On Monday 4 January as a nation we learnt that we would once again begin virtual learning as we entered Lockdown 3.0. At the time – despite our new-found experience of virtual learning – the weeks ahead felt somewhat daunting to us all, but as always, the fantastic effort and passion from our community saw us come together enthusiastically online to carry on regardless of the challenges the new lockdown provided.

As we look back, we are proud and amazed by just how much has been accomplished, especially during a time that combined the restrictions of lockdown, darker days and gloomy weather, which all contributed to the feeling that this was perhaps the most challenging lockdown of the pandemic. Our community have stayed #StrongerTogether and enjoyed a brilliant variety of activities and challenges that demonstrated the sense of camaraderie and fun that pervades St John’s.

We were delighted to see our Prefects come together to set weekly Prefects’ Challenges. With two challenges a week, pupils enjoyed a wide range of activities from golf trick shots to photography, all with the aim of encouraging pupils and staff to keep active and excite their imaginations.

Pupils may not have been able to physically come together with their peers in their House, but the competitive nature between Houses has certainly not dwindled! Whilst activities had to become virtual, pupils were enthusiastically taking part in the House Film Competition and the ever-competitive House Pancake Race. Houses have also enjoyed some evening activities including live cook-alongs, which looked like great fun.

The Lower School Challenge saw our younger pupils making time capsules, creating photo wildlife diaries, and rewriting the endings of favourite books amongst many other things. The Great Lower Third Bake Off proved a particularly popular challenge – and we were all left feeling rather hungry!

The limitations of lockdown did not deter our vibrant Performing Arts Department, as they continued to provide an array of virtual performances and competitions. They continued with our weekly Congers by virtual means, provided beautiful lunchtime recitals, live cabaret and much more!

Pupils have also found time in their busy days to continue with their own endeavours, such as charity fundraising and sporting achievements.

Although players, coaches and spectators were missing our regular sports fixtures, our fantastic Sports Department were determined to keep everybody active, and they set the target of trying to collectively cover the distance from St John’s to Everest Base Camp through a Strava Competition. We were pleased to see over 250 pupils and staff taking part in various ways – by running, walking or cycling and overall we accumulated an impressive 8000km. Alongside this and a ‘Sport at Home’ guide, the Sports Department provided live sessions within games lessons, including boot camps, multi-sport skills, a virtual run/walk/cycle group, and tactical analysis sessions for cricket and rugby.

The Head, Rowena Cole commented during virtual learning: ‘I find I am appreciating these collective moments of teamwork and creativity more than ever this term because it is so rewarding to see how everyone in our community is pulling together despite being physically separated.’

Absence certainly makes the heart grow fonder and time spent away from St John’s certainly saw us all garner more appreciation for the time, friends and facilities we share. We reflected on missing the sound of cheering that can be heard from the front of school as the seniors play a competitive fixture on the fields, the spine tingling echo of the choir rehearsing as you walk past The Chapel, the beat of pupils CCF boots as they march across the quad, and ultimately the sound of laughter and conversation from our happy thriving pupils.

When the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced the plans to reopen schools from 8 March we were delighted. Whilst parents breathed a sigh of relief at the thought of pupils being back at school, staff set into action with plans to safely welcome our community back on site. We were astounded with the support, organisation and incredible hard work of many members of St John’s staff as we relaunched our lateral flow coronavirus test centre.

As we are now safely settled back into school, we reflect on the resilience of our community and how we truly are stronger together and able to face any challenge with the support of one another. We truly hope that parents can now resume their daily life without facing the added challenges that came with virtual learning, and we look forward to the brighter days ahead of us.