We live in a changed world. We may not know how long lasting these changes are, but we can be in no doubt that things are different at the start of this year in comparison to last. Starting term wearing a mask, unthinkable a year ago, acceptable now. Performance in academic subjects assessed without an exam, bizarre a year ago, is the reality of today. The Roman writer Tacitus records that before the final stand of the Caledonian tribes against the might of the Roman Empire at Mons Graupius AD 83, the leader of the tribes says the Romans “create a desolation and call it peace”. Coronavirus has affected every community in the world in some way and now it is time for us to decide what we are going to do about building our world once again. The virus is not a conquering imperial power, so it is perhaps a little melodramatic to call it desolation, but it is certainly fair to observe that much has been dismantled. We have a valuable moment to take stock.
As communities we have to decide if we are going to accept cancellation and isolation or if we are going to find new ways to build connections and to provide support. We can choose to be positive about the challenge or negative. There is room to be both as George Bernard Shaw put it: “Both optimists and pessimists contribute to the society. The optimist invents the aeroplane, the pessimist the parachute.” I have been inspired by recent sporting endeavours – the cricket matches between England and the West Indies and more recently against Pakistan have shown that we can enjoy the things we do and we can be inspired by the actions of others, even in a biosphere. The Tour de France and La Course provide us with similar hope. The issue of when to return to the workplace is one under scrutiny in many countries. Some organisations will have people at home until well after Christmas but in the case of schools there is a different approach. We can debate the motivations of governments over the timing of school reopening and the new levels of protocols in place, but I firmly believe that it is better to be educated in a school than to be educated remotely. In saying this I’m making an important distinction between education and teaching. We have demonstrated that technological tools are invaluable in facilitating the delivery of lessons and we know that academic progress can happen (very effectively) via remote learning. What can’t be learned remotely is everything else that happens in schools “around the edges”. All schools have a hidden curriculum, all schools talk about educating the whole person, we all talk about holistic education. Schools are face-to-face places. It is difficult to replicate the social interactions that take place at break times or during lunch, team sports, music, drama, debate can all be done but without all being in the same place (albeit appropriately distanced) it is, quite simply, not the same. Character develops more when we are in real rather than virtual situations.
I am choosing to look at the coming year with a significant degree of hope and optimism. We have the opportunity to relish the opportunities that being in school provides. Nothing makes you appreciate something like coming close to losing it. Whilst there will be challenges along the way we owe it to ourselves to make the very best of the situation that we face. Now perhaps is time not for a wringing of hands but for a rolling up of sleeves.
I’m delighted to extend the very warmest of welcomes to those families who have joined our community for the start of term. We are looking forward to working with you this year and hopefully for many years to come. The BSP community is one that is welcoming and I’m sure that this newsletter will give you a clear picture of all that we do.