Norwich School Blog

The Head's End of Year Address

As the 2023/2024 academic year draws to a close the Head addressed pupils and parents of the Upper Sixth on the importance of our community as we gather for the last time until September.

"It is a great pleasure to add my welcome to the parents of the Upper Sixth who join us for the service which ends the 2023/24 academic year. You are seeing what the pupils and staff have the good fortune to do regularly in this amazing building. There is a danger that we take it for granted (Something like “Well, of course we have our assemblies in one of the finest medieval buildings in northern Europe; it’s not that special, is it?” – an unhelpful view in so many ways).

My experience is that our leavers come to appreciate the Cathedral more as they get closer to leaving it, but there is no doubt that sharing this service with visitors helps to remind us what a privilege it is for our school to be located here in the Close amongst these magnificent medieval structures. The conclusion of our service, where the leaving Upper Sixth process with their Heads of House through the magnificent West Doors, symbolises this key transition point of moving from school into the wider world, but before that let us enjoy recording our time together appropriately.

I am also pleased to have the Upper 6 parents with us today because you are normally in such a good mood that your threshold for laughter is pleasingly low. It is good to have a few more allies in the room; a Cathedral of nearly 1000 teenagers at 8.40 in the morning can be a tough crowd.

I have been thinking a good deal about the importance of gathering in the life of a community. All UK adult citizens have obviously gathered metaphorically in recent days to make a collective decision in our General Election, but don’t worry, this is certainly not the time to start reflecting on that process. In safer territory, those who watched the Glastonbury coverage on television last weekend or have been to a more local festival such as Latitude will have felt the drawing together of a shared experience. This might be a heresy to some, but I confess to not being a huge Coldplay fan. However, even I would concede that over 100,000 people sharing Fix You at the climax of their set was something to behold.

Another major current gathering is the Euros and the amazingly colourful crowds we have seen in support of their country. Of course, England has its perennial love-hate relationship with our national team played out in front of televisions in homes, pubs and clubs throughout the country during a major football tournament. How very English to boo our team for topping our group and getting to the quarter-finals in the wrong way! Add in Wimbledon, the start of the cricket test series and a wet summer; it really starts to look like a full house in UK moaning bingo.

Partly, my interest in gathering events comes from closer to home: we have just finished our annual Gather Festival, an explosion of creative activity where you can watch our pupils singing, acting, dancing, creating Art, reading, fashion modelling, playing instruments of all kinds and in all genres. It has just been a joy to see our pupils’ rich educational experience as they have entertained us in recent weeks, building skills and confidence along the way. And I know comparable processes have been undergone in the highly successful cricket and rowing achievements away from school, as well as many other trips and activities that take place in a busy Summer Term.

One of the quotes on the seats at the front in the Blake Studio carries the Auden quote, “How beautiful it is, that eye-on-the-object look” to capture the moment when someone is totally absorbed in an activity they have fully committed to. I feel like I have seen a lot of eyes on a lot of objects recently, not least in the spectacular Gala Night on Wednesday that many of you were part of or witnessed. Phrases such as “You had to be there” or Sky Sports’ “It’s only live once” speak to this special moment of being together to have a unique shared experience at a particular time.

In many ways, this whole service is one such gathering, particularly for those in U6 and their families. We have listened to some beautiful music and sung ourselves, with still the promise of Jerusalem to come. However, in that spirit of creating something memorable that we can share together we are going to have a live performance and, if you want, you can join in. I should like to introduce our U6 band, Placeholder, singing a cover song from the successful Bandfest last week…Thank you all.

This gathering and sharing and recording together is obviously positive. However, I think it is particularly important at this time that we do feel connected. As well as being a good sing-a-long, American Pie has relevant resonances in terms of theme as it records the composer, Don Maclean’s, discomfort in response to cultural uncertainty during the second half of the 20th Century. There is, of course, significant challenge and pain in our world: the threat of climate change; the horror of war in different parts of the world; economic challenges closer to home; for some, the deregulation of holiday time or the daunting nature of post-school life.

In all this turbulence, it is our connections that help to anchor us; connections to family, friends, places, traditions, values. Human beings are social creatures and simply feeling part of something bigger helps us to face the world around us. And this is a day that encourages us to remind ourselves of those connections. For all of us, reflecting on how this year at Norwich School has gone is inevitable at its end and I very much hope that you feel you have made progress, thereby deepening connections with friends, activities, subjects and all that Norwich School stands for.

Yet today, our focus is very much on our Upper 6 cohort and this is a service to allow you to reflect on the connections with your families who have supported you through your time here; with each other as you think about the highs and lows of your school careers together; and with us, your school, in this place. One of the rugby players in his Leavers Book entry noted with pride the following, “I have played 156 games for the school in 11 years. Up the Noz”! Good effort indeed, particularly keeping the record to know the number. Whatever the length of time you have been at the school and whatever your particular interests, I hope you can reflect now on links you have established which have informed the amazing young people I see in front of me and links which will sustain you in the future.

It is certainly what makes me optimistic about facing the future. I said that I would not be talking about politics today and I undertake to keep that promise now. However, I am confident that Norwich School is in a healthy position and will react with agility and good sense to whatever operating conditions emerge in the future. Indeed, we are showing ourselves through this very service and the strong emotions engendered that we are a vibrant, resilient community; let us not forget that this Upper Sixth were in Middle 5 when Covid struck and look how well they have turned out. Our connection with this amazing leaving cohort changes after today but the links will certainly not be broken. We wish you all well and hope that you will come back from time to time to tell us how you are getting on."