Headmaster's Newsletter Friday 5 June 2020
This week has brought a new vista in our increasingly unusual educational landscape. We now have three year groups on site, in addition to the boys who were already here last half-term, so about a third of us are on Savile Road. The remaining two thirds are at home. We are still all learning remotely, even if we are on site, while my colleagues are doing a phenomenal job of supervising and jollying along, while still keeping the full remote curriculum going. It is, to be honest, bizarre. But it is just one of the unintended consequences of lockdown and our stuttering and slow progress towards what we might, some day, call ‘normality’.
Another unintended consequence is the fact that, even if one third of our community is on site, it is a necessarily fragmented community. We are operating in ‘bubbles’ with contact between those bubbles minimised on site as much as is possible. While this is physically workable, we must guard against some of the psychological consequences of this, especially when we are being told that we cannot share and cannot really play together. In a school where one sixth of our reward system is based around collaboration, this can seem rather odd. That reward system is necessarily becoming lop-sided as we promote the increased independence that inevitably comes with remote learning, while shaving away opportunities for collaboration. At least, collaboration in person. If we are to preserve and promote the community in which we all believe – and which is such a hallmark of a school like NCS – we will need to be imaginative about the ways in which we think about how we all relate to one another now.
You may have encountered the suspicion that can be experienced between two people just passing in the street, if one thinks that the other has not kept the necessary distance, or is breathing too heavily. This social distancing has been a significant part of our experience of lockdown, and it is something with which we are probably going to have to get used to living. But it must not lead to an innate mistrust of one another, a society in which everyone gives a sideways glance each time someone clears their throat. When lockdown began, something very un-British occurred: those few people who did pass one another in the street began saying ‘hello’ to one another, or even perhaps just giving a smile of solidarity, even if they were strangers. That novelty soon wore off, I fear, and many people reverted to staring at the floor, scowling, or jumping into bushes if they thought their six-feet forcefield had been breached. Yes, we need to be vigilant, but we will still have to coexist with one another at some point. This point may not be soon; we still just don’t know. But I, for one, am not sure I could enjoy living in a society based upon suspicion and atomistic self-preservation. We will have to learn to find a middle way – a middle way which, I admit, I am not yet able to describe. That’s the problem with uncertainty. But we must not sacrifice the values we cherish when faced with uncertainty, because those values will be our lodestars as we try to navigate a ‘new normal’ which isn’t really ‘normal’ at all.
Have a great weekend,