Prize Day Speech



Chair of Council, Members of Council, Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, it is an honour and a privilege to have the opportunity to address you on this the 180th anniversary of Rossall’s foundation. If you are visiting us for the first time, then we extend an especially warm welcome to you. We hope that on this day of commemoration and celebration, you will experience something of Rossall’s unique magic.

This is a community that absolutely sparkles with energy, dynamism and an extraordinary generosity of spirit which serves to enrich the lives of all of our members. It is a school community within which academic success is the outcome of inspirational teaching and learning. It is a school which focuses upon empowering young people to make a positive difference to the world around them. Children leave us as highly impressive young adults and we are incredibly proud of the people that they become. A Rossall education may be innovative and progressive but enduring values thread their way through all aspects of school life. We encourage our children to be creative, to demonstrate compassion, and to communicate their ideas with clarity and confidence. We encourage our children to critically challenge different perspectives and to become compelling cultural architects whom others will seek to emulate. 

Above all else, we wish for our children to become lifelong learners and to be endlessly inquisitive about the world. If one wishes to seek out examples of Rossallians who have devoted their lives to learning, then one should look no further than Sir Francis Graham-Smith, who has just celebrated his 101st birthday. A pioneer in the world of radio astronomy, Sir Francis became the second director of Jodrell Bank and the thirteenth Astronomer Royal. He is still actively engaged in research and gave an extraordinarily erudite interview to BBC Wales’ Science Cafe, on the occasion of his hundredth birthday. A fellow Rossallian, the celebrated immunologist, Dr William Frankland, died in 2020 at the age of 108. He was Desert Island Discs’ oldest-ever guest at the age of 103 and appeared on BBC Hardtalk at the age of  107. He published his first paper in 1941 and his last paper in 2019. On a day when we celebrate the achievements of young Rossallians, let us also celebrate the remarkable achievements of the many Rossallians who have helped to create exciting new paradigms by dedicating their lives to pushing back and, in some instances, exploding the frontiers of human knowledge. 

This year, I have assumed responsibility for the School archives. Whilst I have done little to bring order to the chaos which reigns supreme in the archive room itself, I have enjoyed making connections with numerous Rossallians and their families. Sitting on my desk is a copy of the Gloucestershire war poet F.W. Harvey’s posthumously constructed novel, ‘A War Romance’, which his grandson sent to me. I have also had the opportunity to chat with Nicholas Haag, whose father arrived at Rossall in 1939 having been part of the Kindertransport. At every turn, I am reminded of the enormously transformative impact that this School has had on the lives of so many young people. There has never been such a thing as a typical Rossallian though we have produced scientists, politicians, literary figures and doctors in abundance. We have also produced intrepid explorers. One thinks of  W.H. Auden’s first cousin, John, who took a master’s degree in forestry at Yale University before setting off to forge a career in the wilds of Ontario. One of John’s classmates spent his life working on a rubber plantation in Sri Lanka, another became a leading judge in Hong Kong, whilst another became a vacuum cleaner salesman in Stevenage.

In an age when the world appears to be at our fingertips and we talk excitedly about robotics, artificial intelligence and virtual reality, we are in danger of losing sight of what it is to be human. The more technologically enriched our lives become, the more irritable and dissatisfied we seem to be. The more comfortable our lives become, the more we tend towards introspection and self-absorption.  Identity politics matters but perhaps not so much in the abstract. It seems that we often end up tying ourselves up in hypothetical and philosophically challenging knots when good old-fashioned kindness and compassion provide the answers that we are searching for. The aggressive secularism of the modern age has led to a diminution in the importance of the spiritual dimension of our lives. Social media provides a superficial and seductive illusion of connectedness with others but, all too often,  it leaves us feeling disconnected from our inner selves. 

During the Easter holidays, I decided to visit Iceland. My mother had died some weeks earlier, and I warmed to the notion that some sort of adventure would provide a powerful (if only temporary) antidote to the overwhelming sense of loss and sadness that I was experiencing. We stood on the lips of volcanoes, clambered across a smouldering lava flow, plunged into frozen lakes, watched seals basking on icebergs and explored an ice cave deep under a glacier. We watched in awe as two sea eagles soared above our heads in the Arctic sun. We drove through blizzards on deserted roads in the Icelandic highlands and waited for the northern lights to appear in the night sky that twinkled with thousands of stars. Alas, they did not appear.  We watched horses making their way across the arctic landscape and we marvelled at the black volcanic sand beneath our feet. We watched geysers shooting steam into the sky and muddy pools bubbling away as they emitted foul-smelling fumes. We grumbled as the temperature dropped to minus nineteen and our faces became numb with the cold.  Through it all, we felt gloriously and gratefully alive. In a land of ice and fire, we felt connected to the power of the natural world in a way which was both humbling and awe-inspiring. It strikes me that a truly great education should seek to inspire awe and wonder. It should possess a spiritual dimension and children should have the opportunity to experience life in all of its spectacular vividness. Much of this can happen in School but it is up to us, as parents, to ensure that our children know what it is to hear a live symphony orchestra or the roar of a crowd at a league football match on a rainy winter’s afternoon. It is up to us to encourage our children to develop a love of literature and a fascination with the natural world. It is up to us to ensure that our children accumulate cultural capital and experience the real world around them. The world of online gaming and an obsessive interest in the banalities of social media constitutes nothing more than a miserable simulation or a hyper-realistic vision of an artificial world that has next to nothing on the real thing. 

It is perfectly possible for children to drift through their childhoods without ever developing a sense of awe and wonder. From time to time I meet young people who seem disengaged and disconnected from the world around them. There are times when I meet young people who struggle to articulate what it is that inspires them. This is a tremendous shame and those of us who have the privilege of spending time with our pupils know only too well how they talk with an almost evangelical enthusiasm about the school and about their learning. 

   We are endlessly inspired by our children. This year, they have raised thousands of pounds for charity, put on an amazing performance of ‘Anything Goes’, worked in a school in rural Ghana, made waves in the world of independent school football, contributed to Model United Nations conferences, undertaken Duke of Edinburgh expeditions in the Lake District and achieved success in various art and music competitions. They have been awarded places at the UK’s finest music conservatoires and won sports scholarships to the United States of America. They have received offers from some of the world’s most prestigious universities to study subjects as diverse as fashion, economics, film production and medicine. Their enthusiasm, friendliness and generosity is quite extraordinary. They are both interested and interesting. This group of fine young people before you are what Rossall is all about. The value of a Rossall education is reflected in them magnificently well. 

It is not my intention to talk about politics on this occasion. As Rossall approaches its 180th anniversary, let us be thankful for being part of a community that has weathered many storms. Global pandemics and world wars have only ever strengthened our determination to look after and educate our children. We are well placed to face the challenges that lie ahead and our strategy is designed to protect hard-working parents from the full impact of the potential imposition of VAT on school fees. In reality, the independent sector has constantly had to evolve and, repeatedly,  it has demonstrated remarkable resilience through the ages.

It would be remiss of me to let this occasion pass without paying tribute to two members of Council who have served this community with an outstanding level of commitment and dedication. Chris Holt stands down as Chair of Governors after ten years in what is, by any measure, an incredibly demanding role. Chris has been the driving force behind so much that we have accomplished over recent years. The development of our school campus (including the construction of our fabulous sports hall) would not have been possible without Chris’   ambitious vision and careful oversight. The renaissance of our sports programme is in no small part due to Chris. Through the most challenging times, Chris has provided very wise counsel and has done so with generosity and kindness. During the pandemic, his unstinting support and optimism was of enormous benefit to the School. Chris’ energy and commitment is staggering and I know that the many trips north must have been at the expense of precious time with family. Fortunately, our proximity to some of the finest golf courses in the UK did, on some occasions, enable Chris to kill two birds with one stone. Chris, we hope that we have found a fitting way to celebrate your contribution to School life and we hope that you will remain part of the wider Rossall family for many years to come. I think we should also extend our heartfelt appreciation to your wife who has had to share you with us for so long. 

David Ewart is also stepping down from Council this summer and we will miss his wisdom, encouragement and support in so many areas of school life. His chairing of the Education and Welfare Committee has coincided with a real focus on academic excellence. The intellectual and cultural dimensions of school life have been superbly well supported by a committee that has been incredibly productive. We have been particularly grateful for David’s oversight of all aspects of safeguarding and his wisdom and attentiveness has given us a sense of real reassurance. We hope very much that David will remain a very dear friend of Rossall. 

I would like to thank all members of Council for giving so generously of themselves. We are so privileged that members of Council elect to spend so much time in School getting to know both staff and students and we should never ever take this for granted. 

Keith, we are delighted that you have agreed to become Chair of Council and we look forward to working with you. My colleagues and I on the Senior Leadership Executive are huge admirers of all that you achieved at Bedales. However, we like to think that your very significant contribution to governance at both Dubai College and Uppingham School is nothing more than an eloquent prelude to all that we will achieve together here at Rossall.  Your father was an incredibly well loved headmaster of the Junior School and I have no doubt that he would have been inordinately proud on this day. His time here at Rossall was cut tragically short by his untimely death. I am sure that nothing will ever diminish the sense of loss that you must feel but I hope that it is of enormous comfort to be taking on this role at a place that was, for so many years, home to you and your family. Keith, we extend to you the warmest of Rossallian welcomes or perhaps we should simply say, ‘welcome back!’. 

I would like to pay tribute to our fantastic teachers who dedicate so much of their lives to guiding, supporting and encouraging our children. I am incredibly proud of Common Room and it is a privilege to work with colleagues who are committed, friendly and simply brilliant at their jobs. Our children benefit from an outstanding quality of pastoral care and our teachers are compellingly superb role models for them. The warmth of relationships between staff and pupils is a real strength of Rossall. 

In particular, I would like to thank my colleagues on the Senior Leadership Executive. On a personal level, it has been a challenging year for a number of us. The members of the Senior Leadership team have no less than fifteen children between them –  to say nothing of husbands, wives and parents. It is easy for us to become totally absorbed in all things Rossall and, if we are not careful,  this can be to the detriment of our families. What makes life more manageable is the fact that there exists a wonderful sense of collegiality between us and we are there for each other during the best of times but also during those times when life presents us with personal challenges and mountains to climb. I will be forever grateful for the support and kindness that I received from colleagues during the final few months of my mother’s life. It is the kindness and compassion of colleagues and friends that sustains us through the toughest of times. Dina, Emma, Matt, Adam and Ben – it is a pleasure to work so closely with such outstanding human beings – thank you for everything that you do for our children. I know how tirelessly you work and I know just how invested you are in this community. My enduring thanks also go to Fiona – she is utterly amazing and I have no idea how she manages to do everything that she does with such a sense of love, joy and compassion and more than that, she puts up with me.  

In the last couple of weeks, a number of members of our community have suffered the most unbearable loss. Their grief is a private matter but I do hope that they will come to feel the enormous love of a community that is here to support them. It is our responsibility to look after our dear friends and colleagues and to do everything that we can to help them and their families. I do not want to say their names out loud but I do want them to know that on this day and in the days, weeks and months to come, they will be at the very forefront of our minds.

It is always sad to say goodbye to staff but each year a number of us leave for pastures anew. I would like to pay special tribute to Ky Hutchinson who has made an outstanding contribution to the teaching of science throughout the School. His lessons are exciting and he brings dynamism, enthusiasm, excellent subject knowledge and a real passion for all things chemistry and biology related to the classroom. He is also a hugely wise colleague and he has made a  profound contribution to school life. He has looked after our ECTs and has at various times been Head of Chemistry, Head of Science and a Head of Year. Ky always prioritizes the children and I know that he is going to achieve great things at Millfield. Sam Roberts leaves us to take up the post of housemaster at Uppingham School.  He has been a highly effective houseparent for MF and he has made a great contribution to the teaching of PE within the Sports Department. As Assistant Head of Boarding, Sam has demonstrated strategic agility and a willingness to problem solve which is only matched by his encyclopedic knowledge of many subjects including vexillology (the study of flags) and all matters related to MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club) of which he is now, finally,  a proud member.  Jack Cropper leaves us to take up the post of Director of Sports at BSAK in Abu Dhabi where I know that he will enjoy the golf course which is conveniently floodlit 24 hours a day. His contribution to the development of sport has been legendary and we will miss him dearly. He is gentle, kind, fiercely ambitious and someone whom I feel very privileged to have worked alongside. We will miss Phil Butterworth who retires from the maths department at the end of term. His kindness, wisdom and solicitude for the pupils in his care is second to none. Phil is loved and respected by all at Rossall and we wish him a very long and very happy retirement. Denise Hoban is leaving us to take up a teaching post at a local school and we will miss her great sense of humour. Denise is incredibly attentive to the needs of her pupils and she has shared her love for all things Hispanic with children from reception class in the Prep School right the way up to our Sixth Form. Integrity, honesty, commitment and hard work really do matter and each of these departing members of staff have possessed these qualities in absolute abundance. They are qualities that are sometimes considered slightly old-fashioned but serving a community and putting others before oneself are the hallmarks of a truly great teacher. Thank you so much for all that you have given to Rossall. 

This is an incredibly exciting time for us and as we celebrate our 180th anniversary, we do so from a position of strength and with a sense of unquenchable pride. We look forward to launching our new partnership with Manchester City Football Club in September, and our plans to ensure a green and sustainable future for the school are progressing well. The appointment of Victoria Lowe has enabled us to make rapid progress with projects such as the refurbishment of the shop, modernisation of our swimming pool and the upgrading of our boarding accommodation. We bade farewell to Emma Sanderson earlier this year, and we have recently welcomed Clare Coley-Maud who joins us as our very first Chief Finance Officer.  She has certainly chosen an interesting time to come on board.  

The incredible generosity of Rossallians, through the auspices of the Foundation, has enabled us to complete the first stage of the refurbishment of the chapel organ. I would like to thank Alf Tansey, who was a pupil in MF from 1949-1954, for his  championing of this project. Without his indomitable energy and steadfast dedication,  we would never have embarked upon this costly restoration project but what a joy it is to have such a splendid instrument at our disposal once again.  A number of very generous donations to the Heritage Future Project have enabled us to begin work on the re-roofing of Big School and the repointing of much of the stonework on the Sumner Library. Preserving the architectural heritage of the School is an enormous responsibility and one which we must embrace as a whole community. Of course, these buildings are central to the School’s future and their restoration is much more than an exercise in dewy-eyed nostalgia. 

Year 13, this is very much your day and we could not be prouder of the fine young people that you have become. Your contribution to school life has been immense. We have been inspired by your charity work, your sporting achievements and your desire to succeed academically. Mr Crombie always says that he hopes that all Sixth Formers will leave the school as better people. I think each and everyone of you has demonstrated a real commitment to this motivating philosophy of self-improvement. You have demonstrated incredible resilience in the face of adversity. Since the beginning of the Sixth Form, you have faced so many challenges. There have been rockets falling from the sky, life-threatening illnesses and the loss of loved ones. There have been sporting injuries, academic disappointments and one or two relationship issues. There have been tussles over uniform, hair, make-up and jewellery. Some of these challenges were more serious than others but throughout it all, you have supported one another superbly well. You are compassionate, caring, kind and creative. You are ambitious, reflective, resilient and collegiate. There are talented leaders within your midst but there are also extraordinarily versatile team players.  We are incredibly proud of you and we will miss you enormously. Do not be strangers to this place but come back often and know that this place will forever be your home. I hope that a part of you will feel that connection for the rest of your lives.

Life will throw you many curveballs. My advice, for what it is worth, is to love hard and hold your family and friends very close. Surround yourselves with people whom you know to be generous and loving. Surround yourselves with people who make you belly laugh but are not afraid to be serious when the need arises. Surround yourself with people who challenge and inspire you to develop as a person.  Embrace new opportunities and recognise that life is a wonderful if all too fleeting adventure. Do not be conditioned into thinking that your expectations of life should be modest but dare to be extravagant. Delight in the beauty of a butterfly or the feel of the sun on your arms on a warm summer’s evening. Explore this wonderful planet of ours, make connections, and enjoy the stories of those whose experiences differ from your own. Enjoy being young – your youth will not last forever. 

As Mahatma Gandhi said, ‘Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever’.

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.

May your lives be filled with love, learning and laughter. Please join me in wishing this wonderful class of 2024 all the best for the future. 

Floreat Rossallia! 

Jeremy Quartermain
Headmaster of Rossall School