From the Headmaster: End of Term Update
27 March 2020
I find myself writing a somewhat different letter from the one that I would normally be writing at the end of this term. I would not want to avoid familiar territory altogether, however, and I think it important to record that a great deal has been achieved across the range of school activity since January – in sport, music and drama, as well as in the academic sphere. As you can imagine, I look forward to writing in a more familiar vein this time next year.
All of our lives have been affected in different ways, and to different degrees, by the current global crisis. It has been a privilege to have looked after the children of parents who work within the NHS this week. I am pleased to report that we have now established a holiday programme for those pupils. That will enable their parents to continue to work the long hours that have, of necessity, become their new normal. We are all indebted to them.
Our other focus this week has been to trial various ways of ensuring continuity of education. I must accept that some strategies have been more successful than others. Although it was not our fault, the periodic failure of Firefly in the senior school was, with hindsight, something that we should have anticipated, given the extent to which so many schools were relying upon it simultaneously. New systems will be in place for the start of next term and we are looking forward to enabling pupils in the senior school, as well as older Key Stage 2 pupils, to benefit from real-time teaching as soon as possible. Parents of junior school pupils will be contacted about an online presentation for parents which we aim to schedule in the last week of the Easter break. Please note that all senior school pupils will need to have access to an internet enabled device which has a built in microphone and camera by the start of next term.
GCSE and A Level examinations
The maintenance of normal routines is of course an essential aspect of wellbeing at a time when so much is beyond our control. This principle was at the heart of the message that I gave to our Year 11 and Year 13 students when I met with them before school closure. Of all our pupils, it is these year groups which have been more significantly impacted by the necessity of closure. The cancellation of GCSE and A level examinations is disorienting, to say the least, when so many have worked so hard this term and before to master the syllabus in their different subjects. We will continue to do all that we can to support these students, albeit remotely. Much uncertainty remains about the specific procedures that the exam boards will adopt to assess candidates this year but we will continue to monitor the situation as closely as possible. Meanwhile I wish to make it clear that no Year 11 pupil will be denied a place in the sixth form on the basis of the grades awarded this summer.
I wish to take this opportunity to acknowledge the financial difficulty that many parents are currently confronting. I appreciate, for example, that a number of parents own businesses which were, until very recently, thriving concerns: many of you will have seen your income diminish very suddenly in recent weeks. Whilst the government’s income support strategy may have been a lifeline to your employees, I appreciate that it does not come close to matching the income needed to fund private education. Depending on a range of factors, it may be possible for us to issue a partial rebate in respect of next term’s fees but there are too many unknowns, as things currently stand, for us to be more definitive at this stage. In the interim, I remain happy to talk with any of you who wish to speak with me in confidence about short-term hardship funding.
On a positive note, I wish to stress that the school has entered this crisis on a sound financial footing, with record numbers of pupils enrolled for September and a much lower borrowing commitment than most independent schools. We are determined to build on that strength when we return to our normal routines.
Indeed, as a school community, we have a great deal to look forward to. If there is one thing that will help us all to get through this crisis, that thing must be contemplation of good things to come in the future, allied to a determined focus on the positive here and now. Speaking personally, I have particularly enjoyed spending some time with the Junior School pupils who have been on site this week. I have also appreciated the many messages of support that we have received from you, our parents and customers. Whilst the feedback has not been unfailingly positive, (and I can only reiterate my apology for the failings of Firefly,) I have never doubted your loyalty and support for the school that exists for the benefit of your children.
On a final point, I wish to thank all my colleagues at school who have had to adapt to the unfamiliar routines of working in isolation this week. A huge amount has been happening, albeit remotely, to prepare for next term. Direct human interaction is that the heart of every successful lesson and the loss of such contact is amongst my deepest regrets at present. I suspect that regret would be echoed by the vast majority of our pupils.
I wish you all well for Easter and look forward to seeing you again before too long.