Welcome to Speech Day and to our prize-giving ceremony. May I extend a particular welcome to our guest of honour, Mr Bill Kilby (OB and OBE), and to the rest of the platform party. From your right: Reverend Paula Vennells, Governor; Mrs Jenny Pelling, Governor; Dr Daniel Koch, Vice Master; Mr Phil Wallace, Governor and Trustee; Mr Bill Kilby, our guest of honour; Professor Stephen Mayson, Chairman of Governors and Trustee; Sir Clive Loader, Governor and Chairman-elect; Mr Mark Slater, Governor; and Mr Richard Miller, Governor. To these, and to you all, welcome.
It is great to have Bill Kilby with us today. Bill was here between 1963 and 1974 and we took particular vicarious pride when Bill won an OBE in the latest New Year’s honours list for his exceptional contribution to international development. I stand up here often saying well done for a whole range of achievements, but this is my first school assembly where I have had the chance to say well done for an OBE! Many congratulations, Bill!
Bill has had a fascinating thirty-four-year career in the Department for International Development, having worked on the management of programmes in Fiji, Angola, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Congo, and latterly Kabul where he was the Department’s Deputy Head of Office. When we exchanged emails earlier this year, he was over in Delhi and the Philippines. He has, in summary, devoted his whole working life to helping those far less fortunate than he; and we look forward to hearing from him later.
So, I was driving across Warwickshire a couple of weeks ago to a Head Masters’ conference in Stratford. It was the Friday of Well-being Week at school, and thoughts of mindfulness, a digital detox, and perfectly baked staff cakes were high in the mind. The sun was out and, if you have ever driven the Fosse Way in Warwickshire, you will know that the countryside is really beautiful. What a glorious hour, and (eyes still on the road, I promise) my mind began to wander. I still hadn’t written a speech for speech day. I don’t know about you, but speech writing takes time. It is usually fun, but I have found in my four years here that occasionally, with on average more than one speech a week to write, one feels uninspired for material. It is not a good feeling. The thought occurred to me that today I might have to give a speech about giving a speech, a kind of meta-speech about the agonies of it all. I had already asked my daughter earlier that day for a joke; she simply said, “What makes an octopus laugh? Ten tickles.” I said how am I going to get that into my speech? And then it happened. I went past the signpost for Long Itchington. What a great name for a village. Shades of a long summer’s evening on a bench in the garden, possibly a Pimms in hand, dog stretched out on the lawn on his back, wriggling around trying to get rid of whatever it is that is causing it to scratch. There’s little better, I thought, than a long scratch. It reminds you that you’re alive; and that those worries about the future and regrets about the past only exist in your head. You are fully in the moment; there is nothing else to think of; it is the dog with its feet in the air, in a world of its own. And the theme of well-being suddenly made sense again – it is not the well which is the important bit, but the being. I stopped the car and I sat for a while. The first session of the conference in Stratford was due to be a talk on the future of the Global economy; that could definitely wait. Nobody can predict the future with any certainty; but the current exists and one must not let a beautiful moment pass by unnoticed.
It was as I sat in that layby that I realised. Today, Speech Day, is all about time – and so, in fact, is education more widely. We have a unique opportunity at the end of a school year to stop time altogether for a day and simply to be; to live in the present; to look around us and be thankful for what we have right now. So please enjoy it; it is a really wonderful place. But it is also about both reflection and looking forward. Education in its literal sense means a ’drawing out’ – educere in the latin, to lead out. It implies that something is already born naturally inside us which will develop in the present and serve us in the future. It is not a dissimilar thought to that expressed by John Bargh in his excellent book on the unconscious when he says, “The factory of evolution did leave a number of dials in us that could be fine-tuned, which start out in a default position but which our early experience can adjust”. Or, to look at it another way, as Michelangelo was supposed to have said, “I did not create David; he was already there inside the stone”.
Education helps with the adjusting of that dial, or with the creation of a masterpiece; and it can only really exist properly in so far as reflection is taken seriously. As teachers, we are required to be reflective learners of our own practice. This has led this year, for instance, to teachers taking further degrees to help reflect upon and develop their current pedagogy; to teachers travelling to other schools, and even abroad, to reflect upon their own teaching by leaving their comfort zones; and several others qualifying as inspectors, long considered one of the best ways to improve, by reflecting upon the performance of others. Inspection of course also throws up some great stories:
Gervase Phinn, writer, poet and one time school inspector, recalled a visit to a Yorkshire schoolroom where he came across a piece of writing in small crabbed print: he asked the little boy if he had any help with it. The boy shook his head. Well, it was quite a small masterpiece he had written, and the words were as follows:
Yesterday, yesterday, yesterday:
Sorrow, sorrow, sorrow.
Today, today, today:
Hope, hope, hope.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow:
Love, love, love.
“What a wonderful little poem”, Gervase told the little boy.
The boy thought for a while, looked him straight in the eyes and said: “Those are my spelling corrections, sir.”
We had our own lovely story from an inspection recently, when the inspectors were shut in their first floor room wondering how to prove that we as a school had taught fundamental British values. As they were drawing a blank on this topic, just below them in the porch, a group of overseas boys had gathered and burst out spontaneously, and unbidden, I may add, into a rendition of God Save the Queen.
Reflection is key to self-knowledge, something about which I am as keen as the ancients ever were. You have to know yourself to make sense of how you can make a difference to the world, and hopefully how you can do your little bit to help it. In a moment, we will have some music from some wonderful musicians, during which I will set the challenge to the boys of reflecting upon three events from your time here which you think may shape the way you look at things for the rest of your life. You can talk about them with your parents afterwards. But I think it is only fair for me to give three, too, to set the ball rolling. This, believe it or not, was what came to me sitting in that layby just outside Long Itchington; and these have helped me to understand myself – well, the ones I am prepared to admit to at any rate! The first was the decision by my parents to send me to the Avorians Cricket Club at the age of 13. The reason was not the cricket, but instead the fact that I would be the only independent school boy in the whole club. I was ribbed mercilessly, as you might imagine, for my accent and anything else which even remotely equated to money. Both I, and my new friends, bonded and I loved it. It taught me that I was the unusual one, not them; that with privilege comes responsibility (as the boys so often hear me say) and that you must show respect to all, no matter what colour, background or creed; we are all equal. The second was when I had to ask my Physics teacher, when I was 15, if I could miss every double Physics period four and five on a Saturday to play 1st team cricket. He was a fearful man and I dreaded knocking on his door to ask. He actually said nothing, but simply slammed the door in my face. I took a deep breath and tried again. This time we spoke; and he finally agreed. It taught me that you have to keep trying and that a little persuasion and respect can go a long way. Lastly, as a junior accountant at Ernst and Young, I remember walking along the streets of London to a tax exam that I knew I was going to fail. I had never had that feeling before; I am sure the boys won’t have had it either, but maybe some of the parents can remember it! Or Governors? It is honestly one of the worst, pit of the stomach, feelings I have ever experienced. It taught me that things will not always just work out fine; you have to work hard and prepare properly.
So we pause now in time; and we pause for some music; and use that time, boys, to reflect on what makes you who you are. The brass ensemble has been amazing this year; and they really love playing and enjoying each other’s company. You can’t keep them away from occasions like this, I am glad to say! They will perform Kalinka, by Ivan Larionov.
I’ve searched hard to dig up some glitch in this year’s Head of School’s character. I knew it would be hard; I have not heard a bad word said about him; I can’t get his friends to spill the beans; and I scoured past reports and merits and concerns. Well, he has had no concerns, ever, and some of his merits were for things like:
“Frankie (Fifth Form at the time) had a free period today and asked to stay in my A-Level lesson to see what it was like.”
“Thank you, Frank, for volunteering to help out with stewarding for the Choral Society concert last night – much appreciated!”
“Thank you, Frank – for generally being polite and well-mannered- holding the door open etc.”
At that point I gave up. Frank Hearnshaw is a genuinely nice guy! He has also been a lovely Head of School and he’d like now just to say a few final words before he sails off into the sunset.
We say goodbye this year to nine teaching staff members.
Malcolm Green, our outstanding Head of Woodwind and Brass, joined the school 37 years ago and leaves today. Mr Green has been an inspirational teacher of music; and anybody who was at his farewell concert earlier in the term will know what he means not just to the boys, but also to his peers and to generations of old boys. His standing ovation, lengthy as it was, was entirely earned. He has taught Alastair Cook and Al Murray, and claims that if they had just stuck to music, they might have made something of their lives. He has been a housemaster, tutor, friend and guide; and generations of Bedfordians owe much to his kindness and expertise.
Aidan Huxford, Head of Spanish and Housemaster of Bromham, who has taught here for 31 years, has gone about his business, in the Day Houses he has run, in the languages department (he is a genuine linguaphile), and with camera in hand in the most effervescent and energetic of ways; so much so, in fact, that we have failed to find a replacement and he has kindly agreed to stay until Christmas to enable us to do so. Mr Huxford is one of life’s enthusiasts, full of awful jokes and extraordinary anecdotes. Many will not know that he is the only person I am aware of on staff who has been a Head Master before; his week in charge of that school in Zaire would have been a fun week! We are glad that we have him for one more term.
Shaun Atkins, our wonderful Chaplain, leaves us after nine years. Shaun told me recently that he had never seen an advert for this job, nor indeed ever contemplated school chaplaincy. He was given the tip-off by a friend when he was working in church ministry in Oxford, who advised Shaun to apply for it so that he didn’t have to himself! The life of a Chaplain is only ever part known to the rest of us. What we see – the erudite and thought provoking sermons, the philosophical sixth form RE debates, the everyday kindnesses to staff and pupils – is the tip of an iceberg which also includes weddings, funerals, ash scattering, tombstone laying, counselling and support of OBs, ex-staff, relatives of the community, local dignitaries and others whom we would not routinely see on a day-to-day basis. We have been hugely lucky to have such an intelligent, humble, approachable and kind Chaplain to the whole community and we wish him well.
Alastair Tighe, our Deputy Head (Academic) for the last five years, went one further than Shaun. Alastair did see the advert; he did apply; but when the longlisting of candidates happened, somebody had lost his application. It was right at the end of the meeting that one of the committee piped up, “Wasn’t there a musician in the pile somewhere?” His application was found, and that led to five years of further good fortune for Bedford. Mr Tighe has made a phenomenal impact upon the academic life of the school in his time here. Results have climbed, but more importantly he has engendered an academic liveliness in the school to match all of its other great qualities. He tells me that he has an enormous office next term at Wells Cathedral School, where he will be Head Master. As owner not only of one of the cleanest minds in the school, but also probably the messiest desk of any deputy in history, he will need it! He will be a wonderful Head and their gain is certainly our loss.
Mike Herring leaves for a job at Merchant Taylors’ school after six years in the History Department. If it were just a history teacher we were losing, that would be one thing; but Mr Herring is also Assistant Housemaster in Pemberley, Master-in-charge of Tennis, Oxbridge coordinator, Head of Model United Nations, convener of law applications for UCAS, a Duke of Edinburgh leader and coach of rugby and hockey. His jobs have been split next term between seven different people! Mike has been the consummate schoolmaster and will be fantastic in London too.
Fraser Elliott cut his teaching teeth here aged 21 straight out of Cambridge and now leaves for Westminster School after four years. Fraser has become integral to the success of the Maths Department, leading our Maths Challenge team to the National Finals last year and taking charge of, and speaking regularly at, the Pythagorean’s Society.
Richard Campbell leaves the Geography Department after three years to move to Leicester Grammar School. As Academic Year Head in the Fourth Form, he has set up a new post and left no stone unturned and many a boy has benefited from his forensic approach.
James Nicholls, who has been as good a maternity cover in Art as any full-time teacher could ever have been, deservedly joins Stowe on a full-time basis.
In further thanks, I’d like to mention briefly three more groups of people. The Old Bedfordians are hugely supportive of the school. OBs help out here with careers events, advice, talks on academic subjects; they have hosted receptions all over the world; and they have been good to us financially as well. I’d like to thank David Murray and Craig Mitchell in particular in their roles as President and Chairman for all their support of the school, and also Lance Feaver in his role as Chair of the Bedford School Foundation.
The Governors are an extraordinarily talented and committed group of men and women, who give up a huge amount of their own time and expertise to support and guide the school. Much of their excellent work goes unseen by most of the community, but I see a lot of it close up, and we are incredibly lucky to have them. This year, two Governors retire from the team. Richard Miller has been an outstanding Staff Elected Governor; having been vice master here as a staff member himself, he displayed balance, diplomacy and charm in equal measure and I do hope that we will continue to see much of him and his wife Peta here at school. The most senior farewell of the whole day, however, goes to our Chairman of Governors, Professor Stephen Mayson. It is impossible to overestimate the importance of Stephen’s service to this school. A parent between 1989 and 1999, he then re-joined the school as a Governor three years later in 2002 and became Chair of Governors in 2010. It really is difficult to sum up his contribution in just a few words, but it is true to say that his effect on the school has been transformative. He has been at almost every sub-committee meeting in that time, let alone full committee, and the vast majority of major and very many minor events. Julie, his wife, has shared his season ticket and has been marvellous throughout. Stephen is a man who rarely holds fewer than five or six jobs down at the same time; I have no idea how he does it all. But I do know that Bedford School owes him a great debt. Simply, on behalf of all of us, thank you.
And lastly, but by no means least, to you parents. I thank you all for your support this year and the trust you have shown in us. We, for our part, are well aware that we have the most responsible of jobs, as well as the most wonderful.
So just before I draw to a close, and in the spirit of reflection, a few highlights of the year gone by, if I may. Last year, I reflected via statistics. This time, I have decided not to include, arguably the best summer term of sport ever, with cricketers and rowers phenomenally successful, but instead have chosen to go for my top 10 more obscure and unusually extraordinary stories from the year gone by, simply to give you an idea of the range of activity here.
- The opening of the school’s first flight simulator. Bought by the Bedford School Trust, the DT department then built a replica cabin for it and you can now fly to any airport in the UK from the CCF hut.
- A group of Bedford School pupils taking part in pioneering research into a tropical disease called Human Whipworm, which affects millions of children in third world countries, and which led to Laurence Pleuger in the Lower Sixth being asked to work with the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge.
- Will Barnes, who went to Cambridge, Westminster and Lambeth Palace in search of Bedford School memorabilia to include in his own Bedford School archive exhibition.
- Harry Beard winning second prize in Ernst and Young’s National Young Entrepreneurs’ competition.
- Ethan Vernon riding his bicycle for Wales in the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane at Easter. That doesn’t happen to a schoolboy very often!
- Edwin Chan coming runner up in Corpus Christi’s Peter Cane prize for legal reasoning with an analysis of Section 6 of the Human Rights Act, in his second language.
- Daniil Dulgeru writing his own version of the famous Dijkstra’s Shortest Path algorithm as part of a boy-led Algorithm of the Month competition.
8, 9 and 10. Alex Watson was selected for the Britten Sinfonia’s composer hub; Jonathan Blake will be having his compositions played at the Royal Opera House; Flik Feng is having his compositions played by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. These boys are 17, 16 and 16 years old respectively.
And on that note of genuine excellence, Alastair Tighe will take my place at the lectern as I ask Bill Kilby OBE to step forward to present the prizes. Thank you.
After Bill Kilby…
Ladies and Gentlemen; thank you all so much for coming. I do hope that you will stay to join us afterwards for a drink outside to help celebrate the year. I have one more ceremonial duty to perform before we all go outside for a drink. Could the current Head of School please come to the stage. I will now announce next year’s Senior Four, and invite next year’s Head of School to the stage to receive a handover from Frank, and to lead us all from the stage.
Next year’s Senior Four are:
- Rahul Sheemar
- Silas Sanders
- Felix Mallalieu (who will be Deputy Head of School)
- And the Head of School for 2018/9 will be Will Barnes. Please come on up, Will.
Thank you and have a great summer.