From the Head

It is perhaps a cliché for a Head to introduce the school magazine by saying the school has had ‘an extraordinary year’, but I think I can safely say without fear of contradiction that 2019-2020 has indeed been extraordinary, not just for us but for the world.

I did not hesitate when asked to take on the role of Acting Head; it was an honour and a privilege to be asked to serve this school I love, where I have worked for 40 years. The plan was for it to be a quiet year of transition. It turned out to be anything but. My thanks go to parents and Governors for being so supportive, to Old Sennockians for offering their advice and expertise, to staff – teachers but also all the support staff – for their hard work and determination to do the best for our students, and to the students for their understanding, good humour and endeavours to engage in all that was on offer.

It was an honour and a privilege to be asked to serve this school I love, where I have worked for 40 years

Our students’ maturity and care of others is a frequent delight. As a school we believe empathy is an important attribute of education; our pupils’ capacity to empathise was amply, and touchingly, demonstrated by a message from the editorial team of the student journal Speakers’ Corner, published on the last day of the school year, which thanked teachers for ‘juggling care of your own children as well as sharing your new workspace with cats, dogs and partners [while] maintaining excellence and keeping our spirits high’. It is a rare teenager who can so generously understand that their teachers are human too.

Covid-19 has undoubtedly presented challenges and for some it has brought terrible loss and heartache. However, it has also brought some positives, as both school captains noted in their Founder’s Day speeches. Community is my passion, so I have been delighted to see that the crisis has if anything strengthened our links to local and international communities, as well as within our own community. Much was happening already during the two-thirds of the year we were on campus: record numbers of our Sixth Form were volunteering to be peer and academic mentors, our Year 7s were engaging enthusiastically with the new Society and Change course and, behind the scenes, the academic staff had strengthened connections with their peers at Knole Academy during a shared training day and we had hosted staff from Eton, Tonbridge, Wellington, Brighton College and other leading schools at a Service and Community Action conference. But the pandemic encouraged students, staff and OS to redouble their efforts to support others with humility, even though we were physically dispersed around the world, which was wonderful to see.

During my start-of-term assembly in Lent, I commented that I hoped ‘everyone here appreciates there is more to education than academic results’, and reflected on the value of personal development, creativity, service and fitness. It was of course hard on our Year 11 and Upper Sixth that the exams they had worked towards for so long were cancelled (even if some greeted the news with initial euphoria!) but they continued to engage with the lessons we provided and to embrace the opportunity for independent work and education for its own sake. It seems particularly appropriate, therefore, that this year saw our first cohort gaining the Sevenoaks School Diploma (Middle School Diploma) which celebrates aspects of education that can go unrecognised in exams.

Coronavirus has led to me working closely with Jesse Elzinga during the Summer term. At the time of writing, I am looking forward to continuing to support him as he joins our community as well as working with the anti-racist working groups we have set up in the wake of the tragic killing of George Floyd. This year has indeed proved an honour and privilege for me, as well as a year of achievement, fun and care for each other, despite the difficulties. I hope you will enjoy reading more in the following pages.

Theresa Homewood