Update on Returning to College

UK 16-19

Dear Itchen Student and Parents and Guardians

We are now at the point of welcoming you back after 9 weeks of lockdown. This week we have had the pleasure of speaking to a good number of students and parents and there was a unanimous sense of looking forward to return, albeit tempered by a degree of nervousness. 

Please remember that all of the measures that served us so well before Christmas remain in place. These measures combined with asymptomatic testing and declining infection rates, position us well for return, but we must guard against complacency and remember that although we are returning, every other aspect of life remains in lockdown.

There are a number of areas to be covered today – apologies for the length of this email but I hope you understand why.

Saliva Testing

Thank-you once again for your efforts to pick up testing kits and return samples. Thank-you to parents as well for transporting your child or their kit / sample. We have distributed over 1100 testing kits and this puts us in the best possible position to begin full time face-to-face teaching from Monday.

This is a remarkable response and shows your commitment to Itchen. It also shows the benefit of attending a smaller, close-knit college, where you and we can respond quickly to requests as we all did from Monday.

When our collection boxes were picked up yesterday there was an ‘I think I need a bigger van’ moment, with eight crates of saliva to be transported to the laboratory. This upscaling means that results may take a little longer to come back than the testing team would like, but as far as I am aware all of those collected on Tuesday had a result by Wednesday evening.

There was a batch of test kits that did not contain the two types of sample bags needed for safe packaging. Should any of you be missing bags, tubes or absorbent pads from your kit, please go to Reception to pick some up.

The samples returned earlier in the week resulted in one positive case, which shows the value of this asymptomatic testing. All necessary steps have been taken for that individual and their close contacts to self-isolate.

From next week you will need to get into the routine of a weekly test. Our collection days are Tuesday and Thursday, with samples to be deposited by 1pm. Please collect and return your sample as close as you can to the collection day that works best for your timetable. Choose the day that works best for you and, as far as possible, stay with that day.

We have had confirmation that the single weekly saliva test is all that you will need to do. This is what we were planning anyway but I can now officially confirm that there will be no need to supplement the saliva test with any lateral flow testing.

Lateral Flow Testing

There are a small number of you who have been unable to pick up a testing kit and return a sample through no fault of your own. Those of you who did not pick up a kit should have received a text message and email asking you to go directly to the Main Hall on arrival on Monday or Tuesday. If you were unable to return a saliva sample, please do the same.

The test is not compulsory and we need your consent before you take the test (unlike the saliva test in which your production of the sample is taken as your consent). We ask that you give consent electronically via the 'Covid Consent' drop-down in 'My IRIS' in Student IRIS (after discussing with your parents).

From the Main Hall you will be guided to the Sports Hall where we will have a number of trained staff to assist you with undertaking the test. Public Services staff and students will be assisting with the process – thank-you to them for volunteering to help.

You will then be asked to wait in the vending machine area adjacent to the Sports Hall until we have a result. Should you receive a positive test we will make arrangements for you to be taken home – please can parents / guardians be aware of this as students who have tested positive will be unable to use College buses and should not use public transport.

The lateral flow testing process will mean some parts of the college will be out of bounds for Monday and Tuesday – the Main Hall, Sports Hall and lower café area adjacent to the Sports Hall, and entry and exit from the exterior doors in these areas will not be allowed unless there is an emergency evacuation.

Staff have been prepared to expect some disruption to their lessons at the start of the week.

Community Testing

Please see attached a separate letter regarding community testing. We have been asked to distribute this by the City Council and Public Health England. Although it relates to Southampton residents, the links within the letter are appropriate for those of you who live further afield and you will be able to book a rapid asymptomatic test, order home-testing kits or book a symptomatic test regardless of your location.

Shielding and Self-Isolating

There will still be some students and staff that are shielding for a variety of reasons, or who will need to self-isolate. We will endeavour to keep you up to date with remote delivery where possible, or through providing you with the work and access to the teaching materials. 

Return of Devices

Having spent a good amount of time distributing 120 or so devices, we now need to ask for them back. Those who have borrowed a device should have received a message asking you to return it on either Monday or Tuesday. Please return it at some point to the IT Support office during Monday or Tuesday – we want to avoid big queues wherever we can. Staff have been requested to allow you to leave during a lesson to return your laptop or Chromebook.

Assessment Summer 2021

Many of you completing courses this year will be interested in how we will undertake assessment before we submit your final grades. The simple answer is we do not know yet.

To date we have had direction from the Secretary of State to Ofqual and awarding bodies to put together the guidance according to the principles set out (this was shared with you last week). We don’t yet have that guidance, but as soon as we do it will be shared with you.

The likely pattern for the remaining year will see the period between now and Easter for catch-up and consolidation, followed by the next six weeks for assessment activity to supplement that which has already taken place. After the Summer half-term break we will have two weeks to ask staff to moderate grades and submit to awarding bodies. This is all provisional at this stage as we await guidance – we will confirm as soon as we can.

From Monday there will be 4 weeks until Easter, but within that there is a Review Day for our Year 1 students and those on one year courses (Thursday 18th March), and we break up on Thursday 1st April for Easter. So not 4 weeks but 18 teaching days – a maximum of 36 lessons. But it won’t be 36 lessons, because the average timetable sees 7 out of 10 lessons per week in the classroom. So actually around 20 lessons until Easter…

The vast majority of you have continued to make good progress through lockdown, but some of you have struggled for a whole variety of reasons. There is the opportunity now to get back on track, but time is short for us all. We remain committed to ensuring you succeed to the best of your ability and we will support you to ensure this is the case, but you need to do all you can to ensure you do yourself justice. If you need the support of one of our learning mentors to catch up with work, please just ask your Tutor or subject teacher.

College Transport

Contract buses will be operating as normal, with the same routes and timings as those in place before the January lockdown. Further details are available on the Xelabus website. The Rygo bus-tracking app should also be working from Monday. It is more important than ever before to wear face-coverings for the entire journey.

Preventative Measures

A reminder once again that all of the measures we had in place up until Christmas remain, and we expect the same level of compliance we had last term. Please wear warm clothing – we have emphasised with staff the need for good ventilation and classrooms will be more draughty as a result. This will be especially important for those undertaking a lateral flow test – the Main Hall and Sports Hall will be cold.

Your behaviour outside of College is as important as what you do while you are here, and please remember that all of the lockdown restrictions remain in place for at least the next four weeks.

Please refrain from over-enthusiastic greeting on return, even if it is a friend you haven’t seen for a while. A fist-bump or elbow-tap should suffice for now, followed by an appropriate hand hygiene routine.

Finally, thank-you once again for your efforts over the last week and the period of lockdown. I don’t know of any other college that is in the position to be able to return to face-to-face teaching on Monday and this will place you at an advantage compared to your peers at other colleges. Please ensure you capitalise on that advantage by returning with the best possible work ethic and a determination to succeed despite all you have been through.

With best regards – I look forward to seeing you properly next week.

Alex Scott