Presentation Day 2019

In his speech at Presentation Day, Andrew Hampton said:

Good morning and isn’t it wonderful to be having our presentation day in this amazing, new £2m building. Though it has taken a 5 and half years to complete since the original decision to build, it has been well worth the wait. Showing round prospective parents fills me with pride as we arrive at three new jaw-dropping ‘wow’ spaces – this hall, the fitness suite and the dance studio. Although the build has been painful at times and I suppose all builds are, I think this new facility also represents excellent value for money.

One of the things the Governing Body were keen to achieve was to be able to use The Seaglass to promote Thorpe Hall’s relationship with the community of Southend. Already we have hosted numerous sporting clubs and other groups and the foot fall passing through the school to visit this building and the Cunningham Theatre is considerable. The Development Officer who was in post at the time that many of these relationships were formed was Cheryl Bertschi, who runs the Nursery but who is leaving us to seek new opportunities at the end of this term. Cheryl has been an amazingly effective contributor to Thorpe Hall since she started around 7 years ago. Under her leadership the Nursery has been transformed and the fact that it is widely regarded as the best Nursery in the area was underlined when we won the ISA Award for Excellence and Innovation in Early Provision in 2017. As Development Officer she has been responsible for numerous impactful projects including the new uniform in the Junior School, the refurbishment of the Theatre Foyer and the establishment of relationships with Olympic Gold Medalist Max Whitlock and the holiday Kidz Camp. Cheryl has been brilliant for Thorpe Hall and I am sure she will continue to be amazing at whatever she chooses to do next.

Our new Development Officer is Alison Gellett and she joined us in April having had a very successful career within the Southend Local Authority Education Department. Her remit is to continue to transform education in Southend, but this time engaging local schools in partnerships with Thorpe Hall. You will be hearing more and more about our ENGAGE programme over the coming years and Alison has already made an impressive start. Many fee-charging schools in the UK try but don’t succeed in forming effective and long lasting partnerships with local schools. Very early on in her job here, Alison figured out why. Instead of going to a local school and asking how we can help make them better – which is the approach recommended by the Department for Education, Alison has simply been asking local Heads what their schools are really good at and that they might help us learn from them. So instead of feeling patronised and defensive, local Heads have been keen to share their expertise with us and new projects relating to outdoor learning, public speaking and literacy are already planned for next year. The quick success Alison has achieved through this flipping of the initial approach to local schools has been shared with the ISC – the Independent Schools Council  – and indeed the Department for Education, both of whom are very excited.

Speaking of ISC and the Department for Education, I was delighted last week when Thorpe Hall’s Girls on Board initiative was quoted in a document that ISC had been asked to submit to the Department relating to exemplary character education in independents schools. Thorpe Hall made the cut in a document that had been limited to 500 words and we were one of only 6 schools mentioned. Needless to say those other school mentioned were considerably richer and bigger than Thorpe Hall. Girls on Board has now been adopted by over 100 schools across the UK, both independent and state, and, importantly, has generated an income of over £20,000 for the school since it started two years ago. Thorpe Hall was shortlisted for the TES ‘Wellbeing Initiative of the Year Award for 2019’. The fact that Thorpe Hall continues to make an impact on the national stage is something we should all be shouting about around the town and be very proud of.

One of the things I have been doing this last year is visiting schools and training teachers how to apply the principles of the Girls on Board approach. When girls fall out with each other it can be tough for those girls and the teachers who try to support them; but it can be particularly tough for the parents. They witness their daughter coming home when friendships have gone wrong, in a distressed state and their desire to try to fix the problem can be overwhelming. When I invite the teachers from other schools to share with me and each other the stories attached to girl conflict, the parents very often get a bad press. No doubt motivated by a genuine desire to help, some parents at these other schools find themselves communicating with teachers in ways that are very unhelpful. Using aggressive and accusatory language, they seek to blame other girls, their families and the schools, sometimes even resorting to litigious threats.

And, of course, this is true not just in the case of girl friendships. We heard in the press a few weeks ago of a headteacher who moved abroad to continue her career so that she did not have to suffer the aggression and outright abuse that she had suffered at the hands of the parents in her school. Sir Michael Wilshaw, former Chief Inspector of Ofsted, weighed into the debate, calling for parents to be fined if they were abusive to teachers. Since then the Department for Education has sadly missed the opportunity to support teachers and leaders in schools with any sort of statement condemning aggressive communication. 

What is missing from the debate is the anyone pointing to the simple truth that aggressive communication towards teachers makes the situation much worse for the child. Teachers, in the face of anger and threats, become de-skilled and straight-jacketed as parents seek to wrest back moment by moment control of what happens to their child in school. We forget that school is a place where young people learn to make mistakes and that includes, on occasion, poor behaviour. Up to a certain age, that poor behaviour should definitely be managed with parental involvement, but there comes a moment, and that moment is defined by circumstance, when telling the parents is part of the punishment. In other words, there is a rites of passage for parents as much as for children, when the behaviour of a child is kept within the teacher’s domain and not shared with home. And that is appropriate and natural.

Having listened to the stories emanating from dozens of schools, of parents exerting negative influence on teachers through the tone of their communications and I am proud to share with you that Thorpe Hall’s parents are very rarely guilty of such choices, especially by comparison. The terms and conditions of the contract that the school has with you as parents includes the sentence: communication with the school must be courteous and constructive. Two great words courteous and constructive. Although rare, as I say, it is still vital that ALL communications from parents remain compliant with these contractual obligations, and having shared these thoughts with the Governing Body, I know they are fully in support of this.

Sadly, but also joyously, we are saying goodbye to Mrs Leslie at the conclusion of a brilliant 21 year career at Thorpe Hall. I say joyously because it is hard to think of Mrs Leslie without seeing in your mind her beaming smile and positive and energetic demeanour. It has to be said that that beaming smile has got wider and wider as she has counted down the days to retirement. Mrs Leslie has been a consistent bastion of support and comfort to children and parents alike. Her unstinting mission to get the most from every child and to help parents achieve that has impacted the lives of hundreds and hundreds of children across Southend, some of whom who are now parents themselves. Her loyalty and unwavering support for me personally and as part of the Senior Leadership Team has played a major part in making Thorpe Hall the successful school it is today. In the 12 years it has been my privilege to work alongside her there have been good times and bad times but she has never been anything other than totally committed to the cause, available, able and willing to do everything takes to help everybody make the most of every day. I wish her a very happy retirement.  

As we look forward to the post-Leslie era, the most exciting prospect is undoubtedly the school new commitment to sustainability. A small committee of enthusiastic teacher met twice towards the end of term to decide on are aims and direction and to make a start on what will be, over time, a massive and high impact programme. If I read you the aims we agreed upon I think you will get a flavour of what lies ahead.  

We want to make the school

  • Carbon Neutral in 10 years or less.
  • We want pupils leave the school as responsible citizens for whom sustainability is their priority
  • We want to give agency to pupils so they feel they can make a difference as individuals
  • We want to make Thorpe Hall a global exemplar of sustainable schools

Exciting stuff and there will plenty of opportunities to engage with the programme from home.

Finally I would like to thank all the staff at Thorpe Hall both teaching and non-teaching. There have been many highlights across all aspects of the schools work this year and every single one of the team works hard, with passion, integrity and imagination to do their best for the school and the children in it. It is my absolute privilege to work alongside them and help them to thrive and flourish.