It is the habit of my grandmother at present, whenever there is a lull in conversation, to remind us all how good bananas taste. This is not because she has lost possession of her faculties – indeed with little else to occupy her at present, she practices her acerbic wit relentlessly at the expense of all – nor because she has developed some extraordinary addiction. Rather, it is because she recalls a time, during the war, when bananas were not freely available and also recalls, with greater synesthetic energy, the feeling of tasting that fruit once more having not done so for a good many years. On Monday 6th September at precisely 10:03 am, I experienced a similar sensation when a class of pupils laughed at one of my jokes.
Following months sat in front of a screen keeping pupils engaged in and inspired by their learning in quite extraordinary circumstances, that quiet murmur of amusement from a Third Form Greek set at the outset of the term was a powerful reminder of how much of a privilege this job can be and how good it is to have pupils back on site once more.
The pupils too are clearly relishing being back on site. In designing and refining the various systems of control we have put into operation for teaching and learning this term, I was always concerned that the pupils would be foxed by the complexities of new lesson timings and locations or by the bigger changes to the shape of the day. I was, of course, reckoning without that characteristic Salopian resilience and that leonine determination to thrive in the face of adversity. They have not only settled quickly into their new routines, but have thrown themselves into their learning with unremitting zeal.
Our Third Form, of course, have been doubly challenged by entering into an unfamiliar environment in unfamiliar times. They are thus to be doubly congratulated on the panache with which they have attacked their curricular studies. Clearly determined to impress and make an excellent first impression, they have hit a powerful rhythm now and give every impression of being a year-group with wonderful potential. New entrants into the Fourth Form have similarly found their feet and that whole year-group has hit the ground at an impressive pace as they embark on their GCSE curricula. As I write, well over half of that group are now moving forward their HPQ work to completion – an unexpected and worthwhile gain to the curriculum to come out of the remote learning period.
Starting out into the Sixth Form is an incredibly important step in the wider educational journey and our Lower Sixth have been exceptionally impressive. Building on the skills and experience they accrued in the Remote Learning period, they have approached these first few weeks with commendable maturity and a palpable sense of intellectual curiosity. Meeting new friends, listening to new perspectives and examining the world just that little bit more critically have earned them considerable praise from their teachers who have relished the chance to work with students who are so obviously keen to learn.
Heads of Faculties continue to manage the positive progress of individuals in the Fifth Form and the Upper Sixth Form who are embracing the appropriate challenge of new material coupled with the rehearsal of topics previously covered. These pupils continue to be confident in and inspired by their learning.
The Futures Faculty has been working in overdrive to make sure that pupils have the right tools to make informed decisions and applications – whether that be in terms of UCAS or Work Experience in the Lower and Upper Sixth or taking those first, important steps towards choosing a career with Morrisby Profiling in the Fifth Form.
External guidance will continue to shift, restrictions will ease and tighten at different times by various degrees and we will continue to be fleet of foot to make sure that we are making good decisions to safeguard the education of every pupil in the weeks ahead. But it is vitally important, in all of this, not to become lost in a web of contingency, to be side-tracked by rumours and speculation or to lose sight of how very fortunate we are to have a school full of pupils who are as determined as we are to thrive in difficult and confusing times.
The academic picture of the school at present, then, is one of happy robust health.