We were delighted to welcome Maidenhead MP, and former Prime Minister, Theresa May on Friday 23 September where she met some of the 15 Ukrainian students currently enrolled at the school.
Claires Court was approached at the start of the Ukrainian crisis by former staff and current parents, each with a personal connection with Ukraine. They were collectively concerned that a school locally needed to be willing and able to take a large cohort of children all fleeing Ukraine, and from their connections with the school, felt that Claires Court would be well positioned to do so.
Community is the absolute heart of who we are at Claires Court and we were determined to do our level best to help those students who had experienced such awful circumstances at home. Providing their education is only a small step in this process, welcoming their mothers so they feel included and welcomed has been important too. We seem to have provided them, and for many of their fathers back in Ukraine, with the comfort of normality and importantly, the stability of routine and friendship in school.
James Wilding Academic Principal
Mrs May was invited as MP for Maidenhead to speak to the students and understand first-hand the challenges that had faced them and their individual circumstances. Mrs May started her visit in the newly furbished nursery school where the youngest child started age 2 and continued to meet Milana (Year 2) alongside her teacher and dedicated teaching assistant.
The visit was very special for the children and Mrs May was presented with heartfelt gifts. Three A-level students, Marina, Vavara and Daniela presented Mrs May with a Cyanotype print, framed and signed by the girls who are now learning subject based English to assist with their studies. Daniela, who is studying Photography at A-level, also presented Mrs May with a print of a photograph she took of iconic Big Ben, now showing a Prussian blue clock face.
The students within the school are supported by Ms Balynets, a qualified teacher & Ukrainian translator employed by Claires Court who also fled Ukraine as a refugee. Introduced by a former pupil, Ms Balynets is concentrating on teaching English to the youngest students and offering classroom subject help throughout, specifically with assistance at GCSE & A-level.
Mrs Rogers, Head of Sixth Form said, “In addition to the class work, Ms Balynets has been of great help acting as an interpreter between students, their mothers and the school to ease the transition between home and school. She’s really helped to explain how the school works for them, so very different from their experiences in their home country.”
Four of the senior students each took time to write a personalised letter to Mrs May outlining their experiences of the war and how this has affected them. Mrs May read the letters from the girls when presented with them and asked them questions about their time at school.
As the photos show, Mrs May dressed to impress for her visit, wearing Ukrainian colours and sporting the UK/Ukrainian crossed flags. The photo below shows our Head of Photography, Jane Wimshurst engaging Mrs May in an A level teaching point, supported by Stephanie Rogers, our Head of Sixth Form. One of the key points of Mrs May’s visit to our central College site was to show just how the breadth of our provision has been enhanced and developed over the past 3 years, clearly providing some remarkable, ground breaking provision from Nursery to Sixth form, both for teaching, accessibility and well-being support. One of the most important reasons we were able to support the Sixth Form arrivals from Ukraine is that they have keen interest in creative, artistic and technology based subjects. Our offer in this regards of high quality digital art, photography, media and music technology kit and teaching programmes fitted their needs as well as lowering the bar in terms of language accessibility.
And finally, we must never forget the value of supportive adults, be they fellow travellers from Ukrainine or generous Host families providing a secure home locally. Mrs May was very much a celebrity in the eyes of Mrs Balnyets and children, almost as much so as Dr Sheru George, who is hosting 3 families alone, mums and their 7 children! Dr George has been extraordinarily generous in his support of our work, assisting in the funding of adult language learning support as well. Mrs Balynets is getting used to her multi-layered role here, accompanying Year 7 boys and girls to Cliveden on Tuesday this week, in which we have 3 boys and 2 girls hosted learning our ways and enjoying their first taste of secondary school.