Building the Future
By Michael Windsor, Headmaster

The summer is always a time of renewal for schools even if this latest vacation felt different as we looked back on the previous 18 months of the pandemic and most of us remained in the UK. I certainly enjoyed reflecting as my family and I strode across Dartmoor in the aftermath of Storm Evert, relishing the beauty and wildness of the landscape. After such a tumultuous couple of years, it was a welcome chance to think about what kind of future we want to build for young people and how we can go about doing it.

We have all learnt a great deal over the last 18 months – I can’t quite believe that I had never even ventured onto Zoom until February 2020. There have been significant gains in terms of technology and the role that it can play in building independence in our students but the confines of year group ‘bubbles’, remote learning and the limitations on extra-curricular activities have served to underline some of the key principles behind the way that we organise life at Abingdon.

Our teachers responded magnificently to the challenges of remote learning, moving their lessons seamlessly online over the course of that extraordinary weekend in March 2020, and their ability to do so emphasised to me the importance of professional development for all our staff which ensures that our team can inspire our students and create an atmosphere of aspiration and ambition in all aspects of school life.

But even as we sustained the momentum of our students’ learning, the restrictions of the pandemic underlined the importance of the wider school experience, not least the Other Half – our term for extra-curricular activities. Again, creative solutions were found to keep these going over the past year but I know that staff and students alike are keenly anticipating the opportunity to return to the full breadth and ambition of the Other Half as it is such a key part of Abingdon’s make-up in that it is a vital vehicle for the student’s personal development in its broadest sense.

The lifting of many of the restrictions around Covid enables us to return to the ‘vertical’ arrangements of our day and boarding houses, which means that students are again able to mix with their counterparts of different ages. This allows our older students to take a lead and to set the tone for younger students, building a sense of community and a real sense of belonging. I’m particularly looking forward to seeing parents back at concerts, productions, fixtures and social events so that they too can truly feel part of the Abingdon community.

We all recognise that the pandemic is not yet over and that there are likely to be twists and turns to come. It’s perhaps naive to hope that one of the consequences might be to bring us all closer, as we have realised how interdependent we are. I was delighted that we were able to sustain many of our partnership activities with local primary and secondary schools online through the past couple of years but we hope that these can soon be supplemented with face-to-face activities. Our relationships with other secondary schools, both state and independent, will be formalised this autumn with the establishment of the OX14 Learning Partnership, providing an even stronger platform for partnership work.

During the course of the pandemic we have seen a broader focus on questions of equality as we reflect on the kind of society we want to be. We are committed at Abingdon to opening our gates to as many families as possible by expanding our bursary programme. In the coming academic year 70 students will be supported by bursaries, and our aim by 2025 is for 110 students – approximately 10% – to benefit.

But questions of equality range much wider, of course, and we have all reflected on the problems of discrimination and prejudice. The establishment of an Equality Committee in 2020 has given students and staff members an opportunity to shape Abingdon’s approach to these questions, supporting the Senior Leadership Team as we ensure that we are an inclusive community where all individuals are nurtured and are able to thrive.

We also have a responsibility to consider particularly carefully the issues of misogyny and sexual violence that were raised by the Everyone’s Invited website and the subsequent Ofsted report. Again, both students and staff members are fully committed to tackling these issues. We have reflected upon, and begun to implement measures to monitor and improve our practices. This is ongoing and, we are fortunate to have a strong partnership with St Helen’s and St Katharine’s, just down the road, with whom we are developing a joint approach.

If we are going to build a bright future for all our young people, we cannot neglect the issue of the kind of world that we will pass on to them. Our student Eco Committee has a valuable role to play in raising awareness in the school community as to what we all can do. Certainly Abingdon is committed to sustainability in its building projects and energy use, and we are pleased to see nearly 150 solar panels freshly installed on the roof of our Sports Centre.

This feels like a time of transition – as the new academic year starts and we move from a time of reflection and preparation to a time of action. We recognise and embrace the huge responsibility that we carry as a school to educate the next generation. We want our students to leave Abingdon with a keen sense of their role in our society and an awareness of what they can do to contribute to a better future for everyone. The challenges facing us as we build the future can therefore seem daunting – but I’m filled with a sense of excitement and aspiration as we look ahead and get the new academic year underway.

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