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William Ellis sends whole year home after Covid-19 cases

Head: 'We have had to act quickly, to stop the disruption impacting on more students'

10 December, 2020 — By Harry Taylor

Izzy Jones at William Ellis School

MORE than 170 pupils at a secondary school, including an entire school year and GCSE classes, have been told not to return to school until the New Year after a series of “linked” coronavirus cases forced its headteacher to tell them to self-isolate.

The 131 teenagers in Year 9 at William Ellis School, in Highgate Road, have been told to stay at home by the school after a number of cases reported in “quick succession” at the end of November and last week.

Meanwhile a group of 40 Year 11 pupils at the school have began sitting their mock exams at home after cases in their year.

After discussions with Camden and Islington’s public health team, headteacher Izzy Jones sent pupils home on Tuesday. School staff and officials said they had worked to trace the contacts of positive cases.

However due to the complexity of the process, they decided to send the whole year group home.

Ms Jones said: “We looked at the students and the people who they sit close to and who their friendship groups are, and asked them to self-isolate. We didn’t want to risk any more cases going into Christmas and what that would mean for pupils going to see family members.”

She added: “We took this decision to isolate the whole year group because the cases were linked, but not in a straightforward way. It was wise to ask the entire year group to self-isolate, to make sure it does not spread further than that year group.”

The headteacher said the decision to tell the group of GCSE pupils to sit their mocks outside the school was “highly unfortunate” as they had already missed months of tuition during the first national lockdown, adding: “We have had to act quickly, to stop the disruption impacting on more students and cutting down on transmission in the exam hall. It’s far from ideal, but it’s better than a large number of people becoming ill.”

She urged pupils to stick to health guidance while self-isolating.

Ms Jones, who took over as head in September, praised the “phenomenal” response from the cross-boroughs’ public health team. Pupils will sit a second set of official practice exams in March, in an attempt to ensure that if summer exams are cancelled, they will have at least one exam sat in school buildings under test conditions for centrally assessed grades.

Remote exams this week are being done via a Microsoft platform that attempts to give them the same conditions as if they were in school, including the exam questions appearing and being handed in at the same time. Pupils have been given laptops by the school which forms part of the LaSwap consortium.

Additional devices are set to be provided by the Department for Education and Camden Council later this week. Teachers will also be calling some William Ellis pupils every day during their self-isolation to monitor their learning.

A group of five pupils at Camden School for Girls in Sandall Road were also told to self-isolate on Monday afternoon, after a positive test.

Camden’s schools chief Councillor Angela Mason said: “Our key aim is to ensure pupils and staff are kept as safe as possible, while any disruption to education is kept to a minimum. It is critical that parents work with us by keeping all household members isolated at home if anyone develops Covid-19 symptoms.”

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