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Principal's Blog - Riverside Reflections

Riverside Reflections: An unexpected opportunity


This week has been an absolute joy.  Students on campus and finally an opportunity to wish our graduating students a farewell.  Not the one they deserved but an unexpected opportunity nonetheless.  Here are my words to them as we said goodbye.

Welcome back, and goodbye.  Another bitter sweet moment for us all.  The moment we had in this hall just before closure, will I think, remain one of my abiding memories of this period.  Given all that I had heard and read at that time, I never expected us to return this year, and genuinely thought that was goodbye.  How pleased we all are then that I was wrong again! 

In having you all on campus over the last few days, there are some thank yous.  To Mr Cornforth and Mr Millar who led the way with the arrangements, to the incredible academic team who organised us all so well.  To the 6th form exec for driving the consultation with you and the thinking behind our events and the event next year.  To you, for enjoying all that we could do.  To your parents who tolerated our dithering.  Thank you all.
To be able to say goodbye, offers us all the closure we had never expected to need.  The period we have experienced has robbed you of so much, and yet we hope has provided you with opportunities and experiences that will never be forgotten.  
Bitter, sweet.  Rough and smooth.  Dark and light

You have in three months experienced what those of us with grey hair know to be true about life in general.  Some of it is easy, some of it enjoyable, some of it dark and disturbing.  But in all things, life is varied, abundant and filled with moments to satisfy your curiosity.  We could be lulled into thinking that these past months are the hardest ever, so many new and unprecedented things.  Zoom, teams, meets?

But many of you were born in 2001. On September the 11th 2001, planes were crashed into the twin towers.  War in Afghanistan the month after and that same October the iPod was launched.  In December 2001 China joined the World Trade Organisation and January 2002 saw the Euro born as a currency.  The winter olympics held in February and the football world cup in May.  And 2002 was designated the international year of ecotourism.
A rather random collection of happenings from history, large events and small.  Significant and not so.  Rough with smooth.  Light and dark.  Life will throw these things at you, and does so without asking for your permission or response.

What you choose to do is down to you and how you react is a personal and variable response.  But one thing I do know is that life will be more interesting if you can share your choices and responses with others.

You’ll meet fascinating people.  Some horrible, some lovely.  Rough and smooth.  Significant and not so.  But one constant is that you will have your classmates.  The Class of 2020.  The COVID class.

The moments you have spent here in the last 48 hours we hope reinforce the togetherness you have, reestablish the friendships and lasting bonds. Give you closure and offer you hope.


  • You are an extraordinary group.  I’m a little bit biased as you know, but I’m very fond of this year group. 
  • You have been welcoming, friendly and supportive
  • You are able, fiercely loyal and yet independent
  • You made a difference, and worked as one
  • You have potential and have yet achieved so much
  • You will be missed and have already been so

I wasn't sure what and how much to say today.  If I've bored you again, then I’m sorry.  I just wanted to reflect how one dad, and one teacher feels about this year group and grasp the opportunity to wish you well.  Unusually for me I want to end with poetry


Goodbye, My Dearest Friend (adapted)
Leilani Hermosa Peterson

The hardest part of any friendship
is when it is time to say goodbye,
and even though we wished we could make you stay,
we know we have to let you spread your wings and fly.

For life is a journey that needs to be traveled,
and we are certain you'll make it through,
we just want you to know and never forget
that we will surely miss you.

So follow your heart and never give up,
as dreams and wishes do come true,
we know that someday we'll meet again,
so never forget we will be praying for you.


Riverside Reflections: Time for Recreation


A little like most of our smartphones, I always feel the word ‘recreation’ is one of those in the English language where we use only a fraction of its real functionality.  We often talk about recreation as an activity.  We walk, we run, we cycle, we might even term shopping or doing nothing as recreation.

This is of course a perfectly accurate way to use the word, but for me it means so much more.  Recreation offers something much deeper and more permanent.  Look again at definitions of the word and you’ll find ‘refreshment of strengths and spirits after work’ or more broadly to ‘create again’.

This is the recreation we should all seek after the recent period of uncertainty and challenge.  We should seek to refresh both body and mind after a period of intense work.  This should be done in the knowledge that the school year is deliberately designed to have these points of refreshment and recreation.

As Academic Year 2020/21 approaches we will be creating a new Shrewsbury.  A Shrewsbury of growth,  A physically bigger Shrewsbury - more students, more teachers, and better facilities.  However, perhaps more importantly the period of refreshment we now enter allows us to pause, reflect and grow as people and professionals.  

With a deliberate period of refreshment and recreation, we will come back wiser, better equipped to deal with extreme challenges such as COVID19 and  more skilful in navigating our technologies.

I look forward to seeing you all, and engaging with our new Shrewsbury in August, until then stay safe and get refreshed! 

Riverside Reflections: A change is as good as a rest


As we come ever closer to reopening Riverside, change is in the air.  As I write, the chatter of a busy school is returning to the corridors close by.  Training plans and resources in place, teachers returning to campus in taxis or with sodden feet as the rainy season confirms its presence.  

Change, and in some ways, a return to things we know and love.  Change that offers us all some respite from the long days of online learning and the chance to refresh ourselves with the long overdue social interaction we all need.  Change, as good as a rest?  

‘A change is as good as a rest’ is one of those English phrases which seems accepted wisdom and yet we don’t often pause to think too much about.  Often delivered in rather sarcastic tone with perhaps a raise of the eyebrow (or two), it can be part of the peculiarly British combination of ‘stiff upper lip’, humour and well meaning optimism.

In recent weeks we have been challenged to reconsider the darker parts of British history as statues of slave masters and wartime leaders have been attacked as symbols of racism.  The acts of vandalism are in themselves difficult to support, but they signal a change.  A change in the way Empire will be seen, and a change in focus to the victims of Empire rather than the ‘heroes’ of it.  This change is welcome, as anyone who has studied History will know Empire to be a tawdry business leaving an uncomfortable legacy, will confirm.

That change may not bring a rest in the short term, but the goal should be that all parts of society can rest knowing that inequality is being challenged.  

For us all at Riverside, in a much less important way, change brings more work and some challenges but it does bring the refreshment that we need.  Life without a thriving and busy school has been difficult on many levels, and as this phase now comes to a close, we can rest knowing that we supported each other through a truly testing period.

So no sarcasm here, this week change really is as good as a rest.

Riverside Reflections: Fuel, Oxygen and a Spark


There is much I have forgotten of my time as a ‘scout’ in the mid 1980s.  A rite of passage for thousands of young men in the UK, I do recall that we camped, we cooked, and we played (football mostly I think).  One lesson stood out for me, how to build and start a fire.  

It is one of the few elements of practical life I can deploy, all because I remember the golden rules of fire - you need dry fuel (or liquid accelerant if you are in a hurry), a good supply of oxygen and a spark.

Fires are raging across the world following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25th, and it struck me that the news reports from a variety of channels all used this analogy over recent days.  The metaphoric fires have good fuel - centuries of inequality and the specifics of police violence in the US that stretch way back well before the Rodney King riots of the early 1990s or the civil rights clashes of the 1960s.  

Oxygen has been introduced too, Social media platforms that breath life into these cases in a way that rightly allows appalling abuses to be called out.  A divided country under a divisive President, who chose to fan the flames and introduce more oxygen instead of dousing the fire with the cold water of arrests, legislation and reform.  The spark is the truly awful video we have all seen.

In some places, real fires burn.  History tells us that this will happen when there is a widely held sense of injustice.  Fuel, oxygen and the spark.  Some seek to condemn, others to support but I hope most seek to understand.  

Each and every one of us will have a different and nuanced reaction to this fire (metaphorical or  physical) and criticisms of each other's reactions now common on social media misses the point entirely.  The point is what will we do with this fire and especially what must we do once it burns out.

For this we need tangible results.  Leadership through the legislative processes to ensure that George Floyd is not just another statistic.  We’ll need argument, debate and discourse but most of all we’ll need to understand the pain and passion this issue brings forward before we set about preventing such fires in the future.

Riverside Reflections: Waiting


Waiting rooms, waiting lists, the waiting game.  Our current predicament reminds me of a play I studied at university - Waiting for Godot.

Unsure if they are waiting at the right place for a person who may never turn up, Estragon and Vladimir debate the most profound question - what should we do?

The English language offers some options, kicking heels, twiddling thumbs, holding back or indeed your horses.

The theatre of the absurd, a movement born out of the desperation of World War 2 after which artists struggled to find meaning in devastation and uncertainty.  The absurdists found a way to blend this possibly grim and paired back approach with humour.  

Estragon and Vladimir seem not to have a sense of purpose, yet waiting is  Estragon and Vladimir’s purpose.  Samuel Beckett refused to be drawn on what the play means, saying famously that the only thing he could be sure of was that ‘Estragon and Vladimir were wearing bowler hats’. 

Scholar Iseult Gillespie said ‘Beckett reminds us that the world doesn’t always make sense and although a tidy narrative appeals, the best theatre keeps us thinking’.

Our purpose is not waiting, nor does it define us.  Thinking, planning and sharing have defined recent weeks and although the outcome hasn’t always been what is expected, the process and some humour along the way, is worthwhile nonetheless.

We don’t know if our ‘Godot’ will arrive, but if it does we’ll be ready.