Chair of Governors, Members of Council, Esteemed Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Rossallians one and all, it is a joyous privilege to be assembled here today to celebrate the wonderful achievements of our children. However, today constitutes much more than the opportunity to commend excellence and acknowledge the hard work of those who have distinguished themselves in the classroom or on the sports pitch. Today is an opportunity to come together as one community and to give thanks for the fact that we have finally emerged from this devastating pandemic.
In adversity, we have flourished, and I stand before you today as the proud head of a school that is achieving outstanding academic results, brilliant success across a range of sports and a stunning outpouring of creativity within the performing arts. Furthermore, we have the highest pupil roll in the School’s one hundred and seventy eight year history. The pride so many of us feel on account of all that we have achieved as a school is complemented by the happy knowledge that we are members of a community that is friendly, kind and compassionate.
Change can be desperately challenging; especially for those who feel left behind or hanker after days gone by. There are times when it can be more comfortable for all of us to look to the past as opposed to embracing the future. My weekly blogs are full of nostalgia and I recognise in myself the desire to return to that which is safe and familiar. Often, I look at the past through rose-tinted spectacles, or so I am told. However, when I look back over the past four years it is with a sense of incredible gratitude that, overwhelmingly, Rossall is a community populated by individuals who possess the courage and ambition to become much more than just another provincial independent school pottering along and doing just about alright. There are plenty of those to be found in all regions but that is not us, that is not in keeping with the Rossallian spirit and that will never be enough.
This year has provided countless opportunities for us to embrace those values that have shaped Rossall since 1844. At the heart of what it really means to be a Rossallian is a concern for others and a desire to do good in this world. At the beginning of the academic year, shortly after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, we worked with local partners to put together a package of support measures designed to ensure that Afghan citizens arriving on the Fylde would have access to housing, employment and education. Bureaucracy got in the way and they have yet to arrive. More recently, we have become nationally recognised as something of a trailblazer in terms of our response to the humanitarian crisis currently unfolding in Eastern Europe. We have offered a number of fully funded places to children who have been compelled to flee their homes and the lives that they knew before. Children from Kharkiv, Mariupol and Kiev now call themselves Rossallians. From the Nursery to the Sixth Form, the life of our community has been enriched by the presence of those who have found sanctuary with us and the people of the Fylde. They have experienced unimaginable trauma and loss but they have found here a community that is determined to extend love and support and to show the best that humanity has to offer.
From a charitable perspective, we are so grateful for the support of the Rossall Foundation and wider Rossallian Community. By the end of this year, Rossallians will have raised over £100,000 to support both the Ukrainian Community Hub and our new students – that is a staggering achievement.
You may recall that, just before Easter, we invited a Ukrainian family to come and live with us here in School. They made contact with Fiona and I through a website in Ukraine which sought to match those needing help with potential sponsors. We have loved getting to know them. They are for now, part of our wider family, and I know that Yuliia, Oleg and Volodymyr would like me to thank you for welcoming them to Rossall with hearts full of love and kindness. Anastasia first contacted me in the middle of March. At the beginning of our Zoom call she politely apologised for the fact that we would have to end the call if the air raid siren sounded again. She was met by Emma Williams at Manchester Airport yesterday afternoon after an eight week wait for her visa.
Our commitment developed as the level of need became apparent. Our Rossall Ukrainian Hub provides guidance and support to Ukrainians arriving in this part of the Fylde. Over seventy Ukrainians and their host families are now accessing the hub and we are grateful for the support and offer of funding that we have received from Wyre Council. The hub provides a point of connection for external agencies and those individuals who are committed to providing shelter for those fleeing from war. It does much more than that though and yet it is beyond me to express in words the true value of what happens in the Hall garden every other Sunday afternoon. Those who have experienced one of these events will know this is the case.
It is because of you that we are able to run Rossall’s Ukrainian Saturday School and this ensures that displaced children on the Fylde are able to meet together and immerse themselves in Ukrainian language, literature and culture.
I should mention that one recent fundraising event hosted by Matt Turner and Tony Dalnas at the Black Power Gin Company raised over £10,000. Despite extensive research, many of us are still unclear precisely which flavour of gin comes out on top but I can recommend the rhubarb and ginger flavour. Other charity events have included Rossall’s Got Talent. The children’s performances were stunning and we enjoyed the Common Room take on the Spice Girls. Our own band, ‘Midlife Crisis’ got off to a rocky start when it became clear that Mr Crombie was eyeing up a solo career. The much anticipated record contract has not materialised and although we are booked to sing at the Summer Gala, I am told that Mr Crombie’s agent is less than enthusiastic.
A few weeks ago, we were delighted to welcome back members of the Rossallian Club for the Triennial weekend. From across the ages, Rossallians came back to a place which will, for many of them, forever be home. Two of those attending had first met in the Prep School more than seventy five years ago – their friendship really has endured a life-time and they delighted in the opportunity to be back to where it all began one early September day in 1947. Several of our more senior visitors remarked that little in the Square has changed – despite the passage of time. Of course, in so many other ways the School looks very different.
This term we have been working on our new Strategic Development Plan and this will be published shortly. It has been a collaborative effort and I am delighted that members of Common Room, parents and pupils have all contributed towards a vision that will sustain and support the development of the School well into the future. Feedback from student council meetings, surveys, parental forums, external audits, inspection reports and much more besides has helped to formulate a plan that resonates with the aspirations, lived experience and collective wisdom of our community.
Thematically there are some important additions to this plan and this reflects the priorities of our students. There is a commitment to becoming a greener and more sustainable community. Issues of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion are addressed in much greater detail than ever before. Quite rightly, staff and pupil wellbeing assume a good degree of prominence and it is important for all of us to consider the challenges of running a busy boarding school in a world which has changed irrevocably since the onset of the pandemic. All Schools need to give serious consideration as to how best to retain their employees during what has been referred to as ‘The Great Resignation’. The search for a slower lifestyle and the elusive work/life balance does not sit easily with the demands of life as part of a busy boarding community. It is our responsibility to ensure that staff feel that what we do here is worth the investment that we are all called upon to make. In high performing schools, the demands made upon teachers’ time are extensive. Many also dedicate much of their time to running our boarding houses – their commitment and dedication is the bedrock of our community.
The world of Economics is awash with talk of the ‘Great Reset’. Of course, it is not just the world of work that is changing. The digital revolution, pandemic, climate change and the rejection of globalisation have all exerted a profound impact upon our lives. We need to be nimble enough to take advantage of emerging opportunities and confident enough to hold true to those values that we believe to be non-negotiable. The international dimension of Rossall has never been more important than it is currently. We should always stand as a beacon of understanding in a world where misunderstanding is so often the order of the day. We should not forsake the value of face-to-face conversations for the convenience of the dreaded Zoom Call or FaceTime, useful though they might be.
The importance of integrity has been highlighted by recent discussions about honesty within the realm of politics and public life. Year 13, you will face many challenges in the future but Rossallians routinely demonstrate resilience, kindness and a remarkable ability to get on in the world. The warmth and friendliness of Rossallians is legendary. You may be leaving this place in one sense but, as proud Rossallians, this place will never leave you unless you. We hope that you will come back to visit often and that the friendships that you have made here will endure a lifetime. We will miss you tremendously but we are excited for what the future holds. You have been an outstanding year group in so many regards and a source of inspiration to us all. I should extend my thanks to Sam, Mary and our outgoing team of senior monitors – you have been phenomenal role models. However, in reality, Year 13, you have all been outstanding ambassadors for this School. Time and again, visitors to the School remark upon how impressed they are by you. For me, as a parent, you are the young people that I hope my daughters will become.
You survived a generational challenge that could have left you feeling isolated and despondent. I think that you would agree that the strength of your friendships served to sustain you through much of that time. Mobile phones, haircuts, being chased for late homework will soon be a thing of the past. There will have been times when the expectations that staff will have had of you will have seemed trivial, onerous or perhaps both. However, when you do look back, do remember that, ultimately, we always wanted the best for you. Enjoy this evening – that is our way of wishing you well for the future and our way of beginning a different relationship with you as you become Rossallians.
It has been an exceptional year in so many regards. Last year’s stunning academic results helped to consolidate the School’s position as the leading school in this part of the world. These results would not have been possible without an enormous amount of guidance and support from our dedicated team of teachers. What really elevates and distinguishes Rossall as a community is the dedication of my colleagues. The investment that they make in the lives of our children goes well beyond professional obligation. The intrinsic drive to give of themselves to such an extent comes from the belief that what we do can and does make a real difference to young lives. Teaching is a challenging profession and our teachers are much more than custodians of their subjects. What we ask of them requires a unique combination of skills, character attributes and a real generosity of spirit. Please join me in thanking our fantastic team of teachers.
This was the year that Rossall exploded onto the football scene. Our teams reached no less than six national finals and the U18 boys are to be commended upon their valiant performance in the U18 ISFA Cup. Whilst Bradfield School ultimately prevailed, the experience of playing a national final in MK Dons Stadium was one which will live on in the memories of those who played and all of those of us who were fortunate enough to be present. Sports can elevate us and that evening I invited along my uncle who was coming to terms with the sudden death of his wife, my aunt. He loved the game, loved meeting so many Rossallians and what you did on the pitch for many of us that evening and throughout the season went way beyond the fortunes of the team itself.
The U18 Girls triumphed against a strong side from St Joseph’s Ipswich to be crowned ISFA U18 Champions 2022 and there is no team with a greater sense of togetherness than this band of outstanding young people. Our golfers reclaimed the Independent Schools Golf Association Cup. Hence we are now national champions in two sports. Our cricket is experiencing a renaissance and our first XI have won commanding victories over many of our local rivals. Stuart Hemmings, Josh Boyne, Joey Newsom, Ash Moreau are outstanding coaches and our Director of Sport, Jack Cropper, should be commended for all that he has achieved in what has been a triumphant year for Rossall.
The success of the International Piano School and the launch of the Beecham International Piano Competition and Signature Recital series is in no small part down to Adam Dobson’s energy and creativity. The Chapel Choir carol service and the sell-out productions of West Side Story and Oliver were highlights of a year that was filled with opportunities for our children to take to the stage and perform. The appointment of a Head of Dance and the opening of the Broadway Academy in September will further enhance our provision.
We are committed to modernising our Science Department and enhancing the security of the site. Significant funds have been committed to improving our Wifi provision and Rose House will be entirely refurbished ahead of the forthcoming academic year. The interior of the Farrell Building is gradually being updated and what was the Visitors’ Centre has now become a multipurpose conference room named in honour of the five Richardson brothers who lost their lives during the First World War. In order to accommodate the growth in pupil numbers, we intend to build an additional multipurpose pitch during the next year.
We remain acutely aware of the pressures on family finances and the need to control inflationary fee increases. Spiralling energy costs, rising national insurance contributions and the threatened imposition of VAT on School fees create very significant challenges for the sector. Many of our bursaries are supported by endowment funds linked to the School but we are not a School with significant reserves. The perception of a sector awash with money is at odds with the reality of the financial situation of schools in the North West. There are few city bonuses on the Fylde and we recognise that our parents and sometimes even grandparents sacrifice a good deal in order to make a Rossall education affordable. In return, it is our responsibility and privilege to provide your children with the very best possible start in life. It is not a duty that we take lightly, rather, it is the most important aspect of our professional lives.
What we do here is incredibly special and yet as a sector we face relentlessly negative press from a media drunk on a lazy stereotype of public schools populated by oligarchs, trust funds and Hooray Henrys. It is a pernicious caricature that is completely at odds with the reality of our community. Whilst the threat of abolition has receded, it seems likely that the spectre of the imposition of business rates and VAT will find its way onto at least one party manifesto. The logic that seeks to justify such a move might be flimsy but it does not seem to diminish its attractiveness to populist sentiment. The fact that private schools save the Exchequer billions of pounds a year and provide a good deal of public benefit appears to count for little. There is plenty more that independent schools can and should do to help create a more equal society but Rossall should be very proud of its record- we certainly punch above our weight in this regard.
It is impossible to thank all those who have contributed to the School’s success but it is important to highlight the contribution of a few individuals. The Senior Leadership Executive brings together a group of individuals committed to developing the School. Matt Turner said to me at the beginning of this year that his ambition was to create the school that he wished he had attended himself as a child. That ambition is evidenced in all that he does for our younger children. In mid-April, we were delighted to congratulate Dina Porovic and Ben Clark on the birth of their baby son, Louis. Dina’s leadership of so many aspects of school life has been characterised by indefatigable energy and a resolute commitment to high standards. We look forward to welcoming her back from maternity leave ahead of the new academic year. I am incredibly grateful to Emma Williams and Catherine Stacker for their brilliant leadership and wise counsel. They always put our children first and our current success is in no small part attributable to their dedication. I am acutely conscious that they have had to assume additional responsibilities during the last little while and they are due a very well-earned rest this summer.
In September, Emma will continue in her role as Deputy Head (Boarding and Safeguarding) and Catherine will remain as a Senior Deputy Head where she will work alongside Dina. The expansion of our Senior Leadership Executive reflects our ambition to continue improving and developing in every respect. It also reflects the fact that we have 30% more pupils in the School than in 2019. This broader leadership team brings together energy, challenge, dynamism and experience. In September we will also be joined by our new Deputy Head (Academic) Sean Knox who comes to us from Harrow School in Pudong and Gavin Moffatt who is coming to us after a lengthy period of service at Stowe School where he has been a highly successful housemaster.
This year we bid farewell to Janine Charlton who has been an incredible support to those studying Chemistry. Her willingness to dedicate her time to helping others is reflective of her desire to see all of our children thrive. We wish her all the best for the future as she steps away from teaching, for a while at least. We wish Samantha Attfield all the best as she relocates to Cheshire to take up a teaching post at King’s School Macclesfield. Edward Einsiedler is moving to Germany with his young family and the lure of international travel has proved too much for Phil Harwood and Charlotte Townsend who have been with us for a very short while. Charlotte has been an outstanding houseparent and she will be dearly missed by the Wren girls. Christopher Payne has been an excellent Director of Studies and he leaves us to take up a position with the academic publishers, Pearsons. Finally, Christopher Sharpe is relocating to Qatar for a couple of years but assures me he will return to Rossall in due course. We wish all of our leavers the very best for the future.
On behalf of staff, pupils and parents, I would like to thank all members of Council for the extraordinary service that they render to the School. The fact that they dedicate so much of their time to supporting us and serving as custodians of our School is a measure of their generosity, dedication and determination to ensure that we excel. In particular, thank you Chris for always being on hand with wise advice and always putting the interests of our community first even if you never pick up your mobile! It is a daunting responsibility that you have undertaken and I hope that you take immense pleasure in the happiness and success of our children.
Emma Sanderson works tirelessly to ensure that the School runs smoothly and Council members will attest to the vast quantity and outstanding quality of the management information that she provides. The HR, financial and regulatory aspects of running a School become ever more complex and she is assisted by a great team including Dawn Ridgway and Stephanie Capstick. Developing the Rossall brand regionally, nationally and internationally falls to Adam Cawkwell, our Director of External Relations. He works closely with Amy Campbell, Head of Marketing and Gillian Leggett, our superb Head of Admissions. We employ over 250 people and each and everyone makes an important contribution to the life of this School. Housekeeping, grounds, maintenance, catering are all staffed by colleagues who are absolutely committed to ensuring that our children have the best of everything. Please join me in thanking all of our staff.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to Fiona, my wife. Her love, kindness and patience is quite extraordinary. Headship is stressful and our joint desire to do the very best for this community completely shapes our lives and has done since we arrived and through the most challenging of times. My admiration for her energy, positivity and determination is immense. Her investment in our community is total and eighteen years after we first met, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have such a remarkable person by my side.
Year 13 and Prize winners – today is your day. Celebrate all that you have accomplished and dare to dream big dreams.
For everything there is a season
A time for laughter
A time for tears and pain
In all things
God is near
Always guiding your way
May the road rise to meet you
May the wind be at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rain fall softly on your fields
And until we meet again
May you keep safe
In the gentle loving arms of God
Headmaster of Rossall School