Head’s Speech For Prize Giving 2018
Well let me start with a big thank you to our speaker today, Rebecca Stephens, for that superb description of her lifelong love affair with the mountains and also sincere congratulations from all of us on being the first British woman to summit Everest, quite an amazing achievement.
Thank you also to Louis, Laragh, Amy and Matt for their wonderful introduction and equally impressive speeches, I can tell you from first-hand experience that it’s not easy standing in front of you all so well done!
The past year has flown by. You will probably remember us sitting this time last year in the sports hall. Me having completed my first full year as head and the school having gone through several big changes over the previous 12 months. Well here we are and I am pleased to report that we’re in better shape than ever.
I’m naturally pretty upbeat but I have to say I am even more excited about our future now than I have ever been. We are here today to celebrate the efforts and achievements of our pupils and to reward those who have been successful this year.
Of course it is all about the children but first a few words about the school as a whole. You’ll be pleased to hear I’m not going to go on about growing numbers and increasing roll too much today but if you’ll just permit me a few highlights. Over the past two years the Senior School has grown from just under 110 to almost 230, the Prep School has seen an equally impressive growth and has grown from just under 90 to almost 220. We will open in September with 430 children and are projected to hit 500 sometime in 2019.
A bellwether of external perception is often the Year 7 intake class and this year we expect almost 60 across three classes. We had just under 100 applications to join Y7 this year and every indication is that this will rise over the years ahead. Coupled with almost 90% of the existing Y6 cohort selecting to join the Senior school it makes the 11+ entry point highly sought after and very competitive.
The support of local Prep schools is key to this growth and following intensive consultation with several of the leading prep heads in the area we have for the first time taken the decision to expand our 13+ entry point by accepting a further class of external applicants. This is an exciting development for Radnor and provides support to local prep schools who increasingly want to retain their best and brightest until the end of Y8. Wendy Owens and Rachel Marsden are responsible for all of the external marketing and I think they are a great team and wanted to say a specific thank you to each of them for their hard work this year. Let’s give them a round of applause.
Now I know the heads at Caterham or Brighton College probably don’t start their speeches anymore with stories about growth and applications, but they did once…and not so long ago.
Radnor is on a path to becoming an outstanding school and to reach those heady heights we need a set of GCSE and A-Level results to match. But before we start talking brass tacks I wanted to pose a question to each of you. What’s the point in school? What are we, what are you, trying to achieve? What is our purpose? Really I’m asking you to consider deeply what really matters in life.
Each of us has a unique opportunity to do something special with our life, we can become brain surgeons and save lives, we can become engineers and build bridges, we can become teachers and educate children or we can become mothers and fathers and raise a family. We really have complete freedom to choose what we want from life. For the adults here many of us have chosen our script already. My script consists of being a dad, a husband and running two schools that I am very proud of. For the children sitting in this room their script is not yet written, they are barely at the audition stages.
So what does it take to set someone on a path towards a great life? For me the answer lies in great teachers and ultimately a great system of education. In its simplest education is change management - it is disruptive, it is challenging, uncomfortable and at times difficult. To undertake education by its very definition means to open yourself up to feedback and questioning. Above all it means learning from your teacher.
It might be a hard sell to convince you at the start of a seven week holiday that teaching is a tough job but let me have a go. It used to be the case that a teacher just had to turn up and deliver the same old lesson she or he did last year. Today however the expectations and complexity of the job have gone through the roof. Teachers are now not simply classroom educators but also part-time social workers, compliance officers, GDPR experts, social media gurus, parent liaison officers and occasional shoulders to cry on. They have the best job in the world but it’s no wonder that the number applying to join the profession is falling and we have to work harder than ever to attract the best and brightest.
Teachers are the world’s greatest change agents. We can all remember a teacher who changed our view of the world or introduced us to something new, we probably still know the name of the person who believed in us and pushed us on despite us feeling distinctly unsure of the next steps.
I think quite a few of you know I grew up in America. My third grade teacher, the equivalent to Year 4 in UK, was called Mrs Reuter. I don’t have many specific memories but I still know to this day that she was the best teacher I ever had, she stuck up for me, encouraged me and somehow managed to read my atrocious writing. At the other end of the scale was a teacher I had from my secondary school after returning to UK. I don’t remember much but I do remember her laughing at me during an ART lesson because I put my socks on inside out and my name label was showing. 30 years on that memory still stings and probably at the time sadly finished off my interest in the subject. I ended up coming last in the class three years running…..although I probably can’t say it was entirely down to sock-gate, I was also famous in school for drawing six fingers on a self-portrait of my hand once!
Coming back to my opening question, what is our purpose here at this school? Why do we do what we do? At Radnor we see schools as factories for producing the successful people the world needs tomorrow. Schools are in the future-proofing business. As a Head I will be successful if your child is doing something they love in their 20's and ideally supporting themselves on their own two feet.
We are living in an increasingly competitive world with the best jobs now being advertised globally. It means our graduates have to compete hard against the best in the world, it also means the gap between those at the top and the middle is widening. You can see it as you travel the worlds’ airports, the global elite increasingly live a different life to the rest of society. They have more access to information technology and know how to use it to their advantage, they are increasingly colonising the best universities at the expense of the rest and they are more and more mobile which means local opportunities are quickly exploited. These challenges mean that schools like Radnor need to work harder to prepare children for the world of tomorrow.
Whilst the bulk of British schools are celebrating no-win sports days this summer, the best ones are driving a competitive spirit through everything they do. They expect excellence in all areas of life and are increasingly finding new ways of delivering a competitive advantage to their recent school leavers. Radnor strives to eat at this table and we are working hard to embed a culture of excellence throughout the school.
Out of a normal working week children are onsite for at least 40 hours and of this 30 hours are spent in the classroom so it seems sensible to focus the bulk of my time on improving teaching and learning to achieve excellence. I think I am right in saying that parents want academically successful children. They want a family full of the people I described earlier - making the most of their lives and having some great experiences along the way. To achieve this we will be asking teachers to engage with parents and children more next year. To invite parents in more frequently to discuss performance and to hold children to account more regularly for the work they are producing.
Radnor is not a soft option and makes no excuses for pushing your children to achieve as highly as possible. Many of you sitting in front of me are sports women and men and will agree that winning takes graft; equally in school, success means making compromises, working hard and listening to your teacher. The ideas behind Radnor were established almost ten years ago as we pondered many of the questions I’ve just posed. What is a good life and how do we maximise the chances of children living one? Is it all about material gain or are experiences important, does it matter how I interact with others or am I the only thing that’s important? Our answers lay in a series of words and values – active learning, limitless minds and four values – excellence, respect, perseverance and courage – which will increasingly define a Radnor graduate.
These universal principles are at the core of what makes Radnor such a special place but I want to finish off by focussing on just one of them. Excellence is often uttered too quickly. I tend to place it at the front of the list of the other four values to reiterate its importance but I’m not sure many of us really stop to think what it means.
Excellence is a habit of mind, it is a way of operating. It is checking a redraft just once more because you want to make sure it’s perfect before handing it in. Excellence is turning up to training week after week, it is practising your music performance once more to get it right and it is going over that important debate once more to make sure you’ve really covered off every possible point of rebuttal.
Next year is the Radnor year of Excellence and I would like the entire school focused on this value. It’s not as glamorous as courage or even perseverance, but it’s absolutely vital if we’re to achieve everything we want to over the next 12 months.
So what does excellence mean for you? To the students in the audience, the summer is a great opportunity to set some targets and goals which help you work towards excellence over the long term. I’m sure that as a young person Rebecca Stephens dreamed of one day conquering the highest mountain on the planet but also accepted that this goal was so audacious as to be almost unachievable. But yet here she is and so I would urge you to always dream big as you never know what might be possible.
Before I finish let me spend a few moments thanking the Senior Leadership team for everything they have done this year, I might be the one standing up taking the applause but really they do the hard work and without them the school would be nothing.
Our support team is also first class from the best chefs and cooks in the area to the most dedicated facilities and administrative team I can remember, it really makes a difference to have a group of people all pulling in the same direction.
Above all, we have the most committed teachers I have ever worked with and I am grateful for the late nights, the weekends and the smiles that go into being a Radnor teacher.
Thank you also to the students, parents and carers for your support and hard work this year. As a father of three I know how difficult it can be at times so well done and enjoy the summer.
My last thank you goes to my long suffering wife, Jo who has to put up with me day after day. She is so very supportive of me and the school and I just wish her every success as she starts her own teaching career in September.
Drinks will be served on the lawn and I do hope you can join us for something after this prize giving event.
Thank you and have a wonderful summer.