19 January 2019
Many thanks to everyone for your support yesterday in what was a challenging and very unexpected situation for all to deal with. We would like to say how impressed we were with the attitude and behaviour of our fantastic students in difficult conditions and to the staff who were brilliant. Our primary concern yesterday was the safety of all on site.
To put things in perspective for everyone, things developed very quickly yesterday morning. After a slight initial smell of gas near the finance office, the emergency gas engineers were sent for and their initial testing revealed that everyone had to be out of the building immediately. Senior staff had already met and put together a plan for the notification and dismissal of students, but this was obviously amended when full evacuation was necessary. Students as always in an evacuation did not take their belongings with them and we all assembled on the yard as per fire drill procedures. At this stage, nobody at all was allowed back in the buildings apart from the experts. Given the very cold conditions outside, as a staff we were very aware that students could not be kept out there for too long. Not long afterwards, the engineers gave the go-ahead for staff and students of both schools to be contained in the sports hall and we were allowed access to the swimming pool toilets also. Everywhere else was out of bounds.
At this point, we sent some of our admin staff down to Seaton Sluice Middle School to coordinate communication from there as best we could. As there was no electricity on our site, we had no access to computers, e-mails, student records or communication systems with parents. Senior staff liaised with staff at SSMS via mobile telephone to communicate information to parents/carers from there.
In consultation with the gas engineers and NCC, we then made the obvious decision that school would have to close and informed students and parents/carers as soon as we could. Our initial plan was to seek parents'/carers' permission for your child to be released, however, once we realised most of our systems were down and our capacity to receive information was significantly reduced, we took the decision to say that students would be released at 1pm unless you informed us otherwise and we needed to retain them safely in school for you. This process appeared to work reasonably well, although we appreciate communication was not always possible in the form some might usually expect. In particular, we apologise for any confusion with regards to Whytrig Middle School students, which required parents to confirm they were happy for their child to go home before we released them. Once again, our safeguarding of the children was the priority here.
We hoped at some point that we would be able to gain access into school once everything had been made totally safe. This indeed happened and clearance was given for students and their teachers to be escorted by a gas engineer with a monitor back to class to retrieve their belongings. This process took well over an hour with students being taken from the sports hall in stages and then returned once they had their belongings. Throughout this process the students were absolutely amazing - well done everyone.
As indicated in communications, we then released most students at 1pm and they were escorted off site. Members of staff were sent home soon afterwards and a core team of senior staff and volunteers stayed behind until about 6pm to ensure all loose ends were sorted.
Testing has continued to go on all through the night and our site manager Mr Dave Scott stayed with the engineers to support them. They are currently working very hard to find the source of the problem and their efforts will continue overnight if required. Senior staff and caretakers have been on site today to support the process and allowing us to be able to make informed decisions about the likelihood of the school re-opening.
At this stage we do not know what will happen for Monday, but we think it would be wise for parents/carers to start thinking and putting together a "Plan B" should we have to make the decision to close. As you would expect, we will only open on Monday if we are absolutely certain that the safety of students and staff is guaranteed. We took no chances at all yesterday and we will follow this line of thinking in preparation for next week. The well-being of everyone in our schools is paramount. However, in the last few minutes the situation is looking more promising and the chances of being open on Monday have increased.
We would like to thank you for your support and we will do our best to keep you informed of any developments. An update will be given tomorrow.
The Senior Leadership Team
Seaton Valley Federation