Welcome Address by Executive Headteacher, Raymond Friel

Mr Chairman, Right Worshipful Mayor, Mayoress, Reverend Fathers, Ladies and Gentlemen. A very warm welcome to this very special occasion, the formal opening of the New Sixth by the Chairman of Bath and North East Somerset Cllr Neil Butters. Mr Chairman very welcome.

Let me first of all introduce to you our other special guests: the Mayor of Bath, Cllr Malcolm Lees, the MP for Bath, Mr Don Foster, the B&NES Cabinet member for Early Years, Children and Youth, Cllr Dine Romero, the Vicar General of Clifton Diocese Monsignor Canon Liam Slattery, representing Bath and Wells Diocese Rev Michael Norman, the parish priest of St. John the Evangelist in bath and our preacher today, Canon David Ryan and the chair of governors of St. Gregory’s Cdr Peter Gilbert and the vice-chair of governors of St. Mark’s, Mrs Julie Henderson.

I would just like to recap briefly the story of the journey which has brought us to this day and thank some of the key people who have made this day possible. It was almost exactly four years ago when St. Gregory’s began a consultation on opening a sixth form. This followed our previous Outstanding Ofsted report after which we asked the parents what we should do next and they told us very clearly they wanted a sixth form for their children to continue to study with the teachers and in the ethos they valued so highly.

We were hopeful at the time of significant funding from the Learning and Skills Council but events somewhat overtook us and one very large financial crash later we were back to square one with no funding and very little prospect of getting any. But a solution was at hand and the solution was local.

Bath and North East Somerset Council was reviewing secondary education and it was entering into that dialogue which led to the current arrangement: a sixth form for St. Gregory’s, a sixth form for St. Mark’s, the same headteacher for both, and a new joint provision for those sixth forms to be located here at Odd Down. This enabled the Council to bring forward a key element of its strategy and to support even wider diversity and choice in the system by allowing faith schools to expand and spread their ethos.

The Council wanted this to happen and they provided the funding to make it happen. A moment I will never forget was on 14 July 2011 when every hand (almost) in the Council chamber was raised in support of capital funding for our sixth forms. The fact of the matter is that without that support from B&NES Council we would not be here today with such a wonderful new provision to celebrate so on behalf of the communities of St. Gregory’s and St. Mark’s I would to thank you Mr Chairman, as the representative of the Council, for making today possible.

But the journey was far from completed at that point. We still had to work through some details of bringing together a Catholic school and an Anglican school in a joint provision. That was at times a challenge but in the end what we have in common mattered more than what we don’t have in common and a vision was created for educating our young people in a setting which is Christian in its ethos while being faithful to both traditions; so I would next like to thank Bishop Declan Lang and the Trustees of Clifton Diocese and the recently retired Bishop Peter Price and the Education Board of Bath and Wells for their faith and support, and the senior officers of both Dioceses who worked so tirelessly on the details of the plan.

In both schools many people have applied themselves over a number of years to making this day a reality. I would first like to thank the two chairs of governors who worked with me over the last several years and walked the ups and downs of the process with great determination, faith and courage: Mrs Maggie Goodbody and Mr Roger Coombe; and a special thank you to Roger for helping to solve one of our trickier problems. When we were running out of options to re-house the slow worms which would be displaced by the new building, Roger came to the rescue and offered some land on his farm up in the beautiful St. Catherine’s valley and by all accounts the slow worms have settled in well to their new surroundings.

And in both schools involved in this partnership, both governing bodies have worked very hard over the last few years in a spirit of trust and friendship to make today a reality.

My colleagues in both schools have applied themselves to the project with great skill and enthusiasm. Indeed when we held our first open evening last October, with no building to show, no students, no results, it was the energy, passion and commitment of our teachers and support staff which convinced so many of our young people that this sixth form was worth signing up for.

As well as the teachers and support staff a smaller team worked with me on the details, the nuts and bolts of setting up a sixth form. Made up of senior staff from both schools, the Sixth Form Leadership Team, worked with exceptional skill and dedication to produce in the view of everyone who has experienced it so far, a model sixth form. But I don’t think any of my colleagues would mind if I singled out two colleagues from that team who have not only kept me sane through the long journey towards this day but were really central to the delivery of the project, especially in the final few months: Mrs Anne Barrett and Mrs Karen Howard, thank you both very much and I hope you really enjoy today.

We have been well served by an excellent group of professional people on the design team: led by B&NES Major Projects, supported by the Capita Symonds project management team, we appointed a team of contractors who would deliver a building we are all rightly proud of, notably the architects White Design and the main building contractor ER Hemmings. It was a tight schedule but we got there and we have as you’ll see a little later a very fine building not only to enhance the education of our young people but to enhance the entrance to the world heritage city of Bath.

And you would not expect me to let such an occasion pass, with so many influential people gathered under one roof, without saying a few brief words about our plans for Phase 2. While we have been able to open this year, all the indications are that we will grow quickly and we will need more specialist accommodation, namely an auditorium, a permanent home for our chaplaincy and extra classrooms.

Both our schools have always been ‘outward facing’ – very much part of their communities – and our intention is that this next phase of our project will not only benefit our students but the people of the local community and we have already held further constructive dialogue with the Council on how we might do that. But the bottom line is that we need £1.5m to make Phase 2 a reality. We have learned in recent years how not to give up, indeed we are too far gone, too obsessed by the vision we have for an excellent education for our young people, that we will not give up but calmly and persistently engage with those who might want to be part of the next phase of our vision. So, if you have any ideas that might help us, please let us know.

And finally, let me thank the fundraising team who are not only hard at work to bring in the funding for Phase 2 but have organised this wonderful day for us, along with the site team – thank you all.

So now let us turn our minds and hearts to the word of God and whatever your own belief or tradition we hope you will find in the scriptures which we hold dear some words of wisdom to reflect on and take with you. Our first reading will be read by Ellie, the psalm we will sing together, our second reading will be read by Sam and then the Gospel by Canon David.

Friday 4 October 2013