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"Back in the Room" by James Cross, Director of Sixth Form

Posted on: 08/04/2021

Educating Oxfordshire JFC 08 04 21Monday 8th March marked the return to in-person learning for all students in English schools. This return gave rise to a range of emotions, from intense anxiety to irrepressible enthusiasm. However, one response stood clear of the others: heartfelt, genuine gratitude. Overwhelmingly, students, teachers and support staff were grateful to be back, whilst parents were, no doubt, grateful to wave goodbye to their children after long weeks of home schooling and remote learning.

From time to time, I stand at the school gates of a morning and make it my business to issue a cheery ‘good morning’ to every student who passes. The response is variable: many mirror my greeting with an enthusiastic ‘good morning sir’, others return a dutiful ‘morning’, and some stare at their feet and hurry past, unable to muster the requisite good cheer at such an early hour.

This return to school was different: as I stood at the gate, the crow’s feet belied beaming smiles beneath the array of masks, and the muffled ‘morning sir’ was uniformly warm on what was otherwise a chilly day. The sense that young people were glad to be back in school, and that these smiles were born out of a sense of belonging, was palpable.  

What is wonderful is that the gratitude has so far proved durable. You would expect that, a month later, the novelty of being ‘back in the room’ would wear thin. This has not turned out to be the case – quite the contrary. In my role, I have the privilege of working across two great schools in Didcot and drop into lessons every day of the week. I struggle to express how impressed I have been with what I have seen: calm learning environments, focused and eager students, precise and warm teachers. Despite the masks and the social distancing, our shared sense of purpose feels stronger than ever.   

No matter the energy that goes into honing remote learning – and by the end of the recent lockdown, our offer had become very sophisticated – the past weeks have served as a great reminder that schools are special places. Schools provide stewardship for the nation’s children in their passage to adulthood, and perform functions that go unrecognised until the moment they are interrupted. Whilst I am not grateful for the interruption, I am grateful for the reminder.

Schools create the conditions where young people learn respect, tolerance and empathy; where they learn how to contribute to a community and feel a sense of belonging; where they gain knowledge and understanding that will allow them to navigate the world around them. Schools keep young people safe and spot when they need help before they realise it themselves. Perhaps most importantly, schools foster the friendships that will shape and sustain young people, maybe for the rest of their lives. My greatest friends are those I made at school.

When I put it this way, perhaps the gratitude is unsurprising. If we can be grateful for one thing in the pandemic, it is the collective reminder in the power of schools and their role in our society. No school is perfect – no human institution can be – but as somebody who works in two great schools, I consider myself fortunate. It fills me with gratitude that our young people have embraced this reminder too.

 

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