Following last year’s success of an earlier ceremony, our Prize Giving again took place before the exam season started. This enables the whole school to celebrate its successes together, before students scatter around the world following the exams.
We were delighted to welcome alumni Catherine Miles LLB (Hons) as guest of honour. She is now a Crown Prosecutor in Wales after working incredibly hard since leaving Ffynone sixteen years ago. Catherine gave an inspired speech describing her unusual career path. She emphasised the importance of tenacity and perseverance in achieving your ambitions, a philosophy she felt had been encouraged during her time at Ffynone.
On reflection, the 2017-18 academic year at Ffynone certainly illustrates that those two attributes are still very much valued at the school and allowed us to maintain our high standard of results in last year’s exams. These were unaffected by the new exam specifications and we continued our 100% pass rate at A-level. Our students scored grades of A* to B in over half of all A-levels and more than three quarters of all GCSEs, with many pupils exceeding their targeted grades.
We congratulate all our students for their hard work and particularly our sixth formers who went on to study at their first-choice Universities in a wide variety of traditional courses including Maths, Physics, History, Business and Finance.
Their achievements reflect the dedication of the staff who helped enable that success. They do this, not only through their regular lessons but by being available during breaks, lunchtimes and after school. Their passion for their subjects and their constant encouragement is inspiring to us all.
At Ffynone we place great emphasis on what happens outside the classroom in helping to develop our students and, as always, we’ve had a busy year. There was a Biology field trip to Pembrokeshire, Geography field trips, Chemistry practical experiments at Swansea University, a STEM workshop for lower school delivered by the Royal Air Force, workshops for instrumentalists and music composition classes, Drama trips to the Royal Welsh College in Cardiff, Art trips to galleries and local artists, Engineering visits to Swansea University, and still to come, a Maths Masterclass at Swansea University.
We continued our enrichment programme in the sixth form, incorporating workshops on student finance and budgeting. Our first full cohort completed their Extended Project Qualification and we were extremely fortunate to be able to send pupils from Years 11,12 and 13 on a very special visit to the Houses of Parliament, and to participate in a workshop on debating and law-making.
Our older students had lectures on Employability, courtesy of Swansea University. We hope to reciprocate this at the end of this year by supporting final year students from the University in pursuing meaningful project placements with us at Ffynone.
Since our last Prize Giving, pupils have had the chance to go further afield and to travel abroad with a cultural visit to Berlin, drama workshops at Disneyland in Paris and, of course, the annual ski trip to North America. All such events can only take place with the cooperation of staff who willingly giving their time and energy to encourage our pupils to participate, and then to provide all the necessary supervision.
We were entertained by our musicians at Harvest time and at Christmas, our actors performed a stage play in the autumn and more recently, a superb musical theatre production of Mary Poppins. I’m pleased that Drama will return as a formal GCSE option next year for Year 10, rather than relying on extra-curricular lessons.
The Commonwealth Games held in Australia were a major inspiration for activities this spring. We had a number of fascinating visiting speakers in assemblies, ranging from race officials to sports therapists and coaches. Many subject teachers embraced the theme during lessons, in preparation for the crowning glory which was to be our whole-school sports day, only for it to be rained off by the fickle British weather.
Support for charities and our community
The academic year started with defibrillator training, first for all the staff and subsequently for many of our pupils throughout the year. Although we now house our own defibrillator in reception, I’m pleased to say that we haven’t had any cause to use it – long may that be the case, but it remains an important device that is available to the local community.
Fund-raising for local and national charities, has always been a practice long associated with Ffynone. Macmillan nurses, Jeans for Genes day, the Marie Curie fund and Mr X have all benefitted from the generosity of students, parents and staff but this year there have been two occasions worthy of special mention.
The first was initiated by one of our youngest pupils, Aisha Hussein in Year 7, who wanted to raise funds for the Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar. Her awareness-raising idea of ‘Wear-a-hat’ day was a simple and effective means to buy clothing and supplies for some of those families in distress.
The second event was timed to coincide with our Celebration of Women Day in March. Tahsin Ali and her team of helpers from Years 10 and 11, arranged a stunning tea-party for over 70 mothers, daughters and friends, in aid of the maternity charity, Maa, which gives practical medical care and support to women in Bangladesh. Tahsin gave a heart-felt and emotional speech that touched everyone who was there, and I am still receiving messages of congratulation and admiration for her, from those who attended that evening.
I am especially pleased that we continue to promote adventurous activities to all our students, and this year has seen our pupils coasteering, climbing, surfing, orienteering and gorge-walking alongside the team-building challenges that we provide ourselves.
These activities fit well with our principal personal development programme, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. The Award first came into being 60 years ago and it continues to challenge and inspire new generations of young people to discover new activities, skills and sports, and to volunteer their time to help other worthy causes.
The pinnacle of the Award is usually the final expedition in which the participants undertake a journey lasting a few days. This is often very demanding physically, and it is the sense of achievement at its successful completion that is its true reward.
This final expedition is a journey which has a specific purpose that is decided on by the participants themselves. This purpose, or focus, is unlikely to result in the participants discovering knowledge that is original or new to the world, but it will be new to them. In this way, the underlying philosophy and principles of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award are a good metaphor for education in general.
A journey of achievement and discovery
The teachers at Ffynone, help our students learn skills and knowledge that is new to them. We want them to discover the sheer pleasure of learning that can last them a lifetime.
There will be setbacks on the way, so we need to teach our students how to be resilient, both in their approach to learning, and in dealing with personal issues and relationships; to learn strategies that will give them a structure how to think about problems and help them, not just to cope, but to adapt to the inevitable challenging times that they will face throughout their lives.
Not all will go on to become a Nobel prize winner, a Prime Minister or a captain of industry – although they might. But all of them will achieve success. They all have unique talents which should be celebrated, and all will have achievements of which they can be proud.
Talents might include academic ability, sporting success, confidence on stage performing music or drama, or having the emotional intelligence to understand and empathise with others, the skills to build relationships and lead the way. Individuals really do matter to us here.
This journey of achievement and discovery is enhanced by the experiences that we can make available to our students. It is why trips and visits are so important. We provide the opportunities for mixing with others, talking to University students, speaking with adult professionals, seeing real people doing real jobs, experiencing other cultures and listening to other people’s points of view.
Reflection also helps us recognise the value of what we have achieved by ourselves, and to acknowledge those who have helped us on our way.
Being thankful for the support and generosity of others, and appreciating the opportunities we have been granted is no small matter, not least the financial investment from parents and families, which enables pupils to attend Ffynone in the first place.
So, it is also our role to teach students some humility, to learn to express their gratitude freely and openly, and to be thankful for the opportunities they are given by their families, in supporting their attendance at Ffynone House School.