Honoured Guests, staff, parents and members of the Lower School, welcome to Ripon Grammar School’s Junior Prize giving, 2018.
I would like to extend an especially warm welcome to our guest speaker today – Mr Hugh McHale-Maughan. Hugh studied at Ripon Grammar from 2006-13, where he was Head Boy in his final year. He took a first class degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) from Brasenose College, Oxford. He started at HM Treasury in 2016, initially leading on areas of financial services policy relating to Brexit. He is now a Private Secretary to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, advising the Minister on such things as consumer credit, illicit finance, and the UK Government’s debt management. So any advice you can give us Hugh in your speech on the implications of Brexit on school finances would greatly received! Indeed any further illumination on Brexit would be welcome!
Clearly Hugh is a man of many talents. I met Hugh earlier this year when came back to school to give our Oxbridge applicants some much needed interview practice. Judging by their white faces and reactions of relief when leaving the interview room, it was clearly a rigorous process. Welcome Hugh, and we look forward to you presenting the prizes and addressing us later in the programme.
Well this year has been another year of tremendous engagement and success by our students. Only last week we had our annual Sports Day. Amidst clear blue skies and temperatures approaching the one currently in this assembly hall, records tumbled on a day of athletic achievement. No less than 7 boys’ records and 7 girls’ records were beaten. It was wonderful to see such friendly competition between the Houses as students encouraged each other to beat their personal bests or beat the school record. The day was only slightly marred when the Red Arrows were an hour late in their appointment to fly over as the overall winning house – Porteus - was announced.
But before I update you on the progress of our students in the Lower School, I would like to say a few farewells & goodbyes to departing staff who leave us this year, who have of course helped teach many of those present today.
Mr Astley will be departing the MFL department having taught German here for 2 years and been a resident in School House. Having done the occasional duty in School House I can definitely say that Mr Astley is a dedicated teacher and displays a genuine concern for the boys in his charge. He is also an exceptional linguist. He leaves us for Bromsgrove School with our best wishes and will be greatly missed.
Ms Bennett joined RGS in 2014 and has now secured promotion to become second in the MFL department at Fulford, York. She will be greatly missed as a teacher of French and Spanish and also as deputy head of sixth form- one of Mr Fell’s right hand women, who have proved such an invaluable team, organising so much of the enrichment, sixth form support and UCAS advice for which we are justly renowned. Our very best wishes go to Ms Bennett.
Mr Margerison will be leaving us this year to head south to London and take up the post of Head of Sixth Form at North Bridge House School. Mr Margerison has been with us for 7 years and in that time has been a highly respected teacher of Mathematics, Deputy Head of Upper School and also a houseparent in School House. From day one I have always been impressed by Mr Margerison’s calm and assured manner, navigating the not only the black runs of the annual ski trip which he has run but also the moguls of pastoral care. I know how important having a maths teaching can be in a boarding house- free tuition with homework always welcomed. Mr Margerison must also be thanked for his work with Mr Miller in developing so well the 1st XV rugby at the school –with fittingly in his final year the team getting to the semi-finals of the NatWest vase and winning the Yorkshire County Cup.
Mr Spiers departs after 8 years as Head of History and a houseparent in School House. He leaves us to take up the post of Head of Sixth and Head of History at The Mount School in York. Under Mr Spiers direction the History department has continued to flourish and grow in size. I can personally attest to the fact that he has what all heads of history should have- an obsessive passion for the minutiae of historical argument and practice. The extent to which he has cultivated a cult following was only brought home to me at the Leavers Ball in Harrogate a couple of weeks ago, when departing U6, at a time when you would think they would most want to be talking about their gap year, plans for the summer or their future, insisted on debating the finer points of Khrushchev’s and Brezhnev’s nuclear strategy.
Finally Mrs Schofield will also leave us after 11 years’ service in the DT department. While with us she has also been our STEM coordinator responsible for important aspects of the school’s outreach work and lately head of PSHCE. Mrs Scofield will be joining Northallerton College in September. Her skills as a teacher will be greatly missed, in fact so much so that it took us 2 attempts to find a suitable replacement!
There are three staff, who won’t be leaving us, but who are relinquishing roles they have served for a number of years.
Mrs Pickard- will not be leaving us as a technician, however she will be leaving boarding after 15 years of exemplary service. Mrs Pickard is always so upbeat and positive and I know she will be greatly missed in Johnson House for her care and good humour.
We also say goodbye to Mr Walker as head of ICT, and before any in the First Form look quizzically as to who I am talking about, that’s Mr Bob to you. Mr Walker has been head of ICT since 2006. However before anyone panics, including Mr walker himself at the thought of leaving his beloved RGS, he will be remaining with us as Enterprise and Work Experience Coordinator, a role to which he brings almost limitless energy, a huge knowledge of connections and experiences, and an overwhelming love of working with young people.
Finally we also say a partial goodbye to Mrs Wright. Mrs Wright came to RGS in 2002 as a teacher of English. Fortunately we retain her services to English teaching at least until February when she will be covering Mrs Mars’s maternity. But she will be relinquishing her post as Head of Upper School which she has held since 2014, and as Deputy she has served since 2008. Though I have known Mrs Wright for only a year it is quite clear that she has been a tremendous pastoral leader, dealing with the considerable challenges that adolescents sometimes present us with with an amazing calmness and experienced no-nonsense approach. Thank you for all that you have done in this regard.
So I’d like to pass on the schools best wishes to our departing staff, wish them all the best in their new roles and of course encourage them to keep in touch at any opportunity.
But before anyone panics about the fact that RGS will be losing such high quality staff, I can affirm that we have made some excellent appointments to replace our staff from strong fields. At a time when recruitment into the profession is seemingly getting harder and harder, it is heartening to say that RGS continues to attract a good number of applicants for each post advertised and with a high calibre of experience and qualifications.
I think part of the reason why good qualified staff want to work here is the strength of student and staff relationships. It is something remarked upon by interviewees and it is always with a mix of emotions that I have to say that I can’t appoint an individual to work here, balanced of course by the excitement of those to whom I can say yes. But I have genuinely had a number of emails from several applicants who have had nothing but praise for the students and staff who they have met on their interview days.
To illustrate that point I’d like to share with you an incident from the other day when two current leavers who had just finished their examinations, appeared in my office. They had bought something and it was in the back of their car. Quite bulky but very much alive. What had they bought? Well not an animal of course, but a tree, an oak tree- the very epitome of the English countryside, beloved of Robin Hood, Charles II, and the National Trust, and all that it stands for - solidity, dependability and tradition. Why had they bought a tree? They were seeking my permission to plant the tree on the schools ground as a living testament to their time at RGS which had meant so much for them. They wanted a living thing which they could watch grow over the decades, dare I say it, bring their grandchildren to look at. Who knows it might catch on as successive generations start to plant out a new forest in the heart of Ripon. I have to say all those preservation orders might pose a problem for the 44th or so headmaster in 2120… but I’m not going to worry.
Why therefore is it that school affects us so much? I’ve said before that it is of course the experience we all have - everyone can relate to a story of being at school. But it’s really about the experiences of being together and sharing that common experience. It was wonderful only this weekend to welcome back 50-60 Old Riponians to look round school and rekindle old stories of being in boarding, climbing out of windows, reminiscing about the food or former teachers and answering questions like – ‘Do the First Form still sit on the floor in assembly?’- Yes. ‘Do you still wear a gown?’ Err Yes. ‘Do the 2nd form still sit in the serving area?’ Again…yes. Time sometimes moves in decades at RGS.
I was actually in my office on admin corridor, door ajar, having a quiet moment writing reports during the OR day, when I heard 3 voices whispering outside- ‘That’s the heads office’, ‘Did you ever go in?- Oh no’, ‘Do you think anyone’s in now, shall we have a sneaky peak? ‘Yes come in I bellowed from around the corner. In came 3 leavers from 1981, who had never of course put a foot wrong and never once set foot in the Head’s office, perhaps not even ventured down the admin corridor. What was even more remarkable was that they had returned to Ripon for the first time since leaving in the 80s, not expecting the school to be open. By lucky coincidence they’d actually chosen an Old Riponian open day.
So speak to different people and you might get different answers about what school is about. Perhaps it’s about examinations, perhaps it’s about science and maths, history and geography, DT and music. But what we actually want from education in its widest sense, certainly I would say as parents, is often something a little different, or should I say something to complement the academic. What do we want for our children at school- dare I say it happiness, love, a sense of purpose, wellbeing, health and an attachment to a community. Those are the things ORs talk about when they return. It is the collective acts which are so important - the assemblies, Commemoration sports day, house competitions, debating, chess club, overseas trips or just day trips, young enterprise – the list goes on. That’s why it is so important to ensure that our students in First Second and Third form have the opportunity to experience as much as they can musically, theatrically or spiritually as they can. That’s why I am so looking forward to Thursday’s production of the Lower School production of Jungle Book.
Surely the co-curricular output of the school has as important a place as the curricular outcome in the formation of young minds, the development of confidence, inner resilience and the sheer ability to work with an alongside each other. Not for nothing is the co-curricular output of a school likely to be given greater prominence in new Ofsted frameworks. It seems to me evident that those students who are the most active, the most outgoing, are the ones who go on to achieve such great things - they embrace a busy life style- for life is about living, trying new things, confronting your inner demons perhaps. This is the best experience for life after school- getting along and grasping opportunity- ‘employability’ as people call it is a by-product.
To exemplify this I thought I’d share with you the following reflection of a student in Fourth Form on her recent work experience.
On my first day, I was absolutely terrified, and I was adamant I could not continue the crippling awkwardness, that was working with people I didn’t know, for a whole week.
I also learnt much more than I thought I could, including tasks like testing bloods in the lab, and reviewing patients after surgery. I did feel sick in every operation I watched
But these were not what I felt most nervous about – not at all. What really tortured me, clawed at me, was the staffroom. Eating lunch, with a group of strangers. I sat, quivering in the corner with my pasta and orange juice on the first day. By Friday, however, I was taking tea and cake breaks with the nurses, and chatting with the receptionists.
And that is the real lesson that I learnt from the work experience. I don’t have a clue whether or not I want to be a vet, or try something else. I don’t know what university I want to go to, and my future is still pretty fuzzy. But I know that I can be confident with people I don’t know, and I can push my boundaries to places I hadn’t even thought of.
I think that is such a wonderful thing to write. We must I am sure recognise that it is the people that put people at their ease, the people that bring others together, the people that radiate positivity that we most want to be like. School if anything should be about cultivating those talents.
For me a great experience this year was the two days I spent at Bewerley Park near Pateley Bridge. During that week the Third Form groups undertook a range of activities from rock climbing to caving, mountain biking to gorge scrambling. No doubt all that year group faced some inner demons, fear of heights, fear of confined spaces [personally I insisted on being a group not pot holing]. But I am sure for some, the demons were a fear of being away from home for a week or simply the fear of sharing a dormitory with others. For me the best day was actually at the centre itself on the final morning [admittedly I was only there two days] - this was a morning of command tasks which pitted each team against the other in terms of their ingenuity, critical thinking and most importantly team work. Teams had to solve physical and mental tasks, accumulate points all against the clock. Whether a team came first of last, for me the de-brief by each instructor was the best bit, requiring each student to examine their role in team- how well had they worked as one part, what had they learnt about themselves in the process. Like all things it is only when we work under stress and pressure that we truly strive. As it is often said turbulence is good- don’t live in your comfort zone. But also crucially- embrace your vulnerability, because others around us, while appearing strong are vulnerable too. That’s how we forge a common humanity.
And so now to turn to a recognition that the co-curricular output of the school continues to be a cause for great celebration. Much of what I say can of course be found in greater detail in this term’s bumper edition of RGS News.
I have mentioned of course already our junior play - The Jungle Book- but who can also forget Billy Elliot last term. While of course the lead parts where dominated by students from the Upper School and Sixth Form it was good to see a number of the Lower School join the cast as ballerinas, members of the chorus or striking miners. The play was a fitting showcase of the incredible talents in the school and a chance for many to do something on stage that otherwise they would never get the chance to do.
On the musical front it was a joy to hear so many of the Lower School involved in the summer concert, playing performances as spirited and proficient as any England football team playing that evening also, and don’t worry I will finish before tonight’s kick off. Well done also to those who have played or sung and delighted us in Friday assemblies and indeed in the informal lunchtime recitals that have been going on Friday lunchtimes in the music school. As a mark of the musical talent in the school, you may be aware the choirs of the school have cut a CD of Christmas music in Ripon Cathedral, generously supported by the Friends, [who I would like to thanks again for their continuing support of the school] and I am sure Mr Seymour won’t be unhappy if I use this opportunity to plug it and say to the students that they can get a discount for buying two discs- one for their parents and grandparents.
A number in the lower school have received their half colours this term, so congratulations go to Ted Dant, Eleanor Chaplin, Alex Dale, Henrietta Jarvis, Imogen McMurrray, Nick Hart and Thomas Whitelegg. Though just out of the Lower School it is worth noting here the performances of Zander Abrahams and James Kitchingman who have both achieved Grade 8 distinctions for piano and were also both winners of prizes from the ABRSM for the some of the highest performance marks in the North of England. But before I move on, I would just like to make a special mention of two of those students receiving their half colours and that is Nick Hart and Thomas Whitelegg- these two I think are real unsung heroes of the school, given the number of hours they both put in to support the school on the technical side of things with music, lighting and staging. Every Monday morning without fail, as I pullback the curtain there they are to take my CD and play the music to the school.
On the sporting front there have been some terrific individual and team performances. While it is easy for us to track sporting and outdoor endeavour in school it is sometimes more problematic to trace student success out of school. Naturally students are little more diffident and unwilling to broadcast their talents in often remarkably diverse range of activities. So please accept my apologies now if I have failed to mention a particular student’s achievement. For example only the other day I heard by accident that Molly Ord in 1A come first in the Otley agricultural show for sheep handling. This is something she is very passionate about, and quite rightly proud of! Well-done of course to Jake Hanson who competed in the World Karate Championships for England in Istanbul. Alongside his team Jake has won a bronze medal. You can read the full story in the forthcoming RGS news. This was a tremendous achievement.
In addition to those fantastic achievements the following also had representative honours:
In First Form:
In Second Form
In Third Form:
In teams sports we had the following successes:
Some fantastic performances, with athletics I think is becoming a real area of strength for the school.
We of course now look forward to our sports award evening next Tuesday evening with special guest Jack Laugher, presenting the awards. I am sure it will prove to be a tremendous event and many thanks to the PE staff and in particular Mrs McKenzie for doing so much work to bring their plans and hopes and dreams to a reality. Mrs McKenzie I know is very excited!
So a round of applause to all those who have achieved in sport, music, drama or any wider activity either at school, county or national level. Well done.
So finally I would say that today is a celebration of academic endeavour. My congratulations of course go out to all those receiving a prize or a commendation. Well done, you have all worked so hard and deserve every inch of success. But if you haven’t been mentioned or you are not receiving a prize, and sadly not everybody can, please do reflect on your year and the positive things you have done, the new things you have tried or the new friendships you have forged. So much about life is about supporting others, and as I demonstrated in assembly a month or two ago, sometimes leaderships is not about being out in front leading others, it is sometimes about being on one’s own, or in deed being a follower who has had the courage to join the person out in front or the person on their own. That often takes as much courage as the first act itself.
So that’s it from me… or nearly… I have a couple of thank yous.
The first goes to the Lower School Office of Miss Hoskins as Head of Lower School and Miss Clarke as her deputy. It is a hard job, there’s never a let up, but they have worked so hard to support new students in transition to the school and through to the Upper School- and I would mention at this point that we should congratulate Miss Clarke on being appointed to be head of Upper School from September. Thank you to you both and indeed to the 12 tutors that have supported all the students in the Lower School this year.
My final thank you and farewell- is of course to Dr Peter Mason who after 8 years as a governor and the last 6 as Chair of Governors has given outstanding service to the school. Governors can often be seen as rather shadowy people, but what I can say is that they do their work for free, they give up their time for free and they do their work for the good of the school and its students. I can honestly say that Peter has worked tirelessly for this school and will be a great loss. In my first year I have found his support, challenge and hugely wise council extremely valuable. All those I have ever spoken to hold him in the highest regard.
So now that is it from me. I do wish you all a very happy and restful summer holiday. I know I’m looking forward to it as I complete my first year. I will of course be updating you all in my end of term letter about wider school developments.