Ordinarily, Prize Giving would be our last formal occasion in the academic year but the ever-increasing spread of external examinations in June led me to have an earlier ceremony where we could acknowledge all our previous successes before the new exam season begins.
At this year’s annual celebration of achievement we were delighted to welcome our guest of honour, my sister Hilary Boulding, Principal of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Hilary gave an inspirational speech and provided an interesting insight into her varied career. Her advice to students was to remain flexible, embrace challenges and always seek to learn new skills. An ethos we can identify with at Ffynone House School.
We wish Ms Boulding well as she takes up her new position as President of Trinity College, Oxford in September after nearly ten years as Principal of RWCMD, which has been recognised as the leading UK drama school in the Guardian University guide 2018.
This year we very much welcome the new member of our team, Mrs Laura Howden-Evans, who joined us in January as our new Business Manager. Her skills as a lawyer and her previous experience as a school bursar means that she will be an excellent addition to Ffynone House and I know we can look forward to a period of strong growth and exciting developments in the future.
We already have plans in place for the further development of the leadership group next year that will exploit the talents of our own teachers to lead future initiatives in teaching, learning, monitoring and assessment. We are always working to improve the performance outcomes for our pupils and this will be a practical step towards raising further our own high standards.
GCSE and A Level examinations
Over the next two years, I predict there will be controversy and disarray as results are published for the new specifications at GCSE and A-level. These are examined for the first time this year. It will be difficult to make performance comparisons from before and after the change, and to benchmark ourselves against other schools during the transition period.
This mixture of legacy qualifications running alongside the new, more demanding courses is bound to cause confusion, especially when combined with a new system of grading for some subjects. But there is no mystery about last year’s excellent results. Last summer, we maintained our 100% pass rate at A-level, with over half of all A-levels and GCSEs being graded at A or A* and most pupils far exceeding their target grades.
We congratulate all our students for their hard work, particularly our sixth formers who went on to study at their first-choice Universities in a wide variety of courses including Maths, International Business, Veterinary Science, Chemical Engineering, Law, Bio-medical Science and Economics.
Their achievements reflect on the dedication of the staff, who helped enable that success, not only in the teaching of lessons but 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 an enthusiastic and hard-working staff and their willingness to go well beyond what is normal in other schools, explains why Ffynone has the enviable reputation for providing such a caring, supportive and happy environment.
Friends of Ffynone House
As always, the school doesn’t run in isolation and I am grateful for the time and effort freely given by many of you in the Parents and Friends Association. The money raised through quiz nights in school and Golf Days at Swansea Bay Golf Club is all ploughed back into school for the direct benefit of our children. This year we have purchased science apparatus, sports equipment and musical instruments, for which we are extremely grateful.
These contributions accompany significant investment made by the Trust this year, including an update to our computer infrastructure. We have new servers and upgraded machines for students with further developments planned for the next academic session.
New transport routes
A new addition of a different kind this year was the introduction of our school minibus providing transport for pupils from the Caswell and Mumbles area to and from school.
Its success has led us to acquire a second minibus from September that will serve another route from Penllergaer through Gorseinnon, Gowerton, Dunvant and Killay. With our current growth, I’m confident it won’t take long for that bus also to be filled to capacity.
My focus this year has been to put plans in place to improve still further our academic provision in the Sixth Form to better prepare our students for university and the world of work. The Extended Project Qualification gives students the opportunity to develop their study skills to become more independent learners and to better demonstrate their motivation and determination to study at higher levels.
This is just one aspect of the super-curriculum under development at Ffynone House. Our extra-curricular activities enrich and broaden our pupils’ experiences but it is the super-curriculum that extends students’ academic subject knowledge in depth and detail.
This is how we can better prepare sixth formers in their applications for Oxbridge and Russell group universities and for courses in Medicine, Veterinary Science and Law. Exposure to material beyond the standard A-level curriculum gives a greater appreciation of what it’s like to study those subjects at an even higher level.
Accordingly, we continue to grow our links with Swansea University and students have benefitted from visits to the Engineering, Physics, Chemistry and language departments, and to careers workshops.
Trips to the skills show in Birmingham, careers talks from Price Waterhouse Cooper and visits to OSTC in Swansea, show our Business Studies and Economics students the careers available to them in the world of banking and finance, and what it’s like to trade on the financial markets.
Perhaps the most unusual trip this year was our A-level Physics students seeing for themselves the inside of the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. Students said it was an impressively calm and quiet environment, which is probably a good thing!
In addition to the annual ski trip to America, our Geographers travelled abroad, to Iceland – the land of ice and fire.
Everyone witnessed for themselves the geothermal springs and geysers, and the rift valley between tectonic plates; they saw amazing geology and had a thrilling experience.
As usual, our pupils have enjoyed drama and music throughout the year. The first event was the Roald Dahl celebration ‘Kids in the City’ in Cardiff back in the autumn and our own productions of Wonderland and Matilda took place in school subsequently.
Seeing others perform is always inspirational and our young musicians were fortunate to be able to participate in the Royal Welsh College’s ‘Orchestra Adventure’ in Cardiff. Members of the College also came to Ffynone to deliver a day of music composition. Similarly, our dancers enjoyed a workshop with the National Dance Company of Wales and saw them perform live in the Taliesin theatre.
When you add in all the workshops and gallery visits undertaken by the Art department, it is clear how important we believe art and culture are to life in Ffynone House; these are the subjects that are all too frequently squeezed from the curriculum elsewhere. It is sad that these aesthetic subjects are under such threat and we are proud of our well-established tradition for promoting and supporting the Arts.
We are particularly proud of Devon Macadam-Sutton, who produced and sang in a concert of her own in St James Church, in aid of both school and church funds. This was a remarkable achievement for a 17-year old, and we greatly enjoyed hearing Devon sing at Prize Day.
Two other pupils who deserve a special mention for their individual academic successes are James and Mathew. James entered the National Cipher Challenge, which is a code-breaking competition. He worked by himself to crack eight different ciphers and was so successful that he received one of only a few coveted awards at Bletchley Park, the historic centre of the Government’s code-breaking efforts during the second world war.
Matthew, took part in the UK Intermediate Maths Challenge competition along with about 200,000 other pupils, but unlike most, he was invited to compete in the follow-up Maclaurin Competition for the top 500 of the highest achievers in the UK – an excellent performance.
In my previous Prize Giving speech, I spoke of our budding sporting teams competing against schools much larger than ourselves. Now, I’m pleased to say that we’ve had have many more successful fixtures in football, hockey and netball. Well done to all those who have taken part in those matches.
We know that being a small school means it’s sometimes harder to engage in large team sports but we do everything we can to enable our students to thrive in other activities. Our swimmers have achieved many successes and congratulations go to Molly Hopkins on winning a Bronze medal in the backstroke at the 2017 Para swimming world series in Sheffield.
Swimmers Caitlin Hannah, Katie Hoyle and Dan Davies have also been competing nationally over the past two years and will be leaving Ffynone for University this year. We particularly wish Dan good luck in his aspiration to represent Wales in the Commonwealth Games in Australia next year and perhaps even the Olympics in 2020 – a very real possibility.
Our tennis players have had individual successes on the national circuit with Henry Muxworthy and Tegan Heaton frequent finalists and winners of Grade 3 tournaments and especially Elinor Beazley who now holds a junior world ranking.
I’m pleased that so many of our pupils choose to stay active in their own time either by joining sports teams and clubs in Swansea or through martial arts groups, athletics clubs or yoga classes. I want to encourage all our students to keep fit and healthy and we have taken large strides this year in modernising the fitness gym with new equipment.
There is one activity that we can’t fit into the gym which I hope to tell you more about in next year’s prize-giving – horse-riding and our equestrian team. As with any sport, learning to ride requires effort, determination, perseverance and lots of practice to master its techniques.
These are precisely the qualities I hope to encourage in all our students and I look forward to the equestrian competitions that will start in the new academic year.
Most sports are not free from risk, and perhaps they ought not to be. Only by challenging people to achieve something beyond what is easy do they learn something new – often something about themselves. Learning to recognise dangers and to balance risk is an important life skill so our programme of adventurous activities has continued throughout the year.
Pupils have been surfing, climbing, abseiling and paddle-boarding – sometimes overcoming personal challenges and often needing to work with others in teams to achieve a shared goal. I want our students to learn to take responsibility for their own personal development and in maintaining a good standard of physical and mental health and wellbeing.
A key instrument to facilitate this is the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and I would like to thank all the staff who give up their time at weekends to make it possible.
Although we take care to look after ourselves, the Ffynone family has always done its part to care for others.
We have supported several charities this year and raised funds with fayres, carol singing, discos and another 5Km run along Swansea Bay. Our proactive Sixth Formers take the lead in organising a range of enjoyable and worthwhile charitable events. This year, Cancer Research UK, the Marie Curie fund and Swansea Mr X appeal have benefitted as a result.
There is a saying, attributed to Dylan Thomas, that Swansea is the graveyard of man’s ambition. I imagine this could be assumed to have negative connotations in that Swansea people somehow lack the ambition to improve their lot in aspiring to explore the world beyond south-west Wales. But I think it more likely that once people find themselves in Swansea they recognise all it has to offer along with the beautiful countryside and its outstanding coastline.
This is true, even more so now, with the growing Bay Campus at Swansea University, the go-ahead for the ‘City Deal’ in SA1 and the tidal lagoon in Swansea Bay. All these developments will bring with them much-needed investment in the region that will provide high tech jobs requiring engineers, architects, software designers, business leaders and more … and a thriving city needs a thriving independent school. Ffynone House has a part to play in regional development, by offering first class education to attract high quality professionals to the area, and to educate future local leaders.
Ffynone House gives families the alternative to state-funded education. There are some fine maintained schools in Swansea, but the squeeze in education funding has already caused significant cuts in school and college budgets that have led to teacher redundancies, a narrower curriculum, rising class sizes and the virtual elimination of many cultural and language courses on cost-cutting grounds; cost-cutting that is already planned to continue for another three years. This trend has been identified in state schools in both England and in Wales, particularly in those delivering the English and Welsh Baccalaureates.
Ffynone House bucks that trend. More families now recognise that to increase their children’s chances of future success requires them to invest in their education. The writing has been on the wall for many years with the inevitable increase in university tuition fees and the rise of student loans. Many families already realise that they will need to provide funding support for their children’s tertiary education, and there is now an increasing appreciation that it is also prudent to invest in good secondary education.
A Ffynone House education
To compete for jobs in this changing world, our school-leavers will need a solid educational foundation, flexibility of thought, the ability to solve problems and to have a firm grasp of some key transferable skills; to be able to work independently, to meet deadlines, to communicate well, to work with others and to lead with confidence when necessary.
This is the education we will continue to provide at Ffynone House along with a rich curriculum including languages, humanities and the Arts. Extra-curricular activities will broaden our students’ experiences and super-curricular enhancements will better prepare them when applying to universities and their first real job.
With excellent teaching, high aspirations and high expectations, I believe that Ffynone remains Swansea’s premier school of choice.