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Castle Gardens Primary School, Newtownards
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School Closures Announced

14th Oct 2020

Today the Executive announced that schools should close for an additional week from this Friday, 16th October. 

I cannot express the utter frustration I have felt today when this announcement came through, wiping out any contingency planning we had put in place.

Closing schools is an understandable action that the Executive has taken to safeguard members of our community. Regardless of my views or your views, the Executive will do what they feel puts us on the best path through this difficult time. 

The frustration that I have does not stem from the members of the Ni Executive making the hard decisions however. My frustration stems from the fact that earlier this week the Minister for Education and the First Minister were very clear that schools would not close, and if they did it would be as a last resort.

Not only have schools been closed, any scope there may have been to support children next week via remote learning or moving our parent meetings to phone calls has been removed by declaring that next week to be a holiday.

Our children need the routines they have returned to, the relationships and trust they have built with their new teacher and the friendships they have rekindled with other children, even if they sometimes lead to mistakes, falling out and disagreements! To shut schools down and then state that next week is an extra holiday for pupils and teachers at a time when the services sector is being closed down again, furlough is finishing and many people in our country are worrying about their jobs is completely inappropriate.

We go to great lengths to support the children and families in our school community and blocking us from doing this, online or even on the phone, is to say the very least, wrong. We supported our children and their parents from the first day of lockdown in March and have managed to keep every class open since Restart. The efforts of our staff, Governors, parents, children and wider members of the school community have taken us this far and I am exceptionally proud of what we have achieved. 

Now however is not the time for me to waste any more energy on sharing my personal thoughts or opinions. Now is the time to do what we do have done since the start of lockdown. Face up to a problem, find a solution and implement it safely to support our children. 

So what does today's announcement mean for our school? 

School Closes 

Friday 16th October at the usual times. 

School Reopens 

Monday 2nd November at the usual times. This will be a full day with the current finishing times. 

Parent Interviews 

The meetings planned for next week and Monday 2nd November are now cancelled. These will be rescheduled and rebooked in November, hopefully week commencing Monday 9th November. 

Remote Learning

No work will be available online next week. Pupils will be able to continue with MyOn reading activities and Education City activities. 

Work Packs

Printed packs have been prepared for all classes but these will not be sent at this time. Two weeks' of work will be made available for collection should schools remain closed on Monday 2nd November.

Only Mrs Alcorn's P7 class will receive work for next week. This will be sent home with the children on Friday or can be collected from Reception on Friday afternoon. 

Closure on Monday 2nd November

This closure date will not be taken on this date. Children will return to school on Monday 2nd November. 

School's Out

It appears that School's Out must close as well next week. Susie is checking this and will provide updates via FaceBook or by getting in touch with her. 

Key Worker Care 

The Executive have stated that there will be no Key Worker care scheme running during this closure. 

Free School Meals 

Parents of children entitled to Free School Meals will receive direct payments for week commencing Monday 19th October. 

Class Dojo 

Connection with parents will go offline from Friday 16th October until Monday 2nd November. Messages can still be sent to the class teacher or myself but I cannot guarantee the usual response time. 

How Will Next Week Impact Holidays Later in the School Year? 

No idea yet! St Patricks Day will now be a teaching day and there will be additional days reallocated. It will take a few days to sort this to be honest so between now and the end of January, the only change will be Monday 2nd November which is now a day children will be in school. 

Non-Uniform Day - Ditch the Dark Day 

The last day of term before Halloween is normally a non-uniform day with a Ditch the Dark theme. This reminds the children to wear bright clothing on the darker mornings and afternoons of the winter months. I think we should still go ahead with this on Friday this week, if only to cheer us all up a bit!

There will be no request for a donation but given the lack of PTA events, the closure announced today effectively knocks out one of our planned fundraisers. If you wish to donate, please feel free to do so via Eduspot where we will set up method of payment tomorrow. 

Today was a tough day for us all but unfortunately there will be tougher times ahead this winter. Regardless of your feelings on the announcement today, please commit to the restrictions over the next 2 to 4 weeks and beyond to help get our country, our community and our school back together as soon as possible. 

As always feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or queries about anything above or any aspect of our school. 

I hope you all continue to stay safe and keep well.

Take care

Mr Gray