It has certainly been an interesting term, to put it mildly, and we have all had to face challenges that no one could ever have predicted. However, I am immensely proud of the way in which everyone at Woodcote has coped and, despite the problems in the last weeks, I do believe that we have come through it all in good shape. Professionalism, patience, adaptability and good humour from staff, boys and parents alike have been crucial to this, and I cannot thank everybody enough for all the extra time and effort they have had to put in.
Obviously, there have been a number of things that we have been unable to do, due to the restrictions placed on us by COVID – Saturday chapel, concerts, certain activities and hobbies for instance – but we have done our best to keep school as normal as possible and to give the boys plenty of variety. Matches have been played against other schools, with the great majority being given the opportunity to represent their school, and other highlights included a lovely Remembrance Service, which was recorded in the school chapel, outside Saturday assemblies with excellent presentations from respective year groups, and a 6th form charity run. The latter was both to raise money to adopt two African lions, and to improve the state of their common room – much needed! In 6 days, they covered the equivalent of the length of Lake Tanganyika between the 24 of them – 673 kilometres in total – with the HM joining them for the last leg and having to endure the humiliation of being lapped by no less than 4 of them.
Special mention must also be made of the 23 new boys who started this term, including 6 from overseas whose first experience of their new school involved 2 weeks quarantine. They all settled in fantastically well and, as always, received the warmest of welcomes from the other boys – Woodcote at its best.
If there is one thing that has been abundantly clear this term, it is the benefits that the boys have reaped from being able to interact again with each other. This pandemic has taught us many valuable lessons and new skills, and above all, that children need school. That said, I hope more than anything that the promised vaccines do actually work, and we see a gradual return to normality in the New Year. The one thing I can promise is a beautifully warm school. Although positively artic at present, with the heating turned off, the plumbers are already making very good progress!
Having been at WHS for a decade as a teacher, there is no doubt that this last year has been the most difficult. When Lockdown 1 and the effects of the pandemic first impacted normal school life, behind closed doors and responsibly distanced, the teachers of WHS had to come to terms with a new concept – Online Learning. We started very gently, before broadening the scope to include not only lessons but also live assemblies, cooking programs, fitness (or lack of) demonstrations, Common Entrance and unbelievably a form of online Leavers’ Program! The enormous amount of work that made this possible was entirely worth it and far better than what many other children received. However, there is no denying the boys missed out both academically and socially from not being in the classroom.
September rolled around, as did the process of creating socially distanced classrooms, dining rooms and dormitories. Truck loads of antibacterial gel and wipes were acquired, and we listened in surprise as the government confidently announced that children hardly ever catch Covid-19 and, even if they do, they don’t then pass it on. All the skills acquired during the first programme of online learning were put in to practice again this term, with ISEB pre-tests and secondary school interviews mainly taking place online. Throughout all this, the boys have been impressive, taking it all in their stride and, where possible, keeping a sense of humour and reality. Their obvious relief at returning to Woodcote in September was a heartfelt reminder that the effort and sacrifice of parents and staff alike is worth it.
Of all the 78 terms I have now completed at Woodcote, Michaelmas 2020 has certainly been the most challenging. However, the Woodcote spirit shone through in everything the boys did; be it in bubbles, pods or online!
I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the juniors quickly become part of the school, understanding the importance of representing their house and school at football and, further up the school, the pride was again obvious in those selected to play against other schools when Boris allowed. The 1st XI began to play with elan under the leadership of Santi B, recording several memorable victories against Sunningdale amongst others. The senior boys also managed a cricket match against Hall Grove early in September. The depth of talent is obvious and I hope the summer term allows them to enjoy an uninterrupted season under blue skies. In fact, the boys through the year groups are really keen on their cricket, which augurs well for the future.
Let us all hope that Lent Term 2021 will start to see school life become more recognisable and ‘old normal’. It will be fantastic to welcome you, the parents, back to Woodcote to see the boys playing sport against other schools and enjoying our legendary match teas. Have a superb Christmas and keep your fingers crossed for a sensational New Year!
Autumn term is always an exciting time, welcoming new boys into the Art department for the ﬁrst time, and seeing everyone move into a new school year with fresh ambitions and drawing goals! We had plenty of challenges and adapted ways of working in order to keep us all safe and well, but the boys responded very well and we saw it as a challenge to creative thinking. By introducing separate art packs for every boy, we were able to keep using paints and oil pastels and the boys enjoyed having their own drawing pens, especially those who favour cartooning.
We have entered some submissions into the young photographer’s ‘wild nature’ competition, run by Camberley Rotary Club (who very kindly allowed digital submissions this year) and it was a good excuse for boys to practise their photography and composition skills. Also, Sunningdale station will shortly be brightened up with a display of artwork by some of our pupils – so keep an eye out if travelling by train that way.
We have started to hang some of the many painted canvases that the Art room produces in the reception area of school, introducing a ‘painting of the month’ space. Despite limits, we have had some excellent pieces, including a wonderful zebra by Daniel A, who, along with Lemuel A, is working hard towards art scholarship exams early next year. The last 2 weeks of term were taught online, with the boys following along as I drew in my studio. All years rose to the challenge and have continued to be as productive at home, using their time for extra practice. We certainly have some fantastic artists rising through school, which has made choosing the art prize this term quite a headache! I am looking forward to some Spring weather next term so we can get outside and draw more things…
‘Ding dong merrily on High – At Woodcote the bells are still ringing!’
Class music and instrumental studies have continued to thrive at Woodcote during this term. Limitations on ensemble playing and singing have not dampened the spirits of the young Woodcote musicians. In class, we have been developing strong rhythmic sense through body percussion exercises, set to the soundtrack of ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’. Apologies to all who might, like Ms V and Ms Fisher, have been driven mad by ongoing clicking, clapping and knee-slapping contortions well after music classes have concluded. The more senior classes have coped with a shift to more analytical learning, looking at how music is constructed – with the aim of moving on to constructing their own music next term, and hopefully to go on to becoming YouTube sensations!
Instrumental music has continued with our dedicated team of Visiting Music Teachers providing excellent on-line lessons remotely. Within this context, we have still managed to attend ABRSM exams in piano, singing, violin and saxophone – with a 100% pass rate and 70% passing with merit. Well done to all who have maintained focus and worked hard for these results.
A new trumpet teacher, Mr Danny Mills, has recently joined our ranks, and we now have four boys entering into brass lessons with him. Maybe next year a Woodcote brass band could play at the Carol Service 2021. Special mention also of Justin J, who worked hard to develop the stamina and musicality needed for playing ‘The Last Post’ at this year’s online Remembrance Service.
Boarding and Activities
As the Easter holidays drew to a close, I was acutely aware of that fact that my role had been cut in half. Without boarders at Woodcote, I would find myself with some spare time on my hands in the summer term. No new starters, no Dominies boys and NO dorm list! I’m sure there was some opinion that I was very pleased, looking forward to the ‘easy’ term ahead. I found myself far from happy about it, not just because of my selfish reasons of enjoying being busy, but because Woodcote has always been a boarding school and essentially a large part of its personality was temporarily on hold. I attended a BSA ‘Return to Boarding’ seminar where there was a great deal of doom and gloom regarding both numbers for September, as well as how we were going to be able to have boarders at all! I, however, was quietly optimistic, knowing both our parents’ needs for boarding and what smaller schools are capable of offering.
Luckily, with the support of Suzanna and the Bursar we were able to make the building COVID ready and get 60% of the school boarding at the start of this term. This was a rather difficult and nervous time with 5 boys from Spain to quarantine, as well as the remainder of our boys in the building. After a few weeks, and 3 different dorm lists, we were back to our usual ways, although with added restrictions. At this point, I must thank the parents for trusting us in these uncertain times and sending your children in to board.
At the core of boarding success is the boys themselves. Their attitude towards school life in general has been impressive; they have thrown themselves into the activities that have been rolled out and made the most of a difficult situation, still always smiling. Staff have been very creative in keeping boys entertained with weekend and evening activities, highlights include Ms Lumsden’s skateboard design, Paintballing, lots of cookery and, of course, some campfires and pizza oven action.
Next term will bring new challenges. However, I feel that all of us have learnt a great deal this term and this should translate into a smoother and less interrupted term. Happy Christmas to you all and I look forward to welcoming the boys back in January.