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Old Boy Ambassador Presents Awards at Centenary Prizegiving

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The Boys’ Division Great Hall was packed for this year’s Prizegiving, which was the 100th to take place since the re-foundation of Bolton School in 1915, when Lord Leverhulme brought together Bolton Grammar School for Boys and Bolton High School for Girls under the Bolton School Foundation that exists today. The evening celebrated boys’ academic and extra-curricular achievements alike, and prizes were this year handed out by Mr Giles Lever, the British Ambassador to Vietnam who is also an Old Boy of the School.

The evening was opened by Chairman of Governors Mr Michael Griffiths, who congratulated all of the boys receiving awards. He also complimented the hard work and dedication of the teaching staff and Headmaster, and also made mention of the parents who support their children in their learning. He went on to welcome the evening’s guest speaker. Mr Griffiths also paid tribute to Mr Lever’s father, Judge Michael Lever, who was Vice-Chairman of Governors at the School.

He went on to talk about the history of the School; he mentioned that 100 years previously, the Great Hall in which the Prizegiving took place this year did not exist, and was only completed in time for Speech Day 1929. He then spoke of the many changes that have taken place over the past century, both in School and beyond; but also of the unchanged values and ethos which Bolton School pupils still strive towards. Mr Griffiths went on to describe some of the more recent changes, such as the purchase of Patterdale Hall, the School’s outdoor pursuits centre in the Lake District, and the centenary launch of the 100 Campaign, which aims to dramatically increase the bursary funds to the point where one in three pupils will receive support. He also thanked the benefactors who have made donations to the bursary fund this year. Mr Griffiths also honoured Mr David Brookes, who retired as a Governor last October, and commented on the incredibly long-standing connection he and his family have with the School: his father joined the School as a teacher in September 1919, just four years after the foundation of the School, and the connection covers the intervening 95 years.

Finally, Mr Griffiths gave the boys his traditional piece of advice as they sat in the Great Hall as pupils, in some cases for the very last time. “To those of you who are leaving this year, good luck, follow your instincts, and have lots of fun, but above all keep to the values you have learned here, they are precious. One thing I would also ask is that in whatever you do, try to make a difference for good.”

Mr Lever was delighted to have been invited back to the Boys’ Division to present this year’s prizes and to offer up his advice on the future. A the opening of his speech, he mentioned some of the “weird and wonderful” things he has been asked to do since he became an Ambassador, from naming a new company to recording a rap about climate change for a current affairs programme in Vietnamese to judging an international fireworks competition! He said, “I’m not sure if I’m any better qualified to dispense the kind of wisdom about life that is expected on these sort of occasions than I was to do any of those things I mentioned, but it’s a great honour and a great privilege to be invited here to speak here on the Centenary Prizegiving – so I’ll give it my best shot.”

He talked about education and the value people in other parts of the world place on a ‘British education’, which he described as being “more than filling people up with subject matter knowledge.” He talked about the promotion of soft skills, such as teamwork and leadership, which are qualities which are not part of other countries’ education systems, and particularly about inspiration. This led him to share an anecdotes from his own school days, when his Year 9 English teacher’s dramatic entrance to the classroom in his first lesson of the year gave the whole class a great interest in the subject.

He went on to talk about humility, using an incident during his time as Acting British High Commissioner to Nigeria to point out that a good leader knows when to let others have a good idea. At one point, the Embassy was unexpectedly presented with some cows, a gift they could not refuse; he asked the rest of the staff for ideas, and choose the best as the solution to the problem

Mr Lever also discussed the idea that learning never stops. Throughout his career, he has needed to continue to develop in order to thrive, and he shared some of these experiences; for example, he did not excel at languages at school, but has since learned to speak both Japanese and Vietnamese in order to do his job. He made the point that if the boys are prepared to make an effort, they can still succeed, even if they are not inherently talented.

Finally, he talked about the fact that although the world is getting smaller, as Mr Griffiths mentioned in his speech, it is also getting bigger in the sense that there are a large number of global challenges to be faced, from climate change to political unrest to the economy. He ended his speech saying, “It’s a big, complicated, interesting world and it’s going to impact on your lives in all sorts of ways, whether you work overseas like me or not. It’s worth being curious about that world, it’s worth learning about it. I think the skills and experiences from your education at Bolton School will stand you in good stead to do that.”

Head Boy Christopher Pantelides led a vote of thanks to Mr Lever, reflecting on his distinguished career which has taken him to Japan, Iraq, Nigeria and now to Vietnam.

The final speaker for the evening was Boys’ Division Headmaster Mr Philip Britton. As well as applauding the evening’s prizewinners, Mr Britton paid tribute to the members of staff who have left the school or retired and the governors who have retired from their positions in the past twelve months. He made particular mention of Mr David Jones, Assistant Head (Academic).

His Review of the Year touched on many different aspects of School life, and echoed Mr Griffiths’s opening address by looking back at the past 100 years. He recalled what must have been a sombre atmosphere at the July 1915 Prizegiving, which took place during the early stages of the Great War, noting that the Headmaster at the time paid tribute to his Captain of School, not knowing that within 14 months that same young man would be killed on the battlefield. This led him to talk about the commemoration service held in March to remember the Old Boys killed in the First World War, as well as the importance of both remembering and moving forward.

Mr Britton went on to talk about education as a moral enterprise, as education plays such an important part in shaping society. He harked back to Prizegiving 1965 to quote the then-Headmaster Mr Richard Poskitt, who said that there is no right answer regarding the general issues of education. Rather, the important thing is to give children with exceptional intellectual gifts, from less-privileged and greater-privileged homes alike, the opportunity to learn in order to provide social improvement. Mr Britton agreed wholeheartedly with this sentiment: “That was 1965. I’m here at Prizegiving 2015, and frankly I could still give that talk. It resonates today. Education is about values, it’s about a moral purpose. The ambition he had for our school then is the ambition that we have now.”

He went on to mention some of the School’s achievements over the course of the year, including boys’ recent successes in the UK Maths Challenge and in the English Schools’ Water Polo Championships, which the Boys’ Division won at all three age levels. He also mentioned the amazing concerts and dramatic productions which have taken place, and the talent of artists whose work will go on display at Bolton Market Place over the weekend. The dramatic late swing in the results of the Bolton School Mock Election, which the Labour Party won for the first time since the 1980s, was also mentioned; as was the School’s place in the local community.

Finally, Mr Britton recalled the closing words of the Chair of Governors 100 years ago, who aspired for the newly re-founded Bolton School to have a greater future than any other in England. Mr Brittan commented that this was a hugely ambitions statement, but was one which he hoped the School had managed to achieve. He ended his speech by saying, “Above all, what makes this School special and what does make us great, and fulfil that ambition of a century ago, is what we celebrated this evening: we are gathered together with an immensely strong sense of a strong common purpose, celebrating our achievement, and a sense of togetherness in achieving the great aims of this great school.”

The evening was punctuated by three musical interludes. Year 13 pupil Zakary Harrison-Twist performed a piano solo, expertly playing Grieg’s ‘Allegro Moderato 1st Movement from Sonata in E Minor Op 7’. Daniel Anderson in Year 12 gave an excellent rendition of ‘Adagio and Allegro from Sonata in F’ by J. S. Bach on the Recorder. The Classical Guitar Quartet consisted of Arran Ireland in Year 13, Christopher Pantelides and Giri Nandakumar in Year 12, and Benjamin Sykes in Year 10; they played Mark Houghton’s ‘Tango’ with great style. Year 13 pupil Andrew Clelland also provided delightful organ music at the start of the evening as the audience assembled.

After the conclusion of Prizegiving, the boys and their parents were invited for refreshments in the Riley Centre and on the Headmaster’s Lawn, which made a wonderful end to the evening.

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Headmaster Mr Britton with guest speaker Mr Giles Lever, the British Ambassador to Vietnam and an Old Boy of the School

Headmaster Mr Britton with guest speaker Mr Giles Lever, the British Ambassador to Vietnam and an Old Boy of the School

Mr Lever presenting the awards

Mr Lever presenting the awards

Mr Lever

Mr Lever's address was insightful and interesting