Good afternoon everyone and welcome to our Speech Day, please do take a seat.
On behalf of all my colleagues at KEHS, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to all our guests this afternoon. There are many people to welcome:
Students, parents and family members are our special guests today. Each and every one of you girls has achieved amazing things and we are here to celebrate that this afternoon.
Members of staff are here too, to acknowledge and applaud your success and
I’d like to welcome former members of staff who are still very much part of our community: Irene Bannister, Alison Warne, Jan Smith and Ena Evans along with Head Teachers of other schools in the King Edward’s Foundation joining us today.
I’m delighted to welcome with me on the platform Governors, who give so generously of their time and expertise to support both this school and King Edward’s, who delight in hearing about our girls’ success in the classroom and beyond and particularly Sharon Roberts, who is, this year, the Bailiff of the Foundation.
And, FINALLY, it is with very great pleasure that I welcome Kate Goldman, one of our old girls, from the class of 1996.
Kate is Director of Partnerships and Philanthropy at UNICEF. When I read about Kate in an article in the school’s Highlights magazine, I was intrigued to meet her. She spoke to our Sixth Form Leavers, at our Awards Evening last autumn and her message to young people was so compelling, I invited her back on the spot, to speak to you this afternoon so I’m really grateful that she has agreed to come along with her parents Mark and Anne and her baby daughter Poppy to present our prizes.
For a number of staff, this is their first Speech Day and I’m sure you’d like to join me in welcoming them formally to the School.
Welcome then to Neil Haines joining us as Head of History, and Louisa Weiner as our Teacher of Food Studies. We welcome Jack Symes and Jenny Rixon to the RS and Modern Languages departments respectively, Laura Quigley, our new Careers adviser and Kirsty Beckett our graduate PE assistant. We are delighted to welcome Matthew Simpson back to the Chemistry department.
We are also pleased to welcome new members of our support staff team to their first Speech Day. Welcome to Zoe Robinson the new joint Bursar across the two independent schools; to Debbie Macleod my new PA, Jo Linforth in our Development Office and Dave Tinkler, our Assistant Facilities Manager, to Cassandra Porteous our teaching schools administrator, Savita Nayyar, our Pastoral Support Assistant, Foreign Language Assistants Brice, Cecile, Olga and Claudia and Lorraine Basford, our new science technician.
We hope that you will all quickly feel part of the friendly community which is KEHS, working together to educate the young women of the future.
Turing to the Lower Sixth, we are here, this afternoon, to celebrate an outstanding set of results for you;
Your results placed you in August in Third Place nationally. To achieve 97.7% A*/A grades was truly remarkable and we are proud of your success, as I know you families are proud of you:
We are joined also by UV prizewinners, students who have excelled in a variety of ways. For them, the Lower Sixth girls have set a wonderful example and shown what is possible with hard work and dedication.
And finally by the winners of 2 special prizes: the prize for our poet Laureate, and the Nicola Blakeman Music prize generously donated by Clive and Shirley Blakeman in memory of their daughter Nicola, an old girl of the school; and I’m delighted that Clive and Shirley are here today to see Ivy receive that award.
It was the best of times; the best of times.
Where does one start?
Which highlights and precious moments would YOU pick from the wonderful activity and achievements of the last school year?
D of E Awards, Charity events, a Victory against EHS, a part in the school play, a performance in assembly or in this very hall, perhaps.
Or just the atmosphere of a typical buzzing day at KEHS
They were the best of times. They are the best of times.
I hope you look back on the last five years with great fondness.
King Edward’s High School is cloaked in shadows of a distinguished past, but is intensely modern in its outlook. Here, girls are both rounded in their development, and focussed, as they pursue personal passions and set the bar at dizzying heights.
Valued, challenged and inspired, we want our students to enjoy their school days.
I would like to think that we come close to fulfilling TS Eliot’s wish:
“It is in fact, part of the function of education, to help us escape, not from our own time, for we are bound by that, but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our time.”
You won’t be surprised to hear me say that reading offers new windows on different worlds.
In a country where more children own a smart-phone than a book, we pride ourselves at KEHS on the success we achieve in encouraging girls to immerse themselves in independent study through reading to pursue their passions, and to value and appreciate literature.
Books enrich and extend our vocabulary, widening the palette of our thoughts.
Books can absorb us, and we can lose ourselves in an imagined fictional world
Sometimes, I think I would love to walk through a magic secret door, to be briefly transported, not into the past, but into the future, to see you girls in 10 years, 20 years.
As Principal, I am confident that your life stories have the potential to be brilliant. Perhaps one of you will be another reincarnation of Doctor Who….
At my very first Awards evening, 5 years ago, I remember quipping that we would know that equality for women was a reality when we finally had a female Dr Who. And yes,… at last !! … our 13th timelord is a timelady, a woman ………
Jodie Whittaker takes the stage as the latest, multi-talented time traveller in a special episode at Christmas. ………
I sincerely hope that this decision has had nothing to do with pay cuts at the BBC.
But perhaps, just perhaps, at last, we might have a character who can park that amazing Tardis.
In some ways, we are, of course, all time travellers. We reminisce. We put a gloss on the past. We plan. We try to strike a balance and we sometimes pause for breath. As a School, we strive to move forward, to prepare students for an unpredictable future which they will help to shape.
You are remarkable young people in so many ways; in your travels, the academic year 2016/17 is a significant milestone for you; and, at times, along the way, it probably felt like one of those endless DofE trips where the path is always uphill, where you think you will never reach the campsite, and it’s raining.
And for all of you, there will have been hard times, because it is tough to juggle 10 GCSEs with a vast array of extracurricular activity and a social life. And some of you will have also experienced family illness at the same time as working for these important examinations.
So we applaud you as young people and congratulate you on your unprecedented success. Parents will be extremely proud of your achievements, and we share in that pride.
2015 saw our best ever GCSE results, 2016 was better still.
We dared to hope that you girls might match the achievements of our current Upper Sixth, but you exceeded all our expectations.
82%. A*, 97.7% A*/A: outstanding achievements
It’s easy to forget, overlook or under-estimate just how good these results are in a school like this, and indeed, women are often reticent about acknowledging their own strengths. Results days may seem now to be quite a distant memory, so do take the time today to stop, look back at that day in August, and remind yourself how hard you worked and just how successful you were.
And you distinguished yourself of course not just in the excellent examination results but in myriad other ways, some public, some unseen.
Staff spoke very warmly of you as a year group, highlighting your strong work ethic, your support for one another and capacity for hard work.
But let’s not overlook the multitude of factors which underpin the attainment of excellence.
The supportive environment at home; the encouragement young people need and receive from proud grandparents, and thoughtful discerning parents, which enables them to progress, especially when the study feels intense and the next step seems so challenging.
Let’s not forget the teachers, scholars in their own particular disciplines, who climbed the steep ladder in their own specialist field and therefore know what the view is like from near the top. Their infectious enthusiasm drives them to share their learning with each new generation. Let us recognise today the impact of our great teachers.
Amazing girls, amazing staff.
Many of you expressed your thanks to staff on results days but I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the staff, to acknowledge everything they do to inspire and support our pupils, giving generously of their time inside and beyond the classroom and taking delight in seeing them develop, grow in confidence and achieve great things.
(I would like to pay tribute also to those colleagues who left the school in the summer of 2017. Two colleagues were tempted by the allure of retirement; Sally Huxley had worked at KEHS for 13 years and many generations of girls had learnt to cook under her expert eye. Alongside teaching girls basic skills about food preparation, cooking and nutrition, she had introduced a professional qualification in Food Hygiene.
Andrew Wager who had worked at the School for 7 1/2 years, latterly as Head of History, has retired and re-located with his wife to North Yorkshire. Under his quiet and considered leadership the history department flourished and went from strength to strength.
Mrs Azmat had worked at KEHS for many years, teaching Business and Economics and latterly ICT. She had been a stalwart also on the touchlines supporting girls playing netball, playing for the staff team herself and accompanying girls on more than one school trip to New York).
It was the best of times.
Outside KEHS, some might defer these days to the opening lines of Dickens’ Tale of 2 Cities
It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.
It was the age of wisdom. It was the age of foolishness
It was the epoch of belief. It was the epoch of incredulity.
It was the season of light. It was the season of darkness.
It was the spring of hope. It was the winter of despair.
You are growing up in challenging times. I’d like to think that KEHS shields you during your formative years from some of the entrenched attitudes in society. Sexual harassment, firstly exposed in the film industry, and subsequently in politics, shows us that as a society, we are not as liberated as we might like to assume.
We have the first black, female editor of Vogue; but photographers still shamefully airbrush models to fit an idealised yet unrealisable image.
Women, including our own old girl, Rita Chakrabarti, are now more regular contributors to the BBC news programmes . Yet our female role models at the BBC are not able to command the same salaries as their male counterparts.
The 21st century still has a way to go.
In contrast to KEHS, girls continue to be under-represented nationally in Maths and Physics post 16;
Holly Krieger, an academic at Murray Edwards College, in Cambridge, speaks of the leaky pipeline in Maths;
at Masters level women are outnumbered 2-1,
in Research posts 4-1 and at the highest level in academia : male Professors outnumber female professors 15-1.
Unconscious bias is alive and well, I fear, in far too many institutions.
We are proud to educate girls in an environment where they do not learn to accept these socially constructed norms. Among our alumnae, we have women who are confounding stereotypes in multiple spheres of public life. Our speaker at Awards Evening just 2 weeks ago was named in Fortunas top 100 women and heads up an innovative and very successful high tech industry.
KEHS will continue to champion the value of a strong education for women. We will urge our girls to dispel dystopian visions through the positive attitudes they adopt, the human values they espouse, and the perspective and judgement they display in their lives, working purposefully, energetically, for their own well-being and the common good.
As Steve Hawkins said “We are here together and we need to live together with tolerance and respect. We must become global citizens. Our only boundaries are the way we see ourselves, our only borders the way we see each other. We are all time travellers journeying together into the future.
Let us make that future a place we would want to visit. “
Your past success, these phenomenal results, give you roots and a firm foundation; the future will give you opportunities and you will have the wings to soar to new destinations and to new challenges. I am sure that together you will create a future that I would be happy to visit.
Thank you to Rosie and to Charlotte who played at the start of our Speech Day this afternoon:
This afternoon’s speaker embodies many of the characteristics we value and promulgate. Kate’s biography reflects the reality for many young people making choices, following different routes, trying new things and finding their niche in a completely unexpected area. She followed her heart to study Classics, at Nottingham University. You wouldn’t imagine that this would lead her to work in PR for AOL or as a breakfast show assistant for Heart FM and then for a venture capital firm. She moved into the charity sector by chance and has worked for some of our most well-known charities including Great Ormond St Hospital, The NSPCC, and Save the Children.. She rose to prominence, stuck to her principles and works now for the humanitarian organisation Unicef, for the powerless and the dispossessed, as Director of Partnerships and Philanthropy at UNICEF UK.
Colleagues speak of her drive to achieve transformational change for the world’s most vulnerable children. We welcome her to present our prizes this afternoon and we look forward to hearing her speak about her role and her career path too. Please welcome