Posted on 22/09/2021

Diary of a Headmaster And a Deputy Head Boy.

w/b 6th (First Week Back)
 

Monday
As usual on the night before going back in September, I hardly sleep: a combination of worrying I’ll not hear my alarm and all the things swirling around my mind I need to do this week.
Today is the first of our staff Inset days. Really nice to see everyone after seven weeks. As ever, there’s great banter and I love hearing new staff give an interesting fact about themself to break the ice. My favourite this year is from one of the new science teachers, who has his own pie company called ‘Duncan Disorderly’, selling pies with an alcoholic twist.

Later I speak about this half term’s pay review, one of the two most defining times of the year for staff (along with getting their timetables). On the one hand teachers have had it better than most over the last 18 months, with a regular salary. On the other hand, they need to be rewarded for being properly on the front line. We will do whatever we can to show we appreciate all they have done and are doing.
I make it clear to staff it is now business as normal. No masks, no social distancing, no bubbles and a return to school houses, vertical tutoring (boys of all ages in form classes together) and staff and students eating lunch together. We will be bringing back school trips and making the most of London as our classroom. 

Keen to stress that while it’s important we continue to strengthen teaching, progress and attainment and the curriculum, it is more important than ever  we never become an exam factory and we ensure our Christian ethos, enterprise (social, personal and business), sport, music, drama and our co-curriculum provision are front and centre. Surely the last 18 months have taught us that a young person’s worth is more than the 10 numbers and three or four letters they get when they’re 16 and 18. Our job is to prepare them for life and go into the world and make it better.    
The DfE phoned to ask about our approach to COVID testing. I explained we were giving all our boys a test to go home with on their first day back on Wednesday and encourage them to take it. Policing it and keeping records of the tests, not part of the plan though.  

My interview for Panorama goes out tonight about the Everyone’s Invited ‘rape culture’ movement in schools. It is an emotive subject. As men we have behaved badly. Important we are sorry and that our boys today grow up with the right knowledge and right attitude which will hopefully lead to right actions. Keen not to pit boys and girls against each other on this issue and to create an environment where young people can ask questions and make mistakes as they grow up. 
The interview was ok but disappointed they didn’t include my line at the end about the need to ‘Behold the Man’ (John 19.5). I guess all editors have their agendas!
 
Tuesday
Second day of Inset today. It is important to go through Prevent and Safeguarding training - it seems more relevant than ever this year in the light of Afghanistan, and acts as a timely reminder that Covid isn’t the only issue we need to think about. The new Year 7s are also in this morning, ahead of the other year groups who come in tomorrow. There’s a mixture of nerves and excitement as you’d expect starting ‘big school’. Some boys need to have a hair cut, learn to tuck their shirts in and do their ties up - and all by tomorrow...
 
Wednesday
All students back today. So nice to see them again. Nearly 98% attendance which shows school is where they want to be. 
Some of them have had great summers while others have  had a really tough time - things will inevitably come out over the next few weeks. It underlines again that our intake is truly comprehensive. Some of the richest and most privileged boys in the city, sitting in class next to some of the poorest and under privileged. 
Whole school assembly goes amazingly, with everyone in their school houses. Older boys next to younger boys, students and staff standing shoulder to shoulder.  We’ve missed singing more than anything else over the last 18 months. 


Some boys are still understandably nervous and wearing masks. That’s fine, as long as they are our school branded masks.
Tomorrow we have the first of our three Opening Ceremonies to mark moving into our new permanent site. Each ceremony will celebrate the three pillars the school is built upon: Boys, Faith and Enterprise. Tomorrow is ‘Faith’. We have a choir, ‘Only Men Aloud’, the BBC newsreader, Huw Edwards, and Rico Tice, the founder of Christianity Explored, all taking part. The choir has just been in touch to say that one of their tenors has gone down with Covid - a reminder that the virus is still here.

Thursday

Loads of work  to do but finding it hard to settle to get it done as so much to think about and get ready for tonight. 
Over 600 parents and boys, as well as guests, including some politicians, pack into our school hall at 7pm. Many people arrived early and stayed well past 11pm, chatting and enjoying  drinks and nibbles in the courtyard afterwards. Huw was a superb compere, OMA blew the doors off and Rico nailed his message on Romans 1.16!  It was a carnival atmosphere and great to see everyone joining in, singing and ‘dancing’ to Tom Jones’ ‘Delilah’ at the end. COVID is definitely not gone but there haven’t been enough nights like this and tonight seemed just what the doctor ordered. Am sure there will be a spike but I think we just have to get on with our lives now and learn to live with the C word! Our young people have had enough disruption and sense this is the general consensus, even among the most risk averse heads and schools that I speak to.  Everyone wants to avoid another lockdown at all costs. 


 
Friday
The day after the night before! Spent it planning on how to further expand our Trust and setting up and establishing more schools like ours. We are determined to influence education in London and nationally. 
To that end, we’ve just gone to consultation regarding an alternative provision for pupils with behavioural issues or special educational needs that can’t access mainstream schools but neither do they belong in special schools and behavioural units. A real need for this kind of school as current system seems to be failing so many young people who are falling between two stools. 
This is why in the cabinet reshuffle it would be brilliant  to have someone like Kemi Badenoch as Education Secretary. Decisive, innovative and not frightened to do things differently. We are at a critical juncture for education with all that has gone on, and have a chance to really make a change. But we have to take risks. The biggest risk is not to! 

w/b 13th (Second Week in...)

Tuesday
Started the day with a whole school assembly. Boys and staff in good voice. The warm ups before they sing are probably the best bit - ‘Ticky tacka’, and ‘Red lorry, yellow lorry, red lorry’ to get the vocals right and a bit of dad dancing and face stretching to loosen up. Love it!  
I gave the boys a 5 word prescription for the year: ‘Refuse to think about yourself.’ ‘Me’ is my biggest problem. We love ourselves. I was born voting for me and you were born voting for you. We want the whole universe to revolve around ‘me’. But where has living for me and thinking about me got me? Stop thinking about ‘me’ and throw yourself into the moment: your lesson, your sports match, your co-curricular club, assemblies. Give yourself to other people, the school, the community, the team, the cause. 

Had a great hour with two local primary headteachers. Talking about pupils who have come from them to us and are now young men as old as 18 ready to go into the world and hopefully change it for the better. It’s why we do what we do. Really keen to forge close links with them this year as a reminder that education doesn’t start at 11. 

Had an hour with the publisher about one of the books I have coming out next year. This one is done but I haven’t really started the other one yet and need to get it to the publisher by January. Will definitely need to get on with it next week. September is bonkers! 
  
Wednesday
We are holding our 4 house welcome meetings each evening this week, Mon-Thurs.  Really long days and not getting home til after 9. It is literally school, eat, watch an episode of Malcolm in the Middle or West Wing, bed. These meetings are so important though as it is vital to re-engage our parents and re-establish the house system. The evenings have been great so far. Parents, boys and staff mingling over drinks and nibbles and then bespoke sessions to get them ready for the year ahead. i.e. Year 7 Transition, Year 9 Options, Year 10 starting GCSE, Year 13 getting ready for uni. 
 
A parent messaged me today to say that her son remembered that it was exactly 7 years to the day that he was the first Fulham Boy to walk through the gates. We have come a long way!  
Had afternoon tea with the bishop of Kensington along with some other heads. He is a good man. He asked us what we’d learnt over the last 18 months and must keep hold of. For me it is two things: 1) Resilience. Our young people have suffered with exams and missed so much school, but they’ve been through things that you cannot learn from test tubes and text books. It has made them gutsy, gritty and determined to just get on with it. ‘Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors’. Our young people have been through choppy waters and will be better sailors for it. 2) We are not in control and must not pretend or act like we are. We need to look up! 

Our boys played their second game of rugby today, following on from Saturday morning’s fixtures. It feels so good to have school boys’ sport back on!

Goodbye Gavin Williamson. Hello Nadhim Zahawi. The final straw for Gavin was surely confusing Maro Itoje with Marcus Rashford. It is almost David Brent esqe from the first episode of the first series of the Office!
Had thought the new Ed Sec might be Kemi Badenoch but am sure NZ will rise to the challenge. Please don’t take us back to ‘normal’. Seize the day and create a new, better ‘normal’. Take forward the spirit of the Conservative party’s exciting free school policy and bring new and innovative providers into the education sector, to drive up standards and improve school choice. Ensure examinations take place next summer which are such an important measure.  At the same time, the last 18 months have shown us they cannot be the only measure and a young person’s worth cannot come down to just 10 numbers and 3 letters at the end of it all. It is why we think the FBS Enterprise Award is so important as it records all the other things they do. Think outside the box and measure schools not just on their results but by the retention rates of their students at university. How many of our pupils go to uni and don’t drop out and finish their degrees? That would show how well we prepare them for the next stage. Anyway, I am pontificating. The point is education is there for the taking. Now is the time!  

Thursday 
Sent out our updated risk plan today in the light of the news about vaccinations being offered to all pupils aged 12-15. We envisage that the vaccinations will operate very similarly to other vaccinations carried out in school where pupils are taken out of lessons, have the injection, and then return to lessons if they are well enough. Parents will need to consent. The aim will be to cause minimal disruption to lessons.  

Very few parents have raised concerns so far, although within no time of me sending out the risk plan, I have already received a letter from a lawyer. Notice of potential liability of Mr Ebenezer of The Fulham Boys School , 532 Fulham Road , London, SW6 5BD: COVID 19 Vaccinations for Children. 
Not going to give this a second thought. We are just following government guidelines and doing all we can to keep our pupils, families and community safe and our school open. A reminder though that we have to be on it so that only boys whose parents have given consent get the vaccination. 
Also that I need to be sympathetic to those who hold different views to me on this and listen to them. We are all experts it would seem but the science is by no means unanimous and much of our opinion is based on the newspapers we read, our temperaments, personal circumstances and situations, and the experience we have had of this awful disease. I am however deeply uncomfortable and against any testing being carried out on unborn children. 

Our consultation to set up an Alternative Provision has generated a lot of responses. Overwhelmingly positive with families and primary schools saying this type of provision is much needed. The problem is it doesn’t fit into any box - not mainstream or special - so I need to work out how to decide the admissions criteria. But if it is the right thing to do, we have to make it happen and not be prevented because nothing is written down anywhere about how it is allowed to happen.  

Friday
Just found out that first vaccinations will happen by half term and we  will be given at least a  weeks’ notice. 
 
First residential trip of the year (and pretty much since before Covid) heads off today. Year 7 go to PGL. Enjoy it boys and thanks to the staff for giving up their weekend. 

Attendance still over 97%. Six boys off with COVID. One member of staff unconfirmed.

The excitement of the first two weeks is nearly over. Now we have to dig in for the autumn term. 100 days to Christmas!

Jack, Deputy Head Boy.

Getting back into school life after the summer holidays is always a daunting task. Despite the best intentions to begin the year well, you never quite anticipate how devastating the first 6 o’clock start will be. I always look forward to getting back to school, seeing friends, and slipping back into the school  routine. However, shortly after the alarm goes off and the realisation hits, it is a struggle to retain any positive ambition for the days and weeks ahead. Nonetheless, as happens every year, and always much to my surprise, you soon get back into the swing of things. After the first few hours of the morning the second wind hits, and it’s like you never left. The annual trend of this morning routine didn't fail to return this September, as we once again embarked upon a new school year.

Alongside the trial of the first morning’s early start, turning up to school last Wednesday did posses many familiar comforts that I hadn’t been able to enjoy for many months. When we left school for the summer holiday last July we left behind with it the rules of mandatory masks, social distancing, and of course the joy of lateral flow tests. This year however, we walked in with mask free faces, and the ability to walk within two metres of each other stress free. After being so long with various restrictions, it was a relief to finally be reaching some normality again. School  has returned to normal, and we no longer have to remain in year group bubbles.Of course the memory of Covid-19 is still lurking. Walking through the corridor some students still wear masks (FBS branded!) to keep safe. As pastoral deputy head boy, I have spoken to the younger boys to see how they feel about the news that they are about to get the vaccine in school. Most haven’t really thought about it, others see it as a bit of time out of class to get an injection. Some are looking forward to it whilst there are others whose parents won’t allow them to. Many older boys have come into school with the triumph of receiving their first, and maybe second dose, proudly parading their vaccine stickers on their phones, halfway to achieving the prestigious vaccine passport. 

Clearly Covid still has its effect upon school life, but we can now see light at the end of the tunnel, and perhaps a completely normal school experience not too far around the corner.

A massive part of school life we have been unable to enjoy over the past eighteen months or so, is playing competitive sports. Despite only starting school last Wednesday, we have been able to play two rugby fixtures, which has involved all year groups. To say I was feeling the effects of eighteen months without full contact rugby would be an understatement, but it was great to be able to enjoy competitive sports again nonetheless.
Since the school opened in 2014, we have been staying on a temporary site. This was the case until last April, when we could finally entered our permanent home. Even so it was only last week that we were able to open up the building for our opening ceremony where supporters of the school, as well as boys, parents, and other guests  came to celebrate the opening of the new building. The evening was great, with the choir ‘Only Men Aloud’ coming to perform, as well as the BBC News presenter Huw Edwards hosting the event. It was a really enjoyable evening. There were great musical performances by the students, brilliant videos expressing the school’s key principles and beliefs about the Christian faith, and Only Men Aloud managed to get even the most rigid of us dancing along by the end, despite the reluctance of some.

This year I also plan to sit my A level exams, and apply for university. I am looking to apply for Cambridge and Durham, among others, and look forward to beginning university life next September. I am aware that many young people have had an interesting start to university life to say the least, as a result of Covid 19. Online learning, and being restricted to their room for the majority of last year has apparently been a struggle. Many of my friends who went to University last year said it was a very difficult first year experience, and nothing like they envisioned it to be. The general consensus in school is that we ourselves will be able to enjoy university to the full this time next year. But of course we have to remember that it is very uncertain what the next few months could involve, and university and education as a whole could look very different for a while to come. I am also aware that due to Covid, the number of university applicants this year has grown significantly, which naturally increases the competition for places. I guess that means even more work for me this year!

It’s been good to return to school life again. After the uncertainty of last year, and what it would bring, we hope that this year will be far more straightforward, and we cannot wait to get started. And even if it isn’t as we plan it to be, I still have a whole stash of lateral flow tests left in the cupboard.

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