News & Events

Leadership Likes: Mrs Cook

Let us learn from the past…

William Wordsworth (1770 – 1850), the English Romantic poet, wrote that life (just like the school year) is divided into three terms – that which was, which is and which will be.

“Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future.”

It is a view that the historians amongst us obviously subscribe to; studying history clearly helps us to better understand and resolve complex questions and dilemmas by examining how the past has shaped (and continues to shape) our global, national, and local responses and indeed all relationships between societies and people.

Our Year 11 and Sixth Form students have certainly been using what they have learned in the past to good effect this week, as they return to school and begin their mock examinations. We all hope that the demonstration of their learning provides them with a positive present (in due course) when they receive their marks and the feedback that will enable them to learn again – and go on to secure the bright and successful futures we wish for them.

In a school like ours, with a long and rich history of its own stretching back to 1874, we have so many opportunities to learn from the past. One of my absolute favourite school activities is the Ivy Letters project, which we have been running at school since 2019. The idea partly stemmed from a National Literacy Trust report which found that two-thirds of school-aged children had never written a letter for pleasure. Letter writing certainly seems to be a dying art but we are glad to say it is enjoying something of a revival at Croydon High, particularly amongst Year 9.

Each of our Year 9 pupils is ‘matched’ with a Croydon High alumna who attended the school in the 1940s, 50s or 60s. Year 9 then research and consider the possible similarities and differences between school life then and now. Each one then writes a letter to their alumna; full of news and views, questions and details about their school experiences. The letters are posted off and Year 9 wait patiently for a response. (Deferred gratification is something they don’t have to experience very often in their ‘instant’ worlds!)

But the enjoyment experienced is worth the wait, it seems! Our Year 9 classes over the past two years have thoroughly enjoyed receiving their replies, and, it seems, our alumnae have loved both receiving and responding. Between 2019 and 2021, 175 alumnae received correspondence, and there were over 450 exchanges of letters, cards etc including some emails sent via the Ivy Link alumnae network during Lockdown 1. In this academic year so far, 75 letters have been out with 20 replies received over Christmas.

So many wonderful stories have been shared through this project and undoubtedly, our pupils have learned some valuable lessons about their Croydon High ancestors and the world they lived in. Some replies included mementos of school days gone by, including badges, photos and even paintings. One of our alumnae sent the perfect book as a gift; 800 years of Women’s Letters written in 1992 by a former member of staff, Olga Kenyon (or Miss Brooks as she was in the 1960’s). This inspiring collection is a comprehensive study of women’s letters, covering a wide range of topics from politics, work and war, childhood, love and compassion.

The age range of the recipients was such that many of the stories contained in the letters related to wartime and the incredible impact these years had on the lives of this generation – almost impossible to imagine. Tales of walking to school as the flying bombs known as ‘doodlebugs’ hit with one former pupil having to lie on the ground, with her mother lying on top of her to protect her and then looking around to survey the damage all around. Evacuation, of course and rationing and all the many hardships that are associated with wartime. Others talk of living through the 60s and the incredible changes that were happening in society and particularly for women. Many talk about the fact that Croydon High undoubtedly broadened their horizons and encouraged them to strive for lives and careers that were more unusual for women at that time. Many offer advice and encouragement and celebrate the genuine connection between letter writer and recipient, through their shared association with Croydon High.

The letters paint such vivid pictures of lives that are in some ways not dissimilar to those our pupils are living now (school dinners, PE and favourite subjects and teachers are all discussed as well as ballroom dancing with Whitgift – the equivalent of the Year 7 disco today, perhaps?) But in other ways, the experiences, pursuits and challenges could not be more different and it is wonderful to think that new generations of Croydon High pupils are having the opportunity to hear these living histories and to learn from them.

How fascinating it would be to fast forward to 2082 and to read the accounts of life at Croydon High from our current Year 9s who will then be preparing to celebrate their 75th birthdays! What will they say about their lives and dreams in 2022? How will they describe living through a pandemic?  We will hope that they continue to learn the lessons of the past and create fulfilling and happy futures for themselves and that they are happy to pass on the benefit of their experiences to those who will follow them.

Mrs Cook

Director of External Relations

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