As the weeks slip by and Autumn fast approaches, it is worth reflecting upon all that we have achieved since we reunited as one community. In the outside world, outdated software, conflicting data and bungled spreadsheets have become an enduring feature of our political landscape. Across the pond, Trump’s novel approach to managing (or should that be stage managing) his own health woes looks increasingly like a scene from some futuristic dystopian drama; the script of which would never have made it past the commissioning editors at Netflix or Amazon Prime.
We live in an increasingly fractured world. I have just started reading Anne Applebaum’s Twilight of Democracy which laments the evaporation of the euphoria which accompanied the fall of the Berlin Wall thirty or so years ago. She points out that the polarisation of politics has torn apart friendships and families. The re-emergence of authoritarian or nationalist ideas in many European states compels individuals to take sides. The falling away of the middle ground has coincided with the pedalling of conspiracy theories and the appropriation of historical narratives for political gain. Pernicious algorithms serve to reinforce existing prejudices via social media. In the UK our response to Covid-19, Brexit, Black Lives Matter and a whole host of other issues often serves to provoke division where consensus and understanding would be so much better. Lively debate is healthy and children learn best when provided with countless opportunities to challenge, explore and develop their own authentic responses to the issues which preoccupy so many of us.
Our Human Universe Course provides the perfect context for our Year 10 and 11 students to grapple with some of these issues whilst acquiring the evaluative skills necessary to critically examine conflicting media stories and reportage. In the Sixth Form, an increasing number of our students are electing to study A Level Politics and I am sure that this is because we really do live in interesting times. In the Lower Sixth, we are exploring the differences between Classical Liberalism and Modern Liberalism and distinguishing between Isaiah Berlin’s conception of Negative and Positive Liberty. As states adopt strikingly authoritarian approaches to the global threat of Covid-19, it seems inevitable that young people will find solace in liberal values and principles first espoused by writers like John Locke back in the seventeenth century. It is fascinating to speculate upon how young people will respond to the experience of living through such intrusive restrictions. I tend to imagine that they will value freedom all the more keenly.
Here in School, we remain vigilant but this vigilance is balanced by an appreciation of the need to provide a safe place where children can be children once again. School without co-curricular activities would be an anodyne one-dimensional experience and I am delighted that we are doing so much more, albeit with attendant risk assessments in place and sensible precautions.
This term we established a weekly ‘kindness’ award which is announced in our Monday afternoon assemblies. It is a recognition of the value that we put upon compassion and the need to serve others. This is especially true during a time when it is impossible for us to physically congregate as a community. Kindness, compassion and empathy protect against the potential atomisation of our community. One thing we have all learned during these times is the importance of feeling connected to one another. Certainty sometimes seems in short supply and we have perhaps learned that there is much which lies beyond our control. However, we can choose to be kind, considerate and caring and these are attributes which our boys, girls and members of staff display in abundance.
As Half Term approaches, we have a tremendous amount to celebrate. I do believe that we have found a workable balance between caution and our commitment to ensuring that children can continue to flourish within a school environment which provides much more than outstanding teaching and learning. There are many frustrations but many of these are social. The Staff Common Room remains closed and we miss our friendly chats at lunchtime. Teachers are sociable beings so enforced distancing is counterintuitive for all but the most introverted amongst us.
Gradually, we are learning to live alongside the presence of the virus. In countries around the world, schools are remaining open and the lives of young people are resuming. There is a recognition that life must go on and that we must not simply hibernate until a vaccine appears. Back in the Spring, a sense of alarm and agitation swept across the world. That has now receded.
At Rossall, it has been replaced by a calm and pragmatic approach that arises out of a collective sense of confidence in the measures that we have put in place. We have learned that we can mitigate risk and contain potential problems effectively. We have become accustomed to precautionary periods of self-isolation and such measures are now seen as little more than tiresome necessities.
There will be a few more bumps in the road ahead but we accept that with an equanimity that is predicated upon the fact that we have evolved into a community that has taken every conceivable measure necessary to reduce risk for staff and pupils. We long for this to be over but we have fallen into a sustainable rhythm that preserves the very essence of what it is to be a community. We are living our lives in a context which allows for joy and fulfillment. More importantly, our children have picked up the threads of their school lives and once more have the opportunity to laugh, play and learn everyday. That, above all else, makes this term a success beyond compare.
All best wishes,