Catholic Schools Week – From the desk of the Executive Headmaster



The Covid-19 pandemic – more so than anything that ever preceded it – has highlighted the value of the educational experience as it is traditionally lived out in Catholic schools. St Benedict’s is amongst a privileged few schools whose technological infrastructure and committed, professional staff have allowed for classroom instruction to be flipped from traditional, synchronous face-to-face teaching and learning to an innovative, blended online experience.

I will admit that initially I found myself so thoroughly impressed by the quality of our online offering that I contemplated entrenching it as a permanent offering at our school. Let’s start a “Bennies Online” and offer the quality St Benedict’s academic experience to more boys (and girls?) whose parents cannot afford the cost of the full four-pillared offering, I thought. I went so far as to mention to our Board of Governors that I would start seriously investigating it.

It was a thought that entered the minds of many other educational leaders and since the hard lockdown commenced on 26 March 2020 some schools have moved rapidly into this “business” space. The shift has been particularly evident in the for-profit sector. As the lockdown and school closures continued across the country, it  became increasingly evident that although St Benedict’s must operate successfully as a business, at our core, we remain first and foremost a school. The quality of the well-rounded young men we produce will and must always enjoy precedence over profitability and the bottom line. The enforced social isolation of the last year has brought boys, parents and teachers alike to the realisation that a truly rich educational experience is severely compromised when it moves into and is limited to the digital space.

Catholic schools have always fundamentally understood this: schools cannot and must not only be purveyors of academic content. The pandemic has reinforced the fact that a true Catholic school is a community which understands implicitly that a complex matrix of personal relationships and social interactions lie at the heart of human formation. The pandemic has reminded us that a true Catholic school understands that it needs to be an evangelical presence in the life of all; that part of what we do must be to call all to a sacramental life through the richness of prayer. The pandemic has reiterated that the formation of decent human beings, decent “Bennies boys”, extends beyond the formation of the mind only and must also include the development of the soul, the body and the heart.

Quality education is first and foremost and most importantly about what we do together. There have been many boys and staff who have voiced the fact that it has been the need for social interaction with their peers that has driven their yearning to return to school. Parents have written to say that their sons need to interact with their peers. The pandemic has highlighted the fact that education is a social experience – it’s about the vibrate richness of what classmates do together in the classroom, about what the faithful do together when they gather in worship and what team mates do together when they play on the field and on the stage. This togetherness, the sense of being part of and belonging to a community is something which Zoom and Google Meet will never be able to duplicate. It is what builds what our boys call their brotherhood.

Catholic Schools Week is being celebrated at St Benedict’s between 17 and 25 February 2021 and it is precisely our togetherness as a community that we must be most grateful for. I want to thank each boy, each parent and each staff member who has stayed the course and remained committed to the Bennies community during a year that has proved tremendously difficult. I have walked the school’s empty corridors; without its people, St Benedict’s is nothing but a bunch of buildings in Bedfordview. It is you who make it a school community.

As we approach the end of celebrations of Catholic Schools’ Week, I wish you all a blessed and restful midterm break.

Catholic Schools Week – From the desk of the Executive Headmaster