A New Chapter: An address by the Headmaster

The school headmaster, Mark Tomkins, gave the following address at the first Quad assembly of the year. 28th May 2021


Good afternoon everyone and a warm welcome to this first Quad assembly
of the year.

I am delighted to be finally speaking to you all as one
school community – it has been a very, very long time indeed.  In fact,
the last time I spoke to the entire school community was 14 months ago
on Friday 20 March last year when I said goodbye to you all, before we
all embarked on the first national lockdown.  At that time, we did not
know what to expect – and we certainly would not have predicted what we
all have experienced over the last 14 months – but what we did know was
that saying goodbye to each other at that point in the school year was
not right – it felt as if we were existing an alternative life, and that
a parallel world was happening alongside our normal one.  But being here
today, looking back on what has happened, we can say for certain that we
have all come a long way and experienced something that many generations
have not.  And although MGS will be changed by this experience, I
believe we can be stronger and better than ever before: more resilient,
more innovative, more dynamic, but also more generous.  And also today,
as we look back on the last 14 months, I would like to extend a huge
thank you to you all for the collective efforts put in from both staff
and students.  We should all be very proud of what we have achieved: to
the staff who have stepped up when the moment required them to; and to
you the students who have all appreciated the situation we have been in
and worked with us to provide you with the best experience possible.
And so, when we look back in years to come, we can look back knowing
when the time came for MGS to respond – we did, and we did it right.

If we can imagine for a moment the life history of Maidstone Grammar
School as a set of 472 books – one book for every year since 1549 when
the school was initially founded; just like the seven books in the Harry
Potter series – one book for each year Harry was at Hogwarts.  Now, each
and every Maidstonian, current and former, would have their own set of
books amongst the 472, and those sets of books for each Maidstonian
would be unique and special to that person.  But, as well as individual
students having their own set, each student would be a character
contributing to the overall story.  Amongst the 472 books there would be
books acknowledging key historical events, such as the 1^st and 2^nd
World War periods; there would be books containing amazing news stories;
and there would be books containing sad ones.

But back on Friday 20 March last year it felt as though someone took the
book that we were reading away from us and gave us a new one; and that
new one has been the one we have been reading for the last 14 months.

Now, this new book that was handed to us back in March last year was one
that was initially unrecognisable – it was full of story lines and
concepts that we were unfamiliar with, and for a long time it was
difficult to read.  In fact, there were moments that made us feel so
overwhelmed we wanted to throw the book against a wall and crave for the
old one back; but it also, at times, forced us to have an open mind and
try new things; and it even sometimes, when things turned out well, made
us feel exhilarated and rewarded.

But today marks a significant point in this book.  We are still reading
the book, because the story has not been concluded, but we have turned
over the page to start a new chapter, and this new chapter is the part
of the story that is building up to the end, and as we see the new
chapter heading, we are hoping for a number of things.  Firstly, we want
to make sure that this /is/ the chapter that is building up to the end,
and that we begin to recognise aspects of the previous book that was
taken away from us all those months ago.  But at the same time, we want
this new chapter to continue to acknowledge aspects of the previous
chapters that we have just finished reading – that we initially found
hard to read.    Because, after these last 14 months reading this book,
we have in some way become familiar with its writing and got used to the
story it has been telling; it has opened our minds and given us
different things to consider.  But even though we have become familiar
with it, we also know that if we don’t return to elements of the old
book, then we may slowly forget what we enjoyed about it; and the love
we had for it will fade and not be carried on by future readers.  We now
want the best parts of both books.

So, what does all this mean to you?  As current Maidstonians we want to
bring back elements of the old MGS.  We want to do simple things like to
be able to move more freely around school; to take part in activities
that we have missed; to return to a place where our learning had an end
point that was totally in our hands; and we want to rekindle the
connections that we have missed with our fellow Maidstonians.  And I am
delighted to say that we have already started seeing this.

But at the same time as doing this we also want to take with us into our
lives ahead the new things that we have enjoyed and come to value.
Things like how we are delivering the curriculum; how we have used
technology in our teaching; how we have all been using our devices to
communicate; and, on a bigger scale, how we have re-evaluated our lives
– identifying what is important.

For me, on a practical level, I will be wanting to use Microsoft OneNote
much more in the delivery of my lessons; I will be wanting to use the
Assignments function in Microsoft Teams for setting homework; I will be
wanting to encourage your parents to buy into the new way of doing
parents’ evenings via our school cloud system; but on a larger scale, I
will be wanting to find as much time as possible for me, which is
something that I have neglected for years.

But, despite learning new ways of doing things and having a different
outlook on my life ahead, there has been one thing I have wanted to see
return at MGS for a long time, and that is what we are doing today: the
opportunity to come together as one community and recognise that we all
belong to something much bigger.  So, to Year 7, and to our newest Year
12 students who joined the School in September, this is what you have
missed: seeing the whole school together as one.  So, after nine months
of already being here I would like to say, welcome to your school;
welcome to Maidstone Grammar School; and welcome to being a
Maidstonian.  What you are seeing today is special and is something that
we are all incredibly proud of.

Now, I have just used the word ‘belong’ to illustrate a point – and
belong to MGS we certainly do – and very soon we are going to see and
hear that word belong much more often.

Over the last four years since 2017 we have been developing the quality
of the experience students get in the classroom; and we have called it
‘Inspire to Learn’.  You are now seeing massive displays around the
school illustrating this very point.  But over the last 14 months we
have come to recognise that now, more than ever before, there is another
strand of Maidstone Grammar School that we wish to see develop – and
that strand starts today in this very assembly – and we are going to be
calling it ‘Inspire to Belong’.

Students of Maidstone Grammar School have always referred to themselves
as Maidstonians, and being a Maidstonian means something very special
indeed.  Being a Maidstonian means that you belong to a community; that
you belong to the traditions of the place; that you feel safe and
supported; that you are nurtured into fine young men and women; and that
you have a connection with other Maidstonians that lasts forever.

Having such a thriving community of Maidstonians means we have common
ground between each other in this generation and also with each other
across different generations.  And what creates that common ground
between different year groups is the of sharing common goals, beliefs,
values and outlook.  These qualities, which are seen all around the
school, are the essence of our community.  And being a community of
Maidstonians with shared values is probably the most wonderful aspect of
this school.  We are all individuals with our own identities, but we are
also all the same with shared values.  We all treasure how important
this school is to us – it provides us with a foundation that we will
carry away with us for a very long time.  But most of all we treasure
the friendships and relationships we build here with others.  And it is
this aspect of Maidstone Grammar School that is a delight to see and be
a part of.

This feeling and culture that has been a part of Maidstone Grammar
School has been somewhat lost during the last 14 months.  It is
certainly strong enough to survive a pandemic, but if not rekindled,
could soon fade as new Maidstonians arrive; and so next term, as well as
the new academic year, is a perfect time to remind ourselves of what we
have missed, and so we are launching our ‘Inspire to Belong’ agenda.  We
want Maidstonians to be reminded of what they belong to; how they thrive
as one community; and how they interconnect with others.  And as I said
a few minutes ago, this has already been seen.  The numerous inter-house
tournaments that have taken place have been such a delight to witness.
Seeing over half a year group stay behind after school to play in one of
them is testament to how those students feel towards their school and
their house.

So, see today as a fresh beginning: an opportunity to regroup and do the
things that we have missed.  For example, with the summer months ahead
we will be having whole school assemblies outside in the Quad; we can
now have house assemblies back in the hall – as you have seen this week
we can spread you out in your individual year groups more safely; we can
begin to introduce more extra-curricular activities that we have been
longing to restart; and we can begin to think about returning to
vertical forms, which is hopefully going to happen in September.  Yes,
verticality will return, and we will return to it as soon as it is safe
to do so.

But the most significant change that we have made, and that you have
already experienced this week, is the moving around the school site for
your lessons.  Now, moving around is not only good because you get to be
taught in subject-specific areas and teachers get to teach in their own
classrooms with their resources to hand; you also get to have a bit of
exercise and fresh air between lessons.

But for me, moving around the school site achieves something much
bigger.  It reminds us that we all belong to something much greater: a
community of Maidstonians far beyond our own friendship or year group
bubbles.  It reminds us that we belong to a community of people that we
have something in common with – allowing us to extend kindness and
respect to everyone.  And it is these aspects, and all of the other
aspects I have mentioned, that make MGS what it is; and so, I look
forward to steering the school over the coming months back to what we
remember, but at the same time embracing the new things we have learnt
and seeing things with a fresh set of eyes.  So, please join me in this

Transcript provided by Mark Tomkins

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