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Master's Speech 2007

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, may I begin by adding my welcome to that of the Chairman. Speech Day is the most important day of our year when we gather to recognise and to celebrate the achievements of our pupils. We are honoured that so many have chosen to support us today. The attendance, at 1,560, is another record. Arranging the seating for that number is a formidable task which has been undertaken with admirable efficiency by Mrs Yvonne Nixon. Next month she will leave us to establish a new home in France and I know that I will not be alone in appreciating enormously the remarkable accuracy and attention to detail of her administrative work over the last thirteen years.

I hope you will find great pleasure in each other’s company today and enjoy those displays and events set out in the programme. In addition to the MCC match, the exhibition in the Art School, the Design Technology Exhibition in the entrance to Big School and the performance of the jazz musicians in the Cloisters, we have this year on display in the Archive exhibition the original Kipling manuscript of Stalkie and Co, together with other recently acquired memorabilia relating to one of Britain’s greatest writers, and a display mounted by HoK architects of Haileybury Almaty, our partner school under construction in Kazakhstan, which the Chairman has mentioned.

I wish to thank that very loyal group of parents who serve so admirably on the Committee of the Haileybury Parents’ association under the Chairmanship of Mr Tim Edwards. They continue to organise popular social events to the great benefit of our community.

I also thank the Trustees and the officers of the Haileybury Society for their continued support of the school. The Society celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a series of ambitious events, meticulously arranged by the President, Mr James Thomson, a very welcome guest today accompanied his wife, Kate. One of those was a recent, memorable dinner at HMS Nelson in Portsmouth, (that’s a building incidentally, not a ship). Double the anticipated number attended, including the Old Haileyburian First Sea Lord, and the man who launched him on his distinguished career when Officer Commanding the Naval Section of the CCF, Mr Andrew Hambling, celebrating this year no less than 50 years’ almost unbroken service to Haileybury. Ian Pinnington’s twenty years’ service to this community may not quite compare for length but it lacks nothing in terms of quality. An all round schoolmaster, in the traditional and honoured sense of the term, he teaches Mathematics with a systematic attention to detail which bears many of the hallmarks of a well-planned military operation. A fine sportsman himself in earlier days, he has been an absolute regular coaching games here, three afternoons a week, three terms a year throughout those twenty years. He relished the privilege of Housemastering in Hailey for eleven years, most ably and generously supported by his wife, Viv. In 2002 he graciously accepted that Hailey’s future was as a girls’ House. That the change was accomplished with hardly a murmur owed much to Ian Pinnington’s loyalty and his recognition that the Haileybury needed to move on. He will retire in July with our deep gratitude. Mrs Nicola Huggett will also leave at the end of this term to a very well earned promotion as Deputy Head of Downe House School, Berkshire. She too has been a great pillar of our community for eleven years, involved in just about everything, including for the last eight years running a most successful and contented House, Allenby, exuding infectious cheerfulness despite the incessant demands and always treating those two impostors, Triumph and Disaster, just the same. We will also bid farewell at the end of this term to Dr Mark Elliot, who leaves to serve the Church, Dr David James who will be the first Co-ordinator of the International Baccalaureate at Wellington College and Mr Alex Phillips, who will move to Ipswich School as Director of Technology. All three have been very prominent and generous contributors to our broader life.

Not infrequently I am reminded that I should feel proud of the achievements of our pupils. There have been many occasions this year when I have felt exactly that and there have been equally many when I have been humbled at the thought of the extraordinary endeavours of the teaching staff who go way beyond the call of duty to enable our pupils to express themselves on such a broad canvas, developing their intellects, personalities and skills to a remarkable extent. As an example, and one could think of many others, no fewer than 61 members of staff were actively involved in the games programme last term, a proportion which very few schools in the country could match. Many pupils richly deserve congratulation this morning for we are now such an extraordinarily busy school. All those great achievements in music, drama, art, service to the community and, now dance, give immense satisfaction. Both the boys’ hockey and soccer first teams enjoyed an unbeaten season, a remarkable double, the cricket team is currently unbeaten, the two girls’ first teams in hockey and netball were not far behind and the Lower School teams, boys and girls have enjoyed much success throughout the year. I fear there simply is not time even to try to convey proper appreciation. I hope to be forgiven for leaving those much deserved individual acclamations to ‘Hearts and Wings’ and the web site. Instead, enjoy an example of the exceptional talent of our boys and girls.

We began this academic year celebrating excellent examination results. Many able, hard working members of last year’s Upper Sixth ensured that the average UCAS points score in 2006 was just over 433 which earned Haileybury 28th place in the Times League Table of 937 independent schools, a signal achievement which I imagine escaped nobody’s attention. The number of boarders in the community continued to rise, exceeding 500 last September, an increase of 30 on the previous year and of 35% since 1999. That boarding has so obviously become popular here, despite the total number of boarders in the country continuing gradually to decline, is a development of great significance and satisfaction.

While there is no scope for the total number of pupils materially to increase, and Council has confirmed this year that it has no plan further to expand the school, we can accommodate more boarders and we will continue to do all we can to make boarding even more popular. One important task is to ensure that our ambitions are consistent with the wishes of our parents. Council has therefore commissioned an extensive survey of parental opinion to ensure we are on the right track. We are not without a view as to what brought us to our position of relative strength and on what we should focus in order further to strengthen the school. Intuitively it is quite clear that creating a community in which pupils feel valued, cared for and understood, within an ethos which is slow to criticise, quick to help and encourage and to see the best in people, undoubtedly leads to confident, secure, considerate, well balanced young people. Add the very extensive, diverse provision of opportunities, teachers who devote time with extraordinary generosity, excellent facilities and it is not difficult to appreciate why the stock has risen and why so many more pupils have chosen to board. We aim to build on those very strengths; indeed we have within the last two weeks created an additional responsibility precisely to increase the number and variety of activities on offer in the school, which will primarily benefit the boarders in the evenings and at weekends and make their experience here richer and more fulfilling.

An even higher priority though is to continue to strengthen the school academically, where t