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Welcome (back) to Bryanston

Headmaster Mark Mortimer looks forward to a new term and reflects on how lockdown reminded us that it takes face-to-face relationships to breathe life into a school…

Where there was monochrome, now there is colour and where there was silence, now there is energy, enthusiasm and chatter. Fabulous. We are back and already, in some ways, it’s as though the past six months was simply a bad dream.

Over the weekend, we have welcomed all the new pupils and parents to the School and held meetings with them in our magnificent Greek Theatre, one of the jewels in Bryanston’s crown, constructed by pupils themselves in the years 1949–1951. The sun has shone, and I have found it genuinely emotional to listen to the noise and be talking to real-life people rather than a camera. Some of them even laughed at my jokes.

Of course, it’s not quite the same as in previous Septembers: on our scale of response to Covid, we are operating at Level 3, i.e. ‘School is open with significant operational restrictions’, but let me tell you, if at any time last term you’d offered me what we have, here and now, I’d have bitten off your hand to take it. The staff are back, the pupils are back, the boarding houses are up and running, the flag is flying… We are up and running.

We are still very much in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and thus I hesitate to reflect too much on lessons learned during lockdown or ruminate about what we might do differently as a result. However, it is undoubtedly the case that a term of remote learning away from school reminded the country not only that teaching is a highly-skilled profession, but also that, although it can be delivered effectively online, it is face-to-face relationships that are at the heart of school life and the key to excellent teaching and learning.

Having been here, on site, throughout lockdown, I saw it for myself. Of course, the magnificent buildings, facilities and grounds that comprise Bryanston remained the same, impervious as they are to Covid-19, but they were empty, like the façade of a film set. It wasn’t a school without the people and relationships that breathe life into it and make it so.

There has been lots of talk in the educational world about the need to ‘rebuild’ school communities, but from what I’ve seen over the first weekend, there’s not too much conscious effort that needs to go into that. The usual kindness, goodwill and concern for others will do the trick. The best barometer of the sense of community at Bryanston is the dining hall, and the atmosphere and hubbub in there indicates that it’s in pretty good shape, as do the smiles and enthusiasm radiating from the staff and pupils.

Undoubtedly, however, there are things we will learn and embrace as a result of lockdown and the success of the online Guided Learning Programme, not least the capacity of technology to teach and to involve and include parents more effectively in the school community. Most importantly, perhaps, the change of mindset that lockdown necessitated, and the need to adapt nimbly and with flexibility, are priceless benefits.

Lastly, I hope that pupils will return to school even more appreciative of what they have missed, even more aware of the opportunities they have and remember that their time here is short. If so, they should be even more determined to make the most of school, get stuck in and seize those opportunities with both hands.

On we go!