28th October 2019

Headmaster Prize Day Report

Mr Chairman, Professor Mitchell, Archdeacon West, Lord Mayor Campbell, members of the Board of Governors, our former Principal Mr Pollock, colleagues, parents, ladies and gentlemen and, most importantly, our prize winners, welcome to Prize Day – it is a privilege to present my fifth Annual Report in Banbridge Academy.

On this special day of celebration, we thank Archdeacon West and the Select Vestry of Holy Trinity for permitting us to continue to use this beautiful building in the heart of our community.

Mr Orr will outline later the distinguished career of our Guest of Honour. Professor Mitchell is Senior Lecturer and Dean of Undergraduate Studies at Trinity College Dublin and a world expert in genetics. I was fascinated to read his CV and the research he has produced, one title particularly caught my attention – ‘INNATE – How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are’. Maybe Professor Mitchell can help make sense of our political situation and Brexit!!!

I am pleased to welcome guests and colleagues from our partner Primary Schools. The education of our young people involves a partnership and I want to pay tribute to my colleagues in our primary schools who have created the foundation for the success our pupils enjoy.

Prize Day is a happy and joyful occasion when we celebrate success, but we cannot ignore the fact that since this time last year many in our school community have known the pain of bereavement and illness, we remember them in our prayers.

At the end of the year, we said farewell to a number of dear colleagues. Miss Anne Bryson left the Geography department and we also thank her for her compassion and support for the most vulnerable in society in her role as Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator. Mr Richard Currie’s leadership as Head of Technology & Design has ensured that our pupils continue to enjoy some of the best facilities in Northern Ireland and have the skills necessary to excel in the modern world. Mrs Sheelagh English left the Physics department and I personally thank her for helping a young student teacher on placement in the Academy in 1995 – namely myself – Sheelagh was and still is the best Physics teacher I have met on my educational journey. Mrs Maggie Hanna left the English department and I know colleagues agree with me when we say we all miss the banter and her stories. Mrs Marianne Phillips was a legendary teacher of Spanish, who inspired generations of linguists in the Academy. We wish all of our colleagues a long and happy retirement.

Miss McCullough (Art & Design) and Mr Jess (Physical Education) were appointed to the school in September and a number of teachers joined us in a temporary capacity – Mrs Clarke (Geography), Miss Forsythe (English), Mrs Kernaghan (Chemistry), Mr Magee (Physical Education), Mr McCandless (Technology & Design), Mr McAuley (Spanish), Mrs Stewart (Religious Studies) and Miss Walker (Biology).

I welcome them all to the Academy and trust they enjoy working in our happy community.

As my colleagues and the community have heard me say repeatedly, high-quality outcomes are secured when leadership is distributed and dispersed effectively across the school. There were a number of internal promotions: Mrs Glover (Head of Chemistry), Mrs Tully (Head of Biology), Mr Winter (Head of Technology & Design), Mr Clarke, Mrs Dreaning and Mrs McCullagh (Year Heads).

I pay tribute to our support staff who play a key role in maintaining our special ethos; they consistently demonstrate care and concern for our pupils. I wish to place on record my gratitude to our Financial Administrator, Mrs Neill and Mrs Johnston, my PA for all their friendship and support – my sincere personal thanks to both ladies for keeping so many things going on a daily basis. Anyone who knows the Academy well understands that the team in the office, our Pupil Welfare Auxiliary, the technical and support staff, alongside Simon and John, run the school. I thank them and their dedicated teams, including the caretaking, dining, cleaning, and grounds maintenance staff for the crucial role they play in maintaining the smooth day to day running of the School.

The Academy’s special ethos is due to the quality of relationships across our community. The partnership and support provided by The Academy Association is fantastic and I place on record our sincere thanks to our Chair, Audrey Wilson-Reid and her dedicated Committee. BAA are the friendly face of the School at many events and I thank them for their fundraising efforts which provide essential funds for pupils across the school. I encourage you to join this passionate group of parents and to support the forthcoming Christmas Craft Fair.

Examination statistics do not tell the whole story about the progression of pupils through the school, but they do provide an indication of the incredible success and talent of our young people. This year saw a significant change in grading at GCSE with the introduction of a C* and new grade boundaries, most notably at A* and B grade. Despite the changes the pupils excelled and performed significantly better than the Northern Ireland Grammar School average. Over half of all entries resulted in the top grades A*/A, and when B grades are included this figure rises to three quarters of all entries achieving grades A*-B. There were many superb individual performances, a total of 60 pupils obtained 8 A* or A grades and 18 pupils obtained 7 or more A* grades.

Leah Donnelly, Jude Kennedy, Kathryn McGrath, Ruby McNiff, Suzy Neill and Harry Patterson all obtained an outstanding 10 A* grades in each of their chosen GCSE subjects.

At AS Level the pass rate of 98% is very impressive, with 81.7% of all entries achieving A – C grades. These results provide an excellent foundation on which to build for A Level success next year.

The Academy’s outstanding A level results ensured that the school continues to be one of the highest performing schools in Northern Ireland. Impressively 85% of pupils achieved 3 grades A*- C and 47% of all entries were A*/A grades.

Out of the 162 students who entered these examinations 49 obtained a minimum of 3 A grades or better, 7 students obtained 3 A* grades – Harry Farson, Michelle Hamilton, Ruth McMullan, Ellen Rountree, Ryan Simms, Niall Thompson and Joel Trimble.

Unfortunately, the local Examination Authority has advised that they will not be in a position until November to release details of top achievers across NI. However, I am delighted to congratulate Mrs Casey and Miss McCullough – 11 of their pupils finished joint first in Northern Ireland and were all awarded full marks in GCSE Art & Design. In addition, our Art Department was chosen from schools across Northern Ireland to produce a showpiece collage to mark the retirement of the Education Authority’s Director of Education, Mr John Collings.

Research demonstrates a clear link between outcomes and attendance. We are delighted today to congratulate five pupils who attended every single day throughout their 7 years in the Academy – Clare Rose Agnew, Mark Barlow, Lewis Bingham, Dylan Dodds and Ruth McMullan.

The Academy’s phenomenal public examination results are testimony to the endeavours of all of our pupils, the commitment of the teaching staff and the ongoing support of our parents. I congratulate all of our pupils on their superb achievements and wish them well as they begin the next stage of their careers. Such remarkable results would not have been obtained without the talent and dedication of the teaching staff of the Academy; their professional approach has undoubtedly underpinned this success. I know our parents are delighted with the achievements of their sons and daughters and they too must be congratulated for their consistent support and encouragement as we work together to ensure high levels of success for our pupils. I ask the pupils now to show a token of appreciation to their parents and my colleagues – applause.

I wish to acknowledge and thank a number of guests who have donated new prizes. The A Level Economics Trophy has been donated by a member of our Board of Governors, Mr Mark Hudson, and will be presented to the student with the highest mark in A Level Economics. We thank Joe and the Thompson family for donating The Mary Thompson Award for Endeavour, in memory of his late wife, our dear colleague Mary, who served the pupils of the Academy with distinction for generations.

The Academy’s ethos continues to focus on care and concern for others and once again the pupils and staff were incredibly generous, donating approximately £20,000 to various charities throughout the year. Over the past 20 years that amounts to an amazing total of approximately £375,000. At the Action MS 40th anniversary ceremony the school was presented with the prestigious Action MS Bronze Boot, for the eighth time, acknowledging that we had raised the most funds of any school in Northern Ireland. The school continues to support many charities and thanks to Miss McConkey, over 200 pupils and staff signed up to have their hair cut to enable the Little Princess Trust to make wigs for children affected by hair loss, through cancer treatment or other health issues. The sponsorship for the brave pupils raised £3,000 for Clic Sargent and I wish to place on record my sincere thanks to the number of local hairdressers who helped make this unique event possible.

Four Year 13 pupils took part in the Holocaust Educational Trust: Lessons from Auschwitz. They had the privilege of meeting and listening to a Holocaust survivor and travelling to the sites of Auschwitz and Birkenau.

The international dimension of the school has always been central to our ethos and this year was no exception. The pupils and staff embraced the European Day of Languages with a range of food and culture, as well as taking the opportunity to dress for the day! The pupils had many opportunities to travel throughout the year, including the annual ski trip to Italy, the Spanish exchange to Zaragoza, the French Exchange to Dijon and other visits, including the Geography field trips and a number of Drama evenings to the theatre.

The History trip to Berlin provided our pupils with an excellent opportunity to consolidate and extend their knowledge of GCSE and A Level History, as well as visiting some of the most iconic sights of 20th century European History. In addition, junior school pupils had a plethora of opportunities to visit historical sites across Northern Ireland, enriching their understanding of local and national history.

The students in the Home Economics department continued to excel in a wide range of competitions – Ellie Lindsay was a finalist in the prestigious Tesco Chef of the Year competition, Katie Sloan and Rachel Sands finished a commendable second in the Co Down Regional Finals of the Mount Charles Big School Cook Off. Many events throughout the year generated considerable interest: The British Nutrition Foundation Healthy Eating Week; Christmas Cake Bake Off competition; Food and Drink masterclass provided by Young Enterprise; ‘Feed Your Mind’

Open Day at the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise, as well as a series of workshops led by the Royal Navy Youth Engagement Team. Avondale Foods provided a fantastic opportunity for Year 10 pupils to develop their entrepreneurial skills, the brief was to create a new and exciting salad. The Avondale Foods Team were extremely impressed with the quality of innovation from our budding chefs.

Our German Language Assistant shared an overview of food and drink from her home country of Austria – I understand a rather special sample of apple strudel. During the Spanish exchange students enjoyed an afternoon of traditional Irish cookery – well you can’t beat Irish stew and apple crumble!

Our Bar Mock Trial Team excelled throughout the year and were crowned NI Champions after defeating Glenlola Collegiate in the NI Final at the Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast. The students progressed to the UK National Final in Edinburgh, where they finished runners-up out of the 197 schools who started the competition – an unbelievable achievement for the Banbridge Academy Team and Miss McClelland.

Our Young Enterprise Companies got an insight into entrepreneurship by setting up and running their own businesses in school. They traded at the Christmas Craft Fair and Open Night, as well St George’s Market, Rushmere and Dundalk Shopping Centre. Cable Bytes, who won the best visiting company in Dundalk, sold cable bites which came in the shape of a range of animals. The company directors even dressed up to sell in animal ‘onesies’ – sounds very like an episode of the Apprentice! Duet – sold a headphone splitter, I understand a product targeted towards our own pupils as they noticed the problem of pupils sharing headphones in study! Schrunzies – surprisingly enough sold scrunchies – realising that these were becoming a major trend.

Year 9 pupils explored entrepreneurship as they participated in a fantastic co-curricular opportunity alongside our Young Enterprise partners called the ‘QuickStart Programme’. The pupils worked tirelessly to create and develop a range of inspiring items which drew high praise from the Team of ‘Dragons’ – not sure which member of staff was the most daunting!

As we continued to develop 21st century skills, our Year 10 pupils took part in a Sentinus workshop which focused on programming skills and producing code to steer a robot. The School Council continued to drive recycling and helped develop a new Reward and Recognition system across the school. Our Junior Quiz team were runners-up in the province-wide Kids’ Literature Quiz.

The Senior Dance Team took part in two province-wide Dance Competitions, the NICMAC and the Ulster Dance and Fitness Championships, winning Gold in the Musical Theatre section of the Ulster Championships. Gemma Uprichard, won Gold in the Intermediate Solo section at the NICMAC and Silver at the Ulster Championships for an emotionally moving routine choreographed by her older sister Amy.

The Greatest Show in the run-up to Christmas was a truly outstanding production, with over 300 pupils taking part either on stage or behind the scenes. All of the pupils were amazing and a special mention must go to Mrs Neill, Mrs McCurdy, Mrs Morrison, Mrs Paolucci, Miss Jess and other colleagues for their considerable efforts. The hall was packed at every performance and I can safely say that everyone enjoyed a wonderful evening.

Year 13 Psychology students Lauren Graham, Pearl Sibanda and Emma Harrison were awarded a Highly Commended second place for the presentation of their research project ‘The Social Power of Uniform’ at the A Level Conference held by the Northern Ireland Branch of the British Psychological Society.

The Art and Technology departments continue to inspire creativity and the pupils participated with distinction in a range of competitions across Northern Ireland. The Politics and Religious Studies departments continue to provide many opportunities for our young people to understand the importance of diversity and inclusion, which are integral to our society and our school ethos.

The Spring Concert yet again demonstrated our pupils’ amazing diversity and musical talent. It was a wonderful evening and a real credit to the pupils, the Year 14 music class, my colleagues and our team of tutors.

Every year the start of the Christmas period is heralded in at our annual School Carol Service in this beautiful church. The heart-warming soloists alongside our full orchestra add greatly to the wonderful atmosphere and I invite you to join us this year on Wednesday 18 December.

Leah Henning achieved her Diploma of the Royal Schools of Music in the clarinet, Eve Elliott attained a place in the National Youth Choir of Northern Ireland and Jude Kennedy achieved his Associate of Trinity College London Diploma in the piano. I take this opportunity to thank Jude for accompanying the girls’ choir today. I thank Mrs Robinson and her team of music tutors for their dedication to the pupils and for the wonderful music that I know we will enjoy later.

Scripture Union continues to support our young people in their Faith. Alongside the usual lively meetings and events there was a hugely successful Junior SU trip to Millisle and a Senior SU weekend to Castlewellan. The numerous clubs and societies across the school continue to thrive and I thank the House Staff for all their efforts in generating healthy competition with many House events throughout the year. All of the events help the pupils develop essential interpersonal skills and build new friendships; the hotly contested House Competition was won by Dunbar.

Large numbers of pupils participated in the array of sporting activities offered by the school. I will briefly outline the incredible achievements, as most of our sporting awards were presented at our Colours Assembly, with guest of honour Ulster and Irish hockey legend Miss Shirley McCay.

In cross country Simon Ferris and Matthew Stevenson qualified for the Irish Championships. The Girls’ Intermediate Cross Country Team was crowned Ulster Champions and Bethany Nixon claimed the Individual Inter-Girls’ Ulster Title. This was the first time a Banbridge Academy Team has ever won an Ulster Cross Country title and the girls competed exceptionally well in Dublin and claimed the Irish Silver Medal – likewise the first time an Academy Team has ever won a medal at these Championships.

Our Netball teams excelled throughout the season – the Senior Team reached the SF of the NI Plate, the Intermediates the QF of the Shield, the Juniors the QF of the Bowl and the Minors the QF of the Plate. Annabelle Kelly, Aoife McNally, Nadia Radcliffe & Zara Ginniff were selected for the NI U17 Squad and Katie Cartmill, Lynsey Orr & Gemma Hassan were selected for the NI U19 Squad.

In athletics, Bethany Nixon won Gold at the Ulster Championships in the Inter 3000m and finished 4th at the Irish Championships. Bethany was selected to represent Ulster in the Interprovincial Championships in the 3000m. Marcus McNeill was also selected to represent Ulster in the 800m in the Interprovincial Championships. Marcus has now taken a phenomenal 14 seconds off the previous school record for the 800 metres. Ryan Hanna won Bronze at the Ulster Championships in the shot.

Our rugby teams continued to represent the school with commitment and talent throughout the season. The 1st XV exited the Schools’ Cup in the 2nd Round, losing 11-10 against Cambridge House and lost narrowly to Foyle College in the quarter-finals of the Schools’ Trophy. The Medallion performed with great spirit and gusto to defeat Regent House in the quarter-final of the Bowl but unfortunately lost narrowly in the semi-final. Adam Hanna represented the Irish U18 Clubs & Schools team at Easter and then Ulster U19 in the Interprovincial Championships in August. Marcus McNeill was selected for the Ulster U17 summer training squad and represented Ulster U18 Clubs’ & Schools’ in a game v USA Eagles Academy. The U12 XV won the prestigious Down High Tournament.

The 1st XI Girls’ Hockey Team had another truly outstanding season. The team were narrowly defeated in the NI Superleague Final but that simply galvanised Nadia and the girls. Following a fantastic campaign, the Team defeated Ballyclare High School 2-1 in the final to lift the Belfast Telegraph Ulster Schools’ title for the second time in our history. The team narrowly missed winning the All-Ireland Kate Russell Tournament and had to settle for runners-up in Ireland. A special mention must go to their coach – Mr Neil Madeley, who has coached the girls on their incredible journey. Hannah Buchanan represented Ulster U16 and Nadia Benallal & Ellen Reid were selected for Ulster U18 and Ireland U21.

The senior girls inspired the U14 Girls to win the NI Junior Plate, defeating Ballyclare High School 5-4 in the final. What a season for girls’ hockey!

The boys’ hockey sides across the school continued to play with exceptional levels of skill and determination. The 1st XI narrowly lost in the semi-final of the Burney Cup and at this very time last year represented the school with distinction at the All-Ireland Schools’ Championships – winning an All-Ireland silver medal. The Boys’ U13 Hockey Team played exceptionally well throughout the season and were crowned Ulster Champions winning the Bannister Bowl. The U14 Boys’ Hockey Team, had an outstanding season, winning the Ulster Schools’ Ferris Cup and, for the first time in the school’s history, the John Waring All-Ireland U14 Schoolboy Championships. This resulted in the team and their coach, Mr Cordner winning the City of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Council Award for Junior Team and Coach of the Year. Thanks to Mr Walker, Mr Cordner and support from Banbridge Hockey Club, the University of Ulster and ABC Council the team enjoyed an elite performance tour in August against the best sides in Holland and Germany.

1st XI Boys’ Hockey Captain Scott Dale was selected for Ulster U18 and Irish U18. Ulster U16 Interprovincial Representatives – Christopher Curry, Cody Large, Charlie Rowe, Louis Rowe and Team Captain Edward Rowe. Edward also represented Ireland U16.

The school also had a number of representatives selected for Northern Ireland at the UK School Games – Scott Dale (U18 Hockey), Ellen Reid (U18 Hockey), Katie Cartmill (U15 Netball), Bethany Nixon (U17 Athletics) and Nadia Benallal (U18 Hockey) – the NI U18 Girls’ Hockey Team won the Gold medal at the Games.

The U13 football team won the South Down Football League after a 2-0 win against St Joseph’s Boys’ High School, Newry.

The U15 Girls’ Table Tennis Team were crowned Ulster Champions and following their success in the Irish U13 Shield last year, the girls performed to the highest standard and claimed the U15 All-Ireland Champions title. The U19 Girls and U15 Boys Teams played with distinction at the Irish Championships and the U13 Girls’ Team won a well-deserved Irish silver medal. Credit must go to our volunteer coach, Mr Arnold Morgan, for facilitating the development of these talented players.

Our school swimming teams continue to perform at the highest level recording many personal bests throughout the season. At the Ulster Schools’ Gala: Katie MacFarlane Silver 50m backstroke & 100IM; Julia Knox – Gold 100m breaststroke & 200IM; Kate Allenby – Gold 100m backstroke; Adam Wilson – Bronze 200IM and Declan McGeown broke 1 minute for the 100m free. At the Irish Minor Schools’ Gala: Katie MacFarlane Silver 100IM & Gold 50m backstroke; personal bests were recorded by Zachary Black 50m breaststroke and Edie McCusker 50m front-crawl & 50m backstroke.

Following a wonderful year of sporting success for the Academy in a vast array of sports, numerous teams and individuals were nominated and successfully shortlisted for the City of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon Sports Awards. There are too many categories to mention today, but it is important to note the amazing breadth of talent as you had to have reached Ulster or Irish standard to be shortlisted.

Many more activities and events took place during the year; however, time precludes me from mentioning the details. I encourage you to visit the school website and read our School Magazine for further details of pupils’ successes. I thank Mrs Gough and the magazine team for compiling such a wonderful record of the School Year and I look forward to the publication later in the term.

I feel very humble and proud to lead such a talented group of staff who are highly professional and genuinely caring. Their enthusiasm and devotion to our pupils is the reason why the Academy is such an excellent school. I thank my Vice Principals, Mrs Evans and Mr McFarland, my Senior Leadership Team, the Heads of Department, the entire Pastoral Team and all of my colleagues for their enthusiasm, support, dedication and friendship.

Prize Day is a significant event in the life of the School and the organisation of the day is a tribute to the considerable expertise of Mrs Evans, Mrs Morrison and Mrs Gilpin. I take this opportunity to thank them on behalf of everyone present for all of their efforts in arranging such a special day.

I thank Mr Orr, our Chairman and the members of the newly appointed Board of Governors for their support and encouragement. I can testify to the dedication of this group of volunteers and I thank them for their willingness to accept their onerous responsibilities.

In conclusion, many congratulations to all of the Prize Winners – WELL DONE! I wish our pupils and parents, my colleagues and Governors a happy Halloween break. I look forward to the year ahead as we work together to continue to meet the needs of the outstanding young people entrusted to our care.

Thank you.