in from the comfort of their own kitchens.
Live workout sessions are taking place at the end of the day, led by our fantastic staff and attended by pupils and some brave members of staff, which have been implemented to improve wellbeing and take away some of the stresses of day-to-day life.
Pupils have been provided with time to share and reflect. PSHE lessons are being utilised, allowing children time to talk about their mental health and share any ideas that they may have.
All these little things make a substantial difference.
Attaining some semblance of normality in troubled times is absolutely critical to a child’s learning and with the structured online learning, together with constant support and guidance, pupils at Rydal Penrhos are being put in the best possible position to maintain their high educational standards and attain specific objectives.
School Notes with Mrs Davies
Week 1 of the second educational lockdown
Spot the Difference! Same tree at Rydal Penrhos, very different outlook!
The first lockdown is now a distant sunny memory as we plunge back into mid-winter and another session of remote learning.
Here in school things are pretty different also; we have Rydal Penrhos Pre-School operating pretty much as normal on-site and we have twice as many keyworker pupils as we had in March…but we do have iPads and we do have knowledge and experience about remote learning.
However, the biggest difference is the weather!
The British love to talk about the weather, that’s true, but it is totally ingrained as part of our well-being also.
Interestingly this becomes stronger as we grow older.
It is notable that our youngest pupils on-site at Rydal Penrhos currently do not seem to notice the weather and would happily play outside without their coats without seeming to notice. This enthusiasm dwindles as pupils get older to the point where Year 8s are huddling against bushes at the side of the playground too down-hearted by the freezing temperatures to even chat about them!
One thing is for certain though…if we were to get snow then everyone would just love being outside despite the fact that snow only comes due to the same freezing temperatures!
The other excitement here in school this week has been packed lunches, in particular crisps!
Not the iPads, not the wearing of PE kit, not the exciting remote lessons with you in school and your teacher at home
No, no, no…it’s the crisps!
Having their own lunches and snacks has been really rather overwhelming for some of our pre-schoolers. The knowledge that a packet of crisps is waiting for them in their bag in the cloakroom has been enough to set off tears by 9.30am.
I overheard the following conversation today between a teacher and a three-year-old:
- Teacher: Why the sad face? What’s wrong?
- 3YO: I’m hungry
- Teacher: Really? But it’s only 09:30, you’ve only just got here
- 3YO (louder and tears impending): I’m really hungry
- Teacher: OK, well let me get some fruit, I think we have some apples
- 3YO (full crying mode): not…that…kind…of…hungry
- Teacher: Oh dear, what kind of hungry?
- 3YO (sobbing): crisps hungry!
- Teacher: OK, well it’s a school rule that we can’t eat crisps before 10.30
- 3YO (instantly stops crying): when’s 10.30?
- Teacher: very soon
- The three-year-old was happy with this and rushed off to play with the diggers!
This is the kind of incident which inspires all parents to leave ‘telling the time’ until much later on in childhood!
Winter lockdowns are certainly stressful but the learning goes on whether at home or at school…we can do this Rydal Penrhos!
Mrs Lucy Davies - Head of Rydal Penrhos Prep School
Health & Wellbeing
Live sessions organised
Rydal Penrhos’ incredible staff team are always thinking of ways to ease the burden on the school community.
This has been especially evident during the last two COVID-19 lockdowns and is a testament to how much they care about not only the academic development of their pupils, but also the serious issue of health and wellbeing to consider.
Being stuck at home for everything but essential shopping and daily exercise for a brief period can be stressful. Couple this with the pressures of remote learning and working from home, and it’s easy to see how a normal fitness routine could get lost in the chaos.
The school’s Health and Wellbeing faculty are all-to-aware of this and have devised an exciting series of live sessions throughout the week, which will run from 3.40pm until 4.10pm each day at the conclusion of remote learning lessons.
The first online sessions started on Monday 11 January and they included:-
- Monday: Circuits Session
- Tuesday: Pilates/Yoga
- Wednesday: Fitness – core workout
- Thursday: Stretching/Flexibility
This week’s activities will be run by Physical Education teachers Nicky Head and Sean Kitchen, with other staff set to take their own respective sessions in the coming weeks.
They can be accessed using Microsoft Teams on the “Whole School Team” section, with staff also encouraged to participate.
Faculty head Alun Brown has also set up a Rydal Penrhos Strava account so that distance, activity and achievements can be monitored between the whole school community should they wish.
Rydal Penrhos has strived to ensure that pupils remain active throughout the last year despite COVID-19 restrictions preventing things such as sports fixtures from taking place.
Staff held virtual workouts during the lockdown, a diverse exercise and coaching schedule was available during the autumn term that allowed each pupil to improve fitness, skills in a sport of choice and boost other areas of their development such as teamwork and communication.
Reading, Progress & Wellbeing initiative launched
Our wonderful library at Rydal Penrhos, a building that has always be at the heart of the school since its construction.
Good literacy levels and confidence in reading and comprehension are strongly connected to high attainment in school, a fact that does not go unrecognised by the excellent teaching staff at Rydal Penrhos, who are always looking at new innovative ways to achieve this.
With the current lockdown measures further highlighting the need for independent learning with staff guidance once again, Rydal Penrhos’ Language, Literacy and Communications faculty is launching a range of initiatives in the coming months.
These will be implemented with a view to growing a culture of reading for pleasure, progress and personal wellbeing.
Head of Faculty Fiona Earle, said: “We very much hope that our wonderful parents will encourage and support the pupils in engaging with some of these opportunities.
“We would like to help everyone in the Rydal Penrhos school community fall back in love with reading and look forward to curling up within the pages of a good book rather than the blue glow of a screen.”
Plans have been altered slightly due to the ongoing concerns surrounding COVID-19, but here are some of the things planned by the faculty in the weeks and months ahead.
Make reading part of the daily and weekly routine of students through reading in tutor time and between lessons.
And this is just the start.
Longer-term, Rydal Penrhos will be creating a brand new, curated fiction library that will be available for pupils in Years 7-9, in addition to timetabling library sessions every fortnight to either engage with the Accelerated Reading programme or simply sit down with a good book.
The school will also be organising regular author visits to talk about their journey into writing and hosting masterclasses once it is safe to do so.
Exams continuing under strict guidelines
This is an uncertain time for every pupil and parent across the country. COVID-19 restrictions continue to have a significant impact on learning and day-to-day life, but at Rydal Penrhos we are striving to ensure that each child in our school family doesn’t have their plans for progression altered in the slightest.
The school has adhered to the current Welsh Government guidance every step of the way. This enabled Rydal Penrhos to hit the ground running when pupils returned to school at the start of the academic year and meticulous preparation from staff has resulted in a comprehensive online learning schedule that is not too dissimilar to a normal day on campus.
The New Year is normally associated with those sitting exams gearing up for the final stages of preparation alongside the early examinations actually taking place. Whether it be mocks or the real thing, Rydal Penrhos is enabling these to continue in pursuit of making sure each pupil’s development and goals are met in even the most difficult of circumstances.
Year 11’s accelerated learners took their Edexcel IGCSE Mathematics exam late last week in a COVID safe environment, where they are looking to emulate the exceptional achievements of the schools’ 2020 cohort, who secured Rydal Penrhos’ best-ever results last summer.
The number of A* grades awarded at GCSE was 49.2 per cent, which is a significant rise of 33.2% from the previous year.
A total of 66.7 per cent of grades were A*-A – a rise of 30.6% – and this is testament to how each member of Year 11 applied themselves to their studies.
This represents an incredible effort from the group, who took the examination two terms early, and is another strong indication of the exceptionally hard work being done behind the scenes at the school by teaching staff and its senior leadership team.
In addition to the Year 11 exams, Sixth Formers involved in the Cambridge Technical will also be participating in examinations in the coming days.
Centre's new archive area details rich history
The Combined Cadet Force at Rydal Penrhos has gone from strength-to-strength since its reformation. It has quickly become a hugely popular addition to the enrichment programme and continues the rich history of tradition regarding the Armed Forces and the school.
Captain Alun Brown, Sergeant Phil Hilton and other dedicated staff have worked tirelessly to ensure that the CCF scheme not only got off on the right foot, but also provided each pupil with some valuable skills, a sense of belonging and additional responsibility that is sure to serve their overall development well throughout the remainder of their education and in later life.
The group has its very own CCF Centre located on-site, which is their base for weekly sessions and for special events.
It also has a new archives area, where visitors can delve a little deeper into the CCF over the decades at Rydal Penrhos, offering an insight into the history of the Cadet Corps and reminding us of its important role in offering current pupils more amazing opportunities to extend their learning.
This area includes a recent gift donated by Professor Robert Atenstaedt, a current Prep School parent, who came across an old Rydal Penrhos Officer Training Corps badge from years gone by, which now takes pride of place within the centre.
The CCF Centre, although yet to be officially opened because of current COVID-19 regulations, offers pupils at the school one of the best training facilities in Wales and indeed the UK.
It has its own drill hall, cadet mess, training classrooms and specialist equipment stores, with hoards of new recruits signing up to the provision during the autumn term before the lockdown measures imposed by the Welsh Government.
The CCF is a voluntary activity for all pupils from Year 8 to Year 13 at the school, with the initiative forming a close association with the 1st Queen’s Dragoon Guards in recent months.
Teaching staff go above and beyond the call of duty
"If we think it will help one of our children or young people then we will do it"
A staff member
Teaching staff at Rydal Penrhos are pulling out all the stops to ensure their pupils continue to get the most out of their education. Things might look a little bit different at the present time due to COVID-19 health concerns, but the school is doing everything in its power to continue undeterred whilst abiding by the strict safety guidelines issued by the Welsh Government.
This not only includes online learning for senior school pupils, but teaching staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty to assist pupils with their revision at home ahead of impending examinations, some of which are still continuing at Rydal Penrhos despite the current lockdown.
The revision cards were done by staff over their Christmas break. They understand what a stressful time this is for pupils at the best of times, but even more so in the current climate and wanted to give them every possible opportunity to maximise their potential.
“Rydal Penrhos has been fantastic in carefully planning so very safe and brilliant online learning – would recommend to anyone.” – Year 13 parent.
The revision cards also came with some noteworthy advice on how to revise effectively and thoroughly, in addition to providing guidance on the best ways to summarise information which is an important life skill they can take into the remainder of the education and later life.
Not only were the revision cards initiated by teachers, but they were also targeted to the individual’s learning style which is a testament to how well our pupils are known by the staff that teach them, just one of the benefits of small class sizes in education – something Rydal Penrhos is proud to provide.
Not only does Rydal Penrhos provide exceptional and thorough teaching, but it is also very directed towards individuals which gives them the edge and has been the catalyst behind an incredible amount of examination success over the years.
New online platform a huge success
These are ever-changing and uncertain times. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to be bringing additional challenges with every passing day thanks to a surge of cases across the country in recent weeks, but Rydal Penrhos and its hard-working staff are adjusting extremely well to ensure that pupils and parents continue to get the best education and service possible.
Another prime example of this is the new Parents’ Evening format, which can obviously not take place as normal due to social distancing restrictions implemented by the Welsh Government to prevent the risk of infection.
The school recognised the importance of these events to discuss progress and focus on pupil-specific goals with their families, so Rydal Penrhos introduced a new online SchoolCloud system during the autumn term to enable these to remain in place – albeit virtually.
As part of the new implementation, parents can choose their own appointment times, rather than leaving the decision in the hands of their son or daughter.
No more lost appointment cards.
No more “the maths teacher was fully booked” excuses!
The system being used by Rydal Penrhos allows both parents and teachers to meet easily via video call without downloading any software in the process.
Following the first three Parents’ Evening involving Year 12, 11 and 7, the school asked its parent groups for some feedback on the sessions and received a positive response.
Receiving and listening to parent opinion is something that takes the highest priority at Rydal Penrhos and has been the catalyst behind the school’s success over the decades.
How straightforward was the booking system used to make appointments?
- Year 12 – 4.6/5
- Year 7 – 4.6/5
- Year 11 – 4.93/5
How straightforward was it to use the software to have conversations with the teachers?
- Year 12 – 4/5
- Year 7 – 4.53/5
- Year 11 – 4.8/5
Andy Thomas, Director of Teaching and Learning, said: “There have been a number of very helpful constructive comments from parents.
“We responded by introducing a one-minute gap between appointments for the Year 7 evening followed by increasing the appointment length to six minutes for Year 11.
“We have been in communication with SchoolCloud about a number of other issues including connectivity, sound quality and flexibility with appointment lengths.
“They have since introduced the option for a one-minute gap between appointments, greater flexibility so that individual teachers can be allocated double length appointments and they will soon be introducing a feature where parents can log in to appointments from different locations.
“We have also been able to organise meetings for parents with individual teachers when the teacher was not able to attend the parents’ evening.
“The ease of use of the booking system has been hugely popular and many parents have appreciated that the evening runs to time and that there is the opportunity to enjoy a cup of tea when there is a gap between appointments.”
Rydal Penrhos has led the way when it comes to adaptation in such uncertain times. The school’s teaching staff continues to go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure there is no loss of learning despite the lockdown, which includes a normal lesson timetable conducted in a virtual setting.
This has gained a significantly positive response from the school community and here are just a few comments regarding the Parents’ Evening changes from parents.
“A really enjoyable experience and due to the time limit, the conversation was more concise.”
“A few teachers apologised, but I genuinely thought this was an infinitely superior method of organising the parents’ evening. The online appointments meant it kept to time, whereas the schedule for the in-person evenings tends to get abandoned rapidly. Six minutes was plenty in all but a couple of cases, and we could all do it from home rather than have to drive to the school, park, et cetera. Please retain the online format!”
“This was even better than face to face!! I know it’s better to see teachers face to face especially for in-depth discussion but for a general progress update ‘ it was great. We have missed some teachers previously as appointments have overrun but this system worked great and focuses minds to ensure all is said in a concise way.”
“I thought it was an extremely easy process to book and use the software, I liked that I got confirmation emails which listed all my appointments. The video calls went very smoothly. I don’t think any of it could have been any easier really!”
“Meetings were focussed which was good. A follow-up email or appointments were offered if they were needed. We always felt welcome.”
“This was a really efficient approach, loved it!! Once Covid is over, it would be great to keep this as an option for parents who cannot attend. Or, maybe have periodic face to face parents’ evening mixed with periodic video calls.”
Special message from the Holy Land
Rydal Penrhos has worked hard to ensure that pupils and staff attain some semblance of normality despite COVID-19 health concerns and various lockdown measures. Things do look a little different in some respects, but the structure is still there and benefitting children young and old.
One such case is with the school’s Chapels and Assemblies, which are put together in a virtual format and led by the school’s Chaplain, the Reverend Nick Sissons, together with various contributions from teaching staff, pupils, and some special guests.
For the latest edition of Senior Chapel on Friday 15 February, Rev’d Sissons enlisted the help of the Very Rev’d Canon Richard Sewell, who is Dean of St George’s College in Jerusalem, which is situated just ten minutes walk from Damascus Gate in the heart of the holy city.
Rev’d Sewell last post before moving to Jerusalem was as Team Rector of Barnes Team Ministry which comprises three churches in South West London.
He was ordained a priest on the Feast of St Francis in 2003 and trained for ministry at St Augustine’s College. Rev’d Sewell studied Theology at the University of Birmingham and participated in further studies at Heythrop College for an MA in Biblical Studies.
In addition to his role as Dean of the College, Rev’d Sewell is a Residentiary Canon of St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem and is Honorary Canon of Southwark Cathedral in his home diocese in the Church of England.
His message was a powerful one and with what can only be described as a stunning backdrop from a mountain top, which leaves plenty of food for thought in difficult times during the second educational lockdown.
On behalf of everyone at Rydal Penrhos we would like to thank Rev’d Sewell for giving up his time to make a contribution to our Senior Chapel.
Stars of the Week
A host of Rydal Penrhos Prep School pupils have been rewarded for their outstanding work both at school and during their online learning thanks to an ongoing initiative.
As part of the school’s achievement scheme, pupils across all age groups were selected for accolades in recognition of their efforts throughout the week, which has seen all age groups tackle the ever-changing learning methods due to COVID-19 with their customary enthusiasm and incredible attitude.
This has been assisted by a thorough programme that has enabled the majority of lessons to remain the same – albeit in a virtual format – which has come as a result of an exceptional effort from Prep School teaching staff in difficult circumstances.
It’s not just off-site where pupils are thriving. Pre-School remains open for the youngest members of the Rydal Penrhos community and keyworker children are still able to come to school whilst their parents continue to play a vital role in the fight against COVID-19.
Mrs Davies, said: “All have adapted brilliantly to remote learning and produced some excellent work, well done to all!”
Here are the Stars of the Week for Friday 15 January:
- Reception – Asher
- Year 1 – Amelia
- Year 2 – Marie-Louise
- Year 3 – Adhira
- Year 4 – Harrison S
- Year 5 – Ella
- Year 6 – Max
Jack in Year 2 was awarded the Artist of the Week for a fantastic drawing (feature image) produced during a live online lesson with art teacher Suzy Morris.
Even in the most unprecedented times, Prep School pupils remain fully committed to getting the most out of their education by taking full advantage of the online structure provided to them by Rydal Penrhos.