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25 June 2020

On Sunday I stumbled across an interesting letter in the Times written by the Head Master of Wells Cathedral School.  Wells Cathedral was founded in 909 and apparently it has been forced to close on at least four occasions during its 1,000-year history. 

Once during the Viking raids on Somerset between 1010 and 1015.  Twice during the Civil War; first in 1642 when the Cavaliers used the school as their headquarters for raids on Bath and Bristol and then again in 1645 when the Roundheads drove the Cavaliers out of Somerset. The school was closed for the fourth and final time in 1685 during the Monmouth Rebellion when the cathedral was ransacked by the rebels.  The Headmaster went on to write that on each occasion the school has re-opened and continues to flourish.

At the beginning of March few of us would have imagined that Warwick would be physically closed to most pupils for the rest of the school year. In these unusual times I found this example of a community’s perseverance in the face of History reassuring. 

Warwick can trace its origins to 914 a mere 5 years later, surely there must be similar episodes in the history of our school.  I asked Mr Frykman, the school archivist and Mr O’Brien, the Head of History to investigate. They did not disappoint.

Warwick was not closed by Viking raids, we are too far inland for that.  The Civil war doesn’t appear to have bothered us either, but the school has faced numerous challenges during its past. The school’s original location from 914 – All Saints Church in Warwick - disappeared under the foundations of Warwick Castle following the Norman conquest in the 11th century.  Having spent most of the subsequent Medieval Period in the Guild Hall the school was forced to relocate when Robert Dudley seized the building for himself in an attempt to impress Elizabeth I.  The school’s new home was destroyed by the Great Fire of Warwick in 1694, along with many of its books, once again forcing a move to a new location. When these Medieval buildings eventually became unfit for purpose, in the Nineteenth Century, the school settled on its new site, with its ample sports fields, on the banks of the River Avon, where it has thrived ever since.

Warwick School is no stranger to educational reform either. In the 1100’s the Normans instituted French as the language of the school. Henry VIII re-founded the school as a grammar school in 1545 and in 1945 Warwick became a school independent of government support.

We still do not know what September will bring.  Earlier this week the government repeated its pledge that all pupils in all year groups in England will go back to school fulltime in September.  We all hope that this will be the case and we are planning for a full return on September 1st. As always, the devil is in the detail and at present it is still not entirely clear how exactly this return will look in practice. Given the current absence of further information, we are planning for a range of different scenarios in the autumn, including using rotas to stagger the return of pupils and bringing all students back full time.

In the face of this uncertainty, history can bring us reassurance and inspiration.  Our community is a strong one.  Throughout its 1,106-year history the school has faced these challenges and carried on educating our boys. The current circumstances are just another trial in the school’s long history. As a community we will work together to persevere and overcome these challenges, and, as in the past, emerge all the stronger.  With the correct mindset challenges can be a stimulus for growth.  The school has never taught remotely before, we have learnt a great deal from this experience, much of which will inform our teaching and learning moving forward.  We have been so impressed with the way in which our boys have adapted to their new ways of working, their strength and resilience has been wonderful to see. A further positive, of course, is the reminder of the importance of community, which I spoke about in my previous blog. Despite the recent difficulties for all of us, hopefully we have been reminded of how important our friends, family and communities are. As the lockdown restrictions ease, we can all look forward to some elements of life returning, whilst remaining mindful of what we have learnt over the past few months.

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