Some words and phrases I have heard, seen, and used over the last week: “unprecedented”, “extraordinary”, “unsettling”, “interesting”, “evolving”, “testing” and (in relation to my personal circumstances) “a baptism of fire”. Yet, when I sat down to prepare some words to say to our Year 11 and Year 13 pupils on Friday morning, after Boris Johnson had dropped the bombshell that public exams had been “cancelled” this summer, I knew there were no words to sum up what our pupils would be feeling.

So, I decided to borrow some from Walt Whitman: “Either define the moment, or the moment defines you”. After acknowledging the sadness, frustration, and anger they were experiencing, I suggested that the girls consider how they were then going to respond. My suggestion, as well as taking the practical steps, was to step back and to allow themselves to be fascinated and amazed. From this vantage-point, anything is possible. Opportunities emerge.

Over the past few weeks, Brighton Girls has taken some of the characteristics of an accelerator hub. Everything has taken a huge leap forward: our IT strategy has evolved at a rapid rate; we up-skilled our staff and pupils in a matter of days; I have discovered things about people that, under normal circumstances, would have been revealed gradually, perhaps over many years. ‘Disruptive thinking’ is the new buzz word. It captures the creativity we want to encourage, but which is often difficult to achieve. The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has, overnight, changed the way we live – the way we socialise, the way we shop, the way we travel, the way we think. It is the ultimate disruptor.

Yesterday, I asked the girls to consider what opportunities will emerge for them. I pointed out the gift they have been granted: they are a special cohort, not simply because the unthinkable happened this week, but because of what they have experienced over the last few years: they have lived through Brexit, climate action, and now a global pandemic. This generation will be more politically engaged, more sensitively attuned to the vagaries of economics, than the generations that preceded them. This will give them immense power. They have seen the world change; as a result, they will have the motivation to change the world.

The last thing I stressed to the girls was the importance of perspective. The coronavirus crisis may have led to the cancellation of public exams, but it has brought home to us the things we value most: friendship, community, good health, and happiness, all of which were there in abundance during last night’s performance of ‘Oliver’. I don’t use this word lightly, but I will use it twice here: this was an “extraordinary” performance in “extraordinary” circumstances. The audience was small but the achievement was huge. Brighton Girls is characterised by its energy, it exuberance and its immense community spirit. None of these things change. The response from staff, pupils and parents over the last few weeks has been overwhelming. We are so grateful for all the messages of thanks and the offers of support. I am delighted that we are able to offer childcare to the parents of key workers and a safe space for pupils who need it. By Monday, our beautiful Vicarage building will have been transformed into a mini all-through school, bringing girls from Nursery to Year 11 under one roof. I can’t wait to see what opportunities emerge. For everyone, it is now just a case of adjusting to altered circumstances, and to seeing the world from a different perspective.

This is exactly what people are doing all over the world. You may have noticed the hashtag #MyQuarantineInSixWords trending on Twitter this week. People around the globe have been challenged to sum up their experience of home working in six words: many passed judgement on their new “co-workers”, tweeting photos of cats and dogs with such words as, “My new supervisor is a nightmare”; others expressed the frustrations of overseeing remote learning with their own children, like my favourite: “Expelled my kid from home school”. But, as we move into unchartered territory next week, with the part closure of our physical school and the birth of our virtual one, and all the challenges this will bring, this six-word tweet from someone in the US is the one that puts everything in perspective, and the one I will keep in mind:

“Trying to keep my father alive”.