Chair of Governors Blog

Message from the Chair of Governors

Tuesday 5th May 2020

Hello everyone,
There's never been a time like this before at Rivelin. Almost overnight, we went from the normal bustle and routines of school life to finding ourselves with 95% of our children locked-down at home and only a handful coming-in each day - all carefully spaced-out and subject to a range of new safety precautions. There's all sorts of speculation at the moment about what the government will decide about re-opening schools but I think it will be some time yet until everyone will be back through those big black gates on Morley Street.
I think many of us are still a bit stunned by what's happened. One minute we were thinking about the prospect of a normal summer term, with its SATs, sports day and Leavers' Assembly, and then, suddenly, we found ourselves in a completely new reality. But while I was still sitting blinking on my settee, thinking "what just happened there?", the staff at Rivelin really stepped up to the plate. Within a couple of days Mrs Middleton and her team had organised everything from putting activities and work on the website, to how children were going to be distanced in school, to how the building would be disinfected, to how free school meals would be delivered. 
 
Modern teaching is all about planning - but no-one had a plan for this. We're always talking about the Rivelin team being amazing but this has been the ultimate team effort. And, as always, we're definitely not just talking about the teachers here. Everyone has played their part, from the cleaners and caretaker keeping the children safe, to the cook who's kept all the staff in school going on a daily basis and has provided a huge morale boost.
Mrs Middleton has kept the governors informed of everything that's been happening. The glorious weather (mostly!) has made it easier for the staff in school to plan activities while keeping everyone at a safe distance. And there's been no shortage of imaginative activities for those at home, as well as the handful of children at school.
For those of you trying hard to to keep your children healthy, active and not killing each other at home, I know it's not easy. I keep saying to everyone that I don't recognise the picture that's often painted of people sitting around at home watching Netflix box sets, learning a new language, breaking off for a Zoom party while sharing in the joy of their kids' online learning, like they're living in a breakfast cereal commercial. Everyone I know is desperately trying to keep things together with one adult working at the dinner table, another on the phone frantically trying to save their business while, at the same time, desperately trying to reassure lonely grandparents on the phone and telling dog he will get a walk soon.
 If this latter picture is more like your "new normal", I know you've probably worried about the educational progress of their children in this very difficult situation. I'm not a education professional but my main piece of advice is to please not worry. The school has provided some fantastic resources and is doing its best to keep in touch with parents and carers. We obviously want children to engage as much as possible and to keep them in some kind of learning frame-of-mind. But no-one's suggesting that home learning can replace six hours-a-day of classroom provision. Just don't beat yourself up if you're not able to complete all the tasks or if it's sometimes just too much to get two children working round the table along with the two frazzled adults (and the dog).
The key message I get from the school is "don't be afraid to get in touch". Mrs Middleton cannot have been clearer that she and the rest of the staff are geared up to answer any queries or provide whatever support they can. That might be a detailed question about the online home learning or it might be asking for help finding other support that's available. You can ring, email, send a letter. Just please don't think the staff are too busy to hear from you. 
I wish I could tell you when we'll be back to normal and what the long term implication of coronavirus will be on Rivelin. Of course, I don't know. Mrs Powell and Mrs Middleton don't know. The government doesn't know. And I know this uncertainty adds to the anxiety.
It will be over at some point, though, and I know the Rivelin team is already thinking hard about how to help the children readjust when they're back in school, in whatever circumstances are deemed appropriate. In the meantime, please remember what I said about keeping in touch with the school. They really do want to hear from you.
Please stay at home, stay well and stay in touch.
Dave Higgens
Chair of Governors

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Wednesday 22nd January 2020

Hello everyone and a slightly belated Happy New Year,
 
I thought I'd start 2020 by taking time to explain in a little more detail the change in leadership we've seen in school from this term.
 
As I said in my letter in December, the governors have agreed to a request from Mrs Powell for her to go on secondment to another Sheffield school - Fox Hill Primary - for 18 months. She has not left Rivelin completely, though. Mrs Powell remains the executive head of the school. She will take any key strategic decisions (along with the governors) and will spend about 20% of her time here. In just about every practical way, however, the school will be run by Mrs Middleton until September 2021. 
 
Governors know that there is nothing more important to the success of a school than getting the right leaders in place. This is the key to understanding why the governors have agreed to this temporary change.
 
Mrs Powell has been our head for nine years. The governors believe she has provided strong, effective leadership which has seen Rivelin emerge as an excellent primary school now consistently judged as "good" by Ofsted. We have a stable and talented staff who teach and look-after hundreds of eager-to-learn, well behaved children. And we must remember that this has been achieved against the backdrop of a budget which, for a range of reasons, is substantially smaller than that of many schools in the city.
 
Many parents and carers will know that Mrs Middleton has driven a bewildering number of areas of success within the school. Whether you look at sport, or the development of new teachers or the complete revamp of the way children with Special Educational Needs are accommodated at Rivelin, Mrs Middleton's work has been crucial and characterised by boundless energy and a fount of new ideas.
 
We are lucky to have both Mrs Powell and Mrs Middleton at Rivelin but the governors know that their experience and strengths make them very sought after by other schools. And, like us all, they both have to think about their future careers. It has been clear to the governing board that there is always the possibility we could lose both of our most senior leaders at any time. Although perfectly normal and natural, this situation would be difficult for the governors because, as you may know, recruiting good headteachers and other senior leaders can be very difficult.
 
This is why the governors at Rivelin were so attracted by the opportunity which arose when Mrs Powell asked if she could help out our colleagues up at Fox Hill Primary. It was not a matter of asking whether the proposed arrangement was better than the status quo. We had to work on the basis that the status quo was unlikely to remain the status quo for very long.
 
With Mrs Middleton in charge on a day-to-day basis, we get to keep her skills and amazing energy at Rivelin and can rest in the knowledge that the school is led by someone who has the qualities and qualifications the secure a headship in her own right at any other primary. But we have this with the continued oversight and input of Mrs Powell, with all the experience and ideas she brings. And we believe this experience and these ideas will only be expanded by her current secondment.
 
The other important aspect of this change is the opportunity is gives to two of our most talented teachers to expand their role in the school. Mrs Leggatt and Miss Bunting are acting as assistant heads and, while it is a steep learning curve for them, they both bring so much energy and so many ideas to their new roles. 
 
Sorry if this reads a bit like a cheer-leading exercise for senior leaders at Rivelin. Actually, I'm not that sorry because I think it's important to drive home the point that this leadership change is an opportunity for the school.
 
Just a couple of last points which will, hopefully, answer some questions I have been asked about the arrangement with Fox Hill Primary School. Firstly, I can assure you that Rivelin will not be financially worse off due to this move. Secondly, the fact that Fox Hill is an academy is totally irrelevant to this move. This is not a prelude to any consideration of Rivelin joining the same multi academy trust as Fox Hill and there is no change at all the governors' publicly stated position - that Rivelin has no current plans to become an academy.
 
If anyone has any further questions please contact me through Mrs Kotak in the office.
 
One further unrelated matter ...... I hope you saw the letter which went out asking for people to put themselves forward to be parent governors. Being a governor is an incredibly fulfilling role Please consider it. And, again, if you've got any questions, please get in touch.
 
Thanks
Dave Higgens 
Chair of Governor

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Thursday 24th October 2019

Hello everyone,
 
Hopefully you'll have seen the great news that Ofsted has decided Rivelin is still a "good" school. The arrival of inspectors is always a stressful time for everyone but all the staff were amazing and thoroughly deserved all the good things said about them in the report. The children were amazing too and the inspector was really impressed with the enthusiasm she came across in all classes.
The report confirmed what the governors already knew - that Rivelin is led with passion and the staff work incredibly hard to provide effective education for the children while, at the same time, making sure they are safe and feel "happy and well cared for". 
Thank you to those parents and carers who gave their views to the inspectors. It was very heartening for the governors to find that 99% of those who responded agreed that "my child is happy at this school" and 96% said they would recommend the school to other parents.
 
Rivelin is one of the first schools in Sheffield to have been inspected under new Ofsted criteria, which focus less on the statistical analysis of children's attainment and more on how the curriculum is delivered in the classroom. I think it says a lot that Rivelin was judged to be "good" under the old system and is still deemed to be "good" now the goalposts have shifted. Of course, it is important that nobody rests on their laurels and the governors will be meeting with Mrs Powell soon to make sure every aspect of the inspector's analysis is carefully considered so the school can build on this in the months and years to come. 
Please get in touch via enquiries@rivelin.sheffield.sch.uk if you want to discuss any aspect of the report.
 
Have a good weekend,
 
Dave Higgens
Chair of Governors
 

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Thursday, 15th May 2019

 

A revamped website with a big, shiny link to the "chair of governors blog" is just the jolt I need to starting posting again after a bit of a gap. But what to say first when I've not messaged for some time?  As it's been a while, I've decided to go with two topics - one is a massive shout-out to our Early Years team and the other is a few remarks about the school's financial situation.

 

This month, Rivelin's Early Years provision - that's the reception classes and the nursery - was accredited with the Sheffield Charter for Quality for the 5th year running. This is an amazing achievement, supported by brilliant comments from the local authority assessors. But it came as absolutely no surprise to me at all. Mrs Leggatt's team do incredible work with the youngest children in the school and I have lost count of the number of reports and inspections I have read praising their efforts. 

 

Even more important than the views of the education professionals are those of parents who regularly tell governors about the fantastic things happening with their children in the Foundation Stage. And you don't need to be an education expert to work out that, if the children are get an outstanding level of provision when they first arrive at Rivelin, this is the base for everything else we are striving for through the rest of the school.

 

It would be great if we could spread this message far-and-wide (or at least around the north of Sheffield). There are a falling number of young children living in this part of the city, which means that our reception classes are not full. If parents from further afield knew about the quality teaching happening in our Early Years, I'm sure this would change very quickly.

 

A quick gear-change now to Rivelin's finances. 

 

I really don't want to go into a lot of detail but I think a bit of reassurance is always a good thing at this time of year, when budgets are being set. There continues to be a lot in the news about the parlous state of school budgets across the country, peppered with talk of redundancies, parents having to buy essential equipment and subjects being cut. And you'll have no doubt seen that a delegation of headteachers from Sheffield heading to Downing Street to highlight the city's poor financial deal compared with other regions. 

 

While it's important to point out that money is as tight at Rivelin as it is elsewhere, it's important that the governors reassurance everyone that we have not been forced into any of the draconian measures mentioned above as we plan for the financial year ahead. That we are in this position is not just a matter of luck, though. Mrs Powell and her team have worked extremely hard over the last couple of years to make sure Rivelin's limited budget works for the children and this has meant taking a number of tough decisions about how the school works.  And we always have to remember that it's very difficult to predict what's around the corner. That's the same for all schools at the moment.  The funding of schools is far from certain at a local or a national level. 

 

At Rivelin, we always try to prioritise the financing what directly influences classroom provision but this has to be balanced against the demands of our magnificent, but creaking 100-year-old buildings. Occasionally, windows and roofs have to come before books.

 

I hope everyone enjoys the start of the summer and please look out for further posts soon. If you want to get in touch, please contact the school through enquires@rivelin.sheffield.sch.uk in the first instance.

 

Dave Higgens