We do live in very strange times. This morning, for the first time, and having dutifully trudged up the steps of the theatre twice a week all term to get tested in our drama-classroom-turned-Covid-testing-centre, I performed the act on myself. A large number of bits and pieces came tumbling out of the box – so exciting. The instructions seemed straightforward. The process is not pleasant, but we have all become used to sticking probes down our throats and up our noses. The gagging and the eye watering seem like old friends. And the test worked! At least, the little plastic strip gave a result – a single, clear stripe.
And then the slightly surreal business of reporting the result to the NHS. As before, I carefully filled out my details: Other White. No I do not travel to work (unless you count the two yards from my front door to my office as travel). No I am not a robot. Although sometimes I do wonder. And I can confirm that the test result was negative. All done and dusted. Then, joy of joys, I get a ping on my mobile phone, and a text message telling me my test is negative! So I tell the NHS, and the NHS then tells me. Just so that we’re all sure.
This morning in assembly I gave a shout out for the vaccination programme. As well as doing my first home test this morning, tomorrow I am getting my first jab. As I explained to the school, as a scientist and mathematician, facts and statistics and analysis and logic and reasoning matter to me. And I would not be going tomorrow if I was not confident that the vaccine is both safe and effective. Apparently about 3,000 people develop blood clots as a matter of course in the UK each month. Inevitably some will do so having just received the vaccine. That does not mean the two are linked. Some people will fall pregnant after receiving the vaccine. Presumably nobody will accuse Astra Zeneca of being responsible for that too? In those countries where the vaccine has been withdrawn temporarily because of blood clot concerns, people will die of Covid whose lives would have been saved had they been vaccinated.
What an enormous pleasure it is to have a school full of young people again. Above all it is the sound that I miss when they are not here. Schools should be noisy places. I have recently returned to the warm embrace of my man-cave, my garage workshop, to build a much-needed new and bigger wine rack (one of the dangers of the pandemic – too many tempting online wine suppliers). The garage is in quite a public part of the school, and it has been a joy over these last few days, while I’ve been tinkering amidst the quite appalling clutter of my cave, to hear the voices of pupils passing by and the sounds of music drifting across from the music school.
We interviewed a number of internal candidates for the role of Head of Boarding last week. I asked each candidate what they thought we had learnt from the past year. Every one of them replied that we now know just how much the pupils like being here, and how much they miss it when they are not. The energy and laughter of the past week certainly underlines that view.
It is now exactly a year since we were told we had to close our school for the first time: this penultimate week of the Lent Term was when we shut up our classrooms and boarding houses, when we scrambled to get our overseas pupils home, when Steve Shaw spent several days living at Heathrow in order to help those trying to fly out. This was the week of the extraordinary final assembly, when the handful of remaining pupils belted out “In Christ Alone” and we said our goodbyes before embarking on that voyage of discovery into the new and uncharted world of remote learning. We’re old hands now. Blended learning is the new challenge – some pupils in class, some in Nairobi or Dubai or Hong Kong or St Petersburg, all taking part in a live lesson.
There is now a palpable sense that we are on the road back to some sort of normality at last. But it is still going to be a long road, not without its bumps and potholes.
We have our A level and GCSE assessments to sort out (perhaps the subject of another blog soon). We have overseas pupils who need quarantining before they can join us. We have ever-more complex safety measures in place. As always we will cope and make it work, buoyed up by the prospect of a summer of returning normality. In an act of faith and optimism I recently booked tickets for my whole family for two T20 matches at the County Ground in June and July. Oh what a joy that is going to be.
We have had to get used to a great many new challenges and ways of being. One has come as something of a surprise: despite the difficulties and uncertainty posed by the pandemic, interest in places at the school for September has been extraordinarily high. To the extent that, for the first time ever we have, as early as March, had to close the books for new applications in every single year group. I think that is a testament to the fabulous efforts, loyalty and resilience of our staff, who have done such a brilliant job of managing the Covid months and have continued to provide a first-rate education for our pupils no matter what. I am sure that message has got out into the world. In the same way that people used to talk about Uncle Nigel having “a good war”, I think it can be said that King’s College had a good pandemic. We did well.