The Headmaster writes to the Abingdon Prep community every week during term time.
Letter from the Head, 12 February 2021
Friday 12 February 2021
It has been nearly a year now that we have had disruptions to the normal routines of school life and I have great sympathy for the disappointments that some of the boys will have experienced without our usual raft of plays, events, concerts and sports fixtures. I am incredibly proud of the children who have shown great resilience and perseverance and continued to learn and make good progress with their studies despite some of the obstacles in their way. I am also tremendously grateful to our teachers and support staff, all of whom have worked so hard this half of term to ensure that the children’s education has continued to be fully delivered in the best way possible. It is clear that we have all spent a great deal of time in front of the computer screen since January and I would direct the boys not to work over half term but to enjoy themselves and to try to steer away from too much screen time over the break.
I am optimistic that we will be allowed to return to school in some capacity in March and very much look forward to that time where I can greet them all again in the morning on their way in. We are currently expecting an update from the government in the week beginning Monday 22 February so will of course contact you once we have further details about the planned return to school.
I hope that those of you who attended our virtual e-safety event on Wednesday evening found it useful. I know that the boys will have been made aware of a number of key messages in their talks which also took place on Wednesday during lesson times. It is now, more than ever, given the horrendous social media abuse that seems to make the headlines on a daily basis, the right time for our children to understand the role that social media can play in life, both as a wonderful means of sharing positivity but also as a force for negativity and hate. It can be a difficult message to understand for children but given that social media and the internet are here to stay, one that we cannot overlook in schools and we must play a role in educating our children to make good choices in their interactions with it.
Yesterday saw a brilliant pancake assembly delivered by Rachel W. A number of teachers had been challenged to flip a pancake as many times as possible in 45 seconds and send in their videos. A winning score of 52 from Roger was very impressive, although the mid air split and drop to the floor from Louise was perhaps the stand out moment! You can see the videos in the news section of the website. The boys were also shown how to mix a perfect batter so do get them to cook some pancakes on Shrove Tuesday next week. Lemon and sugar or banana and chocolate spread? Perhaps both!
I have enjoyed seeing and hearing about all the exercise that has been taking place at home this week, adding to the kilometres for each house in the virtual distance year challenge, which was won by our very energetic Year 3 and 4 classes. The cold weather seems not to have deterred many and in fact, the beautiful blue skies and hanging icicles have made a wonderful backdrop for getting out and about for some daily exercise.
We have also today released our first recorded concert platform showcasing some of the fantastic music that the boys have been producing in the past few weeks. We will have more of these to come after half term so please do look out for them.
We say a very fond farewell to Sam Barder today, who after three and half years with us at Abingdon Prep as a sports coach, will be taking on an exciting new challenge as a broadband installer. Sam is hoping to come back for our prize giving day in the summer term so that we can all say a proper goodbye and thank him in person. His sporting prowess and great sense of humour will certainly be missed but we wish him all the very best with his new career.
Finally, I wanted to thank all of our wonderful parents again for your support over the course of this half term. It cannot be an easy task to balance your own work with supporting your children with theirs. As a little light relief, I would encourage you to look on the website for a rather entertaining parody of a Zoom lesson written by Rachel P. It certainly made me laugh and you may even recognise familiar events in some of the interactions. I would also like to reassure you that the vast majority of our Zoom lessons get off to a much more efficient start!
I hope you are all able to enjoy the half term break at home and that the boys will also take the time to relax and step away from work and computers for the week.
Letter from the Head, 5 February 2021
Friday 5 February 2021
I hope that you have all had a good week and remain well. I have been very heartened by the speed of the vaccine roll out and am optimistically looking forward to a time after half term where we will be able to have the boys back in school with us.
Thank you to all the parents who completed our short survey last week. The findings were hugely positive with 95% of the 132 respondents saying that they were “very positive” or “positive” about the School’s online learning provision. Thank you also for the many kind messages of support, they are very much appreciated. Some parents suggested ideas to further improve what we offer and we are giving these careful consideration.
Parents were also asked about the amount of homework their sons were receiving. Again the majority, 80%, said that they were “very positive” or “positive” about the amount they received. It is difficult to gauge the homework we should be giving boys as we are acutely aware of the amount of screen time that everyone is having at the moment. Many parents mentioned their concerns about this. We have talked to staff about the possibility of setting homework that does not involve screens and encouraging boys to do practical activities or written work which they can then scan and send in. If you have ongoing concerns about your son’s homework, do please talk to your son’s form teacher as we are keen to work with families to support their needs.
Conversely some parents requested more homework. We feel that the amount being set is adequate for this time. However, we do understand that everyone has different perspectives on what homework should be and how long it should take currently. Having consulted with staff in all year groups, they feel that much of the homework is set in order to respond to teacher feedback. Boys are often asked to review and improve classwork or extended projects which we see as extremely valuable and useful as additional homework.
We would also recommend to those parents who suggested they were keen to know more about how their sons were getting on, that they look through their subject Google classrooms with them. These contain feedback from each of the teachers which will assist parents in identifying how their sons are responding to a variety of tasks. With a number of year groups having parents evenings this half of term, this will also be a good opportunity to gain further feedback from teachers.
Another issue raised by parents was the need to get outside and enjoy fresh air and exercise. We are completely in agreement with this and we encourage all the boys to take advantage of the 1 hour 10 minute lunch break to do something away from screens and preferably outside. We would also continue to encourage all the boys to step away from their screens during the other breaks that take place during the day. It really is important to move around in the breaks from lessons, just as boys would do if they were in school. In addition to this there are of course, the sport, PE, and swimming lessons where boys are also undertaking exercise through our challenges, Zoom circuits or specific sporting activities. As the days are becoming longer, hopefully the boys will also be able to get some fresh air after lessons have finished at the end of the day as well.
On a different note, Kate, our talented cookery teacher for Other Half, is going to be on the One Show next Thursday evening. Do have a watch if you are able to.
I would also like to take this opportunity to share with you the wonderful news that Ellie, our Admissions Manager, is expecting and will be starting her maternity leave in April. We are all very excited for her. Bev Buckle, will be taking over the role. Bev is currently working in the Abingdon School Admissions Department and was previously an Abingdon Prep parent and teaching assistant here so she already has a great knowledge of what Abingdon Prep is all about.
Once again, many thanks for taking the time to feedback your thoughts to us last week and for your ongoing support of the school and your children in these difficult times.
Letter from the Head, 29 January 2021
Friday 29 January 2021
We have now completed our fourth week since the start of term and I think it would be fair to say that all of us have had moments when we found ourselves a little down or frustrated with the current lockdown. This is, I think, perfectly normal, but last Sunday’s snow certainly gave my family a real boost as I am sure it did with everyone else. It was lovely to get out into the fresh snowfall and build snowmen and find a slope to get the toboggan going down for the first time in a number of years. We decided that the mound at the front of school was a perfect spot to introduce Quinn to his first sledding experience which he thoroughly enjoyed!
I am sure that you are aware that on Wednesday the Prime Minister announced that schools would not start reopening until Monday 8 March at the earliest. We will clearly be watching with great interest at any further announcements with regard to the reopening of schools and how that will take place. In the meantime, as we face some more time working remotely, we are keen to gather feedback to ensure that our provision is as good as it possibly can be. I would be grateful if you could complete this very short ‘pulse check’ survey by 9am on Monday 1 February. We will also send this out via an email so you can access it through either link.
I think it is important we recognise that our children do face challenges when working remotely for such long periods of time and I want to take this opportunity to remind you to encourage your boys to chat to their form teachers and friends and family, and all of our teachers are aware of the difficulty and uncertainty that some will be feeling. You are all doing a great job at home with your children whilst juggling your own work and as a school we thank you for that.
Next week is our mental health awareness week and we have a guest speaker coming to talk to the boys in assemblies and we will be running a number of other activities designed to get the boys talking and reflecting on their feelings as we continue to learn online. I hope that today’s ‘no screens’ afternoon is strictly adhered to and that the boys enjoy some time away from their computers learning a new skill, practising something, or just enjoying some down time with the family. I am very much looking forward to seeing some of the videos and pictures that the boys have been asked to send through. Clearly I have written this letter in the morning so will also be taking time away from the screen myself! My wife is encouraging me to have a go on the sewing machine so I too will be learning a new skill over the weekend.
We have encouraged our boys, and teachers, to break down these periods of remote learning into small chunks to work through. On Monday, there are just two weeks until the February half term. After a week off, there will be two weeks until 8 March and hopefully schools will then begin to reopen, even if there is a staggered start for different year groups.
I wanted to finish my letter this week by reassuring you that we are continuing to work hard with all of the boys online and that having the ability simply to chat to friends on Zoom or with the class teacher is important. The boys are doing a really good job with their learning and although this is not easy for anyone, we are all really proud of their efforts and we will continue to work hard to support all of them, maintaining a sense of continuity and normality with their lessons.
I hope you all enjoy a restful weekend.
Letter from the Head, 15 January 2021
Friday 15 January 2021
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.
Letter from the Head, 4 December 2020
Friday 4 December 2020
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.
Letter from the Head, 27 November 2020
Friday 27 November 2020
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.
Letter from the Head, 20 November 2020
Friday 20 November 2020
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.
Letter from the Head, 13 November 2020
Friday 13 November 2020
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.
Letter from the Head, 6 November 2020
Friday 6 November 2020
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, “Where 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 let 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.
Letter from the Head, 16 October 2020
Friday 16 October 2020
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.