Future is bright, like our thinking!

The Principal of Portadown College has celebrated their ‘outstanding successes’ .

In his Prize Day address, Mr Simon Harper welcomed Honoured Guest Professor Roy Turkington, Members of our Board of Governors, distinguished guests, colleagues and most importantly students and parents, to the very special event in their school calendar.

Year 11 form prize winners at the Portadown College speech day, back row from left, Matthew Vennard and Caleb Collins. Front from left, Rosie Johnston, Sabrina Greenaway, Sarah Nelson and Emma Lewis. INPT44-200.

Year 11 form prize winners at the Portadown College speech day, back row from left, Matthew Vennard and Caleb Collins. Front from left, Rosie Johnston, Sabrina Greenaway, Sarah Nelson and Emma Lewis. INPT44-200.

He continued: “We are gathered today to celebrate the outstanding successes of our students and I would once again extend our collective thanks to the Reverend William Orr and the Select Vestry of St Mark’s for their kind permission to hold this special event here in this church.

“A very special welcome to Professor Roy Turkington; I am delighted you have been able to accept our invitation and attend, despite the slight matter of an entire continent and the Atlantic Ocean to cross to be here. Your international success and reputation, together with your enthusiasm to be with us this afternoon, embody just what PC is all about. We look forward to your address and presentation of prizes and awards today, especially given your background in working at the forefront of education and plant ecology in particular. I would also echo the Chairman’s warm welcome to our other special guests.

“At this point I would like to pay tribute to the hard work carried out by the College’s Board of Governors during the last academic year. The role of a school governor should not be underestimated. This is a challenging function with a considerable degree of scrutiny and public accountability. Our governors play a central role in monitoring, reviewing and evaluating the work of the College and for providing its strategic direction. Governors have worked supportively and tirelessly in the best interests of all our young people, the College and its broader community. I am ever impressed by their tenacity, good humour, integrity, wisdom and vision. As a school, we are most fortunate to have such a capable, committed and industrious team under the clear and robust leadership of our Chairman, Mr Peter Aiken. Thank you one and all for your continued dedication and support. I would also pay tribute to Mrs Rebecca Spence for her sterling service as a governor. She brought a wealth of experience both as a parent and a teacher in the Dickson Plan. We wish her well in her retirement and thank her for significant contribution over the years.

“This afternoon, of course, we are here to celebrate the success and achievements of our young people. I have great pleasure in reporting our multiple and significant academic successes and our Senior Prefects will, in due course, outline our other, and no less important, achievements.

“At ‘A’ Level our students once again excelled with a superb 98.0% of all students securing 3 or more A Levels at grades A*-E, no mean feat given that we had 554 subject entries! A total of 31% of all grades awarded were at A* or A, with a further 31% at grade B.

Full report online.

“Ryan Davidson recorded a full set of four A* grades and was also placed third in Northern Ireland (CCEA) in A level Economics and has progressed to Oxford University to study PPE. Sam Shepherd recorded an impressive 3A*s while Sarah Crowe, Matthew Haugh and Iris Wong each achieved 2A*s and 2As. A terrific total of 23 students secured a minimum of 3A or A* grades.

The vast majority of our students have successfully moved on to tertiary education. I am delighted that so many of our former students have made the effort to join us in our celebrations this afternoon. This was a very talented year group who are to be collectively congratulated for these outcomes.

“We wish all of our leavers every happiness and success in the future. Once again, we have sent out some truly exceptional young people who will make a huge and positive impact on the world around them. Watch this space!

“At AS Level, 617 exams were entered with 30% of these entries securing the top A grade. An impressive 60% were grade A or B with a further 21% at grade C. Ivan Ribeiro achieved a magnificent 5 As, with no less than 11 students gaining 4As. In total 21 students had a minimum of 3 A grades. Their achievements are recognised through our Year 13 prizes at AS Level, as noted in your programme. These superb results provide our current Year 14 students with a terrific springboard for further success next year – no pressure there!

“At GCSE Level almost 2000 exams were entered covering 29 subjects, including our first students completing GCSEs in Business Studies and in Computing. The performance at this level was excellent, for example 43% of all grades were A* or A. 78% of all grades were A* to B with an additional 16% at grade C. Faith Jenkinson and Tim Neill recorded a most impressive clean sweep of 10 A*s. Ryan Crory and Lauren Shirley each attained 9A*s and 1A, while a further 15 students gained at least 9A*s or A grades. Outstanding successes were secured at this level too as a number of students achieved top places in the CCEA Northern Ireland examinations: Tim Neill was placed joint 2nd in Biology and Samuel Buckley was placed 3rd in Agriculture and Land Use.

All of the successes noted have required considerable effort, sacrifice and sustained determination from our students.

“Please join me in a round of applause for all of our students and the successes they have secured.

“The vast majority of our Year 12 students have progressed on to AS studies here in Portadown College where they benefit from our broad, relevant and well conceived curricular offer which is further enhanced by our varied enrichment programme. Some have chosen to follow alternative pathways in education or employment. I wish you the very best for the future. We were, of course, delighted to be joined in Year 13 by students from other schools including Craigavon Senior High School, Markethill High School and Brownlow Integrated College. These students integrate effortlessly to enrich our College community. We look forward to welcoming more students from these, and other schools, so that they too can access our provision and indeed contribute to the success of Portadown College.

“It is most reassuring from these outcomes that Portadown College is meeting the needs of our students. The combination of high quality teaching and learning, a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum and excellent pastoral support all play a significant part in the successes celebrated this afternoon. I am reminded too that such outcomes reflect well on the Two-Tier System, a system which I believe provides young people with choice, a chance to succeed and unique personal development opportunities; combined, these features afford a vehicle for further success.

“In December over 60 A Level students from four local schools participated in the first ever Almac Challenge. The event, hosted by PC, involved competing for 24 coveted work placements at Almac. This was a very intense and demanding day which included completing an application form, aptitude tests, group activities and an interview with an Almac employee. PC students secured 12 of the 24 placements including 1st, 2nd 4th and 5th places. Congratulations to all involved and especially Hannah Meredith for achieving the top place.

“Other notable successes including Biology and Mathematics Challenges, alongside the Biology and Physics Olympiads, are listed in your programme. It is always reassuring that participation in academic pursuits is not simply limited to public examinations. School trips to local, UK and international destinations remain an integral part of College life with a varied programme, including those with an academic and extra-curricular dimension.

“The educational provision through the Dickson Plan is a most effective and enabling environment for the acquisition and development of a broader range of so-called “soft skills” which provide our students with the life-long competencies which will equip them to thrive in the midst of the myriad challenges of modern life. The ethos of, and the opportunities provided by, PC promote such skills and dispositions which really do make a difference to the life experiences of our young people.

“Our students are terrific young people; particularly capable, creative, thoughtful, modest, good humoured and decent. They contribute so much to the terrific atmosphere which exists in the College. It remains a genuine pleasure and honour to work both for and with them. And, indeed, my comments are well made; only last week our District Inspector described our students as “very capable” and “excellent ambassadors for the College”. This affirmation followed an especially memorable event in September when it was PC’s privilege to welcome former student, and Olympic Gold Medallist, Dame Mary Peters to share her inspirational reflections of College life and beyond.

“The successes celebrated this afternoon are, of course, the result of much effort by many individuals, institutions and organisations. I would first of all acknowledge those fellow professionals who lay the sound foundations upon which our achievements are founded. Our local primary schools and junior high schools, namely Clounagh, Killicomaine and Tandragee, provide a first class education and the stepping stones for further success. Our contributory Junior High Schools provide a unique and invaluable environment in which young people can develop, flourish and reach their full potential. They provide a steadfast foundation upon which further successes can be built.

“Please join me in a round of applause for our junior high schools and local primary schools.

“We are very grateful for the contributions of a multitude of individuals and organisations who bring their expertise and professional support to our school community. This includes the Department of Education, the Inspectorate, the Education Authority, CCEA, Southern Health and Social Services, the ABC Borough Council and the PSNI.

“I would also pay tribute to our all important teaching staff who provide the very best learning and teaching experiences for our students to bring out the best in them.

“Teachers provide inspiration, encouragement, challenge and support in a caring environment which enables young people to succeed. Teaching staff also provide endless opportunities for young people to develop and mature whilst enjoying their learning experiences. Our Senior Prefects will detail many of these later in the programme. I continue to be sincerely grateful to our excellent team of teachers who show such zeal, enthusiasm, determination, creativity and unwavering commitment. The outstanding relationships prevalent throughout the College are a testament to the calibre and professionalism of our staff.

“I would also like to pay tribute to my colleagues on the Senior Leadership Team who continue to play a key role in the success of the school.

“Miss Gibb, our Curriculum Vice-Principal, has a thorough and creative approach to her role which ensures that students have access to a broad, balanced and relevant curriculum which meets their individual needs both now and in the future. She has an inventive mind and a determination to ensure the highest possible standards are met.

“Mr Richardson, our Pastoral Vice-Principal, is a consummate professional with a caring disposition and a genuine interest in the welfare and well being of all of our students. He has tirelessly worked to develop and implement systems to ensure no one is left behind.

Mrs Hammond, as Senior Teacher, completes our Senior Leadership Team. She is a most experienced and insightful colleague who fulfils many challenging roles to great effect. Her knowledge and wisdom in gathering, processing and interpreting data at all levels helps to inform vital decision making within the SLT.

“I am indebted to my senior colleagues for their staunch loyalty, integrity, vision and positive attitude, qualities which I value very much. Their dedication and good humour have seen the College through enormous challenges, challenges which have been met, overcome and capitalised to enhance further the College’s capacity to secure the best possible outcomes. It is a pleasure to work alongside such talented and student centred professionals.

“I would therefore like to put on record my gratitude, and that of Governors, for the hard work, loyalty and commitment of all of our teaching staff.

“Last year we bid farewell to Miss Lynda Francis after a mere 37 years of dedicated and tireless service to Portadown College. A very talented Geography teacher, she also taught Travel and Tourism and RE. She has also been a truly caring, compassionate and highly effective Year Head. Her contribution to extra-curricular life included our drama productions, Lifeline and SU, to name but a few. A terrific colleague, she always journeyed the extra mile for any aspect of College life. A keen traveller, I have little doubt that she will easily fill her years of retirement.

“Mr Mark Smyth also retired this year after a terrific 25 years of service as a Physics teacher and also as Head of Department. He fulfilled his duties with great skill and contributed significantly to other aspects of College life over the years. His wicked sense of fun and humour were much appreciated by staff and students alike. Again, Mr Smyth will have little difficulty in keeping out of mischief as a busy retirement beckons.

“Mrs Miriam Nelson arrived at PC in 2005 to teach English and RE. That said, it was Modern Languages which were her key interest and passion and so it was in these areas that she was to thrive and prove to be a most willing and capable colleague. Her unending cheerfulness and optimism was infectious and brought to bear on many aspects of College life, including drama and a magnificent performance as Priscilla Black in PC’s very own Blind Date Lifeline event. Again, Miriam will make full use of the time and opportunities provided through her retirement.

“Mr Bobby Strain joined PC in 2004 as a Building Supervisor, a role which he fulfilled most effectively over the years. His kindly manner and humour were always to the fore and much appreciated. A very popular colleague, he, like the rest, will be sorely missed, but I know he has many exciting plans for the future.

“We wish all of our retirees health, happiness and fulfilment after their long and dedicated service to the young people of Portadown College.

“Dr Hazel Phillips also left us during the year to take up a chemistry post much closer to home in Friends School, Lisburn. She proved to be a very knowledgeable and capable teacher who also acted as our SENCo during her 2 years with us. We wish her every success in her new role.

“A thank you also to Miss Zona Crilly and Miss Jemma McCrea for completing maternity cover in the Art Department, both of whom did a sterling job ensuring excellent outcomes at all levels.

“Former student Callum Best also completed his one year role as a classroom assistant. His boundless enthusiasm and willingness to be involved in College life were very much appreciated. We wish him well with his future studies.

“Thank you to all of staff who left us last year for their hard work and support throughout.

“Earlier this term our school community felt profound sadness as one of our classroom assistants, Mrs Nicola Kelly, passed away after a period of illness. Nicola was an exceptionally popular and positive individual with a great “can do” attitude. She embodied the true essence of a role which requires skill, compassion and patience. Her attitude can only have encouraged and comforted those whom she helped. This really mattered to her, given her kindly and caring disposition. She will be missed by all at the College and far beyond. Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband Gareth and son Daniel, as well as the rest of the family and friends.

“In the last year we have welcomed the following full time permanent teachers: Mrs Ruth Crooks (Chemistry), Miss Charlotte Hughes (Computing/ICT) and Miss Decla Rafferty (Geography and Travel and Tourism). We were also joined by Mrs Louise Totten to cover a career break in Chemistry, alongside Miss Kelly Smylie and Mr Geoff Edgar on temporary contracts. Miss Nadine Forde was also appointed as a science technician with primary responsibilities for the Physics Department.

“I would also like to thank all other staff in the school – technical, secretarial, our buildings supervisors, our Librarian, classroom and domestic assistants, cleaners, canteen staff, school crossing patrol man and examination invigilators. These individuals complete the team without whom the school simply could not operate.

“Special thanks must be extended to the following individuals who have contributed much to our event today:

Mrs Doogan for the marvellous musical items.

Mrs Willis and Mrs Coen for the catering.

Mr Colin Robinson and our superb sound and lighting team, the renowned SaLT team, for their technical ability and support.

Mrs Heyburn and the Office Staff for their massive efforts in providing so much of the unseen support such high profile events as this demand.

Thank you also to our prefects, our musicians and others for their important contributions.

“Parents continue to play a central role in our success. Working closely alongside parents enables us to support collectively the young people and guide them through the raft of challenges which they face in an ever changing world. Through such a partnership we can meet the needs of our students and ensure they have every opportunity to develop and flourish. Your support is very much appreciated.

“Speech Day has always provided an effective vehicle for communicating key thoughts on the current state of education in the College and the Dickson Plan. Over the past few years we have successfully negotiated significant threats and challenges, which we have met in a principled and forthright manner, remaining true to our motto “Fortiter et Humaniter”.

“My, hasn’t the landscape changed for the better since I last reported to you.

“We welcome the new Education Minister’s firm commitment to the Dickson Plan. I am most encouraged by his very supportive and positive soundings. Peter Weir’s recent statement noted there had been a very real “threat to effectively dismantle the Dickson Plan system”. He was unequivocal in his support indicating that he was “ushering in a period of educational stability”. His final sentence speaks volumes and fully endorses our robust campaign to Save the Dickson Plan, and I quote: “This is something that works, and so I will ensure the Dickson Plan is not removed either directly” and, listen to this, “or undermined through stealth, and any threat is now lifted”. This community should be very proud of its vociferous support for the Dickson Plan and for Portadown College.

“I was delighted to meet with the new Minister just last week, along with my respected colleague, Mr Trevor Robinson. This was an open, positive and very constructive encounter which must give rise to some measure of optimism. It was a breath of fresh air to be listened to, understood and respected by a Minister who has quickly made a positive impact on education. This is a man I believe we can do business with.

“We do, of course, need and deserve significant capital investment in the form of a new school build. The failure to provide this is a true legacy issue. We must ensure that past wrongs, and blatant inequality of treatment, are addressed and rectified. Our young people, staff and community deserve no less. As John F Kennedy remarked, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource”. There is a clear need for capital investment in the educational infrastructure across the Dickson Plan, particularly at post-14 level. The folly of withholding such investment brings to mind Andy McIntyre’s maxim, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance”.

“The successes of our current and former students, alongside meeting the needs of future generations, are reason enough for provision of a new school build. The case for such investment is all the more compelling when other factors are considered. Our “Very Good” inspection report from February 2014 clearly endorsed the excellent performance of the College and its capacity to deliver a quality educational experience for all young people. Achieving such a high outcome brought with it the expectation that the Inspectorate would visit again within 3 years to conduct a School Improvement Inspection or SII. I am delighted to report that this SII was completed only last week with a resounding affirmation of our work from the Inspectorate. The conclusion stated, and I quote, “Portadown College continues to demonstrate a high level of capacity for sustained improvement in the interests of all learners”. This is the highest outcome that a school can receive. We are, needless to say, utterly delighted with this clear endorsement of our work and standards. Congratulations and thank you to everyone for achieving this superb outcome. With this level of success, the solid community support that we enjoy, the massive rise in pupil numbers currently transiting through our local schools and the stated ministerial support, surely we can secure the capital needed to advance a new build; after all, the plans still exist!

“We are driving forward with renewed determination, confidence and vigour. We are creating opportunities for our students and planning for further success in the future with some imaginative thinking. PC is a remarkable school. Today we celebrate this fact and look forward, with due optimism, to travelling the road ahead in partnership with our Dickson Plan colleagues.

“In conclusion, Mr Chairman, the future is bright; like our thinking, it just happens to be Sky Blue!”