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Head's Prize Giving Speech 2019

Well, days like this make me feel very proud to be a Head Master.  The achievements of the young people sitting in front of me is nothing short of outstanding and each of them, plus the hundreds of other children not recognised today, should be celebrated by all of us.  Over the past year we have seen the school continue to grow and develop and I hope that the essence of what makes Radnor House such a special place has come through even more strongly.

We are becoming increasingly well-known and the interest at all levels of the school continues to outstrip available demand.  Admissions into the school are very healthy with significant numbers applying to join the Prep and Senior schools at EYFS, 3, 7, 9 and Sixth Form. 

If you will permit me I would like to pepper this speech with some important thank yous and on the topic of admissions would like to highlight Wendy Owens for her superb work this year to explain the school so clearly to prospective parents.  Not only is the school well pitched to the outside world but I think most parents would agree that Wendy and her team give a wonderful first impression.  Holding on to that personal touch is something each of us want to retain as the school matures.

By September we will be approaching 500 children across the Prep and Senior School and expect to reach 700 over the next few years.  Although much of this growth will come in the more senior year groups we are still taking applications across the school and have been delighted with the uptake of offers at all key entry point.  Year 7 is a particularly popular time for children to join the school and we are thrilled that so many youngsters are applying for places at this stage.

I would guess that as parents you may not be quite so excited with this growth as we are but with a growing roll comes an ability to invest.  We have taken this opportunity and have spent a considerable sum on the school in recent years and have further plans for investment going forward.  Our well publicised hockey pitch is currently with the local county council and I am grateful for their careful consideration, in addition I know that many of the parents sitting in front of me now have added their support using the online service, thank you for those who have posted a comment.  This new facility will add considerably to the school’s sporting infrastructure and enable us to compete more readily with other larger local schools. 

As many of you know sport is something which is close to my heart and after a shoulder injury I hope to retake the field this year for the Sevenoaks Vets and mighty 4th XV rugby squads.  We are proud at Radnor to be developing a sector leading approach to sports provision for both boys and girls.  Our gender-neutral approach means that all pupils have exactly the same opportunities when it comes to sport.  In future years we will be focussing increasingly on Football, Hockey and Cricket for both boys and girls and it is wonderful to watch the profile of girls’ football, in particular, increasing so quickly. 

As Mr Rock departs for sunnier climes I would like to pause to pay special mention to his impact on sport at Radnor House.  At the recent Sports Awards evening I described him as ‘transformative’ and indeed he has propelled sport onwards and upwards over his brief period in charge.  We thank him for his contribution and wish him and his lovely family every happiness as they return to Thailand this summer. 

In many ways we will have a new look sports department in September with Mr Butt, Ms Hughes and Mrs Dudman taking over the reins and I am sure all the pupils and parents will extend our typical warm Radnor welcome to them as they settle in over the next few months.

Many will also know that I am an enthusiastic user of technology and am excited about the potential for new technology to enhance learning in the years ahead.  We are developing a name for ourselves in the deployment and use of Microsoft educational software and I know that the vast majority of Y7s have found the switch to laptops hugely beneficial. 

In future years this will increasingly become our normal way of working at Radnor and we expect to see more and more resources being developed for the MS Teams and Class Notebook infrastructure over the years ahead.  Our new Computer and Design Centre will also be finished by September and this will give us three further technology rooms with one becoming a dedicated Graphic Design room for Art based computer courses taught across the Prep and Senior School.

This is a very exciting time for Education Technology, or EdTech, as its known.  Only recently has the hardware and software become sufficiently robust to cope with the demands of a modern classroom in a way that enhances rather than detracts from learning.  Artificial Intelligence will eventually revolutionise how children learn, indeed we can see the first glimmers of this with programmes like Times Tables Rockstar and Mathletics.  This is, however, only the tip of the iceberg.  In school, we recently trialled software that claims to be an AI learning tool for GCSE Science.  The computer starts off by asking some questions of the learner and taking some data from school about their underlying ability.  The algorithms underpinning the software then tailor the speed, style and design of the following resources and questions to perfectly match weaknesses and strengths in the learner. 

Another product I reviewed last month is designed to improve reading.  They use a camera to monitor exactly how the eye tracks over a passage of text.  Confident readers will skim a line, missing some words altogether.  Developing readers might see their eye jumping around the page and stopping for much longer durations on each word.  From this information the computer can then diagnose the best resources delivered at the right pace to ensure the learner makes the best progress.  While what I am describing is very much in its infancy we should all expect to see more, not less, technology finding its way into our education system in the years ahead.

It seems incredible that barely 12 months ago we were talking in relatively abstract terms about how Outdoor Adventurous Education was about to be introduced across the Prep and Senior School and the hugely positive impact this would have on the lives of your children.  Well here we are, one year and several hundred hours of teaching later, and we now have a school community which embraces the outdoors in myriad ways.  Forest School is taught across the EYFS and Lower Prep, Outdoor Learning is a key element of the curriculum in the Upper Prep, a full range of expeditions have taken place for the Lower School and the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme is quickly gaining traction in the Middle School and Sixth Form.  These experiences are not caught in league tables and I’m afraid don’t come with many bragging rights on the dinner party circuit but the impact it has on your children is profound.  They are all more resilient, they have all enhanced their interpersonal skills and their knowledge of the outdoors has come on leaps and bounds.  As far as successes go this one is right up there for me and I’m grateful for everything that Mr Kemp and his team have done to put Outdoor Adventurous Education very firmly on the map at Radnor House Sevenoaks.

None of this would have been possible without the support of our wonderful parents and I am grateful for the trust and confidence you continue to place in our teachers and wider school community.  Our various Parent groups are vibrant and I would like to thank all of the reps, event leaders and importantly the Friends for their hard work over the years. 

In particular Liz Baker as Chair of the Friends Association, Terry Smith as Treasurer and Gemma Wood as Secretary have put in a huge amount of work behind the scenes and I am grateful for their continued support. 

Our Parent Governance Members are Sara Henderson and Allisandra Edge-McKenna and they have been working with our Senior Leadership Team this year to review and develop our school and I would like to thank them for their time and ideas during the regular termly meetings.

Many may also be unaware of the work put in by Caroline Proctor, Helen Beckerson, Robert Jeffree and Kristina Redhouse to transform and establish the Radnor Charitable Trust.  In future years it is hoped that this will provide additional financial assistance for children seeking to join the school under an enhanced bursary programme.  Caroline would not forgive me if I didn’t also give our first ever triathlon a small plug at this point and I am reliably informed that a few places are still available through the website!

With this sense of community comes a sense of place in the world.  It grounds children and gives them structure.  They understand the invisible boundaries and rules which bind communities together and appreciate that their individual identify is dwarfed by the collective identify of the whole.               

As we look towards the new academic year we still have plenty to do.  The EYFS garden will be completely remodelled over the course of next year and the Prep School will undergo a full redevelopment with internal and external decoration and restructuring of some spaces.

A major focus over the next 12 months will be on Sixth Form provision as we remodel the various communal spaces into a bespoke library and work hub for our A-Level students.  The existing Sixth Form common room will be redeveloped and a full time Sixth Form librarian hired from September 2020.  In addition to our significant academic ambitions we also seek to provide a full and diverse range of opportunities to prepare young people for the big wide world.  As a new initiative for September 2019 we are launching a ‘Community Service Programme’ for all pupils in Y11-13 with the aim of further engaging them with voluntary and community activities over their first year of A-Levels.  Of all the stages of education at Radnor House, the Sixth Form will see the biggest change over the next few years with the number of students expected to quadruple to almost 150 by 2024.

Before I finish let me extend a welcome to the newest member of the Senior Leadership Team, Fraser Halliwell, who joins the Radnor family as Vice Principle in September.  My role is not changing however I will continue to rely on Fraser and George Penlington to really manage the difficult task or running the various sections of the school and I am grateful for their support this year which has been exceptional. 

This is a good moment to highlight the extraordinary work of Deborah Spencer who has been indispensable this year.  She is more than simply a Deputy she really is the heart and soul of the Prep school and I’m sure everyone will forgive me if we give her a round of applause to show our appreciation.

This is also a good moment to highlight the extraordinary work of Sian Pettitt who has been outstanding this year.  Whilst Mr Penlington and I like to take the credit really, we both know that Mrs P is the brains behind the throne and does an incredible job.  I’m sure everyone will forgive me if we give her a round of applause to show our appreciation.

I could not wish for a better nor more engaged and enthusiastic group of Senior Leaders and I know they will want to me to acknowledge the wonderful work done by the various support and teaching teams alongside them.  In particular, thank you to Louise Lay who has the unenviable job of trying to organise me whilst also keeping the administrative team on the straight and narrow.  Louise has masterminded this event plus the new look Sports Day and I have no idea what I would do without her. 

You have some of the best teachers in the business working here and the support team is without doubt the most flexible and hardworking I have had the pleasure of working with so please join me in showing our appreciation for our superb staff.

So, there we are, another year done and we move on to the next one with confidence and excitement.  Our thoughts will be with those GCSE and A-Level students who are receiving grades in August and we all wish them the very best of luck. 

Let me now introduce our guest speaker this afternoon.  Kate Richardson Walsh is an Olympic Gold winning Hockey Player who was captain of the England and Great Britain team for over 13 years.  I am thrilled that she is with us today and have great pleasure in inviting her to the stage. 

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