The Headmaster's Weekly Routh Address




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20 March

Last Updated: 27/03/2017 11:37:18

In the past two years we have taken to our feet twice in this assembly to stand for a minute’s silence in acknowledgement of the senseless loss of life in terror attacks abroad. To show respect and sympathy for those in Paris in 2015 and then again, almost exactly one year ago, in Belgium.

Sadly, this morning I am going to ask you to stand once more. This time, to hold in your hearts and your thoughts those who died or were injured in a terror attack in our own country, in our own capital. And while we are silent, you may like to reflect upon the words of the Prime Minister, who said:

“The location of this attack was no accident. The terrorist chose to strike at the heart of our capital city, where people of all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech.

These streets of Westminster — home to the world’s oldest parliament — are ingrained with a spirit of freedom that echoes in some of the furthest corners of the globe. And the values our parliament represents — democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law — command the admiration and respect of free people everywhere.

That is why it is a target for those who reject those values.

It is also why any attempt to defeat those values through violence and terror is doomed to failure.”

Please stand.

As some of you will recall, we once used to hold this assembly in Routh Hall. That changed because we were about to start the convertion of that building into a Concert Hall (which is going very well - I think you will all be very pleased with the result when it opens in October). But we also moved here, into the Arena, so that we could all be together at least once in the week. As you may remember, in the old days, half of you had to sit shivering in the Chapel, watching the assembly by video feed, which wasn’t optimal. It is an assembly – we should assemble together. So now we hold Routh in here.

Still called Routh Assembly, but not in Routh Hall. We kept the name, not because of the old venue, but because of the man after which it was named. Out of respect for Robert Gordon Routh, one of the great Headmasters of this School. A very proper and dignified man, but also a leader of great heart and compassion. The man who led Bromsgrove through the tragic years of the First World War and who created many of the traditions that we still observe and honour to this day. Including the standards of etiquette and respectful conduct of this very assembly.

Routh Assembly is unashamedly a formal affair. For the most part, you sit respectfully as you are now. You are attentive (even when I go on a bit) and you show your appreciation of the successes of others with warm yet restrained applause. It is not a football stadium or a concert venue – you don’t whistle or cheer. You show decorum and I appreciate that. You stand when I enter and leave and that is a politeness I never take for granted. I try to show you similar respect by using this opportunity to express my pride in you all and celebrating your accomplishments publicly. And there has been much to celebrate this term.

On various stages, we have enjoyed a wealth of musical performances. Informal concerts in the Old Chapel, atmospheric Jazz Gigs and the Cultures Connect Concert in the Hospitality Suite, the Choir in the Chapel and the return of Senior House Music in the Housman Room.

So too with dramatic productions; a range of offerings from curriculum performances in Big School to the resurrection of House Drama. It was a credit to you all that every House was able to compete with confidence, proving that we are awash, not only with musicality, but also theatricality.

Which was most evident of course, in the spectacular production of Hairspray that opened the term. A celebration not just of musical harmony, but also the harmonious relationships between the wealth of cultures that define this School. Although performing at the Artrix didn’t affect the quality of Hairspray, thankfully it was the last time our major production will be held off-site.

As much as we have enjoyed the many and varied performance venues this term, we eagerly await the opening of our new Routh Concert Hall and the Cobham Theatre later this year. Fitting professional stages on which to showcase the talent that blooms at Bromsgrove.

Other co-curricular commitments thrived too. Our debaters demonstrated their prowess each week. Service activities abound. CAS projects have made a meaningful impact in the community, as have Bromsgrove Service and Badge. The entrepreneurial skills of our Young Enterprise team took them to the Finals. Some of you travelled to St James’ Palace to receive your DofE Gold awards, others have made a start on that journey, being presented with Bronze or Silver back here.

Then there have been sporting triumphs. Legion, across an impressive range of disciplines. From the traditional, with the 1st Rugby XV’s appearance in the Nat West Semi Final and a great showing at the Roslyn Park Sevens last week.Sam Osbourne swimming for England and, of course, National Champion netballers.

Through to equal success in our ever-expanding palette of sport offerings. Our Table Tennis Team were National Finalists and the golfers have also qualifying for the finals of their nationwide competition. Sienna Horton also competing for her country, this time in skiing. From our longstanding annual fixtures to the resurrection of the School horse riding team. Success in so many disciplines, too many to list but each contributing to the fact that Bromsgrove has again been ranked as the fourth best sporting school in the country. Not bad for a School which isn’t a specialist sporting academy.

And of course, throughout this unending procession of co-curricular triumphs, you have maintained your academic focus. As well as the higher profile competitions such as the Physics & Biology Olympiads, many of you have attained personal goals. Some now know that they are bound for Oxbridge.

Others have excellent offers from their favoured universities. It has been a pleasure to have seen over 50 of you individually in my study this term, to commend you on outstanding Attainment and Engagement Grades.

And all this celebrated here, each Monday at Assembly. Gordon Routh would have been proud I think. You have sat respectfully and honoured your peers’ achievements

But as I mentioned at the start, it is not always about sitting. Sometimes the greatest respect we can show in a formal function such as this is to stand. Occasionally that is for sad and solemn reasons as we have done today. But sometimes it is also appropriate to stand out of joyful respect.

Two weeks ago I announced the remarkable achievement of our U15 Netball team, who had become National Champions by winning the Independent Schools Cup.

When I made that announcement, the staff and monitors took to their feet in a standing ovation. Rightly so – we are upstanding for the truly outstanding. But that does not happen very often in Routh and many of you have since told me that you were uncertain as to whether you should or could join in. I thank you for respecting this assembly enough to think that way. I can assure you that if the Common Room and monitors stand, you may too.

I certainly don’t want people jumping to their feet every week, but occasionally an achievement is exceptional enough to warrant it. We stand together, united in respect, either through sadness or joy.

So on that note, before I close my review of the term and invite Mr Hallows to announce a number of further accolades, let me tell you one more thing about that same stellar Netball team. Last week, they competed in another National Final, this time the School Sports Magazine Cup against Lingfield. A Final that they won by an impressive margin of 66-22, making Bromsgrove’s netballers double National Champions in one year. Which is a truly outstanding achievement and I invite the team to come forward to receive their second National Trophy and the School’s admiration and respect.



13 March

Last Updated: 13/03/2017 09:22:33

Particular good wishes to those of you who come from a country that is a member of the Commonwealth, because today is Commonwealth Day today. 52 nations and territories that are united, as the name suggests, through common interest. From the world’s largest to some of its smallest, from richest to poorest. Yet all members have an equal say, regardless of size or economic stature.

With Brexit due to formally commence before the end of this month, they are friendships that will be more important than ever for Britain and we celebrate the relationship. Fittingly this year, the theme is peace-building.

And then of course on Friday, large parts of the world will turn green when the Irish celebrate St Patrick’s Day. Best wishes to all who can trace roots back to the country who, as Mr Kelly insists on reminding me, ended the All Blacks winning streak.

But the international day I really want to talk about for a moment occurs in a week’s time. As I will be out of the School next Monday morning and will miss Routh, I want to acknowledge it now. Next Monday, 20th March, will be the International Day of Happiness.

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. It is the International Day of Happiness because the United Nations decreed it so. On June 28, 2012, UN resolution number 66/281 was adopted. By consensus of the 193 member states of the United Nations, 20th March officially became the International Day of Happiness. I’m not sure if anyone voted against it. Whether there was some rogue nation holding out for an International Day of Grumpiness to balance it all out? Anyway, it was made official. You need to be happy next Monday.

Its all very laudable. The person behind the UN resolution was an orphan, rescued from the streets of Calcutta India by Mother Teresa herself. Who’s going to argue with someone like that? He grew up to found the International Day of Happiness Trust. Launched the first day in 2013 with the help of Nelson Mandela’s grandson and Bill & Hillary Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea. The next year he had Pharrell Williams onboard. Of course he did. Who wouldn’t want someone who could sing about being happy non-stop for 24 hours?

When he went to the UN he also name-checked a few of his other backers: ancient sages and philosophers such as the Bhudda, Socrates, Confucius, Aristotle, Plato. Religious figures like Jesus, Abraham, Moses, and the prophet Muhammad. All of whom were pretty certain on the idea that happiness is a good thing. The UN were hardly going to disagree, were they? Although they did manage to make the whole concept of happiness sound a bit more like a piece of legislation by stating that:
“the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, which recognises also the need for a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes sustainable development, poverty eradication, happiness and the well-being of all peoples.”

Way to really spread the joy guys.

They then went on to debate a report from the International Institute of Management which detailed something called the Gross National Happiness Index. The Gross National Happiness Index, which measures multiple economic indicators and demographic statistics and calculates how happy a nation is. You Economists are such fun people.

And then, when the debate was over and they decided that everyone should be happy one day a year, a flood of organisation poured forth. Campaigns and websites and hashtags and petitions and Happiness resolutions and slogans and themes and media events and…. goodness it is all so exhausting.

I don’t really mean to criticise because I genuinely do think that it is admirable to want to spread the message that it is a fundamental human right to be happy.

But next Monday, why not just start with yourself. Next Monday, I would love for each of you just be happy. Or even to just think about being happy. To reflect upon what that means for you. By all means, think about the plight of the world’s people, those less fortunate than you, those who live in the shadow of sadness. Have a quick glance at the Gross National Happiness Index if you feel the need too. Put Pharrell Williams on auto-rotate if you must.

But perhaps don’t get so guilt-ridden or world-worried or bureaucratically formulaic about the whole thing that you miss the opportunity to just simply reflect upon what makes you happy. As strange as it seems, we often don’t actually know what makes us happy. We know what we think should do it. What’s supposed to make us happy. And then we are left confused and unsettled when some of those attempts fail.

So I recommend spending some time just thinking about what actually works for you personally. Because here’s the thing. Once you get past the simplistic and the superficial. Once you’ve gorged on one too many Mars bars or binged on three solid hours of mindless YouTube surfing or done whatever else it is you do for a quick fix of serotonin. Once you’ve done that, I am prepared bet that the stuff that actually makes you really happy, in a lasting and meaningful way, includes everything that Buddha & Co were on about:
Succeeding at something you found really hard and being proud of yourself. Really, giggle-out-loud, “Damn I’m good” proud of yourself

Or the buzz that comes from doing something generous and unexpected for another person. Volunteering, donating, the whole Housman Hall random-acts-of-kindness thing. Altruism makes you happy – it’s a scientific fact

Being part of something bigger than yourself

And the number one source of happiness, true for every age, every culture, every nation? Your relationships with other people.

None of the superficial things: money, status, power, possessions. Just the good stuff – loving and being loved.

So next Monday, even though I won’t be here (maybe because I won’t be here) be happy.



6 March 2017

Last Updated: 06/03/2017 10:00:53

There are some extremely intelligent people in this assembly and I know that for many of you, medicine is your career of choice. You will apply to go to some of the great universities to master your craft. Study under the best doctors, learn the latest medical techniques. You are certainly clever enough to do well. But are you ignorant enough to really succeed? I wonder how many of you are good enough to one day be able to enrol at the University of Arizona’s Institute of Ignorance?

Despite the name, it is not an easy programme to get into. There are waiting lists that include graduates from the world’s best medical schools: Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, John Hopkins, UCL, UCLA. The Institute also draws its lecturers and teaching staff from those same universities.

World leaders in surgery, immunology, cancer treatment – every field of medical research. They are the experts, yet they are invited to the Institute of Ignorance. Not to speak of what they know, but of what they don’t know. When these great leaders in their fields receive an invitation to be a guest lecturer, it is headed “Visiting Ignorami”. In that role, they are asked to come and speak only of their failures. Of their mistakes. Of the things they don’t know, the blanks in their knowledge. The skills that elude them, the errors that frustrate them.

The Institute of Ignorance in the University of Arizona’s medical school was founded by a husband and wife team of doctors, Marylis and Charles Witte. I have met them both. Marylis once told me that the only way I should ever judge the success of my school was by the number of mistakes pupils were making and the number of questions they were asking as a result. “Mistakes are the visible sign of learning” she said. And what people do when they make them is vital.

Think about this. When you have a test or mock paper returned to you and it is a bloodbath of red crosses and correcting comments, what do you do with it? If, after one glance, you stuff it in the depths of a folder, never to see the light of day again, you are not learning.

But if you drag it out repeatedly, enduring the natural embarrassment, the annoyance of reviewing where you went wrong, and try to find ways to avoid repeating the same errors in the final exam, then, says Professor Witte, you are embracing your ignorance and, by implication, you are learning.

There’s no getting around the fact that mistakes are embarrassing. Failure hurts. But it’s what you do about it that counts. When teachers mark your work, they don’t spend time crafting comments to humiliate and belittle you (honestly). They are giving you mirror. You look in one before you go out on a Saturday night. Check yourself out and correct anything that looks wrong. That’s what feedback is – a mirror.
You need that mirror because nobody is perfect first time.

From quadratics to semi-quavers, vectors to vocab lists, lineouts to lines in a play. If you got them perfect first time, you had nothing to learn. If you didn’t get them perfect first time, then what you do about the errors will define you. How do you react to mistakes? Failure is a threat to our ego, to our image of ourselves. And like any other threat, we react in one of three ways: fright, flight or fight.

On Saturday, the 1st XV lost in their bid to make the finals of the NatWest Cup. There it is. They lost. It hurt when the final whistle went and I have no doubt that they are hurting still. It should be said that this is the team that was supposed to have had no chance at the start of the season. Following in the footsteps of a stellar squad, most of whom left last year, they were supposedly too inexperienced. Yet they fought themselves all the way to a semi-final berth. That deserves our praise and admiration. Well done gentlemen.

But beyond that consolation, I hope you are not complacent. I hope, in your hearts, you don’t actually think “Yeah, near enough was good enough.” I hope you are actually frustrated, hungry for next year to come. Thinking “What can I learn from Saturday’s match that will make me better next time?”

I hope you review the tape of that game many times, even if it is painful to watch. Dissecting, searching for answers. In the same way as I hope that all of you pour over returned mock exam papers. The great All Black Captain, Ritchie McCaw, has said many times that the single most important moment in his exceptional career was losing the 2007 World Cup to France. Losing. That one failure and all the pain and self-reflection that followed afterwards are what he credits as the reason for winning the next two World Cups under his captaincy.

So to our 1st XV and to every sports team, especially our netballers as they head into their own national finals in the coming weeks, know this.

Staring hard at your errors, not flinching from reliving your losses, dissecting where you went wrong in the past, is actually a powerful precursor to success.

The University of Arizona’s Institute of Ignorance offers a lesson to us all. It is a paradoxical lesson.
Risk failure, but don’t then accept it if it comes.

Your challenge is to find that balance. Not to be so ashamed of failure, so embarrassed by mistakes, that you shy away from them. Freezing with fright or taking flight. Never reflecting properly on where you went wrong. Ultimately, never taking any sort of risk for fear of that you won’t succeed. Because that will cripple you, as a scholar, a sportsperson, a human being.

But neither should you become so cavalier about making mistakes that they don’t bother you. Laughing off errors, ignoring the lessons of the past, joking about poor exam prospects, not really caring if you win or lose, succeed or fail. That doesn’t make you ignorant, it just makes you dumb.

The balance, the sweet spot in life, is to be irritated enough by mistakes to want to remedy them, without being so stressed that they paralyse you. Find that spot on the sports field, on the stage, in the classroom, in your relationships, and you are destined to be great. Which is what I believe you all to be.



27 February

Last Updated: 27/02/2017 13:42:09

Let me start by commending all who participated in Saturday night’s Cultures Connect Concert. Not only those who performed with such enthusiasm, but also all who attended and showed their support for each other’s culture. From Ukrainian pop to haunting Russian poetry, traditional Chinese violin to modern dance, and even the spectacle of a Dylanesque Dr Thompson and the Head Boy torturing a Scottish accent.

It was a remarkable assembly of languages, performance styles and heritage and we look forward to seeing the initiative grow in years to come.

Staying with things cultural for a moment, let me acknowledge a few national days that are forthcoming.
Although Mrs Maund and others are probably still licking their wounds after the Six Nations defeat to Scotland over the weekend, at least those of you who are Welsh can look forward to this Wednesday, when St David’s Day will be celebrated in Wales. Wednesday is also Independence Day in South Korea and in Bosnia & Herzegovina. And then on Friday, it will be Liberation Day in Bulgaria. So we wish you all well if you share in those celebrations.

This week’s calendar also sees Spring arrive – the 1st of March by convention, although more accurately the 20th of March by astronomical cycle. Either way, it heralds the future.

So too, is this the time for me to start looking to the future, for Lent is the planning term in the School. The point in the calendar when the staff and I are engaged in setting things in place for the next academic year. Having interviewed hundreds of prospective pupils, we are now making offers of places for 2018.
A timely reminder to you all that there are many young people out there who would dearly love to be sitting where you are right now. This School’s reputation is such that we are over-subscribed. Reason enough for you to be proud of your place here and to work hard to justify it.

Scholarships and bursaries are also being awarded. House placements decided, courses agreed. And it’s not just the pupil roll that is being set in place for next year. Lent is the term for staff movement too. Some of your teachers will leave on promotion, some may retire from the profession. Now is the time for us to find their replacements.

That is no easy task. Just as the standards are high for entry as a pupil into Bromsgrove, so too, do we aim to appoint only the highest calibre teachers. I have a rule when it comes to selecting your teachers. My rule is, I never appoint the best person to a post in this School. I only appoint the right person. If we interview three mediocre teachers and I appoint the best one, you still end up with a mediocre teacher.

So that is my work right now. Selecting pupils and staff. Arguably the most important thing I do as the steward of this School, for the results determine whether the precious culture and reputation of the School will endure. But the point that I want to make this morning is that it is not my sole responsibility. You all play an important part in those selections too, and I want to pay tribute to you for that.

Every prospective Bromsgrovian, be they a new family or a teacher, is given a tour of the School by one of you. Those of you who guide do a remarkable job. We repeatedly hear that, notwithstanding our academic and sporting reputation, our magnificent buildings and our extensive facilities, it is the pupil who took the tour who sealed the deal. I thank you all, for your maturity, your loyalty and your love of the School.

Likewise, before every tour leaves I encourage visitors to look hard at any of you they encounter.
Measure the ratio of frowns to smiles I say.
Look, not just for good grooming and pride in their appearance, but also for a sense of purpose, a sense of identity.
Eavesdrop, I encourage them. When you visit classrooms or Houses or the Dining Hall, unashamedly eavesdrop on conversations. Are they respectful? Are they positive?

I say that because I am so certain that you will impress. That whatever you are doing or saying when a visitor suddenly appears, you won’t let us down.
That you are the people I claim you are.
Proud yet humble.
Confident without being arrogant.
Welcoming and inclusive of all.
Busy, yes. Busier than most young people your age.
But upbeat and optimistic with it.

Last week, we appointed more outstanding teachers. Enrolled numerous talented pupils. We can look forward to next year with confidence. But that’s as much down to you as it is to me and you should take some credit for it. Thank you for being the fine young men and woman that I proclaim you are



20 February

Last Updated: 20/02/2017 09:38:21

Winter’s gloom seems to be departing this morning and the first herald of Spring is close. Just as the seasons will start to turn over the next few weeks, so too will your endeavours here at Bromsgrove begin to blossom and we will start to see your true colours.

For those in the Sixth Form, I trust the time that you committed to revision over the Half Term break has given you confidence for your mocks this week.

Fifth Form: your GCSE’s are now but two months away. You should feel a healthy degree of trepidation. Enough to keep revision a regular part of your daily routine. But you should also hold to a degree of confidence, for you are in the hands of teachers whose guidance will ensure your success if you are willing to work with them.

And Fourth Form: I encourage you, both to learn from and respect, the pressures on the seniors in your Houses as we head towards the examination term. These coming months are no less important for your academic progress. Your grades, especially in engagement and organisation, will matter more than ever.

Grades, marks and, ultimately, examination and diploma scores are a reflection of the talents that you possess. But they are also an indication of your ability to persevere. To be focussed and self-disciplined in the months before the final test. They are as much an outward sign of your commitment as they are an indication of the level of which you are capable. Make sure that you represent your abilities to their fullest.

Likewise, many of you will go on to represent not only yourselves, but also the School, as the winter sports season comes to an end this term. To all who have fought hard in various sporting campaigns thus far, I hope you feel a sense of progress, individually or as a team, and a sense of confidence as competitions conclude. A number of you have already secured places in regional and national finals and I offer you all our encouragement as you represent your School.

Those of you in the choir and other musical groups will also fly the School’s flag over the coming weeks, as will all involved in service work, whether through Bromsgrove Badge, Service, CCF or D of E. I thank you also, in advance, for showing Bromsgrove in a good light beyond the School gates.

And of course, in this second half of Lent, many of you will also continue to represent your Houses. Either actively, through inter-House competitions, or more passively, around the School in your daily lives, as an ambassador for what it means to belong to your House.

So amidst all of this outward display of who you are and where you come from, and without wanting to sound like some gangster rapper, there is one other group I would like to encourage you to “represent.”

Pupils from 43 nations make up the School community. I made the point last term in respect of the cast of Hairspray and I reiterate it as we come together again. 43 diverse cultures who nevertheless manage to work in harmony here every day. Tolerant and respectful of each other. Keen to learn more of other ways. Able to avoid stereotypes and reject racism.

You are all here, united in a desire to gain a British education. Yet that does not mean surrendering your national identity if you aren’t British, nor ignoring the other cultures if you are.

My encouragement to you all, as the term progresses, is to remember that your words and actions represent not only who you are as a person, not only your House and your School, but also your culture. Be proud of what you add to our community, whether you are from Dudley or Denmark, Birmingham or Bulgaria.

And a great way to represent your heritage might be to play a part in the Cultures Concert that is being held next Saturday in the Hospitality Suite. If you would like to fly your country’s flag, literally and figuratively, by performing, please see Mrs Boonnak. At the very least, I encourage you to attend as audience and celebrate the diversity that is represented in your School.


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