The year in review

Craig McCarthy reviewed the considerable achievements of the 2018-9 school year when he addressed parents at prize giving and reflected on the unique features of our school. 

Excellent schools are invariably busy places and it is easy to lose track of the big picture over the course of an academic session. Therefore, taking time to reflect on the key successes from the year is important. 

ACADEMICS

People always ask me: what makes Russell House unique? Why should we choose it for our children?  We spent time reflecting on this and came to a firm and perhaps familiar conclusion. Our relative size permits us to treat each child genuinely as an individual and it is that individual care and attention that ultimately affords our pupils high levels of happiness and choice when it comes to finding the right secondary school. This can only be achieved by insisting on the highest possible levels of aspiration, participation and standards from our pupils, their parents and the teaching staff. As you will hear, I have excellent reasons to remain immensely proud of our continuing record of success. 

Academically, we have exceeded our expectations again, with pupils achieving entry into 12 different secondary schools, including independent and super-selective grammar schools.

Academically, we have exceeded our expectations again, with our 21 leaving pupils achieving entry into 12 different secondary schools, including independent and super-selective grammar schools. Sevenoaks remains the most academically competitive, with upwards of 250 applicants for 85 places. As you can imagine, we are very proud of the 4 pupils who were offered places, one on a music scholarship. As 5 pupils took the test, an 80% success rate at this level is very satisfying. This year, our pupils also enjoyed offers of Academic scholarships from Caterham and Bethany.

Maths

It has been a record-setting year for the Maths department. We entered a team of Form 7s for the Young Mathematicians’ Championships and went on to win a place in the Regional Finals, 

Every member of F6 and F7 entered the Primary Maths Challenge and five were selected for the National Finals. This is the most finalists we have ever had in a single year and, when you consider that 67,000 pupils take part, you can see why we might get a little excited. All five of our finalists performed well enough to win medals - two bronze and three silver. For those of you who enjoy statistics, this is a 'Medal winning rate' of 11% compared with the National rate of just 3.5%.

Success was also achieved in the UK Maths Quiz, where our senior team battled successfully all the way to the semi-finals.

I am assured the future of competitive maths is secure, having been runners-up in the Beagle Maths Challenge and, in the First Mathematics Challenge run by the Mathematical Association, we achieved  9 Gold awards and one special Full Marks award.

Science

The Science department continues to move forward in leaps and bounds and I am delighted that from September, there will be an increased focus on our programme of Education for Social Responsibility. Curriculum-based trips and Science Week activities brought the whole school together to consider and explore important issues such as the global need to reduce the use of plastics. We now go further and seek to formalise our approach to sustainability. Watch this space for news of allotments, ponds and perhaps even chickens!

Not to be outdone by the mathematicians, our science quiz team also reached the semi-finals of their National Science Quiz.

Humanities

Our Humanities programme has developed significantly over the last twelve months. All the major world religions are taught across the school, but this year saw the introduction of a new unit on Humanism, in order that our pupils are able, as part of a fully inclusive society, to understand that there are also many people who do not believe in a god or gods and live happy fulfilled lives.

Supporting the numerous and varied educational trips, and to put classroom learning into a real-world context, there have been guest speakers that have included our own parents from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds, a visitor from the British Humanist Association and a delightful afternoon with a Buddhist monk, third in line to the Dalai Lama no less!

The school’s general knowledge quiz teams have excelled. Having come 1st and 2nd in our regional heat, our first placed team won the right to attend the prestigious final hosted at the National Gallery in London.

The school’s general knowledge quiz teams have excelled. Having come 1st and 2nd in our regional heat, our first placed team won the right to attend the prestigious final hosted at the National Gallery in London. In a closely fought contest, the team finished 9th. With over 1,200 teams entering this competition you can see why we are very proud of our remarkable quizzers.

English

The English department has also been getting competitive and this year we entered Caterham’s Poetry Live competition for the first time. Imagine our delight when one of our pupils won the Form 6 category. We were also treated to an illustration of refined research and communication skills in our own Public Speaking Competition, in which the topic of ‘Community' ignited passionate pleas to better look after our environment. Mature and creative writing skills throughout the school were also demonstrated as several of our pupils made it through to the second round of the BBC’s 500 Words competition.

SPORTS

Russell House continues to provide a wide array of opportunities for sports. I delight in the balance we strike between competition and inclusion, which ensures that all of our pupils understand the importance of sport as part of a healthy lifestyle.

In gymnastics, once again, we had regional champions and national finalists of which to be proud. One pupil performed so well in the regional tumbling qualifiers that he was moved up into the national category and qualified from there to the national finals. At only seven years of age and competing in an U11 competition, he finished an impressive 10th. A week later, he won the Regional Individual Floor and Vault Championships. In fact, we came away with three gold, two silver and two bronze medals that day. 

But our gymnastics is as much about fun as it is about competition for we have, a fact to which my lower back can still attest, just celebrated International Handstand Day.

There has been plenty of success again in hockey and netball and we have just enjoyed a full  term of competitive girls’ cricket. Looking ahead to next year, there are more fresh opportunities, including a hockey tournament at the Lee Valley Olympic Park.

The Senior Boys’ A team went through the football season winning all but one game at the highest levels against our local rivals and in tournaments. The U11s repeated their tournament success by winning the 5-a-side, as U11, the title they secured as U10s last year. Two pupils were successful in making the prep schools’ development squad and are both heading to Sweden to play in an international tournament in the summer. 

The senior C team were undefeated in their football season with terrific results against much larger schools along the way. The U9 teams played some excellent football with notable performances. 

During the Spring term, all of our teams had winning rugby seasons with some highly entertaining and skilful rugby played throughout. The cricket season proved to be a bit tougher, but the boys reacted well under pressure and their resilience was impressive. 

Cross country deserves a special mention, with the Russell House team winning the Kent County title.

Cross country deserves a special mention, with the Russell House team winning the Kent County title. Two pupils finished in the top 10, and one went on to represent Kent at the national championships in March. One of our Form 4 pupils finished second in his county race and also won a prestigious local school event, from a field of 80 runners.

Tennis has long been associated with our school and the boys’ senior team took the Kent County title. Two dynamic duets made it through to the County doubles finals, with our boys team going on to dominate their event. These two boys also represented their county as Kent came runners-up in the U10 UK County Finals in Sunderland.

Now the word judo translates to mean the ‘gentle way’ but there has been nothing gentle about the record breaking success we have enjoyed with a bronze medal and a silver being bagged by Russell House pupils in their respective weight categories at the IAPS tournament this year.

Closer to home, thank you to everyone who turned out to support our regular fixtures, our Sports Days, and the Inter-house competitions, all of which provide wonderful opportunities for the children as they compete proudly for their school or their House, underpinning the notion that competition is not to be feared but embraced and enjoyed.

Before we move on, I must make mention of the inaugural Russell House ski trip which was a great success with 17 children joining me in the Italian Alps for what proved to be a wonderful week, culminating in the first ever Russell House Ski Championships. So successful was this trip that plans are already in the pipeline for a return to the Italian Alps in Easter 2021.

ARTS

Music remains a key strength of Russell House, with children performing to a very high level in regular concerts and events over the course of the academic year. 

Our Chamber Choir was awarded a distinction in the Sevenoaks Three Arts festival and in the vocal and instrumental ABRSM and Trinity exams, 78% of the pupils entered achieved merit and distinction grades. We are also proud to be able to offer preparation for the LAMDA exams. The results this year were record breaking, with 83% of the grades awarded being distinctions and the remainder all being merit grades. 

We continue to enjoy high-quality inclusive drama, a combination of the wonderful work that Form Teachers do to prepare classes for assemblies, the junior, and now senior Drama clubs and the Speech club. This is all pulled together by our Heads of English and Music, who lead the major theatrical productions each year. 

The spectacular Pocahontas will linger long in the memory and it was extremely satisfying to welcome so many pupils and parents, not directly connected with the children performing, to watch and enjoy the efforts of the Form 6s and 7's. Thanks also to the art department, who provided the wonderful backdrop that was the Art exhibition and for the many bright, colourful displays of pupils’ work that adorn our walls.

The new Senior Drama Club gives pupils the chance to act and work collaboratively with their peers; to write, direct and stage-manage their own plays, building on the skills developed lower down the school. The confidence gained through drama has a tangible knock-on effect to many other areas of the curriculum and it remains a key part of what we value as part of a well-rounded education.

INSPECTION FEEDBACK

You will not be surprised to know that I would like to spend a little time talking about the welcome return of the Independent Schools’ Inspectorate. Curiously, due to changes in the framework over the last decade, the last inspection making quality judgements of the whole school was in 2010. Back then, the school was considered to be good. It is said that that good is good enough, and it is, but that means that a higher level of performance is possible. Achieving that has been the core mission in the intervening time. 

I am delighted to be able to share that the levels of pupil achievement and the levels of pupil development are both judged to be excellent. If you have not had a chance to read the report, I would encourage you to do so but in the meantime I would like to tease out a few key findings:

  • Pupils display an excellent work ethic in all activities and their overall achievement is excellent because it is promoted by small classes, specialist teaching and generous levels of staffing. 
  • Pupils make rapid progress from their starting points in literacy and maintain their excellent rate of progress, as reflected in the results of externally standardised tests and in lessons observed during the inspection.
  • Pupils’ behaviour is exemplary and they exhibit high levels of self-discipline and a deep respect for the school rules, all of which ensures that pupils feel happy and secure in school.

I would like to thank pupils and the parents who took the time to feedback to the inspection team that generated an almost unprecedented, 98% approval rating across the various aspects of the school’s provision.

CHARITIES

We have become very good as a school at giving back. Diabetes UK received the bulk of our attention this year but the children also raised money for Ellenor Hospice, The Book Trust and Save the Children. The total raised stands at £4,310.

Another very exciting development project which has Russell House looking outwards, making an impact on the wider community, is our partnership with United World Schools to build a school in Nepal.

Another very exciting development project which has Russell House looking outwards, making an impact on the wider community, is our partnership with United World Schools to build a school in Nepal. This ambitious project, will see Russell House fund the construction and logistical running of a school in Ishma, a community of some 1600 inhabitants in the Gulmi district of Nepal, with 200 primary school aged children ready to be afforded the opportunity to learn Nepali, English, Maths and Science. The benefits to the local community are life-changing and the learning opportunities for our own pupils are similarly as exciting as they are varied. I am very much looking forward to working with our school community and United World Schools and invite you to the PA AGM in the Autumn where more detail will be presented.

And what else of the future? In addition to the United World Schools Project, and the aforementioned renewed commitment to sustainability, we are making significant investment in the renewal and expansion of our IT provision.

LEAVERS

I turn now to our leavers. With one class per year group and being a non-selective school, each Russell House Form has its own special characteristics and this year was no exception. Their keen sense of humour made our time together, not least in France this year, a delight. Each individual has had their share of personal challenge and each has prevailed. They all move on to good schools and we will miss them.

Whenever I am asked to crystallise what Russell House sets out to achieve, I often say: to produce, confident, self-aware pupils, who can think for themselves. In the Leavers, we have, I believe, achieved exactly that and I wish them well for their respective futures as their senior year comes to an end.

To the pupils I say this: be different, be unique, don’t allow yourself to be dragged along by the crowd, stay true to what you know is right, lead by example and question everything. Russell House will always be a part of what makes you who you are and who you become. Appreciate your time here, stay in touch, and come back and visit.

Russell House will always be a part of what makes you who you are and who you become. Appreciate your time here, stay in touch, and come back and visit.