Mr Chairman, Ms Croxall, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good evening, and may I too wish you a very warm welcome. What I can promise you tonight is a show of quite remarkable talent, as you as parents should be extremely proud of your children seated here below. Unlike the more misguided contestants in the earlier rounds of Britain’s Got Talent or the X Factor, they have genuine talent, and we can rejoice with them rather than see others laugh at them.
We’ve become all too used to the annual media tirade (although not, I’m sure, on BBC News) about declining standards, grade inflation and inadequate teaching. Well, undeniably there has been grade inflation, so that it has become more difficult for universities to distinguish between their best candidates, but I’ve no doubts that the work itself in some subjects is actually more challenging than in the past. In no way should we detract from our young people’s achievements, when their accolades have been earned through perspiration as well as inspiration; and nor should we detract from the support and commitment of their teachers. The government’s obsession with targets and league tables has led some schools towards qualifications which win points, but which are not in the best educational interests of their pupils. We shall continue at Bablake to offer a range of options which appeals to diverse aspirations and aptitudes, but which nevertheless maintains the academic rigour so necessary for entry into the top universities.
At the same time, it’s vital that we retain the spark and creativity beyond the examination syllabus. That’s why, for example, the Shells went to the Black Country Museum in June, and returned to school to work in several subjects on what they had learned that day: from Victorian recipes and toys in Home Economics and Design, to an interactive map in ICT, to foreign language advertisements and a study of child labour in History, English and PSHCE. That’s why we’ve reviewed the General Studies programme in the Upper Sixth, and replaced it with a non-examined Enrichment Programme, including options such as Life Confidence, cooking, drama, DIY, Chinese, Spanish, photography, astronomy, vegetable-growing and creative writing. It’s why, with the advent of new GCSEs in most subjects this year, we have decided to have no modular examinations until the summer of the 4th Year; as learning is about so much more than bite-size cramming for a test.
It’s also why we have enhanced our Gifted and Talented Programme, and have introduced the Extended Project alongside the challenging Crest Awards to stretch our brightest pupils in the Sixth Form. It’s why we continue to encourage a variety of learning and teaching strategies as we share imaginative ideas amongst ourselves as staff. As I walked past the EDM earlier this year, I dived for cover as water bombs apparently descended on all sides. Actually, it was Mr Memon’s 3rd Year Maths group, looking at the maths behind bungee jumping, and trying to calculate the maximum length of elastic that could be used to drop a water balloon from the Rehearsal Room without it hitting the ground – or the HM. In any case, that’s what he told me!
The fulfilment of education isn’t actually in league tables, but in the development of human potential and the encouragement of personal growth. This year, we had our biggest Upper Sixth A level cohort yet, with 131 pupils, and they did very well, proceeding to many of the top universities in the land. Despite my comment about league tables, it’s always encouraging to break a record, and the proportion of grades at A, B or C was higher than ever before. There were also some very fine individual performances at AS level and GCSE, and we celebrate some of those tonight. It’s vital that our pupils should have the highest expectations of their capabilities, and it’s vital that we should set them work that is hard and challenging, for if they don’t make mistakes, they won’t learn and make progress.
We hope too that we prepare our pupils well academically for the next stage of their education. We always value news of our former pupils, so we were delighted to hear that Jamie Stefaniak had been placed top in his end-of-year exams for Medicine at Cambridge, an accolade won three years ago by Anna Seeley, who graduated this year with a starred First.
Last year’s U6 will return to school in December for their own graduation evening, and, as a staff, we really look forward to that, and not purely because it will mean it’s almost the end of term! No two year groups are the same, and we, as much as they, find it hard to say farewell. Not only do our leavers tend to emerge with tremendous exam results, but they are also fabulous young people, who leave us with a sense of optimism and with a generosity of spirit.
What are those opportunities which help to mould them as human beings, what are some of the highlights which characterised last year at Bablake? This year I’ve done a little research, and thought I might begin with some of our pupils’ highlights when I asked them earlier this week. Most of their highlights related to breaks to their normal routine or to times when they were actually out of school: expeditions day, sports day, Fousseau, being part of the hockey team, beating Henry’s at the Butts, sitting end of year exams, getting exam results which showed how they had improved, going into new classes in the Fourth Year as they got to know lots of new people, being in the Sixth Form, author visits, and, predictably, although only one person said it, school being cancelled because of snow. There was one I particularly liked from one of my pupils last year, although flattery will never get him anywhere: “My highlight, Sir? You being our Latin teacher, of course.”
And then I asked them what their favourite place was in school: mentioned most frequently were: the EDM with its comfy blue chairs (great for people-watching) and the Field, where they could rest and play and realise how pretty the school was. I was waiting for some wag to say that their favourite place was the exit. However, although someone said the Turning Circle because it was near the ice cream van, someone else rather liked the grand entrance.
Well, over to some of my highlights. Academic prizes again abounded, ranging from Maths Challenge awards, to Crest Awards for in-depth scientific research, to another Arkwright Scholarship for Design Technology (this year to Luke Briggs), to success in the English Speaking Union and the Model United Nations. James Ross won first prize in the European Cicero Competition for his Latin translation. A group of Fifth Formers won the Coventry Heritage Challenge, and a team of Sixth Formers was placed 5th nationally in the Shares4Schools competition. Starting with £1500 worth of shares in October 2008, they bucked the trend in the depth of recession, ending up after nine months with a profit of £750. If you’d like to learn their secret, some of the team are here tonight! Some Fourth Formers entered the UK Memory Championships, with striking success achieved by Eva Ball, Tom Calderbank and Beth Evans. You may have seen Eva on Midlands Today, as she went on to compete in London at the UK Open Memory Championships against adult champions from many different countries. She even beat the world champion in the Names and Faces round, and will compete in the World Championships in November. If only I had her gift as I try to remember the names of all our pupils and parents!
On the sports front, teams continue to enjoy conspicuous success. Netball teams took a clean sweep in the Coventry Schools tournaments. The U14 team won through to the National Finals, finishing amongst the top 12 schools in the country, with the 16s and 19s reaching the semis of the West Midlands competition. The girls’ U18 hockey team won the Warwickshire final, beating Rugby School for the second consecutive year, and the U16s reached the last 16 schools in the National Plate competition. The boys’ U14 hockey players were Warwickshire champions and competed in the Midlands Finals. The U15 rugby team reached the 6th round of the Daily Mail vase, and were ranked 3rd in the Schools Rugby website national merit table. The U13 cricket team lost just 2 matches, whilst the 1st XI enjoyed another excellent season. England representative honours were won by Lucy Horn and Holly Payne for U18 hockey, and both girls also gained three A grades at A level. Jessica Horn has played for England U16 hockey, and William Kenney-Herbert played for Wales U16 hockey. Lucy Smith was ranked no.1 nationally in her age group for the shot putt. Mark Best scored two centuries for school, including 164n.o. one game, one for the county and one for his club. Brother Paul, who gained 3 As at A level, and will be going to Cambridge, captained Warwickshire 2nd XI, was selected for the English Lions and has recently won a contract to play cricket for Warwickshire. Ross Wilford fenced for GB in U18 sabre. There are indeed many sporting stars, but the house system continues to afford all pupils the opportunity to participate healthily and enthusiastically, and every pupil between Shells and 4th Year had a part to play under cloudless sunny skies in our annual Sports Day in July. From scrabble to debating, music, drama, basketball, swimming, spelling bees and Shell Olympics, the house system thrives on interaction between the different year groups. We’re very excited by the next stage of the Sports Hall refurbishment, as by November, we should have a new small sports hall, a state of the art fitness suite and a climbing wall.
Drama continues to flourish, with a 23rd visit to the Edinburgh Fringe with the play DNA, as well as very convincing performances earlier in the year of West Side Story and Dracula. In Mr Sutton’s final year as Director of Music, the musicians toured London, and many of our talented soloists played in Coventry and Warwickshire youth orchestras; Sam Lewis has played for the Birmingham Junior Conservatoire, and Matthew Lewis for the City of Birmingham Symphony Youth Orchestra. The Design Technology Department went to Barcelona, and Business Studies and Economics to New York. Some of our girls endured an arduous sports tour to Trinidad and St Lucia. Other visits stayed closer to home, and we are very aware of the need to offer not only value-for-money but also some more affordable opportunities for all our pupils during a time of economic recession.
There is a Zulu proverb which says that a person is a person because of other people, and the quality of human relationships which characterises our community continues to make Bablake a very special place. This was nowhere more evident than in the very poignant dedication of our new Headmaster’s Memorial Garden in the Science Quadrangle. Many of those who attended brought with them vivid memories of loved ones who had been a part of the Bablake community, and found solace in the tranquil setting, in the readings and singing, and in the words of the Bishop of Warwick. The garden is now a haven of peace for the use of pupils, visitors and staff at the heart of a vibrant school. Pupils and staff again raised funds for a rich variety of charities, through stay-awakes, staff humiliation in the stocks, cake sales, skipping and racing for life. Three members of staff, Mr Mohamed, Mr Enstone and Mr Wiles, raised significant sums by running marathons. The total raised was £16,200, an impressive figure for a time of recession and over £3,000 more than last year. More pupils than ever completed the service as well as the expedition sections of their Gold, Silver or Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Awards, and we received many glowing reports of pupils’ Wednesday afternoon community service.
We continue to expand our links with primary schools, through drama, enterprise education and sporting opportunities, and the links with our own fine Junior School are increasingly close. Back in February, I received an e-mail from a Junior School parent, entitled ‘Damsel in distress!’. It was during that snowy spell, and it read as follows: ‘On Wednesday, as I was driving back up the Junior School drive, my car got stuck, but three senior school boys came to the rescue. With all the bad press about teenagers, I was impressed by the boys’ offer of help, as they had no hesitation in pushing my car up the drive. Who said that chivalry is dead?’
Undoubtedly my most difficult decision last year came during the snow! We always do our best to remain open, and not close as soon as there is a bit of ice on the playground. We do, of course, have the advantage of up-to-the-minute forecasts from our own weather station, and Mr Jackson and I were in frequent conversation. Well, such was the paralysis caused by the snow on 5th February that we were left with little choice. On the whole, I think it was a popular decision! This evening is mostly about celebrating pupil successes, but I should mention at this point that Mr Jackson received a prestigious award in July from the Royal Meteorological Society for over 30 years of infectious and inspirational enthusiasm at the helm of the Bablake Weather Station.
It’s appropriate that I should turn at this point to the staff. The school is undoubtedly characterised by strong and positive relationships between pupils and staff, whose commitment, passion and dedication hugely enrich the lives of our young people. One of our Upper Sixth students last year painted a large canvas of the Head and Deputy Heads of Sixth Form, Messrs Burns and Dougall and Mrs Tumber. It had the title ‘Superheroes’, and although the muscular physique of our three was grossly exaggerated, we could, I am sure, apply that title to many of the staff! So, please join with me in showing your appreciation.
Every year we bid a fond farewell to several staff for reasons of relocation, promotion or retirement. There weren’t many this year, and I have written to you about all of them, but I would like to pay special tribute to three.
Miss Caroline Hall left us to take up a post at Barnard Castle School, nearer to her roots. She made a very significant contribution to the lives of pupils at Bablake during her nine years, not only as a Biology teacher and Shell Form Tutor, but also as Duke of Edinburgh Award Co-ordinator, Contingent Commander of a thriving CCF and Head of Wheatley House.
Mr Derek Faulkner came to Bablake as Head of Economics in January 1983. He introduced Business Studies and was also Head of Sixth Form, before deciding to devote his energies afresh to running the Economics and Business Studies Department. He was highly effective in this role, and was also an outstanding teacher and form tutor.
Mr Bernard Sutton was appointed as Director of Music straight from university in 1972. During his incredible 37 years’ service, he not only inspired generations of aspiring musicians, but he was also in charge of school cricket and coached hockey. He is a very talented clarinettist and also directs choirs outside school. He remained utterly dedicated to the end of a highly distinguished career, and we hope that he and Mr Faulkner are already thoroughly enjoying a well deserved retirement.
This last year has not been easy for many families in our school community, and we have done our best to offer further support to those suffering from difficult financial circumstances. Some six-year-old primary school pupils, when asked for a definition of the credit crunch, offered various answers: ‘It’s a cereal, a bit like Rice Krispies.’ Perhaps a bit nearer the truth: ‘It’s got to do with hiding all your money and keeping it safe so no one can steal it.’ ‘The credit crunch is if you don’t have much money. Last year my dad said that Father Christmas didn’t have much money to buy presents.’ So I wanted to thank you as parents for your support of the school, and for the very considerable financial sacrifice which that often entails. Our aim remains to give your children the best possible start in life, and that’s why we continue to review and refine what we do. We are currently in the third year of a school development plan through which we have made striking progress. I shall update you later this year, and again invite you to be part of the consultation process as we build the next plan and continue together to shape a bright future for the school and for your children. And it is at this stage that I wish to extend my thanks to our Parents’ Association for all their support, and to the governors of the school for their advice, as well as their commitment of energy, time and expertise.
Mercifully, we are spared some of the impositions placed elsewhere. An ‘essential’ training course was recently offered for up to 23 teachers involved in PSHCE and Health and Safety. ‘The aim of this 2.5 hour course,’ read the blurb, ‘is to outline the importance of handwashing. By making sure hot and cold water, soap and drying facilities are accessible, it will show individuals how to achieve a higher state of body image.’ As we move towards three-yearly school inspections, I am concerned, even as an independent schools inspector, that I am going to play a very minimal role in the schools I inspect in the improvement of teaching and learning, while I shall be able to tick the box to say that there are enough toilets and washbasins. At Bablake, our chief focus will firmly remain teaching and learning within the context of a broad, challenging, caring and exciting education.
I know that our guest speaker tonight has fond memories of that Bablake education, some of which she will no doubt share with us. You have read the brief biography in the programme. At the BBC, Martine apparently makes up the Midlands corner of the staff canteen with Adrian Chiles from The Apprentice – You’re Fired and The One Show. At Bablake, she was by all accounts a star Geographer ‘taking an uninhibited delight in Geography’, a star hockey player, and a willing team player, who would always respond with a smile. Her Headmaster, Martin Barker, described her as ‘a person of intellectual strength and personal presence’, and, according to her Form Tutor, she was ‘never lacking in animated conversation’. Martine, you are most welcome here tonight; we’re delighted and privileged that you have joined us, and we look forward to hearing you speak soon.