“Hell is other people” – Jean-Paul Sartre

Whilst philosophers have wrangled over the real meaning of Sartre’s famous line if we take it at face value, I think we can assume that he would be having a ball this week. Not that existentialists were really into having fun. Contrary to Sartre’s comment, this week has been far from fun and it is clear that the current restrictions on movement and congregation will be with us for some time. Isolation is the new norm. Community is temporarily suspended. Hunkering down and waiting for the storm to pass seems prudent.

Qarrtsiluni. An Inuit word meaning “sitting together in the dark, waiting for something to happen”. It sums up the goings on of this week very nicely although don’t ask me to pronounce it. Whilst the number of people that we are permitted to sit with is small, the questions have been huge and events momentous so it seems appropriate. Very slowly we seem to be moving to a place in which we have a view of what might happen next and it won’t be to everyone’s taste. It is clear that there will be no public exams for Year 11 and Year 13 this year. I should be pleased, I’ve been one of the ones banging on about getting rid of GCSEs for years and COVID-19 does it in a matter of weeks (I’m not going to lie, I feel strangely cheated). I hope that all affected this year will be properly rewarded for their work and feel sure an appropriate arrangement will be put in place. But I wonder what will happen next year? Perhaps this will be an opportunity seized and something really exciting will happen as a consequence of this terrible situation. Will the lack of A levels be the moment for us to create a system in which university places will be awarded post rather than pre-qualification? The powers that be have a moment to consider profound, deep and meaningful change. Will they show the courage that our pupils have this week in setting about their work? I rather hope that if we learn anything from this event it is that we don’t have to keep doing things the same old way. This virus has taught us a brutal lesson about the interconnectedness of humanity and has reminded everyone of the basic duty that we owe to friends and strangers alike. Handwashing, sneeze-catching and thoughtful distancing are fundamentals and we are perhaps long overdue for a reminder that small acts of consideration really do matter. Community really is everything.

Right now seems to be a good moment to pay tribute to the outstanding work being done throughout the BSP. To the teachers who have delivered excellent lessons, to the pupils who are engaging in such a positive manner and to the support of administrative staff whose work is often unseen. To the parents who are exercising patience beyond the norm – bravo. The weekend beckons and I hope it will give us space to change the routine, to rest and to decompress. These are challenging times but together we can make the best of them. Very soon we will know exactly what challenge it is that we face. In the meantime, I would encourage our young people to just keep going. The Finns have a word for it, sisu. It is remarkable that our pupils, when told that their exams had been cancelled, arrived at lessons with the enthusiasm that they show every day, their endeavour is to be saluted. They have sisu in shovelfuls.

Hell isn’t other people. We are surrounded by remarkable people. We remain together in isolation.

Nicholas Hammond