19th March, 2020

Dear Year 11 Parents/Guardians,

Never before has the announcement of a Secretary of State for Education been so eagerly anticipated and when it came, the lives of so many young people were turned upside-down. At a stroke, all of the certainties about progression through GCSEs and A Levels to university and beyond have been undermined and we are still unsure how the government intends to award qualifications in these circumstances. We have been led to believe that this will be revealed tomorrow. I suspect that this will only yield more questions and inevitable concerns about fairness and natural justice. Please rest assured that the school will seek to play its part in the framework established by the government and we will be motivated by a desire to support your sons to the best of our ability in the circumstances.

I have often said that there is so much more to education than examinations and that we need to be preparing our students for a rapidly changing world.  However, I had never anticipated that your sons would receive an education without any examinations at GCSE or that the world could change so dramatically, so suddenly. Irrespective of the qualifications awarded by the process to follow, your sons have developed knowledge, understanding, skills and character, which will stand them in good stead for their lives ahead. They have also made friends and delighted in countless experiences in the classroom, in the concert hall, on the playing fields and on many trips and visits. They have received an excellent education and it will be of no less value to them for the lack of an exam season in the summer. It is my hope that they will have some fantastic memories of their time with us and they are well set for the challenges and adventures to follow. In many cases of course, they will seek to continue their education with us in the 6th form, although there are uncertainties about when schools will re-open for this to happen.

I had the opportunity to speak to the Year 11 boys who were in school today in a specially convened assembly. As I am sure you can imagine, this was a very emotional affair. The boys were magnificent in the circumstances and I was so proud of their response in such tumultuous times. I promised them that this would not be their last opportunity to come together as a year group and celebrate their time with us at the school. We will be arranging another occasion at some point in the months ahead to meet up again to celebrate their collective and individual endeavours, irrespective of their destination after the summer.

In the assembly, I also raised the importance of maintaining good mental health and a positive mindset in the current situation. It would be all too easy for the boys to descend into a period of self-absorption and depression and we must avoid this at all costs. A short period of computer-gaming and Netflix consumption may be appealing in the short term, but they will tire of this quite swiftly and the point at which normal life will resume is not clear. Please discuss the 5 ways to wellbeing promoted by the NHS with your sons. This is a really useful framework to think about keeping a healthy mind. I offered a few suggestions in my assembly, which I have repeated here:

Connect: Stay in touch with one another as much as possible – draw upon one another for strength and comfort. Meet up if it’s safe to do so, but otherwise keep connected online. Stay in touch with us at the school if you need support and help – we plan to be available where possible.

Take Notice: As more and more aspects of our lives are changed and restricted, keep a focus on the things which provide pleasure and happiness which still remain – take notice and be appreciative of the small things that you may otherwise have taken for granted.

Keep learning: Developing new understanding or a new skill is fulfilling and satisfying and this needn’t be for the sake of securing a qualification. Learning is intrinsically pleasurable and it should never stop throughout life. You might want to learn a new language or instrument, or you could even consider making a start on the syllabus for your A Level courses – we will give some thought to the way in which we can support students to begin this process in the weeks ahead.

Be Active: Even if restrictions are eventually placed on exercise outdoors, there are plenty of exercise regimes that can be accessed online, including High Impact Interval Training and weights training. Keeping active promotes mental and physical wellbeing

Give: We have heard many comparisons with the Second World War in recent days. Some of these are asinine and inappropriate, but it is certainly true that we are living through a period in history that will be studied for generations to come in school classrooms and university halls, just as countless students have studied the War since 1945. As we live through an historic moment it might be worth thinking about how we will look back upon our response as individuals in this moment of crisis. Did we sit on a sofa and feel sorry for ourselves? Or did we seek to make a difference? There is an opportunity here for many boys to do something really special and contribute to the national effort. Giving back to others will be so important in this time and doing so will help the development of a sense of purpose and positive mental health.

With regard to the last point, your sons may be well-placed to support – if they are fit and healthy, they are less vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic and they will now have a great deal of time on their hands. There are opportunities ahead to do some remarkable and potentially life-affirming actions that reach well beyond the conventional UCAS personal statement. For example, we have received a request from one of our parents who is a consultant neurologist with the Epilepsy Centre in Chalfont St Peter who desperately needs help in supporting about 100 elderly and vulnerable people in care. Like so many organisations, they are now understaffed and in desperate need of support. Lives may well be dependent upon the help that they can receive. Joshua, his son, suggested that he could encourage his friends to apply as volunteers and take on the role of bank staff / care workers. Unfortunately, the centre has stipulated that the applicants must be 18 or over, but some of our willing 6th form students may be able to help - they could do something incredible. There may be other opportunities to volunteer and help out which are available to boys who are not yet 18 and we will share these as appropriate.  Equally, we would encourage your sons to explore ways to help out for themselves.

Finally, thank you for all of your support and partnership over the years. It has been a pleasure working with you and your sons. Keep safe, and good luck!


Ian Cooksey

Published on 20/03/2020

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