From the Head’s desk:

After a Thanksgiving and Leavers’ Service in the Priory, Speech Day continued with prizegiving in the Sports Hall when the Headmaster, Philip Capes, spoke as follows:

“I am delighted to welcome you to St. Bees School for another Speech Day and Thanksgiving Service. First of all I would like to welcome our two Guests of Honour. Earlier this morning the Right Reverend James Newcombe, the newly installed Bishop of Carlisle and one of the school’s Governors, preached at our annual Thanksgiving Service in the Priory. The message he succinctly gave us was on the importance of friendship and how Jesus can be regarded as a best and most faithful friend throughout our lives. Our second Guest of Honour is Baron Hugh Cavendish of Furness, who has already been introduced to you by our Chair of Governors, Bill Lowther. A warm welcome to you both.

2009/10 has been an interesting academic year, when acts of God and the weather seem to have affected school life more than usual. We started the year with concerns that an outbreak of swine flu would sweep through the community and we had contingency plans in place to open quarantined dormitories on Abbots Court for the large number of boarders we expected to be affected by the virus. We then had the heavy rainfalls in November, which resulted in the Cockermouth, Keswick and Workington floods and the destruction and closure of key bridges in the region. These caused great difficulties for some of our pupils travelling in from the Allerdale area. Then the cold winter came, when snow seemed to fall and cause chaos across the whole of England apart, that is, from St. Bees. The pupils here felt very deprived with just the rain falling and no school days being lost or disrupted due to the weather! Finally, having overcome these problems, we were affected by the volcanic eruption occurring in Iceland, when four of the teaching staff were stranded overseas and many of the pupils, both day and boarding, were unable to fly back into the UK at the start of the term due to the shut down of the airspace over the UK and much of Europe.

We started the academic year once again delighted by our pupils’ public examination results. At A Level 60% of the grades awarded were at A or B grade level and six of last year’s Upper Sixth achieved A grades in all their main A level subjects. Chris Sharman achieved the top grades necessary for his place to read veterinary science at Robinson’s College, Cambridge; Lawrence Gribble achieved the results he required for his place at Trinity College, Cambridge to read Asian and Middle Eastern Studies; and finally Jocky Kung achieved the grades asked for by Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford to read Chemistry. Matthew Jones continued to enhance the schools’ reputation for successful university applications for medicine by gaining a place to read the subject at Manchester University. At GCSE the results were equally impressive with four pupils gaining straight A grades in ten or more subjects. Ben Greene was this year’s top performing student at GCSE achieving 7A* and 5 As in twelve subjects.

The school has had a busy and successful twelve months since the last Speech Day. I am sure you do not need me to remind you that there has recently been a General Election. Guessing, like most of the political pundits, that a General Election would be called for May 6th, we arranged a political forum to be held at St. Bees to allow our pupils and those from neighbouring schools to pose questions to the candidates standing for the Copeland constituency. We were particularly grateful to four of the six candidates for agreeing to come to the school to take part and we followed up this meeting with a mock election on May 6th itself when 65% of pupils cast their vote in the school’s polling station based in Reception. Unlike five years ago when the winning candidate represented the Monster Raving Looney Party, the Conservative candidate took just under 40% of the vote and won the St. Bees School ‘seat’ this time round.

Before I reflect on some of the other notable events and successes of this past academic year, I would like to talk on two topics, both beginning with the letter ‘r’ – regulations and resilience. I shall start with regulations. I do sincerely hope that the change in government will result in fewer regulations emerging out of the Education Department in Whitehall. One of my fellow HMC Heads has concluded that there are 139 separate regulations which affect our schools and over 80% of them have precious little to do with education, and many question why the government should impose even the remaining 20% which do relate to education on a sector which is supposed to be independent? Towards the end of its life, the Labour government, rather than directly promoting the abolition of independent education, appeared to be simply aiming to take away its independence by stealth by swamping the sector with regulation after regulation. Certainly when I found myself sitting next to Michael Gove, the now new Education Minister, but then in opposition, at a London Dinner last summer, he stressed the need to free education of unnecessary legislation. I fervently hope he will deliver on this principle of trusting schools, and the independent sector in particular, to get on with educating children without tying up hours of my and my staff’s time reading lengthy, incomprehensible documents.

I would also like to share with you my thoughts on what I believe is a very relevant quality for today’s society - resilience. Especially relevant today as for the first time we are presenting a prize for resilience in memory of Ben Shaw, who was a pupil here from 1995-2002. Resilient children cope with the challenges life throws at them and it is now believed that schools can play a part in developing resilience in their pupils. Some children are resilient by nature – their temperament helps them to be mentally and psychologically tough. They are the ones who get straight back up after a setback or disappointment. Rejection by members of their peer group doesn’t faze them. They keep working hard in school even if they don’t succeed at first. They have resilient spirits. Unfortunately, not every young person has such natural resilience. The good news is that most of the research into the area indicates that resilience can be nurtured and developed. Resilient youngsters share four basic skill sets: independence, problem-solving, optimism and social connection. There are many ways that a school such as St. Bees can develop these skills in an informal way and I am certainly not advocating the teaching of lessons in resilience. By developing children’s self-help, the school can promote a real sense of independence as well as encouraging children to develop resourcefulness in a whole range of situations. We should also resist the temptation of stepping in on every occasion to sort out children’s social problems and instead staff should assist them to solve their own friendship challenges. Sometimes we can create more problems by interfering in children’s disputes. Children learn optimism from their surroundings. Regular, positive staff/pupil interactions are perhaps the best way for pupils to pick up the basic social skills that will enable them to interact with their peers as well as the more subtle resilience skills, such as humour, goal-setting and persistence. Children’s school experiences can undoubtedly contribute to their resilience. The seemingly small disappointments that children experience, such as missing being picked for a sports team, or not achieving the top grade in a school report can help them learn to cope with hardships and frustrations. Coping with minor development issues, such as change, peer conflict and even failure, builds up a psychological hardiness that helps them when they face some of life’s big challenges, such as not getting the first job they apply for. A genuine show of faith in children's abilities to cope rather than simply a ‘get over it’ attitude gives them great hope when they face difficulties. The hardest part of schooling is keeping the pupils’ chins up when life doesn’t go their way. The school also needs to put children and young people in situations where they need to draw on their resourcefulness. Outdoor Pursuits, the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and away-from-school trips are great ways for children to stretch themselves and test their problem-solving and coping skills. I stress, promoting resilience in our pupils is not a single event but a continuous process. It requires us all, parents, teachers and other adults to look for opportunities for pupils to extend themselves socially, academically and emotionally. It also requires us to view some of our pupils’ difficulties and hardships as valuable learning opportunities rather than catastrophic events that will scar them psychologically. The extra-curricular programme that this school offers to all its pupils undoubtedly provides the opportunities to develop this life-enhancing quality, and over the next twelve months I intend to carry out an audit to ensure all our pupils have adequate exposure to activities that will develop this important quality of resilience.
I am now going to hand over to three members of the Lower Sixth who are going to expand, and in one case demonstrate, some of the activities that they have been involved in over the past twelve months.

First, Ben Greene will tell us about the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Since last Speech Day, pupils have achieved 15 Bronze, 10 Silver and 5 Gold Awards all under the watchful eye of Major Linda Johnston and WO1 Sandy Rogers.
Then, Moritz Damm will play us his rendition of Sumer Boogie to show off some of the school’s musical talent and perhaps encourage you to hear more at the forthcoming Priory and Jazz Concerts after half term, and finally Joshua Oldham will talk about his participation in the Shares4Schools Competition – just one of the inter-school competitions our pupils participated in throughout the school year.

Before I move on to the traditional point in this report when we say farewell to leaving members of staff, I wish to spend a short time on a few of the other successes achieved by our pupils this year. Of course it is now much easier to keep up-to-date with what is happening throughout the school community by logging regularly on to the school’s website. One of the highpoints so far of this term’s athletics has been the gold medal achieved by Josh Oldham in the 100m at the Northern Independent School’s Championships held at Gateshead at the beginning of this month. The team had read that the Olympic sprint champion, Usain Bolt, attributed some of his success to consuming McDonalds Chicken Nuggets before a race. St. Bees pupils, resourceful as ever, failed to obtain the chicken nuggets, but did manage to purchase a whole roast chicken from a local supermarket, which was consumed by the team with great relish. Whether or not the calorific content of the chicken helped Josh to achieve his victory must remain a matter for conjecture. Success has also been enjoyed throughout the year by the under 15 age cohort of boys. They reached the semi-finals of the county rugby sevens tournament, having already posted a very good set of 15-a-side results. The U15 team of cricketers are through to the quarter-finals of the county 20/20 cup, scheduled for the first Tuesday after half term, and the Inter Boys athletics team excelled in the first round of the English Schools' Cup last Thursday and have won their way into the Northern Regional Final, being held later in the term.

There have been the usual comings and going of support- teaching staff during the academic year: Ellen Cheney, who spent twelve months with us as an Australian Gap student, left at Christmas, having been based mainly in the Preparatory Department. Gareth Lewis and Pam Kane assisted with the coaching of the major sports during the Christmas Term – Gareth for one term and Pam for two terms. Sarah Jouvenot, our French Assistant, has already returned to France following the completion of the French oral examinations, and at the end of this coming term we will say goodbye to Felix Castrillon, the Spanish Assistant and Resident Tutor on School House; Ed Houlston, a Teaching Assistant in the Music and Games Departments as well as the resident Tutor on Grindal House; and Jessie Miller, who has been assisting the Chaplain and helping generally with pastoral duties on the boys’ boarding houses over the past year.

At the very start of the summer term we said goodbye to Graeme Clyne, who joined the IT support staff initially in 2000 but stepped up into the Network Manager role three years later. During his time at St. Bees, he oversaw the rapid development of the Information Technology resources at the school and his expertise will be undoubtedly missed as we have become accustomed to having a safe and reliable I.T. system running 24/7 throughout the school. We welcome Colin Helliwell in his place as our new Network Manager.

At the end of this term we say goodbye to two members of the permanent teaching staff. Michelle France joined us to lead the Biology Department in September 2007. Having crossed the water from King William’s College on the Isle of Man to St. Bees, she is now moving south to join her husband on the Wirral. Lars Nowen, our Chaplain, leaves us and the parish in July, after three and half years. Lars’ sense of humour takes some getting used to. Only a few weeks ago I told him before the start of junior chapel that I needed to talk to the first form at the end of the service and could he ask them to stay behind. His first announcement to his congregation was that the Headmaster required all the first form to remain in chapel as the Headmaster was very angry with them and they should be very concerned about the consequences. He followed this up by praying for them and asking God to keep them safe from the anger of the Headmaster! Needless to say this caused great consternation amongst the first form pupils. Lars has also enjoyed declaring days ‘officially cold’ rather than ‘officially hot’ in the St. Bees tradition, praying that the smaller pupils are not blown over on windy days as well as other outrageous statements, hoping to provoke some kind of reaction from pupils who can, on occasions, enter chapel on automatic pilot at the start of another school day. Lars is returning to be a student at King’s College, London, where he will enrol on a PGCE course to qualify him as a Religious Studies teacher. We all wish Claire and Lars all the best when they move on to London.

This year the school has functioned under a new Senior Management Team. I would like to thank publically Dan Evans, the new Deputy Head and Helen Gascoyne, the new Director of Marketing and Development for all their help and support over the past academic year, and to include in this thanks all the other members of the Senior Management Team, Gordon Stokes, the Bursar, Jane Dyer, the Senior Teacher and Jane Malan, the Senior HM.

The school operates smoothly due to the hard work of a dedicated team of loyal teachers and non-teachers. If I was given the choice of running a school with brand new buildings full of state of the art facilities or a school operating in older buildings but with a motivated, well qualified team of teachers and supporting staff – I would chose the latter every time. There are two additional members of staff I would like to mention especially on this Speech Day – members of staff who, in my opinion, have worked well beyond their contracted hours and I value them tremendously – Emma Graham, who besides acting as my PA, organises and runs all the public examination sessions held in school and Jane Hawley, who has fronted the Admissions’ Office so ably over the past eleven months.

Please join me by also showing your appreciation for the dedication of all the staff who serve this school, from Sandy Rogers and all the grounds’, maintenance and cleaning staff, Melissa Townson and her catering crew through to all the teachers, by giving them a well deserved round of applause.

Before I close, I just want to look ahead into the future. The Preparatory Department has grown into two classes ably taught this year by Swithun Sewill and Penny Lynch, and we will be extending the age range of the Preparatory Department with a third class, so from September, we will be taking pupils from the age of 4. I am delighted that we already have over twenty pupils enrolled in the Preparatory Department for the next academic year. Building work planned for the coming summer holidays includes the development of an outdoor short game facility next to the Golf Studio in the grounds behind School House and the refurbishment of the senior Chemistry laboratory, which has been made possible by a generous donation from an OSB, Dr. Peter Ofner, in memory of his father, who was a member of staff at St. Bees during the 1940s.

So St. Bees School never stays still. The great thing about this school is that there is always something going on. One day for your diaries please is Saturday, September 18th when the St. Bees Family Association will be organizing the Biennial Autumn Ball – once again there will be a chance to try your driving skills on the dodgems – tickets are now available from the marketing office. I recommend you book your tickets early. Why not put together a table of ten friends for the evening?

We are very proud of the education we offer at St. Bees, and all those who come into contact with our pupils, whether in or out of school, regularly feedback positive comments to the staff on our pupils and particularly about the confident way they relate to adults. Encouraged by our achievements over the past academic year, we look forward to the future with confidence as we work to achieve our vision of being the best independent school in the North West.

I hope you enjoy the rest of this day. Thank you.

The St. Beghian Society,    St. Bees School,    St. Bees,    Cumbria,    CA27 0DS.
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