Christmas TreeOn the morning of 10th December, Dr Kirk addressed the girls in Chapel to mark the end of this Autumn Term.

Dr Kirk expressed how proud she is of the girls and the way that they have conducted themselves in this very challenging term, while observing bubbles, zones, masks and isolation, if required. She mentioned the many sacrifices that the whole school has needed to make, while emphasising the community spirit and solidarity which has continued, nonetheless. Dr Kirk then highlighted some of the excellent events which had been able to go ahead (in one form or another) … the superb production of Nell Gwynn, the Company Shout and the Remembrance Service.

Dr Kirk then touched on the renewed commitment to inclusivity, diversity and equality in the school and mentioned some of the new clubs and initiatives which have been launched, such as Cultural Society and Empower Her Voice. She praised the girls’ continued support for the local community, highlighting the Head Girl’s Team’s selection of The Harbour Project, based in Swindon, as the school charity for this academic year.

The staff, both teaching and support, were thanked for their hard work and adaptability and there was a special mention for Head of Grounds, Mr Vince Pennock, for his wonderful contribution over the last 35 years, as he retires. Dr Kirk then looked forward to the Christmas celebrations and the meaning of Christmas, both as a Christian festival and the old traditions of ‘winter’ festivals – where the importance and significance of light to ward off darkness (which used to be feared) is prominent. The theme of ‘fight or flight’ was explored and the 19th-century debate around evolution, the ‘face of fear’. Dr Kirk provided an example of Charles Darwin’s experiment regarding instinctive response to fear, testing his own fear by going into a reptile house at London Zoo and monitoring his own response when pressed up against the glass containing adders, which lunged at him from behind the glass. Darwin could not prevent himself from jumping back: ‘My will and reason were powerless against the imagination of a danger which had never been experienced.’

Dr Kirk then spoke of Edward Jenner, the 18th century scientist who had influenced some of Darwin’s ideas, and his vaccination to prevent smallpox using cowpox from cattle – although revolutionary, people’s instincts to have the vaccination were affected by the innate fear of being exposed deliberately to a disease. Dr Kirk linked this to the present day, with the vaccine rollout for COVID commencing this week, hoping that those who have fears will overcome these to have the vaccine and that this will, in turn, help us all to turn a corner and move forward more positively into 2021.

Dr Kirk concluded by paying a very special tribute to our much loved and respected former Head of English, Ms Sophie Dunkin, whose sad loss we all feel very deeply – echoing the touching tribute paid to her by the LVI (Year 12) girls in their Kaleidoscope magazine:

"It is hard to find words to describe the joy, energy and passion she brought into each and every classroom she entered. She educated us beyond simply teaching."

before reading one of the very moving poems that the LVI editors had chosen in remembrance of Sophie, The Wishing Tree by Seamus Heaney.

Dr Kirk closed her address by wishing all of the girls a joyful, safe and healthy Christmas and wished the UVI (Year 13) girls preparing for university interviews and the UV (Year 11) preparing for their mocks after the holiday, the very best of luck.