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Headmaster's Address

Speech Day 2023

Sir Matthew, Guest of Honour, Governors, Parents, Colleagues, Pupils, Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to start by saying thank you.

Thank you to the Governors for their wise counsel and support during the last year, thank you to my colleagues, both teaching and support staff; thanks to the hardworking Leys Connection Committee and especially to the retiring Chair, Lucy Godsal, for a wonderful contribution through her leadership in recent years, and for the superb Summer Party on Tuesday evening; thank you to Mr Howe and his team for a memorable Leavers’ Xaipete Event at the Imperial War Museum last night.  Thank you to our two Senior Prefects, Stella and Charles, for a fantastic job leading our Prefect Team. I don’t think I have ever known a more cohesive or emotionally intelligent team – it has been a pleasure to work with them.  Three people in particular I want to thank individually: our Deputy Head, Mrs Mayo, for her indefatigable efforts – we quite simply couldn’t have done it without your extraordinary dedication; Ms Hammond, my PA, who has kept me on the straight and narrow with a wonderful mix of uber-efficiency and compassion; and to my partner, Carole, for being there for me through thick and thin.

And thank you to you, the Upper Sixth leavers.  Writing your Valete Cards over the last few weeks, I was struck once again what a wonderful year-group you are, engaging, engaged and generous spirited; you’ve been through a lot, and we’re proud of all you have achieved.  Today, really, is all about you; to each of you leaving The Leys today, thank you for all you have contributed.

To all in the Leysian community: colleagues, Governors, pupils and parents, thank you: it is the greatest privilege of my professional life to have served this School community as Headmaster.  Our joint commitment to this School was rewarded this year with an outstanding inspection report from the ISI – a stressful process, but an incredible outcome – the culmination of a huge amount of hard work, in which we have all played a role; we press on now, on the joyfully Sisyphean task of making the school the very best it can be.

A number of colleagues leave us at the end of term.  Miss Atkins joined us last November to teach Economics and we are hugely grateful to her for her positive approach. She has been a fantastic colleague to work with. Mrs Pluke joined us to teach Physics last September; her preparation and practical engagement of pupils an exemplar to colleagues.  Mr Parsons has taught Design & Technology since 2021: his ‘can do’ approach to DT combined with his immense skill in cutting edge technologies will be missed by all.

Miss Senior has been with us since 2020.  Within the English Department, she has demonstrated creativity, innovation and, probably most characteristically, an optimism and joy that is readily shared with all she meets. As a tutor and then Assistant Housemistress in Dale, she has been bubbly, kind-hearted, thoughtful and enthusiastic; the girls will miss the joy that she brings but we are very excited for her next steps in the city of Rome.

Ms Grant has taught German since 2019 and has been a tremendous asset to the Department. The first years of her Leysian teaching career were disrupted by a worldwide pandemic, but in all conditions and under all pressures, her professionalism and real passion for all things German have shone through. We wish her well with her change of career.

Mr Hammersley has taught Chemistry since September 2019.  Like Ms Grant, he was still in his first year with us when Covid struck – but he has always embraced challenges as opportunities. Four years on, and it is time for his next move; we wish him well as he joins the Stephen Perse from September.

Mrs Markham has taught Classics here since 2017, distinguishing herself by her energy and sense of humour. Pupils have benefitted from the broad range of teaching techniques she brings to the classroom and her commitment to making sure that everyone can access materials and succeed. We wish her and her family every joy as they embark on their Odyssey across the United States.

Mr Springall has taught Business Studies and has been a key figure in our CCF since 2016.  He made a huge contribution to the Royal Navy Section for several years, organised the annual CCF dinner, and then switched to the ‘green’ side of CCF, doing a sterling job as Army Section commander. Within the Economics and Business Studies Department, his Head of Department describes him as her rock, with an incredible sixth sense for knowing exactly when to offer a nugget of wisdom. We wish him as he embarks on his next chapter.

Mr Cassidy has taught Maths, PE and has been our Head of Hockey since 2014.   Always a pleasure to work with, his passion for hockey is plain to see. Alongside all he has done within the games department, he’s been a dedicated and popular Tutor in East House, and heavily involved in Touring over the years, running and accompanying trips to Holland, Ireland and South Africa, although that trip ended a little earlier than planned, when he was denied entry at Johannesburg airport due to Visa issues.  I am sure his next journey, returning with his family to his native New Zealand, will not suffer the same fate.

Mr Bennett-Jones has been our Head of International Support for many years, and has been teaching at The Leys since 2012.  Exceptionally kind and generous, he’s also a wonderful all-round schoolmaster. He must love mud because two of his wider contributions have been in rugby and CCF.  As Head of International Support, he has worked hard to bring all Leysian pupils into one community. One thinks of the walk to Grantchester he has arranged every September for all our new international pupils. Accompanied by their mentors, through muddy fields, sometimes in rain, to have tea at The Orchard – a quintessentially English experience that remains a first memory for many.  The most supportive colleague imaginable, we will miss him hugely as he takes his own ‘gap year’.

And finally, Mr Dix-Pincott – HsM of East, and Teacher of French since 2007.  The most naturally convivial of colleagues, he has become a great Housemaster of East House, gentling nudging his charges over the last six years to grow into confident young men and encouraging them to find their voice. Within MFL, he has been a wonderfully reliable colleague who, over the last sixteen years, has helped to shape the department into what it is today. A true all-round schoolmaster, he’s also played key roles in sport, in digital education and most recently as Common Room President.  His fiancée, Ms Eades, has also been immensely helpful to us assisting in Geography in recent terms: we wish them both every success and happiness as they move to their beloved France, as DP takes up a Deputy Headship.

Please join me in wishing all these departing colleagues the very best for their futures.

It has been my privilege to speak in our weekly School Assemblies to all our pupils, including these leavers of 2023, and I believe that they may even have listened on occasion! I’ve tried to use that platform to impart advice, and to convey something of the Leysian values we hold dear.  But it occurred to me that they might feel that they’ve already had enough exposure to my familiar themes, of resilience, kindness, or the Growth Mindset. So this Speech Day I decided to skin the cat a different way.

We all need to learn new skills, so I got in touch with our IT Department for a tutorial on how to use Chat GPT. What follows is entirely AI generated  …… no …… only joking.

I haven’t resorted to Chat GPT, but I did send out an email to all my colleagues, both support staff and Common Room, and I am really grateful for all the responses I received, even if I cannot incorporate them all today.

The result is a smorgasbord of advice, some of it serious, some light-hearted, some of it practical, some philosophical – from my colleagues at The Leys: consider it a collective parting gift from all of us to the Class of 2023.  And if there are some elements that appeal, and some that don’t – that’s fine, too – it’s a smorgasbord – you’re not expected to consume it all.  Here goes.


Get comfortable being uncomfortable – give it a go, even when it takes you out of your comfort zone. Embrace change. When things don’t go to plan, accept and adapt.


Don’t wait for permission to be creative, or waste time watching what others are doing – just get on and do it yourself.


It’s fine to have no clue what you want to do next, or what you want to do with your life. Say yes to everything that you can and opportunities will unfold.


‘Do all the good you can’ is a mantra by which to live your life, made all the more remarkable by its simplicity. There are good people everywhere doing remarkable things for others. The likes of Kevin Sinfield, the late Dame Deborah James…… inspirational role models who demonstrate unbelievable fortitude and heroic determination as well as joy in life by doing ‘all the good they can’, without knowing the impact their efforts would have on others.


Ditch your phones, look up more, appreciate the natural world and beauty around you each day, and be more present in your current surroundings.


Do not rush. Enjoy every memory. Enjoy the good days; learn from the bad days. Everyone wants to rush and grow up so fast, it’s not an easy ride, Life, but it can be fun if you just slow down. Accept some sad days and some angry days, but always say sorry if you were wrong and always appreciate the life you have; some do not get the privilege and some lives are cut short.


An English teacher whose identity will easily be guessed, wrote this: “From the great ‘Eat Pray Love’ – there’s an Italian joke about a desperate man who goes to church every day and prays to a saint, asking:

Please, please, please can I win the lottery?’

And one day, the saint, frustrated by the man’s constant visits and pleading, comes to life, and says: ‘My son, please, please, please: buy a ticket.’ This little joke reminds me that you’ve got to put yourself out there, in the game, in order to have a chance of winning; we can’t sit back and wish for things. You have to work for them!”


Don’t let the confidence your education has given you spill over into arrogance. You will miss out on so many great relationships if you do not consider other people to be at least as interesting, intelligent and significant as you. This is especially a danger for extroverts. Work hard at zipping it. You are entitled to your opinion, but the world isn’t obliged to affirm it.


Moving to more practical advice:

IT and the digital economy is the next big thing – get yourself working in that area. Sustainability and security (geopolitical and digital) are the challenges of the future.


Wash your hair with fairy liquid and exfoliate with salt. This will save you a fortune and both do an excellent job.


Always take a range of coins and notes when going out to dinner in a big group. This is so you are ready with your amount and can leave the event early if it’s boring, which it often is.


MARRIAGE – (This from a colleague who says: “I’m been married for 25 years this year and remembering this has been key”).

Your spouse cannot fulfil all your emotional and spiritual needs. Go easy on your spouse and seek out friends and faith to take up the slack.


The following is from Mr Herbert: I wish someone had said to me: “be serious about things, but don’t take things too seriously”. It’s important to be intentional, to go after a good degree, push yourself in your sport / music / theatre, make the most of opportunities – but also to enjoy the process, have a laugh and not let it consume you.


From a young colleague in the English Department: “Surround yourself with people who will be there for you in tough times, people who want you to succeed at all times, and knowing you would treat those people in exactly the same way….. and, additionally, carry a notepad: you never know.”


From a colleague in the Medical Centre:

Everything you ever worried about probably didn’t happen, so have faith that everything will be ok. And if it’s not, it’s not done yet.


I love this one, from Zowie, Matron in West House – advice from her late grandmother: “Time is the most precious thing we have, so waste it wisely!”


From a colleague in the CCF:

Understand Failure as Feedback.  Failure is 100% necessary, what matters is the perseverance to go again. This is what separates those that are successful from those that come up short.

Always be honest with yourself and others. – Living a life of honesty creates peace of mind, and peace of mind is priceless.

And most important: be kind.


From our Facilities Manager, Mr Keen: “There is never a right time for anything. Don’t wait for “The Right Time”. Marriage, kids, adventure: go with your own flow, it’s a long and thrilling life, if you want it to be.”


Finally, one especially helpful colleague pointed me in the direction of the song “Everybody’s Free”, by Baz Luhrmann, which I’ve marginally adjusted for a British audience.  I’ll finish by reading the lyrics to you.

“If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.

The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience…I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth; oh, never mind; you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded.
But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall – in a way you can’t grasp now – how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked….  You’re not as fat as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble-gum.

The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing everyday that scares you


Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults;

if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives; some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium.

Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll have children, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary…whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either – your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body, use it every way you can…don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own..

Dance…even if you have nowhere to do it but your own living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents; you never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to your siblings; they are the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.

Live in London once, but leave before it makes you hard;

live in Cornwall once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old,

And when you do, you’ll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you’re 40, it will look 85.

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling it for more than it’s worth. ……….      But trust me on the sunscreen…

Ladies and Gentlemen – thank you very much.