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New principal of Stoke College optimistic for school's future as coronavirus lockdown restrictions start to ease

A new Suffolk headteacher is hopeful his school can welcome all children back as normal at the start of the next school year, after applauding them for rising to the challenges of the coronavirus crisis.

Gareth Lloyd took the helm at Stoke College near Sudbury earlier this month, having served as foreign principal at Times College in China for the past two years.

The school, which teaches pupils aged four to 18 at its site in Stoke-by-Clare, resumed on-site education for Year 6 classes at the beginning of June, while continuing to run online learning for other year groups.

Dr Gareth Lloyd, principal of Stoke College. Contributed picture. (37148335)
Dr Gareth Lloyd, principal of Stoke College. Contributed picture. (37148335)

Dr Lloyd acknowledged it is an unusual time to take the leadership role, but he is excited by the opportunity under Stoke College’s new ownership, stating he wants to help “develop a 21st century vision” for the school.

“For me, I see it as an exciting challenge,” he told the Free Press. “During a crisis, you have to have the courage to take bold steps.

“My absolute first priority has been to reassure my staff, students and parents that there will be continuity and we will build on the good things already being done.

“The feedback strongly suggests the students have felt very comfortable with the online learning. I’ve read emails of appreciation galore from parents and students.

“Of course, nothing can replace that social interaction, and it was lovely to welcome back our Year 6 pupils. For me, that was one of the most special moments, to see the joy on those young people’s faces when they saw their friends again.”

Dr Lloyd explained that staff will provide summer extension work for pupils, to provide a sense of revision and ensure their learning does not stagnate over the holidays, while the school is also exploring measures for the return of its boarding students.

“We would be delighted if, come September, we can open as usual and in as normal a fashion as possible, but taking into account any additional advice,” he said. “Legislation is, of course, changing all the time.

“On a personal level, it was good to have that knowledge of lockdown from China.

“It was very much stricter, but my experience in China really helped me understand, at a very deep level, the precautions we can take to ensure everyone is looked after at every level, from the moment of arrival, to the transport, to the eating arrangements, to the teaching and learning arrangements.”

Dr Lloyd added that pupils and their families are invited to attend the Stoke Stomp, a socially-distanced walk, taking place on Monday and Tuesday next week, in lieu of the usual end-of-year celebrations.