The start of Michaelmas term address from Head Master Steffan Griffiths - 3rd September 2020
It is a tremendous pleasure to have pupils back in Cathedral Close and to be able to address you from this building again.
To new pupils, it was great to meet you at yesterday’s induction events and I hope that today feels a little more familiar because of it. For those who were here last year, I think we have all felt a sense of loss from not being able to meet together since March and it is lovely to gather again.
However, it is far from perfect. The irony after the last few months of being apart is that I find myself in this amazing building today but talking to people who are not here. I have to say that it is rather cavernous without you, but I hope you will at least get pleasure from seeing your amazing gathering space again. We are able to have assemblies in the Cathedral with individual year-groups, so you will be able to come in here during the coming weeks.
So, it is good to be back but we all know that things will be different. Tolerance is the name of the game and we are going to have to show it in different ways.
The first type of tolerance is practical, as we get used to operating in school with the Covid restrictions imposed on schools. I know we will all want to play our part in making the school site as safe as it can be, so that we can remain open for as long as possible with as close to a normal routine as we can manage.
Your tutors will go through the details of this with you, but the headlines are that you should:
- Stay away from the school site if you are symptomatic or are required to self-isolate;
- Practise good hand and respiratory hygiene;
- Bring a face covering to school so that you can wear it on school transport, in the Cathedral and in corridors around the site. Personal preference to wear face-coverings at other times is also fine;
- Observe social distancing. Now, many of you will remember a phrase that Mr Fisher used with regard to the lunch queue: “leave a little air”. I think you should remember that at all times in the coming days and weeks, and do expect your teachers to pick you up on it if you forget.
Even with all of these measures in school, it is quite possible that we are going to be affected by Covid cases within the school and in the wider community during the course of the term. We will therefore need to show tolerance of future changes and flexibility to deal with them. We may well have to operate in rotas, with some year-groups here and some off-site. We may have to return to the remote learning model we used last term. However, because of those experiences last term, I am confident that we have a community able to cope with such ups and downs. I was certainly so impressed by the way everybody pulled together to make a success of last term: teachers learning new skills and delivering quality lessons; pupils eager to learn and diligent in adapting to new circumstances; parents ready to support.
So, there needs to a practical tolerance, a flexibility and resilience to deal with the unusual situation we are returning from, continuing to face and make a success of. We will cope well again with whatever comes at us.
There is a second type of tolerance I want to mention today. It is more abstract but even more important. I want you to focus on being tolerant of each other, of recognising and celebrating differences between you.
Our ethos talks of a loving, compassionate community. That is our ideal, but it remains just that, a dream, unless we take actions each and every day to live it out in our community. We have a great opportunity at the start of this new year, after such a tumultuous six months, to establish standards of how we speak to listen to and act towards each other.
For over 150 of you, this is your first day in the Norwich School Senior School and you are right at the start of your journey. Think about establishing yourself as an active member of this loving, compassionate community. For those of you who are returning, set that standard high. If you know that you are someone who perhaps has not been as kind as you might have been on occasions, take the time to reset this button for yourself and those around you.
You have all heard me talk about the loving, compassionate community of Norwich School. Yet it is all just talk unless we all set about living as such in our day-to-day interactions. I perhaps have taken for granted too much that pupils have understood what I mean by the words of our ethos, so let me spell it out.
Each one of you is amazing, with unique qualities and interests, and I want you to be deeply tolerant, respectful and celebratory of these gifts in each one of the people around you.
I want you to stand against prejudice of any kind, both here and in the wider community.
I want you to be confident to call people out when they get it wrong, even your friends, not to accept something offensive as being “just banter”.
Mrs Fairweather had a good phrase about this in her staff training this week: “What you walk past is what you accept”. Let us not be a community that accepts anything other than the highest standards of behaviour and kindness to each other.
We want to be a community that does not just avoid difficult issues. We want to be actively anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic; in short, to be anti-prejudice of any kind.
To achieve this, we need to find that deep tolerance and celebration of our differences and you will be hearing more about these themes as the term goes on.
If you are anything like me, there is a combination of excitement and nervousness at the start of this term. Whatever you are feeling is okay; embrace the opportunities and talk through your concerns.
I hope you have a wonderful term.