“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” C.S. Lewis

A shortened version of this blog led my closing bulletin words for the Senior Boys newsletter on 10 July 2020.

If ever there was a time when C.S. quote rings true, it is now. When ‘lockdown started, none of us had really any idea of what events would unfold or indeed what measure of success or otherwise our school and community would make of the Summer Term ahead. Chaos, Doom, Gloom, perhaps something worse still threatened. 

And yet that is not what happened at all. Claires Court’s teachers, pupils, students, parents & guardians as co-teachers too have worked their socks off to make the right things happen the right way. Our Year 11 exam candidates worked particularly hard over the first 4 weeks back after Easter. One of the joys of being a G Suite school is that we have the statistics to show just how hard those in Y11 and 13 worked, and tried their best to complete their courses even though they could not take their ‘finals’.

And so it is for everyone else here too; we took stock, managed the challenges, learned how to work MEETs and Part 1s, and then how to prioritise Parts 2s, all whilst working in Classroom and Drive. Not quite a whole new vocabulary, but one now that, adult or child, has a whole meaning.

And there was challenge, stretch, fitness, fun, music and …the Taskmaster too. Will there be another term like this Summer’s? I think we do all rather hope not, but Covid-19 and its impact is not temporary; teachers have developed a very healthy respect for the digital learning their students have shown, with new learned good behaviours replacing some of the indifferent  ones. For example, given that all work is homework in #lockdown, so long as we don’t ask children to ‘write into the night’, many have surprised themselves with just how connected to their teacher and subject they have become, heralding the good news that we have not fallen behind at all academically, and we are really well set for a full return to school in September. 

And of course, if we do have to face #lockdown2, to rephrase C.S. Lewis, we are actually in charge of the beginning too next time!

In writing our concluding newsletter from our #lockdown summer term, I am joined by the other headteachers with their words as well. First amongst equals is Margaret Heywood, ‘Maggie’ or ‘Maggs’ for short. She completes her service at Claires Court this summer, and her own words speak the biggest tribute we could for her ‘brilliance’ as a shining member of our Faculty.

This will be my final bulletin. I have spent 39 years in education and almost all of it here at the College site. In 1992 whilst on maternity leave, James and Hugh Wilding took over the running of Maidenhead College and the past 28 years have been the most fulfilling of my professional career. To work in a school that challenges education on a daily basis and always seeks to find a better way of doing what we do has been refreshing and invigorating. Even more so over recent months. I have always said the staff are your best asset in an educational setting and I have been blessed with working with colleagues who put the needs of children first. They believe that young people will find their way and give them the necessary tools to get there. It has been a joy working with them all over the years and more recently with three separate leadership teams at College Avenue as well as colleagues as Junior and Senior Boys and of course who can forget the efforts of Justin Spanswick this term. 

“I also cannot forget the wonderful support team that enables us to do our job well and my colleagues in marketing, human resources, administration, housekeeping, transport, site management, catering along with our learning support and teaching assistants undertake work that if was not done extraordinarily well would mean that the school couldn’t function. 

Thank you to past and present pupils and parents for your support over the years and more recently your kind words. I will miss you all.

Honestly, I think any reader will know who will actually miss who! Maggie has always thought first about the children in our care, and the respect and love her former pupils have for her knows almost no bounds. Claires Court is most fortunate that we are not actually losing the Heywoods from our community, as 2 of her daughters, Jessica and Lara are still with us as members of Faculty. Well, I say they are members of faculty, as both are currently on maternity leave, with new babies in tow ready to keep Granny very busy. Her oldest grandchild is due to join Nursery next year as well, so the tradition of Heywoods not just as teachers but as pupils in the school will reach another generation.

Another amazing Claires Court leader also concludes her teaching career this summer – the Leader of our amazing nursery , my sister-on-law, Sheena Wilding. She too writes this week in such a moving way, that I conclude this blog with her words.

We’ve done it and in so very many ways since lockdown!!

This week we had our Nursery Sports Day on the big field, something we have done every year since I joined and have only ever had to cancel / postpone a couple of times because of the weather. Covid-19 was not going to stop this event for Claires Court Nursery! OK we had to simplify it and not invite parents and friends but the children had enormous fun and ran for the world! Each “Bubble” had a hoops race (hoops cleaned between groups) and a running race, the groups all sat trackside at safe distances to cheer each other on and the music we had playing in the background added to all the excitement. Well done everyone and thank goodness the weather report was good for Tuesday and we did it then. Wednesday would have been a washout!

We have survived intense sunshine, heavy rainfall and strong winds (unfortunately one of our gazebos didn’t survive the latter last weekend!) but the children have enjoyed every moment and I can only hope that in the future they will have the glimpse of a memory of a lovely summer when they spent all their time outdoors on the big field.

We have learnt about life cycles of frogs, chicks and butterflies, have grown beans and sunflowers, each group has played with a different set of toys every day for the last 25 days (well done staff for organising boxes of toys on a Monday to Friday rotation which then rotated around the 6 groups), we have painted, drawn, created masks, puppets, collages, extended our phonic and mathematical knowledge through games and stories and the learning goes on. The children have played on climbing equipment, developed ball skills, used scooters, tricycles and ride-on toys, worked together creating with tyres and planks of wood, and have used gross motor skills with playground chalks, water with decorators paint brushes and paint on large rolls of paper on the ground. Most importantly the children have been together, developing their communication and social skills and being happy. I could not ask for more.

The team around the children has been amazing. Stewart and Tony, our maintenance support, have been at our beck and call with the gazebos, netting and posts to create “walls” around each “classroom” which needed regular adjustment, line marking to make the running tracks for us, getting the heating on for our outdoors wash basin stations bright and early each morning and generally helping when anything needed fixing. Thank you so much.

Ronnie and Surjeet need a big thank you for all the constant cleaning they have done. Without them it would have been impossible to use all the large equipment around the field in the frequent way we did. As soon as they saw a group coming off the climbing equipment or leaving the balls and hoops for example they were straight over to clean. As soon as a group had been indoors to go to the toilets they were in cleaning. Big support – big thank you.

Anneta and Johanna, our school nurses on the College avenue site, have been keeping us all safe by taking temperatures and asking health questions for both staff and children everyday since our return and, as always, checking and caring for our little ones when they have had a bump or a fall. Thank you for all your care and compassion.

A special thank you goes to all in administration who have looked after me and my department and I need to give particular thanks to Helen Phipps, the College Avenue site secretary, who has made me laugh, helped organise my diary and reminded me of things I need to do!

My nursery staff, as always, have pulled out all the stops to make this work and work exceptionally well for the children. They always give 100% but these four months have needed that and much more. From the home learning with all the videos they created (not a thing any of us had a clue about or relished doing!), the planning which was adapted and sent out weekly and the return to the real rather than virtual way of doing our work has stretched us all but we get a sense of achievement when we hear the laughter and smiles on your children’s faces. A huge thank you goes from me to my staff and a special mention to Miss Kujawa who normally works with our Junior Girls and the Breakfast Club / After School Care facility and joined our team when other members of my staff were unable to return in June. She has been an asset.

Have I missed popping into the Transition, Beehive, Busy Bees and Honeycomb rooms to see children playing and learning in those areas as ordinarily I do regularly to escape sitting in my office? No. It has been an absolute joy, having temporarily moved my working area to the Holiday Club cabin and the desk overlooking the field, seeing all the children together outside with their teachers and clearly learning and enjoying life. Thank you parents for sending your children back and providing me with a happy memory.

My biggest thank you of all of course goes to Hugh Wilding, my husband, and James Wilding, 2 remarkable brothers who have created the most amazing environment for children to learn in and for staff to work in.

I’ve done it – I’ve written my final Bulletin!

With my very best wishes to you all, children and parents, for a safe, healthy and happy future, Sheena Wilding

Parents whose children have been through the nursery will read Sheena’s words with tears in their eyes. Our nursery is so much more than just “a room in a house for the special use of young children”. The Claires Court nursery is more a state of mind than anything else, a place in which the true embodiment of a child’s early years comes alive. We will miss everthing about what Sheena brings to the party every day, her love and joy of working with her little ones!

Close of Summer Term 2020 – Doesn’t C.S. Lewis’ quote now mean so much more now? We are #clairescourt.

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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