Dear Old Bedfordians,
I write at the end of a wonderful first week back at your old school. This time of year is always special, but it feels particularly so this year as we slide ourselves gently away from Covid restrictions and return to some semblance of normality. There continue to be a whole raft of unusual situations for the school, ranging from the serious to the trivial, all bringing with them the need for novel solutions. Having only been here for two terms in the last six, I was shocked to find a good many boys whom I am failing to recognise – some of the younger ones I have never met properly; others have grown so much. But then one realises that if I could not recognise them physically after a year or so, just imagine how much their brains, minds and attitudes had changed in that same period. As a staff, we are very aware of this, and are working hard to get to know the boys well again. Then there are logistical challenges, not unlinked in some cases. For instance, the Remove Form had never even entered the Main School Building until this week – last year, when at school, they had taken lessons in a “bubble” on de Parys Avenue; the teaching staff (except for science, art and one or two others) had travelled to them. The departments (and teachers), therefore, did not have a home “base” – so much of the social contact between them is now being renewed, too. And then, frankly, the bizarre. We have started these last two terms with the EMH set up as a Covid testing centre for the whole school. A mixture of our staff and volunteer parents will have conducted about 2000 Covid tests by the end of this week; we do our own track and trace; and we own our own PCR machine (which provides results within an hour), so that as little teaching as possible has been lost in the last 18 months.
And so, thankfully, back to “normality”! Oundle arrives this afternoon and we have 16 rugby games planned across Prep and Upper. The grounds are hard (plus ça change!), but look wonderful. Even there, Covid has had its say – when the 1st XV posts had to come down in April 2020, we could not do it because we needed a minimum of 4 people in close contact to do so (apparently the Maltby family volunteered!). When we got round to putting the posts out again this term for the first time in 18 months, the ground staff needed metal detectors to find the holes!
It is therefore not only exciting and enjoyable to be back up and running, but also a huge relief. Numbers in the school are remarkably strong – we start term with over 1100 for the third year running (only the second time that has happened, in fact, since the 1990s); and the baseline testing in each of the last 6 years has shown them to be academically stronger than any of the previous five. Of course, we have to do our bit. We were very pleased with the destinations of our leavers this year and they – and indeed all news headlines from the school – can be seen by scrolling through the news pages on our website here. If you are interested (apparently, to my own shock, some are!) you can find my assemblies there, too.
Boarding is not easy, nationally, and we have suffered a little on this front – and, though this year sees a rise in numbers again (surely few schools could say that this year), we are not out of the woods here. Please feel free to help with recommendations/referrals on this front; and do please get in touch with me if you feel you can help from overseas, which is an understandably hard market at this time. The boarding housemasters have been brilliant through the pandemic looking after boys at strange times of the year.
Strategically, aside from the obvious (academia, sport, the arts etc), we had set our stall pre-pandemic to focus our attention on three core strategic aims around digital technology, community partnerships and entrepreneurship – and how prescient that now seems! We were well ahead on all three when Covid struck, and they have served us and the boys extremely well over that period. We will continue on that vein as we exit, but acknowledge that we are also spending increasing time on issues of diversity and inclusion and environmental awareness. And, physically, I am hoping that I may be able to share our masterplan for the next few years on the Estate more widely soon, as we are approaching the end of our planning on that front.
Finally, my thanks, as ever, to you all for the support and loyalty you show to your old school. The Old Bedfordian Club really is the most remarkable of clubs and seems to have not only found a way through the pandemic, but simply thrived. I wish you all some happy times ahead and look forward to seeing you back at your old school, or out at an event, some time soon.