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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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1054 all in

…that’s how many students are now on roll at Bishop’s, and we are expecting all of them back in class from Monday. Though the school site appears quite normal, the routines of the school day will be quite different for both the boys and the staff. The proliferation of signs around the site together with sanitising stations give away the fact that this will not quite be business as usual. The fact that (alone among Salisbury Schools I believe) we are going for a late start at 0930 will make things feel quite different, and that flavour of unconventionality will persist as we go through school days that are condensed and full-on. That means that the 250 or so students who are new to us will not be the only ones who can’t quite remember when the next lesson ends. Our new 50 period timetable was conceived and planned way back last autumn, before a hint of any pandemic. Now its introduction is just a bit part in a cast of larger changes. We’ll all have to keep our wits about us!

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The next chapter of an eventful year

Yesterday the Bursar and I did the rounds of the school site to assess what has been done and what loose ends still need to be tidied as the new school year approaches. A clean school greeted us, albeit one with a significant level of contractor activity still happening as workmen continue with light replacement, completing of sixth form facilities and construction of a canopy over one of the quads. We are almost set to welcome the ravening hoards back at the start of next week, though the hoards will be smaller than usual because of the need to brief all of the boys and girls on how things need to be done in the ‘new normal’ of autumn 2020. Year group by year group, House by House the populace will be with us once more.

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Exams – and something that everyone should read

Having just overtopped the summit that was A level ‘results’ day it would be remiss of me were I not to talk a little about the issue that has consumed the national media over recent days. The exams that never were have stirred up something of a hornet’s nest across England. My view is that it was almost inevitable that the moderation process designed and driven by exam boards would change grades, that the changes would be more down than up and that therefore claims of unfairness would follow. Having said that the shortcomings of the statistical processing that have now emerged suggest that insufficient modelling of the outcomes was done in advance, and a traumatic few days for everyone duly followed. The decision to revert to centre assessed grades became almost inevitable, and hopefully a lot of the angst and uncertainty is now diminishing.

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End of the 2019-2020 academic year

I remember using (or maybe mis-using) a T.S. Eliot quote from ‘The Hollow Men’ in an earlier incarnation of this blog – to describe the strange, untimely end to the spring term. The whimper that was school closure all the way back then around the time of the equinox was the curtain-raiser to the whole season of strangeness that has followed. Now, post-solstice, another term is about to close; rather like the tide ebbing across a wide sandy beach rather than the habitual adrenaline-pumping and mildly frenetic last day before the break. Come Friday the laptops will be closed at home and at school, the buildings will slowly empty of a few waifs and strays, the cars will leave and the barrier will drop. BWS will go back into full hibernation; rather than just being filled with a quiet hum the pulse of school will drop until mid-August.

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