The following text is an edited excerpt of the Principal's Address at Speech Day 2016. A full version of the speech may be found here.
You will not be surprised to hear me say that as I present my third speech as Principal, the 2015/2016 academic year was another busy one with many twists and turns; I quickly realised that, if I were to cover every aspect of school life, I could easily be talking to you for over an hour. I have tried to cover a lot of ground but you will be glad to hear that I have erred on the side of caution and have chosen to report on my highlights of the year, and in doing so will not touch on many areas of school life. Forgive me, if yours is one. Hopefully what I have captured will be an appropriate reminder of the diversity within this school and the many hours of hard work over-and-beyond job descriptions by our dedicated team of staff (both teaching and non-teaching) whom I very much enjoy working with within this school.
We welcomed Stephen Gilmore to our community as Vice Principal last year and as anticipated (given the reputation that went before him) he arrived like a whirlwind and made an immediate impact at all levels, especially in the fashion stakes. He has made the dark art of understanding data finally seem like child’s play and, one year in, I can confidently say that not only are we seeing his strategic vision for improvement within this area, coupled with significant progress; but more importantly, we now can actually understand him and his phraseologies considerably better. The pupils in particular now recognising that, ‘Hold your whist’ means stop complaining and just get on with it.’
Given the nature of schools and teaching, movement is a natural part of an academic year. Two well-established members of staff have left us, having both being promoted to the position of Head of Department. Hamish Matheson has moved to St Malachy’s as Head of English and Gareth Bond to Wellington College as Head of History. Amanda Crossthwaite remains with us for another year as temporary teacher of English and Drama, with Sarah Ryan joining the English Department for the 2016/2017 year. Caelan Moreland has joined the History and Politics department temporarily and Deanna Martin is covering Dr Cunningham’s maternity leave in Chemistry. Internally, Philip Cartmill has been promoted to the post of Shared Education Coordinator and Andrew Gray is our new Literacy Coordinator, following Hamish’s departure.
In terms of pupils progress it has been another very good year for the school, with many awards and accolades being received. Academically we continue to see an upward three year trend at all levels. At the top end in A2, 3 pupils – Mitchell Davison, Curtis Irvine and Peter McEachearn each secured 3 A* grades and are now respectively reading Medicine at Queen’s, International Relations at Durham and History and International Studies at Queen’s and 10 pupils achieved A* and/or A grades in their A2 portfolio.
At AS, for those completing four AS subjects, 9 pupils achieved straight A grades and amongst those completing three AS subjects, 7 received straight A grades. At GCSE, given the diversity of this year group, we were delighted that they exceeded the targets set by the School, with the A* - B measurement being very encouraging. Nine pupils achieved A* and/or A grades, with Adam McConnell receiving an outstanding 10 A* grades.
In terms of the wider life of the school and our extensive extra-curricular programme there is always much to celebrate, given the breadth of talent within our student body. We are the current holders of the NI Schools’ Debating Cup, in which Bangor Grammar defeated Abbey Grammar, Newry (another all boys’ school). Under the tutelage of Mr Sam Wolfenden (Head of History), Luke McWatters and Curtis Irvine (Head Boy and Deputy Head Boy respectively) gave a sterling performance in the final held at Parliament Buildings in Stormont in May. The calibre of debate was outstanding and far beyond any level of debate many an adult could succeed in. The Junior and Senior Debating Societies in general are amongst the largest in the school, running weekly, giving many boys the opportunity to debate in front of their peers. On the occasions that I am able to attend I hear confident, articulate arguments, astute questions being asked from the audience and see pupils eager to be involved.
Martin Ozarek in Year 10 won a prize in the UK-wide “Animation 16” competition run by the University of Manchester’s School of Computer Science. He was invited to attend the prize ceremony in the National Media Museum in Bradford in July. This is a tremendous achievement given that approximately 1,400 students entered the competition and only 27 prizes were awarded. On hearing of this achievement I asked to see him to discuss what had been involved. I was firstly stunned by his knowledge of climate change on sea levels rising (which was the main theme of his animation) but more than that delighted that attendance at the Computer Club (led by Mr Daniel McShane) had sparked a real passion within him, which I am proud to say is reflective of so many of the clubs and societies running in this school, as I hope you are hearing/will hear.
Joshua Martin of Year 11 won the ‘Mayor’s Award’ in the North Down Borough Council annual awards for his resilience and well documented battle with cancer last year.
Class 9HMM and their teacher Amanda Crossthwaite, have been added to the Renaissance Learning Honour Roll as a Master Class for the 2015/16 academic year and given our prowess within this area of the past few years, I am therefore very pleased to announce that we have received a letter indicating that we have been shortlisted to attend an awards ceremony in London for being among the Top 3 Performing Secondary Schools in Northern Ireland in terms of our implementation of Renaissance Star Reading and Renaissance Accelerated Reader. Mrs Ann Cowdrey, our Librarian, along with the English Department are instrumental in encouraging the boys to read, with, as you have heard, outstanding results.
Not surprisingly in an all boys school, a number of boys continue to perform at the highest level in their chosen sport. James Skelton from Year 8 is the Ulster Schools Individual Champion in the Under 13 age group for table tennis. Harry Dow was selected to represent Ulster in Hockey at U16 level and this year is playing at U18 level. Tom Matheson was playing for the Northern Ireland U18 Football team AND for the second year in a row Mark Stoops was selected to represent Ulster in the Interprovincial Swimming championships in May. He was also a member of the winning Ulster Interprovincial Team that won the Swim Ireland Schools Championships 2016 in Dublin. Craig McMeechan is the Irish U17 Clubs Cross Country Champion.
At the Irish Athletics Championships, Aaron Sexton broke the Irish record winning the Intermediate 100m in 10.86 secs. He then went on to win the Intermediate 200m in 21.87sec. Jakob Swann is the Irish Champion in the Minor 800m and overall the BGS Intermediate Team were ranked 2nd in Ireland on the day.
In Rugby, Matthew Agnew has been playing for Ulster at U19 level, with Zach Kerr and Aaron Selected at U18. Gareth Wells, Ben McCrossan and Riley Westwood are playing for the U16 team having been selected prior to the end of the academic year. Proof that Jason Morgan’s improvement strategy is working.
As an aside, last term BGS became one of only five schools in NI selected to be part of the Ulster Rugby School Academy, testament to the hard work put in by all of our rugby coaches, who might I add, bar two are full time teachers with a heavy teaching commitment. Given the prowess that being involved with the Ulster Rugby Schools Academy brings to us, thank you to Jason Morgan, Phil Cartmill, Stewart Henry, Gavin Nicholl, Colin Hunter, Gareth Bond, Hamish Matheson, David Kennedy, Neal Nowotarski, Stephen Robinson, Sammy Sinclair and Stephen Beggs, especially given the incredible number of hours each of you dedicate outside of the classroom and at weekends.
The pupils continue to avail of a wealth of opportunities in this school, some over and above the extra-curricular programme. Last year saw three big school trips. The annual ski trip, under the care of Mr Myles Christy saw 40 Year 9 – 11 boys going to New Hampshire just before Christmas. Mr Gavin Nicholl and Mrs Katharina Nicholl led a Year 9 and 10 German Exchange Trip to Lachendorf in mid June, where boys stayed with host families and had the opportunity to experience school life in Germany first hand. Mrs Catherine Henry and Mr Mark Robinson led a Year 11 trip to Salamanca in Spain for 5 days at the end of June. These boys also stayed with host families from the Academia Isla, with the boys gained a valuable insight into Spanish culture and heritage as well as developing their language skills.
Katrina Payne and Daire Cunningham directed sterling performances of Macbeth and Taming of the Shrew in the Christmas term last year, with the former also being performed at The Mac Theatre as part of the Schools Shakespeare festival.
The Combined Cadet Force continues to grow, with in excess of 300 cadets involved across the two schools – BGS and Glenlola Collegiate, making us the largest contingent in NI and one of the largest in the UK. The Annual Inspection took place at BGS on Wednesday 14th April and Brigadier Rowe was highly impressed by what he saw and was extremely complementary about the staff and pupils involved. I will take this opportunity to congratulate Cath Cardwell on her promotion to Contingent Commander, following Alan Mackie’s retirement from the role after many years of dedicated service to the School. This dedication resulted in him being awarded an MBE last year.
There has always been a very positive culture of charity in this school and last year was no exception. The Annual Sponsored Walk alone raised just over £10,750 which was split between 7 charities chosen by each year group, with the overall total for the year being a staggering £22,003. Thank you to Mrs Kerry Will, Fred Gilmour, Mrs Ann Cowdrey and Dr Sharon Cunningham and the associated charities committee of 18 Sixth Form pupils who work tirelessly throughout the year. Thank you also to the parents, pupils and staff for giving generously.
Indeed the opportunities do not end with the pupils. One of our key action plans last year focused on the area of staff wellbeing and, as part of this, the 'Couch to 5K' programme ran within the school. A dedicated group of teaching and non-teaching staff participated, training together twice a week under the motivational expertise of Joe Wilson and Katie Bloomfield. The training programme culminated in the group’s participation in the Stormont Park Run on 18th June, with all members of the team successful completing the run.
The Remembrance Service this year in the School proved to be a rather special one, given the attendance of Mr Lowden whose brother had been one of our pupils who had died during the war. In his 90th year, he was a delight to chat to and had clearly felt the loss of his brother deeply, speaking about him with palpable emotion. His attendance made the event very ‘real’ for the pupils, given Mr Lowden’s age and connection.
The reality of war was brought back to BGS when a group of 25 boys from Year 10 and Year 14, led by Mr Stephen Gilmore and accompanied by Mr Gavin Nicholl and Mr Gary Greer, travelled to Amiens in France on 28th June, to participate in the official commemoration service for the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 2016 in conjunction with the British Council. Our boys found themselves thrown onto the world stage, some finding themselves on the front pages of national broadsheets alongside David Cameron the following morning. It proved to be a very privileged, emotional and humbling experience for all involved.
The theme of war continues. As part of BBC School Report, four Year 10 boys were filmed in the first term by the BBC (NI) reading war poetry they had written. We were delighted when the same boys, Joshua Hardy, Ben Emerson, Callum McDaid and Adam Crothers were asked to repeat their performance at The Proms in the Royal Albert Hall in late July. Whilst admitting to being incredibly nervous (who wouldn’t be addressing thousands of people) the pupils thoroughly enjoyed the experience and recognised what a privilege this was for them as well as for the school.
Last year saw the school joining with St Columbanus’ College and Bangor Academy & Sixth Form College under the Shared Education programme. Funding has been secured from the Education Authority with exciting action plans rolling out throughout the next three academic years. Each school has appointed a coordinator; ours as already mentioned is Philip Cartmill, to oversee the progress in their own school and to work together to advise the Principals and guide each school’s work within this new initiative. In the 2016/2017 year each school hopes to achieve the Rights Respecting School Award, to appoint Anti-Bullying Ambassadors and to hold joint Student Council meetings. Year 8 pupils across the three schools will collaborate this year on a joint project entitled, ‘Sharing Our Past, Present and Future.’
Given the closeness and camaraderie within in the Bangor Learning Partnership, last year saw a very public display of unity alongside the PSNI from the four Post-Primary Principals, when we met with Chief Inspector McGrath following the unexpected publicity surrounding the joint letter sent out by the schools last November outlining our concerns about the availability of drugs at the bus and train station, a place frequented by many of our pupils on a daily basis. It was a robust meeting and resulted in a ‘Drugs Awareness Day’ being arranged for all pupils in Year 13 across the four schools hosted in Glenlola Collegiate. This took place in January and was followed up internally with Adele Wallace, whose son Owen died from a drug overdose, addressing our own Year 11 and 12 pupils on the reality and dangers of experimenting with drugs.
As a school we are increasingly starting to shine in key areas of Education. John Titterington (ST responsible for ICT) led a breakaway session at the Inspire School Leaders Conference on ‘The Use of Fronter’. Bangor Grammar is being showcased as a centre of good practice in this area.
The Education Authority have been using us as a model of good practice in the area of KS2 – KS3 transition under the direction of Mr Gary Greer. This saw Mr Chris Turner, Mr Philip Ramsey, Mr Hamish Matheson and Mr Jonathon Todd engaging with our primary school counterparts and supporting them with Technology and Design Projects, ICT, Literacy and Numeracy.
We continue to be involved with Queen’s University Belfast, thanks to Mr Neal Nowotarski in the Project 500 programme which enable Year 8 and P7 pupils from local primary schools to enhance literacy in Science.
Martyn Nesbitt continues to run a very dynamic Continuous Professional Development programme within the School, with regular Teach Meets for staff keen to learn new strategies from each other. This has included staff from our neighbouring schools and Martyn now has a local and national following through Twitter of his @BGSTeachBetter on line magazine which is amazing and in part reflective of high quality teaching strategies employed within this school by many of the staff in front of me today. This is another example of the dynamism and thirst for improvement starting to emerge within the staff body and in this school in general.
Many of you will remember Peter Clarke being one of the pupils who received The David McMurray Cup for overcoming hardship last year, given his battle with a brain tumour. Sadly Peter is losing his battle with cancer and is currently in the Children’s Hospice in Glengormley. His year group, the current Year 14, have been amazing - sending him messages of support, getting a flag made with all their sixth form photos on it and generally going the extra mile to offer support. In particular his closest friends, Head of Year (Fred Gilmour) and Form Teacher (Sam Wolfenden) have faithfully visited over the summer months when we realised that the disease had taken a sinister turn for the worst and who now are regular visitors at the Hospice. Indeed I got a text message from his mum on Tuesday evening informing me that there were a group of 14 in the room including parents and boys and that Peter was enjoying the craic.
Spending time with Peter and his family has been a continual reminder of the importance of living life day to day as I have already reiterated to the boys this year in assembly. We can all learn and be inspired by how Peter had dealt with his diagnosis. With grace, determination, immeasurable bravery and a tenacity of spirit that is remarkable in one so young. We will continue to support him and his family as he faces the final stages of his battle but what is certain is the impact he has made on this community which will continue to inspire for many, many years to come.
A Level students and staff from the History and Politics departments have visited Washington DC for the previous two presidential elections and were able to witness at first hand Barack Obama becoming the first African American president.
In late October, 29 Sixth Form students, accompanied by Mr Wilson, Mr Dickson, and Mr Wolfenden, set off from school to fly to Washington via Dublin. After a relaxing but lengthy flight, we arrived in Washington and checked in to the Harrington Hotel. Our first evening was occupied by a walking tour of Washington by night, the highlight of which was seeing the White House itself.
The following day October 27th was spent on tour of the National Mall, War Memorials and the Lincoln, Jefferson and MLK memorials. Our scheduled visit to Arlington cemetery was postponed due to inclement weather and we sought shelter in the National Museum of American history instead. On October 28th, we were treated to a pizza lunch by the Northern Ireland Bureau in Washington and given a briefing on the election by Norman Houston, our man in DC who was accompanied by his counterpart from the Irish Embassy.
Saturday morning was occupied by a visit to the Eastern Market district where there was a range of stalls selling arts and crafts and food. In the afternoon we went to Galludet University to watch a college American Football fixture. This was one of the highlights of our trip; not only because we saw an exciting game but because Galludet is a university for the deaf and hard of hearing and we got an insight into how these students coped with their disabilities. To witness the anthem being signed at the start of the match was an amazing experience.
On Sunday morning we visited the National Holocaust Museum which records the genocide inflicted on the Jewish people by the Nazis. This was a particularly sombre and moving experience for all of us.
Politics was the theme for Monday and Tuesday. On Monday we were hosted on Capitol Hill by Senator Joe Donnelly from Indiana and briefed by Andrew Lattaner his legislative chief. Mr Donnelly’s staff then led us on a very informative tour of Congress including the House of Representatives’ chamber. Monday evening, we renewed our acquaintance with Ben Baker who took us all out to dinner. Ben is a very generous man and friend of the school who also has experience of working at the highest levels of the US government. His guidance, assistance and encouragement to us have been invaluable.
Most of Tuesday was spent at St Alban’s School which is on the site of the National Cathedral. The Vice Principal Peter Kelly kindly looked after us and, in a packed programme, we watched a soccer match, had dinner and competed against St Alban’s in a debate - in which they were victorious. Thanks to Cal Ritchie, Adam Bell and Maté Zoltan for their contributions to the debate. After a quick tour of the Supreme Court we flew back home on Wednesday November 2nd. The election took place on November 8th and Donald Trump will soon be installed as President. We can only imagine how the USA will emerge after four years of Trump rule. Thank you to all the boys who travelled with us, to my colleagues who accompanied me, to those in school who covered in our absence and the staff who helped with the organisation of the trip. To boys currently in Year 10 and 11 - start saving for Washington 2020!
J Wilson, Head of Politics
BGS PUPIL WINS NATIONAL ANIMATION AWARD
My winning entry in the Animation 16 competition was an animated video sequence about the increasing threat of climate change. This topic caught my attention when I found out about the detrimental impact it could have on our world. I realised how much of a problem this issue could be to our society, so I created this video.
The one minute long video focused mainly on sea level rise (a problem occurring due to climate change) and the decisions and preparation the population of coastal and landlocked communities will have to take. Sea level rise occurs due to large amounts of Carbon Dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere, this causes ice caps to melt and sea levels to rise, but since the icecaps have melted down so much it cannot be reversed. (Source NASA)
The actual animation was a shot of a church on a small island. This church rotates 180 degrees and the camera moves below the water, showing a destroyed city and floating abandoned cars.
This idea came from my home country Slovakia, where there is a lake called (Oravská priehrada or Orava Lake) where several small communities were flooded out of their homes by the Czechoslovakian government. The houses were not destroyed and the road still leads underwater; one town was even partially submerged (Námestovo). But most creepy and sad is the church which once stood on top of a hill, and now sits barely out of the water, surrounded by partially submerged graves which are still visible.
While visiting this area a couple of years ago we visited the museum which has been made inside of the church for the town people of the submerged towns (Slanica, Osada, Hámre, Lavkovo, Ústie, Bobrov and Námestovo.) It struck me that this could become a common occurrence later in this century.
I hope that winning this this competition will help me come closer to my goal of a career in computer science, more specifically computer animation.
Year 8 visit W5 ‘Destination Space’ Workshop
The entirety of Year 8, split over two days, visited W5 in Belfast to attend the ‘Destination Space’ workshop currently running there. The boys also got an opportunity to explore the exhibition floors. The event itself was run by W5, backed by the UK Space Agency, linking to Tim Peake’s space exploits earlier this year. The visit was timed to coincide with the Year 8 Science course where boys are about to start a booklet on Space, and it certainly seems to have piqued their interest in ‘the final frontier’.
The Next Level provides the foundations for students to succeed in Sixth Form. The programme gave the Year 13 students a range of techniques and tools to make more effective and informed decisions for themselves. Students were introduced to multiple intelligences and examined the role of the 'Growth Mindset' in success; looking at why some people crumble in the face of challenge, while others thrive on it. The programme included a range of individual and group activities based around memory techniques, revision strategies, time management, teamwork and problem solving, encouraging them to have a ‘can do’ attitude.
We started off this year’s fundraising with a MacMillan Coffee Morning in September where the boys were able to buy cupcakes from the canteen and the staff enjoyed a wonderful break in the staffroom, with goodies supplied by the classroom assistants, raising £483.08 in the process.
Our first Non Uniform Day was in October to raise funds for Alaistair Bull, a Year 10 pupil, raising £1,867.34. Children In Need was great fun again this year with the Year 14 in Fancy Dress and everyone else wearing something spotty. At break the staff had a wonderful feast in the staffroom and at lunch boys got to throw wet sponges at Year 14 and play Beat The Goalie against some very brave staff. A fantastic £1,655.81 was raised for a great charity .
The response was great and St Vincent De Paul were thrilled with how much was collected and said it would make a big difference to a lot of families at Christmas. The annual Christmas Carol Service raised £689.60 to be divided between The Abaana New Life Choir and Action Cancer. The Christmas Non Uniform Day raised £1,014.64 for Coo Rom Bangor Grammar and Nursery School in Gulu, Uganda. Instead of giving Christmas cards, the staff donated to Action Cancer, raising a further £180.
The annual Christmas Carol Service is a true sign of the imminent arrival of Christmas. It marks, for many Bangor Grammar pupils, and staff, that the festive season is about to begin. Once again the music department have not failed to disappoint and the variety of talent that was on offer this year was spectacular. From a moving a cappella version of Silent Night to the obligatory performance of Sleigh Ride it was a night very much enjoyed by performers and audience members alike.