27 March 2020

Dear Parents

At times of crisis or challenge, we often turn to the arts for solace or escape. Recent events have certainly brought to my mind these well-known lines by John Donne:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

At times of challenge, we depend on our friendships and relationships more than ever. The particular difficulty we are faced with at this time is that in exceptional and unprecedented times we have been deprived of our normal opportunities for socialising and getting together with our friends and companions, while spending more time than we might be used to with our families! Seeing the School so strangely empty while bathed in sunshine this week just underlines the incredible energy and purpose that the School has when it is in session.

But while I have missed the boys’ physical presence around school, it has also been exciting to see them engaging so positively with their digital learning. I suppose that this is a space in which they have essentially grown up and with which they are familiar. The statistics from Zoom, gathered on Wednesday evening, are staggering in themselves. In the few days of working online, we held more than 4000 meetings. 29,000 participants joined those various meetings, meaning there was an amazing 467,000 minutes (just under a whole year) of participation.

I would like to thank the boys for throwing themselves into their online schooling with such enthusiasm. It’s been great to stay in touch with them via social media. I particularly enjoyed the hockey obstacle courses shared by the hockey club on Twitter (@hockeyabingdon) and am grateful to the parents of the boys concerned for their tolerance at letting their houses and gardens be converted! House debating has also proved to be a great online success.

I am very grateful to my colleagues who have grasped the mettle in moving online with such determination and commitment. It requires considerable time and planning to set up a successful online lesson and I know that teachers have worked extremely hard to ensure that the transition to remote working was successful, often while juggling childcare and family responsibilities. We will be reflecting over Easter on our experiences of the past week to refine further our offering for the Summer term.

I would also like to thank you all for everything that you have done to ensure that the transition has gone well. I am very much aware that many of you are facing very challenging work situations and are also in a period of rapid transition and adjustment. Thank you therefore for supporting your sons and enabling them to thrive. I am also very grateful indeed to the many parents who have written in to thank colleagues and with constructive feedback, which has been much appreciated. My thanks also go to the parents who have been in touch following the letter from the Chairman of Governors and me earlier this week, offering to pay full fees as normal in order to support families who are facing hardship.

The current situation is of course particularly tough for the boys in the Fifth Year and the Upper Sixth. We are very much aware that they are in need of guidance, especially as the Easter break is about to start. We are putting much thought into ensuring that they receive clear direction and support. This is taking some time to put together as we are also waiting for some further information from the exam boards but we will be communicating a detailed plan with these cohorts very soon. Until then, I suggest that the boys concerned enjoy a well-earned break from their studies over the weekend.

We will be sharing further information about the plans for the Summer term for other year groups shortly.

This will be an unusual holiday. Our provision for the children of key workers will continue, with cross-Foundation support available at Abingdon Prep School; please see the separate message in today’s Weekly Mailing for more information. In my podcast, which the pupils will also receive today, I have emphasised the importance of routine, even in the holiday period, and particularly the need to support their parents at this challenging time; I hope they live up to this!

We want to continue to support the boys through the break as we know that some may find it very challenging. Our counsellors will be running their normal service through the first week of the holiday and your son’s tutor is on stand-by should he need support; email will be the best means of contact. Housemasters have shared lots of ideas and challenges with their Houses in case boys need further stimulus during the break and our librarians have shared lots of suggestions for reading with the boys via email and Firefly.

Although the term has inevitably been overshadowed by the coronavirus crisis, it is important that we celebrate everything that the boys have achieved, both on- and off-line. I hope therefore that you will enjoy the ‘Term in Pictures’ which captures many of the highlights of the past few months.

Finally, I would like to express the Foundation’s appreciation for all those people who are integral in helping our countries get through this crisis. Many parents, relatives, partners and OAs are putting their own health at risk to help us. We cannot thank them enough.

Wishing everyone in the Abingdon community all the very best,

Yours sincerely

Michael Windsor

More News