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The start of a school year

It is hard enough at the best of times to say anything new about the start of a school year … this one has been so much hyped as ‘back to normal’ that that is truer than ever. But still … it is worth dwelling for a moment on the good spirits, euphoria even, with which Whitgift has re-started this week. Speaking in assembly (assembly!) about the return to moving around from department to department again, re-learning the routines for labs and workshops, libraries and dining halls, it was hard not to feel excited. Though the words of caution are also appropriate: care, testing, thoughtfulness, all are essential on all sides these next months at least. We want, we need, as I said, to be healthy and here.

Of all the renewed routines, none gives more pleasure than the mixing of year groups. Two genuine examples: an enthusiastic Lower Sixth Former talking to younger boys about the IB, why he’d chosen it (and why, he was telling them, they should); a Fourth Former overhearing a new boy wondering where a room was and saying ‘I’ll take you there’. ‘How do I get to [say] G5?’ an urgent question which puts us all on our mettle.

But it’s not just a pleasure. It’s a necessity. Students need to see younger and older boys around. It’s the best way to remind them that we are in a community where (as I also said) we learn to balance fitting in, with being an individual. Where we realise that it’s not just about us, what we personally want. That we need to set examples and find role models: that constant balance, in short, between the collective and the personal.

I often recall Alan Bennett’s words about his friend, the broadcaster Russell Harty: ‘He knew instinctively that everyone is the same. Of course he knew we are all different, too’. It’s not just a joke (though it is and was quite a good joke): we are all different, but in a community we do fit in to the same values and rules. It was ever thus, and, post-(if I dare say)-Covid, it’s good to be thinking in this way again.

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