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Speech Day - Headmaster’s Address

The Headmaster’s Address
Pitsford School Speech Day
Pitsford Hall
6th July 2017

This year sees the biggest change in the examination system for 16 year olds since ‘O’ levels became GCSEs in 1988. Instead of letter grades, G all the way up to A*, we will now have numbers 1 to 9.

But has anything really changed?

The old “pass” grade of a C becomes a 4, and the old A grade is now a 7. So the only difference is that we have three divisions between these two fixed points, grades 4, 5 and 6 instead of B and C, and of course the new super duper grade 9, which is even better than an A*!

Now the Department of Education may well be right in saying that we need harder exams, which challenge pupils more, but if you artificially set the “pass” mark such that you ensure a certain percentage of pupils will fail and that only a certain percentage can achieve the top grade then is the Government not still treating education as a race with winners and losers?

Here at Pitsford we teach so much more than just how to pass exams; kindness, tolerance, empathy, confidence. It’s not so much that we teach these things directly, rather that we have created an environment and give the guidance that allows you to develop them for yourselves.

So as I pick out some of the highlights from a very busy year, perhaps you will remember how a particular event changed you, how you think about yourself perhaps, or how you relate to others. Of course we do do exams and as usual the start of the Autumn term in September commences with analysis of public examination results.

As is now the norm, all of our out going Sixth Formers did well enough to get a place at University, with the vast majority heading to their first choice institution. In all, 44% of all grades were either A or A*, with over a quarter of our pupils getting at least three A grades each.

Also at the start of this year we welcomed 4 new members to the teaching staff, Mrs Clare Ball in the Junior School, Dr Carmen Cabrera Alvarez to teach Spanish, Dr Jonathan Ewington as Head of Physics and Mr Ben Harrison as Head of History. In addition to their head of department duties, Dr Ewington and Mr Harrison also took on the role as Assistant Heads. These are new positions that effectively mean that they have responsibility for the academic performance and development of all the departments in their faculty, Maths and Science, and Languages and the Arts respectively.

The major curriculum innovation this year was the introduction of Spanish as a core language, with our new Year 7s studying both Spanish and French for at least three years before having to make their GCSE option choices. As a consequence of this change, we have set up a pen pal link with a school in Andalusia, and this, along with our involvement in the Young Translators competition, helped us to achieve the British Council’s International School Award.

Other new initiatives started this year were the “meet the tutors” coffee mornings for parents, and a Sixth Form mentor scheme, whereby sixth formers can help out and listen to new year 7 pupils in a sort of big brother/big sister role.

On the sports field, our teams had rather a mixed year, but there were highlights: in November the U11 rugby team won the shield final in the ISA (Independent Schools Association) 9-a-side tournament at Bedford, our embryonic U16 football team competed in the ISA national 6-a-side tournament at Nottingham and managed a very creditable 11th place from 20 schools.

On the netball court, the Y9 and Y10 teams each won their Northampton Schools league competition, and then finished a very successful season with a weekend tournament at Condover Hall, combining netball with abseiling, archery and an assault course, although not all at the same time!

In June I even took to the netball court, playing for the staff team in the India Chipchase Memorial Tournament. This was a great celebration of a much loved Old Pitsfordian, with teams from current pupils, OPs, staff, family and friends all having fun in the name of a good cause.

More recently, we have had success in the regional ISA athletics championships at the Alexandra Stadium in Birmingham with a second place for our Y7 team and Elliott Powell, Oliver Taylor, Matilda Rigby, John Adams and Jake Pearce all progressing through to the national finals where Elliott won gold in the 200m, not quite matching his younger brother Fabian though who had secured two sprint golds in the earlier younger age group finals.

During the year, our pupils, usually at their own instigation, have supported at least 15 different charities. These included a bake sale and coffee morning for Macmillan Cancer Support, a Christmas Jumper day when pupils and staff donated food or clothing for the Homeless and the now famous Y10 chocolate raffle which this year was for International Water Aid. Of the thousands of pounds raised in total, the Y10 group managed to contribute £2659.80p, which bought 3 wells in villages in the developing world previously with no running water.

This year has seen three overseas trips, to Cologne in December, Barcelona in March and just this last weekend, our Y11s enjoyed a 4 day trip to Iceland. Also this term, 17 intrepid pupils completed their Duke of Edinburgh Bronze expeditions, and 6, not put off by the 50mph winds they encountered in the Welsh mountains, completed their gold.

In addition to these, we also were able to extend the curriculum with many day trips and visits, including old favourites such as Coventry Cathedral, Tate Modern and Dovedale, but also including a range of others such as to the Compton Verney Art Gallery, the Living Rain Forest and Ardley Energy Recovery Facility. It is these visits that can inspire us to look at things differently from that that we would get from just the classroom. For example you cannot walk around the school without seeing the wonderful artwork on the walls. At our recent Art Exhibition, we had on display in Pitsford Hall, the latest GCSE and A Level pieces which were stunning. Every visitor to the School during that time commented on how amazingly talented our artists were!

In public speaking, Athul Wilson, Brooke Walker and Matilda Rigby from Y7 took part in the inter schools Youth Speaks public speaking competition, winning their first round with a speech about the First World War Christmas Truce, they progressed to the regional final at Oakham where they faced 5 other schools and spoke confidently on the Cuban Missile Crisis achieving a very creditable 4th place against teams 2 years older than them.

Music continues to be a major part of Pitsford School life, with 58 pupils performing in 19 lunchtime recitals …and 5 evening concerts this year, culminating with the Best of Broadway spectacular in the last week of term, which was a simply magical evening. But of course, the highlight of the year must be Les Miserables, a musical that I honestly thought would be far too challenging and difficult for us when the idea was first broached, but ultimately ended up as a great triumph and by far the best musical we have ever done.

I am used to receiving compliments on our productions but I was overwhelmed by the number of people who were comparing very favourably our school production to things they had seen at the West End! The bar has been set very high indeed for next year…

The Junior School Chamber choir not only won first place in their category in the Kettering & District Eisteddfod for the second year running, but also won the trophy for best choir overall, a tremendous achievement. Also at Kettering, Y7 pupil Tom Moxon won first place in both solo acting and duologue categories.

In April we had the House music competition with fantastic performances from all three houses. Hesketh kicked off the show with Beat It by Michael Jackson, Gonna Fly Now from Rocky by Robinson was good enough for second place but taking the victory by a small margin was Wake with the theme from Star Wars.

The House competitions are held throughout the year, and were as usual, keenly fought, with a key event being last Monday’s Senior Sports Day. Held in almost perfect weather for once, I was once again very impressed with the attitude shown by all the athletes, everyone got stuck in, even if they were perhaps not competing in their favoured events, in order to gain that extra vital point for their house. In the end it all came down to the final race of the day, the 4x100m, all Wake had to was to come second but if Hesketh won and Robinson could push Wake down to third then Hesketh would, and indeed did, win. So, could Hesketh House captain Matthew Wainwright please come up to receive the Sir William Morton Cup, presented by his son Peter Morton.

The final House competition of the year was decided last week as Hesketh’s Sophia Russell and Christopher Leeke defeated the motion that computer games are not a waste of time and money!

However Wake did win the overall debating crown, to add to their victories in the Pitsford Run and the music competition, but Hesketh had already built up an unassailable lead before Sports Day by winning the Interhouse Football, Junior Netball, Essay writing, Pancake race, General Knowledge quiz and Singing competitions

The final result of the Inter House Competition is therefore:

HESKETH 1150 points

ROBINSON 710 points

WAKE 730 points

So Hesketh house captain Matthew Wainwright came up to receive the trophy.

This is the final formal occasion for a number of you who are leaving Pitsford this year, so I do want to wish you all the very best for the future. It was great to see you letting your hair down after the stressful examination season, at either the Sixth Form Ball or the Y11 Prom. I would, on your behalf, like to thank Miss Walsh, Miss Jackson and Mrs King in particular for all the work they put into supporting those two great events.

Indeed, all through the year, all the staff here at Pitsford, teachers and support staff alike, go out of their way to ensure that your time here is as productive and enjoyable as possible.

And finally, I would like to announce the Head Girl and Head Boy for next year…Niamh Coleman and Sam Newby.

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