Matthew Burns

Headmaster’s speech – Prizegiving 2019

This recent term has been dominated in many respects by public examinations, with pupils in Year 11 sitting their GCSE examinations and those in Year 13 focusing on their final A Level and BTEC examinations.   Libraries, House studies and rooms across the school have been filled with minds whirring and brains expanding, and the dedication and hard work has been exceptional. Other year groups have also spent the final few weeks preparing for and sitting their end of year examinations, but Academic life at Sedbergh is so much more than these final assessment periods and throughout the year, the school calendar has been filled with a huge range of student-led academic societies.  

We have had outstanding productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Joseph. We are so lucky to have Cathy Want at the helm and as a first we had a community performance of Joseph for the local primary schools, and some of the more elderly Sedbergh residents developing our work as part of the ‘Sedbergh Gives Back’ Programme.

We have enjoyed a superb year, with more pupils than ever performing in one or more of the dozens of concerts and performances. It has been brilliant to see no fewer than forty new soloists since January.

There has been a huge range, from large scale concerts in Powell Hall such as ‘A Night in the USA’, ‘Jazz & Swing’, Wilson Run concert and the very special ‘Concert of Remembrance’- A question I have asked myself and you may have done the same; How would I have reacted if I had been in those trenches?

A number of our choristers are part of the National Youth Choir setup, which is testament to the high standard of our own Chapel Choir. We wish them luck as they depart for the United States on Monday, where they will enjoy a tour that takes in Boston, New York and Washington.

In Adventure Activities, Year 10 have been in, on and under the Fells and Lakes every Monday, as well as many things going on every Thursday afternoon.

In Duke of Edinburgh: over 100 pupils have been busily working towards their Gold and Silver Awards, and many Y13s have successfully completed their Gold Awards already, which they will collect from Buckingham Palace

We are determined to give more back. This is something I care passionately about – we are all very lucky and we all benefit hugely by helping others or the environment – I am delighted that we have increased what we have done four-fold on last year.

We have had pupils in local primary schools, in centres for the elderly and with adults who have learning disabilities, childcare, sports coaching, charity shops, Tanzania conservation, local conservation, the list goes on….

As a modern-day scrooge – I cancelled House Trips in the last week of the Michaelmas term and the 9 houses tackled 9 different projects in a truly incredible way – in some ways it was the best day of the year. Pupils were in hospitals, churches, day centres and various environmental projects.

The whole school is getting involved in the newly launched, pupil led EcoSedbergh. During my time here, I have never seen a society start with such energy and enthusiasm – we had over 60 pupils in the first meeting who want to do their bit to safeguard the environment for themselves and their children.

We were delighted with the changes we made to the Wilson Run. The Sedbergh Global Run video had more views – 70,000 – than any other Sedbergh Video before.

As always it is as much about the preparation and doing the epics and qualifying days as the day itself.

Here, Sedberghian values of humility, ambition, resilience and kindness are all shown in abundance.

We had another unbeaten season and we were Daily Mail Trophy Winners (2nd year in a row), we retained National 7s title at Rosslyn Park and we won our own National 10s for the 3rd season in a row.

It seems a while since we cleaned up at Bisley winning Ashburton Shield for the first time in 21 years as we prepare to defend the title later this month. We are the only school in the country that has GB representatives at every level.

Our Hockey highlight was our U14 Girls who were National Hockey Finalists – at the Olympic Park.

And in Netball we were District Champions at all age groups. Our athletes have had their most successful season ever and our Girls are presently at the national schools’ champs against the best 12 schools in the country (not bad for a school of 210 girls).

Equestrian wise we had National finalists in all disciplines in a sport that goes from strength to strength.

I do not have enough time to talk about individual performances – but to pick out just a few;

  • Taylor McGuire won the National Fives U18 Championship – it was the first time a Sedberghian had won it in 25 years.
  • Rhiannon Piper won 2 Open Gold Taekwondo medals.
  • Will Haydon-Wood played for England U20 at rugby.
  • George Hill represented England Lions at Cricket and was voted young All–rounder of the year.
  • Golfer, Archie Davies incredibly has been selected in the provisional Walker Cup (amateur Ryder Cup) squad to take on USA in September
  • Miki and Tinky Crosssley and Faith Barnes for completing the Boddy Challenge (a very tough Windermere Ironman) in true Sedbergh tradition and we were voted independent sports school of the year

As always at this time of year we say goodbye to a small number of staff – our very best wishes go to;

Brian Williams – who retires after many years in the chemistry department, chapel warden, mic fishing and iconic Sedgwick tutor.

Steve Cooling – also retires as Head of Geography. The good news is that Steve will still be around to take his superb photos.

Susan Doherty – the Queen of our Jazz and Swing team has been associated with us for 30 years – she fortunately will still be around as a Peripatetic teacher

Chris Swainson – will be missed as a Physics teacher, brilliant rugby coach and all-round polymath – he joins Epsom College.

Dominic Kidney – has taught Religious Studies and Agriculture here for 2 years and joins a school in Liverpool.

Wendy Swan – has done a brilliant job as Head of MFL here and we wish her all the best in the future.

Vicki Otterburn – has been an integral part of the Learning Support department as well as coaching netball and house tutoring – we wish her all the best at Repton School.

Louisa Adcock – has been a successful member of the MFL department for the last 2 years as she joins Rossall School.

And we say goodbye to Marianne Yacoub who has worked tirelessly in the music department this year.

I will now go slightly off at a tangent.

We are a fast-paced school and we are celebrating a lot born out of that today.

However, sometimes we go too fast to appreciate things around us – occasionally we need to pause – whether we are at the top of a hill or in the middle of a mad term– perhaps we all need to stop and look around. And perhaps we all need to think a little more about others and about our planet.

A man sat at a Subway Station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

Three minutes went by and a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried up to meet his schedule.  A minute later, the violinist received his first dollar tip; a woman threw the money in the till and without stopping continued to walk. Clearly, she was late for work.

The one who paid the most attention was a 3-year-old boy. Finally, the mother pushed hard, and the child continued to walk turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. All the parents, without exception, forced them to move on.

In the 45 minutes the musician played, only 6 people stopped and stayed for a while. About 20 gave him money but continued to walk their normal pace. He collected $32. When he finished playing and silence took over, no one noticed it.  No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He had played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth $3.5 million.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theatre in Boston and the seats averaging over $100.

This was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment …

One of the possible conclusions from this experience could be; If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

Are we going too fast to realise the damage we are doing to our planet?

To the School Prefects, Head of School and Deputy Head – I could not have asked more.

To my Senior Management Team, the Common Room and All Staff here at Sedbergh, especially the wonderful team of Amanda, Janet (my wonderful PA) and Olivia in the office, a huge thank you.

We have come a long way in the last few years and I am very fortunate to build on Andrew Fleck’s fantastic foundations and to have him next door for valuable advice.

Gone are the days of people not knowing about Sedbergh School. As you know this year, we hosted our first ever First-Class cricket match, we are looking after the England netball team here in September for their pre-season training and I am delighted that next Spring we hope to be hosting the inaugural National Schools Environmental Awards here. 

A very heartfelt goodbye to our fantastic Upper 6th. To you and to your parents – you will always be part of Sedbergh School. Please come back and see us soon.

Here, it is not about facilities, although we are very proud of the buildings we have.

Here, it is not about statistics, we care more about individual results than overall percentages.

It is about people.

Eton may hath her river, and Clifton her down but I feel very lucky and privileged to be Headmaster of this incredible school.

Have a lovely summer,

Floriat Sedberghia

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