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Here we go again

The flurry of major announcements from HM Government last week will have spurred schools into action countrywide. Here I have just written out to parents to chart the way forward for the next couple of weeks, a letter that had a complicated and intensive gestation as you might imagine. The challenge presented by having to carry out around 3,500 lateral flow tests in school over the first two week back in considerable. As I write this sitting in glorious Spring sunshine at my PC I am still am not sure whether the arrangements that I have sketched out will work, but we will do our very best! The sixth form are the first to engage as they will travel in to school on Friday of the coming week for a test and nothing else; their lessons will evaporate for the day as it would be just too complicated for everyone if teachers and students had to worry about remote lessons as well as testing all at the same time. A day to clear their heads will do the students good too - they can get their ducks in a row ready for Monday 8 March when their face-to-face lessons will begin.

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Next Slide Please

Browsing on twitter over the half term break I happened to glance at Professor Chris Whitty's feed, where as you might expect he makes the case for research and initiatives in public health. All very rational, based on sound science and statistics and aimed for public benefit. I then read some of the comments posted in response, and found them very difficult to comprehend - they seemed to be an odd mixture of the quasi-medical (touting various non-evidence based 'cures' for viral infection), quasi-numeric (employing slanted and unrepresentative stats), anecdotal (eg 'the hospitals are empty'), conspiratorial ('they are plotting against us all') together with some that were simply unhinged and sadly some personal abuse too. I am at a loss as to why anyone should choose to post such material; some might be seduced into thinking that such reading matter presents an alternative strategy for addressing the current health emergency. The current very high levels of take up for vaccination among the general population thankfully shows that the lunatic fringe is getting comparatively little traction, and thank goodness for that.

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Dave Egerton

Bishop's found a rich vein of Rugby talent through the late 1980's, resulting in two BWS alumni simultaneously in the England Team in due course. One of them, Dave Egerton, who played at No8 for England, sadly died last week after a short illness. 

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The last week before the break

Reading back over these blog entries over the last year and more gives a perspective on the pandemic. A year ago life was normal, though I could sense a gathering storm through the global media. Football at the Ray Mac and a trip to the Globe with the whole of Year 10, the type of activity which has since died or changed into a foreign form. March 2020, just after the holiday, saw the school closed with the launch of lockdown and now we all have a different set of rules by which to live. The weekly entries add up to a journal through the epidemic as national events buffeted the school and dictated great swathes of our days.

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When sorrows come

Hard on the heels of the news of the demise of Titch Bowden came the sad tidings that Glyn Evans, 5th Headmaster of Bishop's, has died after a period of poor health. There will now be very few members of staff at BWS who will have worked with Glyn, as he retired from his Headship in 1992. He retained his loyalty and love of the school however, and was a regular attendee at Founder's Day until a few years ago when frailty made the journey too much of a challenge.

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Farewell Arthur Bowden

Much has been written in the media and online about Arthur Bowden, who died around a fortnight ago after a fine innings of 92. I put a notification to that effect onto LinkedIn, the corporate social media platform, so that the BWS Diaspora would be aware of the sad tidings. There are around 2,000 connections to my profile, and it is usual to have around 1,000 who read my weekly news update. I have just checked back and to date there have been 11,620 hits on my announcement of the demise of 'Titch'. Such is his pulling power, such was the affection that he was held in by generations of Bishop's Boys from the over three decades that he spent at the school. Comments have flooded in from across the entire globe, and so I thought that after a couple of weeks' gestation I would publish some to a different audience.

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A team effort

It is when the chips really are down - when they are literally cascading across the floor - that people will often step up and show what they are really like. Its heart-warming when that happens. I remember vividly one morning as a deputy head, when I was in sole charge of sorting cover for absent teachers, when I simply felt at a loss. This was around two decades in the past and a virulent 'flu epidemic starting to dismantle the staffing for the day. The 'phone calls started before I left home and continued when I reached the office; a relentless stream of poorly teachers giving their excuses for not arriving in school. It was obvious to me that these were genuine cases, and that the problem was only going to get worse. Supply staff were going to be very difficult to get at very short notice as other schools were in the same position, and the hole in my staff complement was expanding as the minutes ticked by. Then, unprompted, a steady stream of colleagues arrived in my office, wanting to know what they could do to help in a crisis. It didn't matter any more whether these were people that I got on with or not, whether we had a shared educational perspective or whether I shared coffee with them in the staff room. Everyone pitched in and it made an enormous difference. We got through together; it wasn't easy for any of us but I came out of the experience feeling really positive.

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It’s been a long year already

2021 has been fairly eventful already and we’re only a week in! The approach to the first day of term was marked by a relentless stream of guidance from Whitehall, all focusing on the preparation for mass testing in school. I felt slightly embarrassed writing to parents both before and after Christmas about the significant logistical exercise that we were having to prepare, seeking both consent forms and volunteers, but there really was no option. The parental response was brilliant – lots of supportive messages and over 50 willing to help out when we do (eventually) get around to using our Lateral Flow Devices. Much to my surprise the large consignment of testing equipment and PPE arrived in school complete and on time. We now had tests, a test venue and a large team happy to pitch in to make it all work. But then changes came, one after the other. First there was a delay to the start of term in school and then, after just one day, we were all switched over to remote learning. Now, as I sit in my office in a silent school our boys and girls are elsewhere across Wiltshire and Hampshire in front of screens once more.

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Happy New Year or is it a bit of a hangover?

2021 has begun where 2020 left off, as I suppose it was always going to. The pandemic is no respecter of artificial human constructs like Christmas and January, as is proved by the epidemiological data that seems to be climbing remorselessly no matter what data is in the spotlight. I have some sympathy once again for HM Government facing such a situation, and of course we are yet to see the impact of the loosening of restrictions over the festive period and any New Year nonsense. Here at school the site is quiet once more as lessons have moved online; we have just a handful of students here, and of course they are accessing lessons via MS teams the same as all the others so that the heads in the bubbles in the IT suites are also self-absorbed. As things stand we should have Year 11 in next week for lessons and Year 13 for exams only, but the politicians still have to react to events as they unfold and nothing is certain. We will just have to continue to roll with the punches…

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A complicated last week... and then there’s next summer to look forward to!

I write this having just completed a flurry of paperwork caused by two* positive tests just notified – and as a direct consequence the whole of Year 13 will be in remote mode for the final week of term and the BWS Kitchen will be closed too. The absence of Year 13 has a knock on effect for school music, as the St Martin’s Concert will now not happen and the Carol Service, already online, will be more difficult for the musicians to navigate as a creative work. We’ll cope – but when the notifications come in it really does feel like the pressure is on. Wording letters to get the correct balance right for a big and disparate audience is tricky; I have considerable sympathy at such times for HM Government and the Herculean tasks that the politicians face on an almost daily basis.

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