Speech Day 2023
Speech Day was held at Friends’ School on Friday 8 September, when certificates were presented to those who had completed GCSE and A-level examinations in 2023. The Guest of Honour was Old Scholar Heather McLachlan, Regional Director of the National Trust in Northern Ireland.
The Chair of the Board of Governors, Andrew Greer, opened proceedings with a short period of silence. He thanked his predecessor in the role, Philip McDonagh, for his work as Chair and paid tribute to former headmaster of Friends’, Trevor Green, who had died on 16 August. He congratulated pupils on their achievements and thanked staff for their hard work, calling on the Secretary of State to provide funding for a pay settlement for teachers which would bring their remuneration into line with teachers in the rest of the UK.
Heather McLachlan received a warm reception and gave an inspirational speech to the pupils who had sat examinations in the summer. She added her congratulations to those in attendance and began by sharing some of her experiences in school and her journey through higher education, which had led her eventually to the position she now holds in the National Trust.
She urged pupils and leavers to trust their instincts and not to say no to new opportunities, encouraging them to be happy where they found themselves and to ensure that they held on to their humanity. She also spoke about the importance of integrity and resilience, adding that the values she had been taught at Friends’ School had stood her in good stead over the years. She ended by telling them to expect the unexpected in life and to be ready to make the most of it.
Stephen Moore, Principal, added his thanks to the outgoing Chair for the support and encouragement he had provided, and also paid tribute to Trevor Green:
“An Old Scholar of Friends’, Trevor Green made a wonderful contribution to the life of the school during his headship between 1989 – 2001. Not only did he oversee new building work, including the Sports Hall, the new Prep School and the Technology block; he was also committed to high standards and oversaw important developments in the curriculum. He was also a keen supporter of the extra-curricular life of the school and our sympathies go to his wife, Jean, and his daughters, Lorna and Margaret.”
Mr Moore welcomed new members of staff and thanked those who had moved on from Friends’ at the end of the school year, including Simon Patterson, who had been appointed as Principal of Fort Hill Integrated Primary School; Bill Londsdale, who had retired after 33 years at Friends’; Patrick O’Grady, who had joined the staff in 1999 and had spent the last three years on a career break in China; and three long-serving technicians: Susan Broddle in HE; Jill Black in Art; and Paul Hunter in Technology.
The Principal went on to highlight pupils’ achievements in public examinations, saying that they had once again done remarkably well. He added that, although results across the system had gone down as awarding bodies had started to move back to 2019 standards, outcomes in Friends’ had held up well.
Mr Moore congratulated the 142 pupils who had sat GCSEs in 2023, noting that results were higher than in the pandemic years, and significantly up on 2019:
“38% of entries were at A*, up from 27% in 2019; 77% of grades were at A*/A; and 92% at A*-B. There were some exceptional individual achievements. Old Scholars’ prizes will be awarded later to the 13 pupils who each achieved 10A* grades: Samuel Adams, Bryan Barr, Christopher Burns, Daniel Capper, Sarah Chapman, Nicholas Cheung, James Fisher, Matthew Gracey, Michael Grieve, Chrissy Hopkins, Ellie Luke, Harry Moore and Poppy Richardson. A further 9 pupils achieved 9A*s, with 65 achieving 10 grades at A*/A.”
He also offered congratulations to the 144 who had completed AS levels, noting that 58 pupils had achieved three or more A grades, with 30 awarded 4 As. He said that results at A2 were also excellent:
“92% of the 133 pupils who sat exams achieving 3 or more grades at A*-C. 23% of entries were at A*, up from the 18% recorded in 2019. 87% of entries were at A*-B, with 96% at A*-C, and 60 pupils achieved three or more grades at A or above. Fifteen pupils achieved 3 A*s: Harry Archbold, Caitlyn Capper, Finlay Crawford, Abdulahad Farooqui, Rachel Graham, Sophie Hewitt, Hollie Hunter, Jonathan Irwin, Leo Kennedy, Helen Lyster, Jamie McCarroll, Erin Megrath, Kiera Miel-Delbederi, Sam Netherton and Abi Sweeny; Rose Eccles and Megan Wilson achieved 4 A*s; and Judith Brown gained 4A*s and one A.
“Importantly, almost all of our young people have moved on to their chosen destination, with most progressing to higher education. Many will be starting very competitive courses at top universities, and the wide variety of these courses at the back of our programme for today reflects the diversity of interests and talents amongst our leavers. Rose Eccles will be going up to Oxford to read Biochemistry; Megan Wilson and Kirsty Lyttle will read Modern and Medieval Languages at Cambridge, where they will be joined by Helen Lyster, who will read English, and Daniel Edwards, who will read Medicine.”
The Principal said that although the young people in the hall had worked exceptionally hard, they had also embraced the opportunities available to them in extra-curricular activities and competitions. He spoke of the success of the school production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the concerts that had been staged during the year, including the Christmas Concert in St Patrick’s Church and the Spring Concert in the Ulster Hall.
The Principal commended pupils who had demonstrated excellence in competitions at regional and national level, including in the First Tech UK Robotics Challenge, in which Friends’ were crowned UK champions, after seeing off opposition from some top English schools, including Harrow, at the finals at Cambridge University last June.
Mr Moore thanked those who had served on committees including Voice for Change, the Eco Committee, the Mental Health and Wellbeing group, and the Charity Committee, which had helped raise money for Jeans4Genes, Quaker Service, mental health charity Emerge, Made for More, Save the Children and the UNICEF appeal for Ukraine.
Mr Moore said that there had been huge demand for school trips as they returned to the calendar following the pandemic. As well as participating in expeditions to the Mournes and the Lake District as part of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme, pupils had enjoyed a homestay visit to Nice, history trips to Berlin, an MUN conference in Dublin, SU weekends, and a ski trip to Ehrwald.
He also reported the individual and collective successes in sporting activities throughout the year, including in hockey, rugby and netball. One of the highlights had been the success in girls’ cricket, a sport which had seen a recent surge in popularity. Under captain Aoife Fisher, an Ireland U19 international, the girls’ 1st XI had won the Schools’ Cup for the first time, following a victory over Sullivan in the final in June.
The Principal finished by saying that, although these achievements were based on the hard work and dedication of individuals, they would not have been possible without the support of others:
“As we have been preparing for our 250th anniversary, a milestone we will be celebrating next year, I have become more conscious of the debt we owe to others and have gained an appreciation of the wider context of Friends’ School. It is humbling to think what those who have gone before us have accomplished and to realise that without them, Friends’ would not be the school it is today. I have already mentioned the contribution of Trevor Green, but there are many more men and women to whom we should be grateful. The values they have passed on to us and the culture they have developed are the bedrock of what we celebrate here today.
“It is a legacy we should cherish and a heritage we should nurture. And when I look at the young people in the hall today, I am filled with optimism and the confidence that we, too, can leave a legacy for future generations, not only in this school, but in the world beyond Friends’.”
Head Girl, Ella Latuske and Head Boy, Monty Martin thanked Heather McLachlan for taking the time to come to Friends’ and, on behalf of the pupils, staff, parents and guests, expressed their appreciation for what she had said. Following the ceremony, pupils, parents and guests gathered in the Dining Hall for refreshments.