Framlingham College Headmaster, Paul Taylor, has used his end of academic year address to highlight the prevalence of mental health issues among today’s adolescents. Speaking at our annual Speech Day event, he also reflected on the use of mobile phones in schools, the appointment of Louise North as the Head of Framlingham College from September 2019 and Framlingham’s close association with the movement for women’s suffrage.
Mr Taylor’s speech in full:
Chairman, Miss Fearnhead, ladies and gentleman, pupils: on behalf of all of us here at the College, may I add my own very warm welcome to that of the Chairman? While doing so I would like to say a personal thank you to Bill Rimmer for his support during his first year as our Chairman; it has been a genuine joy and pleasure to work with him and the time that he dedicates to this role is both much appreciated and very humbling; I really am truly grateful for his support and friendship. I can only apologise, however, for doubling his workload by forcing him to lead the search for my successor! I can assure you all – emphatically – that the fact that my decision to stand down coincided with Bill’s first year as Chairman is purely coincidental!! Further to last week’s announcement and his words this afternoon, I can only add my own excitement at the appointment of Mrs Louise North – a quite outstanding candidate from a quite outstanding field; indeed we can all – collectively – be very proud of the quality of the field that applied for the Headship of this College, and I look forward to doing all I can to ensure as smooth a handover as possible over the course of next year. As you know, Louise was part of the ISI Inspection team that inspected the College in 2015, and she confessed to me that from that moment she was trying to work out when I would be moving on!
For those of you who are new to this event, you may be relieved to hear that I do not use it to review all that has gone on at the College this year; for a start, we don’t have long enough and I don’t think you would thank me for using all the time I would need to detail all that routinely goes on here; and secondly I hope our on-going communication via website, letters and bulletins – and even Twitter now I have been bullied into becoming a tweeter! – means that you know it all anyway!
I must say how delighted I am to have Nicola Fearnhead with us today and I am looking forward greatly to hearing what she has to say. Nicola – you are very welcome. I tend to be gender-blind in all issues, but in this year when we have celebrated the centenary of women gaining the vote, it is perhaps appropriate that we have a woman as our guest speaker. As an historian I am actually rather proud of Fram’s close association with the movement for women’s suffrage, and indeed hope that as a school we have been ahead of the gender equality curve throughout our history. The Garretts were one of the founding families of Framlingham College – hence the name of the House – and of course two daughters of Newson Garrett blazed very significant feminist trails in the late 19th and early 20th century: Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was both Britain’s first female Mayor (of Aldeburgh) and the first woman to qualify in Britain as a physician and surgeon (at least the first to do so openly as a woman: the only other one to do so was ‘James’ Miranda Barry, a military surgeon who lived her whole adult life as a man – in both public and private life – in order to practice as a doctor, with her true gender only becoming known after her death!). Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson was also a leading Suffragist – that is the peaceful campaigning arm of the movement – though it was her sister, Millicent Garrett-Fawcett, who is more famously associated with that movement. Indeed all at Fram should have felt some vicarious pride in April this year when Fawcett’s statue was unveiled in Parliament Square to commemorate the centenary – shamefully the first statue of a woman in that famed square. The banner she carries in that statue – ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’ – remains a compelling battle cry, and as the leader of the Suffragist movement she even won the BBC poll for the ‘most influential woman of the past 100 years’. Now sadly we cannot claim her as an Old Framlinghamian – even Fram wasn’t that advanced! – but the College was forward-looking enough to invite her to present the prizes at our Speech Day of 1899. No pressure then Nicola!
Millicent Fawcett’s call to those leaving the College that year to look to the future rather than to live in the past and to, effectively, seize the day resonates as much today as it did at that 1899 Speech Day (and I am very grateful to Peter Howard-Dobson for digging this out of the archives): She said ‘The hands of the clock of time could never be put back; they must run their race and live their lives here or nowhere, and now or never’. Speaking to Carlyle’s axiom, Fawcett implored the leavers to ‘do that which lies nearest to you’ and ‘to look upward and onward’. She told them ‘They must not labour simply for themselves – simply to be rich or prosperous – but let them do something in their day and generation that should make the community in which they live better, purer and nobler for their work’. I couldn’t put it better myself.
The community – and service – focused philosophy encapsulated in these words remains at the very core of this school. Above all else, this school is a community, one that celebrates everyone as much for who they are as much as for what they do, and which reminds them that with great privilege comes great responsibility to use that privilege to the betterment not only of themselves but also of others, and long may that remain the case.
Indeed just last weekend saw this community – or ‘Framily’ – at its very best in all sorts of ways. Friday saw a wonderful celebration at our prep school’s 70th anniversary, where a large number of OFs gathered on the terrace for a wonderful afternoon of cream tea and entertainment, including a number who were among the first pupils to walk through Brandeston’s doors in 1948. Saturday saw over 160 OFs who had left pre-1970 gather for a lunch in the marquee, and seeing these old friends commune with each other – some for the first time since leaving Fram – was eye wateringly moving. This was also the OF Sports weekend with netball and cricket teams taking on the current crop of Framlinghamians. Such celebration and such camaraderie. The community also kicked in in a very different way that same weekend as we marked the tragic loss of two young OFs this year. A memorial service for 20-year-old Xilombe Tlakula gave us a chance to pay our respects to this remarkable young man, while the Sunday saw a celebration of 19-year-old Jonathan Hulley’s life and love of cricket as close to 100 OFs returned to play and watch a memorial cricket match on his beloved 1st team pitch out there; we are thrilled to have Jonathan’s parents Paul and Louise, and his sister Amy and his grandparents with us today: I am in no doubt that Jonathan is also here (though I think we all know that he would almost certainly have been late!). Trust me, the Fram community has played such an important part in helping each other come to terms with these two losses, and in this and in the joyous celebrations on the same weekend we see – in such contrasting ways – the very real and profound strength and truth of this community. Framily it most certainly is.
Now it is with some trepidation that I say this, but I was listening to Women’s Hour recently (!) – actually on iPlayer after a recommendation from Amanda! – and there was a brilliant discourse on the impact of exam pressures on today’s teenagers, and why these are so different to those of a generation ago. There is much talk about the prevalence of mental health issues among today’s adolescents and – trust me – it is real and it is out there, as many parents sitting here today will testify. Has some of it been perpetuated (and even created) by all the publicity? Almost certainly. Is it better that it is now being fronted up to, de-stigmatised and talked about? Absolutely.
And we at Fram have been ‘on this’ for some years now and hope that we have an open and honest culture where such issues are identified and addressed, and where we arm our pupils with the tools to both recognise and cope with such issues. There are many contributing factors to this seeming epidemic. One of them that is not talked about enough in my opinion is that this is in part due to the lack of a framework within which we are living today. In the past our society has found such a framework in a faith-based culture and, personally, as a Christian I believe that we miss that more than anyone dares to acknowledge. As a school we try to provide such a framework through clearly defined expectations of behaviour, attitudes and outlook – infused with a strong moral compass, a sensitivity towards other human beings and a clear understanding of right and wrong. Society, I fear, provides less and less leadership in this area so too many of our youngsters are forced to try to find out who they are in a society that offers very little guidance on what is and is not acceptable. A culture that essentially says ‘anything goes’ places a huge burden on the individual to discover who they are, and the lack of a collaborative community ethic dictates that every decision comes down to self-determination, and that is really tough. The hardest essay to write is the one where you have to write your own title –if we have no idea criteria on which to judge it then how do we know if it is any good! This is not about stunting creativity or originality; quite the opposite in fact as I believe the greatest freedom for creative thinking is provided by a disciplined environment which offers the security to really explore new ideas and to fly with them. We work hard to provide just such an environment at Fram – and I think for the most part we succeed, and I’m very proud of that.
What is also key to mental wellbeing of course, – as it is to so many areas of life – is that grit and resilience that I talked about last year, and it was heartening to read the recent research that confirmed that mental toughness is developable in pupils (it is apparently a plastic personality trait ie. one that is capable of change) and I have no doubt that the multifarious activities in schools such as ours play a vital part in nurturing such so-called ‘soft skills’. Indeed this study measured the ‘mental toughness’ (i.e. character and resilience) and drew the specific conclusion that schools that commit to a broad education are particularly effective in fostering such qualities. This research adds weight to the conclusion of various recent large-scale studies that one specific contributor to enhanced attainment and achievement in later life is the effect of a school’s ethos. The ethos – and culture – of a school matters, and I remain both committed to and confident in the culture at Fram, and we must guard, nurture and evolve it with care and a judicious balance of both change and continuity.
There has been much talk in the press recently about the use of mobile phones in schools, with one minister calling for a total ban. Personally I’m not a fan of banning things. Love them or hate them, mobile phones are an integral part of the modern adult life that we are charged with preparing children for, so education must remain at the heart of any policy. Indeed at this occasion last year I spoke of how we as a school were introducing much more restricted use of and access to mobile phones. A year on and this policy is now fully embedded and we have noticed a real difference. But please do not take this as being in any way a rejection of technology. Quite the opposite is true at Fram as we embrace the best of technology in teaching and learning, and try to educate our charges to be its master rather than its slave.
Talking of technology, one name synonymous with it is of course Bill Gates. Some of you may have seen this as it has been doing the rounds on line, but he spoke recently at a High School where he gave the students there a few reality bites that I think are worth sharing with our pupils today:
Rule 1: Life isn’t fair; get used to it.
Rule 2: If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.
Rule 3: Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger flipping: they called it opportunity.
Rule 4: If you mess up, it is not your school’s or your parents’ fault, so don’t whine about your mistakes – take responsibility for them and learn from them.
Rule 5: Before you were born, your parents were not as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes and listening to you talk about how cool you were. So before you save the rainforests from the parasites of your parents’ generation, start local and clean your room!
Rule 6: Many schools may have done away with winners and losers, but LIFE has not. Some schools even abolish fail grades and will give you as many times as you like to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.
Rule 7: Television is not real life. In real life people actually have to leave the coffee shop to go to work.
Rule 8: Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one.
A bit of fun, but also some rather good advice there!
This time last year we were looking out across The Back to the nearly completed Fowler Pavilion, and what a fine addition this building has been. It has, I hope, enhanced the match day experience for parents, visitors and teams, while its flexibility has been evidenced in its use for Year 10 Robot making day, Governors’ meetings, as an entertainment venue for FramSoc talks and acts such as Gyles Brandreth and the Oxford Imps, and even interviews for new Heads! This year has also seen our revised structure of the day and week bed in very nicely. The longer 45 minute lessons have increased time in the classroom without denting the breadth of our offering, while the introduction of the Activities Carousel has brought much greater cohesion, structure, variety and accountability to our Activities programme. Next year sees the launch of Fram Rangers for Year 10s. Conceived by Mr Myers-Allen, who has of course run our CCF for many years and who will continue to do so, Fram Rangers is a new alternative to CCF that fosters similar aims with regards to the encouragement of teamwork, leadership and camaraderie, but where pupils are offered an alternative to the CCF’s military context, through a variety of activities such as bouldering, archery, mountain biking, conservation and leadership command tasks. Like the CCF, the scheme can contribute volunteering hours and skills to pupils’ DofE portfolios.
Days such as today are of course primarily celebratory, but they are also tinged with sadness as we say goodbye to members of staff who leave us and, of course, all of our leavers who have given so much to this place during their time here. I always say that it is the top year in any school that really sets the tone for a year, and this year’s cohort have led the school wonderfully well, in so doing reflecting so much that we want this College to be all about. They have worked hard, played hard and – individually and collectively – they are jolly good company! I am particularly grateful to a terrific prefect team, and to the outstanding leadership of Tom Addison as Head of School (and yes, I do mean outstanding), ably supported by Jemma Crossley and Archie Winter as Head Girl and Head Boy: they make a fine team and have played a key part in the management of the school, and we have greatly valued their counsel and their leadership throughout what has been a happy year here. We are very proud to be associated with them all.
We also say goodbye to a number of staff today and we marked this as a school in our Final Assembly in Chapel this morning. We normally note those who are retiring in this forum. This only really applies in part to two members of staff as both are moving on to new challenges, but I would like to mention both Debra Hardman and Antony Bennett; both have run Houses and both have been Heads of Departments, so both have been ‘major players’ here. Debra announced earlier this year that she was taking early retirement in order to enhance her examinations role with Pearsons, while Antony will be plying his trade in the heat of Qatar next year. We wish them both well and thank them for all they have given to the school during their time with us.
It only remains for me to thank the wonderful staff here for their support. There has been a lot of change this year and I am truly grateful for the way they have embraced this change to ensure that we continue to offer our pupils the very best – both in and out of the classroom. We are always challenging ourselves to do our jobs better, and that is exactly as it should be. Thank you; the boys and girls here are very lucky. We are joined next year by no fewer than nine new members of staff, including five new Heads of Academic Departments. We have in fact been absolutely delighted with the quality of these new recruits and we very much look forward to the new ideas and fresh perspectives that they will bring to us all. I would also like to take this opportunity to wish Susan Wessels – my simply outstanding Senior Deputy Head – the very best for her maternity; we will, somehow, function without her, and we are all so very happy and excited for her as she expects her first baby (anytime now by the looks of it!!).
I would also like to publicly thank the governors of this school, and Bill Rimmer for his leadership of them. Governance today is truly demanding – and governors are more worker bees than trophy ones! We are grateful for their detailed and proactive scrutiny of us as an executive, and the wonderful Compliance Inspection Report was true and objective affirmation of the way they manage this school. My decision to step down has demanded even more hours and commitment from them and has only served to confirm how well they know our school and how much they care about it. The selfless time and work that governors offer schools is often undervalued and rather taken for granted: well, I assure you it is not by this Headmaster, and I really do feel very much in their debt.
Talking of selfless, I must also mention my wife Amanda – someone who plays such an unheralded but such a key part in creating the flavour of this school. We have had to make some big decisions this year and they have been so much easier through making them together. Thank you.
This has been an important year with many key decisions being made that will impact profoundly on the College going forwards. These decision have been very good ones – both short and long term – and as I look forward to my final year at the helm I do so with confidence, excitement and, I assure you, no hint of diminished energy, commitment or focus!
– Ends –