On Thursday morning I had the very pleasing task of writing to every one of our Year 8 pupils to congratulate them on examination results, which showed terrific progress over the year and reflect the very strong academic foundations they will take with them to their senior schools.
Their final term at St Christopher’s is far from what they, their teachers, and I would have wanted or expected, but the fortitude they have shown makes us all very proud of them. So too with pupils in other years. Analysis of end of year assessments and of subject reports shows that they have made very good academic progress, and that many have developed skills as remote learners which will serve them extremely well moving forwards.
It is difficult, of course, to replicate the sunny and joyfully celebratory occasions which are features of the Summer Term but I hope that our pupils will all participate in the remote Sports’ Day, Sponsored Walk, and Donate-a-Day, about which you have received letters. Two of these days involve giving and it is no bad thing to focus on charity as a diversion from our own very natural frustrations and needs. Our four Houses will be raising money for Rockinghorse, Sussex Nightstop, Whoopsadaisy and Off the Fence.
It has been lovely to see children in classrooms and to hear the sounds of joy in the playground as the school makes those tentative first steps back to normality. We are, of course, far from total normality: desks are arranged to enable distancing, the children in school are operating in defined small groups, signs are everywhere, everything is a little more regimented, and only a quarter of our pupils are back in school. They are nonetheless enjoying the chance to be with their friends and to play, albeit at an appropriate distance.
Assessment results suggest that progress under a whole new style of learning has been very good across the year groups, and I know that our pupils continue to benefit from lessons which are stimulating and engaging. There will be more to come but senior staff and teachers are looking to introduce a programme of cross-curricular learning from which our most senior pupils will benefit enormously and which will bring a little more variety to their academic diet. We are also looking into replicating remotely our Sports’ Days, the Sponsored Walk, Donate a Day, and other end of term events. I remain hopeful that we will be able to hold some live events for our wonderful Year 8 pupils, even if those events have to be delayed to late August.
By the time you receive this Newsletter, those Year 8 pupils will have completed Common Entrance or Scholarship papers. We are very proud of every single one of them.
There are few things more English than cricket and few sounds resonate more through our summer than the sound of willow on leather on the playing fields of England. I am reminded of that wonderful poem by Sir Henry Newbolt: There’s a breathless hush in the Close tonight / Ten to make and the match to win. One of the sad consequences of lockdown is that there might not be any cricket this season, and the ‘hush’ on cricket grounds throughout the country will be for other reasons. However, not to be deterred, the Year 8 boys and girls have each put together a short cricket themed video.
Baking is another great national tradition and it has been lovely to receive pictures of your children cooking and the delicious looking results of their labours. On Thursday afternoon there took place what was almost certainly the first Domestic Science lesson ever taught in the Lab at St Christopher's. One former Science teacher, Mr Scott, will perhaps be horrified by such unorthodox use of a Bunsen burner, but those children in school thoroughly enjoyed it. See the final page for details.
Above these words you will see a wonderful drawing by Jensen in Year 4. He worked from memory, but I hope this is a scene we will all be able to draw from life again very soon, from the sunshine of the front playground. I will be writing soon about the plans for a return to classroom learning for some year groups, and hold out hopes that others will follow.
Communication between those who find themselves separated in these times has taken on a new resonance, and I am delighted to hear that our oldest pupils will spend a little time over Half Term crafting hand-written letters to their Reception and Year 1 Buddies. Our culture of nurture and kindness is at the heart of St Christopher’s, and I am sure that the letters received by our very youngest pupils will make them feel that we are still very much one big family, and inspire them to practise their own writing in reply. At a time when technology reigns, some things will remain timeless, and be looked back upon as precious in future years.
This edition of the Newsletter contains much evidence of the engaging and creative lessons delivered by our dedicated, inspiring, and resourceful teachers. An article in Tuesday’s edition of The Times assumed that independent schools are “delivering lessons each morning via a Hogwarts’ owl”. Whilst I cannot claim St Christopher’s Remote Learning Programme is quite as exciting as that, the comments I continue to receive suggest that your children are learning and thriving in these unusual times. As well as evidence of this, our Newsletter continues to feature some marvellous examples of the Co-Curricular projects being undertaken every afternoon. I hope the passions for art, construction, cookery, gardening, sporting activity, and newfound creativity in general are all things that will transcend lockdown.
We have, I believe, some glorious weather ahead of us during Half Term. I hope you and your families can make the most of it. There are promising signs of a return to normality, true community, and celebration on the other side of it. There may be a way to go yet, but we go there together.
As week four of remote learning draws to a close, it is worth reflecting on things about which we can be pleased. The fortitude of your children is certainly one, as they manage impressively a process very new to them and restrictions very alien. The dedication of their teachers is another, as they work harder than ever to ensure that learning continues apace and that support is given to their pupils which goes well beyond academic lessons. A third is the sense of community which has seen parents, teachers and pupils pulling together and trying to support each other. We haven’t got everything right in our provision – no school has – but I think we can be satisfied, even proud, of what has been achieved.
The children who have been in school have been wonderfully cheerful. In many ways they have been like a big family with the oldest helping the very youngest and a real culture of support the most noticeable feature. It is rather a large family, but seeing them play, witnessing that wide eyed wonder which learning brings and watching the interaction between children of all ages has been a joy.
I hope that you are all able to enjoy a break over the lengthened weekend. Of course the celebrations to mark Victory in Europe cannot be as intended, or replicate the coming together of the nation in one giant party in May, 1945. However, I do believe that Friday will offer us the opportunity to reflect on why it is important to mark the 75th Anniversary of the beginning of a peace in Europe which has lasted. Sunday will bring important news about the gradual lifting of lockdown. I hope that it is news which is good for you all and for your children.