My long-held conviction that September is the best month to be a teacher has taken a bit of a battering this year! Normally, I absolutely love the return to school.

Even after two decades in teaching, there is something quite thrilling about handing out fresh exercise books, meeting new students, and picking up conversations with colleagues after the long summer break. Summer 2020, of course, did not give anyone in education much of a break: the national confusion surrounding public exam results issue, and the extensive planning required for Covid protocols, meant that September suntans were less dazzling this year for most of us. Most distressingly of all, I found out on the first morning of term that someone had broken into my house and replaced all of my work trousers with ones two sizes smaller. Please can that person own up and hand them back?!

Given the tyranny of the new hygiene rules, and the disruption to normal planning wrought by Ofqual’s U-turns, I have been so proud of how teachers have got lessons off the ground, and how students have taken the interminable hand-sanitizing and mask-remembering in their stride. Something approaching “normality”, whatever that is, feels a bit closer every day. The amazing new dining room has settled down, the vast majority of quarantining and displaced students are back in school, and our dozen or so new staff have had a taste of the warmth (though not yet the bar!) which characterises our wonderful community.

Naturally, we all have a keen eye on the national picture, particularly relating to changes to assessment and exams in 2021 and beyond. The good news for students is two-fold. Firstly, we were as a school relatively unscathed by the scourge of ‘Covid learning loss’. Secondly, to use a golfing analogy, students can only play with the clubs they’ve got. They are the age they are once and once only. Most things are well outside their sphere of control and not worth worrying about. As with every preceding generation, the sole thing our young people can control is how much effort they put in on a daily, weekly, or termly basis. This is why our three-weekly effort grades are so important, and I am pleased that the first clutch of grades are being harvested today, so that we have a snapshot of how students have settled in and developed positive work routines.

So, it is going to be a long term. My hope is that, just as remote learning brought joys in unexpected places e.g. the astonishingly good Saturday morning Scholars’ talks on Teams, this term of ‘blended’ education will, in turn, surprise us with unanticipated moments of beauty. I hope that these will be captured in subsequent Couriers and I will report back in person later this term.

May I wish everyone the very best of health and happiness, this autumn term.

Damian Henderson, Deputy Head Academic (Senior School)