Ballycastle High School held its annual prize day recently.
Principal Ian Williamson welcomed guests, staff and pupils to the event.
Addressing the audience, he began: “On a personal note, this month marks an anniversary for me in terms of my professional career. I have completed thirty years in the teaching profession. I can clearly remember that first morning in September 1988 as if it was
“There’s a line in a song, from an album which was released in September 1988, that states: “The wheel keeps on turning and turning and turning and nothing’s disturbing the way it goes around.” As you might guess, the song promotes a view that the world is made up of inevitable patterns that tend to repeat in cycles, and this thought occurred to me as I sat down to write my Prize Day speech. Indeed, such is the consistency of the messages that emerge from any review of the year at Ballycastle High School that I briefly considered reading out my predecessor’s speech from either 1998 or 2008 and simply changing some of the figures a little as required.
“However, a quick look at the opening lines from the Prize Day speeches from 1998 and 2008 point to different times in terms of educational priorities.
“From the 1998 Speech: When the prime minister, Tony Blair, was on the campaign trail he was asked “Mr Blair what will be the priorities for your government if you are successful in this election”? He replied, “Education, Education, Education”. From the 2008 Speech: The Minister for Education has stated on a number of occasions that Northern Ireland schools need to ‘raise the bar’ and ‘close the gap’.
“Well, back in the year 2018, it would be a brave Principal who would suggest that the Prime Minister’s key priorities currently rest with ‘education. education, education’. Yet, year after year we have raised the bar and closed the gap but as for a Minister for Education in Northern Ireland – well, we don’t even have one anymore.
“But I’m glad to be able to report today, that here in Ballycastle High School, the wheel keeps on turning and turning and turning even when things are disturbing the way it goes around. The three priorities of Education, Education and Education are indeed those which guide teaching and learning in Ballycastle High School.
“I base my report upon three strengths of this school; Education for academic excellence; Education for sport and leisure and Education for cultural and social development.
“Education for academic excellence is usually measured by examination performance. In this field, the achievements of the School continue to be very strong. In ‘A’ level examinations the results were once again of the highest standard. The average number of pupils in non-grammar schools achieving 3 A*-C grades at A-level is 55%, the figure for non-grammar and grammar combined is 69%. This year at Ballycastle High School a highly commendable 73% of pupils achieved this feat, demonstrating that we continue to be a successful ‘All Round School! These figures once again, are above the percentages achieved by similar schools in Northern Ireland and place Ballycastle High School in the top 25% of similar schools.
“This good overall performance was led by some superb results: At A Level or equivalent, there have been some excellent individual performances: James McMullan, Grace Kennedy, Emma Kerr, Courtney McMullan, Laura McClean and Sacha McMullan gained grades A*/A or equivalent in three subjects or equivalent. Congratulations also go to Jamie Kane, Chloe Nicholl and Chloe
Watson with three top grades with two grade As or equivalent and Travis Heaney, Cory McGinn, Rebecca McGowan, Hannah Shirley and Sam Smyth with three top grades and one A*/A grade or equivalent. All our students in the Year 14 have cause to be well satisfied and congratulated as once again a high percentage of them are going to study in Higher Education Institutes and
Universities. An increasing number of students also chose to look for alternative pathways including higher level apprenticeships and employment. We wish our outgoing Year 14 students every success in whichever route they follow.
“Almost 91% of pupils were successful in passing at least 3 subjects and 100% of pupils passed in two subjects. Again both figures are above the Northern Ireland Average for similar schools.
“Year 13 students also enjoyed excellent outcomes at AS level and we look forward to hearing more about their successes next year.
“At GCSE level and equivalent, 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.
“At this level, we again maintained a high level of performance, with almost 70% of all examinations sat, resulting in A* to C grades or equivalent with over a third of all grades awarded being grade B or equivalent or higher. A creditable 51 % of pupils achieved seven or more GCSEs or equivalent including English and Mathematics at grades A*-C. This is again above the average figure for comparable non-selective post-primary schools in Northern
Ireland and is something we all should be pleased about.
“When we look at the commonly used benchmark figure relating to pupils achieving 5+ A*-C grades at GCSE or equivalent including English and Mathematics. I am pleased to report that we are in the top 25% of similar schools in Northern Ireland.
“Once again this year, over 25% of our Year 12 students have achieved at least 10 GCSEs or equivalent at grade C or better. They include: Alice Baird, Struan Burrows, Georgia Calderwood, Jessica Cunningham, Josh Graham, Anna Gray, Steven Huey, Hannah McCaw, Matthew McCurdy, Ciara McFadden, Jessica Mustoe, Shannon Mustoe, Naoise Norwood, Madison Quigg, Derek Walker and Amy Wright.
“Special congratulations go to Hannah McCaw, who has achieved 5A* grades,3 A grades and 2Bs, Josh Graham with 3A*, 5A and 2B grades, Georgia Calderwood with 2A*, 6A and 2 B grades and Ciara McFadden and Derek Walker with 1A*, 5A and 4B grades. Again, at GCSE level we had 100% of our pupils achieving 5GCSEs at Grades A* - G; a figure which again is in excess of last year’s N.I. average for Secondary schools.
“Sometimes we take results such as these for granted. We assume our ‘educational-wheel’ will just keep on turning from year to year. But each year brings its own challenges in any school and it is testament to the combined efforts of our pupils, parents and staff that we have enjoyed the successes we have this year.
“The second Education in our trilogy is that which enhances the development of sport and recreation. In girls’ hockey, we again fielded four Hockey teams (Year 8, U13, U14, 1XI).
Two Year 8 girls’ teams played in the Coleraine Area League 7-a-side blitz and an inter-house hockey tournament in January.
“The first XI came 3rd in their league captained by Catherine Kane and Zoe Todd. The U14 and U13XI Hockey teams enjoyed the participation and keen competition in the Coleraine and Ballymoney District league. We were pleased to learn during the year that Lois McConaghy had been nominated for the Ulster Hockey Talent Development Programme. Girls enjoyed participating in TAG Rugby and Netball and our Dance Club continued to meet regularly at lunchtimes. In the summer term the Body Blast Fitness Club and Athletics Club all attracted keen interest from pupils.
“In Boys PE, the Year 8 football team competed in the Coleraine and District league, being led by captain Preston Bartlett. In hockey, the Prior Shield team had a solid campaign. A young and relatively inexperienced squad, they unfortunately missed out in a semi-final place after defeat to Sullivan Upper school in the final group game. They also faced Grosvenor Grammar and Belfast Royal Academy in the group stages. It was a superb team effort throughout, being led by captain Jack Price.
“Adam Scott was selected for Ulster Hockey U’16 trials during the course of the year, and out of 150 players, he made it down to the final few but unfortunately missed out on making the final squad, but a great achievement none the less.
“Athletics season was another successful one for the boys. In April, a large contingent of competitors attended the annual NEBBSA Athletics competition. Callum Knox and Joseph Le’Fondre qualified for the finals at the Antrim Forum in May. Both boys narrowly missed out on a medal finish with two fourth place finishes in the shot putt and javelin respectively. Kurt Wright won all three of his events in Coleraine and was a firm favourite to do the same at the finals in Antrim until illness ruled him out of the competition on the week of the Finals. Kurt also took part in the All Ulster Championship, where he won gold in the
80 metre sprint and the High Jump, and qualified for the All Ireland Championships. A bright future clearly lies ahead of him in athletics.
“The Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme enjoyed another successful year with pupils taking part in the Silver and Gold levels. Nine pupils gained their Silver Award and recent former pupils; Courtney Colgan, Lois Kane, Eve Lowry, Lucy McDonald and Holly Reilly enjoyed a trip to Buckingham Palace this summer and received their Gold Awards from Prince William. The award scheme assessors were very impressed with the groups and in particular their determination and how well they worked as a team. Our pupils exceeded expectations and were excellent ambassadors for the school.
“I am pleased to be able to state once again, that the range of non-sportin activities offered to pupils was wide an interesting. Ten girls from Year 10 entered the CyberFirst for Girls competition; organised by the National Cyber Security Centre at GCHQ. Everybody enjoyed cracking codes and solving puzzles in what could become a crucial future skill.
“I am delighted to report that another team of pupils were the highest scoring team overall in Northern Ireland in the CyberCenturian, cybersecurity competition. Run by the US Air Force intelligence division, teams across the U.K. battled to find security flaws that hackers could use to break into a computer system. The team; Justine Hunter, Kristina Kane, Joseph Le Fondre, Olivia Fox and Tsvetomir Mihailov and Mr Gabe were invited to attend a special award ceremony at Belfast City Hall as part of Northern Ireland Science week and had an enjoyable evening of celebration in Belfast.
“During the period of 2016-2018, pupils participated in the BEE Project or (Building Employment through Education). This was part of an initiative funded by the NI Executive Social Investment Fund. Pupils took part in a number of activities and events to support the development of greater employability skills. This included a new Coding Club which was attended by a group of Year 8 budding programmers.
“Scripture Union had another enjoyable year, with pupils of all ages enjoying friendship and fellowship and a variety of visits and activities. Representatives from Exodus in Coleraine also encouraged the longstanding representation of Ballycastle High School pupils, taking part in international Exodus outreach and support teams throughout Europe and beyond.
“Firm favourites with pupils such as the Science club continued to meet at lunchtimes in school and provided creative insights in to the world of science. Our Chess and Games Club was well supported and pupils enjoyed taking part in a number of in school competitions. Others included the Ukulele Club and the very popular Warhammer club.
“As part of a cookery club, pupils entered The Big Cook off competition. Grace McCurdy and Kezia Weir accompanied by Mrs Knox attended the Regional Final of the Big School Cook Off in January. They were excellent ambassadors for Ballycastle High School and for the environment with their Sustainable Fish Pie creation.
“Our staff, who give so generously of their time, in order that the pupils can have the fun and comradeship that sporting and non-sporting extra-curricular activities can bring, deserve our thanks for instilling the values of community and generosity of spirit into our pupils. It must be noted that this is at a time of significant industrial action in schools by several teaching unions. I thank our staff for their continued investment in this aspect of our school life.
“The third theme of Education which is worthy of note in this school is that of Social and Cultural development. Promoting a sense of community and developing relationships should be central to a rounded education process. In the delivery of this education, our school interacts with its community in a variety of ways;
“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.
“Communication and leadership skills for Year 13 pupils were developed as part of a community leadership initiative organised by Holywood Family Trust. Pupils attended a leadership and dialogue programme with Hannah Le Fondre and Justine Hunter attending a follow-up leadership event in Newcastle. Also, our young entrepreneurs gained much from the 6 th Form mini-business; Crazy Crafters, which again enjoyed a successful year. 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 November Jessica Cunningham competed in the Soroptomist public speaking competition in Ballymoney. Her speech received a lot of praise from the judges, narrowly missing out on a prize. Pupils continued to work with Moyle Living Well group. This provided an opportunity for our young volunteers to develop community awareness relating to inter-generational engagement and support.
“In the evenings, our Youth Club continued to go from strength to strength an provided opportunities for leadership development in our young people. Our thanks again, goes out to Tracey Walker and her team. We also thank Tara McHugh Logan for her continued work in school and with helping pupils; Carla Glass, Chloe Patton, Brittany Taylor and Maia McCaw achieve a range of qualifications related to youth work and leadership.
“In October we were pleased to welcome from our church community, the Right Reverend Dr Noble McNeeley; Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. He was very interested to hear from pupils in Ballycastle High School and Cross and Passion College about their experiences of Shared Education.
“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. During the year, pupils enjoyed a successful collaborative trip with Year 13 RE students from Cross and Passion College to Krakov and in a Technology Department trip to Paris, where pupils had the opportunity to enjoy the main
sights of Paris and a technological insight into Euro Disney!
“We welcomed several international visitors to our school during the year. This included in March a visit from a group of high ranking international military and civic leaders from the Royal College of Defence Studies in London. The visitors were exceptionally impressed by the quality of the young people of both schools; and they regarded the visit as a key highlight of their week-long visit to Northern Ireland.
“American visitors included in May; a group of trainee teachers from Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania. Again, they were aware of the good work going on in Ballycastle and wanted to see how it might be of some benefit within their own schools in America. Another VIP visitor to both schools was Mr Tom Torlakson;, the California Superintendent for Education. He was keen to learn about Shared Education and the possible relevance of this model of education for the schools under his control. It should be noted that this is a man with responsibility for the Department of Education in the state of California. He is responsible for over
10,000 schools, over 250,000 teachers and for the education of over 6 million students. So, the good news of the work in Ballycastle travels far and wide.
“Within our own school community, members of our Joint Student Council play a very significant part in helping shape our Shared Education for our current pupils and for those coming in the future. Others have been active participants on the Signature Project for Shared Education which has explored are range of societal factors with Key Stage 3 pupils with shared lessons, activities and educational visits. Examples include; Writer Bernie McGill who visited the school a number of times, first in September to provide a one-off creative writing workshop for A Level English pupils from both schools, and then in the spring as part of an Arts Council initiative called ‘Our Place’ - this was again part of our Shared Education programme and gave Yr 8 pupils from both schools a chance to enjoy a series of creative writing classes, culminating in a visit to the Lyric Theatre where they read some of the work they had produced on stage.
“Another exciting project, during the year involved Year 10 pupils in CPC and BHS working on an ‘Amazing the Space Project’. This cross community project involved a live webcast with Janine Webber; a holocaust survivor who spoke of her experiences during the WW2 holocaust and how she survived. Other aspects of the project involved learning about different cultures and
related activities. The finale event to the project was a celebration at the Eikon Centre in March. Pupils were very fortunate to meet the special guests; namely Prince Harry and the then Meghan Markel. I noted that the staff involved were as excited as the pupils when recounting their stories of this experience!
“We continued to support our community both locally and further afield, through the work of our 6th Form Charity Committee. As a school we raised funding for and awareness of a significant number of charities including; NSPCC, Childline, Causeway Foodbank, NI Children’s Hospice and the Teenage Cancer Trust.
“Pupils again had opportunities to develop their musical talent to engage with and entertain our school community and beyond. Examples include our school production in December; ‘A Christmas Cracker’ - a great team effort involving around 100 pupils. The choir also coped well with the cold December air as they sang at the switching on of the Christmas tree lights in Ballycastle and were delighted to be involved with a Christmas Tree festival held in Holy
Trinity Church of Ireland.
“Once again this year, I would like to note the practical assistance, support, training and advice from the various departments of the Education Authority and the wider educational community. I also want to acknowledge, the important role of many partners in helping to support the pastoral and academic development of the young people within our school community.
“I make a point of thanking those from the EA, every year who come into our school to support our pupils. It should be noted that the various branches continue to support in a positive and engaging way, despite the challenges they face in their working lives. This is an era of budgetary constraint and substantial transition within the Education Authority – your professionalism and dedication is appreciated! I also thank organisations such as the PSNI, Northern Health and Social Services Trust, Youth Service and Family Works counselling service who actively worked with pupils during the year.
“Thanks again, goes to Mr Paul McClean and the staff and governors of Cross and Passion College for their continued professionalism and friendship. The Shared Campus
development is a huge project with potentially huge benefits for the entire community. Both Cross and Passion College and Ballycastle High School will maintain their own identity, ethos and governance arrangements but will share state of the art facilities. We look forward to the continued ‘turning of the Shared Campus wheels’ in the months and years ahead.
“During the course of the year we said goodbye to a number of staff. Mrs Catherine McBride stood down after 19 years service in Ballycastle High School, to focus on family life and other interests. Mrs Deborah Wood left the RE department after 10 years dedicated service to take up a new position as Head of RE in Hunter House College. Miss Cathryn Knipe also finished school in June and we wish her every success in the future.
“Mr Warren Walker; a placement student in the PE department finished in June and we thank him for his willing contribution. We welcomed Miss Aine Kearney and Miss Melissa O’Neill to the Maths. and RE departments respectively. Other members of the non-teaching staff to leave during the year included lunchtime supervisor; Mrs Shannen Quigg McMullan, Classroom Assistant Hanna Dunwoody and temporary colleagues; Brenda Watson, Ryan McAfee and Lorna Bullerwell. I want to thank each one of these former colleagues for their dedication to the young people of this school.
“A number of staff including, Mrs Cochrane, Mrs Wood, Mr Gabe, Mr McMaster and Mrs McIntyre were all blessed with baby sons throughout the year, and the tally for baby girls was one, with thanks going to Mr McClelland for that! In October we were delighted for Miss McKnight when she joined the ranks of married staff and returned to school after half-term as Mrs Campbell.
“On a sad note, we were very sorry to learn in July of the death of a former colleague Mr John Leitch. John had taught in Ballycastle High School for 33 years from 1966 through to 1999 and had been Head of the English Department. Mr Leitch had presented the trophy for the pupil showing an exceptional and unexpected talent to the school when he retired and we will again present this trophy today.
“Classroom Assistants and General Assistants 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, clerical, administrative and support staff play an invaluable role in the smooth running of the school and I am more grateful than ever to each and every one of them. Once again I want to note the hard work and support of the Senior Leadership Team; Vice-Principal Mrs Stewart, Mr McPeak, Miss Elliott and Mr McCandless. Mr McCandless has recently decided to step down from a number of his senior responsibilities and I want to thank him for his work and support.
“To our teachers, I just want to let you know how much your co-operation, and hard work means to me and to the pupils of this school. I would also like to express my gratitude to everyone involved in helping to organise this award ceremony.
“I conclude by pointing to the evidence in this report which proves that 20 years on, Education, Education and Education is still being effectively delivered in Ballycastle High School. Yet, as we look ahead, 20 or even 30 years into the future and a very different world, I subscribe, more or less, to Einstein’s famous comment that ‘education is what remains when you have forgotten everything you learned in school.’
“Sound values, good character, self-belief, self-esteem and respect are at the core of education in this ‘All Round School’ and in my opinion, are the most important qualities that a pupil should possess when they look to their future.”