St Mark’s Parish Church, Armagh was the venue for the prize-giving ceremony of The Royal School, Armagh.
Following the academic procession, the ceremony, on Thursday, September 21, was opened with the singing of ‘In Christ Alone’, and with prayers from the Rector of St Mark’s, Rev. Canon M T Kingston, and the Head Girl Molly Hutchinson.
The Chairman of the Board of Governors, Archbishop John McDowell, welcomed all present including the Chief Guest and speaker, former pupil, Dr John C Lennox, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science Green Templeton College and Associate Fellow, Said Business School. He attended the Royal School in the 1950s before going up to Cambridge where he obtained his MA MMath and PhD. Professor Lennox also holds degrees from the Universities of Oxford, and Surrey. Aside from his academic work Professor Lennox is well known as an intellectual exponent of Christianity and has written numerous books on this subject.
Archbishop McDowell told those in attendance that the school continued to thrive with the highest number ever on roll when the Royal Play Group, the Preparatory Department, boarding and the grammar school were counted together. He thanked the governors and staff who had worked so hard throughout the year.
The Choir, bolstered by leavers for whom this occasion marks the last chance to sing together, sang ‘All Things New’ by Elaine Hagenberg. The music was led by Mr Andrew Boyd and Mrs Claire Philips of the music department. The organist was Old Armachian Mr Andrew Glenny. The Headmaster, Mr Graham Montgomery, then delivered his report to the school. He stated that the school remained committed to its historic twin aims set out in the letters patent granted by King Charles I in 1627, “For the increase of learning and good manners”. He emphasised that it remained the case that academic achievement and the development of good character and a life well lived were fundamental to the mission of the Royal School.
Mr Montgomery acknowledged and thanked parents for their special contribution to the success of the Royal School and its pupils. He paid tribute to staff who had left the school, some of them following decades of service and welcomed all those who had arrived this year.
Regarding academic achievement Mr Montgomery said that the 2023 A Level attainment had been very strong. 80% of pupils attained three A Levels at grade A*-C and an overall pass rate of 100%. It was noteworthy that 83% of grades awarded fell within the A*-B range. In total over thirty percent of Royal School pupils who sat A Levels achieved three straight A grades or better with one achieving 4 A* grades and another gaining 4 A* and 2 A grades!. The headmaster was delighted to report that the vast majority of all Sixth Form leavers had secured a place at their first choice of university.
At GCSE pupils also performed superbly, surpassing Northern Ireland averages for top grades. 83% of all grades awarded were ‘B’ or above with 62% of them being either ‘A*’ or ‘A’. 94% of pupils attained at least seven GCSEs including English and mathematics at grade A*-C.
In total forty-one pupils achieved at least 8 A grades. With two gaining 11 A* grades and 2 10A* grades! Mr Montgomery said all this success was a credit to the young people who studied hard and performed well, but also a tribute to the commitment and professionalism of school staff and clear evidence of the encouragement, support and cooperation of parents and families.
The headmaster reported that interest in the boarding department remained strong with 93 young people from across the globe calling the Royal School “home”. The strength of boarding, observed the headmaster, was that it had a truly international flavour with pupils drawn from across Ireland, Europe and the middle and far east. The Preparatory Department, under Dr Kirsten Carson-McClenaghan’s excellent leadership, remained a dynamic and welcoming place. Last year pupils had been engaged in a wide range of extra curricular activities including a trip to Paris. Mr Montgomery was delighted to report that all P7 leavers had successfully gained admission to grammar school.
Mr Montgomery referred to the vital importance of trips and extra curricular activities which the school believes to be essential in developing sound character, leadership capacity and resilience. These included local, national and global service opportunities such as the ASHA team which had been raising funds throughout the year in preparation for its trip to New Delhi in October, while pupils in the Scripture Union spent time in Copenhagen working with new comers in collaboration with a local church and the work of the Charity Committee which supported more than a dozen charities throughout the year.
Other highlights of the year were the school’s production on Annie in December and a very successful rugby tour to South Africa in July. The geography department also took a trip to Iceland while the modern languages department took pupils to Paris.
The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme continued to be a significant feature of school life with 135 pupils engaged silver and 108 in gold last year.
Sport continued to be a major feature of school life with the 2022-23 season being one of the most successful in the school’s history. Hockey had an incredible season with the 1st XI winning the Belfast Telegraph Ulster Senior Schoolgirl’s Cup and the Wooden Floor Company Ulster Super League. The team came second in the Kate Russell All Ireland Schoolgirls’ Tournament. The boys 1st XI reached the quarter final of the Prior Shield.
In rugby the 1st XV won the Danske Bank Ulster Schools Subsidiary Shield, the 2nd XV won the shield competition. The girl’s rugby team were finalists of the Danske Bank Schools Cup.
In bringing his report to an end the headmaster mused how the leavers were at an exciting time of their lives as they let slip the mooring ropes which had kept them close at school and set out on an uncharted sea of possibilities. He concluded with a quote from John Wesley encouraging them to do all the good they can to all the people they can and wished them every blessing for the journey they were setting out on.
Professor Lennox then addressed the school. His speech was a tour de force, touching on his own time at school and how he came to study mathematics at Cambridge. He challenged the belief that science and faith were incompatible contending that total trust in the existence of all things without a creator was the ultimate act of faith. The question for him was not if people had faith but rather what they had faith in. He went on to talk about the high profile debates he had been engaged in with prominent atheists and set out a clear and rationale defence of faith in Christ as a basis for living.
Two Old Armachian Society Medallions were awarded, one to the girls of the 1st XI Hockey Team of 2022/23 which won the Belfast Telegraph Ulster Senior Schoolgirl’s Cup, the Wooden Floor Company Ulster Super league and came second in the Kate Russell All Ireland School’s Tournament and one to Professor Lennox. The citations for each were read by Mr Richard Gillanders outgoing President of the Old Armachian Society.
A vote of thanks was then ably proposed by the Head Boy, Archie Johnston. Archie thanked Professor Lennox for altering a previous engagement to be present at school and drew specific attention to aspects of his speech. Professor Lennox was then presented with a gift on behalf of the school.
After the ceremony parents of leavers and prize-winners enjoyed refreshments with staff and Governors in the Crozier Hall, rounding off a special evening for all involved.