It’s Good To Be Back

The 164 days between Thursday 19 March and Sunday 30 August 2020 represent, we think, the longest period of time during which Wellington College has not operated as a physical entity since the first Foundationers arrived to be educated in Crowthorne in January 1859. There are plenty of records I want to set during my time as 15th Master but this is not one of them!

What an absolute pleasure it has therefore been to welcome back Wellingtonians to the College this week and to witness our beautiful campus slowly come alive with energy and laughter, purpose and creativity once more. The mood has unequivocally been one of relief and happiness, and I speak for every member of teaching staff when I say that the experience of returning to the classroom, the House and the sports field has been utterly uplifting.

Articles in The Times and The Guardian over the weekend, which talked of pupils unable to concentrate following five months of gaming and health protocols ignored within hours of the restart, were inaccurate and ill-judged given the Herculean efforts which all schools have made, without fanfare, to reopen safely and for the benefit of millions of young people and their parents up and down the land. They certainly do not reflect in any way what we have seen at Wellington: pupils never happier to be at school, relishing the prospect of being back in real classrooms in front of real teachers, and adapting to a new way of doing things with remarkable flexibility and good grace. I am deeply proud of this school, our pupils and our staff, and this has never been more true than this past week.

In many regards, we have all been surprised at how ‘normal’ the new way of doing things seems. The cut and thrust of Wellington classes seems reassuringly familiar, the College Carnival came and went albeit with the obligatory one-way system and for new pupils only, our Oxbridge candidates enjoyed (or endured?) a Saturday afternoon of mock aptitude tests, and the annual Jimmy Higham Welling10K was a resounding success yesterday. Film nights, quiz evenings, year group barbecues, laser-tag, model making and all manner of other activities took place across the Houses throughout the weekend.

Music and LAMDA lessons begin in person this week, year group choirs will swing into action, and plans are afoot to stage Romeo and Juliet later in the term, with year group casts for different scenes. One of the unforeseen benefits of the current situation is that many more pupils will have the opportunity to contribute to the co-curricular life of the College. It has also been a joy to see summer sports take centre stage and those who have been arguing for cricket and tennis in September seem vindicated. We hosted our first inter-school sports fixture on Saturday as our golf team took on Haileybury.

There are things, however, that are not quite right and we will continue to adapt quickly when issues arise. Some of the one-way systems in our academic departments are causing bottle-necks and the challenges of providing 4000 meals a day with physical distancing and where every table needs to be sanitised between sittings have not been insignificant. We are learning, adapting and improving with as much speed as we can and the College Prefects are determined to listen to the views and experiences of all year groups to help inform any further changes to school life in the weeks to come.

Week One also enabled us to test our health protocols and our own track and trace system. It was, of course, a relief when the test result came back negative but the experience was useful not only to see how quickly we could react and isolate close contacts, but also to make a number of tweaks to our processes. Schools are, of course, in the learning business and, during the time of Covid-19, this needs to be as true for the organisation as a whole as it is for our pupils.

In normal times, Week Two of the Michaelmas Term is where things settle down and the rhythm of normality kicks in for both staff and teachers at Wellington. I have no doubt that this will be the case this week and I would like to finish by thanking all staff and pupils for making the past week such a positive experience for us all. They have been magnificent.

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