Welcome from Jo Duncan

As we reach the end of the first half term of this academic year, and debate continues about the best way to deal with COVID-19, I would like to take this opportunity to pause, reflect and extend my thanks to you as we head into Long Leave.

Girls, staff and parents have all been incredibly supportive of the measures we put in place at the start of term to protect our community while also accepting numerous changes along the way as we have adapted and refined our stance in light of the changing local and national picture. The purchase of the Samba II machine, funded by generous parental donations, has reduced the need for girls to isolate and where girls have displayed symptoms and been tested, all cases have been negative to date.

Girls have shown great resilience in the face of a raft of new restrictions, the move to year group dormitories and, for some, changing exam dates. They have undertaken their academic work with characteristic focus and effort. I would particularly like to note those girls and staff who joined us in September; starting a new school or job at any time is daunting enough and to do so successfully in such extraordinary circumstances is to be commended. I know that we have all missed the rhythm of School life such as meeting together in Chapel, Big School and Whole School Singing, as well as mixing with older and younger friends.

It has been great to see clubs and societies restarting (remotely) with a range of interesting speakers. I attended a couple of fantastic talks on astrophotography, by photographer Gavin James and astronomer Jonathan Genton and on social entrepreneurship by Ronit Kanwar. It is a genuine pleasure to see many girls outside playing tennis and lacrosse. Sport continues to be an area of focus for me and you are warmly invited to attend the Sports’ Forum which is taking place on Zoom on Saturday 7 November.

As you are aware, the pandemic has resulted in a massive shift in terms of technology. Staff have worked tirelessly to ensure lessons are accessible to all and I am grateful to them for their work this term. Having dealt with the urgent short-term requirement to adapt to online learning in the Summer term we are now looking at our long-term digital strategy. I am delighted that the Members of Council have approved an initial request for significant investment in the wi-fi and network infrastructure and this work will take place over Long Leave. This means that wi-fi coverage and capacity will be greatly improved, including in the boarding Houses and other key areas, and the network will be upgraded such that it will be able to cope with the increased demands it has faced this term much more comfortably.

Good communication remains crucial at this time. Parents should continue to contact the School via your daughter’s Housemistress in the first instance. In addition, I have asked Mr Mercer-Kelly (Senior Deputy Head) to be the key point of contact for day boarder parents from next half term, particularly with regard to logistical arrangements. Of course, we will continue to face challenges and decisions about how to proceed in the way that makes sense for our community will have to be made. But for now, I would encourage everyone to take the opportunity for a well-deserved break in the coming days as we recharge ready for the second half of term.

Jo Duncan MA (St Andrews), PGCE (Cantab)