Principal's Report 2012-13

Presented at the Annual Prize Distribution in the Whitla Hall of Queen’s University Belfast on Wednesday 16 October 2013

Mr Chairman, Dame Mary Peters, Deputy Mayor Beattie, Miss Rainey, Distinguished Guests, Governors, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, I present to you my sixth Annual Report. 

I add my words of welcome to those of the Chairman in welcoming our guest of honour, Dame Mary Peters.  Mr McVeigh will later outline the inspiration Mary P has been across Northern Ireland.  When I attended Portadown College as a young boy mad about sport, her athletic achievements and unbelievable School records were a real inspiration to me and my entire peer group.  Mary P you are most welcome and thank you on behalf of the pupils and indeed everyone present, for agreeing to distribute our prizes.

Prize Day this year is a departure from the norm as Mr Magowan has decided to retire from the post of Chair of the Board of Governors.  He has been ever present over the past two decades and has provided outstanding service to the school and his commitment to Education was appropriately recognised when he was awarded an MBE in the 2012 Birthday Honours list.  Reg I take this opportunity to thank you for your friendship, advice and support over the years and we are delighted that you are staying on as a member of the Board of Governors.

In June Mrs Barbara Farris retired after a long and distinguished career.   She joined Grosvenor in 1993 and was appointed Head of Home Economics in 2000.  Her commitment to the pupils and the school will be greatly missed as well as her incredible passion for her subject; she was constantly striving to ensure the school became a healthy eating school.  I am delighted to record that Mrs Farris has presented the School with a beautiful Cup to encourage future generations of GCSE Home Economics students.

We also said goodbye to Miss Campbell and Mrs Kirk, who left the temporary teaching ranks to take up full-time employment.

Last year Mrs Sneddon joined the Mathematics department on a permanent basis.  Mrs Eakins joined the school as Assistant Librarian and Mr McCormick joined as an ICT Technician; Hannah Murray, Esther Simpson, Hannah Steele and Laura Kennedy all joined the Support Staff as either a Classroom or General Assistant.  One of our ex-pupils Miss Berry also joined the administration staff on a temporary basis.

In addition a number of temporary teachers have joined to cover for permanent staff Miss Boyle (Home Economics), Mrs McDonald (Business Studies), Miss Scullion (Chemistry), Mrs Walker (Media Studies & English) and Miss Wilson (Geography).

I welcome them all to our staff and trust they enjoy working in our community and I know that our teacher tutor, Mrs Salt, will provide them with high quality Professional Development during their time in Grosvenor.

High quality outcomes are secured when leadership is dispersed and distributed effectively across an organisation and a school is no exception.  Therefore a considerable number of internal promotions took place as the school continues to provide whole school leadership opportunities across the entire staff.   We have started an exciting new initiative by the development of three new Learning Support Co-ordinator posts to work alongside parents to assist pupils in fulfilling their potential – Miss Lavery (Key Stage 3), Mr Cowan (Key Stage 4) and Mrs Watt (A Level) have been appointed in a temporary capacity.  In addition, Mrs Fox has been appointed in a temporary capacity as Assistant Examinations Officer and as a staff representative on the School Fund Committee.

I congratulate Mrs Lendrum on completing the Professional Qualification for Headship and congratulate Mrs Fox, Mrs Reid, Mr Taggart and Mr Lendrum on successfully completing the Regional Training Unit Emergent Leadership Training Programme. 

Once again this year’s results in August reflected the tremendous hard work of pupils, staff and parents. 

At GCSE level 95% of pupils obtained at least 7 grade C passes including English and Mathematics.  Amy Hamilton achieved a remarkable 12A* grades, Paul Pruzina 11 A* and 1 A, Matthew Carson and David Thompson 10A* and 2 A grades.  23 pupils gained a phenomenal 10 A* to A grades or better and a remarkable 43 pupils, almost a third of the year group, achieved 9 A* to A grades or better.

At ‘AS’ level the number of pupils gaining at least 3 subjects at A-C was 68.9% with 11 pupils obtaining 4 A grades or better and 27 pupils obtaining at least 3 A grades.

At A Level 77.4% of pupils attained 3 A* to C grades or better and 20 pupils achieved 3 grades A* to A or better.  Helen Pruzina, Jonathan McKeag and Jack Isaacs obtained 4 grades A* to A, these grades enabled Helen to progress to Pembroke College Cambridge to study Human, Social and Political Science.

In addition Matthew Carson finished 1st in Northern Ireland in GCSE Information Communication Technology, with the help of his teacher Mr Gartland.  Paul Pruzina finished joint 2nd in Northern Ireland in GCSE German with the help of his teacher Miss Elwood.  Amy Hamilton finished joint 3rd in Northern Ireland in GCSE Business Studies with the help of her teacher Mrs Hunter-Burns. 

We also received notification this week that Our Head Boy last year, Jonathan McKeag has been awarded a JP McManus All Ireland Scholarship.

We are justifiably proud of all of these achievements as all of the results demonstrate that the school continues to be recognised as one of the highest achieving schools in the country and I congratulate not only the pupils but also their parents and teachers. 

Grosvenor has always encouraged pupils to participate in extra and co-curricular activities and I am delighted to report on the numerous activities and achievements of last year.

The Music Department has celebrated many achievements over the course of the years, but last year was a particularly outstanding one for both pupils and their teachers. In November the Chamber Choir entered the prestigious BBC Songs of Praise Choir of the Year competition for the first time. The Choir sang two pieces: ‘Be Thou My Vision’ with an accompaniment by flautist and NI Young Musician of the Year Andrew Douglas and ‘Lord of All Creation’. In November a recording of the pieces was entered for the competition and, following a rigorous selection process, we were delighted when the Chamber Choir reached the UK final held in Liverpool in March. As you may have seen on television, following a tense and exhilarating final in which all choirs reached the highest of standards the Chamber Choir was placed UK Runners Up; congratulations to Miss Foster, Mr Arnold and the Choir members on this remarkable and well-deserved success.

In addition, the Junior and Senior Choirs also made television appearances last year. The Junior Choir’s performance of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ formed part of the BBC’s Children in Need fundraising evening in November, and the Senior Choir sang in the St Patrick’s Day service for Songs of Praise from the Waterfront Hall in March. These performances were in addition to the busy annual schedule for the Music Department, including a hugely enjoyable Musical Evening, the enchanting Nine Lessons and Carols Service at Christmas and a range of events for the string quartet. There were also a number of individual musical successes during the year: Stuart Campbell, Jenny Casement, Mark Dawson, Stephen Kelly, Katelin Fiddis, Joel McCracken, Ryan Johnston and Gordon Kelly were selected to play in the City of Belfast Youth Concert Band and Cameron Kirkpatrick was invited to join the Ulster Youth Choir.

The School’s musicians had the opportunity to employ their abilities alongside the acting talents of their peers in the annual and ever-popular musical productions. In November, under the direction of Miss McDowell and Mr Arnold, the Senior School presented ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, with U6 pupils Hannah Cash, Ross White taking to the stage for their final time at Grosvenor. They were ably accompanied by Katie Dougan, Caitlin Jamison Aaron Godfrey and Ross White from Lower 6th, and Form 5 pupils Matthew Hedley, Jenna McCready and Simon Gibson, and, of course, the mysterious, unidentified and bloodthirsty plant.

The Junior Production in February was the musical version of the well-known CS Lewis novel ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’, and this provided an opportunity for the stars in Forms 1-4 to showcase their talents. The Lion, Aslan was played by Form 4 pupil Philip Ross, while Georgia Carson, also Form 4, was cast as the White Witch. Edmund, Lucy, Peter and Susan were played by Robbie Macduff, Sarah Myles, Stephen Hedley and Kirsten Johnston respectively. On this occasion it was Mrs Young who directed the show alongside Mr Arnold. Both productions were filled with energy, talent and imagination and were thoroughly enjoyable.

It has been another successful year for the Technology and Design Department and Grosvenor students are now becoming regular visitors to the UK Big Bang Science and Engineering Fair; this is an extremely prominent event and it is a measure of the high quality, innovative work of both pupils and staff in the Department that Grosvenor’s pupils continue to succeed in this competition. This year Form 4 pupil Gareth Reid participated in the competition, winning the Junior Engineering category with his ‘Write to Read’ project. Gareth has developed an iPhone app capable of photographing text and presenting it in a font more easily processed by dyslexic readers; an extremely worthwhile venture that has generated much interest. Competition victories were also achieved in Junior School. In June Form 2 pupils Karl Depayso, Mark Woods, Frankie Shanks and Tom Corr won ‘The Best Use of Engineering Theory’ prize in the Tomorrow’s Engineers competition at Queen’s University. Congratulations to the boys and to their teachers Mr Taggart and Mrs Black.

In the English Department, Form 5 pupil Ross Neill beat extremely stiff competition to win the inaugural Stranmillis Sixth Form Education Studies Essay Competition. Ross was required to write an essay discussing WB Yeats’ quotation “Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire” and his work was commended for its depth of insight, originality and quality of writing. Meanwhile, the Mathematics Department was also celebrating success; Sixth Formers Thomas Greeves, Jack Isaacs and Michael Purdy were awarded Gold Certificates in the UK Mathematics Trust Senior Maths Challenge.

Public speakers continued to impress with their participation in the annual Business and Professional Women Competition and the Belfast Soroptimist Competition, speaking on a range of diverse subjects including academic selection and human trafficking.

Congratulations must also go to the staff in the School’s Dining Centre who achieved first place in the Northern Ireland School Caterers’ Association awards. The judges were impressed not only with the selection of healthy food on offer but also the supply of food that is made available from the school’s vegetable and herb gardens that are managed by pupils in the Urban Ecologists, under the leadership of Mrs Reid and Ms Byers.

The International dimension has always been a part of the Grosvenor ethos and pupils have continued to travel and experience different cultures in the past year. Pupils travelled to Switzerland, Germany and Spain with the Physics, Modern Languages and Art departments, to England on the annual Oxbridge trip, to Scotland on the rugby and hockey tour and to Italy on the annual ski trip. Individual pupils also ventured further afield: Charlotte Patrick Clements in Form 5 travelled to Romania with Habitat for Humanity while Matthew Carson, Form 5, and Courtney Robinson, Form 4, participated in Belfast YMCA’s Friends Forever Good Relations leadership programme in New Orleans. Several L6 pupils used the Sixth Form travel bursary scheme to travel to Germany while former pupils James Taylor and Peter McCrory were awarded the Gillespie Gap bursary to help support their gap year ventures in China and South Africa respectively. The broadening of cultural knowledge was enhanced by a visit in December from a delegation of school principals from the Pudong Education Board, China. The principals joined classes and the pupils were given the opportunity to learn about Chinese culture and society. I was fortunate to visit China twice during the year in order to gain an insight into the Chinese education system and to prepare for the launch of our Confucius Classroom Hub project in Grosvenor, which was signed at Stormont earlier this month by the First Minister.  All of the school leaders I met have an inherent desire and commitment to provide the best possible education for the pupils in their care.  I believe over the coming years as we develop our Confucius Classroom Hub and build effective partnerships with China we will learn a lot from each other.  It is an incredibly exciting time for the school as we will receive our Mandarin teacher and all of Form 1 will start one period of Mandarin per week from January 2014.  There will also be an enrichment offer for the Sixth Form pupils and hopefully an extra-curricular class for staff and pupils.  As well as delivering Mandarin teaching in our partner schools – Our Lady & St Patrick’s College Knock, Lagan College, Orangefield and Gilnahirk Primary Schools. 

Pupils continue to participate enthusiastically and with dedication in sport in the school. In rugby, the Medallion XV was victorious in the Medallion Bowl competition, winning the School’s first trophy in boys’ rugby for thirty years, and congratulations must go to the boys and their coaches Mr Gibson and Mr Smyth.  In Girls’ Rugby, the team once again reached the final of the Girls Schools’ Cup, defeating the trophy they won the previous year.

In netball, Sixth Formers Rachel Cullen, Chloe McMaster and Hannah Kee were selected for the Podium U19 Belfast Area Netball Squad while in hockey Emma McDowell and Hannah Blair, Form 3, and Abbey Walker, Form 4, were selected to participate in trials for the Belfast Area Hockey Squad.

Representative honours were awarded to several of Grosvenor’s cricketers once again this year. Aaron Johnston was selected for Ulster Schools U18 squad. Stuart Nelson and Craig Irvine played for the Northern Cricket Union U15 team, which was captained by fellow pupil Mark Johnston. In Form 2, Patrick McGonigle was selected to play for the Northern Cricket Union U13 team in the interprovincial series.

Emma Ludlow, Form 5, continued to excel in Table Tennis, and her achievements throughout the year culminated in May when she won a gold medal while representing Ulster in the Junior Interprovincial Table Tennis Championships, taking her to first place in Ulster at U17 level. At the same tournament Form 1 pupil James Magrath secured his first Ulster cap.

In fencing, Jonathan Little, Form 2, and Deanna Montgomery-Shields, Upper 6th, achieved considerable success in the British Youth Championship Finals, while Tony Eve and Stephen Brown, both Lower 6th continued to impress in a variety of competitions.  Form 4 pupil Tom Purdon was selected for the Irish Sailing Association’s National Topper Squad for a second year and Alistair McCreery, also Form 4, was selected for the U16 Ireland Development Squad in canoeing.  In swimming, Form 1 pupils Victoria Wyllie and Hannah James both competed at the highest level in the Irish National Championships in July. Nathan Kirk, Form 5, was victorious at the McCartney Strokeplay Golf Competition. Also in golf, Ross Nelson, Form 3, was not only selected for the Ulster U15 training squad but he was also invited to attend the Arnold Palmer Invitational Competition in Orlando.

Athletics continues to flourish and a number of notable successes were achieved this year. The Form 2 Athletics Team, comprising Nathan Chan, Rory Elder, Ben Stevenson, Jake Laverty and Aston Edmond, was victorious in the Year Nine Ulster Schools’ Team Championships. At the Ulster Schools’ Championships in Antrim, Lower 6th pupil Andrew Wright won the Senior Boys’ 1500m; the Senior Girls relay team of Holly Dornan, Naomi Campbell, Nicole Muirhead and Anna Lockhart was first in the 4 x 100m relay. The girls went on to secure a silver medal at the Irish Schools’ Athletics Championships in June.

Unfortunately time precludes me from mentioning our many other clubs and societies, academic tutoring, pastoral mentoring programmes, the excellent work of the pupils involved in Voluntary Service, Student Council and the work of the Careers department, under the leadership of Mrs Browne and Ms Seaton, to meet the needs of the pupils.  However, they are extremely well documented in the latest edition of Grosvenor in View and on our school website.

It is always a pleasure to watch our pupils immerse themselves in such a wide range of clubs and activities and I know that it will be an invaluable and memorable part of their school experience. However, this vast and varied programme would not be available without the leadership, support and commitment of the teaching staff and I thank them for their continued dedication to the extra-curricular life of the school.

What defines a School is the quality of relationships and the range of academic and extra-curricular successes.  What I have outlined today confirms that there are effective relationships between pupils, teachers and parents in Grosvenor Grammar School 

I thank everyone present today for the part they have played in the success of our young people.

The pupils who have been recognised today have worked exceedingly hard and deserve to be congratulated for balancing the pressures of the modern world with their studies.  To the young men and women leaving us this year – I hope and trust you have fond memories and please be assured your relationship with the school doesn’t end here.  You give me great faith for the future of our country with leaders of your quality.  You will always be part of the Grosvenor Community and please stay in touch with the School.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the education system as a whole is in the midst of a period of rapid change and that the difficult financial environment in which schools have to work is in many ways characterised by unpredictability.  However, be assured whatever the course of post primary education, Grosvenor will continue to provide a world class education for our pupils ensuring that they become confident young adults who are lifelong learners with the essential knowledge, skills and capabilities to take their place as leaders of our society and economy.

Finally I wish to thank the Governors and the new Chair Mr McVeigh for their continuing support and encouragement.  Their work may go largely unseen to the wider school community but I can testify to the considerable dedication and commitment of this group of volunteers.

I think it is appropriate as we start our Confucius Classroom Hub project in the next few months that I finish with a few quotations from Confucius -

  • For the pupils
    • “You cannot open a book without learning something.”
    • “The man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the man who does not ask is a fool for life.”  
  • For our leavers
    • “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
  • For the adults in the room 
    • “Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

In conclusion I thank Mrs Lendrum for the fantastic job she has done in arranging Prize Day.  I now ask the pupils, with a round of applause, to thank their teachers and parents for all of their encouragement, support, advice and guidance – without your commitment the pupils would not be able to fulfil their dreams. 

Thank you

R S McLoughlin – Principal                          October 2013