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Headmaster’s Speech, Prize Giving 2016

Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, Sedberghians, Friends and Visitors

Welcome to Prize-Giving. This is the cornerstone of the School year when we celebrate our collective achievements, acknowledge those who have made our children’s success possible and reflect on what makes Sedbergh distinct.

The opening and closing sentences of essays have the most impact, and so it is with speeches. So let me start with the most important thanks of all; to parents who place the greatest trust in us to care for, educate and inspire their children. We recognise the responsibility we bear, and the privilege we enjoy in contributing to your children’s lives.  Thank you for joining us today, I hope you will feel inspired by the achievements of all our pupils, the commitment of their teachers and enjoy the special ambience of a Sedbergh Speech Day

Thank-you to The Right Reverend Robert Freeman, Bishop of Penrith who joined us in Chapel and for his sermon this morning.

Motorway service stations are not obviously attractive destinations so it is extraordinary to meet an entrepreneur who has confounded the stereotype to create two mould-breaking, award-winning service stations which are destinations in their own right. I’m sure I am not alone in having bought birthday presents from Westmorland Farm Services or making an unnecessary stop for coffee there. So it is a pleasure to welcome Sarah Dunning, Chief Executive and the inspiration behind a revolution in motorway service. Sarah grew up on the family farm at Tebay and was educated at Windermere St Anne’s School before studying Languages at Manchester. She may now add the modest distinction of being the first woman to present prizes at Sedbergh to her CV. We look forward to hearing her speak.

Each year I seek to establish a theme, this year it was provided by a teacher at Harrow School he wrote,

“They travelled down to Euston and then went back up the line to Harrow & Wealdstone, which is of course not the closest station.  However, they happily walked the two or three miles from there. Then, of course, the boys and girls ran strongly, taking first and third in the senior boys and two team seconds.  At prize-giving the Sedbergh boys came up to shake our Headmaster’s hand, still in their shorts and singlets because they were running back to the railway station before their long journey home. What delightful people to have here.  I hope that we can make this a regular event.”

These few sentences capture the delighted surprise of the correspondent as he observes the Sedberghian character. We are proud to embrace challenges which other schools dismiss out of hand. Our northern fastness ensures that we are not slaves to convention and we enjoy an unpretentious joie-de-vivre which others envy but cannot emulate. So, “Yes,” we will go back to Harrow by train. And we will walk from the station to the race - and run back again. Because we enjoy the adventure as much as the competition.

And we achieve.

Last year’s Upper Sixth did us proud, recording 63% A*-B grades, an increase of 9% over the year before and the highest we have on modern record. At GCSE, 38% of grades were at A* and A, only a whisker behind the previous year’s record-breaking haul. Our task is to create success and so forge opportunities to suit the individual so we were delighted that pupils gained entry to Oxford and Cambridge and many more centres of excellence.

Five years ago we set out to be innovative, but not faddish, in our curriculum. This year we started our 9STAR programme, challenging the most talented academics in Year 9 to think as well as to learn. They have wrestled with philosophy and Game Theory, studied teamwork and leadership, rapid Greek and Critical Thinking.  Much more happens outside the classroom. A walk around the School two weeks ago revealed posters advertising the Keynes Hayek Society lecture on ‘The new economics of Smoking’, the Brantwood Society’s ‘Reading of Shakespeare’s Soliloquies and Speeches’, a report on the School of Athens lecture on Picasso’s Guernica and a set of debates including the motion that ‘This House would legalise consensual cannibalism.’

Competition runs through the veins of a Sedberghian and our academics are no different from our sportsmen and women. Academic Challenge was the most contentious affair with Lupton and Hart tied on the last question of one semi-final and Robertson causing outrage by training for the competition! Elsewhere, artists, linguists, mathematicians and biologists have competed in national competitions gaining commendations and medals through their talent and application.

At the heart of any success we enjoy lies the enthusiasm of our teachers for their craft. Recently we started a staff-wide conversation about “What makes a great lesson?” It’s an important question. What is the right blend of inspiration versus application? How directed should work be? What is the place of technology? How can we avoid death by PowerPoint and break the profession’s addiction to the dreaded worksheet? Lessons are being watched by two teachers at a time and the ensuing debate helps us refine our craft which is a skill that is never complete. But now is the moment to step back and to simply offer our deepest thanks to the men and women who have made education their lifelong commitment and whose skill and dedication enable Sedberghians to flourish.

We can never take success for granted and least of all on the pitch where any match against Sedbergh is the opposition’s cup-final. During the last year, we have enjoyed many cup-finals:

·        Our Under 15, Under 17 and Under 18 cricketers reached a variety of National Finals.

·        The Under 16 girls’ hockey team won the National 6-a-side competition and our boys’ team won the North of England Championship. Boys’ and girls’ teams were all County Champions whilst our Netball teams reached the Regional Finals in every age group.

·        The U15 rugby team won the NatWest Trophy at Twickenham and our U18 team were runners up in the National Tens tournament.

·        Our runners came second at the King Henry’s Relays and South Eastern Championships.

Meanwhile our basketball team has gone unbeaten for 2 years.

Wherein lies the secret of our success?  We have an abundance of talent amongst pupils and coaches, as do other Schools. Our grounds and operations staff provide us with magnificent facilities, as is the case in other Schools and we are intensely competitive, as are other Schools.

The difference is that we have time. Time to think and time to plan. Time to train and Time to relax. Teams need Time.

The quality of our teamwork was evident at Twickenham and is equally so when our choirs sings every Sunday, memorably reducing visitors to tears earlier this term with Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure on this Shining Night.” No matter what the strengths of the individuals, Sedbergh fields teams that are greater than the sum of the parts.

Some go on to national representation and this year we offer our congratulations to Ali Crossdale, Max Davies, Charlie Gowling, James Botham and Sam Moore who played rugby for England, Scotland and Wales. Charlie Papworth was selected for Wales and Bevan Rodd for England at Under 16 level.

Iona Lindsay played lacrosse for Scotland, Tom Savage fished for England and Archie Davis captained the Welsh U16 golf team. George Bentley, Charlie Cowen, Katherine Fleck, Will Ross and Harriet Bramwell have all been selected to shoot for England.  Dr Ripley and James Thomas won the National Laser 3000 Sailing Championships whilst Storm Straker won the National Schools’ Equestrian Championship.

Whilst we aspire to individual and collective success our ambition should not, and does not, blind us to the needs of others. In the first week of this term we raised £2000 for UNCEF and in the second - £2600 for Help for Heroes; we supported the London Moon Walk and donated to the Orphanage we support in Gilgi, Kenya.

In November, Sedbergh was captivated by events in 19th Century France as Les Miserables took to the stage. 78 pupils had worked through weekday and weekend rehearsals to refine their stagecraft, singing and technical skills to bring the West End’s best loved play to Sedbergh. And what a performance; quite the equal of anything produced in the Queen’s Theatre. But it went further still. “Why is it called The Miserables?” a boy asked me at lunch one day. The conversation evolved into discussion about the nature of social change, Victor Hugo, the development of the book to its current form on stage and the central theme of Redemption. Drama stopped being mere entertainment and became, for the first time in my career, a school-wide vehicle for education. Nothing is more powerful than to see our friends and peers present a message which transcends cultures and generations. And what a message for our time as democracy threatens to overturn the political oligarchy in America and we teeter on the edge of a referendum which will redefine our place in Europe. The power of drama has been maintained with the classic production of Aristophanes’ Comedy ‘The Birds’ by Year 9 and 10 this week. Written in 441 BC, this too is a timeless message about the fallibility of escapism. We look forward to next term’s production of “A Christmas Carol.”

Les Miserables represented an enormous commitment by musicians as well as our actors, but you would never have known it. The winter rain started on Remembrance Sunday, coinciding with the start of the concert season, although we had already enjoyed a Night at the Opera. The Headmaster’s Concert that afternoon was followed by the St Cecilia Concert, rising to a crescendo of activity in late November and early December just as storm Desmond struck, inundating the Thornely Studio and Guldrey basement. Our homeless musicians were undeterred. As repairs continued through the New Year, the Jazz, Swing and Soul Bands came to together with choral and other ensembles to transport us from Powell Hall to the smoky confines of a New Orleans Jazz Club before reinventing themselves as elegant performers of Mozart’s Requiem and then leading the School in House Unisons. Only when the rain stopped at the end of April did our musicians get a rest, the final Headmaster’s Recital being an opportunity to thank those who have enhanced our lives with the quality of their music throughout their time at Sedbergh.

Like Music and Theatre, the Wilson Run is a school-wide event. The momentum builds through the term as pupils bring back exaggerated stories of sinking waist deep in bogs and braving freezing temperatures. The first test is the Morgan Run - a short race of five miles over small hills and mixed terrain. From half-term the Wilson Run becomes the growing topic of conversation until the penultimate week when it is the reference point in every lesson and at every lunchtime. Tuesday arrives and with it an explosion of athleticism. Wannabee fell runners set out under cover of darkness so they can knowingly say “the going’s fast today”; Old Sedberghians arrive to recapture their youth wearing yesteryear’s running kit; and parents step out to “share their children’s pain”. The carnival spirit escalates as pupils set off for Ten Mile Lane and Green Hill. Runners gather on the start line.

But then, in my mind, all is still. Pupils are frozen in time until the sound of the starter’s gun releases them like whippets across the fells.

For the next hour a frenzy of confused communication tells us that Joe and Johnny are ahead, then it’s Johnny by 16 seconds at Cautley….. and 2 minutes at Danny Bridge. The cheers rise at Library Corner and ripple down Loftus Hill. Moments later there is a roar, grown men leap in the air and tears flow as we know that for only the second time since Charles Pumphrey ran the course in 1899 a new record is set. Phoebe Whattoff comes close to breaking the girls record. Runners stream in, some exuberant, many exhausted and others in pain. As 2 ½ hours pass, one runner is yet to finish. The minutes get longer and it becomes cold. A thin cheer starts outside Carus House, it grows at Lupton and follows the loan athlete who limps painfully around Library corner and so to the finish line. This is a personal triumph of individual determination every bit as important as the athletic achievements which took place nearly two hours earlier. And there by the wall is Johnny Campbell, still in his shorts, singlet and a tatty pullover. He’s just broken the record and he is the most feted pupil in School. This is his moment, but he has put it on hold because he understands that the Wilson Run is for everyone and so, he is there to celebrate every runner’s triumph alongside his own. This, for 167 reasons, was a special race.

Such moments cannot be planned or created. They evolve. The character of our School is shaped by the time we have to together, and by its long history. Carus commenced that journey with its official opening by Claire Hensman, Lord Lieutenant of Cumbria and School Governor on 11 October 2015. This year, the spotlight of anniversary has fallen on Winder, Hart and Powell. Winder and Powell celebrating their centenary years and Hart 125 years. Our Houses are the heartbeat of the School where lifelong friendships are made so it has been a pleasure to see Old Sedberghians of many generations return and take delight in meeting old School friends. They have been extraordinarily generous, donating £275k to the Roger Lupton Scholarship Appeal. The success of our Boarding Houses is inextricably linked with those who commit their lives to Boarding education in this way and I offer my thanks to Housemasters and Housemistresses, Tutors, Matrons, Medical staff, Cooks and Cleaners who guide and care for our pupils.

I am regularly asked whether this has been a good year, and this year I have struggled to answer the question. Because I want to say that it has been the most extraordinary, inspiring, exceptional year I have ever known – but I don’t want Sedbergh to boast or tempt fate. So I shall say this, I could not be more proud of all that our pupils and staff have achieved and the manner in which they have done so.

We, who live, work and study here today, benefit from the wisdom and bold decisions of those who went before. Headmasters Heppenstall and Hart, with the Chairman of Governors, Sir Francis Powell; transformed the fortunes of the School between 1880-1912 during which time School, Hart, Sedgwick and Powell boarding houses were all built, along with main classroom block, the Chapel and this Hall. Today’s Governors take equally bold strategic decisions to benefit generations that will follow. However there the parallel ends. A modern school must conform to 450 regulations, some set out in hundreds of pages of Statutory Guidance. The burden of Governance is considerable and we are immensely fortunate to have such a strong and committed Governing Body led by Hugh Blair. On behalf of pupils, parents and Staff – I offer them our deepest thanks.

I offer my personal thanks to my most senior staff who run the School on a daily basis. I rely on Dan Harrison, Colin Gunning, Lotte Wright and Paul Fairclough to maintain the daily operations and I am never disappointed. They balance administrative demands with sensitive management of pupils and staff to ensure the machine never rests and maintains its direction. So too is it a pleasure to thank Peter Marshall who maintains our Operational efficiency alongside his role as Clerk to the Governors. I have no scientific basis to make the following statement but I firmly believe he is the best Bursar in the country and that Sedbergh is extraordinarily fortunate to benefit from his talent. Lastly, I offer my deepest appreciation for all the support I receive from my PA, Amanda Dearden. Amanda really knows what is going on – I am just the front-man.

As the year comes to an end, it is right to pay testimony to the achievements of colleagues who are leaving Sedbergh or changing roles. Emily Baker was teaching strings before joining the School as Assistant Director of Music. In reality, all that happened was that she became busier – still teaching strings and still teaching ensembles but now organising individual lessons and tutoring in Lupton. Happily, she is not leaving but simply returning to her earlier role so we will continue to enjoy her company and skill.

Rebecca Millard joined us fresh from playing lacrosse for Ireland two years ago. Since then she has raised the standard of our game and enabled some of our players to represent their counties and country. She is wonderfully efficient and has overseen the complex scheduling of flight timetables for international pupils as well as being tutor in Lupton.

Ally Thomas is our Premier League netballer bringing a wealth of experience of playing the best in the country to our Sedbergh girls. She has coached school teams to regional success. As well as being a tutor in Robertson, Ally has efficiently undertaken administration for the sports department and helped in Learning Support. 

Janet Larton, Jo-Anna Duncalf and Liz Goodman arrived through our merger with Casterton School. They might reasonably have been bewildered by the foreign environment in which they found themselves – rugby, running, boys and Saturday socials. They have thrown themselves into the School; cheerfully marshalling on the fells, running Thursday and Saturday activities and writing the staff handbook. More than that, they have tutored and skilfully taught in Maths, Art and Languages Departments. Janet and Liz move to well-earned retirement and we wish Jo-Anna good fortune as she moves from the Howgill Fells to become Head of Art at the Forest School in North London.

Elaine Arkley, Judy Speer, Jane Tulloch and Anne Waller have been matrons in School, Evans and Robertson Houses for a total of 15 years. They have managed teenagers and cleaning staff, dispensed medicine to the sick and firm direction to malingerers. Theirs is a truly vocational task, much of it unseen and often only appreciated by pupils as they come to leave the School. Now is our moment to thank Elaine, Judy, Jane and Anne for all the care they have offered our pupils and to acknowledge all that their colleagues in different Houses do to make our pupils’ lives happy and ordered.

Tim Sands leaves us after five years to run the Design Department at Ockbrook School. Whilst he has been with us, Tim has brought his design and metalwork skills to bear on design projects through countless hours in the workshop. He has built stage scenery and managed old and new stage lighting rigs, tutored in Powell and Evans and played a major role in the Navy section of the CCF. We are deeply grateful for his work and wish him and Julie every success as they move to Derbyshire.

Tradition has it that our last acknowledgement is to the longest serving member of staff. Unusually, but correctly, this year that person is not a teacher but a senior member of the Bursary team. Martin Smith first joined Sedbergh as Estates Bursar in February 2004.  He left, briefly, in August 2005 and returned in October 2007.  During his tenure, Martin has overcome fire and flood to keep the School running. He has maintained and replaced archaic boilers and acres of Victorian roofing. Martin has managed the refurbishment of Guldrey, the construction of Thornely and Brackensghyll. Now he moves to a part-time role to manage our heritage buildings and oversee major projects, the first of which is the Sports Centre that the Chairman spoke about. We owe Martin a great debt of gratitude for his skilful work and high standards.

And so to our leaving pupils.

Now is the moment when our work begins. As you leave Sedbergh, our collective work is continued through you. Whatever you have learned at Sedbergh is yours to use freely, whether it is knowledge and skills, attitudes or values. These are the gifts of your parents and teachers, ones which we are pleased to give. But they come with expectation, they are yours to use. The astronaut Jim Lovell, Commander of Apollo 13, made the following observation,

“There are three types of people in this world; people that make things happen, people that watch things happen and people that just wonder what happened.”

You are not educated to become bystanders but to make things happen and we expect you to shoulder that responsibility. Make no mistake, responsibility is a burden but it is also the greatest privilege to have the skills to shape events in your own lives and the lives of others around you.

So we wish you good luck in your endeavours. We hope you will enjoy safe travels and interesting journeys, and we hope you will come back soon to share your stories with those who share your heritage.

Thank you, for the privilege of your company.

 

Floreat Sedberghia
Posted in: Headmaster's Blog

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