The corridors have lain silent, the classrooms empty and pupils and teachers alike have had to adjust to a different way of life in response to Government guidelines.
The pandemic has meant hardship, online lessons and rising pastoral care issues. “It has been brutal for some pupils,” says chaplain Revd Corin Child who is part of the team at one of the oldest schools in the UK.
Corin has been at the city school in Cathedral Close for seven years; he is chaplain but also an ‘A’ level teacher and class tutor but the challenges of the pandemic have been unprecedented: “Nobody who signed up for school wants to do lessons on computers since they appreciate the benefits of the classroom. Those that have struggled before have struggled more without face-to-face pastoral care and interaction,” he says.
“The aftermath has been concerning, regarding mental and physical health with heightened stress and anxiety. “It is heart-breaking.”
As the pupils have returned to school there is help at hand to enable them to cope with the crisis and its legacy of loss and isolation. “We work in a team and there are many pastoral care systems in place in a bid to ensure pupils do not slip through the net. There is a staff member who is head of welfare and class tutors and referrals to various organisations for more serious cases,” says Corin.
He explains he was glad to now be working in a school, as it reopened as soon as possible, while some churches are still wondering how to fully re-set their agendas and come back from the pandemic.
The school, founded alongside Norwich Cathedral in 1096, has continued to blaze a trail for education and welfare, building on its strong Christian heritage.
No longer a boarding school, it attracts pupils from far-and-wide as a co-ed independent grammar school with classes from reception to sixth form. Pupils have won scholarships while others have special needs and now the choristers include girls. The former hallowed halls of an ancient educational institution have changed and evolved.
“Working in a school is very different from parish work,” says the former Anglican minister in King’s Lynn who oversaw a diverse congregation.
“It is busy and timetable-driven but a busy good day is the best feeling in the world. And situated in Cathedral Close, there is a real buzz with interesting people who come to the cathedral library. It is a stimulating place to be a school chaplain.”
He continues: “Positioned next to the cathedral it is reasonable that there should be a Christian input which brings a positive injection but pupils can decide for themselves what they choose to believe. I am a Christian and I believe everything Jesus offers is something people can find and brings purpose and hope and can change your life.”
Assemblies include a Bible passage that has lessons that anyone can learn from. There is a Christian Union, a parent group that prays for the school, and a variety of cathedral services that include those for Remembrance Day and Carols at Christmas. Meanwhile, the choristers work hard and thrive taking a positive pride in what they do as they sing alongside professional musicians while engaging with Christian teaching, explains Corin.
He has contended with his own challenges but they have borne increasing empathy for others. He developed Covid at the beginning of the outbreak and now manages the effects of Long Covid.
As with so many households, he has also had to juggle work around the needs of a growing family, so he has understood the pressures.
As a father of three, he has witnessed the progress, needs, and challenges of his own children as they have grown into adolescence and he has been a parent governor when his children were at primary school. His parental experience over the years has helped him steer a path of rapport, encouragement, and counsel for pupils that have included assistance with university options for his sixth form tutor group.
He also has a heightened empathy for pupils with special needs as a close family member has autism. Together with parents, pupils’ needs are met, and progress is promoted and encouraged.
“One pupil with special needs left the school in a blaze of glory when he played Widor’s Toccata on the organ at the cathedral during the final service of the year.” Such progress is heartening: “It keeps me going as I cheer the pupils on.”
Corin’s prior experience has also stood him in good stead. After university, he did some teaching and ran assemblies at 14 schools around London. In addition, he has taught English as a foreign language.
During his ministry in King’s Lynn, Corin spent half a day a week working with a chaplaincy team for young people at the College of West Anglia. It stoked the interest for his chaplaincy at Norwich School where he also teaches PRE (philosophy, religion and ethics).
“It is interesting how pupils relate to the subject as we look at different issues and talk them through while asking: ‘Is this world all there is?’” says Corin, as he reflects on the voice and culture of social media that influences their lives.
But whatever the challenge and modern-day climate, Corin is intent on helping to pave a path for an up-and-coming generation.