The Principal of Ballycastle High School, Mr Ian Williamson began his Prize Night address to pupils, parents and assembled guests by praising the school’s positive child-centred ethos, ‘which is at the heart of this All Ability School’.
Welcoming Mr Chairman, Reverend Doctor Mawhinney, former and present students, ladies and gentlemen, he said: “As I stand here today, I am proud to tell you that I believe our school has a positive child-centred ethos, which is at the heart of this All Ability School. This is encapsulated in our school’s mission statement and our aims to give our pupils the opportunity to develop a positive self-image and the capacity to live as independent motivated adults, who have the ability to function effectively as contributing members of society.
“We strive to do this by encouraging in our pupils the development of academic wellbeing, moral wellbeing and physical wellbeing. With this in mind, I am very pleased to welcome you all here today and also our Special Guest, Reverend Samuel Mawhinney, former Head Boy of Ballycastle High School and Minster of Adelaide Road Presbyterian Church in Dublin. You left Ballycastle High School and were called into careers in the clerical and medical world, not as an insurance salesman in that well known British Insurance Company but as a doctor and minister. I hope some of our school aims and ethos helped to influence your chosen path in life. Sam, we look forward to hearing your address later.
“On this day each year I develop a strong sense of empathy with everyone sitting in this hall. For I too have attended numerous Prize Days and like you I have sat gently shifting in my plastic seat to ward off bedsores and the looming sense of catastrophic numbness!
“However, while I have empathy with your situation, I also have a job to do, a report to deliver and I can assure you that preparing an annual report is no easy task. There are certain clear and obvious objectives which a report should achieve.
“The celebration of academic and extracurricular success at individual and team levels. The mention of notable events not falling into those categories. The thanking of those who make it all possible. The wishing well to those leaving us and the welcoming of new members of staff. And then there are more elusive messages to be conveyed. A sense of the school’s ethos and the spirit of commitment and dedication that every member of the community brings. A connection between what the School has been in the past and what it will become in the future.
“For me, as I write my report I find myself asking another question…‘What is it that makes this school the success that it is?’.
“Some believe that schools are essentially businesses and strive to shoehorn them into business models. But we don’t educate products or units, we educate young people with feelings, minds of their own and lives and families outside of school.
“In an attempt to characterise the modern school some use the football team as an analogy. It is a competitive, all-or-nothing world where anything other than a win is deemed by some to be a failure, the football team analogy too breaks down quickly on reflection. We don’t drop players who aren’t performing at the required standard, who are in danger of ‘pulling down the team’. We help, support and encourage them.
“It is the partnership that exists between the professionals, parents and carers that make this school the success that it has been and continues to be. I think of examples like the phone call home from the teacher only two days into the new term to tell a mother that her son was misbehaving, only to be told “Wait a minute, I have had him with me for two months and I never called you once when he misbehaved!”
“In the course of a year children typically spend 17% of their lives in school and 83% out of school mainly at home. I think today of the much wiser man than me who once said “Before I got married I had six theories about bringing up children, now I have six children and no theories.”
“To you parents and carers here today, whatever theory you are working to, please stick to it, for we are very proud of your children. To the Mums, Dads, grandparents and guardians who either encourage, support, cajole or perhaps from time to time threaten the young scholars in their households. I say to you all that even though our prize winners may not always have thanked you for your efforts but I am sure that they will feel a strong sense of gratitude towards you today as they come onto the stage to receive their awards.
“As I have already mentioned, it was another year of considerable success and we were delighted with the many excellent results achieved by our pupils in external examinations last summer, in particular at GCSE level, where we achieved another set of excellent results.
“At GCSE we maintained a high level performance, with almost three quarters of all examinations sat resulting in A* to C grades or equivalent and over 40% of all grades awarded being grade B or equivalent or higher. A highly creditable 52 % of pupils achieved seven or more GCSEs or equivalent including English and Mathematics at grades A*-C. This is 12% above the average figure for comparable non-selective post-primary schools in Northern Ireland and is something we all should be very pleased about.
“When we look at the figure for the number of Year 12 students achieving five or more A*-C grades in GCSE or equivalent including English and Mathematics, our achievement of almost 60% places Ballycastle High School in the top 25 % of comparable schools in Northern Ireland.
“We continue to be a school that strives for and expects success. With that in mind, we were pleased to learn last October that Sharon Hanna had achieved the second highest mark awarded in GCSE Child Development in Northern Ireland. This was a great achievement and should serve to inspire others to similar success.
“As I have already indicated we know that the on-going success enjoyed by the pupils of Ballycastle High School is attained with the support of parents and guardians. But once again I want to publically recognise the key importance of the firm foundations laid in our primary schools. We work closely with a number of local primary schools as part of a cross-phase literacy and numeracy initiative and I want to thank the staff of those and other primary schools who work so closely with us. I see a number of local primary school principals here today and I thank you for taking the time to join in our celebration.
“I am pleased to welcome back today, many of last year’s 6th Form in order to receive recognition for all their hard work. Many of you will be starting university courses this week or have already done so and we wish you every success in whatever path you now decide to take.
“At A Level, there have been some excellent individual performances: Daniel Kennedy and Andrew Christie achieved three A grades or equivalent, Barry McMullan, Claire McVicker, Ellen Shirley, Rachel Smith, Matthew McConaghy and Erinn Ramsay gained grades A* and A or equivalent in two subjects. Congratulations also go to Sophie McDonald, Karen McVicker, Courtney Reid, Rebecca Hanna, Toni Harkness, Ross McCormick and Aaron McAuley who all achieved three top grades with at least one grade A or equivalent. While these individual performances are worthy of note, the vast majority of our students in the Year 14 have cause to be well satisfied and congratulated as once again a high percentage - 77% in fact of our students are going to study in Higher Education Institutes and Universities. This year 51% our Year 14 students achieved 3 or more A levels at grade A*-C. These figures are above the average percentages achieved by similar schools in Northern Ireland with Ballycastle High School being in the top 25% of comparable schools.
“Almost 80% of pupils were successful in passing at least 3 subjects and nineteen subject areas enjoyed a 100% pass rate at A*-C or equivalent.
“Once again this year, an excellent 25% or one quarter of our Year 12 students have achieved at least 10 GCSEs or equivalent at grade C or better. Special congratulations go to Hannah Shirley who has achieved 3A* grades and 7 A grades, James McMullan with 2A* and 4A and 4 B grades, Grace Kennedy with 1A*, 4A and 5 B grades, and Emma Kerr with 5A and 5 B grades. 10 A*-C grades or equivalent were achieved by Jordan Adams, Anna Boyd, Lois Brown, Jamie Chestnutt, Eoin Cunningham, Paulina Dudynska, Ellie Kane, Corry McGinn, Rebecca McGowan, James Orr and Sam Smyth. Equally, many others should be proud of their performance and we are delighted that quite a number them have returned to study in the Sixth Form.”
“Moving on to sporting and extra-curricular successes I am pleased to report that in Girls’ Hockey, the first XI came second in the and Coleraine and District League and the U 14XI and U13XI teams finished third in their league.
“Year 9 girls also participated in the annual Coleraine Grammar School Soccer 7’s tournament each girl thoroughly enjoyed the competition.
“Year 8-11 girls also participated in the Coleraine District Athletics Competition and won a range of bronze, silver and gold medals. Each pupil represented the school in a positive manner and were commended for their sportsmanship.
“We were very grateful for the help provided by Lauren Marshall from Ulster University who helped the P.E. Department throughout the year.
“Last year proved to be another successful year in Boys P.E. Our Year 8 football team, entered the Coleraine and District Football League in football the Year 8 team were narrowly defeated 2-1 by Dominican College, Portstewart in the final of the competition. The teams were led by joint captains Corey Jamison and Jaime McGregor.
“The Year 9 football team missed out on a place in the final after finishing second in their group, Joshua Adams captained the team throughout the campaign.
“The Prior Shield Hockey team had a superb season beating BRA, Methodist College Belfast, Friends’ School Lisburn and Antrim Grammar along the way. In a pulsating semi-final they were edged out 2-1 by eventual competition winners, Sullivan Upper, Holywood. It was a superb team effort led by captain Andrew Christie and vice-captain Barry McMullan who scored 15 goals between them.
“With such an outstanding Prior Shield campaign the boys were invited to enter the Burney Cup but were eventually knocked out by Bangor Grammar.
“The Taylor Cup team, captained by James Orr, had an equally successful season beating Lurgan College, BRA and Ballyclare High School on route to a semi-final against the cup holders Markethill. Ballycastle came out on top with a 1-0 victory thanks to a Craig Cunningham goal. The final for this competition couldn’t be played before the end of last term and will hopefully be played later this month.
“Turning our attention to Netball, our Senior girls came second in their section, playing against Dominican and Dalriada in the Coleraine and District Netball league. The intermediate girls came 3rd in their section which was again commendable given scale of opposition and 18 Year 8 girls attended the tournament in Loreto in March. They represented the school well and really enjoyed the day.
“The joint Ballycastle High School and Cross and Passion College Year 8 and Year 9 Rugby team played again this year and enjoyed participating in a tournament held in Ballymoney Rugby Cub, successfully progressing to the knockout stages.
“The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme enjoyed another successful year with four pupils completing their Gold Expedition in June 2016. Fifteen pupils also completed their silver expedition in June 2016. Assessors were very complementary of our pupils and school. Our pupils exceeded expectations and were excellent ambassadors for the school.
“Once again, the range of non-sporting activities was equally wide and varied. The Gardening Club was again successful and Scripture Union continues to be strong in school at Junior and Senior Level. This year, members enjoyed a weekend in the Faith Mission Centre in October, with Adam McCready as the speaker for the weekend. The Coding Club also continues to grow and attract a small but dedicated following.
“Pupils enjoyed a wide range of activities in a number of other clubs including the Science club which continued to meet at lunchtimes in school and provided creative insights in to the world of science. Key stage 3 pupils also enjoyed developing their baking skills in Ballycastle High School’s own Great British Baking Club, there were a number of rising ‘Star Bakers’ among the group.
“We were delighted again to be able to link with a number local schools and Primary 6 pupils who enjoyed our Fantastic Plastic event where activities relating to Science, Food Technology and Technology and Design were greeted very positively by a large number of primary school pupils and staff.
“I am glad to report that again this year, pupils benefited in school from a wide range of external speakers, visits and careers events. A number of Year 12 and Year 13 pupils gained substantial career insight from placements in a wide range of work situations. Over 20 different universities, colleges and businesses visited school during our Careers Week; which helps to inform pupils of their options Post 16 and Post 18.
Pupils from Years 8-10 took part in at least one session during the week with pupils in years 11-14 attending up to 8 sessions. Our thanks once again go to Yvonne Lesley from the Careers Service, for her role in careers guidance. Also, our budding entrepreneurs gained much from the 6th Form mini-business Crazy Crafters, which again enjoyed a successful year. It was the first year that the school travelled to St George’s Market, Belfast to trade their goods at the regional Young Enterprise trade fair. The group also had strong sales in school, resulting in a healthy profit at the end of the school term. The programme continues to be popular with Year 13 pupils, as it gives them the opportunity to develop key skills and qualities needed to be successful in the world of work. We are grateful to the many businesses and other organisations in the local community who do so much to support our young people as they try to navigate their journeys into future careers.
“In the evenings, our Youth Club continues to go from strength to strength and provides opportunities for leadership development in our young people our thanks again go out to Tracey Walker and her team.
“We again recognised our role within the wider International Community by celebrating the European Day of Languages with a range of activities taking place and staff being encouraged to participate and use their linguistic skills.
“Both Historical and European cultural insights were combined in January with a successful trip to Paris and a joint 6th Form R.E. visit with Cross and Passion College to Krakov. Pupils had the opportunity to enjoy the main sights of Krakow, as well as exploring its fabulous culture. Visits also took place to some important religious sites as well as the Salt Mines and Auschwitz Concentration Camp.”
“Our 6th Form Charity Committee again supported a significant number of local charities and this year in association with Blythswood collected over 90 boxes for the Christmas Shoebox Appeal and a significant sum of money being donated as well.
“Other charities supported included the Royal Air Forces Association Wings Appeal, The Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal, Tearfund, Ballycastle Food Bank with 465 items being donated, The Gillian Adams Angel Foundation, the Aware Charity, RNIB, Childline/NSPCC and the Chest, Heart and Stroke Association. This is a school where pupils care and they will actively support those in need within their own community and beyond.”
“Our Student Council and Joint Councils continue to develop the leadership roles of our students. Helping to review and guide practice within our school and indeed between our school and our partners.
“Moving on to more theatrical and musical pursuits, our very own, home spun yet highly professional Christmas production ‘Sailing for Adventure’ provided a most enjoyable start to the festive season and was hugely enjoyed by pupils, parents, staff and members of the local community. Over a third of the school were involved in this production in many different areas. This year we were pleased to have pupils playing in the band which accompanied the songs in the production.
“The term was traditionally brought to a close with our Carol Service where pupils in the choir and instrumental group led the praise.
“Instrumental lessons are still very popular and the Music Groups including Choir, String Group and Ukulele Group continue to be well supported. In the Music department our pupils benefit from the expertise offered by the peripatetic teachers tutoring a variety of instruments. I thank them and I commend our parents and guardians who invest so much time supporting pupils at home and encouraging their musical development
“Once again this year, I would like to note the practical assistance, support, training and advice from the various departments of the Education Authority. They like schools face challenging times financially but I believe they deserve credit for the level of support they provide. Whether it is Property Services, Direct Services, Grounds maintenance for example helping to keep the roof over our heads – albeit a leaky one a times! Educational Welfare, Psychology, Extended Behaviour Support, Special Needs, Literacy Support, School Development Service and many more, all working to do their best for the pupils of Ballycastle High School and at times helping to keep us all sane!
“I also want to acknowledge, the important role of many partners in helping to support the pastoral and academic development of our pupils. Organisations such as the Northern Regional College, PSNI, Northern Health and Social Services Trust, Youth Service and Family Works counselling service who actively worked with pupils during the year. Their guidance and support has been invaluable.
“Thanks again and for the final time this year, goes to Mrs Ward and the staff and governors of Cross and Passion College for their professionalism and friendship. Barbara Ward is currently enjoying that dream of many teachers – a foreign holiday in September, we wish her a long and happy retirement. I am also delighted to welcome Mr Paul McClean the new Principal of Cross and Passion College. Mr McClean has already shown himself to be an astute and empathetic leader and I look forward to working with him in the future.
“I am pleased to report that work continues on our Shared Campus Project with Cross and Passion College. With both schools’ retaining their own ethos, identity and governance arrangements yet sharing a site and certain facilities. The Project Board set up to plan for the new Shared Post Primary Campus continues to meet on a regular basis. This Board is comprised of representatives of the two Boards of Governors of Ballycastle High School and Cross and Passion College the, Department of Education, Education Authority, CCMS and both Principals We look forward to being able to move forward with our concept in the near future.
“Additional support for our collaboration was provided by way of our involvement with the Signature Project for Shared Education funded by the Department of Education and Atlantic Philanthropies. The resources provided by this project have helped to develop a programme of learning for Key Stage 3 pupils and has helped facilitate further staff development to support our collaborative curricular and pastoral arrangements with Cross and Passion.”
“I now report on a few staff matters and as an opener I think it is fair to say that our staff deserve a lot of credit. Of course if they were paid more, they wouldn’t need it!! The things you say when you are trying to liven up a speech!! If only it was in my gift! Moving swiftly along! Dr Davidson took up post in the Science Department in January after being blessed with a baby boy. Not to be outdone Mrs Laura McCormick, Louise Anderson and Kathy Simpson were all equally delighted to have additions to their families as well.
“We were pleased to welcome Mrs Hanna Dunwoody who joined our staff as a temporary General Assistant replacing Mrs Jackie McBride.
“Our team of highly competent Classroom Assistants and General Assistants who continue to provide an invaluable contribution to the life and work of the school and I thank them for all their support. I also note the assistance and expertise of our Extended Behaviour Support Assistants who provide a welcome service to the school. Our team of supervisory, technical and support staff play an invaluable role in the smooth running of the school and I am grateful to each and every one of them.
“Once again I want to note the hard work and support of the Senior Management Team; Vice-Principal Mrs Stewart, Mr McPeak, Miss Elliott and Mr McCandless.
“To our teachers, I just want to let each one of you know how much your co-operation, and hard work means to me and to the pupils of this school. I also want to record that teachers are not bottomless vessels of determination and ingenuity and we must hope that the vital role our teachers play in making the education system work is recognised and appreciated at the highest levels. Although I made a cheesy joke relating to the salaries of school staff earlier in my speech, I do want to highlight the very real and immediate difficulties schools are facing in relation to unfunded costs and reduced monetary resources – this needs to be addressed at governmental level as a matter of absolute priority!
“During the year our staff met the seemingly mysterious challenges that go hand in hand with the introduction of new technology and in particular iPads which were used with Year 8 pupils. Significant effort by staff resulted in creative use of this technology to support teaching and learning. However, I think also of the quote, “Computers aren’t magic, teachers are …!” and as Bill Gates said, “Technology is just a tool in terms of getting kids working together, the teacher is the most important…!!”
“Fellow teachers, on behalf of all the children whose lives you have changed I thank you sincerely for whatever it is that you do and for all that you do!”
“If we are not entirely sure at times of what teachers do, there is an even darker deeper mystery surrounding the work of school governors. Those vaguely familiar figures who appear in the school building and sometimes don’t leave until the wee small hours. Those friendly individuals who attend meetings, events and plan, strategise and worry! They spend a lot of time working for the pupils of this school and bring their experience, wisdom and commitment and best of all they don’t get paid! We are fortunate once again to have such experienced and enthusiastic individuals as Governors. I thank them and the Chairman, Reverend Patrick Barton for all their support and invaluable assistance during the last academic year.
“Moving on, my thanks go our Building Supervisor Mr Joey Hill and Mr Michael McKillen and his team of cleaners. Our temporary groundsman Mr Sean McTaggart does an excellent job. Our cook-in-charge Mrs Fionnula McGahon, I thank her for her work and also her staff, who put a lot of effort into all that they do. “I want to recognise the continued wise counsel, patience, dedication and diligence of Mrs Doreen Boyd, Senior Executive Officer and Hester Stevenson who tirelessly deal with everything from helping hapless children who can present at the office in a bemused and bewildered state, indeed as do I on many occasions, to ensuring that every member of staff is paid each month. Thank you both.
“I would also like to express my gratitude to everyone involved in helping to organise this award ceremony. It involves a huge effort from a large number of staff. I pay tribute to Mrs Elliott and our pupils for the music and Mrs Topping for the floral displays and the thought and creativity that goes into the arrangement. As resident florist Mrs Topping is struggling with an arm injury currently so this year our theme of ‘A day out at the seaside’ was slightly lighter touch. To Mrs Stewart and ‘the team’ and indeed to everyone involved in preparing for today - thank you.
“I started my report by alluding to the importance we place on developing the academic, moral and physical health of our pupils, in-order for them to contribute effectively to society and deal with the challenges of life. But more than that, I believe as a school we continue to have a leading role in shaping our society and where we face challenges, we are able to deal with them in a caring and professional way.”