> Prize Giving
Achievement comes in many different forms, whether it is academic attainment, on the sporting field, through musical excellence, as a result of general endeavour or a specific accomplishment such as full attendance or, quite simply, through meeting individual potential. This evening we will hear about and recognise achievement on many levels – we will celebrate talent, ability and industry. Together, parents, family, friends, staff, pupils, we will share and celebrate the success achieved by our pupils.
I'm very pleased to welcome, ladies and gentlemen, our guest this evening – Professor Ian Montgomery. A past student of Carrickfergus Grammar School, Ian is now Professor of Design and Pro Vice Chancellor for Global Engagement at Ulster University, and was Dean of Ulster University's Faculty of Art, Design and the Built Environment from 2008 to 2016. He was previously Head of Belfast School of Art and Director of the Research Institute for Art and Design both at Ulster University. Ian completed two terms on the Board of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and was a member of the Executive Committee of the Council for Higher Education in Art and Design (CHEAD). He joined the Board of Governors of Carrickfergus Grammar School in 2018 and I extend my deepest gratitude to him and indeed to all our Governors for the constructive and positive contribution they make towards the development of this very fine school.
Honoured Guest Professor Montgomery, governors, staff, parents, past and present pupils, and particularly, most importantly, the class of 2019, I am very pleased to endorse Mrs Baird's words of welcome to you all this evening. We come together this evening to celebrate the achievements and outcomes of students at Carrickfergus Grammar School.
When he has free time, Ian enjoys spending time with his family, walking, gardening, reading, and cycling.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the 2018-2019 school year has been another very busy and highly successful one for Carrickfergus Grammar pupils, both within and outside of the classroom.
Standards and Outcomes
At 'A' Level, I'm absolutely delighted to report that the school has set a new record with an incredible 89.5% of girls achieving 3 or more 'A' Level passes at A*- C. The percentage of all students – girls and boys – achieving 3 or more passes at A*- C has risen by almost 2 percent from last year. Over 96% of students attained 2 'A' Level passes at A*- C.
Congratulations to Daniel Alderdice, Jayne Bell, Evie Bennett, Matthew Graham, Sarah Hendawy, Emma Madden, Anna McAteer, Hannah McKay, Connie Smyth, Nathan Swann and Jonathan Wilson who between them attained a magnificent 33 A* and A grades. A further 9 students attained 2 A*/A grades in their 'A' Level profile. A total of 75 A*/A grades and 88 'B' grades were awarded. This strong A*- B profile represents over 70% of all grades awarded – a fantastic achievement.
Our Year 13 AS students have also hit the ground running, with Matty Baxter, Grace Clarke, Rebecca Irvine, Erin Macquarrie, Amy Marshall, Lyndsey Sleator, Jessica Smyth and Katie Sullivan achieving 28 'A' grades between them, with many more sterling performances from a broad range of subject areas.
Having been placed in league tables in recent months as one of the top two Controlled Grammar Schools in the province for GCSE results, we are also delighted that the 2019 results achieved by our students affirm yet again the very high standards set at this school.
Over 90 per cent of pupils achieved five or more GCSEs grades at A*-C including English and Maths.
Megan Boyd, Ryan Brady, Charlie Dilworth, Bethany Graham, Andrew Moneypenny, Beth Robinson, Daniel Sharpe and Megan Smith all received straight A*/A grades in their GCSE profile, with Daniel Sharpe attaining 10A* grades. Reece Stronge, Mairead O'Mahony, Abby Madden, Erin Johnston, Caitlin Ingram, Joel Hartley, William Gordon, Joshua Davison, Sarah Brown, Lewis Brown and Michael Brodison all received straight A*/A grades and 1 B/C grade.
The proportion of pupils attaining an A*/A grade has risen at the school.
These results once again place Carrickfergus Grammar as a leading selective school in Northern Ireland.
Behind every grade is a story of highs and lows, challenges and opportunities, hard work and effort. We think of ourselves as a big family here at this school. We care greatly for each and every one of these fine young people, and even if they may not realise it when at school, I hope with all my heart that at some point they look back and see that, too. We aren't some big impersonal school here. We strive for the best from all our children. At times that may involve showing tough love, at other times we support and we try to carry them through when necessary.
And I pay tribute to the staff who at all times go above and beyond for our pupils. A highly dedicated and experienced staff who –year-on-year – ensure that our pupils are given every opportunity to excel. I thank them for their hard work and commitment.
And on that note I wish to pay tribute to Mr Kieran Mulvenna, who retired in March. When our 2019 results were published on our social media sites, one parent very rightly commented that the excellence of standards and outcomes were in no small part down to the leadership of this gentleman.
Mr Mulvenna gave 34 years of excellent service to the school, culminating in his role as Principal for the past 10 years. Whilst I only knew Mr Mulvenna for a very short span of that 39 years, indeed for a period of just months as we worked together on transition, I will always remember the sheer professionalism which he brought to the role, his people skills, his love of everything Spanish, and above all, his child-centred approach – totally in line with this school. He is, quite simply, an inspirational leader. In the space of months I became totally indebted to him for his dedication, commitment, advice, wisdom, selfless character and his unending optimism. People tell me that if you wanted to find Mr Mulvenna, it was no good looking in his Office...inevitably he would be in a classroom either teaching or covering a class. His passion for the classroom, and for Modern Languages, was legendary.
Many of you in this hall will have been taught, inspired and empowered to be the very best that you can be by Mr Mulvenna – pupils, past pupils, parents, maybe not grandparents just yet, Kieran. You will have memories – personal memories that no-one else may have – times in the classroom under Mr Mulvenna's tutelage, times when consoling and kind words of guidance have been offered to you, times when his unparalleled humour shone through and made you laugh, times when he enthused you to aspire and achieve. Because that was Mr Mulvenna. One in a million, as far as school principals go. And Carrickfergus Grammar School to the very core – through and through.
When his retirement was announced, one past student said in a post: 'Wishing you a happy retirement. I loved Spanish lessons…always such good fun and I've such happy memories. You always went the extra mile for us all.
It's sentiments like that which remind us just how important and rewarding a career teaching is. Kieran, we all have many happy memories of you and our interactions with you. We hope that you, too, will take many happy memories with you as well into your retirement, and on behalf of us all – thank you for a job – or perhaps in your own case – a calling / a vocation – very, very well done.
I would like to extend to you, Kieran, our best wishes for a healthy and happy retirement, and our thanks for the many, many years of commitment.
I also want to pay tribute to a number of people who have sadly passed away in recent months, and who served this community with great professionalism, energy, gusto and panache.
Firstly Mrs Elaine McBride, former Head of English and one of the most highly regarded and respected members of staff. Elaine passed away earlier this year after years of ill health which she fought with courage and grace. Her indefatigable spirit and her inexorable passion for everything English and CGS-related made her a legend in the eyes of both her staff and students. Never letting her illness affect her work, Elaine gave of her all, and then some more, to ensure she served the school and students she loved with diligence, determination and dedication. We are indebted to her for her service.
Mr Robert Wilkinson, former Vice Principal. Mr Wilkinson worked alongside two Principals to develop this school, and his strategic planning as a school leader was instrumental to the growth and development of the school. Robert, or Rab as he was affectionately known, I am reliably informed was a man of great integrity and honour who always put the school first and who worked tirelessly to ensure that our students got the best possible education any school could offer. Again, we are indebted to him for his service.
And then Dr Gould. Dr Gould was a long standing member of the board of governors - vice chair and then chairperson. He started the Parents' Association, was involved in the set-up of the CGS Trust, and ultimately was given an MBE in recognition of his services to education. He was always very supportive of school events and gave medical advice where appropriate. Dr Gould led the school through periods of challenge and opportunity, and the strength of the school today is in no small part down to his exemplary leadership. Despite having a high profile and very busy career in his own right, Dr Gould made many sacrifices to attend meetings, sub-committees and to steer the school in a great direction.
To the families of Mrs McBride, Mr Wilkinson and Dr Gould, we extend our deepest sympathies.
Ladies and Gentlemen
Amidst all the uncertainties of the world in which we live, despite all the upheaval, the quibbles, the insecurity, the societal change which seems at times to be overbearing, despite the crises which seem to engulf our institutions ever more acutely, health and education included, I want us all this evening to step back and celebrate something which I think we all as a community should view with great pride. In the midst of all the seeming chaos of the world in which we live and despite the shifting sands of society, we have in this community a true constant – something which has remained unchanged and will – with resolve, determination and dedication, remain unchanged in the future. That constant is the high level of education we afford our children in this community – whether in our local Primary Schools or here in the Grammar School, and the unswerving support of this community in getting behind its schools. I'm pleased to welcome the Principals of some of our very fine Primary Schools, and I wish them continued success in the excellent work they do.
I could use this report to rally against the acute cuts we are facing in education, to raise concerns about an education system which is struggling to build effective relationships with school leaders, to rally against the increased accountability of schools which makes the job much more complex and challenging.
But I'm not going to. Because some day I believe there will, once again, be more money for schools. The Education Authority will continue to establish itself as a functioning authority with the education of all our children at its heart, some day in the future there will be a resolution to the political impasse which hinders decision-making, and some day Carrickfergus Grammar School will have the new build it so desperately and richly deserves.
And I am convinced, until that day comes, that as a school we will best serve our children and the community by keeping our focus firmly on preserving that basic and core value of high-quality learning and teaching for the children in our community, and developing their aspiration and opportunities for success. If we do that in spite of the challenges of funding, lack of central support and lack of local decision-making structures, and if we get it right, it will be one of the leading drivers in ensuring that in 10 / 20 /30 /50 years' time, this community which is dear to all our hearts will hold its own and will be a key player on a local, national and international stage. In times of turbulence, education is a key to unlocking potential, to unlocking a future for our children which is rich in terms of satisfaction, opportunity, aspiration. And I, alongside my staff, am absolutely committed to ensuring that our pupils get the highest quality learning and teaching that we can possibly give them. And ladies and gentlemen, the approach of this school to high quality education won't be built on shifting sands of educational fads such as portable technologies, group work, explicit approaches to growth mindset, children researching information on Google with the teacher as a facilitator, skills-based approaches or other so-called generic skills or even dubious learning styles, but rather on the rock of robust, consistent evidence-based research. Some may call our emerging philosophy old-fashioned, but we are utterly convinced it is what will serve our pupils best. A move away from general skills to a strong focus on robust knowledge, with the teacher at the front of the room imparting their expertise in a direct and explicit manner in well-disciplined classrooms, with much emphasis on strategies aimed at embedding knowledge in long-term memory. For us in Carrickfergus Grammar School, every second in the classroom counts, every moment of learning matters.
And what we now refer to here as the Carrickfergus Grammar brand of learning is much more that the nitty-gritty of what happens in the classroom. It is about exposing our staff to the absolute best of educational thinking and offering our pupils the mightiest of opportunities which will give them the edge when they have to compete for jobs. Tomorrow we send a team of staff across to England to the Michaela Community School in Wembley – a school which is doing phenomenal things in inner-city London – all based on strong approaches to aspiration and a focus on knowledge. Next week we sent 18 staff to the first ever Research Educational conference in Dublin, where the greatest thinkers in education will be presenting. In March we bring world-renowned educational writer Tom Sherrington – author of 'The Learning Rainforest' - to Carrickfergus for a day of staff training with ourselves and some of our local Primary Schools, as we move to introduce our new knowledge-rich curriculum – one of the first of its kind in Northern Ireland – into Year 8.
And I am delighted to report this evening that tomorrow, Carrickfergus Grammar School will become the first grammar school in NI to go into partnership with the UK's highly regarded 'Teacher Development Trust' – with the aim of becoming a regional hub of excellence for professional development and educational research – showcasing best practice to schools Northern Ireland.
And ladies and gentlemen the 'Carrickfergus Grammar brand' is all about raising the bar and the sights of our students. It's about the highest aspiration and expectation for our students, it's about a sheer refusal to put labels on our children and a clean-cut dogged and robust focus on high quality learning and teaching without frills, without fads and without the fanfare of initiatives which are here today, gone tomorrow. An education that will give our students the edge that we want them to have. Because we ARE Carrickfergus Grammar School.
And for a few moments before prizes are distributed I want to pause and reflect on a theme which is close to my heart at the moment, that of 'aspiration'.
I could stand here and spew out statistics and percentages for a long time, but sometimes, it's the unquantifiable, the things which cannot be measured in a scientific manner, which need talked about.
And since starting this school, I have sensed pupil aspiration. I see pupils today who, I believe, are in-tune with their goals and what they need to do to achieve them. I see pupils in this school over half-term breaks, over holidays, working hard and revising for upcoming modules with the support of their teachers. I see pupils, ladies and gentlemen, who are prepared to recognise their achievements – pupils who take pride in accepting reward which comes through effort, who are willing to walk across a stage to have their success acknowledged. I see an alignment between the consistently high expectations which we aim to set here at school and the expectations of parents. I sense aspiration on the part of parents. And all that does my heart good.
And achievement and success has happened for many of our past pupils, too, who aspired and who believed. The doctors, lawyers, joiners, mechanics, politicians, dentists, solicitors, teachers, engineers, members of the armed forces and the many other reputable careers of men and women who once attended this fine school, such as Professor Montgomery, as serving Governor of this school and highly successful in his own respective career.
Class of 2019 even though you are leaving the school, the school will never leave you. And as you have embarked on a new journey, hopefully filled with aspiration and ambition for yourselves, so too this school, ladies and gentlemen, is also on a journey.
This year, our thoughts in school turn to the creation of a new 3-year school development plan which will outline the vision for the school up until 2023. Needless to say, it will be exciting and ambitious. As regards standards and outcomes, we will strive to increase the A*-B ratio even further, we will review our curriculum design to ensure that our curriculum meets the needs, aspirations and ambitious of all our students, we will continue to develop leadership capacity in school, and in the realm of pastoral care, we will continue to refine and develop processes which are already showcased across Northern Ireland as examples of outstanding practice, not least in the field of mental health through our award-winning video and highly effective Take 5 event in June.
Having worked in three other schools before now in my 20 years in education – two other grammar schools and a non-selective school - I'm in no doubt that the pastoral care at this school is second to none, the support mechanisms excellent. However I am also in no doubt that the best pastoral care we can give your child is a fantastic set of GCSE and 'A' Level results – results which will keep many, many doors open to them in later life, and will lead to very happy and successful careers.
And the emphasis will always be on the classroom, on learning and teaching, on academia, on aspiration, on ambition and on competition.
Moving forward, I give you my commitment that I will give my all – and more – to serve this school community, and to build upon the many clear strengths which are partly reflected in this evening's celebration of achievement. And on that note I conclude my report – my first, as Principal of this very fine school.