Autumn Term School Reports 2021

10 December 2021

School crests

After 18 months of significant disruption, it has been exciting for schools to begin to be able to return to some sense of normality. We are happy to be able to share updates from the Headteachers of the Aldenham Foundation and Dame Alice Owen’s School.

Aldenham Foundation

James Fowler, Headmaster of the Aldenham Foundation, reports:

“The fact that we have been able to see children blending together across different year groups, witness pupils playing together in sports teams, returning to theatres and concert venues to see children performing and parents coming into School freely has been very significant and very important.

The impact of this has been tangible in terms of the way in which the patterns of normalisation of school behaviours has had a positive impact on the way in which children are now able to live their lives again. They have been able to be challenged, excited, inspired and of course disappointed in the usual way. As we all recognise, the process of growing up has an inevitable sense of an emotional roller coaster and children are very much back in that state as they relate to one another in so many ways once again.

…It has undoubtedly been very helpful that for many staff they have been returning to work in facilities that have been significantly upgraded over the last two years. It was a real delight to be able to welcome the Master and Wardens back for their annual visit last month and to be able to show them the new Prep School building and also the greatly enhanced science facilities in the Senior School. Both these developments have been very skilfully managed by our Bursar, Karl Mahon, and his team who have created superb learning environments for children of different ages and in different spheres. This sense of confidence that has been generated by the ability to see such developments realised even during this time of uncertainty has been noted by many of those who work and learn with us.

…The picture overall is one of high hopes, but uncertain prospects for the remainder of the year. As before in the last eighteen months, we have seen glimpses of a return to normality in our lives, but with notable caveats about the possibility that things may become more difficult again. I have no doubt that the Aldenham Foundation will be well placed to move forward together and respond to challenges as they emerge. However, given that one of the absolute highlights of every School year – our magnificent House Music Competition – had to be made into a virtual event without any audience present at the last minute in response to a spike in Covid cases in October, there is obviously a sense that we are not out of the woods yet.

I know however that we have a team of staff and pupils who are able to work towards that future with a great sense of optimism and resilience in equal measure.”

Dame Alice Owen’s School

Hannah Nemko, Headteacher of Dame Alice Owen' School, reports:

“The new school year brought with it the excitement of a return to the un-bubbled Owen’s we all knew and loved before the pandemic took hold. The extracurricular timetable was planned in all its mixed-year glory and all was good, for the first few weeks at least! Students enjoyed their Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Gold expedition in the Peak District and we revelled in watching the Year 7s, along with the Year 8s, discover the mysteries of the school campus for the first time, including where to find the most elusive rooms such as E1!

…As Covid started to rear its head at school, restrictions crept back in. In the first six weeks of school there were 275 confirmed cases of COVID amongst the student body and 202 cases of absence where seemingly symptomatic students were obliged to isolate awaiting the results of a PCR test which subsequently came back negative. We were disappointed to have to amend our plans for the Upper School Visitation, as well as to have to reduce the numbers of guests invited to the opening of the Brewers’ Education Centre but all these adaptations meant that school was able to remain un-bubbled and open to all students, a small victory.

Maybe due to the initial high rates, or maybe due to the high uptake of the vaccine when it was offered, the rate of COVID is now greatly decreased in the school and teaching and learning is returning to its usual pattern. Staff and students are delighted to be back in specialist areas, especially for subjects such as Science, Art, DT, and Food and Textiles, where students are enjoying being able to engage in practical learning activities after a year of limited opportunities to do so. Music rehearsals were greatly disrupted due to absences and the concert schedule has had to be reworked as a result. We are now eagerly awaiting December when concerts will be restarting.

… The school continues to ‘strive with a will’ in spite of the setbacks and difficulties we have had to face. We hope that life will continue to make steps towards normality - whatever that may look like - and that we are, once again, able to provide all the opportunities and experiences which our young people deserve and enjoy.”

In early December, Dame Alice Owen’s School was declared the Sunday Times top non fully selective state school 2021. This year the Sunday Times have relied on an average of grades from 2017, 18 and 19 resulting in Dame Alice Owen’s being ranked as the 29th state school in the country, taking all fully selective schools into account. Hannah Nemko said: “This is an amazing achievement and reflects the incredible work of the staff and governors as well as the impact of the Foundation’s investment in our School.”