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A welcome back message from Andrew Willis, Head of Prep School

20 May 2020

Andrew Willis
Head of Prep School

Yesterday (18th May) was a very special day for all of us in the Prep School, and indeed the wider Wellington community, as we welcomed back pupils from years 5-8. It goes without saying that the past four months have been incredibly challenging for everyone, but every stage of reopening the College is a step forwards that should be celebrated and enjoyed.

‘Getting back to normal’ or ‘establishing the new normal’ are two phrases that we are hearing a lot at the moment. After such momentous and unprecedented change, it is only natural that we are all craving normality and stability – in short, a bit of the familiar makes all the difference after a crisis. That is why it has been such a pleasure to see so many reunions physically taking place on campus. Pupils are being reunited with their friends and teachers, teachers are being reunited with their colleagues; slowly but surely, we are coming together to enjoy learning without having to rely so heavily on technology to try and bridge the gap.

Staying safe, staying healthy

First and foremost, I want to thank everyone across the College for being so diligent and sensible in following the prevention guidelines that the school has established. There is no getting around the fact that things like social distancing, wearing a mask, etc, are a pain to have to do, but they remain absolutely necessary to safeguard the health of everyone within the Wellington community and beyond it. As always, I am very proud of (but not surprised by) the mature and conscientious nature of our pupils, who have adapted so quickly to these new circumstances without complaint. This is yet another example in recent months of how well they embody the values of this College and how unthinkingly they display them.

Supporting everyone across the College, and the world

Of course, it is important for us to remember that while the majority of our pupils in years 5-13 are back on campus with us, there remains a small minority (around 12%) who are not. Spread across the world and unable to return to China until travel restrictions are lifted, these pupils continue to join in with lessons via the same e-learning systems we have been using throughout the past four months. As well as joining classroom lessons, pupils in difficult time zones have also been assigned a specific remote learning tutor for additional guidance and support. Alongside the outstanding efforts of the staff, I once again commend our pupils, who have been making sure that their peers outside of China still feel encouraged, supported and included. As part of this process of adapting successfully to the ‘new normal’ we are excited to be selecting pupils for a new role – form captain. While we are still maintaining the feel of the Wellington house system as much as possible, pupils are now being strictly separated into year groups in accordance with our viral prevention guidelines. The role of each form captain will be to help their peers remember and observe these guidelines, as well as working with staff to make sure that anyone who needs any extra support, be it regarding their studies, wellbeing or anything else, will get it. This is another chance for pupils to demonstrate their inherent leadership qualities and their ability to put ‘team before self’. I am certain that those elected to be form leaders will rise to the occasion admirably.

Returning to CCAs

Another landmark step being taken this week is our return to providing CCAs for Prep School pupils. This is something that comes with significant logistical challenges, but it is fundamentally important and valuable for us to do as a school. For the past four months, pupils have still been able to access the academic side of our curriculum; they have attended lessons, accessed academic resources, and received guidance and support from their teachers. However, they have not had access to the enrichment side of the Wellington curriculum, which is an area that we believe is just as vital to the holistic education of all the children in our care. Returning to CCAs, even under the constraints of being separated by year group while observing social distancing, is something we should all celebrate. Not only does it let our pupils resume activities that are fun, creative, cooperative and collaborative, it is essentially letting a breath of fresh air into their minds and bodies. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that true education is more than the receiving of knowledge through a screen or book – it is a process of opening every pupil’s mind to the possibilities around them, and making them excited to begin exploring.

Another step forward

Once again, no matter the challenges or obstacles we have to overcome, I am already heartened by the attitude that both pupils and staff readily display as we get back into the swing of life on campus. There is a spirit much in evidence that is not merely ‘can-do’ but actually ‘will-do’. Our teachers are deftly juggling classes that are simultaneously in their classroom and online, while also preparing engaging, high-quality CCAs and other enrichment activities without being daunted by the necessary restrictions in place. Our pupils are similarly determined to get back into school life while staying safe, whether they are physically with us on campus or still connecting from across the world. “I will make the most of this,” is the spirit of the times. I would like to finish my welcome back message with a small moment from yesterday that brought me a lot of joy. Our pupils have had to change lockers as they have been assigned spaces closer to their form rooms. Bagging up the contents of their old lockers should have been a mundane task, but it was a genuine pleasure to see them literally gathering up happy memories from many months past. Their good-natured chatter as they sorted through these reminders of a simpler time and their unfazed determination as they made a fresh start with their new lockers reminded me of the inherent resilience of youth in general, and of our pupils in particular. Welcome back everybody, I am pleased beyond words to see you, and I look forward to the day when we are all physically here together again.