Stewards Academy head makes passionate farewell speech at prizegiving evening.

Education: Secondary / Mon 8th May 2017 at 09:25am

Stewards Sports Hall

ON Thursday evening, this reporter had the pleasure of attending the Stewards Academy Prizegiving ceremony.

One of the (many) highlights was the 28th and final speech by the headteacher, Rhonda Murthar.

We have been given permission to reprint it in full.

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen and welcome to Stewards’ Presentation Evening.

I would like to begin by welcoming you all this evening: pupils, parents, governors, staff and representatives from our local community, to celebrate the achievements of our young people.

Our guest speaker tonight is Jonathan Hewlett who is CEO of Diesel Europe and who has travelled from Milan to be with us here tonight. Jonathan is no stranger to Stewards; on the contrary, he is a past student, a past governor and wherever he works in the world – be it Switzerland, China or Italy, he has always found time to keep in touch be it through presenting awards, Sports Presentation Evening or giving talks about his extraordinary life experiences.

This is actually my 28th speech on the occasion of our annual Presentation Evening. The first was in 1990. Jonathan would have been here in 2004 when I made my 15th speech. It will be my last. In it I will tell you something about me and about the 27 years that I have served as Headteacher of this great school which is so much a part of the life of everyone who works here, pupils and staff, or those who can proudly call themselves a governor.
Jonathan will be well aware that it was his father, Gordon Hewlett who, as Chair of Governors, took the brave decision to appoint me as Headteacher at the tender age of 36, when I had served as Deputy Headteacher for little over a year.

Stewards was built in 1963. The building itself has been very well maintained and our Business Manager and facilities team have worked extremely hard to manager our finances well, successfully bid for capital funding and ensure we have continued to grow and develop excellent facilities; most recently the new Science Laboratories, dining area and of course the crowning glory – the new Sports Hall which will serve as a wonderful new Sports facility, not only for Stewards students but for our local community as well, for many years to come. A dream I have held for many many years has now come to fruition. We owe a debt of gratitude to Stewards Governing Body for taking this bold decision at a time of austerity – it will be a legacy they can pass on to future generations with a sense of pride.

We have always seen Stewards as being at the heart of the community. The partnership between pupils, parents and staff has always been a relationship we hold in great store and work continuously to nurture. It was particularly gratifying to hear Her Majesty’s Inspector who led our Ofsted Inspection in March, talk in such glowing terms about the school. He said that he had never inspected a secondary school where parents commented with such a remarkable range of superlatives about a school – recognising that staff always go the extra mile for their children.

In fact much of what we do at Stewards, he described as remarkable. Pupils feel part of a wider community of which they are really proud. We have a remarkably inclusive culture. Pupils are respectful and proud of one another’s achievement. Behaviour, he said, was exemplary. Care, guidance and support are really strong and teaching is impressive.

Sometimes I think that we need to be told these things by outsiders for us to really understand what an exceptional school this is. Remember that it was this school the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge chose to visit in September because the support we provide for pupils emotional well-being is so strong and threaded through daily life – it was seen by them as a beacon of excellence and they were extremely impressed by all our young people.

At Stewards we have always held to our true beliefs even though they have sometimes been under threat by external forces created by government interference and ideology – the testing regimes that would encourage schools to attract only able children and exclude those who have particular learning needs or who find it more difficult to succeed – the league table competition where test results have seemed to be the only measure of success and failure leads to impossible pressures and scrutiny on leaders and staff who are forced into new organisational structures.

These are the realities of school leadership. I have lived through the ages of change

The 1988 National Curriculum (the year I came to Stewards) – which first gave the Secretary of State for Education far reaching powers over the curriculum, attainment targets and assessment

The establishment of schools no longer locally maintained: a market place philosophy – which has led to the open market of City Technology Colleges and UTC’s, Academies and Free Schools and now the opening of grammar schools

Education Reform Acts – which have led to a more and more tightly prescribed curriculum and national assessment schemes. An intensification of targets and performance indicators, of audits and inspections.

We have had to balance the need to respond to constant change in revolutionary times but strive always to hold on to what we truly value and believe and this has not always been an easy path to tread but it is one, I am pleased to say, we have succeeded in doing.

As long as we are teaching well, and that good teaching is resulting in students learning and making good academic progress, we will be doing a good job.

As long as we continue to celebrate diversity, ingenuity and imagination in the way we teach, we will be doing a good job. To me it makes common sense. Every child is different, every class is different, every year group is different. One size rarely fits all.

As long as we, as a community, support our teachers and our associate staff whose job it is to care for the whole child, we will be doing a good job. Teachers want to be the best they can be. To create great teaching the culture needs to be one of support, sharing and risk taking without an atmosphere of fear or recrimination. Teachers will always want to do better – it is a lifelong learning process. As teachers we fail all the time. We teach these brilliant lessons, take in the children’s books, look at what they have written and wonder what planet they were on when we were teaching the stuff. Teachers can have daily experience of failure – which makes it the best job in the world because you never reach perfection – you just keep learning to get better and better. You never need to worry about being bored – the job is so hard that one lifetime isn’t enough to master it. So every single one of you needs to accept the commitment (and you do) to carry on improving our practice until we retire or die. That is the deal. In my experience teachers and our support staff are the most diligent professional colleagues dedicated to doing all they can for their students – and we should never underestimate the importance of parental support and appreciation.

I have been fortunate to work in a school characterised by a high level of collegiality, a place teeming with frequent, helpful personal and professional interactions. I like coming to school each day to be with other adults who genuinely want to be here, who really choose to be here because of the importance of their work to others and to themselves. We are part of a school characterised by a profound respect for and encouragement of diversity, where important differences among children and adults are celebrated. During term time I have often spent over 10 hours a day at work…..for 190 days a year…for about 30 years here at Stewards. This has been my choice – as it has been the choice of so many others who have dedicated themselves to the education and care of our students. What drives us is ensuring our students have the best possible life chances and that they are not limited by their own perceptions of themselves and what they might achieve in life.

Looking back over my career at Stewards, the things I have enjoyed the most have been the awe and wonder of education – seeing children enjoying learning. I have watched you being fascinated by Science; proud of your photography, Art or something that you have made in Food Technology; engaging in debate and discussion in History, RE or Sociology; developing an avid love of Poetry or Literature in English; mastering a difficult concept in Maths , ICT or a new language; keen to explore the physical features of the world or learn about different environments in Geography; engaging in a love of Sport; or entertaining audiences through music, dance and drama.

I have enjoyed our meetings in School Council or EMPV; taking you on trips from Cambridge to Helsinki, Suzhou to New York; I have been impressed by your talent as shown in Art Exhibitions, Music Concerts and School Productions. These things have been a joy. I have also cherished the individual conversations we have; seeing you be respectful and polite to any adult who visits, sharing your pride in our school, showing acts of kindness and generosity which is a mark of Stewards and our charity work.

Stewards will always be here for you. We have created a wonderful school – and that takes time. Truly great schools don’t suddenly exist. You grow great teachers first, you have the right support staff around you and they in turn grow a truly great school. We value respect, honesty and kindness. We look out for one another. As the Inspector said: we take pride in one another’s achievements.

The challenges in education continue and will test our courage to stick to what we believe in and proclaim the virtues of a comprehensive system of education that is fair and values every child. That is the watchword of Stewards and it is for you to protect it in the years ahead.

Congratulations to all of you here tonight. We are here to celebrate with you and your families your many achievements….your endeavour, your academic success, your contributions to the life of Stewards Academy. Enjoy your evening and feel proud of what you have achieved, inspired to go on further and follow your dreams.

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