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It’s a wonderful life

In these times where limitation is a fact of life we need something to lift the spirits, to show what is possible rather than what can be achieved in despite of the forces ranged against us. For me – and for many others I suspect Jan Morris’s story (1926-2020) gives exactly that. Probably best known for her gender reassignment all the way back in the early 1970’s, Morris was actually a fine historian and an even better journalist and writer. Though she rejected the label of travel writer her accounts of wonderful places across the Globe are vivid and compelling. 

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Impact of the second wave

Let’s hope that the current lockdown has the desired effect of dampening the rate of infection. As cases rise nationally, schools are not immune. My guess is that most local secondary schools have had positive cases by now, though the recent increase in the spread of the virus has dropped out of the local media spotlight because of the frequency of the incidents. Bishop’s is not immune of course, as currently we have a total of 87 students learning at home due to two positive tests for boys in Years 7 and 9. My heart hopes that there are no more, but my head tells me that this is probably an unrealistic aspiration. All we can do is ensure that we are vigilant in school and all follow the guidelines of the published risk assessment as closely as we can, students and staff alike.

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Remembrance 2020 – who’s to know

The eleventh of the eleventh. Remembrance day falls on Wednesday in the coming week, and in theory in the late morning as the Cathedral clock strikes the hour the city should fall silent. Of course it won’t, because people have busy lives; cars have to be driven, buses and trains cannot have an unscripted stop, bin lorries and postmen are on a mission and the hurly burly of life must go on. Perhaps that’s quite right – after all the sacrifices that have been made in the past were made precisely so that we could all continue with our everyday lives in a country where justice, democracy and the rule of law are taken for granted. Peace and security are easy to get used to, and it’s only when our confidence is shaken that we remember how great a price they can have. That won’t be the case on Sunday I’m sure, in Central London, where despite the pandemic there will be commemoration and ceremony as the nation gives thanks for the service of many in wars at home and overseas. We, too, must do our bit. Salisbury Reds may not come to a halt but here in school there will be two minutes of silent contemplation at eleven on the morning of the 11th. We can all use that time to try to think how our own family may have been involved in past times of conflict. We have all been affected.

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The second lap is about to start

I was fortunate enough to get away to East Anglia for a few days at the beginning of last week; time to recharge and contemplate the immediate past. What a simply extraordinary period of time. As I had guessed, getting everyone back in would be hard at first – very hard – but then, as we all became accustomed to the routines and demands of the redesigned day life fell into a groove and most things became possible. That doesn’t mean that the new ways of working are easy, as they are not; some matters remain by turn strange, frustrating and irritating even. The need to remember to don a mask when crowds are unavoidable and social distancing is inevitably compromised. The deliberate step aside off the path to avoid traffic moving in the opposite direction. The need to be at arms’ length even when your help is needed. The need to say ‘no’, even when an activity is educationally desirable, students are willing and a teacher feels that the level of risk is acceptable. I didn’t enter teaching to get in the habit of saying ‘no’, but sometimes that is how it now has to be.

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Seven Saints of St Paul’s (Black History Month)

Live in Bristol for a while and it is impossible to escape the influence of the docks. Though the Waterfront is now a happening place for tourists and students, who have replaced the dockers and ship builders, Bristol Harbourside remains a focal point for the city in the twenty first century. Rewind the tape 200 years and a much smaller settlement would have had the activity in the docks right at its economic heart. At the bottom of the hills, below steep limestone walls, the Cumberland Basin in Hotwells was a construction scheme of national importance, enabling trade on a massive scale and the largest ships to access the upper reaches of the Avon. Fortunes were made, splendid mansions were built in Clifton and Brunel’s engineering brilliance in due course made Bristol one of the most important ports in Britain.

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Taking Stock

It seems strange that we are already a month into term and for most students and many staff the adaptation to the world of Covid compliance has been fairly seamless. The fact that, thus far, there has been relatively little fire fighting to do is encouraging as it suggests that most of the changes that have been put into place make sense and are relatively straightforward to follow. That said, I am sure that you will have either noticed or heard about two ways in which we are altering our operations from today (Monday 12 October). Firstly, we are shortening the lunch break to 30 minutes to enable the creation of a proper 20 minute break 0940-1100, enabling students and staff some downtime in a morning that was otherwise a somewhat brutal routine. With luck we should be able to offer the students the chance to get some food, the staff to have cup of tea and everyone to mentally prepare for the run through to lunch. The change is less popular with the sixth form I suspect, as they will have less time to spend in the local fast food outlets, but the decision will certainly make a difference for everyone else and is a whole-school issue of course…

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Déjà vu in a week of highs and some lows

School does take it out of you, there’s no doubt. Now that term has settled down and most of us have got used to the new way that some things have to happen, the cogs are turning and intermeshing as they always do and the pace is accelerating. When Friday comes it is needed – you can read it in the faces of both boys and staff, but I can also read the tell-tale signs of adrenaline and excitement as the days pass. The highs make it all worthwhile, the mass yoga session on No11 Lawn, the Friday Debate, the Year 7 team building at Britford Lane. As much as classroom learning is the staple diet of every week here, it is those other things that lend colour and make the time pass so fast, and they also help everyone to keep the lows in perspective. Thus the significant ICT glitches that we have faced since the start of term and the hideous weather at the end of the week were firmly put in their place, despite the former causing headaches for many and the latter leading to flooding for some. Despite everything I still went to the gym on Friday evening feeling upbeat, and that feeling persists. It is good to be back.

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Farewell to the Notorious RBG

The headlines from across the other side of the Atlantic are so often dominated by just one person these days – it takes something extraordinary to knock the Donald off the headlines. But that is exactly what happened at the end of last week when Ruth Bader Ginsburg was brought to lie in state beneath the rotunda of the Capitol in Washington. The flags flew at half mast and the black-clad clerks from her entire career in the US Supreme Court lined the marble steps of the Capitol as her coffin was carried in, draped with the Stars and Stripes. Just for a brief time nothing much else seemed to matter; partisanship in American politics was made to seem trivial, the traffic halted leaving just the wind to move on a day that suddenly had a new focus. Even the president, taken unawares by the news of her death, responded in a statesmanlike way. Putting aside all of the battles that he had in the past he said that she was ‘an amazing woman who led an amazing life’. A truism from anyone else, but from Donald Trump it seemed sincere.

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The State of Play – and how to improve it

A very practical edge to the blog this week from me. We need to have a look at what has – and what has not - been working in school over the first couple of weeks of the term. We need to have a think about what our part in all of this is, and what each of us can do to make things as safe a possible while at the same time making sure that school is a really good place to come to each and every day. We all have a stake in that, and what each one of us does will affect how good things are for the rest.

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One week down

The start of term is always a partially controlled tornado. Lots of new people (both large and small) who don’t know their way around the site, whom they should be meeting with or the routines that should be followed. This year there are the additional complications of Covid controls and a new timetable to cope with, so it was always going to be a bit harder than in a normal year. Add into the mix the fact that most of the boys and girls had not been in a school environment, with their mates, for around 5 months and you have an even more perfect potential storm.

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