Prize Giving Speech
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen and pupils of Musselburgh Grammar School. It is with very great pleasure that I make my first prizegiving speech to you as Head Teacher of the school and summarise events of the academic year.
I am sorry that the weather has not been kind to us this evening – but this is the start of Wimbledon fortnight and the Glastonbury Festival starts today.
There is an old Chinese curse which says “May you live in interesting times.” It has indeed been an interesting year of expected and unexpected events for all of us connected to the school.
The first major interesting event was our return to school in August 2004 after the building works of the summer when we returned to discover poor quality workmanship and a school that was only just fit for purpose in terms of its cleanliness. Staff goodwill was sorely stretched in that first week as they tried to prepare for the arrival of pupils and to get the term underway. A school building is one of the main resources that we have in the delivery of education and it was disappointing it was not ready for our return. Sadly, as you know, financial problems then led to the collapse of Innovate and the PPP project was put on a 6 month hold until a new contract was negotiated with Balfour Beatty, who began work again in March. We lost the use of the Library until January and our CDT and Art and Design Departments were unable to function fully for much of this time. I wish to pay tribute to the staff in these areas for their attitude and determination to ensure that pupils were not affected. Similarly, I have a great deal of respect for our pupils who showed similar determination in these difficult circumstances.
I would like to thank the authority for its support and determination over the course of the year in resolving the transfer of the contract. I would also like to thank Stewart MacKinnon, my Senior Depute Head, for the work he has done as PPP Coordinator over the year. His unflappable nature and excellent personal relations have oiled the wheels of the project since the start. The contract end date has been renegotiated to March 2005 and I am delighted to say that we are on schedule for that date. We will continue to insist that disruption to teaching and learning is kept to a minimum – and we can now begin to see the improvements to the building emerge and give us a building suitable for the 21st century. I will return to PPP later in my speech this evening.
On a far more sombre note was the death of one of our S3 pupils, Debbie Givan, in May after a battle with cancer. The death of a child throws the natural order into turmoil and is very hard for us to accept. Our heart goes out to the Givan family as they come to terms with their loss – but those of us who were present at the funeral will remember the celebration of Debbie’s life –and there were smiles as well as tears that day. As well as staff, many pupils were also present both for the funeral service and the interral at the churchyard and I was very proud of the way they coped with the events of that afternoon – for many it was a first difficult step into adulthood and they all behaved with dignity and respect in a very mature way.
If one of the main resources a school has is its building, another major resource is its staff, and I think parents of pupils at MGS know how dedicated, caring, and hard-working staff at the school are. As well as thorough preparation and marking for their classes, staff are willing to run unpaid revision classes after hours during the year and offer their services for extra-curricular activities. This year, they also became involved in mentoring for S5 and S4 pupils in preparation for their final national examinations and also in whole-school working parties to drive on the school development plan. I have been greatly assisted in my first year by all staff in the school and I would like to thank them on your behalf for their efforts with your children.
However, the year has been interesting for the number of changes in staff. A group of staff joined us at the beginning of the year as newly qualified teachers and who will move on to pastures new in August. I would therefore like to thank Messrs Kowbel and Gill in PE, Mr Robertson in Chemistry and Miss Anderson in Art and Design for their work this year and to wish them every success in the future. Miss Watson in CDT is remaining with us following her success at interview to replace Mr Bruff.
Over the course of the year, Mr Norris and Mr Burns in Maths were replaced by Mr Inglis and Mr Marchant; Mrs Mohammed joined us in RME on the retiral of Mrs McHugh; and Mr Tidswell in History was replaced by Mrs Bonnar. Miss Malcolm left in May to take up her post as PT PE in Elgin, being replaced by Miss Grant, and Miss Meldrum in Geography will leave us in September to take up her post as PT Geography in a school in England.
Mr Shaw in CDT also leaves us in September for a post in England and will be replaced by another Mr Shaw – no relation! Miss Kidd in Chemistry leaves at the end of term to be replaced by Miss McLaughlan, Mrs Turkington in Art and Design leaves similarly for Ross High School and will be replaced by Miss Lowe; and Miss Milne in Learning Support leaves to be replaced by Mrs Glennie. Miss Muir in PE has left for London and is being replaced by Mr Ramsay and we are increasing our staffing in PE by appointing Miss McAvoy. Mr Clark Head of PE returns to us after a year’s secondment with SportsScotland.
We also say goodbye to three long-serving members of staff. Mr MacDonald, PT Classics, has been absent through illness for a very long time and has now been granted early retirement. Mr Gossip of the Learning Support Department is also to retire and has had a spring in his step for some time as a result: many pupils will miss his kindness and encouragement to them and I am sure he will be fondly remembered by many. Finally, Mr Robertson of the Senior Management Team is also to retire after a long and distinguished career. He has never lost his enthusiasm for his subject, Geography, and many pupils will be grateful for the way he coaxed the very best out of them, particularly his certificate pupils. He has been responsible for the transition of pupils between primary and secondary for a number of years, and handled that anxious time for pupils and parents with great sensitivity and aplomb. As Head of Grange House, he worked very closely with Mr Gellaitry and Mrs Neri to support pupils and to keep them on the straight and narrow – and the pupils in his house presented him with a huge card yesterday at the Merit Award ceremony as a token of their best wishes. He will be missed by staff and pupils alike and entertained us all mightily at his retirement speech earlier today.
HMI continually refine the process of inspection, and this year announced that they intend to focus on achievement as well as attainment in schools– a refinement that is long overdue in my opinion. Education is about far, far more than happens inside the four walls of the classroom, and we are very fortunate at MGS to have staff that recognise this. If the building and the staff are two resources available to a school, the pupils are certainly a third – and certainly one of the joys of teaching is drawing that academic, creative, enterprising, sporting potential out of pupils. So for the next few minutes, I would like to talk about attainment and achievement.
The information I am about to give you about examination success relates to last year’s examination since we await this year’s results in August.
Focusing on attainment first of all, I am pleased to report that the number of pupils reaching 5 passes at Grade 1 or 2 at Standard Grade in August 2003 was 44, 27% of the yeargroup, the highest it has been for a long time. Recent years have been around 22-23%. Furthermore, 3 of those pupils had 8 passes at Grade 1, a superb achievement – Tegan Dornan, Lindsay Henderson, Lynn Hryhorskyj. The school was delighted to see their hard work rewarded and our fingers are crossed for them as they await the results of their examination this year. Our pass rates increased at the other national benchmarks of 5 passes at grades 1-4 and 5 passes at Grades 1-6 also. I still however, remain concerned for those pupils whose absence rate is high during the year, for these are pupils who often do not come in to sit their examinations.
We had more pupils sitting Higher Grade examinations than ever before last year, and yet our pass rate for Higher examinations still actually increased from 74% to 79%. We increased our percentage pass rate for pupils with 1 or more Higher passes at Grades A-C. I am also pleased to report that the number of pupils achieving 3 or more Higher passes at Grades A to C also rose to 43, 19% of the yeargroup, which is the highest level staff can remember. That figure is significant as universities tend to be looking for pupils with 3 or more Higher passes.
2 of that group – Andrew Harkins and Duncan McNicholl - also managed to achieve 5 passes at Grade A, a very considerable achievement to be so successful across a wide range of subjects. While we had fewer presentations in S6 for Advanced Highers, we saw a rise in the number of Advanced Higher passes overall, with Charlie Mollinson achieving a Grade A pass in all 4 AH Mathematics papers, including an incredible 100% for one of those papers.
While I have just identified trends in our pass rates and drawn several notable performances to your attention, I would also give a great deal of credit to other pupils who worked very hard all year and met their targets: if you have done your very best, then no-one can complain about your performance.
I now turn to achievements and I interpret this very broadly indeed – from group participation in competitions and events, from individual performances and aspirations, to events and opportunities that enhance the learning experiences offered to our pupils.
I have tried to notify parents of such events in my monthly newsletters, but I suspect many letters descend to the depths of pupil schoolbags never to see the light of day again! Some things do not change……. I will try in the next few minutes to give you a flavour of life outwith the classroom, and if the list of events appears long, I assure you it could have been longer and I have a nagging feeling that I have forgotten some, which is perhaps more a reflection of my age rather than their importance.
In meetings with schools, employers stress to us that they are not just looking for academic qualifications, but also for personal qualities like leadership and teamwork, determination and flexibility, respect and consideration, confidence and self-belief. I have stressed to pupils on several occasions this year that much of life’s successes are governed by attitude rather than innate intelligence and that a strong work ethic will take you far in life.
I have also stressed to pupils that it is important to have aspirations and set oneself demanding targets rather than easy ones – and that leads me in to several S6 pupils who applied to Cambridge this year – Duncan McNicholl, Nathan Merchant, David Surtees and Ross Johnstone. The first two also gained a Nuffield award to enable them to carry out a research project in a university lab during the summer holidays last year.
3 pupils in S3 also attended the Heriot Watt University Girls Get Set Residential Week for Chemistry – Andrea Milne, Stephanie Daly and Stacey Cowan. Andrea also competed in the Heriot Watt and Royal Society of Chemistry’s Top of the Bench Quiz along with Lianne Cairns, Steven Thomson and Laura Smail. We also had Ross Young in S1 attending the Heriot Watt Weekend Science School.
We also had a successful year in Mathematics competitions, with pupils from S1 to S6 taking part in the UK Mathematics Challenge: we had 6 golds, 22 silvers and 38 bronze awards. Gold means a performance in the top 6% of the country. Special mention should be made of John Surtees of S4 who received a merit certificate and now qualifies to sit the European Kangaroo paper. We entered two teams for the Enterprising Maths competition for Lothian Secondary Schools and placed in the top half. As if it was not enough to compete in English, our top S3 class entered the Mathematiques sans Frontieres competition which had one question to be read and answered in French.
Various other competitions took place inside the school, with Blair Montgomery of 2M2 winning the MGS “Show Racism the Red Card” competition, Hannah Buchanan of 1G2, Liam Bonnar 2M2 and Chloe Burton of 1G2 the winners of our very important Internet safety poster competition, and Katya Kennedy-Stewart of 1C was the winner of the East Lothian Youth Forum Calendar Competition in December.
Various other successful events took place this year. Mr Dewar and other World of Work co-ordinators arranged the Europe: The Business conference for S6; Mrs Thomson took a group of S3 pupils to Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh for the Interactive Tourism skills conference in November where we won a runners’ up prize; Mrs Campbell took another group of S3 pupils to IBM in Edinburgh where they were described as “the best group of pupils we have ever had on our programme”; a group of S3 pupils also took part in the East Lothian Film and Animation Festival in March; we were represented at the authority’s Celebrating Success event at Port Seton in September and Musselburgh Grammar and the local primary schools arranged our own Citizenship Showcase event in February. One of the principal displays at that event was the work done by the Amnesty International Group led by Mrs Bovill. They did in fact win a BT Award for Citizenship for this, one of only 6 Scottish schools to do so. This group are preparing to go to Poland including a visit to Auschwitz and the Czech Republic in October and have been very active in raising funds for this including a sponsored walk round Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh and we had a highly enjoyable Scottish-Polish Evening last Saturday at the Brunton Theatre which they arranged.
Further down the school, pupils in S2 took part in the Construction Industry Training Board Tower Challenge, where they had to build the highest tower while minimizing the cost of materials – more than the Scottish Parliament managed….and 70 S2 pupils also were involved in the Sci Fun Roadshow. S1, meanwhile, had a very enjoyable time working with the Tree of Knowledge on self-esteem, motivation and attainment in January. Interestingly, we held an Enterprise Day for S1 recently and I have rarely seen so confident and determined a group of young people – their presentations in front of David Cameron Head of Schools were confident and of a very high quality. I look forward to tracking their progress in future years.
I mentioned the forthcoming school trip to Poland, but other trips have also taken place this year. A group are departing to Alton Towers tonight after the prizegiving and a group have just returned from Barcelona. One of the most successful trips we had was the trip to Paris and Normandy, which was different this year because we used the newly developed interactive school website to keep in contact with the group. That website, www.mgsonline.org.uk, was set up by Mr. McIntosh of the Modern Languages Department, and it received over 6000 hits during the course of the trip. More on that website later.
One other trip which took place this year was to Rossignano in Italy, where a group of our pupils – Jett Sweeney, Gary Bridges, Alex Reeves, Neil Malcolm and Nathan Merchant- comprising the rock group Manifest, played in the Annual Youth Music Festival.
That trip provides the next link to this section on achievement, because this year has seen developments in performing arts. As well as the Christmas Pantomime “Snow White and the Seven Sins” directed by Miss Moore, we have had two talent shows which have been hugely popular with pupils. It has been delightful to see rather nervous young people developing into confident public performers. We received a grant of £10000 from the Coalfields Trust this year which allows us to develop music facilities in the school for after-hours rehearsals and Mr Gallagher of the CDT Department has worked very hard to bring this project forward this year. We will also have a charity event taking place tomorrow, our Gig on the Grass –weather permitting - , where our young people will have a showcase for their talents, and I know they have all been rehearsing hard. Pupils are also developing their technical knowledge about sound equipment.
These new developments sit alongside our traditional Christmas and Summer Concerts which are organised by Mr Paterson and the Music Department –performances of very high quality, reflecting the standard of music tuition pupils receive – and I am sure they will be on top form for us tonight.
At a time when the Executive has listed creativity as one of its national priorities for education, I am very confident that pupils at Musselburgh Grammar are being given every chance to discover their creative talents.
We continue to be heavily involved in sport: I would like to thank the staff who are involved in running competitive and recreational sport in the school for their time and dedication to this side of school life.
Several of our pupils compete at a very high level – Steven Hillhouse in S1 is Scottish Champion in judo at the 11-12 year age group; his brother Mark is the silver medallist for 13-16 age group and John Hamilton is also a silver medallist in that age group. Rachel Livingstone is part of the East Lothian under 16 women’s golf development squad and indeed part of the Scotland squad. MGS was second in the East Lothian team golf competition held on the Old Course in Musselburgh. In swimming, Carla McGlynn competed in the recent Scottish Championships and is also a member of the national squad.
Rugby remains very strong at the school and was taken a step further this year when the S1 girls tag rugby came third at the tournament at Murrayfield. We also had visits from Scott Hastings, Graham Sheil and Simon Taylor to promote rugby at the school this year. Simon kindly presented the school with a Scotland rugby shirt which we intend to raffle off for charity.
A group of our pupils were squad members for the East and Midlothian Schools Football Association under –15 representative team which won the Scottish National Tournament for the third year in a row – Lee Sugden, John Howie, Steven McDonald, Darryl Waugh, Kris Renton and Paul McLean.
We also sent up teams in May to the East Lothian Youth Games at Meadowmill for various sports, held our own Sports Day, and assisted at the Primary Schools Outdoor Event earlier in the month.
Furthermore, our own school team of under –14 boys won the East and Midlothian schools league. That team comprised Stuart Morrison, Euan Skinner, Blair Montgomery, Lewis Mein, Craif Yuill, Kris Renton, Frankie Rankine, Cameron Olton, Sean Paterson, David Clark, John Porteous, David Swan, David Boyle, Lawrie Cannon and Paul Coots.
Having read through this list, I am conscious of just how committed the staff are to offering opportunities outwith the classroom and I am sure you would wish to join me in thanking them for this.
I referred earlier to our new website, which I think is going to be a tremendous resource for the school community. I know Mr. McIntosh has put a huge amount of work into developing the site this year and I also know that he has further plans for it, assisted by a number of pupils in the school. While offering background information about the school, we will now also be able to put any general communications on the website as well as issuing them as a paper copy to pupils. The Learning Zone section will allow our staff to put homework, revision work, and good internet learning sites into their subject’s section – and we are receiving a huge amount of hits – 6000- from other schools across the country in this section. If you are connected and have not yet had a look, you have the whole summer ahead of you…
At the beginning of this speech I outlined the difficulties which had emerged in PPP project – and I would wish to balance our disappointments of that time with the positive features we see now. Our new contractors Balfour Beatty and Forth Electrical Services continue to complete work to schedule and are very quick to address any issues we raise. As a result of PPP, we have 5 new Maths rooms; 5 new English rooms; 3 more classrooms due back to us this week; and a refurbished Library.
During the summer holidays a great deal of work will occur and we will see Science and Home Economics renovated, our new PE facilities complete, with work done in the main stairwells and Dining Hall. In the autumn, the completely new Community Wing and Administration Block will be open and we will be finished in March 2005.
Finally, I would like to identify the community as one of the resources available to the school – and I mean community in the broadest sense. There is an old African proverb which says it takes a whole village to educate a child, and I think people living in the Musselburgh area are to be commended for their recognition of the importance of local traditions and customs, and for their support of the school and its traditions and expectations.
More particularly, I would like to thank the School Board and the Parent Teacher Association for their support since I arrived. I would also like to thank parents for their support in attending parents’ evenings and other school events like this.
I am looking forward to the new session where we will be introducing a new pupil planner for all our pupils, where we have a new school uniform, where we will have new lockers for our senior pupils, and where we will be further down the road to the completion of the building programme ending in March 2005.
I now wish to draw this prizegiving speech to a close. As Head Teacher, I must emphasise to you all tonight that I find a school in robust good health with many strong features – I see high quality learning and teaching taking place in improving surroundings; I see highly committed teachers working with an increasing number of highly committed pupils – you see them before you this evening. I see those teachers not afraid to praise pupils and those pupils not frightened of success. I also see care and attention paid to the more vulnerable members of our school community by pupils and staff. At the end of my first year, I am increasingly convinced that we are building the foundations of a very strong school and that the reputation of the school is spreading.
But I will look forward to these things from August – in the meantime I am looking forward to my holidays and I wish you all an enjoyable summer break and hope we see smiles on the faces of our pupils as they open their SQA envelopes on August 10th.
Best wishes to you for the summer and for the future. Thank you.
wednesday 23rd June 2004