The days are drawing in and Christmas is fast approaching. It is Sunday afternoon and the weather is wild. Storm Atiyah is fast approaching and the swollen sea is crashing over the promenade. Clumps of white foam swirl towards the playing fields. The bellicose roar of the wind is complemented by the intermittent sound of hail driving against the windows. Even the goats have called it a day and retreated to their shed for some much-needed shelter.
Still, there is much to celebrate as we approach this festive season. It has been an incredibly busy year and how fitting that our 175th anniversary should have been marked by such an energetic sense of renewal within our community. This September we were delighted to welcome a record number of new children to Rossall. Our healthy numbers are indicative of the fact that our boundless ambition for the future resonates so well with families. On a personal note, I was delighted that our recent ISI report highlighted our many outstanding features. Excellent GCSE results (almost 50% grades 7-9) reflect the positive impact that a relentless focus upon teaching and learning has brought. Similarly, it is so pleasing that over 75% of university offers this year are for Top20/Russell Group universities. Our Sixth Formers are aiming high and achieving superb results. If there is a sense of confidence and healthy competition within the Sixth Form then that is because our Sixth Formers are aspirant and committed to achieving the best possible outcomes. Furthermore, they are ably supported by our staff. I am so grateful to my fantastic colleagues who work so hard to inspire our children throughout the year. Both teaching and support staff at Rossall work so hard to ensure that this is a wonderfully nurturing School in every regard.
The opening of the new Sports Centre was a moment of real celebration for it represented the culmination of so much work. The impact of this building upon the sporting life of the School has been incredible. The fact that the building has fast become an important hub for the local community highlights our unbreakable ties with the people of Fleetwood and the Fylde. Back in January, we published a Five Year Development Plan which was circulated to all those invested in the future of Rossall. Officially, the Development Plan only came into operation this September but we have already made progress towards realising over a third of the 180 individual objectives contained within this document. I am delighted that the Infants and Nursery building is now in the process of being completely refurbished and the speed of travel has been so fast that I rather fear that the opening of the new Sixth Form Study Centre, Learning Development Centre and Centre of Excellence for Teaching and Learning, have passed by almost unnoticed. It is scarcely believable that so much has happened in one year.
However, amidst all of this, we should never lose sight of the wonderful traditions of this incredible school. The 175th Anniversary provided us with an opportunity to reflect upon all that the School means to current pupils and Old Rossallians alike. We are more than a school, we are a community with an indefatigable spirit. Safeguarding this spirit is a responsibility which I feel most keenly, especially during these modern times when the word itself is often archly imbued with regressive and conservative connotations. There are those who would sweep away all that has gone before and yet to do so would be to remove the very core, the very essence of that aspect of a School which is intangible and sometimes difficult to put into words. This is a school with a massive heart and above all else, I hope that it will always be underpinned by compassion and kindness. Traditions such as House Music and House Jollies will always be an important part of life at Rossall. Indeed the communal life of the School is quite rightly built around the Houses.
Last week, I accompanied Fiona to a small hospital situated in some fields between Ormskirk and Southport. Apparently they specialise in knees and Fiona was there to have damaged cartilage trimmed or removed. I had envisaged waiting for her in some cafe in the hospital grounds but the hospital was not much bigger than a family house and there was no cafe. However, I did settle into a very agreeable little lounge only to be turfed out by an officious looking lady who informed me that because I was only the relative of an NHS referred patient, I was not welcome to use the facilities. Feeling rather wounded and not a little embarrassed I decided that I would kill the next five hours by taking a wintry trip to either Ormskirk or Southport. I decided to treat the trip as one of educational enlightenment as opposed to enforced tedium.
Where better to start than the out-of-town Asda? To be honest, in terms of sheer excitement, it was right up there with the time I brushed past Steve Davis in a crowded bistro in Brentwood. Over the tannoy system, David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’ was playing softly. If this had been an American Christmas movie, then the store would have been filled with the sound of carols and excited families would have been cheerfully stocking up for Christmas. They do things differently in Southport. The aisles were deserted and Bowie provided a rather gloomy and edgy backdrop. Standing idly in the ‘Entertainment’ section, I started reflecting upon some of the challenges that this year has brought to members of our community. Indeed, the size of our community means that at any one moment in time, there are families who are in crisis. There are Rossallians who are seriously ill or dealing with the loss of a loved one. Amidst all the festive cheer, I feel that it would be entirely wrong not to reflect upon the courage of those who are struggling at this time or who have faced adversity at some point during this year. I did not need to go to Southport to work that out but there are moments in all of our lives when stepping away allows us the space to reflect upon what really matters in life.
After a heady twenty minutes in Asda, I drove into the centre of Southport and immersed myself in all that this Victorian seaside town has to offer on a miserable rainy day. It was a revelation. Not only did Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra appear at the now demolished Birkdale Palace Hotel, but Louis Napoleon lived in lodgings off Lord Street whilst in exile during the 1840s. Who knew that Chewits were manufactured in Southport until the early 1960s, or that the town possesses one of the finest lawnmower museums in the North West? Apparently it is one of the happiest places to live in the UK, so it should come as no surprise that Britain’s last (and most prolific executioner) Albert Pierrepoint chose to reside in the town during his retirement. Even the most banal of activities or days that appear to offer so little by way of potential, may often provide countless opportunities for us to learn about the world around us. If you are a lifelong learner then this inquisitiveness does not diminish with age.
All of us are vulnerable in some way or another and as much as schools may claim to teach resilience, I do believe that the most important of human attributes is our capacity to love one and other. As a community, we should be judged by how well we look after those who are most fragile and not by how successfully we exult the strongest. If one is not especially religious then Christmas may seem like an overly commercialised affair, punctuated by such set pieces as the Queen’s Speech and Christmas Dinner. However, perhaps there is a universal value in Christmas insomuch that it is, ultimately, a story of hope coming into the world. It is a story that moves from darkness to light and that resonates with all of us.
All that remains is for me to wish you all a relaxing and happy holiday with family and friends.
We look forward to welcoming everyone back in January 2020.