So 2021 begins in the way familiar from last Spring: with lockdown, with crisis, and with grim and troubling circumstances that affect us all. Within the wider context of the bleak national situation, schools have faced particular challenges. This is not quite Lockdown II: the need to create a mass-testing operation and the increased uncertainty for examination cohorts, whose learning has been interrupted earlier in the cycle and for a second time, mean that we are seeing many new challenges this time round.

First and above all, our thoughts are with students and families. There will be a great deal of anxiety and frustration, especially for those facing exams. We are determined to do all we can to support students and ensure that for all the disruption, our remote educational offering is as thorough, engaging, absorbing and valuable as possible, and comes as close as possible to the progress we would all want to see in school.

There is no manual to guide us through these troubled times; but in this situation where we are so powerless and so in the control of outside forces – whether that is the vagaries of disease or of exam boards – I am reminded of a text called simply The Manual. It is a short collection of ethical and philosophical advice drawn from the teachings of the Stoics, dating from the second century. Its (edited) introduction seems apt for our present circumstances:

Some things are in our control and others not. The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control belong to others. If you suppose that only to be your own which is your own, and what belongs to others such as it really is, then no one will hurt you, and you will not be harmed.

In terms of advice, this certainly falls into the category of easier said than done: and yet there is an underlying truth here. This time demands of us all forbearance, patience and resilience. Above all we need to set our mind and our path towards what we can positively achieve and do; and understand that this will be the best possible preparation for whatever comes next – both in the short term, for those who face assessment, and in the longer term as we look with hope to the future.

One final note: this week we launched our programme of activity and community engagement, Together Abbey. As a community, The Abbey should always be a place of learning and laughter – literally of enlightenment. For now, we join in that community from our separate homes: but, spread out as we are, this remains a network of hundreds of individual points of light, connected by much more than screens – connected by shared values and a shared determination to overcome. All the activities of Together Abbey are designed to cherish our sense of belonging. Whether it is exercise as a family to help us reach our Walk to Zimbabwe target or attention to the world around us via Abbey Nature Notes, we look forward to shared endeavour over coming weeks and, with joy, to reuniting in person as soon as we may.

Will le Fleming