Our esteemed guest, VIP guests, parents, family, staff and students, Good Afternoon and welcome to Speech Day 2022.
It is my privilege and honour to welcome you here this afternoon and to formally start proceedings on behalf of Daniel Wellings, Nominated Proprietor and Director of KSI. Daniel is unfortunately and unexpectedly unable to be here today. He has asked me however to thank on his behalf all of the staff for their hard work and efforts over the last 12 months, and also the parents for their continuing support and patronage. The school is of course about the students, and the students are the most important part of the school, but without the support of the parent body and the expertise and hard work of all the staff, the experience and the outcomes for the students would be very different.
It was a year ago, almost to the day, that I first visited Kingsley School and instantly it stood out to me as a school that was ready to propel itself forward. I found a school that was warm and welcoming, where students were happy, a school with fantastic facilities – and I know a lot of schools to compare against – and a school with a deeply loyal and passionate staff who would do anything, and do do anything, for the students. These are the firm foundation stones that any great school has in place, and they are certainly in place at Kingsley.
So what do I mean by “ready to propel itself forward”? Let me contextualise that. It is hard to remember what life was like 12 months ago today but if you cast your mind back, we were still in the middle of the pandemic. An easement of some restrictions which we had all been longing for, had had to be delayed until the end of July. The country was still in lockdown. Being able to visit a school, find somewhere to stay locally, and interview for a headship under these conditions was a small miracle in itself.
We mustn’t under-estimate the impact of the pandemic on schools, as indeed on all your businesses and industries. Schools both stood still – in terms of putting all development plans and improvement plans, including investment and curriculum designs on hold – and yet at the same time made accelerated progress at a faster rate than during any period over the last 150 years – in terms of rethinking the delivery of education, combining technology with pedagogy, and understanding the importance of education as a social, group activity, and not a solitary, confined one which can be done solely by staring at a computer screen on a zoom call – and I say “solely”, because we have learnt that there is an effective hybrid model using both technology and remote learning combined with social, in-person learning which schools across the world are now exploring, and I am keen that Kingsley is not left behind in this regard.
With the foundation blocks that I mentioned earlier firmly in place, and with everything that we have learned during the pandemic about doing things differently, thinking differently, coming out of our comfort zones and approaching everything we do with a growth mindset, the springboard was set. And it’s from this position – a position of strength – that Kingsley is now ready to propel itself forward to deliver an education which will prepare our students for a world that is very different to the one that I and all the adults in this room, entered when we left school.
So fast forward 12 months and here we are today, reflecting on and celebrating another year of change. I am grateful to Mr Ramsay who stood in as interim Head until I was able to arrive in February. That period allowed me to work closely with Mr Ramsay on preparing the path for my arrival to ensure a relatively smooth transition, and it allowed me to meet and get to know many of the students, the staff and the parents, and to hear what was really important to all stakeholders.
I used the word “change” – a word that I don’t like using, preferring instead the word “improvement”. I believe in the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen – continuous improvement through review and reflection – always asking the question – “How could we do this better?” It’s a very basic question that teachers have been asking their students for over 2000 years, and yet as adults, if we don’t continue in adult education, training or learning, we tend to stop progressing and simply repeat the tried and tested routines that we become comfortable with.
So what improvements have we seen in the last 12 months.
There has been significant improvement in the estate. We opened up the new entrance, or should I say old entrance, to the school from Belvoir Road which has created a wonderful approach to the school which not only provides a calming and sensory start to the day as you meander up through the woodland, but it forms part of our Active Travel Plan which includes reducing the congestion, and therefore the carbon emissions along Northdown Road. I would encourage all parents, no matter which direction you are coming from, to use this entrance and create that one-way traffic flow in and out of the school grounds.
We have started our window replacement programme which again helps to improve the aesthetics of the school, but also reduces energy consumption, fuel bills, and of course our carbon-footprint still further.
The astro pitch has been refurbished and the basketball and 5-a-side football hardcourt has been resurfaced and made fit for students to enjoy their sports activities.
The ecology zone has doubled in size in the last 12 months thanks to the efforts and toil of the students who are slowly becoming experts in the benefits of no-dig farming and agriculture, and the impact this has on the local ecosystem. 2,500 trees have been planted on the
lower north slope of the school to help rewild that particular area. And at the same time as maintaining beautiful grounds and gardens, we have purposed particular areas of the school’s grounds for meadow grass to help enhance the biodiversity of the site.
I mentioned a moment ago the importance of technology in education. Before the pandemic I was personally involved in research into AI – Artificial Intelligence – in education and the last 2 years has shown just how effective that can be. We have invested heavily into our wifi and data networks over the last 6 months and by September we will have the infrastructure in place to support AI and wider digital learning. Stage 2 next year will be to introduce portable devices to the students and staff to make the learning experience complete, and to give students access to unbridled learning and research opportunities.
We have revamped our food menus in the school and with the help of a certain Doctor Pavis at the University of Exeter, we have developed a nutrition programme which we will be rolling out to students next year so that they better understand what they are eating and why, and we will be linking this up with the work going on at the ecology zone so that the nutrient-dense food that is produced there can become part of our daily diets. And a Gordon Ramsay style Dining Hall make-over has helped make the dining environment a far more positive one.
The main improvements in our mission and focus for the students has been the launch of a new wellbeing agenda. Focusing on the NHS 5 steps to positive wellbeing and mental health – those being appreciating, giving, learning, connecting and being active – we are looking at how a balanced diet of each of these things in our lives can help us achieve happiness and success through wellbeing and positive mental health. By making the implicit explicit, students and staff at the school are exploring the benefits associated with mental
health and how we can place as much importance on our mental health as we do on our physical health.
One major contributor to the wellbeing programme is the Surf Academy, launched in March this year, and coinciding with the North Devon beaches being designated a World Surf Reserve, one of only 12 such designations world-wide. With the Earth Centre concept supporting the UNESCO Biosphere designation, Kingsley is most certainly taking advantage of its location and environment to provide a most unique, holistic form of education.
We have also launched our Performing Arts Academy this term with ambitious plans for the future development of the Arts at Kingsley. From September, all students in Year 7-9 will be enrolled in the Arts Award scheme in which students will work towards their Bronze Award, accredited by the Trinity Examination board. The school has also started its own journey towards the national artsmark certificate in which we hope to achieve a silver award in the next 2 years, before progressing to gold and platinum as we continue to improve our arts provision across the school.
From September we will also be enrolling all Y9 students in the bronze DofE award. While the expedition part of the award will not be compulsory, we hope that all of the Y9 students will take advantage of this opportunity to stretch and challenge themselves so that they can gain this much coveted award. The success of the DofE programme at Kingsley over the years has been a real strength of the school and we hope to build on this success and encourage as many students as possible to achieve silver and gold. We entered 2 teams in the 10 Tors challenge this year, and for the first time in the school’s history, we also entered 2 teams in the Jubilee Challenge. We hope to improve on this next year, adding an additional Exmoor event to the Outdoor Pursuits agenda.
All students will have new pages in their planners to record their service and volunteering hours which we are asking all students to complete. Giving in this way will satisfy that element of our mental health agenda, and will of course lead to our students becoming better citizens, and better prepared to become the world-class global citizens of the future.
I am currently working with the respective Heads of girls and boys games to improve our participation rates in team sports, to develop a wider range of non-team and accessible sports and activities, and to build on the phenomenal success of both the Judo Club and the Gymnastics Academy. A new Sports Academy will be developed over the next 12 months to support all sportsmen and women in their chosen sport And our sports facilities, including this very sports hall, will receive a much overdue makeover and refurbishment.
So if I were to sum up what’s next for Kingsley – it is an aspirational journey of continuous improvement towards being the best version of ourselves we can be. That includes each individual student, each individual member of staff – myself included – and the school as a whole, improving week by week, month by month, year by year.
I was asked when I first arrived at Kingsley back in February the following question; “which school do I see as our main competitor?” The answer was simple – Kingsley School. I want Kingsley to be better today than Kingley was yesterday, and I want it to be better still tomorrow. While we focus on the self-improvement and the incremental gains, the outcomes and results will take care of themselves.
And If we can instil this culture and philosophy in our students – the desire to perpetually improve and become the best version of themselves – then we really will have prepared them fully for their futures, and for the world they will enter – whatever that world may look like.