Founders' Day Speech 2019

Dear Guests,

It gives me great pleasure to thank you for attending Founder’s Day this morning.  We use this as an opportunity to celebrate our school, mark the many achievements of our pupils and remind ourselves of what we stand for and what our founders had in mind when they set the school up.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome The Worshipful The Mayor of Reigate and Banstead, Counsellor Dorothy Ross Tomlin.

Our guest speaker and award presenter is Dr Jon Cox, the Headmaster of the Royal Grammar School, Guildford. I am enormously grateful to Dr Cox for coming today and will introduce him in more detail later.

Dear parents, many thanks for coming today and for all the support you give to us but also for trusting us with the awesome responsibility for educating your children.  We very much enjoy working with you to the benefit of the school and those that you entrust into our care.

This morning we have many members of our Board of Governors and our Board of Trustees to the Foundation.  Both give up a lot of time and share much expertise and wisdom to the school, and we are very grateful to them for that.

Today we have all the pupils in year 11 and in the sixth form with us as we celebrate Founder’s Day in particular with pupils at the top of the school.  We also have the prize-winners within year 10 with us. Our years 7-9 are having a new separate prize-winning ceremony, on the same day as our Junior School.

This week I have been away from School at the Boarding Schools Association Conference.  This is a conference where over 200 boarding schools are represented and it is a valuable opportunity for me to liaise with other Heads of boarding schools and to share ideas.  We have the honour of having the longest name of any boarding School in the association.

The theme of this year’s conference was on Character, and how “character building” should be at the heart of what boarding schools do.  We listened to a variety of addresses on aspects of character that schools were looking to develop.  We also heard from research into why “character” can make a positive difference to the pupil’s time at school and help prepare them for life.

As you know developing character is an aspect that is core to what we want to do here.  And it is a key part of our Gatton aims that we might develop positive attributes as a community.   We are very much about educating the whole person.  As I look at the year 13’s who are going to leave us this summer I ask myself what are they going to leave with.  I hope with results they can be proud of, and there is still time for that last injection of hard work.  I also hope that they leave with interests and friendships and a sense of pride in themselves and what they can do.

My most sincere aspiration for Gattonians is that we have helped to instil in them some characteristics that will help them at University and later in life.  I hope they have resilience, and an ability to bounce back.  I hope they have the courage to try, even though at times they will fail.  I hope they have empathy and a caring attitude of those around them because mutual support is key to a life where they can flourish – and flourish to me is a word which implies a combination of being successful and content.

One of the speeches we heard at the conference was from the right honourable Nicky Morgan, MP, who used to be the Secretary of State for Education in life before Brexit negotiations, if you can imagine or remember such a time.  She was passionate about the need for the teaching of character in schools, and that we should aim to bestow upon our pupil’s gifts such as “grit” and “stickability”.

She has recently produced a book entitled “taught not caught”, which is all about the fact that character and particular attributes can be purposefully given to pupils, in school and at home, and that we do not just have to leave it to chance that pupils will pick up the characteristics that we want them have, rather like they pick up the flu or chicken pox.

To give Nicky Morgan credit there really is a sense that the education world is beginning to pick up on the importance of this.  The school inspectors, Ofsted, are changing.  They do now take a real interest in the education that schools give in the widest sense of the word, and look to comment on the immeasurable but all important aspects of what we do, which to my mind is to genuinely prepare pupils for life.

I want our pupil leavers to look back on the School with pride and hopefully a sense of belonging and contentment at the schooling they have had.  However I don’t want there to be a sense that they feel they need us any longer.  They should be ready for the next steps, even if they do not always feel ready. 

As the pupils leave here and become Old Gattonians after this year, I wish them all the best of luck in their future.  I hope that you remember the values that we tried to teach you and look back on your time with us with fondness – that you were supported and challenged in a large number of different ways.  

We are here today to celebrate our pupils and their successes, but I would like to take a moment to recognise that these could not happen without the members of staff here – that is the teachers, the boarding staff, and the large numbers of support staff.  We have a fantastic community here which all works hard for this school to be a success.  This morning we only have a small number of our staff in the room, representing the staff as a whole, but I want to thank you

This year we say goodbye to a number of staff and there are a few that I would like to make mention of here. 

Rob Woodward leaves us after four years at the School in the PE department as Head of Boys Games.  During his time the number of boys teams that we have run, and the opportunities for a growing number of pupils to get involved in such has grown hugely.  I am particularly thankful to him for that, along with the work he has done in organising our sports tours locally and internationally, which a lot of pupils have benefitted from.  Rob leaves us to take up a post as Head of Faculty at Oxted School, for which we wish him every success. I very much hope that we will keep in contact and that we see a growing number of fixtures and perhaps a friendly rivalry between the two schools emerging on the sports pitches.

Lucy Ryder also leaves the PE department behind after four years here.  Similarly Lucy has been instrumental in supporting the pupils in benefitting from national and international tours in both sport and music and we have much to thank both her and Rob for, for that and I think the tradition and culture of sports tours that they have given us will very much be their legacies. Lucy leaves us to work internationally and we wish her all the best.

Rachel Killen leaves us after 9 years of teaching and leading Art here.  She is an enthusiastic and creative Art teacher and her imagination for ways in which the pupils can create installations to put around the school seems to know no bounds.  Rachel leaves us to return to the Isle of Man.

Mark Skidmore, our Deputy Head of Pastoral and Boarding, leaves us this summer after four years here leading in this important area.  He has had huge impact here and the Ofsted inspection last March that received the Outstanding Stamp very much has his name to it, for which we are hugely thankful.  I admire Mark for his unflappability and his calm, logical head at difficult times.  I wish him and his family all the best as they move to Pangbourne College. 

At this stage I would like to take a moment to thank the Friends of RAAS, for all the support that they give to us.  As well as adding much to the community aspect of the School with the events that they help to support, they also contribute funds for key improvements around the School that the pupils particularly want – and this gives an important aspect of pupil say to what we do to improve the School and its facilities.

As an example of what the Friends of RAAS allow us to do, the improved audio-visuals in this Chapel was funded by them, and advised on by one of their number who knows a thing or two about this technology. 

I would like you to join me in watching a short clip of some highlights of the year, to show the range of activity that goes on here and the evidence it gives that the pupils really do flourish in the opportunities that we offer.  During the video clip we have the pleasure of listening to Tiffany in year 11 who will accompany it with some music playing.  To repeat what I said before these activities only happen because of the enthusiasms of pupils and staff alike, and we must never take either for granted:

It is important to remember the School’s history on a day like this.  261 years ago a group of City men wanted to set up an institution that would make a difference to children’s lives.  We are still committed to that and it is a principle that guides us – in the classroom, in the boarding houses, and in general.  We want to educate in the widest of senses and I like to think the Founders would be proud of what we do here.  It is important to me that we continue in that way.  I am proud to say that this week at the conference the School was awarded a Boarding School Association Award for its work in supporting pupils with difficult backgrounds, and we were chosen out of more than 500 schools to win that award.  This is a small aspect of what we do, but it is an important aspect and it was excellent and humbling to be noticed for that.

I come to an end now and it gives me great pleasure to introduce our guest speaker, Dr Jon Cox.  As I said earlier Jon is the current Head of the Royal Grammar School in Guildford.  Before that he was at Whitgift School where I believe over his time there he would have contributed in every role that the School has to offer, in what has been an outstanding career and a very effective one in supporting pupils.

I started my teaching career at Whitgift and can well remember us being Science teachers together, and in fact being next door neighbours for a while living at Whitgift.  I can only hope that he doesn’t bore you with any details of my involvement in the staff cricket or football matches.  It would be fair to say that when he was running the staff cricket I would generally be placed where the batsmen were least likely to hit the ball, and then moved as soon as the batting team worked that out.  My German wife, without much understanding of cricket, can always remember him taking great pleasure in explaining to her what it might mean for me to be presented “the duck tie” to keep in a staff meeting after qualifying for it three times in succession.  My one regret is that he wasn’t there for the leavers match when I hit the largest 6 I have ever seen, the time I did manage to connect bat and ball.

I am very grateful to Jon to come to speak to us this morning and to help me to present the prizes, and as well as thanking you, I welcome you now to talk to us.