THE team leading a £15million education complex have supported students through the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19.
Head of Deeside Sixth Form Centre Miriam Riddell and Deputy Director Rob Hughes took the helm at the Flintshire site a year ago.
Fast forward 12 months and they have found themselves helping young learners who were forced to study in lockdown and self-isolation due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
With an influx of school pupils set to enrol this autumn – who have not taken their GCSEs because of the outbreak – they are in unchartered territory, but well-prepared to guide them in the weeks ahead.
And there are the A Level learners – also denied the opportunity to sit exams – forced to wait patiently for results that will see them attend university or pursue their chosen careers.
“When we began our new roles at Cambria last summer, we could never have imagined we would be in this position a year later,” said Miriam, a former psychology teacher and assistant head of sixth form at Mold Alun School.
“There have been challenges but across the college we have faced them head-on, working with our partners in industry, parents, and the students themselves, who have been incredible.
“It’s been really tough for the Year 11 and Year 13 learners because they have been in limbo since March, dealing with a situation we have never experienced before.
“Together we have managed to stay focused and positive, and staff have been on hand throughout with support and advice, either over the phone or through social media and video conferencing.”
Students already receive grades via email, so social distancing on August 13 (A Levels) and August 20 (GCSEs) will not be an issue, though lecturers will be on hand to help guide anyone who has questions or concerns.
“We will be open, with strict health and safety measures in place, and ready to help those who did not quite get the marks they were hoping for, or anyone who wants to join us for the next academic year,” said Miriam.
“They can call us in advance, and we can arrange a time to keep the number of people on-site at a minimum. All staff will be on hand for them to talk to, and of course we will be answering the phones and on live chat.
“It’s been a rollercoaster year, unlike any other, but in many ways it has been positive because of the strides we have made, and the impact we’ve had on students.
“We have achieved so much and have continued to make progress in the wake of this pandemic, but it will be a boost for everyone to get back to lectures when it is safe to do so.”
Miriam added the ‘post-COVID support systems’ in place across the site will ensure the wellbeing and safety of everyone at the revolutionary Connah’s Quay facility.
“The way we carry out inductions, work with returning students and make the transition from being out of the classroom and in lockdown at home to reintegrating or integrating themselves into this environment is going to be pivotal,” she said.
“So rather than it being about what is required of them and what the curriculum will look like, the priority is whatever they need and what their requirements, having missed out on a large portion of this year.
“We need to make sure those Year 11 students who missed the last months of their GCSEs are not expected to hit the ground running because there will be gaps; they will have predicted grades but in most cases they did not have the opportunity to complete their studies, so we will put those foundations in place.
“We also want to build on the links and partnerships with our feeder schools in this region; past months have taught us more than ever that working together is vital, getting out there in the community and forging those relationships.”
Miriam added: “I didn’t expect us to be in this position, and it has been challenging, but staff have worked so hard. We have communicated, stuck together and been there virtually for our learners and each other.
“With the high-tech facilities and technology we have here in Deeside, staff are used to working online, so we were able to minimise disruption for our learners and we have the capability to carry on operating in this way for as long as is necessary.
“That said, we can’t wait for the students to be back here, to bring the building alive when it is safe to do so – we will be ready and encourage people to keep an eye on the website for further details around enrolment and a return to D6.”