High Master’s Blog

Term-time weekly blog from the High Master, Sally-Anne Huang

Thursday 14 January 2021

I hope that you and your sons managed to have a restful Christmas break and are enjoying the start to the new term.  As you have heard from my colleagues, I had the full 2020 experience, contracting Covid-19 as term ended and I have had a phased return to work this week. I cannot express my gratitude to members of the school community in strong enough terms, given their wonderful support over this period.  You will have seen first hand how senior colleagues stepped up during a time of great uncertainty in education and I had so many kind messages from staff and parents.  The experience has only cemented further how fortunate I feel to be here at St Paul’s.

Equally, I am conscious of the stresses upon us all during this strange period of history.  The global news cycle alone can be distressing and, like people the world over, the St Paul’s community are relieved that democracy has held in the USA.  However, it’s a world where young people might easily be unsettled and the hope of the team here is that school can remain a place of stability, inspiration and support, even though we are operating remotely. It is really encouraging that our attendance at the beginning of the first week of term stands at 99.7% as our pupils return to remote learning and this clearly indicates how connected they remain to their peers and teachers.

For those in the Sixth Form and Upper Eighth in particular, we recognise that the ongoing debate and indecision around public exams is unhelpful for pupils’ mental health. We will keep you fully updated of any further developments as the situation evolves. Our pastoral team is always available to any pupil who may need extra support, and I would like to remind all pupils to speak to their tutor or Undermaster if they feel they need additional help or just a friendly ear.

We also appreciate the importance of co-curricular activities for the pupils’ wellbeing at this time, and in particular, the opportunity to exercise. We are delighted to offer up to five different live staff-led sporting sessions in each of the games halves, supplemented by Monday and Friday lunchtime circuits and sport specific programmes from a variety of sports, as well as online PE lessons as part of the curriculum.  Pupils will be able to view all these activities, alongside Societies and music, on the Co-curricular Hub.

We continue to offer our well-received virtual events programme to our wider community and I am looking forward to the return of Topical Tuesdays and the Entrepreneurship Network taking place next week. The first Topical Tuesday features Shanker Singham OP discussing the emerging UK trade and domestic regulatory policy in the wake of Brexit.   Please do encourage your sons to sign up for these events too as they offer a unique form of academic enrichment.

Closer to home, although the school site is currently closed to the majority of staff and pupils, we continue to work on the feedback received from the Hammersmith Bridge survey. Those parents who expressed an interest in flexi-boarding once we return to the school site have been contacted and we will continue to update you on other proposals over the coming weeks.

It only remains for me to wish you and your family good health in these difficult times and to thank you for your continued support.


Thursday 10 December 2020

At the time of writing, I am looking forward to this evening’s Music Concert, listening to the Sixth Form’s radio comedy, Jack Sheppard, and experiencing a socially distanced version of The House of Bernarda Alba at the end of this term.  It is my sincere belief that the experience of Covid-19 and the inability to access creative experiences which we previously took for granted, have only underlined the importance of the performing arts in all of our lives.  I am thrilled, therefore, that the staff and pupils at St Paul’s have found innovative ways to create and perform this term.

I have been visiting tutor groups in the last few weeks and will continue to do so in the New Year. I have been heartened and inspired by hearing all that the pupils value about the school.  I know that an element of freedom over how they use their time and the importance of sports, clubs and performance are a priority to them and I am grateful to Dr Tom Killick, Deputy Head Co-Curricular, and all of my colleagues who contribute to the co-curricular programme for providing so much this term.  We will continue to work on this in the months ahead.

I also know from speaking to the pupils that the closure of Hammersmith Bridge is impacting many of them.  Thank you to all those parents who completed the survey we sent out recently.  Looking at your feedback, there is no single, clear solution that is consistently favoured – other than the repair of the bridge which is beyond our control!  However, my colleagues and I are looking at changes we can make to improve things for the pupils next term.  They are adjustments rather than wholescale change but I hope they will help.

In terms of Covid-19 management, the Department for Education has confirmed that ‘track and trace’ remains the responsibility of the school for any pupil who has a positive test and was symptomatic within the last 48 hours of term.  Therefore, if your child has symptoms during term time and subsequently has a positive test, then please contact the school even after term has ended.  This remains a huge responsibility for the school but one which we take seriously.  I am grateful to Matt Nicholl, Director of Operations, and Greg Cook, Compliance Officer, for their work on this and for the consistent high standards they have applied to control measures throughout this term.

We now keep our fingers crossed for a smooth end to the term so that your sons can enjoy the events we have planned and start the holiday fit and well.


Thursday 3 December 2020

I am very aware that Advent is a Christian season and that our community is made up of those of all faiths and none.  However, I can never help but feel that 1st December drags us out of dark Novembers into a more optimistic time, where celebrations are on the horizon and, good food, good company, and a chance to rest seem a lot closer than they did last week.  And never has there been a year that needed its festive season more than 2020.  My colleagues at St Paul’s have reinvented the school more than once this year; in the Spring they went remote successfully and since September they have run new tutor arrangements, re-designed clubs and sports and coped with ‘blended’ teaching with a proportion of their pupils learning from home.  The pupils themselves have faced as many challenges with uncertainty around public exams, new rules as they move around and, for many, enforced periods away from the school site.  We are so proud of how they have responded to all of this.

With hopes of a vaccine, a holiday and perhaps even a ferry on the horizon, we have never deserved December more.  And I have to admit to being uncharacteristically excited by the arrival of the Christmas trees in the last few days, especially in that the year group ‘zones’ mean that there are trees in every section of the school. It has proven impossible to welcome as many pupils into my study this term as I would have hoped (although we have done our best to make arrangements where we could) but I am at least able to have a large Christmas tree in my window which overlooks Founder’s Court, so I hope many of them will look up and feel that we are sharing the joy of the approaching holiday, as we have all shared so much this term – together whilst apart.

With every good to wish to you and your families at this time.


Thursday 26 November 2020

It was great to ‘see’ so many parents at the ‘Meet the High Master’ event earlier this week and I am grateful to the prefects who joined the session to share their experiences. I am sure you will agree with me that they are a credit to the school and I hope that many younger pupils were able to listen in and hear their views. Thank you to everyone who raised interesting questions during the event.  We were able to address most of them on the night but some were very specific and will be answered elsewhere; they have all been captured.

As you are already aware, we had a further positive case of Covid-19 in the Upper Eighth this week. We are very aware of the pressures upon that year group at this time and we understand the frustration that this causes to many of them. We continue to work closely with them to offer as much academic and pastoral support as we can during these uncertain times and they will be receiving further guidance on the assessment programme from their subject teachers within the coming weeks. If there are any specific concerns, please raise them via your son’s tutor in the first instance. This also applies to any pupils in the Sixth Form who are worried about the uncertainty around public exams.

In spite of all these challenges, Paulines continue to thrive and to achieve in a number of areas. I am delighted to let you know about the school’s success in the Senior Mathematical Challenge, with 35 students qualifying for the first round of the British Mathematical Olympiad, the school’s highest number of entrants in at least eight years. I am also greatly looking forward to watching our creative and talented actors and musicians in the virtual performances of drama and music over the coming weeks. As the new High Master, I have been able to attend lessons, societies and extra-curricular activities at the school in recent weeks.  I am only sorry that parents do not have the same experience of being on site.  However, I know you would be very proud of your sons if you could see them in action on an average school day.

It only remains for me to wish you and your family good health in these difficult times and to thank you for your continued support.


Thursday 19 November 2020

I hope that this finds you well and that you and your families are surviving the colder weather and darker evenings.  At school, we have continued to roll out outdoor heating to the covered awnings we have in every year group ‘bubble’ and the pupils seem to be taking advantage of those so that they can still get outside.  The introduction of recreational games and Futsal has also proved popular this week.

Many of you will be aware that the state of UK education during the pandemic continues to make headlines.  Exams have been cancelled in Wales, with suggestions for addressing the regional inequalities in experience being debated here in England.  At St Paul’s we are keeping a constant eye on this situation and doing all we can to ensure that your sons have every opportunity to provide evidence of their ability.  The Sixth Form and the Upper Eighth are especially in our minds and we are continuing to work hard to give them as much academic and pastoral support as we can in these uncertain times. We are hoping that Government announcements will occur within the next few weeks to give them the clarity and certainty they so richly deserve. We will keep in touch with you and them as the situation develops.

Next week, I will be taking part in another ‘Meet the High Master’ event via Zoom.  Whilst parents cannot come on site, we thought you might want to hear more about the pupil experience this term and I will be chatting to prefects about their views and life at school.  I know that many parents will wish to discuss the continued challenges posed by the closure of Hammersmith Bridge and, whilst this will be covered in the Zoom call, we will also be surveying parents and staff next week to have an up to date understanding of the impact of the closure and to learn more about what we at school might do to mitigate that.  We hope as many of you as possible will find time to respond.


Thursday 12 November 2020

This has been a memorable week in school as we have marked Remembrance Day.  Yesterday, our Chaplain, Reverend Matthew Knox, conducted no less than nine outdoor services in order to allow the boys to come together in their year group bubbles, not just to pay their respects to those in the armed services, past and present, but also to contemplate how we can all make a commitment to peace.  As he said, it was an act of coming together in spite of the need to remain apart.  In the evening, I was privileged to conduct an on line interview with Graham Seel, Head of Humanities, in which he shared his experiences of researching the lives of the 86 Old Paulines who fell in the Ypres Salient 1914-1918.  If you did not get to listen live, I fully recommend it – you can find it here.

Last week, I wrote to you about the new government guidelines for school during the second lockdown.  At the time we were still seeking clarification and knew that schools could interpret them in a number of ways.  In the last few days, we have taken advice from teacher associations and lawyers and now feel more comfortable in reversing some of the changes we felt we might need to make.  Therefore,  I am pleased to let you know that all weekend activities, including sport and drama, will resume as normal from this Saturday.  We do appreciate, however, that some families may wish to keep their sons at home at the weekends for Covid-19 related reasons and therefore, whilst we are in national lockdown and until 2 December in the first instance, these activities will be optional.  Please let your son’s coach, activity leader or, in the case of Fourth Form rugby, Director of Sport, Nigel Briers, know if you would like your son to be excused.

I am also delighted to let you know that we will be offering recreational games at lunch time for all year groups from next Monday.  I am extremely grateful for the work of my colleagues in risk assessing and offering to supervise this in order that it can be made possible under current restrictions.  I know the pupils will appreciate it!

It only remains for me to wish you and your family good health in these difficult times and to thank you for your continued support.


Friday 6 November 2020

It has been a pleasure to welcome pupils and teachers back to school following the much needed Remedy.  It is clear that the boys’ enthusiasm for life has not been dampened by all the external challenges we face.  With further news of their successes as well as information about an architectural award for our new building; there is much to celebrate.  In fact, as the nation enters lockdown for the second time, school feels like an oasis of near normality.  It will be a privilege to continue to come into this unique place of work every day and, although I know opinions around the potential closure of schools are divided, I, for one, am delighted that we have been allowed to continue to support our pupils on site.

We do not underestimate, however, that the second lockdown will put increased pressures upon families.  If you are concerned about family members who are extremely clinically vulnerable, or the measures we have in place, then please contact us via the Covid-19 management email address.  Similarly, if your son is finding that this is an anxious time and requires additional support, do let us know via his tutor or Undermaster.  We are especially aware of the uncertainty still surrounding public exams and we will continue to plan as best we can for potential decisions and to keep you informed when we know more.

You may be aware that the Department of Education has also issued new guidelines for schools with regard to clubs and extra-curricular activities out of normal school hours. In responding to this, we have, with regret, decided to cancel all Saturday sport for the time-being and starting tomorrow.  Other co-curricular activities during the working week will remain in place, details of which can be found here.  The GCSE Drama rehearsals scheduled for Sunday will also be going ahead as an activity related directly to the academic curriculum.  As I am sure you will understand, it is counter-intuitive for us to remove any opportunity from the pupils however we are trying to meet the requirements made of us in a national lockdown and feel that the guidance does not permit extra journeys for extra-curricular activities.  It might also be said that this guidance is open to interpretation and, therefore, you may find that different schools have made other decisions and we will certainly be reviewing things on a regular basis.

I remain impressed (but not surprised) by the sensible approach that Paulines have taken to Covid management.  The vast majority have been excellent at remembering to wear their masks, in particular.  With the new restrictions in place, you may also want to remind them that parties and social events outside of their family bubbles are not allowed and may result in complications for their peers who will become close contacts in the event of a positive Covid test.

May I take this opportunity to thank you all for your continued trust in St Paul’s during this global pandemic, and to hope that this second lockdown does not pose too many difficulties for you and your families.


Thursday 16 October 2020

As we approach the two week break for Remedy, my first thoughts are ones of gratitude for all that has been achieved over this half term.  I cannot express how thankful I am to the teaching staff and support teams at St Paul’s who have worked so hard to keep everyone safe whilst continuing to deliver a first class education to their pupils in all subjects.  I am also grateful to the parent body who have worked with us in the face of a number of challenges including positive test results and the lack of Hammersmith Bridge – and impressed by the good sense and undaunted enthusiasm of Paulines.  Seeing them in lessons and enjoying extra-curricular activities in recent weeks has been my greatest joy as High Master and I am looking forward to being able to do that more often as the term progresses.

In recent days, we have also been making plans to open up more activities in a safe and secure way.  However, I know parents will be aware that the new Tier 2 announcements may impact upon our ability to do all we would wish and I will be back in touch with you during Remedy if we have to make adjustments to the current provision in any way.

You may also be aware that the Government announced this week that, with the exception of mathematics and English Language GCSE, all regulated GCSE and A Level examinations would be delayed this summer until the start of June and conclude in the first week of July. The timing is designed to give pupils up and down the country more time to prepare for these examinations whilst still allowing time for the results to be processed without delaying the start of the Autumn term for either schools or universities. As with any announcement, it does leave some questions unanswered but we are expecting further clarifications in the next two months. Some of our IGCSEs and international A levels are not covered by this announcement, but we are following this up with the relevant examination boards.  In response to this, we are reviewing our examination preparation programme to ensure we are able to offer the best support we can for our pupils. We will of course keep you informed as the situation develops.

It only remains for me to wish you a happy and healthy Remedy period with your families – and we look forward to welcoming our pupils back in November.


Thursday 8 October 2020

I hope that this finds you well and that your sons are continuing to enjoy the term, in spite of our need to cope with some positive COVID-19 tests in recent weeks.  Please may I re-iterate my thanks to the boys for their sensible conduct at this time and to the families immediately impacted for their rapid support which has made handling these situations so much easier.

As you may know, I have been hosting the virtual HMC Conference over the last three days; I am hugely grateful to my colleagues for their support which has allowed me to do this. As Chair of HMC (the Headmasters’ & Headmistresses’ Conference), I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to reflect upon the current situation in schools through my speech to members.  This gained some media attention, most focused on my request that the younger generation be afforded some respect.  Therefore, I thought that parents might wish to have sight of the entire speech – not in that I feel you have need of my views, but more because it makes reference to the positivity of our fantastic pupils at St Paul’s.

In other positive news, I am delighted that Walters and Cohen, the architects of our new General Teaching Buildings, have been shortlisted for an award for design excellence. The virtual awards gala of the American Institute of Architects UK Chapter, is due to happen on 28 October.

Finally, may I thank you for your continued patience as we continue to cope with the lack of Hammersmith Bridge.  We are as frustrated as you are by the lack of progress by those in authority over this problem and we continue to look for options which might make life easier for you and your children.


Thursday 1 October 2020

This week has obviously presented challenges to the school given our first positive Covid-19 diagnoses of the term. With the national picture, this was always probably when rather than if. The boys who have been affected – and indeed the whole year group – have been entirely sensible and helpful which is pleasing but in no way surprising. I am hugely grateful to the teams on site for professional and prompt action and to the teachers for delivering remote learning to the Lower Eighth.

In spite of this, the school continues to flourish – the Club competitions are up and running, our talented pianists are preparing for a virtual piano recital in October and the Thomas Gresham Committee is hosting the annual fundraising quiz next Thursday to raise funds for the Bursary Appeal. Today also marks the beginning of Black History month and there are a number of events planned over the coming weeks which will reflect this year’s theme of “Dig Deeper, Look Closer, Think Bigger.” Whilst inclusivity should be part of all we do and is addressed throughout the year, we still feel it’s important to mark this moment in the calendar.

On a personal note, many of you will be aware that I am the current Chair of HMC. I will be hosting the association’s conference from Monday- Wednesday next week. It is an enormous privilege to represent the independent sector at this time, when everyone in education is working so hard; we will also be discussing topics specifically relevant to St Paul’s, including arts and music education and the future of the curriculum. The ‘virtual’ nature of the conference will mean that I will remain very much in touch with the school during this period. However, as you know, we have exceptionally strong leadership on site at all times and I am grateful for the support of my colleagues at this time.


Thursday 24 September 2020

Many thanks for your continued support as we operate in the world of Covid-19; the boys have continued to respond to guidance and – at the time of writing – we have had no positive cases.  Obviously, our lives are still full of hand sanitiser and risk assessments but there is an increasing sense of normality around the school too.  It was fantastic to see so many boys playing touch rugby in their year groups on Saturday, and I have also had the privilege of beginning lesson observations as High Master this week.  This has been a pure joy, with both teaching and learning at exceptional standards, even with restrictions in place.

We are acutely aware that recent headlines may be contributing to anxiety for our pupils.  Please do let us know if you feel your son needs any kind of increased support. I am especially aware that the Sixth Form and Upper Eighth must be concerned about public exams – or the potential lack thereof.  I know the academic team have stressed that pupils should not feel that every piece of work is life changing.  Their teachers will guide them on this and balance the need to provide evidence of standards with the importance of wellbeing.

With every best wish to you and you families.


Thursday 17 September 2020

We have had another positive week in school and I remain grateful for the cooperation of the pupils and the hard work of the staff.  It has certainly been a joy to see so much sport happening on site and I know the societies and club activities are growing too.  It has been a remarkable achievement to get things up and running so smoothly.  When Caroline Gill, Fourth Form Undermaster, told me that some of her new pupils had declared that school was ‘fun’,  I knew we were succeeding in overcoming the limitations of the world in which we currently live.

Sadly, we are still having to make choices we would rather not make and find the best possible outcome when the ideal scenario is not possible.  Thus the parents email had from Dr Killick yesterday regarding Colet Day.  We are disappointed not to be meeting in the cathedral but I am grateful that Rev. Knox has come up with an alternative to mark the day and still join in with St Paul’s Girls’ School.

As the term goes on, we continue to re-invent ways of keeping our community as vibrant and engaged as ever.  Amongst other events, we have had a virtual open day, an online event for new parents and (a particular highlight for me) a ‘Topical Tuesdays’ lecture from Professor Bailey.  Do let us know how you think these things are going and if you have suggestions for other ways of communicating.  In the meantime, I hope this finds you well and that your sons have enjoyed all that has been going on so far.


Thursday 10 September 2020

This has been an interesting week for me as I have settled into life at St Paul’s.  Of course, it is an enormous privilege to be joining this exceptional community and I have had a long time to look forward to it.  However, many of those I meet expect me to be somehow disappointed or anxious given the numerous curve balls and hospital passes that are landing on all school leaders’ desks this month.  Yes, we are opening in the middle of a pandemic.  Yes, the A level and GCSE experience was like no other.  And yes, to add to all of that, there is a closed bridge.

Yet, at the risk of sounding too Dickensian, if these are the worst of times, they are definitely bringing out the best in people.  And, in many ways, I have been fortunate to arrive at the school at this precise moment since there can have been few times when the professionalism and care of colleagues, the respectful and considerate approach of pupils have been more on display.  I am sorry that parents cannot come on site right now but, if you could, you would be so impressed by the hard work of the support teams (the cleaners, caterers, estates and security teams have been the backbone of all we are doing), the flexibility of the teachers and the positivity of the pupils.

I am aware that you have concerns, as we do, arising from the limitations of these times.  There are lots of separate voices speaking loudly about Hammersmith Bridge and many different ideas for a possible solution.  Please trust that the school is exploring all possible avenues with local and central government and other local schools.  We are also in touch with the project team working on the bridge on a regular basis. We will keep you in the loop as we know more but please trust that we are as concerned as you are regarding the present situation.  You can find more information about the shuttle bus service below, but we are adjusting this service in these early days in response to the feedback coming in, and I am glad that this is supporting so many families.  We are, however, aware that lengthier commutes are impacting on boys’ time in the evening and the academic teams will adjust homework expectations in the short term to balance this.

We have also had some parents get in touch with regard to the co-curricular programme given the limitations imposed by Covid-19 control.  This has been up and running since Tuesday and our intention is for it to grow as the term progresses. Dr Killick has provided more details.  We are aware that many families would like to see greater provision for music and that is also on our agenda. I do know that some of our decisions around Covid-19 may seem draconian but, as schools around the country are already being partially or wholly closed, we must do all we can to limit exposure to the virus and to keep the pupils at school, where they belong.

I would like to thank those of you who participated in the Zoom ‘Meet the High Master’ event on Monday.  That was a new experience for me!  However, it was certainly very useful as a two way means of communication and it is now our intention to repeat the event at suitable times during the year.  In the meantime, I would not want you to feel that we underestimate the challenges before us as school community – but I am confident that we will be able to face them.


Thursday 2 July 2020

We have finally reached the end of the most disrupted term in British educational history since World War II.  A skeletal staff has kept the school site open throughout lockdown; the transfer to remote learning has been very successful; and the shift to phased relaxation of lockdown has been navigated as best we can, in order to welcome as many pupils back to site as possible.  We have also attempted to keep the community active in lockdown.  This monumental exercise in adaptation has required flexibility, commitment and goodwill right across the community: for which, thank you.

Many pupils and staff have struggled with the lack of direct social interaction, and some have been denied the opportunity to say farewells as they would have wished.  The departing Upper Eighth Form have been exceptionally cohesive and friendly as a year group, and have consequently set a consistently positive example to the rest of the school.  A clutch of academic staff are leaving, and we thank them for their service and wish them well hereafter.  The quality of the relations between staff, pupils and parents—informal but purposeful, more akin to a university than a school—is one of the defining characteristics of a Pauline education, and it is founded upon the contributions of such colleagues.

Richard Girvan has been here since leaving Cambridge University, and he returns to the fenland capital as Principal of the Stephen Perse Foundation.  He has influenced the lives of many in 17 years here, and—on top of all else he has done—he has been a central figure in creating the outstanding safeguarding and pastoral systems and culture that are unrecognisable from those when he became Surmaster in 2012.  We wish him and his family well.

Paulines are independent, smart, savvy, sassy, and fun, and those who are also self-aware are supremely well equipped to serve society.  Working with and for them has been a delight.  Schools are highly complex institutions, with multiple human interactions, so leading them is an inexorable mixture of unpredictability, challenge and reward.  St Paul’s is an exceptional school—by history and acclaim—and consequently these characteristics are amplified.  The last nine years have been the most challenging and rewarding of my professional life.  I have been grateful and humbled to have been tasked with steering the most impressive super tanker of its type on the educational oceans.  The quality of the people on the vessel, and their manifest belief in, and passion for, the school have rendered the task much easier.  Thank you.  I look forward to following its progress and continued success.


Thursday 25 June 2020

As we come to the end of this school year, the last for our departing Upper Eighth and for me, I am struck by what a surreal term it has been for all of us. Disorienting, confusing, anxiety-inducing, and in many ways dissatisfying. I think all of us have shown incredible resourcefulness and resilience, and responded as well as we possibly could to the circumstances and I particularly wish to thank my colleagues for all they have done to ensure continuity of teaching and learning and school administration since 20 March.

It has also highlighted for me, shortly before I leave, the things I will miss about St Paul’s. The face-to-face contact with pupils and colleagues, the atmosphere in the atrium, the lively debate around the dining tables, the camaraderie and connection on the sports fields, the sounds from the Pepys Theatre and the Wathen Hall, the bonhomie around the site.  For our Upper Eighth, I hope, it has been a brilliantly enjoyable and wonderfully enriching 5 years (or two for those who joined us at 16). For me, it has been 17 years of exactly that. I am hugely grateful to all of those I have had the chance to be alongside during that time, and will remember St Paul’s with great fondness.

I wish the school community every success as it continues the work to overcome the challenges presented by our present situation, and then to use what we have learned through this process and over recent years to remake an even better school in the future, continuing the work already begun to make us more diverse, more inclusive, more environmentally conscious and sustainable, more equitable, more supportive. I look forward to returning from time to time for OP and community events and hope to see you there when I do. Have a fantastic summer and all the very best in the months and years ahead.

Richard Girvan – Surmaster – Head of the Senior School

Thursday 18 June 2020

This week we have welcomed back onto site small groups of Fifth Form and Lower Eighth pupils, while remote teaching continues for the majority of Paulines.  The government has prioritised the return of primary age pupils, and we will increase the number of SPJ pupils on site further from this coming Monday.  All of this is subject to compliance with the government’s strict guidelines, which requires the school to produce risk assessments for each section of the school, to preserve 2m social distancing, and to confine pupils and teachers within small ‘bubbles’.  Most of the teachers onsite have volunteered to return, and I am most grateful to them for their willingness to do so.

As a result of the government guidelines, our onsite capacity is greatly reduced.  We have considered the prospect of some return for other year groups before the end of term, but the numbers and groups could only be small, and the logistics are impossible within current guidelines.  A reduction to 1m social distancing for September would make a material difference to our operational capacity.

Meanwhile, the recent national protests to raise awareness of racism are understandably a trigger for self-reflection, heightened awareness and institutional action, and members of our community have been active in offering a varied range of perspectives.  Our responses will be well-considered, enduring and aligned with our values.  A Pauline education teaches pupils how to think, not what to think, and also promotes tolerance and self awareness.  Such qualities are essential to addressing inequality.  They are the qualities that Thomas Clarkson, Old Pauline, possessed.

These are also the qualities which, I hope, contributed to the remarkable achievement of having two OPs on the shortlist for the Wolfson Prize for History this year.  The winner, David Abulafia, is from an ethnic minority background, and the other OP, Toby Green, has re-written the history of pre-colonial Africa, and written a new A Level module for OCR History on the same subject.  This is not a boast, but a genuine expression of pride: and also a recognition of our continuing and future responsibilities.


Thursday 11 June 2020

Next week, we look forward to welcoming the first group of Fifth and Lower Eighth pupils back on to site, in line with government guidance.  The R rate in SW13 is low by national standards, and we have extensive risk mitigation measures in place, so we are confident in these tentative steps.

We have no hint yet on what will happen in September, because that will be determined by the unfolding trajectory of the pandemic and the government’s response.  It seems likely that much more onsite activity will be permitted—we certainly hope so—and that would be greatly aided if the social distancing measure is reduced from 2m to 1m.  We are already planning for a range of scenarios, and we will keep you informed as the government guidance is released.  The sports programme will also be influenced by the evolving advice from the relevant sport governing bodies, but, again, is likely to be curtailed.  We expect that a good deal of other co-curricular activities can go ahead with appropriate risk mitigation.

Over the last week, we have received a number of letters and petitions from OPs and Paulines urging the school to tackle the societal issue of systemic racism, and we have posted our response on our website and social media channels and the statement is available below.  The response underlines what is already available to Paulines, and what else we intend to do.

Yet this is not a matter that we have suddenly begun to address, although the appalling events in the US are a powerful reminder of the need for action.  We do encourage all Paulines to attend existing school societies, such as BAME or Spectrum, which seek to celebrate diversity of identity and offer a platform for conversation on feminist, BAME and LGBTQ issues.  We also encourage them to participate in our volunteering programme. Finally, the cultural building blocks for tackling inequality are the behaviours that we actively promote: kindness, tolerance, compassion, and self-awareness.

There is still much to do, so the sooner we are all back onsite together, the better!


Thursday 4 June 2020

I hope that you enjoyed the Remedy break, and are keeping well and safe.

As I write, all pupils are adjusting to the new post-Remedy timetables, the Sixth Form are starting their A Level subjects, and the Upper Eighth can choose from a menu of University taster courses. I am especially grateful to staff for constructing the latter programme from scratch, and for creating such an enticing range of options.

In line with government guidelines, this week we welcomed back the U2s into SPJ for lessons: around 80% attended. The government also recommend that Years 10 and 12 return to schools from 15th June, so we are preparing a programme of activities for these year groups at SPS (the 5th Form and L8th) from then until the end of term. The government are clear that these pupils should not return to a full timetable, and only one quarter of each senior year group can be onsite at any given time, but we will be offering a mixture of activities, instruction (e.g. career, universities) and face-to-face time with teachers. Parents have been surveyed, and, like SPJ, we expect about 80% of the pupils will be onsite. Detailed risk assessments are constructed, and have been shared with staff and relevant parents for comment in advance of the pupils’ return.

Just before Remedy we surveyed parents about the online provision to date, and the results were very pleasing. Well over 90% of 270 respondents were positive about the pastoral support, about their child’s engagement with the teacher and other pupils, and about teacher responses to requests for help with learning. Heads of Department report that progress through course material has been good, so there is little sense that pupils are behind because of the shift to online teaching and learning. There were some areas of improvement for us to concentrate upon, especially online co-curricular provision, as a result of which we have just launched an online hub and other initiatives. We all acknowledge however that there is no substitute for us all being gathered together onsite.

Meanwhile, we have a variety of virtual community events to keep you connected this half term. Dr Ben Still, a Physics teacher here, kicked off a very well attended session on Tuesday evening, and details of future events are given below.

We will of course keep you informed of our plans going forward when we know what is happening. Thank you for your understanding in this fast changing and novel situation.