The latter part of the Summer Term is usually an Academic Deputy’s nightmare. Lessons are routinely truncated for cricket fixtures, field trips, athletics meets and Top Schools sessions are railroaded by a veritable suite of concerts, house barbeques and dramatic productions. How extraordinary it is, then, that as we stand on the cusp of the final fortnight of this exceptional period in the school’s history, I find myself constantly yearning for these very moments of disruption.
It was the Athenian general Nicias who famously uttered the aphorism ‘a city is men not walls’. We are so fortunate, at Shrewsbury, to be so closely bound to our beautiful location, nestled within the hills of Shropshire, close up against the Severn shore – but if this Summer Term has taught us anything, it is that ‘Shrewsbury School’ can and does exist in a very different form entirely.
The pupils have been nothing short of remarkable during the course of the last eight weeks. Adapting with enthusiasm, kindness and humility to a new model of learning, pushing themselves to maintain strong academic progress despite all the odds and taking advantage of all the innovations and structures that we have pushed forward during the last three months. Beyond this, however, they have not only developed new and extraordinary skills of independence in learning, they have also rallied around each other – finding ways of supporting and encouraging their peers in this moment of fragmentation. Our Third and Fifth Forms, now fully embarked on their GCSE and A Level experiences have shown the increased level of maturity and industry that these courses demand – thriving in the options they have chosen and developing that more self-motivated approach to study that is required at this level. Again, in doing so, collaboration and teamwork have played a vital role.
Particularly uplifting in this regard, has been the approach of the Fourth Form which combined a Business-centred appraisal of the Covid-19 pandemic with a programme that encouraged them to explore the natural world in their own contexts. The videos and presentations produced during those few days not only showcased the optimism and creativity of the pupils, but also offered further proof of the resilience and power of those bonds of friendship, even when stretched across continents and through time-zones.
This week, of course, the Lower Sixth have been taking their first tentative steps in exploring what life may hold for them when they reach the end of their journey through the school and, again, have distinguished themselves in asking prudent questions, taking advantage of expert advice and making that crucial link between the effort being invested in academic work now and the potential access to future pathways. The Upper Sixth are now reaching the end of the ILM and Shrewsbury U programmes and have risen to the challenges of both with typical aplomb. Such has been their energy and industry on both tracks that we feel very confident indeed that the Salopians entering Higher Education in the Academic Year 2020-21 will do so enthused, engaged and fully equipped to make the very most of that experience.
We look now, of course, towards the end of term and towards Speech Day and this will be an important moment of closure. It is right then to salute not only the remarkable creativity and fortitude of the Shrewsbury School teachers in delivering a remarkable programme of remote learning often in the most complex of circumstances, but also and especially the pupils who, having been robbed of all the usual treats and excitements of a Salopian Summer have rallied around each other, have pushed themselves to achieve and have declared unequivocally that irrespective of location, Shrewsbury School is still very much Shrewsbury School.