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Goodbye to the pioneers…

This Friday, 24 June, our wonderful Year 13 boys and girls will be in school en masse for the last time as they drop off books and materials, join together for a celebratory assembly and then tip out in a colourful heap on the lawn of No11 The Close for a farewell barbeque and a group photo. They have been brilliant throughout; whether the school has been in full session or not has not mattered. They have worked, played, supported one another and together have helped to build a new era for the school as Covid has ebbed gradually away. They were a collective first in so many ways. At 170, the biggest year group to join the school. The first coeducational cohort with the first Bishop’s Girls for over nine decades. The first senior students to go through the pandemic, through lockdowns and massed testing. The first students to assist in large numbers at community vaccination centres. The first to take A levels without taking GCSEs. The first to take A level Psychology at BWS. The list is a long and very impressive one.

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An unfinished masterpiece…

I left Wilton Church on Saturday evening with Mozart’s unfinished Requiem ringing in my ears. The combined choirs from 4 schools managed to fit (just!) in front of the altar, and in front of them a full orchestra with perhaps 90% student membership made for a magnificent wall of sound and a magical performance. The soloists were amazing, and the programme of pieces put together by Lewis Edney (BWS’ Director of Music) and his counterparts created the space for youngsters to really shine. After the ovation ended the audience was left feeling that they had witnessed something really special, and event that the young singers and musicians will no doubt remember for their rest of their lives. It was that good.

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Goodbye Year 11…and Year 13

On Friday the 160 boys in Year 11 spent their last morning in school before most of them launch into their summer GCSE papers. I have qualified that opening statement because some 85 of them were in the Sports Hall for an extended period during the morning taking a iGCSE paper; most of that group emerged smiling fairly broadly, so I think that they felt confident and it cannot have been too traumatizing. An encouraging, if somewhat early start.

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A Good Read

This book will move you, will capture you, amuse you, hold you hostage, transport you to another world. OK – I’ll admit it, some of these words are borrowed – or adapted – from Mark Kermode, the well-known film critic. That’s what good films can do. And that’s what good books do too. The difference is that the cinema screen is inside your head. Ideas, images, a story, characters grow, move, interact and though they evaporate when the pages close, a good book will always leave its mark long after it has returned to the shelf.

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Return of Houses

This week stands out as yet another step back to something approaching normal life – the re-introduction of the House Assembly to the Bishop’s agenda. Now our bubble bound existence is starting to fall away, we can return to the periodic, slightly tribal gatherings of Houses in the Sports Hall. The explicit reason for us getting together is to enable the House Captains and prefects to earn their living, to discover their results of the latest competitions and (more by accident than by design) to test the House Captain’s skills in organising Kahoot …

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Exams

Exams are not a natural component of the human physiology or condition. Homosapiens did not evolve in the E African rift with a pen in hand, flash cards at the ready and a timer sitting threateningly in front. But they are important and they are coming for all of you in one form or another. By the time that this assembly goes out Year 10 will be just about to experience the initial salvo, and from this week on the Sports Hall will be doubling up in core purpose, spending just as much time as a glorified factory farm for student scripts as it does for sporting exploits. Year 12 will follow after the Easter break, Years 7-9 shortly after that and then the main external papers at GCSE and A Level begin. Right now we are on the threshold of testing territory.

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764 days

It was 764 days between our whole school Cathedral services, perhaps the longest single absence since Bishop’s was founded. Increasingly confident forays for smaller services had been made by varying permutations of Year Groups this academic year, but little prepared me for the sight of the Cathedral on March 17 at near capacity and full of young people. It makes a Chaplain’s heart sing. The singing and music was actually my enduring memory, as our Organ Scholar, Joshua Samuel, playing for his final service, interrogated the structural stability of the Spire by using every organ stop at his disposal to thunder our final hymn, Lord of the Dance. Not to be outdone, the school belted out the words. Clearly one of BWS’s favourites.

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Reading for Assembly/Cathedral Service

You may not have realised it as you made your way across the diagonal path towards the Cathedral this morning – but this is a milestone. An important milestone for the school and a significant one for you if you’re in Year 11 or Year 13 as you’ve already heard. All of us. Together. In our parish church and, now, the only assembly hall that we’ve got where everyone can now fit in. A slice of history right here, right now, on a Thursday morning in March … You probably didn’t anticipate being a part of history when you shut the front door this morning. But here we are, and more history will be made after the service when we are all part of a huge photo; the whole school, as one.

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International Womens’ Day

I am not sure that IWD 2022 has had all of the advance publicity that it should have, and given the spiraling crises that are happening at present I suppose that it’s hardly surprising. Even so there will be events worldwide this week to mark the day and to draw attention to the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women across the globe. As well as that there will be plenty of campaigning to try to accelerate the cause of gender parity. When IWD was first marked in the early part of the twentieth century it formed a part of the Suffragist and Suffragette Movements in the UK, the Socialist Party in America and similar movements in continental Europe. Now IWD is owned much more widely for a common cause towards achieving parity between the genders – and much more work is still needed as demonstrated by the recent reports on Women in the Workplace (2021) from McKinsey & Co and also the Global Gender Gap (2021) from the World Economic Forum. Bias is still alive and thriving.

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Ukraine – and Russia

It’s a time when you’ll see a lot of stern-looking people (men usually) sitting behind desks and talking – and here’s another one, but no national flag draped in the background this time, no line to spin, no threats, just an attempt to talk honestly and openly about what has been going on in the Eastern part of our continent. I run a very significant risk of being obsolete here, and I am not referring to the rather unexpected birthday celebrations which took place before the half term break! Ukraine has become a swirling, unpredictable and accelerating crisis where no-one can predict what comes next. I write this on the morning of Monday 28 February, on a morning where unprecedented sanctions have been launched against Russia by an economic coalition of democracies and a capital city of 4 million people is under shell and missile fire. Who knows what this week will bring? What I do have now is empathy with the uncertainty and feeling of threat that has been felt by Europeans during the last century, and a better understanding of the unfolding of history as a lived experience. I didn’t have that a month ago.

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