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‘Surprisingly Normal’

One of the nicest pieces of feedback I have received in the last few weeks was from a Sixth Form student who said that she had found the atmosphere at school ‘surprisingly normal’.

In these bewildering times, where the ground is forever shifting beneath our feet, to have school described as ‘normal’ was, in my book, high praise indeed. New colleagues have also commented on several occasions that, in the circumstances, the start of the year had been remarkably calm. That does not mean it has not been tiring and I owe all my colleagues a huge debt of gratitude for their hard work. Managing technological challenges, complex changes to school procedures and the normal workload of a busy school has not been easy.

As a school, we are so much more than our Covid-19 procedures. I am proud that our default setting since 23rd March has been to adapt and manage the risks safely rather than to cancel. For our pupils, that stability, as well as plenty of joy, really matters.

I felt sad for our pupils yesterday as they saw their half-term plans crumbling away after London was put in Tier 2 measures. They now cannot mix with their friends indoors. The Government has recognised children’s need to be in education but their mental health and social needs have, in my view, not received sufficient attention. Professor Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, an alumna of Oxford High School GDST (who has written a brilliant book – Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain) has spoken out about the impact the pandemic is having on the mental health of children and adolescents. I am sharing an interview with Professor Blakemore from the University of Cambridge in which she discusses some of the impacts of the pandemic on young people. In particular, she laments the ‘Them and Us’ position that some politicians have adopted when talking about young people’s behaviour during the pandemic and calls for the involvement of young people in policy decisions. I applaud Professor Blakemore for speaking up for young people and thought you might find this podcast interesting.

The thing that has struck me about our pupils’ response to continued restriction is how stoical they have been about it. Some will have vulnerable family members and the care with which they think about older generations is touching. Their engagement at school with programmes such as our alumnae pen pal scheme during lockdown, or the pensioners’ link pen pal scheme this term, has been inspiring. Even when I had to tell all of Year 8 they were going home a few weeks ago, I was so impressed by their good cheer – I even got a round of applause after answering all their questions. Our pupils and our staff inspire me every day and I would like to thank them all for their hard work this half-term and wish them a restful break.

Blog post by Vicky Bingham, Headmistress from 2017 to 2023.  


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