Honoured Guest, Chair of Governors, Governors, Ladies and Gentlemen and every member of The Blue Coat community. A very warm welcome this evening to our annual celebration of the academic year just finishing; a time both to reflect and to look ahead. 

This is a day of firsts and lasts. It is one of the few occasions when we all gather as a school family with a common aim and purpose of celebrating the achievements of our Year 6 children.

Even as I speak, athletes all around the world are tuning themselves up to a peak of fitness, pushing themselves to the limit, going through pain barrier after pain barrier. They have suffered uncertainty, as after political debate, controversy and soul-searching, the Olympic Games are all set to begin in Tokyo, rightly or wrongly, within the next 12 days.

BCS children go home with prizes today. Some of those Olympic athletes will be rewarded with medals. But many more will not. But they have had setbacks before. So they will keep going. Yes, they will persevere. As the American pole-vaulting parson, Bob Richards said,  “It may sound strange, but many champions are made champions by setbacks.” 

And I’m sure you will agree with me on this:  if the past year has taught us anything, it has taught us the importance of resilience; how it is our reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how our lives stories will develop. Nobody put it more vividly than the 17th century Japanese poet and samurai, Mizuta Masahide, who said: “My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.”

Certainly, this year has been clouded by the pandemic. But that has not prevented our children from reaching for the stars.  And much of the credit must go to the Mums and Dads in this audience. Blue Coat parents are, in my experience so far, extra-ordinarily supportive of your sons and daughters. Thank you for your fortitude and support through the extended crisis!

The excellence of my team here has again been demonstrated in abundance over the course of this academic year. They have gone above and beyond. Online learning took BCS to the forefront of education pedagogy.

I would like to thank my staff, one and all, for the individual roles that you have played in helping the great ship BCS to weather a violent storm; in keeping it so firmly on course. 

My Senior Leadership Team has been the most supportive and loyal crew imaginable. Thank you Mrs Andrews, Mr Newman, Mrs West, Mrs Kavanagh Finch, Mrs Dredger and our Bursar, Mr Morgan for your navigational skills and your durability. Also to Mr Singleton and the Governors for their unwavering support of our vision of being the leading Prep School nationally. 

Keeping the place super buoyant too, have been the Friends of Blue Coat. In a Year of Giving, the Friends made a problematic Christmas memorable, and, even when they were unable to raise funds, they supported events in the background. As a consequence, this Year 6 received the same experience as previous years.

And then, in their multitude of bubbles, I move on to my effervescent pupils! You have transcended the trauma of COVID 19. In a year when a large chunk of learning had to be done virtually, Year 6 have excelled – gaining 52 Grammar School Places, 165 Independent School Offers and 68 Scholarships along the way. An outstanding achievement, and an inspiration to those in years below. An illustration surely that, as Zig Zagler the motivational guru; states:  Your attitude, not your aptitude will determine your altitude’.

Yes, all of our children have had a chance to shine over the last year whether it be academically, in a sporting context, musically, dramatically or being a role model to others. And they have taken that chance with both hands.

Yes. The values by which they live are far more important determiners than the innate genetic ability with which they were born. Without the right attitude, their achievements would not have been possible:

Not once during the past 12 months have I come across a child who has felt sorry for himself or herself.

As Messrs Saka, Sancho and Rashford will do, Blue Coat’s children have shown true resilience. Winston Churchill once said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Well, the pandemic seems to have engendered a wartime spirit here.

Of course, sport against other Schools has been very limited. However, the introduction of intra house matches have helped hone the children’s skills and passion. The children have worked hard and developed their understanding. Far from being a wasted year, this one has offered the chance to grow stronger and build personal self belief.

We all know that ‘The Show Must Go On’. This year we celebrated an excellent drama production. Children have blown away audiences with their acting talent. From the stunning clarity of voice to the choreography of the dancing, We’re All Going On A Summer Holiday was an extraordinary production.

Music, under the guidance of Mr Nicklin and Mrs Creaton, and supported by Miss Akehurst, has continued to thrive under the tightest restrictions. Still the children practised, practised and practised and achieved outstanding results in their music exams. They also took part in ensembles and the Chapel Choir even sang at Founders’ Day and the Thanksgiving Service. Like angels, I might add.

That is the good news – or a snapshot of it.  But this year the School has to say goodbye to a few members of its community.

As announced earlier, Janine Lynn, a stalwart of the School, is leaving us tomorrow. During the pandemic Mrs Lynn supported across the Year Group Houses as well as doing the costumes for the Year 6 Production. Mrs Lynn leaves a wonderful legacy for St Margaret’s House to build on. Without a shadow of a doubt she has ensured that the girls in her care have been truthful and kind, always persevering and showing respect. The foundations of our great School. May your retirement be as fruitful as your teaching and nursing career. Good luck and our very best wishes for your new journey.

Lucy Ward will leave us at the end of this academic year to fulfil her ambition to teach and support teachers and children in Malawi, Africa. Miss Ward has worked at the School for 10 years and has always given her best to the children. She will be missed, but I am sure that, through video messages and possible visits to Chapel in future years, we will continue to hear of the great work that she has undertaken. 

Sophie Waller, too, leaves us to head back to the maintained sector, becoming a class teacher in Cofton Hackett. Miss Waller, is an outstanding practitioner who will be remembered fondly for her hard work and dedication to each individual child in her care. We wish her every happiness and good luck in her forthcoming nuptials. 

At the end of her maternity cover contract, we say goodbye to Miss Anning in Year 3. Thank you for being a great support to our children this year. Good luck in your future career.

Mr Charles Isherwood better known to us as Mr Ish, steps down as Science teacher this year. He will not be leaving the School but becoming more involved in the behind-the-scenes aspects of School life. Mr Ish, is one of life’s good ones, a true gentleman. Thank you for all you have brought to the Science department over the years. You are an important cog in the smooth running of our School. Thank you and good luck in this new role.

I would also like to thank our outgoing Heads of School for representing you all with great thought and consideration. I thoroughly enjoyed our weekly meetings.

As we look beyond the summer holidays to ‘the new normal’ it is high time for me to thank my extraordinary stay and support: my wife. Jules, not only are you amazingly capable. You are a great friend, sounding board and supporter. Thank you for being you! I think your love, patience and kindness helped me survive this pandemic year. 

So what’s next? As we approach our Tricentenary celebrations, I believe this School continues to provide a unique opportunity. Our aim is to be a beacon of educational excellence whilst encouraging our pupils to ‘Grow in Grace’.

My hope and prayers go with Year 6 on the next stage of your educational journey. Grasp the opportunities on offer and remember to thank your parents for what they provide you with.


“Today is not just another day. It’s a new opportunity, another chance, a new beginning. Embrace it.” 

See that moon. Reach for the stars. And fly……….

This is your time!

Thank you. And as we say in Scotland, arrivederci!

Mr Neeson