Schools around the country are approaching the end of the first full term with students in school since the start of lockdown. It has also been the first term for Jamie Gutch in a new role as Deputy Headteacher at Ilkley Grammar School (IGS), with responsibility for Post-16 and Personal Development.
In this article, he reflects on how IGS (the founding school of Moorlands Learning Trust) and the wider community have adjusted to new ways of working, and thanks all those who have supported the school in recent months.
For Post-16, the new academic year starts in mid-August with A level and GCSE results days. Results days this year were like no others ever before, delivered virtually against a national backdrop that was changing almost daily. These were times of extraordinary uncertainty for students and parents. My overriding memory is of the incredible dignity showed by the young people in our community, as in many cases they waited patiently at the end of a phone to see if the future they had planned was going to be secure. Current year 11 and 13 students are also showing impressive calmness and resilience as the application process starts again for 2021 entry to Post-16 and university. Learning to live with and embrace uncertainty is something which we are all having to accept and adjust to.
An important part of my new role is to explore opportunities for IGS to engage with the local and wider community in ways that are mutually beneficial. The Latin origin of the word community is the verb munire which means to fortify, so at the heart of the word community is the idea of co-fortification – of us strengthening each other. The past months at IGS, as in the wider society, have presented great challenges. For us it has also, however, been a period where we have had the opportunity to show resilience and creativity in our response to those challenges both as a school community, and also through our ever-evolving connections with communities beyond the school gates.
When I think about the importance of community, I am reminded of a powerful quote from Martin Luther King Jr who refers to how crisis forces us to accept the necessity of a collective response.
“All life is interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly… As long as diseases are rampant… no man can be totally healthy, even if he just got a clean bill of health from the finest clinic in America. Strangely enough, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.”
It is said that ‘you only know what you’ve got when it’s gone,’ and it does seem true that we are appreciating community much more at the moment, when the virus has forced us to be more isolated from each other. We are social beings – none more so perhaps than teenagers – and so it is perhaps not surprising that young people are finding it hard to sacrifice social interaction at the time when the exciting possibilities of their world should be opening up, not closing down. This is why it has been so important for schools to be open this term, and while this has undoubtedly presented a number of diverse challenges, I know that teachers too are grateful for the normality of the daily routine of coming to school.
But this is not an article about how hard it has been for schools. The situation has been incredibly difficult for everyone in different ways, and all sectors of society have had to play their own part. This is an article in which we want to thank all those who have strengthened the school community in recent months – both from the inside and from outside.
Firstly, thank you to our student community, the vast majority of whom have accepted a raft of day-to-day rules, regulations and adjustments to their education without question, from staggered starts, finishes and lunch times, one way systems, bubbled zones, wearing masks in corridors, sanitising their hands upon entry and exit to the classroom, for bringing in packed lunches for a period and for accessing their learning from home if required to self-isolate.
Thank you to our students, parents/carers who helped us raise £5,000, the most money we have ever raised for Children in Need this year and for donating 700 coats to Refugee Action earlier this term. Thank you in advance to Post-16 students who will be donating items to Ilkley Food Bank during Charities Week and to students in other years who will be raising money in a variety of different ways – including a readathon and a collective marathon challenge.
We are also very proud of our student leaders who have filled 523 different roles in 27 different leadership areas this autumn from the Eco-iLeaders to the new Wellbeing iLeaders. Purposeful and thoughtful leadership has never been more important, and our Post-16 Leadership Team has set a new standard this year at IGS, with a self-initiated academic peer-mentoring programme where Year 13 students meet virtually with Year 12 students to provide academic support and advice.
Thank you too to our teachers who have set about adjusting schemes of work, writing risk assessments for practical subjects, cleaning tables between lessons, teaching in different rooms in different buildings every lesson and live-streaming blended lessons with patience, determination, professionalism and creativity. As well as the academic provision, these teachers and pastoral teams are invaluable in providing different levels of support for students when they need it.
Thank you to the Ilkley Grammar School PTA who continue to meet and come up with fundraising ideas such as the Go Fund Me page which has enabled us to invest in 20 benches, 4 permanent awnings to provide additional shelter for students, and which is supporting training for one of our teachers to be able to train students as wellbeing mentors. Thank you also to the site team at IGS who worked so hard to construct the benches and the awnings as soon as they had been delivered.
Thank you to the academic community beyond IGS, many of whom are supportive parents/carers, who have given up their time in recent weeks to offer mock interviews for the 30 or so Year 13 students hoping to secure places at Oxbridge, and for medical courses.
Thank you to the active network of local organisations such as the Ilkley Corona Response Group (ICRG), the Ilkley Great Get Together and Climate Action Ilkley all of whom are currently engaging with IGS on a range of initiatives from solar panels to Christmas hampers. Thanks also go to our local youth groups, the Parish Councils, Burley Trust and the local neighbourhood police teams who are doing a fantastic job supporting the school and our students. Thank you to Ilkley Town Council who have this week committed to providing significant funding to support additional counselling for IGS students which will enhance our full time Place 2 Be counselling provision.
Thank you to our business community many of whom are experiencing huge challenges themselves, but who have still provided mock interviews for students or who are offering vouchers to families at Christmas. Thank you too to the Hermit Pub for donating eight benches for students to sit on at break and lunch, and thank you to Clip N Climb who have donated 200 disposable masks for any students who need one in school as well as to Mrs Betty Barber who has made and donated more than 30 masks to school.
Many thanks must also go to Pinnacle Print, who during lockdown worked with the IGS anti-bullying team and designed the recent school RESPECT publication entirely free of charge, and also to The Grove bookshop for selling it for us without commission. The RESPECT publication could also not have happened without the wonderful support of the Ilkley Literature Festival, which we are so lucky to have in our town.
At the heart of the word community is the idea of mutual reinforcement. I hope that these positive examples of how IGS is engaging with its wider community give all of us a sense of hope and optimism and remind us that if we work together, we can meet the challenges we face. This in itself is an important lesson for our young people to learn. Perhaps the most rewarding moment I have had so far this term was to be able to appoint three former IGS students, from a very strong field, to roles as Learning Support Assistants in November. As I listened to these confident and articulate young people last week, I was reminded that the purpose of education is to prepare students for real life and that the real world is not a world apart, but a world that IGS is very much a part of.
Jamie Gutch has also added a few useful Ilkley Grammar School links:
If you would like to join the IGS PTA or have any queries please email us at PTA@ilkleygs.co.uk.
IGS PTA GoFundMe page – go to: http://www.gofundme.com/f/IGS-PTA-2020-appeal.
Amazon Smile - You can choose IGS PTA as your nominated charity and every time you spend, we’ll receive a payment. It costs you nothing and is so easy – go to https://smile.amazon.co.uk/
One community which we are only just starting to reach out to as a school is our alumni community. If there are any former IGS students reading this article we would love to hear from you to explore how we might be able to work together. Please follow the link on our website (under Our School/alumni - https://www.ilkleygrammarschool.com/our-school1/alumni/ ) and leave us some contact details.