The term started last week though like an aircraft on the runway there has been a good deal of initial taxiing before some speed is gained. Most of this initial inertia is due to the requirement for all students to have two Covid tests at the start of the new session – and the first of those tests must be negative before they can join classes. By the end of today (Monday) we will have completed the first round of nearly 1200 lateral flows; the rest will be completed by Friday and we will be on our way.
At the Staff Meeting on 1 September I identified some key themes for the academic year which are worth fleshing out a little here. It is always important to feel that everyone is open on the same page, and this year it will be critical that we all work together to make things happen. Firstly, there is the school to reboot. Although the summer months were marked by a return to face to face education it still felt as if Bishop’s was in a straitjacket, as there were still so many activities that couldn’t happen. All too often the answer had to be no as there were many casualties to the demands of the risk assessment. Now we can open out into most areas, allowing creativity to flow once more within and beyond the curriculum. The bell weather was perhaps the King Edward’s Rugby Tournament at the weekend something that just could not have happened in the spring or summer. Now – for the moment anyway – contact sports are back, assemblies and groups events too, singing and musicianship are a part of everyday life once more and though we have yet to banish all restrictions it feels like freedom is at our fingertips.
The second theme for the year is cohesion, on two counts. With the school emerging from hibernation there is an element for all of us, of re-learning what it means to function as a fully integrated member of a large and vibrant community centered on one space. One of the consequences of the extraordinary period through which we have just passed is the tendency for communities to become more compartmentalized. Life apart and contact through a video screen is imperfect prep for interaction in a school of 1200 on a two acre site. A sense of identity is crucial, and there’s the rub – whole school assemblies are no longer possible in the Sports Hall, and at the same time there are perhaps 500 of our students who have yet to experience the entire school community in the Cathedral as one. Cohesion and identity then – we’ll be working pretty hard at those all year this year.
Finally our sixth form will be a focus for development. For the first time over half of our Year 12 students (in our biggest-ever year group of 206) originate from other schools. Over 60 will be girls, meaning that we will have over 100 girls at Bishop’s in 2021-2022. That’s brilliant on all counts, but we’ll need to work really hard to make sure that what is on offer here meets those students’ expectations, that they blend well as a sixth form body, that they are supported with their academics and that they are aspirational for themselves and their school. That’s all most exciting.
So as I write the momentum is growing tangibly. There is a feeling of excitement and optimism through both staff and students as to what this academic year will bring.