Like so many people, when lockdown began, I made bold plans for self-improvement projects which have now mostly fallen ignominiously by the wayside. One of the slices of this particular sky-based pie was an intention to re-read the works of Dickens and particularly to revisit one of his very best novels ‘Our Mutual Friend’. Had my fringe not descended so far as to cover my eyes in the last several weeks I would no doubt have thoroughly enjoyed wending my way through the typically twist-ridden plot and re-encountering some of the magnificently peculiar characters. One such character is Betty Higden, a poor, elderly woman who has a terror of being sent ‘to the workhouse’. Whenever she crops up in the narrative she talks of ‘the deadness’ creeping over her – a feeling of extreme lethargy and exhaustion that is so overpowering as to create a sort of gloopy malaise.
I think that anyone who has been working from home (pupils included) can probably relate to Mrs Higden’s sensation. The sense of the days blurring into one and the vast majority of that day staring intently at variously arranged pixels can certainly bring on the deadness fairly quickly. There are moments in each day at which energy levels droop and where apathy agitates against willpower.
In our academic provision, as well as being determined to maintain high levels of progress and meaningful endeavour for all, we have also been intent on warding of ‘the deadness’. Our efforts in this regard have been in two strands: the remote learning delivery and the curricular offering itself. In terms of the former, we continue to develop and refine in the light of pupil and parent feedback. The system will never be perfect and will never be as tailored as the sort of classroom experience we would normally want for our pupils, but by introducing new strategies, technologies and tasks, we hope to keep this as fresh as it possibly can be in the weeks ahead.
In terms of curricular offering, this week has seen important developments for those year groups who would previously have been sitting their examinations. The Fifth Form, who have been, frankly, magnificent in terms of their diligence and engagement have embarked on their Post-GCSE programme – moving into those A Level subjects and experiencing a more independent, higher-order mode of education. The teaching staff have been delighted with the new cohorts whose enthusiasm and eagerness to progress into new territory has been tangible. The U6 too, have been throwing themselves into the Shrewsbury U and ILM programmes with determination and evident excitement. From expertly researched tutorial presentations on the character of Egyptian Art under Akhenaten to explorations of the concepts of the Global Village, intellectual curiosity and engagement have been very much to the fore and that synergy between the enthusiasms of the staff delivering the programmes and the genuine interest of the students has created something very powerful indeed which we will be looking to retain in the Shrewsbury landscape in the years to come.
The forthcoming Exeat will, I hope, serve to ward off ‘the deadness’ for pupils and teachers alike – but we are also planning some ‘positive disruptions’ for our Fourth Form and Lower Sixth in the wake of their examinations to break up any sense of monotony and keep their experiences fresh and meaningful. The pupils have worked brilliantly hard this term so far and it remains, as always, a pleasure and privilege to work with them even in these difficult times.