On the evening of 19 September, parents, staff and students gathered at Margate Winter Gardens to celebrate our school's successes and recognise the hard work and outstanding achievements by our community.
The Chair of Governors, Dr Virginia Austin, recalled the remarkable standards reached by our IB and GCSE candidates this summer. After an entertaining report by the Headteacher (see below) there followed an uplifting performance by the combined Dane Court choir groups and a heartfelt reading from year 8 student Ben Jellett. Our guest speaker was Tanya Jones - now Detective Chief Inspector, Senior Investigating Officer for Surrey and Sussex Major Crime Team. After presenting the awards and prizes to our top performing pupils, Tanya spoke about her time as a student at Dane Court and her path to policing. Tanya's enthusiasm and ambition were a real inspiration for our prize winners.
Congratulations to all our prize winners this year and thanks to our tireless band of organisers and helpers the many musicians and readers who made the evening such an enjoyable event.
Distinguished guests, Governors, Members of Staff, Students, Parents and Friends, good evening.
“I’M NOT SAYING I’M BATMAN”
read the slogan on his T-shirt
“I’M JUST SAYING THAT NO-ONE HAS EVER SEEN BATMAN AND ME IN A ROOM TOGETHER.”
I could have taken issue with his logical inference - that two different things, which are not seen together, must be the same thing (no-one has seen Donald Trump and me together...) – but since it was my first meeting with the prospective sixth former, I didn’t want our relationship to get off on a bad footing. In any case, I had already formed the conclusion that his claim to being Batman was probably shaky.
Instead, we discussed more concrete things: we reviewed his GCSE results, talked about his future aspirations (not being Batman); and then I enrolled him onto suitable sixth form courses and welcomed him to Dane Court Grammar School.
Over the next few days, though, I found myself increasingly drawn to contemplating the slogans on the T-shirts I encountered. (There’s a lot of them about.) Let’s ignore those that merely promote the name of one’s favourite rock band or sportswear brand.
A common format for the T-shirt slogan is to challenge your creativity by restricting yourself to four words. You can say a lot in just four words! Four words can be seen from across the street.
Some are aspirational, if vague:
ACT LOCAL THINK GLOBAL
SAVE LIFE ON EARTH
Others are more escapist - you know:
I’D RATHER BE SAILING
MAKE CAKE NOT WAR
And if you can say it in four words, why not even fewer?
Or, for school purposes:
A sizeable proportion of the T-shirt slogans I’ve seen have been to do with knowledge and understanding:
I MAY BE WRONG – (said one) – BUT I DOUBT IT
Another struck a more sarcastic note:
I DON’T NEED GOOGLE: MY BOYFRIEND KNOWS EVERYTHING
A third was defiant:
HOW DARE YOU TRY TO TEST US!
This last one might have been a suitable design for our Year 11 and Year 13 students, as they cogitated, sweated and biro-ed their way through a forest of examination papers last May and June. Their reward was a series of personal triumphs and, taken together, the most successful set of examination results in the school’s 60-year history.
International Baccalaureate Diploma students gained an average of 33 points, the equivalent university entry points to three A* grades at A level. Similar results last year propelled Dane Court into the Sunday Times ‘Top 100 State Schools’ list for the first time. The IB diploma programme is a challenging and wide-ranging curriculum, but our experience of outstanding success at Dane Court, for the third year running, shows that this world-class education is not only highly appropriate for our students but also completely accessible to them.
Eleven students gained more than 40 out of a total possible of 45 IB points, with honours being shared almost equally between boys and girls. Daniel Van Hinsbergh was the highest achiever, with 42 points. Daniel Goodbourn, Amy Napier, Alice Rawson, Esme Votta, Megan Jackson and Prudency Vary all scored 41 points. Jack Downer, Martin Docherty, Ben Parsons and Ellen Whitehead each gained 40 points.
The IB Career-related Programme has also equipped our students well for the next stage, with many of our students gaining Distinctions or Starred Distinctions for their vocational studies. Looking at their destinations, you will have seen from the list at the back of tonight’s programme that three quarters of our sixth formers are heading straight to university, reading subjects as diverse as chemistry, civil engineering, criminology, fashion management, law, medicine, philosophy, physics, sound design and veterinary science, to name just a handful. 80% were accepted by their first-choice universities, including, at the current top 10 universities, James Howard and Alice Rawson at Oxford, Prudence Vary and Martin Docherty at Durham, Dom Wallen and Emily Watkins at Loughborough, and Daniel Goodbourn at Warwick. 55% of students are heading to the top 25 universities, with many others going on to enriching and engaging courses at other prestigious institutions.
Equally impressive are the achievements of those students who have secured apprenticeships or accepted offers of employment. Andrew Dean has started a higher level engineering apprenticeship, part of which includes a fully-funded degree course. Tom McGuirk and Tristan Jevons have taken up school sports placements; Kieran Duckworth heads for the world of banking.
Year 11 students excelled themselves spectacularly. Every single student gained at least five good GCSE passes, including Maths and at least one English course. Of the students who took Further Maths, five gained the A** grade, showing that they are among the very best mathematicians in the country.
There were superb individual performances: Zoe Manser and Ronan Docherty each gained 12 A* grades, and Siobhan Corbey-Tobin secured 11 A*s. A further 21 students gained 10 or more A* and A grades. In total, 45% of the grades awarded were A* and A, and 48% of students - that’s 80 students - gained five or more A* and A grades. There were also exceptional results for students who overcame personal difficulty or severe illness to triumph in their GCSEs.
Individual subjects’ results were impressive. The proportion of top grades improved by more than 10 percentage points in Computer Science, Drama, Food, French, History, Religious Studies and Sport Science. In Physics, 85% of the grades were A* or A. 100% pass rates were achieved in Biology, Chemistry, Food, Mathematics, Music and Additional Science. These outstanding results, showing increases year-on-year for the last three years, are the result of improved teaching and learning strategies in all areas, helping every student to reach their potential. They demonstrate clearly that the quality of education on offer at Dane Court is on a level with the very best schools anywhere in the country.
But back to the T-shirt. In her book Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion, Professor Karen Pine, from the University of Hertfordshire, finds that “people’s mental processes and perceptions can be primed by their clothing, as they unconsciously embody the symbolic meaning of their outer layers.”
She writes that
When asked to estimate how much they could physically lift, those in a Superman T-shirt thought they were stronger than students in a plain T-shirt, or in their own clothing.
And also that
Wearing a white coat improved people’s mental agility, as their brain was primed to take on the mental capacities they associated with being a doctor [or a scientist]...
So, YOU ARE WHAT YOU WEAR, it seems.
For the apotheosis of the slogan T-shirt, we need to head back to the summer of 1984. I was a sixth former myself that year, sandwiched between one set of public exams and another. In that summer, the Los Angeles Olympic Games took place without athletes from the Soviet Union (owing to a boycott), Great Britain won just 5 gold medals, and designer Katherine Hamnett’s iconic T-shirt, later adopted by WHAM!, simply said
Hamnett’s caption, whether she was aware of it or not, was one coined by that Old Testament sloganeer Moses - LET MY PEOPLE GO was another of his. Moses, as part of his farewell speech, was urging the Children of Israel to reject false ideals and philosophies, and instead to make ‘right’ choices. Similar choices, in a more secular way, face us all.
Last year, as a school, we faced the very real threat of bankruptcy and destruction, brought about by Government priorities which, although they claimed to protect education spending, in fact cut £400,000 from our income and added £300,000 to our expenditure.
At the same time as we faced these severe financial pressures, we were also aware that we needed to do more to develop the skills and character traits of our students: encouraging them to become more confident and to debate with others; to be self-reliant and yet better team players; to be able to carry out research and present ideas effectively; to understand and empathise more readily with people from different backgrounds and belief systems.
How to reconcile these demands - how to do so much more, but with so much less? It’s all very well to say CHOOSE LIFE, but how? In difficult circumstances, it can feel as if you have no choice. But there is always choice, and you are defined by the quality of the choices you make.
We CHOSE ICE.
We have expanded our Identity, Culture and Education programme from year 10 to become our flagship INDEPENDENT CULTURAL ENRICHMENT curriculum right across years 7 to 11. Ably led by Mrs Stivarius, an imaginative team of ICE Warriors donned their ICE Packs, sharpened their ICE Axes, and set to work creating schemes of lessons and activities to develop different traits of the IB Learner Profile.
To give just one example, since we want students to become confident Risk-Takers, able to approach unfamiliar situations and uncertainty with courage and independence of spirit, we need to provide the stimulus to take those steps into the unknown, and an environment which supports and values that behaviour.
Developing these character traits and skills will help all students to become more effective learners throughout their lives, giving them the self-belief to venture into and shape the future, making the most of the environments in which they find themselves.
Outside the classroom, our students have been exceptionally active this year. Some took advantage of a host of engineering schemes and opportunities, including the Engineering Education Scheme at the University of Kent, the Women in Engineering Day at Wellesley House and the V E X Robotics Challenge, sponsored by the National Grid. Other students embarked on life-changing expeditions to New York, Zambia or Iceland, others again on language exchanges.
Two entrepreneurial Year 10 teams made it to the London final of the Business of Enterprise competition. Our Digital Leaders hosted two days of events in school, one in association with Google, to promote more effective use of digital technology. Science students tried their hand at genetic fingerprinting and genetic transformation. If you observe any of them glowing in the dark, it’s probably those jellyfish genes.
A highlight for many was the visit of Sir Ian McKellen, who, in his role as an ambassador for Stonewall, urged us all to CHOOSE LIFE, in all its rich variety and fullness. (His trademark phrase, YOU SHALL NOT PASS, has predictably leapt onto the front of a T-shirt.) Sir Ian’s passionate message, urging acceptance and respect, was heard with rapt attention by the entire school community of 1300, assembled together for possibly the first time in the new building, followed by some remarkably mature and perceptive questions from students of all ages. At the end of the year, timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, our vivid production of O What a Lovely War used drama and song to deliver a message as sharp as any bayonet. Fine individual and ensemble performances, from a double-sized cast, were supported by musicians, technical and backstage crew recruited almost entirely from the ranks of our students. Activities Week and the Group 4 Science Fair brought the year to a creative close. The scientists had to take inspiration from but a single word: WATER.
Like Moses, the Roman poet Juvenal was ahead of his time with his toga slogan
HEALTHY MIND: HEALTHY BODY
It has been another terrific year for Dane Court in a huge variety of sports. Among our proudest achievements has been the capture of the Under 19 Premier League Football trophy, 35 years after our first triumph. Against the top footballing schools of the county, our boys were undefeated and played with skill and determination. This refusal to be beaten is a priceless quality, in sport as in life.
Our Under 16 girl footballers were county cup finalists and there was encouraging progress in district and county Football and Futsal competitions for boys’ and girls’ teams in almost every age-group.
All the Rugby teams played well, with the Under 14 boys once again reaching the county final for developing schools. At the county Rugby League tournaments, our year 7 and 9 girls and our year 8 and 9 boys all won, with both girls’ teams going on to the south east regional finals. Our girls Under 16 Table Tennis team won the county championship, then the South-East regional championship, before losing in the final of the Southern Region at Bristol to opponents two years older.
There was success in Beach Volleyball, Cricket, Softball, Rounders, Netball and Golf. At the Thanet Athletics championships our yellow shirted athletes blitzed the track and field events, to win both the junior and intermediate competitions, and our junior boys and Year 7 girls went forward to regional and district finals of the English Schools Athletics competitions.
Lewis Doyle, Archie Cotton, Oliver Sexton, Rachel Napier and Charlie Knight appeared in or captained county teams. Catherine Banks won the County Under 16 Table Tennis tournament. Robyn Moon won two national Under 15 Swimming titles, and Oliver Hampton-Saint continues to compete in the England fishing team. As a result of our record in a host of competitions we were once again nominated for the Kent School Games Outstanding School Achievement Award.
The enormous richness of opportunities and choices we offer our students owes so much to the dedication and professionalism of our teachers, our support staff and our governors. Their commitment, matched by the invaluable support of parents and the esteem of the wider community, is the backdrop to all the success we celebrate tonight.
Fourteen teachers left us in August, having given more than 200 years of combined service. Mrs Weale, Mr Munday, Mr Clarke and Mr Pugh had been with us for between 28 and 32 years each, and Mrs Friedlos for 35 years, not including the time she spent at Dane Court as a student. (Mr Clarke’s farewell speech, for reasons I never entirely followed, involved him simultaneously wearing around nine different T-shirts, each with its own slogan.) Mr Towe, retired and yet still very much with us, has now given us 40 years of charisma, energy and nicknames that border on the suitable.
I applaud all our teachers for their generous and skilful contributions to life at Dane Court, and all our administrative and premises staff for their support. Our Assistant Headteachers, Heads of House and Heads of Department have given wise counsel and invaluable leadership during the year, and I should like to thank our governors for their guidance and encouragement. At the end of July we said farewell to Neville Hudson, a long-standing governor at King Ethelbert School, who had also been Vice-Chair of Governors at Dane Court for the past 8 years. And I would like to thank and congratulate our Chair of Governors, Dr Austin, on her own 30 years as a governor at Dane Court, for her loyalty to the school and for being such a steadfast advocate of all that we stand for.
As Dane Court gears up to mark its 60th birthday, we have much to celebrate. At a time when grammar schools are in the news, the timeless values we live out at Dane Court are in demand. We work tirelessly to offer the very best start in life not just to those whom we are privileged to teach, but to all the young people of Thanet, through our sister schools in the Coastal Academies Trust and through our own work with students in local primary schools, in drama, music, maths and sport. We believe that access to world-class education should be freely available, and that the limits to aspiration should be imposed only by one’s imagination. At the start of this academic year, I urge you all to CHOOSE LIFE, and to take practical steps to make it as fulfilling as you can.
For, as the T-shirt says,
IF NOT NOW, WHEN?
- Some of our photographs taken during this event cannot be published on this website.
- We cannot provide copies of photographs taken during this event.