At Speech Day 2021, the Headmaster welcomed parents, governors, pupils and Shehab Khan (Old Chigwellian and Guest of Honour) to reflect on the successes and achievements of the last year.

"As we are too well aware, this past year has been far from normal. Indeed, normally today’s prizegiving and ball would have taken place at the beginning of July in the marquee on Top Field but, as in so many areas of life recently, we have had to adapt in order to preserve what is important

All that has been achieved over the past year has been in spite of the challenges created by the pandemic, or indeed perhaps because of it. As a community, there is no doubt in my mind that pupils, staff (teaching and support staff) and Governors, not forgetting parents who have provided unstinting support, have risen to those challenges, possibly in ways that we might not previously have thought possible.

I am particularly pleased to welcome back Shehab, who left school in 2012 and went on to study PPE at Warwick University and then International Relations at Cambridge. When he began working for the Independent Newspaper in 2015, he was their youngest full-time reporter and in 2017 he was the Asian Media Awards ‘Outstanding Young Journalist of the Year’. For the last two and a half years, you may well have seen Shehab working for ITV news as their political reporter. Back in 2012, at the end of his seven years at Chigwell, five of which were in Caswalls’ house, his friends wrote about his passion for politics but also described him as ‘a considerate, thoughtful, individual - always there to lift your spirits with words of wisdom’ – which is just one of the reasons he is ideally suited to be our Guest of Honour this afternoon.

Celebrating Success

I would like to highlight the success of the last two cohorts of MVI and UV at GCSE and A level. These young people anticipated that they would be sitting their exams in the normal way but the pandemic put pay to that. Instead, exam boards awarded grades based on extensive evidence supplied by the School. It is ironic that in a year in which exams were cancelled, the students who have just collected their GCSE and A level results sat more papers under exam conditions than usual because we wanted to give them the chance to shine, because we wanted our judgment of their ability to be robust and because we wanted them to be thoroughly prepared for the next stage. I very much hope that they feel their results do them justice as individuals and the way in which they have stepped into the headwind with courage and cheerfulness does them, and the staff who supported them with such dedication, very great credit indeed.

The GCSE and A level results for both 2020 and 2021 are included in your programmes and subject detail is on the website. Our aim is that every individual, regardless of whether they are 4 or 18, works and is supported to achieve the very best that they individually can, in every area, and that success is often masked when folk like me start discussing overall figures. That applies to Chigwell students and indeed to all the three quarters of a million students who took GCSEs this summer. However, I will mention that of that three quarters of a million, just 3,600, less than 0.5%, achieved a full set of grade 9s. But of those 3,600 students, 15 were from Chigwell.

However, the end point of our work with Chigwell pupils is not when they collect their exam results – we need to play a much longer game than that. A Chigwell education should prepare for a successful and fulfilling time at university and in the workplace and indeed to lead happy worthwhile lives. We are concerned that Chigwell pupils have the values and develop the skills here so that out in the world they are amongst the young adults best able to flourish. We want those who have passed through Chigwell to be balanced, to know themselves but be able to listen to advice; we want them to be reliable, adaptable, proactive and to be able to get the job done and we want them to have a maturity which means that others enjoy working with them and having them as part of a team. As Samuel Harsnett stated nearly 400 years ago when he founded the School, we want others to see the buds of virtue in them and recognise that the education they have received has played a significant part in making them the people they are.

To achieve this, School needs to work in close partnership with home and we are very appreciative of the kind comments that were sent to staff through the pandemic, recognising their efforts. However, we also note the considerable efforts that you as parents make generally, but particularly recently on behalf of your children: to enable them to come to Chigwell and to keep them here but also to support them as individuals through those tough times. And we recognise that for many families, these have been tough times: uncertainty over the future, tragedies within the family as a direct result of Covid and very different and extra demands from your workplaces.

Developing these attributes of successful young adults that I described, takes place within and beyond the classroom and indeed beyond the confines of the School and the working week. Despite the pandemic, we have been keen to continue offering as many opportunities as possible. For example, delivering Duke of Edinburgh bronze, silver and gold expeditions, walking and canoeing for 240 pupils this year was no small undertaking but I am pleased that we did. Activities week took place and our sense was that pupils took a great deal from that; there were the wonderful plays and performances at the end of last term in person and the music concerts on the School's YouTube channel have been very well-received - the following of the Chaplain’s services on YouTube must rival that of any other celebrity, but we look forward to having more events in the same physical space for all members of the Chigwell family.

Staff Goodbyes and Thanks

To deliver these character-forming opportunities requires a dedicated team of staff and each year at this time, we say goodbye and thank you to a number who are moving elsewhere.

Mademoiselle Elise Erzepa joined Chigwell as a teacher of French eighteen years ago. She subsequently became Head of French and has, throughout that time, worked hard to encourage all pupils to achieve the highest standards in their French and to develop a passion for the language and culture. Elise really cared for her pupils’ performance, sometimes incentivised with chocolate, and she was also a really dedicated form tutor. We wish her and her son every happiness as they relocate back to France and we very much hope they will stay in touch.

In January 2012 Emma Wiles joined Chigwell as a Junior School teaching assistant, supporting small groups of pupils within and outside lessons and helping to supervise before school and at breaktime. Likewise, Mrs Julie Fox joined us in March 2002 and has worked closely with Mrs Tilbrook to support Junior School art. Generations of pupils have known that Mrs Fox will help them with their creations and, as with Mrs Wiles, Julie has combined kindness, skill and patience. We will miss both of them and thank them for everything they have done here.

Sarah Munro joined the Chigwell Junior School in September 2017. She quickly proved herself to be a skilful teacher, keen to enthuse children and to develop new ways of delivering the curriculum. Sarah co-ordinated geography and philosophy for children and English reading where she worked particularly hard to raise standards and to inculcate a love of reading a variety of genres. Sarah married recently and we wish her and David every happiness as they move to work in Kuala Lumpur where Sarah will be a middle leader at Eton House School.

In 2009, Mrs Samantha Lawrence came to Chigwell as an unqualified teacher but someone who we judged would make a first-rate professional and I don’t think we were wrong. Sam qualified and became Head of Girls’ Netball, took countless fixtures, organised many tournaments and accompanied tours overseas. She was also a dedicated form tutor and became Housemistress of Swallow’s. Along the way, she met and married Creag, who also used to teach here, and we were delighted when they were joined by their two daughters. Sam has been teaching part-time recently but her commitment has been anything but. We will miss her as the family relocates to Kimbolton and hope they will all return often.

Miss Heidi Baber joined Chigwell in April 2017, as a teacher of PE and games and co-ordinator of girls’ hockey. She soon took on the role of Head of Girls’ Games and has worked hard to develop the programme of sport that we offer girls. Like the best teachers, Miss Baber has sought to provide opportunities beyond the confines of the term and has helped to lead tours including the boys’/girls’ tour to Malaysia and Singapore and accompanied the trips to our partner school in India. We wish her every success as she moves to be Director of Sport at the Royal High School in Bath.

Like Mrs Lawrence, Dr Chloe Hirst approached us in 2018 because she was considering a move from her role training surgeons in the use of surgical devices to teaching senior school pupils biology and the other sciences. One thing led to another and Chloe qualified as a teacher whilst working here. She rapidly proved herself to be an excellent teacher of biology – clearly the needs of surgeons and Chigwell pupils are similar – and she became Assistant Head of Sixth Form. However, Chloe married Joe in the summer and they will be based in Sussex; we wish her every success in her new post closer to home at Roedean School.

A Global Perspective

Increasingly, there is scope for UK teachers to work overseas and it is highly likely Chigwell pupils will go on to work with colleagues across the world, and we will continue to seek to expand our global perspective. Chigwellians need to be able to view those from a variety of backgrounds as providing an opportunity.

The growing diversity that exists within the Chigwell community is a real asset

Ghandi encouraged us to be part of the change that we want to see and that is exactly what the group of pupils, the Equality Ambassadors, did when they met to come up with a series of recommendations to make Chigwell a kinder and more inclusive community for all. I hope their work will continue and I hope that other groups of pupils will, like them, sensitively and thoughtfully, help us as we continue to work to make the school better. The Chair mentioned the environment challenges and opportunities that we all face and I hope initiatives here will be pupil driven.

Sports Centre

Last term we had an external review of our sporting provision and, as you have heard from the Chair of Governors, we are hoping to be in position to begin work on the new sports centre soon. As you may have seen, extensive enabling work has been taking place throughout the summer. There are enormous potential benefits for existing and future pupils as well as the wider community and I am very grateful to the Governors for all their support with this project and everything else that they do, ultimately to ensure that Chigwell pupils have the best possible experience during their time here. Quite rightly, Governors are keen that we continue looking forwards, reviewing then improving but remaining mindful of our core values. I should say that 67% of the stage party is able to comment on their experience as parents, both at the end of 11 years of a Chigwell education, delighted with the experience they have had, proud of where those Chigwellians are going and excited about the opportunities that will be available to them.

Future Destinations

As the MVI leavers will have experienced, university support is a key part of the Sixth Form, particularly in a year where entry was more competitive than ever. It is very important that as they approach the end of their time at school, students know their own areas of interests because we want them to choose the university course, or degree level apprenticeship or area of employment that is right for them so that they continue to flourish. However, as regards the MVI leavers of 2021 and 2020, over 40% have places at Birmingham, Durham, Exeter, KCL, Nottingham, Oxford and UCL – all highly competitive and well-renowned universities. And for those two year groups, the most popular courses were medicine, economics, psychology, business and finance and biomedical sciences. Next year the courses chosen may well be different, which doesn’t matter so long as the students have found areas of study about which they are passionate and which are going to provide challenge.

Head and Deputy Head of School

Zach has been an excellent Head of School and thank you to him, Kaeah and the whole praefect team for everything you have done to assist the running of the School, to act as role models and to support other pupils. We look forward to working with Lewis and Anna who are next year’s Head and Deputy Head of School. To all those who are leaving, whatever you are going on to do – thank you for what you contributed here; be ambitious, work hard, be kind and be true to the values that you have developed here and at home; stay in touch with us and with each other and use the very valuable connections that exist through the Old Chigwellian Association of which you are now a part... and dream dreams. “Some people see things as they are and ask why; others dream things that never were and ask why not” so said Robert Kennedy in his 1968 campaign for the presidential nomination. As you go out into the world to live your lives ask questions, keep learning, take opportunities as you have done here, and make the world better.

Looking Forward

I normally end by wishing all families a good summer and some well-deserved time off over the holidays but, once again, this year isn’t normal. The author Maya Anjelou said that “If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.” Together the Chigwell community has been amazing through the pandemic. At the dawn of a new school year, all of us need to continue to look forward, to dream dreams, and, pandemic or not, normal or not, to be amazing.

Michael Punt | Headmaster