Shrewsbury School

Speech Day 2022: Headmaster's Address

Thursday 7 July 2022

Headmaster Leo Winkley reflects on the academic year during his Speech Day 2022 address. 

Thank you for gathering for this day of shared celebration of the Salopian community. It really is lovely to be together.

Many of you will have heard of the location app called what3words? It’s an ingenious system for finding any 3 metre square location in the world, using a unique combination of three words for pin-point accurate directions.The app has been praised for its creative solution to problems with patchy postcode navigation, particularly in emergencies.

Clicking on the app a few days ago, I discovered some uncannily appropriate word trios for various locations around our site here at The Schools. Where our prize-winners are sitting, there’s a square marked: ‘successes echo glitz’. Eerily, this lectern is on a square called: ‘elaborate listed news’. Near accounts, behind me in Kingsland House, we have the apt trio: ‘rewarding slim spends’. Lining up at the Grot Shop:  ‘luxury gums supporter’. By the Alington Hall – where many of my leadership team colleagues are based – ‘cool order landed’! And what about the Headmaster’s House?  ‘cook stress deeply’. Well, it’s been a busy year!

Today, in rather more than 3 words, we celebrate a year of wonderful enjoyment and accomplishment. Over its course, we have gradually emerged from the grip of Covid and the operational guidance that already feel a strangely distant memory. I won’t take us back there but I did want to pay tribute to this community for the incredible positivity and resilience shown. We have come a long way. And I believe that we emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever.

When Mahatma Gandhi landed in Europe for the first time, a journalist is reputed to have asked him a question as he came down the steps from the airplane. “Welcome to Europe, Mr Gandhi.  What do you think of Western civilisation?”. Legend has it that the reply came: “Yes - I think that would be a good idea”. Being civilised is perhaps it is an old-fashioned term to use, but, to my mind, it is a noble benchmark of social and cultural awareness. Of respectfulness to others. 

The respect project has been a major theme of work for us this year. You have heard plenty from me on this. Suffice to say that the listening phase over these past three terms has been extremely valuable. Diversity and representation matter; equity is an essential social goal; inclusion is a vital but infinite game. We will not be puppets to ideology; neither will we be blown about by faddish thinking. However, we will always champion fundamental respect for every individual in our community and beyond. 

The positive engagement of the whole Salopian community has been deeply heartening, helping to shape our action plan. There has been a wide-ranging endorsement of our culture of kindness, the celebration of the individual, the strong feeling of belonging this school creates. 

We love to welcome guests to Shrewsbury. Thank you to Nicola for being with us today as Guest of Honour. We look forward to hearing your words a little later. 

It was wonderful to welcome Old Salopian Sir Michael Palin back to school in May. He formally opened The Barnes Theatre (’rider sums stars’) and re-opened Rigg’s Hall (‘freed broken middle’). Churchill’s and Ingram’s Halls are next, though these projects will not require decants. Meanwhile, work is well underway at ‘high views jukebox’ – that’s the site of Queen Elizabeth Hall, three words we were proud to announce in Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee year. 

A word on Futures – our dynamic and ever-growing careers advice and guidance programme – which has deservedly achieved national accreditation.  Our aim is simple: to provide the best programme in the independent education sector.  This year’s leavers are going to a fantastic plenitude of best-fit destinations, as you’ll hear exemplified amongst our prize-winning leavers today.  The majority to Russell Group universities, double figures going overseas, many doing Gap Years, 12 with Oxbridge offers, some direct to work-based or vocational courses.  The academic life is flourishing under our excellent new Deputy Head (Academic), Dr Kowenicki. Do go and see the academic displays from 2pm and the stunning art exhibition to get a flavour. 

Our co-curriculum continues to sizzle with opportunity. We have enjoyed several wonderful productions in the Barnes Theatre, from Fame; to Chicago, to Oedipus the King; we’ve been Into The Woods and The Deep Blue Sea; we’ve enjoyed excellent house plays and dance showcases. Gatsby heads to Edinburgh in August. All under the inspirational leadership of Dr Helen Brown, who takes on the permanent role of Deputy Head (Co-curricular) from September, also continuing as Director of Drama. 

The music programme has shimmered with variety and brilliance – two dazzling Cecilia concerts, a night at the theatre, stellar choral music, two whole school visits to St Chad’s, weekly lunchtime concerts, instrumental competitions and expert workshops, evening concerts and ensembles aplenty; we’ve taken Shrewsbury music to the Royal College of Music and to local schools and care homes – and ended the year with a pulsating jazz concert in here last night. There are exciting times ahead for Shrewsbury music.

Shrewsbury does a lot of sport – I don’t know if you noticed… If I try to summarise it all, we’ll run to three thousand words! 

Girls’ and boys’ cricket is booming: our 1st XI girls were runners up in the national 100 cup and contest the T20 finals next week. Our U17 boys have made it all the way to the national final in September. The U14 boys won the county cup. And this year for the first time there will be girls and boys cricket on Top Common for Speech Day matches. Meanwhile, Issy Wong, who left Shrewsbury in 2020, made her test debut for England on Monday of this week.

Our senior boys’ footballers showed an exemplary approach in training and completed an epic unbeaten season in the HUDL league and narrowly missed out on the title. Next year sees the introduction of girls’ football. 

The boys’ first VIII and girls’ quad pre-qualified for Henley – not many schools have two crews at this global elite event. The U18 and U14 girls’ hockey teams each won the county cup. 

Our Fives players and Hunt runners have carried national trophies back to Shropshire whilst our top fencers have been performing at international level.

Shrewsbury athletics is on a roll with Lower Sixth Former Iris D (G, UVI) representing GB and NI next week at the European Championships in Jerusalem.  Fellow 800 metre runner, Fourth Former Jack K (PH, IV) is the number 1 ranked Under 17 runner in the UK.  

Our team won ‘King of the Bens’ in the gruelling Scottish Islands Peaks Race. The CCF Royal Marine section won the Drill and Command Task phases at the national Sir Stueart Pringle competition.  There has been a fantastic amount of outdoor adventure.     

Our award-winning partnership and community engagement programme extends opportunities and connecting Salopians with the young and the old from all walks of life. Alongside record numbers volunteering, we have raised almost £110,000 for over 20 charities including support for war-torn Ukraine, and more locally at Shrewsbury Foodbank, The Ark and Frailty Wards. Next year’s school charity is Re-start Africa, which supports Kenyan street children. 

September’s whole school walk raised £78,000 for The Shewsy, our youth and community club in Everton. Founded by Shrewsbury staff 119 years ago, it is the oldest link of its kind in the country. As Headmaster I am honoured to chair the board of trustees.

Along with three colleagues from state and independent schools, we have created a new charity, the School Partnerships Alliance, promoting collaboration across the education sector. It is a lazy, pernicious falsehood that independent schools are self-interested bastions of privilege. We are engines of excellence: and this excellence must be shared. Here at Shrewsbury, partnership work is not window-dressing: it’s at the heart of our values and this activity benefits our pupils as much as those with whom we share. 

Pupil leadership is a strong feature of Salopian life. The world needs skilful, values-based leadership – Salopians bring this in spades. Leadership happens in so many places here, not least through formal roles carried our by Heads of House, a vintage Praepostor Body and our Heads of School. I also want to pay tribute to the Eco committee for their excellent work this year. We know we have further important work to do on sustainability. 

A central part of my job is to surround your children with amazing people. The teaching and support staff work together to care for and inspire your children. I am deeply grateful to all our colleagues for their dedication. Our teaching colleagues have provided inspiration and encouragement. We have a dedicated support staff who live and breathe Shrewsbury. Our Housemasters and Housemistresses - ably lead by Ms Peak, and supported by their house teams - have done a truly stellar job throughout very challenging times. House life remains utterly central to Salopian ways. 

A few weeks ago, we celebrated 7 colleagues who this year reached the milestone of 25 years’ service: matron Gill Powell; estates secretary Karen Bryan; cleaning assistants Ann Yeomans and Gill Harrison; admissions manager Vikki Moeller; Head of Science, Andy Briggs and our excellent Senior Master and Director of Admissions, Martin Cropper. This place certainly inspires loyalty.

Particular good wishes to Mr Steve Fox (1994) and Mr Andy Barnard (2003) who retire today after serving the school magnificently both as housemasters and masters i/c flagship sports, rowing and cricket.  Genuine good guys, both of them.  We also say farewell to Dr David Law (2006) who has earned legendary status in his 16 years teaching English here. Today is Will and Sam Hughes’ final day in Ridgemount. After 13 outstanding years of skilful pastoral leadership, Mr Hughes becomes our Director of Cricket. To each of our colleagues leaving the staff today – thank you and farewell. 

I’d like to pay tribute to my leadership team who have worked with astonishing skill and dedication through pandemic times and as we operated without a Senior Deputy Head these past two terms. Sincere thanks to our superb Governing Body and expert Committee Chairs. My particular gratitude to the Chairman for his great wisdom and encouragement.

A week ago, the Good Schools Guide Tweeted: “One of England’s great schools, Shrewsbury does the business academically and offers so much more along the way. Big-hearted, creative, Shrewsbury is full of spirit and optimism. Serious? Of course. Fun? Definitely.”

Finally, I would like to thank all parents for choosing a Shrewsbury Education. Particular thanks to those parents for whom this is the final day of their children’s journey through the school. Thank you. We hope you’ll be able to share your three favourite Shrewsbury words to guide others to us in the future! 

What three words will our leavers hold dearest in their lives? They will find out for themselves. Wherever they go, and whatever 3 metre square any Salopian finds themselves, I hope that vital word trios such as these anchor them: 

  • Wisdom, courage, kindness
  • Integrity, self-mastery, spirit
  • If right within.

And so, a final three words – Shrewsbury For Life. Not just a strapline: it’s a mission statement. To deliver the most excellent, distinctive whole person education for the children in our care; to prepare them fully for life after school; and to stay in touch through the decades that follow. 

With that on-going commitment, and wishing you all a day of shared fun, we move now to the serious business of prize-giving.

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