12 March 2021

Dear Parents and Carers, 

It has been wonderful to have students back in school. Attendance has been very high and everyone has adapted very quickly to new routines and Government guidance. It is clear that all members of our school community are happy to be back and, in a very unscientific poll, taken on the school gate and with passing individuals on the yard and in a variety of corridors, the main reasons for that happiness are linked to spending time with friends, playing four square and having school dinners again. From a teaching point of view, colleagues are happy to be able to gauge the reaction when asking questions and the ability to now explain things together in class. Whilst we are all aware of the importance of health and safety and the need to manage risk as effectively as possible, there has been an overwhelming sense of purpose and moving forward. For our exam classes we are still awaiting clarity on grading, but we have been able to outline an additional plan and will share information as soon as it become available.   

That positive message is important, because the drum of negativity is still being beaten in the media. A Headteacher was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, and the presenter Nick Robinson asked, ‘had the school managed to assess the extent of damage to the mental health of the students in his care during the lockdown? Did he have a clear understanding of the lost learning that would potentially blight the futures of the children in his school?’
Can anyone, legitimately, be expected to answer these questions after 3 or 5 days back in school?  

We have emphasised the need in school to be aware that our students may have had very different experiences since January, but we intend to avoid catastrophizing the current situation, focusing instead on the need to use a diagnostic approach in class, so that we can consolidate learning and then plan for the weeks and months ahead. Our overall message this week can be summarised as the need to be kind and considerate to others. That message has been shared consistently and modelled by our staff. A basic tenant of school life is that one size never fits all and we will think carefully about the support that each individual student needs before acting accordingly.  

The above message also featured in our whole school virtual assembly on Wednesday. I shared with all year groups the American poet Robert Frost’s observations regarding his 80th birthday. Asked what the most valuable thing was that he had learnt in those 80 years, he commented:  

In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on. In all the confusions of today, with all our troubles . . . with people slinging the word fear around, all of us become discouraged . . . tempted to say this is the end, the finish. But life — it goes on. It always has. It always will. Don’t forget that. 

The last thing young people need right now is to be written off before they have properly started and, whilst extra support will be needed, we are keen for life to go on for our students as normally as possible; it is wonderful that we are now able to work together again in person. Assessing what students need takes time and any action will be based upon building upon our current good relationships and identifying appropriate evidence.

To reiterate, things have gone very well since Wednesday. There have been very few teething problems but, as ever, we will work our way through those that do arise in a diligent manner. Student attendance has been excellent, with 98% of students in school. Students and their families have also responded very positively to the school’s position on lateral flow testing and face coverings in the classroom. Our students deserve real credit for their maturity and we are fortunate to have such supportive parents. In terms of home testing, we have shared detailed information on the school website and will start to distribute kits on Monday; you can read more at this link.

Please also remember that your child should not come to school if they have any of the symptoms associated with Covid-19 - read more guidance here: Can my child go to school today?

If they do have any of the recognised symptoms, please follow the above guidance and book a PCR test immediately.  

In my last full school assembly on 18th December I praised the students for their stoical response to a difficult and very different term. We had expected to return in January and I wanted them to know how proud we were of the effort that they had made to get to the Christmas holiday period. I shared a quote from Joseph Conrad on how he had dealt with difficulties in his own life. He argued that everyone faced difficult times, but that he had coped by adopting the following mantra: facing it, always facing it, that’s the way to get through. Face it. 

 

Our students have demonstrated that stoic quality in recent months and the only thing missing from Conrad’s common sense attitude is that it is better to face thing together if at all possible. Schools are many things, but above all else they are communities and it easier for life to go on successfully when you can work with other people. It is easier to face difficulties with the support of those around you, including your friends and school staff and that is now possible. Welcome back everyone. 

 

Mr O’Sullivan