Here we are again. Another term and another school year are drawing to a close. As I say every year, in one form or another, I don’t know where the time has gone. The school year, in the way that is cuts across the calendar year, provides two obvious opportunities to pause and reflect and the end of the summer term, with the long holiday beckoning and the promise of a new school year in August, is one of those opportunities.
What kind of year has it been? I may be accused of being biased, but I think it has, on almost every front, been a great year for the school.
During the Easter holiday we received notification of the outcome of our assessment visit to become a Gold Rights Respecting School (RRS). As you will know from a previous communication, we were successful and the report issued by the UNICEF assessors rightly praises the work that has been, and continues to be done, by the Rights Respecting Groups in the school. Pupils, of all ages, play a key role in the development of the RRS ethos and there is a large number of staff who invest their energies to complement the work done by the pupils. The team ethic and approach was evident to the assessors. We didn’t need external validation to know that the strong, respectful relationships that closely bind the pupils, parents and staff of Firrhill are one of our key strengths but it feels good when people who don’t know our school can see and experience this so clearly when they step inside the front door.
Last summer a doughty group of 13 senior pupils, after two years of fund-raising, took on the challenge of a four week expedition to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. For those who returned for S6 the impact, enjoyment and shared bond were obvious. Fund-raising and organisation are already underway for the 2020 Expedition to Peru. This time over 30 pupils are signed up to go so, if you get the opportunity, please do support their fund-raising. I look forward to hearing about the amazing experiences when they return in August 2020.
On the theme of fund-raising I must mention the tremendous efforts of our PTA in fund-raising to directly support a wide variety of extra-curricular activities. At pretty much every school event you will find a volunteer, and usually several, from the PTA providing refreshments or similar support. Ruth Gebbie has led these efforts for many years and she is now stepping down from the PTA after 14 years of dedicated service. On behalf of everyone in the Firrhill community, I want to say an enormous thank you for Ruth’s efforts over so many years. The PTA plays a really important role in the life of the school and the more volunteers there are the more they can do to support school activities. So, please, get involved. You can find contact details on the school website and through the PTA Facebook Page at https://engb.facebook.com/Firrhill-PTA-120907988576391/ .
Another important parent group that works alongside staff and supports the school is the Parent Council. Again, you can find out more about the Parent Council on the Parent Community pages of the school website. There are a number of members of the Parent Council stepping down this year as their children finish S6 and I would like to thank all those members who are departing and who have given such sterling service to the school over many years.
In particular I would like to mention Carolyn Hargest who, over many years, has championed our Eco efforts and has been instrumental in the school achieving two Eco-school Green Flags, becoming a Cycle-Friendly Secondary School and having such a strongly embedded Holocaust Memorial Day programme. You will also recognise the work that Carolyn puts into the Firrhill News on a regular basis. Also Ian Gebbie who, with the communications group, has done a lot of work to develop the Parent section of the website and, finally, to Fred Bell who steps down from both the Parent Council and the position of Chair.
There will be information coming out to parents early in the new term on how you can get involved in the PTA and/or the Parent Council including some details on what getting involved actually does involve. One date to keep in mind is September 9th (9/9) which will be the date of the Parent Council AGM and a parent social event. More details to follow.
The summer term always sees the departure of our S6 pupils as they move on, after examinations, to new pastures and new challenges. We had a huge turnout for the S6 Commemoration Evening with over 120 pupils present. That was a record. It is a wonderful evening to hear the short summaries of the achievements of each and every S6 pupil. It makes for a long evening but worth every second. Our guest speaker Michael Dickson, Head Boy in 2006/7, spoke very well about the challenges of a fast-changing world of work. He correctly spoke about the importance of adaptability and flexibility and I think our S6 pupils step out into the world well equipped with both. There were even more of our departing S6 at the Prom and there was a lovely friendly and celebratory feel to the evening. It was a very good way to finish S6 for a hard-working and successful year group.
The school, and in particular, the S6 year group were hit hard by the death of Jason Galloway in December. Jason was relatively new to Firrhill but was already well liked, well known and very quickly becoming part of the fabric of the school. Jason had made good friends and had built strong relationships with his teachers. He remains in our thoughts as does his family.
Our new S6 are usually thrown straight into the deep-end upon their return from SQA exams and this year has proven no exception. The new Senior Student Council were selected before examinations started so they have been able to get on with their jobs right away. Finlay Stewart and Amy Murray, Head Boy & Girl, presented to parents at the new S1 Parent Information Evening earlier this month and, judging by the comments of parents, are off to an excellent start to their roles.
The three-day visit for our new S1s went very well and, on their show of hands at the end of the third day, pretty much everyone had a good time. A large part of that success is down to our Helping Hands, S6 pupils who look out for and guide the new pupils around the school. By the end of the third day the P7/S1 pupils are usually pretty tired. So too are the S6 Helping Hands! That role continues in August and is a key part of the way almost all our new S1 pupils settle quickly into life at Firrhill and do so well.
This adds to the P6 Languages Day which ran again in May. Pupils and their teachers from our cluster primary schools had a great day, or should I say belle journée, immersing themselves in foreign language and culture. The P7 World of Work day took place just one week later and this time P7 pupils from the cluster primaries came in to work with a number of external partners around developing skills for work. Another fun learning day and just one part of why our new S1 pupils arrive at Firrhill in August feeling like they are already part of the school community.
The Paris and Berlin trips took place, as has become traditional, in mid-May and were the usual great success. As with every school trip there is a huge amount of organisation so a big thank you to Ms Howells and Mrs Lambert (Paris) and Ms Thayne and Mr McAlpine (Berlin) for leading the two trips so well.
The summer term has seen its fair share of sporting success. In particular, our football teams have done us proud this year with three teams reaching the final in their cup competitions. The U13 (S1) team played Currie, the U14s (S2) were up against James Gillespie’s and the U16s were matched against Portobello.
The U16 match took place at the Spartans ground and the team were well supported by parents and pupils. The boys were playing strong opposition but despite their best efforts Portobello came out on top. I was able to watch the U13 and U14 matches on a very pleasant Saturday morning at Meggetland and although both teams gave it everything both were on the wrong side of the result.
Whilst no-one likes to lose, I hope in time all the boys involved will feel proud of having made the final. Of all the teams that enter the cup competitions only two get to play in the final and they were on one of those teams. And, of course, there is always next season! This is a good time to say thank you to all the parents who give both their time and expertise to coach and organise so many of the sports teams, not just football. Without that support we would only be able to offer a fraction of the sports opportunities that Firrhill pupils enjoy.
To all those parents who, week in and week out and in all weathers, turn out on the sideline to support all the Firrhill players – thank you.
Hockey remains a sport with a large number of girls participating and well done to Orla Roberts for making the U14 East District squad. Even though we are looking forward to summer, elite winter sport continues and Lewis Calder has been selected for the GB Ski Team. Callum Penman will be fencing at the Marathon de Fleuret competition being staged, this coming weekend, in Paris.
Selection at National level has been a theme across a wide variety of sports this term with Owen McQueenie competing as part of the U18 Scottish Surfing Squad in Jersey. Rachel Brown won the W16A category at British Orienteering Championships and, as a result, will be part of the British team competing at the European Youth Orienteering Championships in Belarus at the end of this month. She will also be attending a training camp in Stockholm in August. We wish her well.
Tom Sorenson was a member of the Scottish Trampoline team competing at the Team Regional Finals in Birmingham earlier this month. He secured a Bronze medal in the TRA Level 4 Men 13+ and, as a result, qualifies to compete at the British Championships held in Coventry in July. Good luck. His older brother, Archie, has qualified for the Scottish National Open Swimming Championship meet in Aberdeen at the end of this month where he will be joined by Alex Thomson, who has also qualified. Good luck to them both.
Sibling success was also experienced by Michael and Claire Denvir with Michael selected for the Junior GB Kayaking squad for the World and European Championships and took part in the Team GB Olympic Trials. Claire competed for Scotland, also in Kayaking, in the ECA European Open Junior Slalom Cup in Krakow earlier this month coming a very creditable 5th in the K1 Women’s U16 final.
Lucia Rizza was invited to participate in the prestigious Brodies Invitational tournament at Gleneagles earlier this month. In addition to playing she had the chance to train alongside some legends of the game including Tim Henman. Lucia played in a mixed doubles team alongside eight-time ATP World Tour doubles champion Colin Wilson against fellow junior Charlie Miller partnered by former world No.9 Dominique Monami. In a close match Charlie and Dominique prevailed 8-6.
Sport is not the only stage on which our pupils make their mark. Some, like Catherine (S4), literally make their mark on the stage as she has been performing in the Strange Town Youth Theatre production of Little Boxes.
I wasn’t able to make the U16 football final as I had already committed to attend the opening of the AH Art Exhibition at Colinton Parish Church. The amazingly creative work of the AH class was on show including the fabulous paper sculptures that had been on display in the Writer’s Museum since November. There was a great turn out of family and friends and apparently John Byrne had dropped in on the exhibition whilst the finishing touches were being applied earlier on the Friday. I am told he was suitably impressed. Quite right too. If you are an art or drama person, John Byrne ‘dropping in’ is a quite a big thing. Congratulations must go to the hard working artists who produced such varied and interesting work as well as to all the art teachers for not only organising the exhibition but also for the tremendous support they have given all the artists during the year.
Literary arts were also to the fore as Eloise MacDonald was shortlisted for the Scotland-wide RLS Writing Competition and, as a result, is one of only 12 entrants invited to attend a writing masterclass led by award winning novelist Louise Welsh.
At the Young Scot national conference held in Stirling last month a group of pupils – Chloe, Aneesa, Kirsty, Emma (all then in S1) and Caitlin (S3) – addressed an audience of over 100 teachers, business leaders and academics with confidence, knowledge and charisma. I am told they were easily the best presenters on the day and handled the many questions with real skill. Not bad when you consider they were the only school pupils presenting.
The Soul Band played the Meadows Festival on Sunday 2nd June where both Kira and Amelie led the band for the first time. The band was also the opening act at the Canal Festival music stage on Saturday 15th June where Amelie was joined by Claire. The Soul Band is due to play The Mercat Stage on the Royal Mile at the Edinburgh Festival on Thursday 22nd August and will hopefully make a return to their spiritual home of the Jazz Bar later in the year.
Our annual Youth Philanthropy Initiative, run this year in S3, reached the final stage just before the Easter holiday with the winning team of Rosa, Conal, Lucy and Beth winning the final and a cheque for £3000 for the charity they were representing – Brain Tumour Action.
If you have been paying attention to the news you might have seen some of our pupils. Nicole, Jess and Billie all met the First Minister when she visited the 6VT project earlier this month. The images were widely broadcast on TV, online and in print. Kira Noble was recognised with a Rotary Young Person of the Year Award. You can read about this at https://www.rotarygbi.org/rotary-young-citizen-awards-2019/ and there will be an article in the July edition of Firrhill News.
As I write this the Sports Tour has already departed for Holland and Germany and those going on the Iceland trip will be doing some last-minute packing.
I will write to you separately about the staffing changes at the end of this term where we will be saying farewell to a number of long-serving staff whilst August will see us welcome new faces in their place.
I have managed to fill four pages already and there is so much more that could be said. However, I must bring this end of year letter to an end and with a massive thank you to all the staff at Firrhill. The achievements of the school could not, and would not, happen without the dedication and commitment of so many. I continue to be so impressed by the lengths that the staff at Firrhill go to give every pupil the very best opportunities and to enable them to do their very best. I am sure that you will want to join me in those thanks.
As always please let me take this opportunity to wish you and your family a lovely summer. Whatever you are up to, I hope you have a chance to enjoy happy and relaxing times with family and friends.
School will finish for the summer at 12 midday on Friday 28 June.
All pupils return at 8:35am on Wednesday 14th August.