I was delighted to welcome so many parents and visitors to our end of year Prize Giving. Occasions such as these give us the opportunity to give a public ‘thank you’ to all the people who contribute to making Ffynone House successful academically, socially, and in so many other ways. This is of course in no small part due to the excellent support from pupils, staff, parents, and especially our thriving Friends of Ffynone.
Once again, we were grateful to Reverend Mark Williams and Wardens for enabling us to use St James’ Church for our enjoyable celebration of achievement.
Prize Giving is traditionally the time at which the year’s achievements are recognised, giving us the chance to report back to parents on the opportunities that have been made available to their children over the past ten months. We also take pride in congratulating particular pupils and their successes. Not everyone can be a winner even in a small school, but we also acknowledge the perseverance, effort and resilience of our pupils in our Prize Day assembly, where colours and certificates are awarded to commend these traits and to share those successes.
I find it astonishing that my first year as Headteacher is already coming to an end and I would particularly like to thank my Deputy, Mr Gullick, and all staff and Trustees for their help and support in what has been a very busy year. We also say thank you and goodbye to Mrs Linda Davies who has been teaching key stage 3 Science for the last two years. She will now be enjoying her well-earned retirement and we wish her well.
My first official days of Headship were last August’s results days, and it was a happy privilege to be able to inform students of their success at A-level and GCSE. Once again, despite being a non-selective school, we were able to boast some of the best results in the country, with 100% pass rate at A-level and 97% achieving at least five passes at GCSE including English and Maths.
All the students are to be congratulated for their hard work, and particularly our Sixth Formers who went on to study at their first choice Universities in a wide variety of courses including Maths, Economics, Business and Investment Banking, Pharmacy, engineering, Law, Psychology and the History of Art.
Those achievements also reflect on the dedication of the staff, who helped to enable that success; not only through teaching, but also through the encouragement and support given to pupils, often in their own time, during breaks, lunchtimes and after school. I am extremely fortunate to have such enthusiastic and hard-working staff. Their willingness to go well beyond what is normal in other schools is why Ffynone House has the enviable reputation for providing such a caring, supportive and happy environment.
In September I was bombarded with staff requests for activities to be put into the busy school calendar. The biggest project of the Autumn term involved our re-engagement in the Schools Shakespeare Festival. Our production of The Tempest at the Taliesin theatre was one of the highlights of the year, bringing together performers, artists and staff from across the school and giving a common focus for the Drama, Music and Art departments.
The dramatic theme extended into the Spring term with our full-length production of Seussical. This has to be one of the most colourful productions we have staged in the school hall and was an excellent platform to showcase the talents of Ffynone House pupils.
At a time when the cultural departments of other schools are under threat, it is good to see we are still able to offer all our pupils the chance to engage in these creative and confidence building activities.
Our music department continues to grow in strength as the choir and orchestra mature and develop, ably assisted by our peripatetic teachers. Like every new skill that Ffynone House students acquire, learning a musical instrument requires effort and commitment. The first few years are often very demanding and it is sometimes difficult to recognise the progress that is being made. Those who have the resilience and determination to keep going, are rewarded with the pleasure and satisfaction of making music in the company of others, often leading to a lifelong love of this art.
Some cases in point are Devon Macadam-Sutton and Daniel Cook. Devon has been expanding her operatic repertoire and will be singing in Brecon Cathedral this summer and at a special concert to celebrate the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Diamond Jubilee in Cardiff in the autumn. Daniel performed once again with the National Youth Chamber Orchestra, and this year he travelled to play with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Brazil and Ecuador – the only student from the whole of Wales to do so. We have also had the great pleasure of listening to Clemmie Griffiths and Brython Caley Davies at Prize Giving and recent musical performances.
Ffynone House has a long-standing history of promoting debate and public speaking and as usual we can report superb individual achievements in the LAMDA examinations throughout the school.
Mathematics and Science
We continue to enjoy success in the Maths & Science departments with a team in the Chemical Olympiad competition and many awards in the Maths Challenges at Bronze, Silver and Gold. Our top mathematicians were invited to participate in the next stage of these competitions, ‘The European Kangaroo’, so congratulations go in particular to Brython Caley-Davies, Joe Cunningham and Matthew Lawrence.
It was a pleasure to have last year’s Head Boy, Kieran Howard, return to Ffynone to give a presentation to the whole school on behalf of Swansea University’s Engineering Department, on the Supersonic car, Bloodhound, and another presentation about the proposed Tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay. It is these cutting edge engineering projects that I hope will inspire some of our own pupils to become the engineers and technologists of the future.
In sport, our budding football and netball squads showed grit and determination to be proud of, and I expect to report on future success in fixtures this time next year.
Meanwhile, our girls tennis team, comprising Amy Lloyd-Thomas, Elinor Beazley, Tegan Heaton and Elysia Beynon performed brilliantly to win the Welsh School’s Championships. They went on to beat Cheltenham Ladies College and reached the final 16 schools in the whole of the UK
There have also been outstanding individual successes for Elinor, Tegan and Henry Muxworthy in national competitions, which suggest that we have real champions in the making and shows that our link with Swansea Tennis Academy really does bear fruit.
We continue to support our three swimmers in the sixth form, Caitlin Hannah, Katie Hoyle and Dan Davies who have their eyes set on the Commonwealth games in two years time and we are very proud of Dan’s participation in the Glasgow swimming trials for this year’s Olympic games and also Molly Hopkins’ trials for the Paralympics – fantastic achievements in their own right.
Team-building and leadership
There has been no need for radical change since taking over the Headship at Ffynone House, but over the year I have been keen to enable and encourage a spirit of adventure. We have re-established an in-house Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme and introduced adventurous team building activities for every pupil.
This year, students have taken on rock-climbing, abseiling, surfing, paddle boarding and high ropes courses; all designed to present demanding but achievable challenges that focus on personal development and teamwork.
Such opportunities, combined with first aid training for all pupils, demonstrate how we aim to prepare students for the wider world beyond school.
Sixth form internships started this year and we have plans to develop careers guidance, providing even more support for University applications, especially to Oxbridge and other members of the Russell Group, but also in the world of work and apprenticeships. Several of our Sixth Form were successful in their applications to attend the prestigious McWhirter Foundation Conferences at Oxford and Cambridge Universities again this year.
By promoting the Extended Project Qualification and teaching study skills to all sixth formers I hope to give them the independence and confidence to face whatever challenges the future may bring.
Travel and community
We don’t exist in isolation in Swansea. Our annual ski trip to the USA is always popular, as are our Classics visits to Italy. Next Autumn we will have our first Geography trip to Iceland. Plans are also in hand for an excursion to Germany next summer. All such international opportunities enable students to practise language skills and to experience other countries, cultures and lifestyles.
We strive to contribute to the local community and charitable organisations. As always, we have raised funds for others and this year, pupils chose to support the Alzheimer’s society, the Cyrenians and Swansea’s Mr X appeal.
The highlight though has to be the ‘Race for life’, which involved the whole school running five kilometres along Swansea Bay. This raised £2,500 for Cancer UK, and by popular demand, we will repeat this next autumn.
New public examination reforms
This year has been a time of transition for us all. For me personally, taking on a new role as Head, and for staff and pupils learning what I want the school to become; understanding my expectations and my plans for the future, upholding standards of appearance, and encouraging participation in activities.
We must all also be aware of a transition of another kind that is taking place. Both the Welsh Assembly Government and the Department for Education in England have introduced more rigorous specifications at GCSE and A-Level that are intended to raise standards and better prepare pupils for life in a changing economic environment.
Early indications are that these new courses will be much more demanding than the legacy qualifications. This is deliberate, and intended to enable Universities and employers to more easily identify the best candidates.
This may sound disheartening to students who have yet to take external exams but that will not change matters. What is important is how we rise to the challenge. My assemblies in school throughout the year have often related to planning ahead, taking responsibility for our own actions, and thinking about consequences.
The new examinations will change the distribution of grades. Next year there will probably be fewer grade A and A*s at A-level. There will also be a totally new number system for grading GCSEs.
This adjustment will be a national phenomenon and will require us all to re-assess what we consider to be ‘good grades’ but it should not change how we strive to achieve personal bests for all our students. We will all need to work harder if our students are to get these top grades, and the first step is to acknowledge that fact. The second is to recognise that we are in a competition with others.
Ffynone House pupils are in competition with all the others from around the country. Over half a million students will take GCSEs this year and about 300,000 will go on to A-levels. They all want to progress to the next level, be it A-levels, a place at University, a modern apprenticeship or a job.
Universities and employers want people who are well educated and capable. They will choose the best candidates they can find, perhaps from the local area but more likely nationally, and even more so now, globally. We know the current generation of students is likely to experience several changes of career throughout their working lives and we need to prepare them for that world.
Our pupils must keep plenty of options open. They will need to study a wide variety of subjects, learn the importance of transferable skills, be good communicators and have high standards of literacy and numeracy. They will need to work and cooperate with others, and have the confidence to take responsibility and lead when the situation demands it. In this way, we endeavour to ensure all our students are well equipped to successfully meet the challenges of life ahead.
With excellent teaching, high aspirations and expectations, I believe that Ffynone House will continue to be Swansea’s school of choice for many years to come.