Chris Staley, Headmaster’s End of Term Newsletter

25th March 20

 

Over the past weeks we have all, rightly and inevitably, been preoccupied with Covid-19. The consequences of the outbreak will continue to dominate our thoughts for some time to come as we grapple to maintain focus and direction in these unfamiliar and unchartered waters.

The end of term which was brought forward by a week was a strange, sombre and slightly surreal time. As the School slowly emptied with increasing numbers of pupils and staff understandably self-isolating the mood was one of anxiety and uncertainty as friends and colleagues said their goodbyes and wished each other well. In such circumstances, it is hard to resist a feeling of melancholy. However, we will be back and the challenge for the coming weeks is to keep our spirits up and do all that we can to ensure that, when the School reopens, we are able quickly to get back to doing all those things that bring us joy and fulfilment.

Paul Logan and Keryn Neaves, have been communicating with you with further details of the academic arrangements that we have put in place to cover the period of closure.  It is never helpful when one of the main global providers suddenly realise that they do not have enough servers to cope with demand but we are trying to let you know, what we know and when we know it.   Mr Logan has also informed you about the outlined process by which this summer’s public examination grades will be determined.  More details will follow in the coming days and weeks.

Whilst it is crucial that we look and plan ahead, I do not want the pupils’ achievements and endeavours of past weeks to go unrecognized or unrecorded. Now is not a time for celebration but I think it is appropriate to reflect upon all the good things to which we will return when the storm abates. We will make sure that the prizes, colours, certificates and other awards that would have been distributed at the end of term assembly are presented at some appropriate point in the future. For now, I shall briefly summarise in this letter some of the term’s highlights.

REVIEW OF THE TERM

Significant as they are, we should not let the rapid developments of the past days and weeks erase the memory of the many good things that have occurred since January. What follows is only a short summary but I hope it serves to recognise how much the pupils have achieved since January and how much more there is to come when normality once more prevails.

Mental Health and Well-being

The Prep School started the term with a day of relaxation and activities to look after their mental health and well-being. Staff and pupils enjoyed the day learning from each other.

 RAF Marham

Our pupils from Prep 3 to Prep 6 were treated to the expertise of the staff at RAF Marham through STEM activities to challenge their teamwork and problem solving skills while learning about Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. All the pupils engaged in fun activities that gave them a glimpse of how Scientists, Technicians, Engineers and Mathematicians help keep our Royal Air Force at forefront of developments.

Magdalene House Residential Trips

Prep 6 strolled through the Shambles, explored the Jorvik Centre, marvelled at the wonder of York Minster and went back in time through York Castle. They were a real credit to you as parents and us as a school. Prep 5 ventured to Flatford Mill in Suffolk to enjoy the countryside and create memories of campfires, team building and walks through the darkness.

World Book Day

Once again the pupils (and parents) amazed us with their imaginative costume designs and sense of fun on Thursday 5 March. We all enjoyed a week of activities based on the love of reading.

Sport Relief

Prep School pupils came dressed as their favourite characters.  The key criteria was it must be someone who really inspired them in some way.  Pupils from Kindergarten to Prep 6 took part in a sponsored swim, and finally in the afternoon they took part in a netball tournament.

Magdalene House Languages

The Prep School also welcomed ‘Alex’ the German Teddy Bear as part of an Exchange Programme and our Prep 5 pupils enjoyed a new event to our calendar, ‘Marvellous Maths’.  Lastly we had another Super Science Morning, proving as ever to be a real favourite Saturday activity enjoyed by both our pupils as well as Year 5 children from primary schools engaged in our Working in Partnership Programme (WIPP).

Music

The annual Leavers’ Concert took place a week last Friday.  Pupils had the opportunity to showcase their musicality in front of an enthusiastic audience of fellow pupils, parents and staff. It was a fitting occasion for the School community to give thanks to our 6th Form Leavers for all their contributions to music during their time at WGS, in particular Gaby Ayling, Faye Thomsett and Ursula France.

Drama – The (socially distanced) Lion King, National Theatre sponsored ‘Connection’ and Trinity awards

The Prep School showed their true spirit, marking the end of term with a ‘socially distanced’ performance of the Lion King which I know they have all worked so hard to prepare. Listening to their singing and watching their acting talents brought a tear to Mrs Neave’s eye.  It was very unfair not knowing when these fabulous pupils will be able to perform in front of their families and friends and really showcase all their hard work and special mention should go to the inspirational Amy Beck for her direction and endless patience. Thank you as well to all the parent volunteers who helped create the costumes and to all the staff who worked so hard to prepare for this extravaganza.

Building on our reputation for new and original writing, the Drama Department was delighted to be accepted into The National Theatre’s Connection programme in October 2019.  The Festival has been an annual event since 1995, with the NT commissioning ten new plays each year.  Participation in such a prestigious programme automatically widens our pupils’ experience of physical venues, industry-led collaboration, and perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to experience the transformative effect of standing in someone else’s shoes.  Crusaders play took place over the course of a week, after the ‘world’ premier on the first Monday night, the audience were asked to join in a Question & Answer session with the company.  It was wonderful to hear the pupils talking so confidently about the process so far and this young company showed just how much potential they have and how far they have grown (as actors) from this new theatrical experience.

Perhaps the greatest accolade to their collective ambition was a member of the audience who commented that “you couldn’t really say who had the leading role. There was nothing between them, the whole company made it such a strong piece and what a privilege to have the writer in the audience to give the actors feedback- amazing”.

Taking the Stage

Pupils from across the Senior School performed to a packed ‘standing-room only’ house on 7 February in what was the biggest ‘Taking the Stage’ yet.  An opportunity for everyone and anyone to simply perform to the public, friends, family and peers.  It is testament to the Drama and Music departments that this event has grown each time it has been put on and it really does show the depth of burgeoning talent that exists within the school.  Pupils taking their Trinity College exams were able to use the event as a dress rehearsal and it allowed the audience to see Charley Kirby and Charlotte Beck both show off their acting and musical theatre skills, whilst Libby Baker and Niamh Ward both performed speeches from their imminent acting exams.  The rest of the bill was made up of magic and circus-skills (Miles Whittaker), pianists (Tom Williamson and James Hall), a cellist (Jasper Pike), singers (Sophie Fyson, Ellie Dix and Mrs Missin’s Rock Choir), guitar/singers (Callum Duncan and Natasha Richardson), comedic sketch performers (Tajveer Bisla and Ethan Croker) and an acapella sign language rendition of Cyndi Lauper’s ‘True Colours’, performed by Sarah Norman.  The informal ‘open-mic’ atmosphere was enjoyed by all and we look forward to the next evening that will allow the talented pupils of WGS to shine.  Thanks must go to Mrs Missin, Mrs Scoles and Mrs Larkin for their never-ending support for the pupils.

The Trinity Exams in Acting, Musical Theatre and Speech &Drama were once again highly successful.  All exams were either Grade 5 or Grade 6 and of the nine exams sat there was one Merit and eight Distinctions.  Well done to the pupils and teaching staff, ably led by Mrs Duncan and her team.

Cultural Evening

A few weeks ago saw the renaissance of the Language Cultural Evening from the MFL Department and hosted by Miss Semper and her team.  Over the evening, pupils across the School entertained guests, putting on a show ranging from musical, artistic and theatrical performances to poetry readings, games and quizzes in various languages. The evening was very successful and was enhanced by the culinary skills of our wonderful Executive Chef, Trevor Clark ensuring that the audience were treated to a feast of authentic European cuisine which very much reflected the languages being showcased.

Sport

The U18 Boys Hockey side were crowned East Regional Champions. This was a fantastic achievement for them and this result catapulted them into the National Finals at Reading Hockey Club.  To be in the latter stages of this competition and ranking our boys in the top 16 Hockey teams in the country is no mean feat.   Everyone at WGS is incredibly proud of their achievements, but unfortunately they were denied the marvellous opportunity to test themselves at the next level, which for those in the know, would have been a once in a lifetime experience for them all. This special group of players built upon the success of last year’s 1XI and this season won all 11 of their school matches.  The ‘local highlight’ was a comprehensive victory over Gresham’s.  My only two regrets was that they didn’t have more home games and that they never found out how far they could go.

At the other end of the age range the U11A Netball team played in the U11 IAPS national qualifier at Uppingham School on Thursday 27 Feb. The team played in a pool stage first, beating Gresham’s Prep 4-3, Stephen Perse Prep 10-0 and drawing with Leeds Grammar 5-5. The team played some fantastic netball but unfortunately, they lost to Wellingborough School, coming 2nd in their group. However, they still finished runner’s up at the Regional Tournament they, like their U18 boys’ hockey counterparts qualified for the National Finals (IAPS) at Bryanston School in Dorset.  Once again this opportunity to compete at the highest level was snatched away from them but their achievements were equally significant.

Continuing with Netball the 1st team won 8 of their matches this season, which was an excellent achievement. In doing so, they produced an amazing week of netball with 3 wins from 3 matches, ending with a brilliant performance against Kimbolton 1st team with a 36-25 win.  The netball was described by one on looking opposition coach as being fast paced, accurate and incredibly dynamic.

I would like to congratulate all of the boys and girls who took part in the Hockey and Netball programme this term, they produced some superb performances which bodes well for the future of Sport at WGS.

At an individual level it would be remiss not to say, ‘well done’,  to WGS pupils Henry Mair, George Dady and Will Gowler who played for the The Lambs RFC U18 Team this season. The boys have played against Crawshay’s Welsh, Boys Club of Wales, Bristol Academy and Irish Exiles Academy. Henry has also been playing for the Coventry U18 Academy Team.  Ashton Webb was selected to play for Northampton Saints U15 Team against Saracens at Allianz Park.  Lewis Wing, Alfie Hoyles and Harley Burrows have all been training with the Cambs Hunts, and Peterborough Saints DPP U14 age group and Bradley Rideout has been training with the U15 age group.  Yusef Alsiwan, Jules Jamieson, and Theo Young have also been selected to join the Cambs Hunts and Peterborough U13 age group.

OTHER MATTERS

 Staff News: Leavers and September Starters

As the term draws to a close we bid farewell to a long serving member of staff, James Williams.  In his time with us, James has contributed to sport, most notably as a Cricket Coach but has always been seen on the hockey pitch, Rugby pitch and has lent his hand to anything requiring a bat, racket or a ball with aplomb. His unassuming nature and approachability made him an obvious choice as a Lower School Tutor and I am sure he will take with him many fond memories of his time both on the sports pitches and the number of times he has been at Manor Adventure. We wish James every success as he leaves us to take up a new opportunity with elite-level Cricket Coaching.

We would like to congratulate Gemma McMullen on the upcoming addition to her family. Mrs McMullen will be ending the academic year before starting maternity leave in September. Following on from covering Mrs Emma Fenn in the Trinity term, Mrs Lucy Esser will be teaching the Prep 1 into the Michaelmas term for Mrs McMullen.

After a very busy year for Mrs Amy Beck, giving never less than 100% to all the roles that she has taken on over the past 8 months, she has made the very tough decision to focus on her family and commitments outside the school. I know that she will be sorely missed by her pupils, colleagues and parents and I hope you will join me in wishing her well as she leaves us this July.

We will be welcoming the following arrivals in September to the Staff Common Room:

Hannah Wakefield – will take on the role as SENCO, taking over from Dr Stanley-Isaac
Simon Leader – will take over as Head of Rugby from Alex Laybourne
Samantha Taylor – will join us as a highly experienced Maths Teacher
Lucy Roberts Anchor – joins us a teacher of Science and will also assist Mr Garfoot as Deputy Manager of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Programme
Amber King – Graduate Teacher in Business and Economics
Camilla Plumb – Graduate Teacher in Geography

Next Term

At this stage, we cannot know when the School will reopen. We very much hope that it will not be long. However, we must be alive to the strong possibility that the closure will last beyond the Easter holiday. The calendar for next term is under constant review and will be published once we have a clearer idea of a return date and any further restriction that will remain in place at this time.   Of course, having listened to the Prime Minister’s announcement last night, these may well change but we shall keep you updated as the situation develops.

This is an exceptionally difficult time. But the current situation should not lead us to despair, nor to become blind to the many good things that we enjoy, not least the love, kindness and support of our friends and family. The crisis will pass and things will gradually return to normal. Meanwhile, we should remember that for all the challenges that the coming weeks will bring, we have been given an opportunity. This is our moment to step up, to be the people we want to be and, above all, to think of others more than we think of ourselves. Now is the time that our common humanity, our faith in others and our love for family, friends and neighbours can shine as never before. Out of adversity comes hope, and from darkness light. The world may never be quite the same again but, with our help, it can be a better, kinder, wiser version of that which went before. I shall write again soon with a further update on the Covid-19 situation. Meanwhile, I will keep you all in my thoughts and in my prayers, I will ask that you and your families stay safe and well.

I shall look forward very much to seeing you all soon.

Wisbech Grammar School
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