Head's Letters | Abingdon Prep School

Letter from the Head, 16 October 2020

Friday 16 October 2020

Dear Parents

Congratulations to all for a successful first half of term. We really appreciate all the kind messages that so many of you have sent in and it has been great for teachers to catch up with parents at the recent parents’ evenings. Our Year 7 and 8 groups will do so after half term.

One of the bigger changes that we have put into practice this half term was the change to the drop off routine in the morning for Years 6-8 over on Cox’s field. This has worked really well and we are hoping to be able to continue with it after half term by building a trackway around the edge of the field. I will be writing to parents in Year 6-8 towards the end of half term to let you know if this new track is ready to go for the first day back. Hopefully with this in place we will be able to maintain a smoother drop off process in the mornings without long queues to exit onto the main road throughout the winter months.

Despite current restrictions, it has been great to be able to show off the amazing scarecrows that our Pre-Prep boys have made and brought in for our Harvest display. Huge thanks to all Pre-Prep parents who have so generously donated food stuffs for the Gatehouse Charity in Oxford to help them continue their vital support for the homeless community there. I know they will be hugely appreciative of our donations. The boys’ scarecrows looked amazing and it was brilliant to hear how much they enjoyed making them. I am very glad it was not my decision when it came to the judging of them this year!

This week has been another busy one in the classroom and whilst walking around school I was fortunate to hear some amazing socially distanced singing from Year 5. They produced an incredibly impressive tone and clarity and they seemed to love performing their song together. The Arts plays such an important role at Abingdon Prep and it is brilliant to see that the boys have had such a productive term so far with their Music, Art, CDT and Drama.

Year 6 Science were working on pivots and levers in their forces unit and deciding what difference length of levers and pivot points made to their ease of use. Year 8 were looking at analysing different sources in History and analysing photographs of war zone damage and writing letters home from the trenches of World War 1 in their English lesson. It was lovely to hear them talk with such a depth of knowledge of that part of the conflict and there was a real sense of empathy towards those involved in trench warfare.

It has been an unusual term so far but the boys have responded admirably and have shown great resilience, alongside a desire to work hard and improve their knowledge and understanding in all areas of the curriculum. I know they will enjoy their break and return to school refreshed and ready to go again. There is clearly some talk of a ‘circuit break’ currently and we will be keeping a close eye on any changes that the government may decide to put into place and communicate with you over half term how these may or may not affect us. Please be assured that we have plans in place for a range of eventualities.

Finally, I should just say that I hope you all have a terrific half term break and that the boys will be able to enjoy their time away from school.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 9 October 2020

Friday 9 October 2020

Dear Parents

I hope you have all had a good week. It seems very strange that we are just a week away from half term. It has flown by and it is great to see that the boys seem fully settled and integrated into all of our slightly new routines.

Year 8 undertook their first trip this week with a visit to the Natural History Museum in Oxford. They had the museum to themselves and were able to explore the exhibits and find out all about the natural world linking closely to their current unit of work, evolution and classification.

On my visits to classes this week I was treated to some really focused and impressive work. 8M in Geography were studying plate boundaries and looking at a destructive boundary with the movement of oceanic and continental plates, whilst in English, 8A were giving persuasive speeches to try to convince their peers to sign up for WW1. 8R were looking at Christianity’s place in the UK in RE and using the census data from the previous census 10 years ago and even making predictions of what the next census will look like.

Year 6 were studying the triangle of Speed, Distance and Time that I am sure is familiar to us all from our time in school as part of their topic on ‘Forces’. There was some impressive mental maths going on with some of their answers.

After half term, for Years 3-8, we have taken the decision to start Rugby, in the ‘Ready4Rugby’ format that Rugby’s governing body (RFU) have suggested should take place. Abingdon School have run this successfully with their boys for much of this term so far and I know, speaking to many boys here, that they are very much looking forward to getting back to playing the sport. This will mean that boys will need to bring in rugby / football boots and a gum shield for the next half of term. There is very limited contact permitted in training sessions so the emphasis will be on the core skills of movement, support, evasion and passing. We will be running inter house fixtures in this non-contact format as well so that the boys continue to gain experience of matches and enjoy a competitive element, although external fixtures against other schools are still not permitted in accordance with the governing body directive. The aim is to then return to Football and some Hockey in the spring term, with matches if permitted at that stage by the sports’ governing bodies. There may also be the opportunity for some Rugby 7s for those boys who are keen to be involved.

Sadly, I have taken the decision not to have our Fireworks evening this year. Having spoken to the company and knowing how much fun is had with our light sabres beforehand, we cannot see a way of putting together a display safely for all. This is very sad for us as we all love the event but hopefully we will come back stronger in a year’s time. I will let you know nearer the time about other planned events, such as the Christmas bazaar but at this stage it is hard to see how we will be able to run it with boys needing to maintain their bubble integrity.

Please could I also remind you of our remote working guidance for boys in Y3-8 that are off school that was sent out a few weeks ago, via email. I have attached it again to this link, for your reference.

After further consideration, we have also decided that the boys in Years 3-8 will remain in games kit after half term as their school uniform, whilst the Pre-Prep will remain in their winter uniform. As the weather continues to turn colder, please do keep sending the boys in with their coats to keep them warm at break times. Not having to get changed for Other Half or Games activities is helping us to limit opportunities for prolonged close contact indoors. We will continue to keep this under review as the term progresses.

I hope you all have a good weekend ahead and that the weather is kinder to us this weekend than last.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 2 October 2020

Friday 2 October 2020

Dear Parents

Another busy week at Abingdon Prep comes to an end and I write this as the rain really pours down outside for the first time this term.

Reception had a very exciting visit from a dentist at the start of this week. They learnt all about the importance of keeping their teeth and mouths healthy and were shown how to do this by an expert. They were brilliantly focused throughout and had lots of great questions as well. It is lovely to see them all settled into school life so quickly and learning so much. I was also treated to hearing them read some key words this week and they are making great progress with their phonics.

Year 2 have been creating amazing monster stories and using models they have made to demonstrate their powers. I had to leave the room when they were describing how some of their monsters had vampire-like tendencies but they were all so engrossed in their stories you could tell they were loving retelling them to the class.

Our first virtual parents’ evenings took place on Tuesday which seemed to work well for our Year 3 and 4s. We are looking forward to the coming weeks and connecting with you all to chat about your son’s progress.

In CDT this week there have been spider creations and tower blocks, which focused on producing height and stability. The boys were learning about, and experimenting with, counterbalances, cantilevers and cross braces to help maintain the integrity of their structure. There was some very impressive lateral thinking going on resulting in towers of skyscraper proportions!

National Poetry Day took place on Thursday and I was lucky enough to spend some time with Year 6 in their English lesson where they were analysing text from their class reader, ‘The other side of Truth.’ They then recited poems of their choosing and some of them even performed poems they had themselves written for the day. It was great to see the boys so animated about poetry.

Year 8 in Geography were describing and explaining key features on maps such as mid ocean ridges, mountain ranges and deep ocean trenches. Their knowledge of these places was great to see and their focus on the task was superb. I particularly enjoyed hearing about the Marianas Trench and the disturbing discovery of plastic by a remotely operated vehicle some 7 miles below the ocean’s surface. Extending knowledge beyond the curriculum parameters is something that never fails to impress me with so many of our boys.

Despite the atrocious weather today, Year 1 has been bravely out and about exploring at Hill End to work on team building skills and discovering nature. I am sure they will have had a great time and I look forward to hearing about their trip on their return.

Finally, I wanted to say a huge thank you to you all for your conscientious approach when your child has developed possible symptoms, helping us all to follow the guidelines and protocols around the Covid-19 pandemic. Please do keep in touch with your form teacher and the office if your son does become ill, as you would normally do.

Best wishes and have a lovely weekend.

Craig

Letter from the Head, 25 September 2020

Friday 25 September 2020

Dear Parents

I hope you have all had a good week and that the first rain of term did not dampen anyone’s spirits too much. The boys have continued to work hard and been busy in school.

Whilst popping into lessons this week I have seen some greatly improved number work from Year 4 in French and perhaps the highlight of my week was listening to the Year 5 wellbeing assembly, with the theme ‘What makes us happy?’ It was great to see the boys really thinking and reflecting on what they valued most in their lives. Friendships, nature, different sporting activities and musical pursuits all came out highly as opposed to material objects like phones or computer games. Taking the time to think about this is really important and I hope that it is something that we have all been able to do a little more of given the current difficulties so many people are facing in this country and abroad.

Included in this week’s mailing is a letter from the Department of Education which they have asked all schools to share to try to help parents with the difficult judgement about what are normal cough or cold symptoms and what may be Covid-19 symptoms which require a test to be taken. Clearly it is the time of year when coughs and colds become more prevalent but we are very grateful to all of our parents for helping us to keep the boys as safe as we can in the current circumstances. If your son is going to be off school for any reason, then please do continue to inform the form teacher and the School office so that we can keep our records up to date.

I am conscious that I said at the start of term that I would be updating parents about uniform in the last week of September. With that in mind, and October just round the corner, I am happy to maintain our current policy of having the Year 3-8 boys in their PE / Games kit with tracksuits and a general use coat, ensuring that the boys are not having to change for any games lessons or Other Half activities with the associated risks of close contact that that may bring. With the weather appearing to be on the turn, please do ensure that your son comes to school with a coat for break times if it is cold and drizzling. They are welcome too, to wear an extra layer which could be a plain (blue / black) coloured sweatshirt under their tracksuit top if they were to feel cold in class. As you will appreciate, we do still need to keep our windows open where possible.

Pre-Prep will revert to their winter uniform from Monday (long grey trousers and warm navy blue winter coat). I will review this again in the lead up to half term and let you know if there are going to be any changes to this policy.

I am looking forward to the first two virtual parents’ evenings next week, for Year 3 and 4 and I know the teachers will be keen to speak with parents and talk about how the boys have settled into the new academic year.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend ahead.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 18 September 2020

Friday 18 September 2020

Dear Parents

It was lovely to see so many of you via Zoom on Tuesday this week and I hope that you enjoyed finding out a little more about routines and expectations from your son’s form teacher. The boys have continued to impress both in and out of the classroom and it was wonderful to hear our Year 6 boys singing beautifully in their music lesson this week, whilst socially distanced – a sound that has been missing at school for many months.

I would like to thank all of you for your vigilance with regards to any illnesses that your sons may be experiencing. Clearly it is a worrying time but it is so important that we all follow the government guidance when it comes to symptoms. Please could I remind you all that it is vitally important that if your son is undertaking a Covid-19 test (or is off school for any other reason) that you let school know as soon as possible, contacting the form teacher and copying in the school office. If your son has taken a Covid-19 test, once you have the result of that test, then please also let us know as we must record all tests taken as Public Health England will want to see that data should they need to speak with us about a positive case. We will not share any names of boys who have taken these tests as we are not permitted to do so. Keeping us updated with all absences will allow us to follow our protocols and ensure that those children who are well enough to work from home are provided with the relevant work.

It is clearly very difficult at this time to distinguish between normal seasonal cold symptoms and those that could be Covid-19 related. With this in mind, I have added below the official list of Covid-19 symptoms for which you should get your son tested according to PHE guidance.

  • new continuous cough
  • fever/high temperature
  • loss of, or change in, sense of smell or taste.

In light of some recent articles from medical bodies regarding symptoms and children, some parents have asked what to do if their son has symptoms that are most likely cold related (sore throat, runny nose etc) and would not normally keep their son off from school. The official government advice, if your son has symptoms that would normally be considered as a cold, is to phone 119 and get their advice on whether your child needs a test and if they should be kept off school. Clearly given the difficulties around availability of testing currently, it is important to speak to those with the knowledge and expertise to advise you.

On a different note, I wanted to share with you a little more about our hot packed lunch offering. Whilst we cannot have all children in the dining hall every day given bubble restrictions and timings, we are very aware of the importance of sustainability within the school and with this in mind, I wanted to reassure you that all packaging and cutlery that is being used to serve these meals is fully compostable and being disposed of in this way. We are taking sustainability very seriously within the current guidelines and will continue to do so in all areas of school life.

Our senior science club is about to embark on an air pollution project with diffusers being used to record air pollution levels on the school site. It is a really exciting project to be involved in with 11 other local schools also taking part, helping to collect data for a local government project investigating air quality around schools. Having written my dissertation many years ago on air pollution, I will be following this project with keen interest, and the boys are really eager to get going with it all.

Year 4 are making excellent use of the terrific weather we are experiencing on their geography field trip today walking along The Ridgeway. Map reading skills and land use will be key aspects of their trip and I look forward to hearing about what they have learned on their return.

It just remains for me to say that I hope you all have a good weekend and enjoy what may be the last of our Indian summer.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 11 September 2020

Friday 11 September 2020

Dear Parents

It has been a lovely first week back in school and the boys have certainly come back full of energy and enthusiasm. I imagine most of them will sleep well this weekend after being so active during their first week! It is great to see how quickly the boys have settled back into school life and are working with the routines that we have set up for them. The separate play areas seem to be working well and the boys are enjoying a range of break time games.

I wanted to thank you for your patience as we work through our new systems at school. We continue to tweak some routines and as of Monday, we are introducing a drop off for Year 6 – 8 boys on Cox’s field to try to alleviate some of the exit queuing times from the site in the mornings. The boys can then walk across the bridge to their respective entry points. There will be a member of staff on the field to guide and support with this. Entry will only be from the A415, directly opposite the main drive, and exit only from the gate by the pavilion on to the A338. Rachel has sent out an email to parents with further details of this new system including an option to park over on Cox’s Field at 4.10 pick up.

Please could I ask that you continue to be vigilant with regards to developing Covid 19 symptoms and if your son does develop any symptoms then get him tested and let us know as soon as you can. There is a flow chart of actions to take included in this week’s mailing which hopefully is clear when it comes to dealing with symptoms and what you should do. It is really important to let us know if your son does develop symptoms at home or a member of the household is contacted via track and trace. Please do contact us if you have queries over any of this.

I am looking forward to greeting everyone virtually on Tuesday at our parents’ start of term gathering after you have dialled into your form teacher’s Zoom room – details of these links will be shared with you on Monday. This will be a great opportunity to meet the form teachers if you have not already done so, hear how the boys have settled back into school and also for you to get any questions answered that you might have.

Work in and out of the classroom has started straight away and the boys have shown they are ready to learn and keen to progress. I was treated to a very long conversation about healthy snacks and their importance in Reception earlier in the week and I have also been delighted to hear about some creative writing in Year 5 focusing on the use of powerful verbs whilst Year 4 were writing postcards and also learning to use a dictionary to improve their language skills. Year 8 Science was extracting DNA from strawberries, whilst Year 8 Geography was discussing the Alpide belt and the Circum Pacific belt (plate tectonics). It was great to see all the classes so focused on the task in hand.

I hope that you all have a good weekend and that the excellent September weather continues through the coming week.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 4 September 2020

Friday 4 September 2020

Dear Parents

It has certainly been an interesting and slightly different summer and I hope that you were able to enjoy some time at home, or on a staycation, or indeed abroad if you decided to travel for your summer break.

It is incredibly exciting to have the boys coming back into school to start the new academic year. It will be great to welcome 37 new boys and their parents to the Abingdon Prep community and I know they will all be warmly welcomed as they settle into life at school.

School will be a little different in terms of routines and remaining in bubble groupings but the essence of school will be the same and the boys will quickly adapt to any new routines that have been set up for them to follow and the teachers will all be there to support and help them settle into the new term. I hope that you have all been able to read through the Q&A document and all the other information that has been shared prior to the start of term.

I have put together a video for the boys to watch before they return on Tuesday (Please click here to view). Please could I ask that your sons watch it before they come back to school as it gives them a few details of key changes they will need to follow on Tuesday and gives them an idea of what to expect. Please be reassured that the teachers will be helping them to become familiar with any new routines over the course of the first few days.

It has been wonderful to have all the staff back in school today ensuring that the classrooms are all set up and that we are fully prepared to welcome the boys back to school. It has been a while since we were all back on site and it will be fantastic to have a full school again on Tuesday after such a long time.

I have no doubt that for some, the return to school is being eagerly anticipated whilst for others, there may be a few worries. We will look after all of them and support them as they get back into the routines of everyday school life and pastoral care will be at the top of our agenda as we start the new academic year.

I look forward to seeing many of you in the car park on Tuesday and thank you in advance for all your help in getting the boys safely into school on day one. If your son is using the bus service to come into school, then please could I remind you that they will need to wear a face covering on the minibus. There will be plenty of staff in the car park to welcome the boys back and guide them to the right entry points via the external hand washing basins.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 3 July 2020

Friday 3 July 2020

Dear Parents

It seems a long time ago that I was writing to inform you all that the school was to be closed for the final week of the Easter term. So much has happened since then. This was not the summer term that any of us could have foreseen at the start of the year, and we should not forget the tragic loss of life, hardship and worry that has occurred, and continues to occur, both here in the UK and across the world. However, I could not be prouder of the Abingdon Prep community, boys, parents, teachers, support staff, and the way they have dealt with the last few months. It has truly had to be a team effort in every respect. The boys have, quite simply, been fantastic and continued to work hard and learn. Indeed, it would be fair to say that in many subjects, we have been able to get through more of the curriculum as there have not been the trips and celebrations that would normally mean fewer lessons for the boys to take part in. They have, of course, missed out on so much that is vital to a child’s development in terms of social contact and play.

It has been great to have so many boys catching up in school during their Year group sessions over the past two weeks and I have thoroughly enjoyed it, as have all the teachers involved; chatting to them and generally catching up on their experiences in lockdown. They have shown resilience and fortitude, and certainly continued to learn, albeit in a very different format.

This week at school has seen our virtual garden games take place which was great fun and congratulations to Phoenix House for coming out on top here (retaining the sports day cup from the real sports day last year!), and I have been especially impressed at the recreating of famous paintings / images via photos that have been sent in by some of our older boys, and indeed teachers!).

We have said goodbye formally in assembly yesterday to a number of our wonderful staff, all of whom will be greatly missed and also to our boys who are leaving us. I know that they will be leaving with great friendships and memories for life.

It will not have escaped your notice that yesterday the government issued new guidance for the return to school of all children in September. Please may I ask that you give us time to digest this guidance and produce our plans for this to happen. As I said last week, we will be very much looking forward to welcoming all of the boys back into school and doing this as safely as it is possible for us to do. We will be writing to you on Friday 21 August with more detailed plans, but I for one cannot wait to have the noise of a full school echoing back through our buildings.

Finally, I hope you enjoy reading through our second edition of ​APS News​ (and watching the videos too). Looking at this, it would have been hard for me to imagine back at the start of April quite how much fantastic work the boys would have produced over the course of the summer term. The boys should all be very proud of themselves. Thank you too for all of your amazing support during these past few months. Receiving thoughtful and heartfelt messages has made such a difference to everyone and cannot be undervalued.

I hope that you are all able to have a great summer break and enjoy staying at home, going somewhere in Britain or even managing to go abroad if that is what you have planned. For me, I will be watching the announcements from the ECB (English Cricket Board) carefully to see if I will be able to play at least one game of cricket in August!

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 26 June 2020

Friday 26 June 2020

Dear Parents

It has been fantastic to see almost all of the boys back in school this week, even if just for a short window. I know that they have really enjoyed the sessions and been able to spend time chatting to each other and to their teachers. Such simple pleasures, but I hope that we do not forget how important these aspects of day to day life are when we return a more normal daily routine.

It has been a scorching week and the boys are definitely glad to be in their PE kits whilst in school. Despite the high temperatures and the fact that we have now been learning remotely for so long, some of the work being produced by the boys is exceptional. I was blown away by the terrific presentations given by 8R for their Science Crest Awards. We had subjects ranging from the size of a solar farm needed to power Oxford to a new design of a take away pizza box and its thermal efficiency properties. The boys had to create experiments to test their hypotheses and the level of knowledge and understanding on show was incredible.

Year 5 will be taking on the challenge of French cooking this weekend and I was very fortunate to see the most amazing creme caramel video which was sent in. It certainly puts my cooking skills to shame!

Over the past few weeks, we have been able to build a new play area for our Pre-Prep boys in their playground at the back of school. I cannot wait for the boys to be able to use it next term and I know they will love having their own equivalent to the fort (but with a bigger slide!). This has been a project we have been working on for some time so it is great to have it finally come to fruition.

We continue to plan for next term and with the government’s announcement (just after I sent my letter last week) that they are aiming for all children to be back in school for September, which was welcome news. Clearly many things can change in the coming months but we are working hard looking at key details for the logistics of this that would enable all the boys to be back. I will be in touch again later next week with further details.

I hope you all have a terrific weekend and I look forward to seeing the boys back in for their sessions next week.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 19 June 2020

Friday 19 June 2020

Dear Parents

We have been dodging the downpours here at APS this week but I am looking forward to some sunshine next week. This will be welcome as we are starting to get all the year groups back into school for some pastoral and social interaction over the course of the next fortnight. I am really looking forward to this as for many it has been a very long time since they last stepped onto the site.

I thought with this in mind, it was a good opportunity to share with you our thoughts about what school may look like in September and the planning that we have been undertaking.

We will continue to be led by the government guidance regarding the reopening of schools but this guidance has, as yet, been limited so we are looking at two possible options and how we can make them work best for Abingdon Prep. We will of course be monitoring the situation throughout the summer and we will continue to communicate to parents when we have information to share, so do please keep an eye on your emails during the holiday.

Our overriding concern is the safety of our pupils and staff. We already have a very comprehensive risk assessment which we put together for the reopening of the school. This has been shared with you previously, and for those parents who have boys returning for sessions in the final two weeks, I have shared it again earlier today with some additions referencing this return. Please do take the time to read this along with a new Q&A document, which was again shared earlier with the relevant year groups.

The two options we are working on for the return to school in September are:

Option 1: ​The School reopens with all pupils in every day.

This is clearly our preferred option. However, if this were the case, we may well need to adapt some of our events if large gatherings were still not permissible, for example, we may not be able to have sports fixtures, whole school assemblies or social events after school. The Other Half would continue wherever possible.

We are evaluating the health and hygiene implications for all aspects of school life from the Joint Bus Service and lunch provision, to medical protocols, uniform, use of shared facilities, changing rooms and cleaning.

Option 2: ​We provide a combination of remote learning and lessons in school for pupils.

Should the government guidance indicate that group sizes in school must be limited, we will put in place a rota system whereby pupils would be in school for the majority of time, and accessing live lessons remotely when at home.

The logistics for this option are complicated and would work differently depending on the year group of the child. Although this would be a challenging scenario, we are confident that we can find a genuine solution that will allow the boys to spend most of their time in school, receive excellent pastoral care, academic teaching and continue their involvement in the Other Half.

I am sorry that we cannot provide more clarity about the arrangements for September as yet. We will keep parents updated on our plans as and when further government guidance becomes available.

I would like to say a heartfelt thank you for all the kind messages of support that have been shared in recent weeks. The teachers, support staff and I are all greatly appreciative and feel proud to be part of such a close knit school community.

I hope you all have a good weekend.

Best wishes

Craig

Craig’s assembly to boys on Tuesday