Skip to content ↓

Principal’s Prizegiving Address 2024

Good afternoon, everybody, and thank you for joining us on this special occasion.

Apparently, the good thing about being retired is that you can say what you like, but the bad thing is that no one is listening any more – so I had better make the most of this final opportunity.

Vladimir Putin has been in power since 1999, Benjamin Netanyahu has been prime minister of Israel for sixteen years in total, Donald Trump and Joe Biden are running for their third and fourth presidencies respectively, and their combined age in November will be 159.  It is therefore clear to even the least observant that most of the world’s problems are caused by old white men staying in their jobs for too long – so this feels like a very good moment for me to be calling it a day.

People like me are sometimes labelled as ‘pale, male and stale’.  While the colour of my skin and my gender are things I can either do nothing about or do not want to do anything about, I would strongly reject the label ‘stale’, in spite of having completed a total of sixteen years of headship.

As the recent inspection by the Independent Schools Inspectorate found, Radnor House is a school full of dynamism and innovation.  We do exactly what we say on the tin in terms of our strapline of ‘Great Teaching, Genuine Values’, with the Reporting Inspector commenting on the quality of what was seen in the classrooms, the way our core values permeate everything we do and the strength of the leadership across all areas and at all levels of the school.

Among many highlights this year, our school community can reflect with great pride on our increased levels of charity fundraising, not least our help for local food and hygiene banks.  We can celebrate our best ever year on the sports field, particularly in national competitions where we are beginning to feature much more prominently.  Our performing arts programme remains exceptionally strong, not least as exemplified in our set piece events like the Christmas and Summer Concerts and, of course, the performances of Chicago.

The recent GCSE and A Level Art & Photography Exhibition was outstanding, we have been visited by the broadest and most interesting array of outside speakers we have yet assembled, and the range of school trips continues to grow, particularly the opportunities for residential visits.  There have been curriculum initiatives through the Konnections programme, which will roll out from Year 7 to Years 8 and 9 next year and beyond, and we saw from the presentations earlier the progress that has been made with our Laureate programme, which incorporates the Dukes Young Leaders Award as well.  And please remember that our public examination results last summer were the best they have ever been.

Our Values Wheel and our so-called Window of Opportunities are not the result of some scribbles on a napkin in a restaurant, but rather the culmination of several years of reading, thinking, listening and crafting.  They underpin everything we are trying to do and help to anchor our planning in the realms of utility and effectiveness.

As a colleague pointed out after reading the inspection report, we can surely be justifiably proud of so many paragraphs that highlight words such as: extensive; robust; wide-ranging; secure; respect; effective; vision; proactive; balanced; well-paced; understanding; and thorough.

Albert Einstein allegedly said that not everything that counts can be measured and not everything that can be measured counts, and Martin Luther King pointed out that the ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy. 

There is no greater challenge for any school community than to lose one of its own in circumstances not under its control, so it is no surprise that we are still coming to terms with the death of Jay Loizou less than two weeks ago.  No one will ever be able to measure our response to losing him against criteria or compare it to national averages, and nor should they, but I am incredibly proud of how we have coped so far and I see this as a testament to the strength of our community and the spirit of our people.  Jay had a huge influence on many people’s lives at Radnor House and he will long be remembered.  As someone wrote to me when my father died a few years ago, ‘Death leaves a heartache no one can heal; love leaves a memory no one can steal.’

One of the best checklists I have seen for a successful organisation highlights four areas: passion and purpose; structure and systems; imagination; and regular reflection.  This featured in the first meetings I had here with staff and with parents back in 2017, and I have not changed my mind since. 

This school has always been blessed with those who are passionate about education and go about their business with purpose, and there are strong signs of imagination and regular reflection wherever you look.  Structure and systems were quite hard to find seven years ago, but nowadays they permeate the school, which has basically been the key factor in taking it from where it was to where it is now.

I was recently given a book about retirement, which certainly made me reflect carefully on several areas that I had not previously considered.  One of the ideas that has stayed with me is the need to try to reach closure before you leave, to ensure that there are not a lot of projects left unfinished.  For me, the timing of the inspection and its subsequent report were therefore ideal, because they have rounded off my time here with a glowing document that summarises the efforts of everyone I have worked with over the years, all of whom in their own ways have helped to make Radnor House the excellent school it is today.

There will, of course, be plenty for my successor Amy Cavilla to get her teeth into, not least the move to Kneller Hall when the day arrives, which it surely will before too much longer.  But I genuinely believe that my work here is done and now is exactly the right time to be moving on.  As the sports presenter Mark Pougatch, the longest serving host of BBC Radio’s Sports Report programme, said after he decided to seek new challenges on the television, ‘You should always leave a party while you are still enjoying it.’

And staying up to speed with youth culture becomes increasingly difficult as you get older, as highlighted when I read recently that a teacher was describing the feedback from a class they had taught and one of their pupils had written, ‘My teacher acts all down with pop culture and the kids, but secretly he thinks Ariana Grande is a font in Microsoft Word.’

I told the pupils in the final assemblies I did for them a few weeks ago that I can remember having two ambitions when I was younger.  One was to become the owner of a BMW and the other was to become the head of a school, both of which I have managed to fulfil, in each case twice.  I can conclude that owning a BMW is very much a fleeting pleasure, particularly once you realise that rear-wheel drive cars are largely useless in cold weather because they skid badly on icy roads, and when you find out that they take about twenty minutes to go from nought to sixty miles per hour.

There is no question in my mind that career fulfilment is considerably more satisfying than material possessions, no matter how shiny they might at first appear.  Everything I have read over the years has confirmed that if you can find a career that inspires you and feeds your passions, your work will be inspiring and motivating, even on the most challenging of days.

Malcolm Gladwell, for example, said that for work to be satisfying it has to have autonomy, complexity and a connection between reward and effort.  Work that fulfils these three criteria is meaningful work.  It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy; it’s how fulfilled we are.

Contrary to what we usually believe, the best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times – although such experiences can also be enjoyable, if we have worked hard to obtain them.  The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to the limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.

The comedian Billy Connolly said that we should all try to leave the world a little less beige than we found it, which sounds like good advice to me.  I consider myself deeply fortunate that I can look back on my career, which has spanned six different schools since 1988, and know that each one of them was better, however you define the term, after I left than it was when I got there.  That is enough for me.  I have never sought, or been comfortable with, undue accolades.  Yes, I would prefer it if everybody loved me, but I would much rather they respected me for the job I have done.

At my last school, I am probably most remembered for fixing the car park, which is a long story that I will not start to tell just now.  My guess would be that it will be five little words that people will remember from my time here – ‘Work hard and be kind.’  I was so excited when I finally came up with the idea, which I appreciate is a bit sad, but soon afterwards I found out that someone else had got there first – specifically the Jack and Jill Prep School in Hampton Hill. 

While this was hardly the same feeling that Captain Scott must have experienced when he realised that Roald Amundsen had reached the South Pole before him, it did nevertheless take the edge off the moment.  Still, I am nothing if not persistent, and I would be surprised if the youngsters round the corner can recite the mantra with the verve that our pupils can.  As I have said several times in recent weeks, I think we all still need to work harder and be kinder, but the inspectors certainly grasped the phrase and they were all spouting it merrily by the time they left. 

If five words can sum things up so positively then five initials have helped to convince me that this is a perfect time to move on – VAT & AI.  We will be put out of the misery of the dismal election campaign after ten o’clock tonight, and I can only hope that whatever may happen with the decision to tax independent school fees it is not too painful and does not do too much damage to our vital sector of the educational landscape. 

As far as AI is concerned, there are already enormous benefits through what it can offer, but there are also plenty of challenges that will only increase in the coming years.  If people can be so ghastly to each other using WhatsApp and TikTok, I dread to think what deep fake images and artificially generated text will do among school and other communities.

As I think I have probably said every year since I came here, the one certainty in life is change, even though it is one of the ideas we fear the most.  At least I have been able to offer some stability at the helm over the last seven years.  When I started here in 2017, I was the fourth Head in just six years, whereas Amy Cavilla will be the fifth in fourteen, which sounds a little better – though not when you say it about the number of prime ministers we have since 2010.

I am very proud of everything this school has achieved during its short existence, but I am only really the conductor of the orchestra and nothing would be possible without the talent, energy and commitment of everyone else.  Schools as organisations are disproportionately dependent on the personality of those who lead them, but I hope, once people got used to me here, that I have been a good fit for what the school needed and I have played my part in the progress it has made in the last seven years.

This is also the time when we say goodbye to some of the other musicians in our band who have left the school this year.  I appreciate that it can sometimes feel that there are a lot of names, but what follows is the list for the whole year, not just this term.  It is considerably shorter than last year’s and nearly 12% of the leavers are called Wideman.  From our support staff, farewell and thank you to: Lucy Croxford (Admissions & Marketing Assistant); Sandra Dorado Leon (Spanish Language Assistant); Rebecca Khan (Receptionist); Michael Thompson (Assistant Director of Operations); and Zara Wells (HR & Compliance Assistant).

From the teaching staff: Alicio Barbo (Religious Studies – Maternity Cover); Chelsea Constanti (Science); Laura Edwards (Head of Psychology); Robert Gomez (Physics); Hannah Greenhalgh (Art & Photography); Marian Lonsdale (Learning Support); Whitney Mansaray (Head of Sociology); Clare Marshall (Head of Geography); Hila Raz (Science – Maternity Cover); Kate Walters (English); and Fiona Wideman (History).

Please join me in a round of applause for all these colleagues.

When the Dalai Lama was asked what surprised him the most in his life, he replied that it was the people in the world who work too hard.  He wondered why a man or a woman would sacrifice their health in order to make money.  Then they sacrifice money to recuperate their health.  And they are so anxious about the future that they do not enjoy the present; the result being that they do not live in the present or the future; they live as if they are never going to die, and then they die having never really lived.

In a similar spirit, they say the difference between salad and garbage is timing – just ask Liz Truss – so I am going to return to a piece of wisdom that has always inspired me.  I’ve shared it before, but I really cannot think of a better way to bring everything to an end.   It’s called ‘The Station’ by the American Robert J Hastings, and I think everyone should have a copy in their house or their office, or both, to remind them of what really matters in life.  It made me cry when I first heard it and it might make me cry again today, but I don’t care.

“Tucked away in our subconscious minds is an idyllic vision.  We see ourselves on a long, long trip that almost spans the continent.  We’re travelling by passenger train, and out the windows we drink in the passing scene of cars on nearby highways, of children waving at a crossing, of cattle grazing on a distant hillside, of smoke pouring from a power plant, of row upon row of corn and wheat, of flatlands and valleys, of mountains and rolling hillsides, of city skylines and village halls, of biting winter and blazing summer, and cavorting spring and docile fall.

But uppermost in our minds is the final destination.  On a certain day at a certain hour, we will pull into the station.  There will be bands playing and flags waving.  And, once we get there, so many wonderful dreams will come true.  So many wishes will be fulfilled and so many pieces of our lives finally will be neatly fitted together like a completed jigsaw puzzle.

How restlessly we pace the aisles, damning the minutes for loitering … waiting, waiting, waiting, for the station.  However, sooner or later we must realise there is no one station, no one place to arrive at once and for all.  The true joy of life is the trip.  The station is only a dream.  It constantly outdistances us.

‘When we reach the station, that will be it!’ we cry.  Translated it means, ‘When I’m 18, that will be it! When I buy a new 450 SL Mercedes Benz, that will be it!  When I put the last kid through college, that will be it!  When I have paid off the mortgage, that will be it!  When I win a promotion, that will be it! When I reach the age of retirement, that will be it!  I shall live happily ever after!’

Unfortunately, once we get ‘it’, then ‘it’ disappears.  The station somehow hides itself at the end of an endless track.  ‘Relish the moment’ is a good motto, especially when coupled with Psalm 118:24: ‘This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.’  It isn’t the burdens of today that drive men mad.  Rather, it is regret over yesterday or fear of tomorrow.  Regret and fear are the twin thieves who would rob us of today.

So, stop pacing the aisles and counting the miles.  Instead, climb more mountains, eat more ice cream, go barefoot more often, swim more seas, watch more sunsets, laugh more and cry less.  Life must be lived as we go along.  The station will come soon enough.”

Thank you – to all the parents at the school for your support and trust, even if sometimes there were frustrations to deal with; to Aatif, Libby and Isaac at Dukes for your confidence in me, even when I was being difficult to manage; to the staff for everything you contribute and the way you go about your work: and to all the pupils for everything that you bring to the school’s progress every day that you are here.  This is truly an excellent school with an exceptional future – and long may that be the case.  Have a great summer and I wish everyone all the very best for what lies ahead.

Thank you and farewell.

Paste in video URL and save page via the "Edit" tab at the top of the page