The Head Master's address to the school community at prizegiving

On Friday 8th September the school came together to celebrate the 2016/2017 academic year at prizegiving. The Head Master was one of those to address the school community in the Cathedral, his speech can be seen below:

Mr Chairman, Bishop Graham and Mrs James, My Sheriff, Sheriff’s Lady, My Lord Mayor, Lord Mayor’s Consort, Prime Warden, Members of the Worshipful Company of Dyers, Ladies and Gentlemen, members of the School. It is a pleasure to add my welcome to our celebratory ceremony in this wonderful space, especially as it gives us a chance to share with parents and other guests a building which we are able to enjoy daily as a school community.

An occasion indeed! However, you will forgive me if a mere Head Master is intimidated by the collective might behind me. There are some fearsome reputations and not a little bling back there, a situation made worse by the fact that I cannot see their reaction to what I am saying. My response is to conjure images of them in less scary settings, like the Ridiculus spell in Harry Potter. I take myself back to the Bishop trampling around in a bowl of custard and the Lord Mayor on a zipwire during his celebrations. There might have been an even better one; when the Lord Mayor attended our Gala Night in the summer, he was so taken with the Abba medley that I thought he might soon be on the tables. I have not got anything on the Sheriff, but this evening is yet young.

I have always been struck by the quality of our leaders in Norfolk and have no doubt that part of their strength comes from their refusal to take themselves too seriously. We are lucky to have them in office and with us here this evening; thank you to you all and your consorts. I can honestly say that I have never heard the Bishop speak badly in secular or religious setting and I know we are in for a treat when he addresses us later.

At occasions such as these in recent years, I always end up saying something to the effect that we live in interesting times. Yet you would have to concede that it is relevant now. I recall stories of bankers hiding their professions in polite conversation after the crash of 2008 for fear of hostile reaction. It sometimes feels that those involved with independent schools might be on the same path, such is the media agenda to report on this sector being responsible for so many educational and societal woes.

I find it frustrating that the independent sector is portrayed as if actively trying somehow to entrench social immobility or at least being complicit in its existence. I doubt there is anyone here who is in favour of entitlement, unmerited privilege, of benefits which are not deserved. Indeed, the pupils here tonight will take a very dim view of being told that their prizes tonight are not just rewards for their considerable endeavours.

What always strikes me in schools of any sort is that the vast majority of adults working in them are driven by a simple commitment to do the best for the pupils in their care. Teachers are, of course professionals, but for me teaching is a vocation and there are different situations in which to follow it. We are all aware of how fortunate we are to be involved with this school: our setting is unique and our independence allows us to choose the curricula and activities which best suit our pupils; our independence allows us to make decisions on educational rather than political grounds, including proper resourcing.

We understand that such an involvement carries responsibilities, not least because we function as a charity. We have a duty to be involved with the local community as a beacon of good practice in the local area and further afield. The benefits of such collaborations are mutual and we wish to actively create such contact. We must do all we can to be accessible to families of all types through the provision of means-tested assistance and the sharing of our facilities. And perhaps most important of all, we must educate the young people who attend this school in such a way that they can use the skills and values acquired here to lead and serve the 21st century world into which they move from the Close. I do want to give our pupils a competitive advantage, just not in the way the media suggest: I don’t want them to get the university place or job just because they went to Norwich School. I want them to get that place or role because they are demonstrably the best candidates, because they will improve the situation around them, whatever it is, based on the quality and range of experiences they have enjoyed in their time with us. If we have got it right, they will all be engines for societal improvement.

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Now, for the important part of this section, the report on different aspects of the 2016/17 year, I shall now hand over to the real leaders of the school, the red gown team, led by this year’s Head of School, Phoebe Crane.

Thank you, red gowns. I should like to close by drawing your attention to the magnificent staff body sitting behind me, both teachers and non-teachers. I pick them out because they are the people who make possible all the pupil achievements you have just heard about right across the spectrum of school activity. So often their commitment goes beyond the professional as to be in the vocational. Please join me in thanking them.