Head's Letters | Abingdon Prep School

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

Letter from the Head, 12 June 2020

Friday 12 June 2020

Dear Parents

At the start of the week, the government announced that they would not be recommending all primary year groups return to school before the summer break, and I wanted to give you an update on our thoughts over this.

Whilst it is clear that maintaining the bubbles in school negates the possibility of further year groups returning under current social distancing guidelines, we are investigating the possibility of getting Years 2 to 5 into school for a couple of afternoons (different days for each year group) during the last two weeks of term to spend time with their teacher and each other. We feel that this would be a positive step for the boys to have some pastoral contact with their teachers and also with each other. This would, of course, be in strict bubbles and whilst the whole year group may be in, the two groups would need to be kept separate. We are currently working on the mechanics of this and I will let you know more once we have been able to put a clear and fully risk assessed plan in place.

As it currently stands, according to government guidance, Years 7 and 8 are not going to be allowed to return to school this term. We will, of course, keep a close eye on any changes that might be made to guidance and keep this under review.

This week, I have been delighted to see some wonderful videos uploaded by our Year 3s singing their ‘Rainbow Song’ and some fantastic artwork and CDT projects being shared. The boys are clearly enjoying the creative subjects as well as maintaining their efforts with the remote learning for their other subjects. At school, with the new England Cricket Board guidelines, we have even been able to have our first socially distanced cricket nets for some of the boys.

The boys who have returned to school seem fully settled into the new routines and are continuing to work hard. It was typical that this Wednesday afternoon it decided to rain which then restricted what sporting activities the boys could get involved in.

On a different note, as I have explained to the boys in my Friday video message, please could I ask that you remind your boys that if they have a live Zoom scheduled for a lesson, the boys are expected to turn up to it. The teachers are there to support and help them with their work and the live sessions are vital for ensuring that the boys fully understand the task set and are able to get any questions answered or additional guidance.

I hope that you are all still well and able to enjoy a little more social interaction with others now that there has been a small relaxation of the lockdown protocols regarding outside gatherings.

Best wishes

Craig

Craig’s Friday message to the boys

Head’s Assembly

Letter from the Head, 5 June 2020

Friday 5 June 2020

Dear Parents

This week has seen a welcome return to school for those year groups that have been directed by the government and for those of you who are interested, I have attached my video for the boys that I shared today as a link at the bottom of this letter.​ ​Hopefully it will give you an idea of what the classrooms look like and what they have been getting up to in break times.

It has been lovely to hear the sound of laughter and see the camaraderie back in the school buildings and at break times. The boys in school have taken the social distancing measures very seriously and been swapping stories about their lockdown experiences. It is so important that we do continue to maintain the clear bubbles that are helping to protect the Abingdon Prep community. Huge thanks too should go to parents for being so supportive and patient with the new routines at drop off and pick up times.

Reception and Year 1 seem to have been up on their feet dancing every time I have seen them at work this week, either in their maths sessions or PE. I would imagine both boys and teachers have been going home rather tired at the end of the day!

For those boys who are not back in school, it has been great to see more of their videos being uploaded and also to look through some of the great work that is being submitted. The Year 7 ‘toilet roll challenge’ video is well worth a watch if you have yet to see it and the cereal box advertising campaigns in Year 6 maths also brought a smile to my face.

I hope that you were all able to enjoy the half term break and that the boys are ready for a final push with their remote learning over the coming weeks. One of the differences this year, compared to all others, is actually that the boys will be focused on their work and lessons for a longer period of time as we are not able to run the trips and celebratory events that always take up such a significant portion of the second half of term.

We will still run our end of term prize givings remotely to recognise the efforts and achievements of the boys but lessons will continue all the way through into the final week of term, allowing the boys to continue to work through the curriculum for all of their subjects. My Tuesday assembly message of focus and practise will stand them in good stead as they navigate through the next four weeks of term.

I hope that you are all still well and that the slight easing of lockdown measures this week has enabled you to catch up with loved ones that you have not seen for the past two months.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 22 May 2020

Friday 22 May 2020

Dear Parents

We have reached half term and it has certainly been a period in my educational life that I will never forget. Today, I have sent the boys a video thanking them for the way that they have approached their work this term. It has been an entirely new way of learning and could certainly be described as uncharted territory for them, as well as all of their teachers and their parents. The boys have, like their teachers and parents, risen to the task and I am so encouraged to hear from teachers how well most of the boys are working and I have seen some amazing examples this week of fantastic work from Pre-Prep all the way through to Year 8. Resilience and perseverance have needed to be shown by the whole Abingdon Prep community and I am very proud to have seen this from all quarters.

Today, in this letter, I am sharing with you our risk assessment for the phased reopening of the school for year groups Reception, 1 and 6. Assuming that there are no changes to government guidelines, we will welcome back boys in these year groups on the 1 June. I would ask parents with children in these year groups to read the risk assessment carefully so that you can be reassured that we have put in a raft of measures focusing on keeping your children and our staff safe. You can download the risk assessment ​here​ (it takes a few seconds).

I have also included a link to our Q&A document in which we answer questions that were raised from the survey that you all kindly completed last week. There were many key questions and I hope that by reading this Q&A, in combination with our risk assessment, it will help you to gain a more detailed understanding of the way we have planned to reopen to these year groups. You can download the Q&A ​here​.

Next week, we will be sending through some further specific communications to those year groups regarding the return to school with key reminders for the boys. I will also be sending out a video to Year 6 boys explaining what the school day is going to look like. It would be appreciated if you could talk through these measures with your sons so that the boys are aware of what they will need to bring into school and the fact that it will not be a return to the ‘normal’ school day. I should also add that we will be picking up emails over half term so if you do have any questions, then please get in touch so that we can answer them for you.

Once parents have been able to read the Q&A and the risk assessment, please can I ask those parents of boys in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to complete this ​form​ to tell us whether or not your son will be returning to school. Please complete the form by Tuesday 26 May so that we can finalise groupings and ensure that we have the right technology available. I know we asked the same question in the survey last week but we would appreciate all parents of boys in Reception, Year 1 and Year 6 to once more confirm whether or not their son will be returning on 1 June.

It may be of interest to parents to know that from the survey last week, of those parents of sons in the year groups set to return, 60% said that their son would be returning with 10% saying they would not, 20% were undecided. Across the rest of the school year groups, the figures were almost identical, with 60% saying they would return, 15% saying they would not and 25% saying they were undecided.

I must thank you all for completing the survey last week. Not only has it been very helpful in terms of planning for the children who will be returning, but it has been really important for us to get feedback from you about how remote learning has been working for you as a family. I was so heartened to read so many kind and positive messages about the provision and I have passed these on to the teachers who have been working incredibly hard to produce their lessons, mark work and feedback to the boys, whilst looking after their own families as well under lockdown. They really have appreciated the kind words.

It would be fair to say that our knowledge and use of IT systems has vastly increased in a very short space of time and there are many positive aspects that we will be hoping to take forward from this, once school life is able to fully return to normal – whatever normal means! The boys too have clearly found their feet with so many aspects of working with IT and I have no doubt that what they have learned in recent weeks in this regard will stand them in good stead as they move further along their academic journeys and eventually into their working lives.

I thought that it would be good to share with you the key findings from the survey and indeed the headline figures. 91% of you said that you were either extremely happy or quite happy with the remote learning offer with 9% saying that you were quite unhappy. We have looked carefully at the reasons that were given for this and also for the constructive suggestions on possible areas that we could further improve. These comments are very helpful and will enable us to make adjustments to some of the points raised. The relationship between parents and the school is vital and we certainly appreciate the time so many of you took to write about your and your sons’ experiences so far.

71% of you felt that the amount of work being set in class was about right, whilst 15% felt it was too much and 14% too little.

Homework was seen to be an area that teachers could set a little less of in the younger year groups whilst 50% of the older year groups felt that we should not reduce the level of homework for the boys. We really feel that parents should do what is right for their families in this regard and communicate with the teachers if they are finding that their boys are struggling to complete any homework set and we are happy to make allowances for this.

Finally, 97% of you felt either extremely happy or quite happy with the use of Google Classroom and Zoom as the learning platforms. We have certainly seen the boys becoming far more adept in their use and understanding of its key features but please do continue to use the email helpdesk should you have any queries.

If you have not done so already, please do take a look at this half term’s special edition of ​Abingdon Prep News online​ which went live this week. It is quite amazing how much has been accomplished this term and I hope that you will enjoy seeing some of the videos as well as the pictures and stories.

I hope that you are all able to enjoy the half term break and I will look forward to seeing some of the boys on Monday 1 June, assuming that there are no changes to government guidelines. My message to the boys today stressed the fact that they had been undertaking a lot of screen time in recent weeks, understandably so, but that this break should be used as an opportunity to completely get away from their screens and enjoy the wonderful outdoors in the warm weather that has been forecast, and spending time playing and chatting with family. Oh yes, and don’t forget to ask them to help with the chores!

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 15 May 2020

Friday 15 May 2020

Dear Parents

It has been an incredibly busy week for us here with the announcement from the government of their plan for a phased reopening of schools. Today, you will all have received an email from me containing a letter regarding our plans for this phased reopening, in addition to requesting feedback regarding our current remote working offer. I would really appreciate you taking the time to complete this as it will help us to prepare further for the second half of term.

The boys have continued to work hard at home and I wanted to say thank you to all of you for the support that so many of you are giving to your sons with their work. I know that this is not always easy given your personal commitments and work. I have had Quinn, who has just started to work out how to open a door, sneak into a number of my Zoom meetings, generally demanding ‘play duplo’ or ‘out garden’, and then start a meltdown when I have to tell him Daddy is a bit busy. The mute button certainly has its uses!

If you do not follow our Twitter feed or other social media outlets, I really would encourage you to do so as it is an easy way to see what some of the boys have been getting up to and have been sharing with us.

This week it has been great to see the very creative side coming out in our boys with some of their VE day creations to celebrate last Friday and some Year 3 performance poetry in drama. I was lucky enough to be in school to see the youngest key worker children taking part in their French lesson by dancing and singing along to ‘​Frère Jacques’​ in the Hall. They were having great fun. I was also particularly pleased to see so many cover driver uploads on the sports pages, with some boys taking it very seriously and changing into whites to do their practice!

I will be encouraging the boys to really focus on the work in hand next week in the lead up to half term and they will certainly have earned a break, but I will also be encouraging them to continue to step away from their screens when it comes to the break times and some of the wider curriculum lessons. Moving around and ‘resetting’ is really important before they then settle back down to work.

Once again, I have included a link to my assembly which I shared with you on Tuesday.

Head’s Assembly

I hope you have a good weekend ahead and that for those who are able to, in accordance with the guidelines, that you may be able to meet up with individual family members and friends outside for the first time in many weeks.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 7 May 2020

Thursday 7 May 2020

Dear Parents

I hope that you have all had a good week and been able to enjoy the warm weather that has been with us. I have to say that watching the forecast yesterday, I was a little perturbed by the thought of a 12 degree drop in temperature that is forecast for next week. Personally, I have enjoyed being able to sit in the sunshine occasionally whilst responding to emails and planning for the weeks ahead rather than being sat in my office.

Wednesday saw Abingdon Prep’s first ever virtual open morning take place. It was a new experience for me conducting a webinar for our ‘visitors’ and explaining what makes Abingdon Prep such a special place and I am pleased to report that all went smoothly.

Pre-Prep have had a very busy week and produced some fantastic work about the environment. As a geographer, I particularly enjoyed reading about the water cycle and learning more about humpback whales. I also had the pleasure of following a set of very clear instructions written by a reception boy to make a ladybird wristband via a live Zoom session. It is great to see how much learning they are doing and the enjoyment that they are so clearly getting out of it.

I have continued to be delighted by so many of the boys uploading some of their creative efforts to our google classroom area. It never ceases to amaze me how creative so many of our boys are and this week has seen numerous impressive artworks added as well as some more terrific instrumental pieces from Deep Purple and 007 alongside some garageband music too. It really is important for the boys to continue their creative pursuits as well as maintain their exercise routines as we continue with this lockdown period and remote learning. Please do encourage your boys to keep uploading their videos and creative pieces of work as it is a lovely way for us to keep up with what they have been enjoying working on at home.

I hope that the boys will take part in whatever way they can tomorrow to celebrate VE Day and the 75th anniversary. Please do take the opportunity to talk to your boys about this remarkable time and the sacrifices that were made by so many, on both sides of the war.

The Government has announced its intention to share its roadmap for the relaxation of the lockdown this weekend. I will be reflecting carefully on this with my colleagues next week and we will communicate our plans with parents as soon as they are finalised.

I hope that you all enjoy the bank holiday weekend and remain healthy.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 1 May 2020

Friday 1 May 2020

Dear Parents

The boys have had another busy week and I have been hugely impressed with the way they seem to have adapted to their remote learning. The teachers have told me that almost all of the boys have become far more adept in their use of the technology and are producing some excellent work. It has also been lovely to hear that they are enjoying the opportunity of chatting via their Zoom times with the form and sharing their experiences of lockdown. I was particularly impressed with the middle section remote scavenger hunt that took place on Wednesday afternoon. It sounded like great fun!

The weather has certainly taken a turn for the worse this week and the rain has curtailed some of our social distancing cricket sessions at key worker care. I hope that you have been able to continue to get outside and I have enjoyed seeing many families taking part in the million metre weekly challenge.

I would definitely encourage you to keep up to date with the school website, twitter and instagram pages as they are a great way to see what many of our boys and families have been getting up to in the week. This week I have been hugely impressed with the marble maze creations and some fantastic models of plant and animal cells. The creative element of education at school is still going strong during this period of lockdown. More instrumental pieces have been added to the musical section on Google Classroom which have been particularly enjoyable to listen to and if you have not listened to our director of music playing Bach on his home made organ, then I would also suggest this is well worth a listen.

I have attached below the link to my video assembly from earlier in the week and also my message to the boys from today if you would like to watch either, along with the school’s social media addresses for you to keep up to date with what is going on.

Social Media Addresses

Twitter: @abingdonprep
Instagram: @abingdon_prep
Facebook: @abingdonprep

Craig’s Tuesday assembly for parents

Craig’s Friday message to boys

I hope you are all looking after one another and yourselves as we continue with the lockdown period and I hope that you will be able to have an enjoyable weekend and create some wonderful new family memories.

Best wishes

Craig

Letter from the Head, 24 April 2020

Friday 24 April 2020

Dear Parents

I hope that many of you were able to see my video that was sent out on Tuesday. I am glad to say that the birds have continued to visit our feeders, but no goldfinches yet, and the bumble bees have remained busy in the garden. After a long day in front of a screen, it is a lovely way to wind down a little outside watching nature going about its business. I should add though that Quinn has become very excited about seeing upside down squirrels stealing food from the bird feeders and seeing the numerous rabbits that have now invaded the garden and dug holes across it!

I think it is really important for me to say thank you to all of you for your support and patience as we undertake this new way of educating your boys. It has been lovely to receive so many positive messages about things that have worked well but also the constructive feedback where there are areas that we still need to work on so that the boys can get the maximum benefit out of their time in front of a screen. The staff have been working really hard in all areas of the school and I know from speaking virtually with them, there has been some fantastic work submitted by the boys. I have no doubt that the boys’ level of IT literacy will have skyrocketed by the time life returns to normal.

One of the highlights this week for me was seeing some of the instrumental performances boys have uploaded to the ‘whole school assemblies and singing’ Google Classroom. It was fantastic to see a few boys playing pieces on their different instruments at home. I would love to see a few more of these, so please do encourage your sons to get uploading. I would be really impressed if there were a virtual collaboration between boys up there next week!

Pre-Prep produced some amazing augmented reality images this week in their IT lesson. They were clearly having a huge amount of fun with this and a whole range of different animals were appearing on screen with them, with my favourite being the emperor penguin. Do look at our homepage on the website to see some of these great images.

I have also enjoyed hearing about how many boys have thrown themselves into the more creative aspects of the curriculum with their Lego projects and other artistic endeavours, and it is clear that the boys are also enjoying taking on some of the physical challenges and recording their efforts. These aspects of the curriculum are just as important now as during ‘normal’ school, perhaps even more so.

Please could I ask you to remind your boys (Years 3-8), as their form teachers have, that their first port of call for each lesson or activity is their Google Classroom area for that subject. I hope that our ‘IT helpline,’ through Jo Allen, has been useful and answered many of your questions and that the boys are starting to navigate their way through the system with a little more ease.

I have shared again below the links to both APS News from last term and also Abingdon news so that you can see for yourselves all the great events that took place across both schools last term. I hope that in some quiet time, you will enjoy reflecting on these. I have also attached a video that I have made for the boys and shared with them in their whole school assemblies Google Classroom area (or via an email to Pre-Prep parents).

APS News

Abingdon News

Friday message from Craig to the boys

Please do check through the mailing this week, as you would normally do, as we will continue to send out information via our normal platforms.

I hope you all have an enjoyable weekend ahead and are able to get out into your gardens and surrounding area to enjoy nature at this lovely time of year.

Best wishes

Craig