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    Yesterday (24/03) marked the last formal day of the Lent Term; a surreal end to what had been such a vibrant and energised term. On Friday, the enormity of the situation in which the world finds itself was felt in Merchiston in its own special way. A number of our Upper Sixth, for whom it was their last day on site, organised a gathering in the Memorial Hall to sing ‘Ready Ay Ready’. It was a very moving moment and a profound expression of what it meant to those boys to be a member of this School. In the uncertainty that we will be able to have our traditional leavers’ celebrations in the coming months, we have committed to bringing our leavers back to mark their time at Merchiston in some way.

    Despite the cancellations towards the end of the term, it was still an activity-packed Lent Term on which we can reflect fondly:
    Our fundraising Burns Supper raised a tremendous £6,000 for Braidburn School, CHAS and Merchiston musical activities including the Pipe Band. I would like to thank all parents and colleagues who supported this incredibly enjoyable event; I trust that the wonderfully unique toast to the Immortal Memory delivered in song by our talented Mr Johnston will remain a fond memory of the evening!

    There were trips to Eastern Europe (History), London (Classical Civilisation), Glencoe (Winter Mountaineering Skills) and a special trip to Florida for the Cecil Stagg group. Pupils travelled to take part in national competitions for Mathematics and Engineering, and there was also the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our Pipe Band to perform at Edinburgh Airport, which included the interesting experience of playing and marching down the aisle of a Boeing 737!
    The Whole School Concert was sadly cancelled, but we were able to enjoy all the internal music competitions.

    In sport, it was a pleasure to witness the U15 Hockey team yet again win the Scottish Schools Plate in Glasgow at the National Hockey Centre. In Fives our players had another successful year having already been crowned the Scottish Singles and Senior Doubles champions.

    We welcomed primary school pupils from all over Edinburgh for our annual Maths Fun Day, and 100 pupils from all over Scotland attended our Prep Schools Cross Country Relay Competition.

    I do not underestimate the amount of work that goes into organising these events, not to mention all the events that were cancelled, so I am very grateful to the teaching and support staff for their commitment, patience and flexibility in organising these activities.

    COVID 19
    The School remains ‘open’ in the sense that key staff remain at work, working from home to ensure we are ticking over as we ordinarily would during the Easter break. As we move through the COVID 19 outbreak, we will continue to stay in touch with parents to update them on any changes or new information we receive.

    Many people will have seen in the news that the traditional assessment for public examinations will not happen this year. The government has now published some useful ‘FAQs’ around this year’s public examinations and these provide some useful clarification. We have been in communication with parents about this, and once we have received instructions as to how the authorities will approach certification, we will of course communicate again. In the meantime, our advice remains very firmly that our public examinations candidates should continue to engage with their academic work, even in the absence of final examinations (which we recognise is a challenge for them), in preparation for the next step. Whether this is Sixth Form or university, our aim over the next term is to ensure that all pupils are well prepared for the additional academic rigour these respective steps will demand.

    Online learning will resume after the Easter break on Thursday 16 April. It has been very useful to have the days at the end of this term to test our systems and put our plans in place for next term. Our 'distance-learning' intranet page is proving to be a helpful area for pupils and parents to find information and support.

    Our School Chaplain has, as an addition to his usual messages over the season of Lent, offered some spiritual encouragement for as long as we as a community are unable to come together. Rev Blair has received lots of positive feedback from these daily emails (titled 'For the Duration'), so we are planning to publish them as a blog on our school website so that they can be reached by a wider audience. We do appreciate that this will be a very trying time in all sort of ways for a great many of our families. Please rest assured that the School will continue to be on hand to offer whatever support and guidance it can to the Merchiston community.

    As I said to our Upper Sixth at the end of last week, the ‘Castle Walls’ have always offered Merchiston pupils protection and space to grow, away from many of the trials and tribulations of the outside world; COVID 19 has severely tested this in a way never seen before. I am immensely proud to see how the Merchiston community is working together, to make sure all the pupils could get to their homes and host families safely, and to embrace the new world of remote working. I am hugely grateful to all the teaching staff who have moved so quickly to our distance learning programme and to the support staff who have kept everything running so smoothly in the face of significant disruption.

    I look forward to seeing the boys back here again as soon as it is safe. I have asked them to work hard, look after themselves and support their friends and family as best they can.

    To our parents and wider Merchiston community, I thank you for your ongoing support; your kind messages to colleagues mean a great deal and you and your families remain in our thoughts at this time. We are seeing that Merchiston is far more than the bricks and mortar of the Castle Walls, and that we take Merchiston with us wherever we might be. As a School with a long and proud history surviving all of the global crises of the last 187 years, I fully believe that Merchiston will do so again.

    Please stay safe.

    Ready ay ready

    Jonathan Anderson