28th February 2021
Dear parents and guardians,
Two months is a long time in education (as Prime Minister Harold Wilson never said)…..
Since your child was last in School, momentous changes been playing out across the country and across the world. Paradoxically, though, many young people’s domestic lives have followed a more limited and repetitive routine dominated by the restrictions of lockdown and remote learning. These may have taken a toll on their feelings of wellbeing. Lockdown and, now, the cancellation of public exams has left many young people with their relationships cut adrift and their sense of purpose rendered (temporarily, and partially, we hope) obsolete.
My colleagues at School have been working hard to address these different issues. I should like to explain some of the measures taken to make your child’s return to School joyful and productive on the one hand, and to deal with the possibly significant impact of two months under lockdown conditions on the other. Everything here is in addition to the excellent work of Mrs Clarke and the Heads of Year, who will be in contact for specific age-group issues on the academic side of School life.
In the following paragraphs, I shall deal with three areas:
1. Horizontal House structure
2. The March Exeat and other operational matters
Perhaps the biggest change is that, when pupils return to School on 8th March, they will in most cases return to a different House: we have decided to adopt the idea of ‘horizontal’ Houses, meaning that pupils will be in a House with everyone else in their year group. There are variations in that system so that:
This means that Sixth Formers will be together in one pair of twinned Houses; pupils in the 5th and Pre-Sixth Form will have a House to themselves, and 3rd and 4th Form pupils will also share a twinned House, in the same way as our current twinned Houses share common room facilities on the ground floor. This change will also involve deepening and strengthening the twinning principle between Houses. We anticipate this structure will remain in effect until the end of the Summer Term, although we will keep it under review throughout next term.
In consequence, and to maintain continuity, your child will keep their existing academic tutor. Inter-House competitions, when they resume, will be contested among the ‘old’ House groupings as well.
The rationale for this change is two-fold:
First, it is a strong, clear and simple way of adopting consistent groupings throughout the school day and week; pupils will be with their peers in lessons and in Houses. This is the most robust, the best way to open a School like King Edward’s and minimise the risk of transmission of COVID within the community.
Second, it addresses head-on the matters I highlighted in my first paragraph above, pupils’ sense of isolation from friends and peer-groups. I fully expect this change to be welcomed by the pupils as a clear opportunity to renew and strengthen their bonds of friendship and shared experience with their peers.
You may remember that we introduced some changes to school routines and systems in order to safely continue normal operations, back in September. Broadly speaking, we will return to those procedures. The most notable change for your children is in lunch, when we have had to stagger lunch across two sittings. This will again be the case: 3rd, 4th and Sixth Forms will take early lunch at 12.20pm; 1st, 2nd and 5th (and Pre-Sixth) Forms will take late lunch from 1.15 onwards.
We have cancelled Exeat in the second half of this term: arrangements for Friday 12th March through Sunday 14th March will be those of a normal school weekend.
From 8th March onwards, weekly boarders, flexi boarders and occasional boarders may resume their preferred boarding nights and go home for the weekends. Please would parents advise their new Housemaster/ Housemistress (email address as shown above) and copy in Ms McFadden (email@example.com), as soon as possible.
I shall write again, before Friday, with details of timings for the return to School on Sunday evening for boarders, Monday morning for day pupils and of the testing regime and times during the week beginning 8th March. After that week, most COVID testing will be conducted at home. On 8th March, arrival times will be staggered.
The impact of lockdown may swiftly recede into the past for many pupils; any feelings they may have, of frustration, anxiety and boredom may disappear with the return of appropriate challenges in work, sport and the co-curriculum, and the chance to socialise with friends. These feelings do not, in themselves, indicate problems in mental health; they are, to some extent, part and parcel of normal life. For others, the experience of the past few months may run deeper. We have all heard much about a mental health crisis among teenagers.
Our Housemistresses and Housemasters, tutors and Heads of Year have kept in touch with their children and will already have a good idea about those who are finding it harder to process the enforced situation of recent times. But in response to the ever-growing awareness of the importance of good mental and emotional health, we have considerably strengthened our provision in this area:
I have written before about our new School Counsellor, Vanessa Edworthy whom many of your children will already have met through Zoom.
In addition to her services, we have invested in a new online portal for parents, pupils and staff: https://www.teentips.co.uk/. Before 8th March, we will provide parents with a coupon and code to gain access to the Teen Tips Hub, containing a wide range of seminars, podcasts, Q and A, lectures and forums which deal with many aspects of the emotional and developmental health of families, especially families with teenagers. The founder of this Wellbeing Hub is Alicia Drummond who has lectured and led seminars in school for some years, on the theme of “Parenting the Teen”. I very much hope that you and your children will explore this growing range of resources, and that you will use and benefit from them.
In respect of support for developmental and emotional issues, I should like to remind you of the wellbeing page which provides further details of some of this.
I am very pleased to announce our close working relationship with Carlton Psychology, a team of professionals offering psychological therapies and assessments for a variety of situations encompassing educational, cognitive and mental health matters.
Finally, we have committed to another set of resources that will further improve our ability to predict, forestall and steer through the inevitable emotional ‘bumps’ along the teenager’s emotional road: AS Tracking and STEER. These are mental health tracking tools that will assist us with the early identification of hidden mental health and wellbeing risks, and equip parents and staff with clear, targeted action plans to reduce risks and to work proactively. These will come into operation in September for many of our pupils, once staff have received full training in their use.
All this gives me enormous confidence that we have assembled a considerable and growing array of skill, experience and expertise in caring for the emotional health, wellbeing and welfare of your children. I hope you will feel reassured that, at a significant moment, we are ready in all senses to work with you to ensure that the coming weeks and months are exciting, fulfilling, productive and secure.
I shall write again nearer to the re-opening date with a summary of these changes, and of other operational matters that you may wish to know.
With my very best wishes,