Head's Letters | Abingdon Prep School

Letter from the Head, 15 January 2021

Friday 15 January 2021

Dear Parents

I hope that you have all had a good week and remain well, along with your families during this current lockdown. It seems to me that the darker evenings and wet weather makes this a harder time for so many of us in comparison to the first lockdown but it is with hope that I listen to the daily updates on growing vaccination numbers for the most vulnerable in society.

The boys have continued to work hard in their lessons and I have been really impressed with the quality of work that I have seen coming through from so many of them via Google Classroom. It is not easy to sustain focus online for such long periods and I hope that the boys are ensuring, in line with my assembly this week, that they are getting away from their desk at break times and moving around, and also continuing to exercise and update their exercise logs.

In Pre-Prep I have loved seeing some of the live Zooms on the classroom screens in Key Worker School and the boys working hard on the tasks in front of them.

I know that for some this is a very difficult time and if boys are struggling with their work, please do ensure they talk to their teachers about it and what can be done to support them.

With all this in mind, as a foundation we have decided that on Friday 29 January we will be having an afternoon without screen time where lessons will not be taking place and the boys will not need to dial in to any Zoom sessions or do any school work. We are aware of the fact that many boys, and indeed staff and parents, will have spent a lot of time in front of a screen over the ​previous​ four weeks of term and we feel that time spent off screen then and over that weekend would be a great break for them. So, we will be setting up a voluntary challenge which boys and families can choose to participate in that afternoon if they wish – details of the challenge will be shared nearer the time. However, there is no compulsion to be involved in that, it could simply be an afternoon of quiet reading, relaxation or dog walking. The only stipulation we have for the boys is that they cannot be in front of a screen.

We would love to receive any photos or videos of the boys’ challenge or activities on that afternoon and hope to put together a slideshow / video to share with the boys during an assembly. We feel that after four weeks of term this will be a great time for the boys to step away from their screens. Hopefully that will also encompass the entire weekend as well.

For those boys attending Key Worker Care, they too will be taken away from their screens and will either participate in the challenge or have other activities set up for them. I understand that there may be some boys or families who may wish to do half a day of KWC instead but we will be in touch with families nearer the time regarding this.

My thanks again must go to all of our amazing key workers around the country who are continuing to help us all through this difficult time.

I hope you all have a good weekend and stay safe.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 4 December 2020

Friday 4 December 2020

Dear Parents

There was a small part of me which was a little disappointed not to see snow on the ground this morning after the forecast earlier in the week for a Friday covering. Our Christmas trees are up and fully decorated in the Hall, alongside our brilliant ‘Give Thanks Tree’ and recycled non-plastic decoration tree in the entrance area. It is certainly beginning to feel very Christmassy in school. We will be having our Christmas lunch next Thursday and raising money for our school charity, Be Free Young Carers, by wearing a Christmas jumper for the day. I look forward to seeing the full range of Christmas creations!

We are gearing up for our recorded carol service which we will be sharing with you on Thursday next week. Sean and I will be introducing it live on zoom and you are all invited to join us before sharing with you the link to hear all of the boys in action. Our Carol Service is always a highlight of the calendar and I am saddened that we cannot run it in person at St Helen’s Church this year. However, it will be great to hear the boys in action and celebrate the message and magic of Christmas together.

The boys have been working hard in this penultimate week of term and I have been fortunate to see so many exciting learning activities taking place.

In Reception, despite being at home completing their isolation, they have been unbelievably busy. They have used various scaffolded techniques for letter writing to Father Christmas and they have also learnt about addressing envelopes and using stamps. The Christmas theme continued through their computing lessons with augmented reality – dancing with snowmen and reindeer!

In Computing, Year 7 has been getting into the Christmas spirit by producing stop motion animations using Christmas Tree decorations and presents. The results of their work were very impressive and they all seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the task.

Perhaps the highlight for many of the boys this week though was their live drawing classes in Art. Toby, the spaniel, came for the day to act as a model and was beautifully behaved throughout, allowing some fantastic drawings to be produced by the boys.

I wanted to take this opportunity to pass on huge thanks to our JPA for their organisation of the virtual beer tasting and Christmas Wreath making events online last week. I have heard that both events were very enjoyable and a real success. Today we have also shared with you in the mailing our JPA Christmas shopping brochure with some wonderful gift ideas for Christmas. This has been put together in lieu of our Christmas Bazaar which could sadly not take place this year. Sally, our new chairperson, has been a driving force with all of this and I would like to thank her publicly for her efforts.

We have taken the decision that we will continue to ask the boys in Years 3-8 to come into school in the Games / PE kit next term. Our Pre-Prep boys will continue in their winter uniform. This will continue to limit the need for changing in changing rooms and the number of close contacts that could occur as a result. We will of course continue to keep this under review in line with any government guideline changes to school settings.

I hope you all have a lovely weekend and I imagine that many of you will be putting up your Christmas trees at home. Hannah and I have our collection slot booked for Saturday morning and will be decorating away with Quinn tomorrow.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 27 November 2020

Friday 27 November 2020

Dear Parents

I wanted to start my letter this week by thanking all of you for your wonderful support during what has been a difficult week, given our first positive Covid-19 cases at school. It has been incredibly heartening to have received so many very kind and thoughtful emails from you. The boys in school continue to work hard and for those year groups at home, I know that their learning is also continuing apace. It really is vital that we all continue to follow the procedures in school for keeping safe by washing hands, sanitising and social distancing.

The weather certainly took a wintry turn this week but it was lovely to have a number of competitive touch rugby house matches take place on Wednesday afternoon for some of the year groups. The boys have missed playing in matches so it was great to see them working hard for their teams and enjoying competition again. The standard amongst the Year 8s, the group I was working with, was fantastic with some wonderful handling, passing and running rugby being played.

In the classroom this week our Year 5s have been continuing to write their Victorian Crime novels. There were certainly echoes of Sherlock Holmes running through their storylines but I was hugely impressed with the descriptive language being used to set the scene and draw the reader in to the ‘whodunnit’.

In Year 8 the boys have continued to learn about Buddhism and the five precepts. In a very short space of time I was taught a huge amount about the precepts and was incredibly impressed with their understanding of them and their knowledge of the wider Buddhist faith.

In Year 3 the boys’ poetry unit came to a great conclusion with their animal shape poems now proudly displayed in their classroom. They all worked so hard on using similes and poetic language to produce poems they can be very proud of.

Please could I ask that everyone takes extra care in the car park when collecting your children in the afternoon or evening. With the evenings now drawn in, it can be rather dark at pick up times in the car park and it is imperative that the boys are safe and seen when they are crossing over to their parents’ cars. Please do be extra vigilant when using these areas.

I hope that you all have a good weekend as we move towards the end of lockdown and as we move into Tier 2 at that point. Please could I ask that all parents continue to wear their face coverings if getting out of their cars at drop off or pick up. Your support with all this is hugely appreciated.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 20 November 2020

Friday 20 November 2020

Dear Parents

I hope you have all had a good week and I would like to start by thanking you for continuing to support us at school with our measures for keeping our community as safe as we possibly can at this time.

The boys have been working hard in all sections of the school. Year 4 has been continuing with their class reader, ‘War Game’. It has tied in really well with remembrance service last week and I enjoyed reading some of their letters home to parents from the soldiers, excitedly journeying on transport ships across the channel to join the Western Front, not yet aware of the perils that would await them.

Our Year 8 choir members were getting in some practice this morning for our Christmas celebrations at the end of term. Socially distanced throughout the hall, it was lovely to hear such impressive singing and even though we are still in November, it certainly reminded me that Christmas is not too far away!

I was treated to some amazing tower building from the Year 6s this week in their CDT lesson. The boys were meticulous in their builds and one tower was even taller than some of the boys in that group! It was certainly obvious that they were enjoying their work.

In Reception, the boys have been working on their fine motor skills and they managed to teach me how to safely hammer nails into a pumpkin. It was great fun and I was very impressed with their control of the hammer and there was not a thumb injury in sight!

Last term, during lockdown, our Other Half Rock School activity continued online and we found out this week that all 6 of the boys involved have excelled themselves by managing to pass their Rock School guitar exams, either electric or acoustic, with merit. This was all done remotely and the boys should be very proud of their results.

Tonight sees our first JPA event of the term. The online family Quiz is taking place at 7.30pm so if you do find yourself at a loose end and have not yet signed up, please do get involved. Rob’s questions are always great fun and it will be a lovely start to the weekend. Good luck to all of the participants and thanks to Rob and the JPA for putting on our first virtual event of the term.

I have continued to be impressed by the resilience of our boys during this second period of lockdown and I hope that you are all coping well with the current restrictions and enjoying spending time together as a family. Once again this weekend, I will be walking with Hannah and Quinn down to our local bridge over the River Ock for our customary session of pooh sticks! I can thoroughly recommend it if you are looking for something to do this weekend.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 13 November 2020

Friday 13 November 2020

Dear Parents

It has been a very poignant week with our Remembrance service taking place on Wednesday. The boys observed the two minute silence beautifully and Toby played ‘The Last Post’ and ‘The Reveille’ incredibly well on his trumpet. Our Year 8s have continued their English work studying war poetry which has given them a huge insight into personal stories and experiences of the men and women involved in the Great War.

Year 1 this week has been incredibly busy in Forest School with great excitement around bug hunting. A wide range of bugs have been sighted including centipedes, millipedes, worms, beetles, woodlice and ladybirds. In English, the boys have been testing out some of their science skills investigating whether pumpkins can float as that is the means of escape for all the creatures from the flood in their book, ‘Pattan’s Pumpkins’. It was lovely to hear them talk so excitedly about the book and ingenious means of escape.

In Year 6 Maths the boys have been studying imperial and metric measurements, and building on the boys’ independent projects last week (which included weighing and measuring their dogs, international news reports on escaped animals and a cooking show with imperial weighing scales). This week they have been trying to create a metric conversion machine. It has been great to see them applying their mathematical skills and knowledge to such a creative activity.

In Year 5 RE the boys were producing scrolls, of the Dead Sea type, reporting on the prophecies of a saviour coming into the world. Next week they will be presenting their versions of the prophecies to the class.

Year 7 has been keeping a very close eye on the weather over the past few weeks and I was delighted to be treated to a weekend weather forecast on a visit to their Geography lesson. I was hugely impressed with their knowledge and explanations of cold, warm and occluded fronts, but disappointed to hear that we might be getting rather wet this weekend!

It was good to catch up with all of our Year 7 parents at this week’s virtual parents’ evening. The technology has worked well and we are looking forward to the final parents’ evenings of term next week with our Year 8s.

As last week’s newsletter introduced, we have numerous JPA events coming up over the next few weeks so please do sign up to some of them – details via Classlist. They will be a great way to have some fun and also further build our community during this period of lockdown where wider social interactions are not able to take place. Huge thanks again to the group for all their work in setting these events up. The family quiz is first up next Friday evening.

I hope that you and your wider families are all remaining well during this period of lockdown. Thank you too for wearing masks whilst dropping off and picking up your boys when getting out of your cars. Keeping our whole community as safe as we can at this time of course remains a priority.

I hope you all have a good weekend ahead.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 6 November 2020

Friday 6 November 2020

Dear Parents

I hope that you all enjoyed a good break at half term and the boys seem to have come back in great spirits and ready to take on the challenges of the second half of term. Clearly life outside of school has once again changed with the second lockdown and I hope that our entire community is able to stay safe in the coming weeks. With this in mind, please could I ask that if parents are getting out of their cars at drop off or pick up, that they wear a face covering as they escort their son to and from their entrance / exit points. I know we have all become accustomed to wearing face coverings in everyday life so I hope that this will not be seen as too much of an imposition.

New DfE guidance released on Wednesday evening states, ​“W​here schools are offering extra-curricular activities (that is, before and after school clubs) they should only do so where it is reasonably necessary to support parents to work, search for work, or undertake training or education, or where the provision is being used for the purposes of respite care.” ​We have considered this very carefully and we are going to continue with all of our after school clubs as we know that our parent body needs them to support them with their work, be that from home or elsewhere. Please do le​t​ your son’s form teacher and Karen, in the office,​ know if you will be collecting your son instead of the club and you are welcome to pick them up at 3.30 for Pre-Prep and 4.10pm for Y3-8.

This week has seen Stefan deliver Remembrance assemblies to all of our year groups. It was lovely to see the boys so focused on what Stefan was sharing with them, especially the moving images that were on show and the incredible numbers relating to different events in World War 2. We will be having our Remembrance service with the boys on Wednesday 11th in school at 11am. It will of course be socially distanced. Huge thanks to all of you who have so generously contributed already to our poppy appeal.

I am delighted to be able to share with you that we have a new Josca’s Parent Association Chair now in post. Sally Povolotsky, who has a son in Year 5, has offered her services in this role. She has a huge amount of experience from previous schools with parents’ associations and I know that she is planning on being in touch with you all via our first JPA newsletter. There will be details on upcoming virtual events and how you can all get involved. Huge thanks to all of our class reps and JPA volunteers for giving up their time and expertise to support the school and our boys. Nigel Coltman has also very kindly agreed to support with the treasurer aspect on the committee alongside Cathy Hughes.

It seems that no matter what is thrown at the boys, they are able to show great resilience and continue with school life in a positive and proactive fashion. This week, the boys in Years 7 and 8 have adapted really well to wearing face coverings around school, which again is now written into government guidance.

I hope that the start of lockdown has not been too difficult for any of you so far and we will continue to keep you informed of any changes to guidance from the DfE which will have an affect on what we can and cannot do in school.

Best wishes

Craig

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