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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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A glimmer of light

At the onset of Advent the world feels a slightly lighter place after a fairly grim year. The news over the past fortnight of the imminent arrival of vaccines on a broad scale brings with it the prospect of a return to something much more like normality. The end of lockdown, albeit with the continuation of some restrictions into Tier 2, bringing relief to some. The promise of a brief Christmas period where the epidemic of loneliness and family fracture can briefly be addressed. The growing prospects of a peaceful transition into a less dysfunctional administration on the other side of the Atlantic. The possibility, however remote, that our EU separation could still be amicable and mutually beneficial. 2020 is not a year that any will look back on with much pleasure, and the aftermath of the collective traumas will last, but it did feel as if there was at least a little weak sunlight on the horizon at last…

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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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