Mr Deputy Mayor, Mr Chairman, Honoured Guest Mr Trevor Ringland, Members of our Board of Governors, distinguished guests, colleagues, students and parents, good afternoon and welcome.

I am privileged to be here as Acting Principal of Portadown College in these beautiful surroundings. Today there are almost one thousand people present, as a College community, to celebrate the academic and extra-curricular success of our students, current and former. We are proud of each one of you; this is your day and it is wonderful to see in the audience those who support, encourage and love you. Isn’t it good to see that coursework, re-sits, re-marks, tiers of entry, modules, new specifications and endless hours of examination preparation pay off in the end?

To Mr Trevor Ringland, well known in the sporting world and beyond, we are delighted that you are our special guest today.

Welcome also to our colleagues from the Junior High Schools and the Senior High School. We in Portadown College are very aware that the successes we celebrate today are your successes as much as ours.

To my colleagues in Portadown College I express my thanks. I believe there can be no better teaching and non-teaching staff than those in Portadown College. At every level of management the shared vision of what we are as a college is evident in the willingness to go far beyond what is required and the willingness to support and challenge the individual. They demonstrate what W B Yeats defined as education – “not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire” - and I think they deserve a round of applause.

Our academic achievements 2008-2009 demonstrate the triumph of home and school working together. The examination season in Portadown College is intense. At A2 level 43 students gained 3 or more A grades with 13 gaining 4 Grade As. There were 548 examination entries across 24 subjects with 44% A grades and 95% at grades A-C, well above the NI average of 85%. Many of those students have come back to join us today. They certainly look as if university life suits them! Thank you for being here.

At AS level 19 students gained 4 Grade As and 54 obtained 3 or more As. There were 709 exam entries across 26 subjects; the percentage with A grades was 45 with 87% achieving A-C, again well above the NI average of 78%. Almost all are now tackling the A2 challenge.

At GCSE 212 students were entered for over 2000 examinations across 24 subjects. What a job our Examination Officer has! The 96% A*-C is well above the NI average of 75%. The vast majority of the GCSE students are now AS students, joined by some students from Markethill High School, Craigavon Senior High School and Brownlow College. They are being offered an enhanced enrichment programme and broader A level curriculum and are about to receive their GCSE certificates. We wish those who are continuing their education elsewhere every success.

All of our students are mentioned in your programme and each will be called up in order so I will not refer to anyone individually. All deserve praise and every success should be celebrated. What about applause for all of them? When I think about the calibre of your young people, I am strangely comforted. These are the leaders of the future and society will be safe in their hands.

These excellent results include new subjects introduced in response to the Entitlement Framework. We now offer Learning for Life and Work, Journalism, Astronomy, Health and Social Care, Moving Image Arts, Travel and Tourism, Environmental and Land Based Science, Business Studies and Music Technology. Again we see the willingness of staff to tackle the challenges of a constantly evolving educational world.

At this point I must pay tribute to Mrs Deborah O’Hare. In her three years as Head teacher in Portadown College she made sure we knew the challenges, she made sure Portadown College standards of teaching and learning were maintained and she made sure we saw the broader educational canvas. I learnt a great deal from her (though sooth to say she’s many years my junior!) and I know that under her leadership Wallace High School in Lisburn will go from strength to strength. Thank you, Deborah.

2008-2009 also saw the retirement of three valued colleagues: Mr Brian Calvert who taught ICT, Mrs Rita McKeivor, Head of Art and Mr Robinson from the Chemistry Department. Mr Cupitt joined the teaching staff of Campbell College. These were colleagues who made significant contributions to many areas of College life. I wish them health and happiness and thank them for their dedication. We welcomed to the staff Mrs Hutchinson, Mrs McAleece, Miss Sinton and Mr McDowell.

I would also like to thank Portadown College Board of Governors. Many hours are given voluntarily by Governors In particular I would like to thank former Chairman Mr Harry Wallace. It seems strange to have Speech Day without him. He is a wise and much respected gentleman. He led us through much change in his quiet, unassuming way and our best wishes go to him. Mr Sleator and Mr Twyble took on the roles of Chairman and Vice-Chairman respectively in a temporary capacity until Mr Aiken and Mr Atkinson were nominated Chairman and Vice-Chairman.

Our PTA, now known as the PTSA to include the student voice, also devote much time to looking after our well being. Picnic tables and seats are the most recent gifts bestowed upon us. Such kindness is much appreciated.

The world of education continues to change. The Area Learning Communities and ESA have been set up. The Boards, the Inspectorate, Governors and all of us are facing changes motivated, I hope, by the desire to provide the best educational opportunity for each child in Northern Ireland. Area based planning and the Entitlement Framework are to become central to ensuring access to appropriate progression routes for our young people.

We are to see school not as an institution but as part of a learning community. We continue to work with the SELB and Department of Education to progress the new school build. Currently the revised economic appraisal has been resubmitted for approval. We look forward to progressing the scheme over the next year.

Students in Portadown are offered appropriate curricular pathways aligned with their aptitudes, interests and career aspirations and I am confident that whatever the challenges that lie ahead we will face them with wisdom and integrity. Look around us in this church. Transfer at 14 has brought us here today – 40 years after its introduction.

Whilst the extra-curricular side of College life will be covered by our senior prefects I would like to mention some successes beyond GCSE and GCE. These are also in your programme. 2008-2009 gave 15 students the chance to achieve Level 1 in British Sign Language. Our Biologists brought PC the distinction of best NI school in the Olympiad. The Olympiad attracts the best young scientists in UK and is entered annually by well over 1000 talented students. PC Chemists were the highest performing students from any Northern Ireland grammar school in the Olympiad. Not to be outdone, the Physicists gained bronze medals and David Cox represented Ireland in Mexico, where he was placed in the top 2/3rds of over 300 participants.

PC Mathematicians brought honour to Portadown in the Maths Challenge. PC Chamber Choir made it to the final 6 in the BBC Songs of Praise School Choir of the Year and World Challenge gave a number of PC students the chance to go to Peru to work, undertake charity work, live in a community and experience much, much more.

Ladies and gentlemen, Portadown College has brought much credit to Portadown. Its name is respected far and wide. I was a student here when Mr Woodman was Principal. I have been a teacher during the Headship of Mr Armstrong, Mr Flannagan and Mrs O’Hare. All of these great leaders faced the educational challenges with courage and courtesy. I hope Portadown College will continue to do so in the rapidly changing world that lies ahead.