The end of an era, the start of a new one

Another academic year has come to an end, marked by a muted Leavers’ Ball and a Chapel Service with no singing. Unfortunately, pandemics have no sense of occasion. However, it was a great privilege to speak to the Class of 2021, and to welcome them to our extended family, which we like to call The Old Sedberghian Club.

Apart from the subdued celebrations, this year was different for another reason. Andrew Fleck, who has led the School, and the School group, in his capacity as Headmaster and Principal, for the last 11 years, said his final farewells as he took up a well-earned, and most honourable, retirement.

It is well noted that back in the 1990s the School faced significant challenges. Chris Hirst, ably assisted by Sara Hirst, did much to restore the fortunes of the School, and set it on a path for growth, rather than decline. In 2010, when Andrew Fleck was appointed, he inherited a School which was in good spirits and commercially sound. It is upon these foundations that Andrew, supported by a formidable management team (and in particular Hugh Blair, Chairman of Governors, and Peter Marshall, Chief Operations Officer), built a modern, vibrant, and outstanding, educational institution, consolidating the position of its own feeder school through the acquisition of the Casterton buildings, and extending its global reach with the establishment of Rong Qiao Sedbergh School in China. It is a school that has continued to prosper, despite the global banking crisis of 2008-2012, or indeed the current pandemic. While other schools in this market, including those we remember fondly from our youth, have struggled against such economic headwinds or have had to change course for the survival of their ship, Andrew has delivered time and time again the promise inspired by the pioneering and visionary Sedbergh Headmasters of this and previous centuries.

I remember interviewing Andrew as part of the selection process when I was a younger Chairman of the Club. I concurred with the Governors that Andrew was an outstanding candidate. This was not just because we happened to be wearing the same tie, although this evidently showed good taste on his part, but because he represented a new breed of headmaster, one which was more commercial, more entrepreneurial, who recognised that despite the School’s ancient origins, its continued success would only come about by the application of sound business practices. It was an adaptation to modern times which Chris Hirst had started and Andrew was to continue.

However, commercial success has not come at the expense of the Spirit of Sedbergh, that indefinable ethos that is admired and cherished by so many. Therein lies his skill as a leader, to have had the courage to steer the ship under full sail, and to have maintained an unyielding course, despite the stormy and changing economic winds and the complexities of modern academic requirements. No wonder the school is full to capacity.

We thank Andrew for an outstanding contribution to Sedbergh, and wish him a most happy and peaceful retirement. We also thank his wife, Anne, for her support of both Andrew, and the School, over the past 11 years.

Dan Harrison, presently Headmaster of Sedbergh School, now takes over as Headmaster of the group. Dan will be known to many of you having taught at Sedbergh for 28 years. Like Andrew, he is an immensely talented individual and the right appointment for these times. We wish Dan every success as he takes the School forwards towards its quincentenary in 2025 and beyond. He will bring his own style of leadership, and he will have his own ideas regarding the School’s future, but these will be shaped, I’m sure, by the same maxim that has been uttered by so many Headmasters of Sedbergh throughout the ages, that of ‘Floreat Sedberghia’.

Jan van der Velde

OS Club