A week is a long time in politics

22 Sep

My interest in Politics led me to contact a local MP, Chris Heaton-Harris, who kindly offered me the opportunity to do work experience in Westminster, with him and his team. On the week commencing the 11th September, I set off on my travels to London and the unknown. My work experience was based in Portcullis House, and upon my arrival I was struck with a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself; it was slightly overwhelming. After passing through security, I was led on a whistle-stop tour of Parliament by Chris’ intern. Central lobby to Westminster Hall, you name it, we covered it. For the rest of my first day, I was trusted with a couple of constituent cases and some research which Chris needed completing. After a brief introduction to Sajid Javid (Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government), I ended the first day with a trip to the public gallery in the House of Commons to watch the second reading of the EU Withdrawal Bill. After having had a taste of the ‘London life’ and finding a love for commuting, I was eager to return the following day.

 

Tuesday was a whirlwind of research and more tours. One of the highlights for me was seeing the House of Lords and learning how the dynamics work. After eating in the Jubilee Cafe for lunch, I attended an extremely interesting talk on North Korea. My third day was by far the most interesting and the busiest day for me. Another tour entailed Her Majesty’s Robing room, and on our travels, I was lucky enough to see the Speaker’s Procession take place. I was fortunate enough to go to Prime Minster’s Question Time at 12 o’clock and watched from the VIP Gallery, above the opposition. Witnessing Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn in action was a memorable point for me as there was a certain excitement humming in the air through the session. Shortly after, we ate lunch in Bellamy’s – a favourite of Jeremy’s, I was told. So it was only fitting that he walked in just as we were sitting down to eat. After much debate around our table as to what he was going to eat for lunch, I was lucky enough to get a selfie with Mr Corbyn once he’d eaten. He was surprisingly shorter than I thought he was, and acted more like a grandfather than a politician. During Wednesday afternoon, Chris’ office attended a political action committee meeting regarding online VAT fraud. Representatives from Amazon and Ebay attended and were questioned about whether they were making profit from illegal sellers on their websites. To then read about this in papers such as the Times, the Daily Mail and the Independent the following day was quite surreal for me (the back of my head also featured in one of the Daily Mail’s article images).

 

After a lively Wednesday, I appreciated the slightly calmer Thursday to finish my week of work experience. I completed research projects I had been working on during the week and thanked Chris and his team for teaching me so much over the four days. I urge everyone to carry out some form of work experience whilst still in school, as it can offer many opportunities and open many doors. I was incredibly lucky to be involved in so many different events and cases over such a short time span and felt that my time in Westminster helped to develop my personal competencies and skills, as well as allowing me to discover new skills and learn valuable life lessons.

 

Shefali Nandhra, 6J2

No surfaces without depths

8 Sep

‘You can’t have depths without surfaces’

 

The phrase comes from journalist, Linda Grant.  She was talking about clothes but, it seems to me, the thought applies equally to brands.  The brand (what you see on the surface) is important because it is often the first (and sometimes the only) aspect of an organisation that you can judge before you have in some way committed yourself to an association (say, by buying).

 

However, the brand has to express authentically the depths of an organisation – its heritage for example and its value –  or else it falls flat.  We can all, I suspect, think of brands that fail to resonate with target markets because there is too much of a disconnect between the surface message and the reality beneath.

 

A brand, then, is about so much more than logos, colours and fonts – and one might truthfully say that ‘you can’t have surfaces without depths.’

 

The approach of a big birthday, celebrating 140 years of Northampton High School in 2018, prompted us to revisit our brand and to consider how well it was encapsulating the depths of our school – its history and core values, its current record and standing, and the lived experience of its students, staff and associates.

 

The rebranding project itself was a fascinating undertaking and, as a non-specialist, I felt privileged to be on the inside of such a complex, dynamic process.  Many people – students, staff, parents, alumnae, governors and external advisors – contributed to the research and development phases and our discussion and debates (and, occasionally, disagreements!) took us to the very heart of what the School means to all of us.

 

Here, then, is the fruit of our labours.

 

 

We chose to return to a crest as the central symbol of the School in order to reconnect with an important part of our heritage.  However, this is the traditional crest with a contemporary twist.  The rose and crossed keys, both part of the original crest, reflect the fact that the School has been part of the life of Northamptonshire (rose of the shires) for generations and that, for many of those years, it had an active connection with the diocese of Peterborough.  Besides this, keys are, of course, an excellent symbol for education, being a visual shorthand for the work of unlocking potential and opening the doors of knowledge and understanding, opportunity and enhanced life chances.

 

The Charles Rennie-Mackintosh-inspired motif (upper left quadrant), a new element, reminds us of the historic connection with Derngate in general and No. 78 in particular.  The reference to an iconic motif of modern design – and an aesthetic that was years ahead of its time – also parallels the emphasis in our own philosophy and that of the GDST on being revolutionary pioneers in girls’ education.  When the High School was founded, it was still relatively rare to educate girls beyond a basic level.  That pioneering tradition persists in the way we embrace innovative methods, for example in using digital platforms and social media, to enhance our students’ life prospects.

 

Finally, the Eleanor Cross symbolises our proud place in the heart of Hardingstone for the last 25 years.  It also neatly references the qualities of learning and leadership for which Eleanor of Castile, Edward I’s much-loved queen, was renowned.  A powerful woman in a tough, male-dominated world and a patron of learning, she is an apt role model for our times.

 

Heritage and pioneering courage, strong links to our community and a commitment to educating and empowering women – these, then, are the messages conveyed in our re-imagined crest.

 

Alongside the visual symbol, we wanted to find a single phrase that distilled the unique essence of the education we offer.  There were many things we could have chosen but, ultimately, it boiled down to one simple, compelling article of faith:

 

We believe in our girls

And they believe in themselves

 

as the key to their success and the essential ingredient that we contribute towards that success.

 

Qualifications are hugely important – yes, undoubtedly

 

Wonderful opportunities to learn new skills and broaden horizons matter – equally, yes, of course

 

These we take as read.

 

But, beyond these, the confidence to be oneself and to stride out into the world with integrity and self-possession – this is the key to fulfilment as well as success in life.   Without it, the qualifications and skills alone mean relatively little.  Our belief in our girls, which stems from our knowledge and appreciation of them as individuals, makes all the difference in the world as they learn and grow in pursuit of their dreams.

 

Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress

Vocational antennae and the 360 Degree Me Portfolio

29 Jun

There is a sense in the digital era that the concept of a distinct professional calling or, to use a more spiritual term, a personal vocation in life, has a reduced relevance. Young people are now taking on average 4 jobs by the time they are 32, according to LinkedIn, and Forbes advocates ‘job hopping’ to maximise salaries. Indeed, at Northampton High, we use our Inspiring Futures careers programme to help prepare our students for portmanteau careers, on the back of a skills-focused curriculum.

 

In the words of Fiona Monfrooy, Executive Director of Human Resources at ING DIRECT, ‘From an individual perspective, there’s an increasing need for transferrable skills; to be more adaptable. […] A flexible work approach also means, in some cases, multiple jobs’.

 

Yet, perhaps counterintuitively, careers advice and the pathways to further and higher education, apprenticeships and courses, often appear to focus in on highly specific areas, whether that might be in traditional domains such as medicine or engineering, academic avenues like Maths, Languages and History, or within so-called vocational areas that generally support access to certain health, sporting, technical or business roles.

 

Still, perhaps the system works anyway. The UK, in spite of its Brexit travails, university fees, exam-heavy education system and supposedly class-ridden society, manages to remain flexible and competitive in an international setting. According to a recent IMF report cited by the Evening Standard, the UK has a bigger growth forecast for 2018 than any other major country. Indeed, there seems to be nothing inherent in our educational programme preventing young people with passion and energy from finding their way through the multifarious permutations of the modern workplace. So, it could be argued that we are right to signpost our students to the future by tapping into their vocational predilections and to see this approach as fully in line with our skills-based educational outlook.

 

Angela Tilby, Canon Emeritus at Christ Church, Oxford, has described vocation as being where a person’s ‘particular deep joy’ or deep-seated interests meet society’s deep-seated needs, whether religious or not. While the idea of vocation may have become more fluid in terms of the actual jobs many people end up doing, Tilby’s suggestion seems to be that there is huge emotional and practical value in trying to find the direction that speaks most to us as individuals, so that our actions have a level of authenticity that will satisfy both ourselves and the people we serve when carrying out our roles in society.

 

We introduced a formal skills education programme in 2012 with five main strands that we considered to be relevant to a modern career path, cutting across curriculum areas and at all age groups, Junior to Sixth Form. I feel our assessment of the areas covered continues to be relevant, although the emphasis has shifted because faculties and teachers have become more adept at building skills-specific activities into strategic planning, increasingly expecting pupils to know instinctively which skill set is needed to achieve a given task. We realised that what was then required was actually a deeper knowledge of what drives our students as individuals, their own understanding of personal values and beliefs, as well as an awareness of how to develop these attributes in life; what one might call their vocational antennae. We introduced the concept of 360 Degrees Me in 2015 to tackle this head-on, initially via the KS3 skills and challenge days I have written about in the past.

 

Our aim now is to help the girls enunciate, collate and illustrate their lives, their educational and other achievements as well as their personal ambitions, in the form of a 360 Degree Me Portfolio. This is an ePortfolio, or personal website, initially private and only available within the Girls’ Day School Trust network, that can be refined and developed over the years to become a living résumé for future employers or universities, to give a real insight into each girl’s potential. At the heart of the Me Portfolio is a belief that harnessing the power of technology in this way will have the added benefit of encouraging students to think critically about their wider online lives. By actively managing their digital footprints, they can avoid falling into the dangers that social media sometimes present to young people.

 

Our guest speaker at the Lower Fifth (year 10) 360 Degree Me Portfolio creation day on Friday 7 July, is Alice Gividen, an alumna of the school who now works managing the social media presence of large organisations. Alice says that the scare stories about employees losing jobs because of indiscretions online are not the exaggerations of a judgemental establishment, pointing out that most companies now engage the services of professional social media investigators before employing new staff. However, she also suggests that the savvy applicants are using this fact to their advantage, curating their social media presence carefully to show they have engaging personalities, and to highlight their positive attributes and willingness to contribute to society beyond their immediate friends and family. This is doubly important since simply deleting a dubious social media history can not only be difficult to achieve, but also counterproductive, with many employers seeing the lack of an online presence just as much a cause for concern as an unattractive one.

 

 

360 Degree Me Portfolios may not in themselves inspire anyone to develop a vision for life, they are after all just personal websites, repositories of information. However, with our help, I am confident that they will provide a stage where the spotlight can fall selectively and productively on our students, as individuals. A place where vocation can start to materialise, and flourish.

 

 

Mr Henry Rickman, Deputy Head

References:

https://blog.linkedin.com/2016/04/12/will-this-year_s-college-grads-job-hop-more-than-previous-grads

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kaytiezimmerman/2016/06/07/millennials-stop-apologizing-for-job-hopping/

https://www.theguardian.com/ing-direct-being-human-in-a-digital-world/2016/oct/25/the-future-of-work-how-will-you-adapt

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/britain-s-economy-to-grow-more-than-rivals-as-imf-alters-postbrexit-forecasts-a3517281.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0572yj6

Inspiring Futures presents Enterprise Week

23 Jun

Enterprise education is not an attempt to get students to go off into the world of business and set up their own company, although in some cases students have gone on to do so. It is more about facilitating them in their development of the necessary skills required to move into the work place. This might include elements of business or marketing but it might not.

 

At Northampton High School we have developed, through our Inspiring Futures Programme, a set of exciting events that enable students to build on their transferable skills and to fully prepare themselves for life after school. This year we kicked off this inaugural three day event with the Year 10 annual Future Focus Day.

 

The students met Susannah Poulton who works for the UK Department of Trade. Susannah explained in vivid terms how important Modern Foreign Languages are in the business world and Mrs Hill, Head of Languages helped by taking part in a spot of spontaneous interpretation, much to the astonishment of many of the girls!

 

 

 

Later in the day Charlotte and her team from Sykes and Co, a tailored recruitment firm based in Towcester, delivered a rich and detailed seminar on interview technique, setting up some entertaining role play situations. Finally, came a presentation and discussion session from three very close friends of the school, Mark Bradley, Katie Fisher and Sally Hadfield, all with daughters in various year groups and all with amazing personal work and life stories, to bring a taste of how varied and fascinating modern career paths can be. We were also lucky enough to hear from Hannah Cooper  from Liz Male Consulting who explained her role with Social Media in business. This was particularly interesting as her role has not long been in existence, highlighting the extremely dynamic world of work that our girls will be moving into.

 

 

On day 2 we were joined by Lucy and Ilga from Bright Green Enterprise and the Year 10’s were joined by girls from 6.1 in a fun filled and competitive task to design a charity that would focus on specific communities in Tanzania. This form of Social Enterprise is something that is very close to the hearts of students and staff at NHS because of the large amount of charitable work that goes on in school throughout the year. The groups worked together closely and the two year groups made an excellent partnership bringing in ideas from a range of viewpoints. The winning team was a charity that focused their efforts on upcycling bicycles and sending them to Tanzania to improve transport opportunities for their given community, having identified this as a need of the people who lived there. Yambike was the chosen name and the overall work from this group just clinched the win.

 

 

 

The final day saw a similar structure with the same team from Bright Green Enterprise joining us to bring  together the Year 8 and Year 6 students  to create some ethical designs of products that would make a difference. We were thrilled with the team work, the ideas and the final pitches from all teams. The innovation that the girls demonstrated and the support that they gave one another was truly inspiring. The day started out with the older girls  taking the lead and supporting the Year 6’s to put forward their ideas. However, because of the hard work of our Year 6 staff in terms of enterprise education, by the middle of the day, the Year 8’s were finding that they were learning just as much from their younger peers as they were teaching them. A very clever pen, aimed at increasing literacy and numeracy where education is limited, was the well deserved winner of the day, although the other teams were also strong and the final decision was an extremely difficult one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enterprise education is a high priority for the Government in the UK and something, which we take seriously at Northampton High School. The transferable skills that our girls gain through such activities are invaluable and serve them well in their academic studies as well as when they leave us at the end of Sixth Form to embark on the next stage, be it higher education or the work place. By allowing them to develop these skills, we endeavour to give all our students the best possible start to life outside of school and make sure that they are equipped to face the challenges that they might meet in the future.

 

We would like to extend thanks to all who were involved, guest speakers, staff and students alike, who made this event so successful. We very much look forward to developing this further next year and seeing what new ideas the girls bring to the table.

 

Rebecca Kneen, Deputy Director of Sixth Form & Head of Careers

Preparing for the labyrinth of life

22 Jun

Looking back at the GDST Annual Conference last week, I am spoilt for choice in possible themes to pick up on in my blog.  Under the banner ‘A good time to be a girl?’ we explored a huge range of topics – from fairy stories to the ‘Frozen’ film script, dolls to directorships, mindsets to money.

 

One phrase really stuck in my mind, though, courtesy of keynote speaker Dame Helena Morrissey, Boldness in Business Person of the Year and inspiration behind the 30% Club (promoting women on boards in FTSE Top 100 companies) – preparing for the ‘labyrinth of life.’

 

How neatly and exactly this, to my mind, sums up the message we should be imparting to young women today.

 

A labyrinth rather than a road – because life as we actually live it is not really linear and, too often, seeing it as an arrow point to happiness and success sets us up for disillusionment and discontent.

 

A labyrinth rather than a playground – because the landscape ahead of today’s young women contains harsh landscapes that must be traversed as well as picturesque plains to be relished, and to pretend otherwise is to do our students a great disservice.

 

A labyrinth rather than a maze – because, in a maze a wrong turn can leave you stranded and really lost but in a labyrinth you are sure to get to the heart of it (journey’s end, if you like) if you only keep going through its twists and turns, with patience and purpose.  Labyrinths, such as the beautiful example on the floor of Chartres Cathedral, are ancient devices to encourage us to pay attention and are physical representations of the idea that the truth and direction of a person’s life will unfold over time.

 

Where can this insight lead us?

 

The theme of preparing for the labyrinth offers such rich possibilities and Dame Helena was, of course, only able to offer a few of her thoughts about how it might best be done.  Three in particular really resonated most with me – the value of involvement in sport, the importance of connecting with current affairs and a tip for avoiding the ‘wall of worry’ that can hold women back.

 

Sport hones the character even as it tones the body, teaching us how to lose and fail, how to depend on others and become dependable, how to dig deep under pressure and set self-interest aside for the good of the team.

 

All of this is demonstrably good for girls and young women – ‘74% of employers say that a background in sport will assist a professional career for women’ and ‘96 % of the highest ranking female executives played sports and 55% of them at university level or higher.’

 

Engagement with current affairs gives us a valuable perspective on our own concerns and acts as a necessary corrective to the superficial media commentary, so prevalent in young people’s lives, that is so apt to present complex issues as simple (usually with a clear villain to blame).  By looking outwards beyond ourselves, we also develop the levels of empathy that enrich our own understanding of ourselves as fabulous – and flawed.  Current affairs are always on the agenda in school and, for parents keen to find a launch pad for engagement at home, ‘First News’ provides an excellent starting point.

 

Finally, Dame Helena’s advice for young women who may feel trapped in a circle of impossibility, blocked by a ‘wall of worry’ or daunted by the prospect of crashing up against a glass ceiling was beguilingly simple and brilliantly counter-intuitive– ‘leap before you look.’  For those embarking on the ascent of a career ladder, the prescription for a dose of boldness was timely indeed.  According to research commissioned by the 30% Club, ‘women’s more cautious approach to applying for jobs or promotions: 20% of men will apply for a role despite only partially meeting its job description, compared to 14% of women’ holds them back professionally.

 

A hesitancy about defining ambitions also limits women’s progression in the workplace relative to their male counterparts – the same report found that ‘over half (52%) of male managers had a ‘fair idea’ or ‘clear ambition’ to work in a particular role, compared with 45% of women managers. Fewer women than men (50% vs 62%) expected to become managers.’

 

Taking one’s courage in one’s hands and stepping out before the path ahead is completely clear – a method which, labelled as ‘act and learn’, is familiar to all educators – may be the best (and only?) way to make the most of the extraordinary journey that is the labyrinth of life.

 

Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress

 

Sources and references

Report on the GDST Conference: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/family/private-school-chief-girls-feisty-give-credit

On sport: Read Mrs Hackett’s blog from which I have taken her favourite statistics: http://seniorblog.northamptonhigh.co.uk/2016/09/30/the-rio-olympics-what-will-be-the-legacy-for-girls/

On current affairs: https://www.firstnews.co.uk

Report on ambition and gender: https://30percentclub.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/ILM_Ambition_and_Gender_report_0211-pdf.pdf

Opening the lid on Mental Health

16 Jun

In a recent education update that landed in my inbox, I was particularly taken by a document published by the House of Commons. [1] The Health and Education Committees have worked together to produce a report on the role of education in children and young people’s mental health. Indeed, the topic of the mental health of young people has (and rightly so) been a very hot one in the media recently, helped by the openness of the younger generations of the Royal Family.

 

As educators, we tend to find that, whatever the latest initiative is to support young people, the words ‘….they should teach that in schools’ strike a rather discordant note. After all, between the ever more rigorous demands of the curriculum, GCSEs, A Levels, university entrance tests and interviews, delivery of high quality sport, drama and music, how do we begin to fit in financial education, healthy living, online safety and the myriad other excellent ideas into the school day.  That is not to suggest these aren’t really important matters; they very much are but teachers are not trained in these areas, never mind wondering where we might squeeze in that lesson on loans and interest rates!

 

A recent article in the Independent [2] newspaper, suggested a range of “Life skills that should be taught in schools but aren’t”. Amongst them were: how to cook a roast dinner, managing your tax affairs, sexual values, respecting boundaries and being in tune with your mental health.

 

It is the latter of these that particularly struck me and on which, more anon. Although I interrupt this thought with a further one which ponders how many of those listed were skills which we would previously have seen passed down through generations and communities. What role has been played, in losing these skills, by the perceived lack of community in our lives? – but that is perhaps a blog post on its own.

 

So to return to the topic of mental health and the role of education, I feel both hugely positive on the one hand and somewhat frustrated on the other.  On the one hand we are more open about the mental health problems which face some young people and they are, themselves, more able to articulate these problems to peers and adults. In addition, parents and professionals are more comfortable with the topic, on the whole, than we would have seen in the past, making the taboo lessened if not totally quashed.

 

The flipside to this is that we have opened Pandora’s box without fully realising the consequences or putting a safety net in place to capture its contents. According to Greek mythology, after the contents of Pandora’s box were released, only Hope was left in the bottom when she closed it up again and, in this myth, we can see an explanation of why, when all else in life could seem to be bleak, we still always have Hope.

 

The aforementioned House of Commons report made certain recommendations and I feel proud that Northampton High School is a step ahead on this.  Strengthening the training of staff in mental health first aid was one recommendation and I am pleased to say that we trained sixteen teaching and non-teaching staff in Mental Health First Aid earlier this year in an attempt to ensure we have a whole team of staff to cascade knowledge and work hard with our students, in recognising signs of distress. If you are interested in what this training entails, I have included a link at the end [3] and Ms Margareto discussed it in her blog post in March. The report also welcomes the Government’s commitment to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHEE) mandatory in schools.  Through not only our Radically Enriched Curriculum (REC) periods, but through the interactions, conversations and activities in tutor time, we already lead the way in this area.  A final major recommendation of the report was that links between schools and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) should be strengthened and here is the safety net for the opening of Pandora’s box. Staff can do so much to support young people in need in school, but fully trained and experienced professionals are vital and it is to be hoped that funding into these specialist services will be a priority of our new Government.

 

In conclusion, I firstly cannot overlook the role of 21st Century life on the mental health of young people; we have only scratched the surface of the possible consequences of social media, an ‘always switched on’ generation of young people, sleep deprivation and harmful online content; this again is a post in its own right and understanding the role of these issues in the mental health of young people will make a big difference. In the meantime, we have much of the Hope from Pandora’s box to keep us going. We can also give thought to the balance in our school day of subject-specific education against life skills and co-curricular matters and the external influences upon young people’s mental health.

 

Adèle O’Doherty, Deputy Head (Pastoral Care and Guidance)

[1] https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmhealth/849/849.pdf

 

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/life-lessons-taught-in-school-6-experts-personal-finance-sex-education-pshe-peter-tatchell-chef-food-a7522476.html

 

[3] https://mhfaengland.org/

Good news is no news

9 Jun

The recent emergence of concerns about the prevalence of ‘fake news’ has reminded us, if we needed reminding, that the news is and always has been constructed for us to consume rather than being an objective reality that is simply reported.

 

What does this mean for us as parents and educators?

 

We urge young people to embrace active citizenship by taking an interest in current affairs and familiarising themselves with political processes and beliefs, reminding them of the importance of using their right to vote responsibly.  Exactly how we should prepare them for these vital responsibilities in an age of ‘fake news’ is far from obvious, however.

 

Of course, politicians have always tried to manipulate the news – I think of Henry VIII censoring Catholic broadsheets during the Reformation.  The scandal of government aide Jo Moore’s memo on 9/11 – saying that the attacks on the Twin Towers made it a good ‘day to bury bad news’-  was only the most blatant example of a tendency by the powers-that-be to massage the message.

 

However, the proliferation of news and commentary via social media feeds – filtered to targeted audiences but unfiltered for quality – has added new layers of complexity to the task of separating wheat from chaff in a data-saturated world where reportage, commentary, opinion and speculation are all blended together into a baffling brew.

 

One L5 student at a recent tea party put her finger on the crux of the problem when she said, ‘which sources can we trust?’

 

Let us not be nostalgic sentimentalists.  Lies were told and truths withheld in the past, of course.  In 1957, Harold Macmillan hid the truth about an accident at the Windscale nuclear plant that threatened to create a catastrophe on a par with the Chernobyl disaster of almost thirty years later.

 

In fact, the opening up of access to information ushered in by the internet is potentially a great force for good in the development of informed citizens.  It seems inconceivable that a cover-up on the scale of Macmillan’s could succeed nowadays.  At the same time, however, it requires of our young citizens critical faculties, which do not come ready-made.  This places a large onus on schools and parents to nurture the necessary interpretive skills to separate fact from fiction.

 

At school, we encourage discussion and debate – in lessons, clubs and societies, events and visits – in a bid to make school a lively Academy, just like Plato’s in his day (though more inclusive!), for the formation of an educated citizenry. An engagement with the democratic process (such as through this week’s mock General Election) promotes a better understanding of the pressures and limitations on politicians today and counteracts the sensationalists and conspiracy theorists occupying the darkest niches of the Net.

 

By and large, however, our students do not have much faith in the ability or even the willingness of their leaders to surmount the challenges of today and tomorrow. Moreover, they are genuinely anxious about the state of the world, seeing the threat from state-sponsored terrorism (from North Korea, say) or from randomised hate crimes, such as those recently in Manchester and London, as shadows which cloud their daily lives and threaten their futures.

 

Unlike their parents and grandparents, they do not have the benefit of the long view to put these events into perspective – the memory of nuclear stand-offs during the Cold War or the everyday realities of British city life during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, for example.  Moreover, they do not have the benefit of traditions of investigative reporting on the part of news producers and of sustained background reading on the part of news consumers.   (This means that, if you have got this far in my blog, you are bucking the very trend I am describing!)

 

Another dimension to this issue, less often remarked on but, in my view, just as problematic, is the tendency of news coverage to focus on the negative and the sensational at the expense of the positive if unglamorous.  In 2016, the battle to eradicate malaria from Sri Lanka was won and an historic peace deal was brokered in Colombia after the longest civil war in modern times.  However, these are not the things which come uppermost to mind when surveying the headlines of the world’s news last year.

 

Good news is simply not as compelling as bad news – and tends to be relegated to the innermost pages of the newspaper or that frothy item to round off a bulletin before we segue into the weather forecast (often another cause for gloom).  Little wonder, then, that young people see little to cheer them – or encourage them to have faith in the political process – in their news feeds.  Only by digging beneath the surface, a discipline as well as an investment of time, can we hope to reach the balance and breadth of reporting that counterbalances fakery, doom-mongering and sensationalism.

 

Is it over-optimistic, I wonder, to see, in the inclusion of so many column centimetres about the collective effort to help the traumatised victims by neighbours, bystanders and also well-wishers across the world in the coverage of the atrocity in Manchester, a glimmer of hope for the future?  What I am sure of is that the level of engagement among our students in the mock General Election (and I write this in the heat of debate before the outcome is known) is a reassuring sign that the kind of attachment to the democratic process, that forms the only realistic bulwark against the success of terrorism, is alive and well among the next generation of voters in this corner of the UK at least.

 

Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress

 

Sources:

www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1358985/Sept-11-a-good-day-to-bury-bad-news.html

news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/7030281.stm on Windscale

www.searo.who.int/srilanka/areas/malaria/sri-lanka-defeats-malaria/en/

www.theguardian.com/world/2016/dec/01/colombias-government-formally-ratifies-revised-farc-peace-deal

 

Education for Centurions

19 May

During the autumn term, I was fortunate enough to attend a conference where the keynote speaker was Lord Jim Knight, Chief Education Advisor at TES Global, visiting professor at the UCL Knowledge Lab and a member of the House of Lords. He served as an MP from 2001 – 2009, during which time he was a minister for rural affairs, schools and then employment before becoming a cabinet minister.

 

 

His speech was entitled “Education for Centurions” where he considered the prospect of those students who are now starting school living into their hundredth year and beyond. With such longevity, people will be working longer, and changing professions more frequently; some of the careers our students will pursue haven’t even been invented yet! He talked also about lifelong learning, where the current model of three separate stages of education, employment, and retirement will be replaced with continuous learning and working, with an overlap also between working and retiring. I would also add that I hope to be learning well into my retirement! Lord Knight’s message was simply this: that in a world of lifelong learning we must pass on to our students a passion for, and a joy in, learning.

 

Our challenge therefore as educators today is to prepare our students for this future. Adaptability, resilience, creativity, taking risks, embracing change – these are all qualities that our future workforce must possess in order to start afresh in a second or third career and reinvent themselves in another professional role. Lifelong learning will not be sufficient in this new model of overlapping learning and employment. If one is to continue to enjoy a balanced personal and professional life, embracing the changes that will come it, is a lifelong LOVE of learning which we must nurture in our students today. There is nothing more satisfying as a teacher than to have students who are engaged in and beyond the classroom and who have a passion, not just for the subject but also for learning new skills, experimenting with new ideas, extending their knowledge and improving their own personal best, whether in an MFL classroom, a science lab or on the sports field.

 

I have spent a fair bit of time recently accompanying my two sons to numerous university open days as they each make their choices for the next stage of their education pathway. What has struck me is the changing face of assessment at many of these institutions. Having listened to what employers want, assessment programmes have been developed accordingly. Employers are looking for so much more than the ability to pass exams; they want good communication skills, the ability to work collaboratively and the resilience to bounce back. University assessments are increasingly being designed to reflect this need, with collaborative tasks, podcasts and presentations alongside the more traditional end of course formal examination. Assessing performance and skills is becoming more popular and presents another challenge for us as secondary school educators: the need to prepare our students for those formal public exams at the ages of 16 and 18, but also to look beyond this to what employers require of the workforce of the next generation and to prepare our students accordingly.

 

As teachers, we also consider ourselves to be a community of professional learners, constantly seeking to improve our skills, extend our knowledge and develop our craft in the classroom. We recognise that a good teacher never stops learning, whether that is by enrolling on a professional development course, undertaking a project in school, working with colleagues or sharing good practice. On more than one occasion recently I have had to bite my tongue when, on one of the aforementioned university open days, lecturers told the assembled sixth formers and their parents that one of the main differences between their teachers at school and their university lecturers was that the latter group are actively engaged in research, whereas their teachers are not. This is just not true! Increasingly, schools are engaging in action research as part of the professional development of their staff. One aspect of my new role as School Consultant Teacher  involves me conducting my own action research project and there are now a number of staff currently engaged in evidence based professional development here in school, working on projects which will directly benefit and impact on the learning of our students in our classrooms. Our students will be used to a member of staff or an inspector coming to observe a lesson, for a variety of reasons. They will be less used to groups of teachers in their lessons, but this is now happening more frequently in school as our teachers engage in action research as part of their own joint professional development. Using the Peter Dudley Lesson Study model, colleagues are working collaboratively on a number of different initiatives to enhance our students’ learning experience. So far girls have been willing participants and have welcomed staff into their lessons, recognising that we are lifelong learners and also passionate about what we do, thus modelling the behaviour and attitudes we want to instil in our students. In an age where artificial intelligence is developing rapidly, the world needs teachers like never before: passion for and involvement in lifelong learning is as crucial for the professional learning community here at Northampton High  as it is for our future centurions whom we seek to educate and inspire.

 

Mrs Deborah Hill, Head of Languages Faculty and School Consultant Teacher

 

Sir Jim Knight’s keynote speech, Firefly conference November 2016

The 100 year Life by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott.

Peter Dudley:  www.lessonstudy.co.uk 

A (birth)day to remember

12 May

The topic for my blog this month chose itself.  Tuesday 2 May was the School’s 139th birthday and, reflecting on the day, I was struck by how, though in many ways (as birthdays tend to be) it had been a special day, in essence it was a typical day in my life as head of this extraordinary school.

 

Here, then, are my reflections about ‘life in a day’ at Northampton High.

 

Kick-off ushered in a celebratory Assembly and, this year, I chose to present 78 slides with 78 facts about 1878 for the school, town, country and world.

 

What surprised us?

 

In the first place, how long ago 1878 seemed in some ways – perhaps most telling was the fact that school fees were £1.40 per term!  Other aspects, however, seemed surprisingly modern or, at any rate, familiar – the first recorded music and the first movie were made in that year, for example.

 

We marvelled at how much has changed in those 139 years – most notably perhaps in the role and status of girls and women within British society.  How astonishing, for example, to learn that it would be another four years before a law was passed to allow married women to own property.  The central role of the High School, a pioneering girls’ school, and also of the GDST, founded six years earlier still, is something that a birthday gives us a timely reminder to recognise and feel proud of.

 

We were struck, too, by how little has changed, in other ways. (In 2017, as in 1878, Afghanistan is a region of conflict which preoccupies Britain.)

 

One thing that is eternally unchanging is the girls’ love of cake!  And, with that in mind, we invited our new Head Girl, Sally Croker, and the youngest senior pupil Olivia Russell plus birthday girl Lilli Trimble to cut a cake while all the girls knew that they could look forward to a cupcake at break.

 

Besides eating cake, at break time I met two U4 students to talk about their Open Homework. The theme of the year for this much-loved annual custom – dreams – had been chosen by the girls and it allowed free rein to creativity and imagination as well as analysis and speculation.  Several of their impressive pieces are currently on display in the Science foyer and they make a fascinating exhibition.

 

Another reason for me to feel proud of our work.

 

At lunchtime, I welcomed Miss Yvonne Chapman into school.  Miss Chapman was Deputy Head under Miss Lightburne, retiring in 1993.  She was instrumental in preparing the new site for occupation and remembers battles to ensure sufficient space for lockers for all the girls.  On such apparently small but actually significant details, the ease of school life depends.

 

Afternoon tea (and I should emphasise that my day is not always a catalogue of meals!) was spent with Mrs Makoni and Ms Shawatu, who were visiting us from Arundel School for Girls in Zimbabwe, on a visit coordinated by Ms Heimfeld.  It was fascinating for us to compare notes on the challenges and excitements of being involved in girls’ education in Zimbabwe and Britain respectively.

 

In many ways our situations are very different, with the economic problems in Zimbabwe dwarfing our difficulties.  However, there were also a surprising number of commonalities.  Uncertainties over Brexit, for example, are reverberating as much in Harare as in Hardingstone, as Mrs Makoni considers the ramifications for her school of changes in relations within the Commonwealth in a post-Brexit world.  Her mission – to prepare young women for the world-as-it-will-be – is the same as ours and requires her, like me, to keep an eye always on the unfolding future.

 

The evening brought the annual Sports Presentation Evening with a rich line-up of performances (Molly Roberts-Crawford giving a dazzling display on trampoline and Y4 dancers showing their moves with panache and joy), inspiring stories (not least from our guests Caitlin McClatchey and Fran Wilson, and from our own home-grown star Ellie Robinson) and awards.  Here was a celebration of guts and determination as well as talent and skill.

 

 

 

 

By the time of the final whistle, then, I could look back and enumerate  the vital ingredients of my ‘life in a day in school’ – the interplay between history, the Here and Now and visions of the future, the power of innovation blended with the guiding light of tradition, the daily routines and endeavours which propel us forward with the help of so many dedicated individuals, the big picture pixelating into the small but vital details, the work of looking beyond our walls and borders and of making connections, of honouring old friends and forging new friendships to build a powerful network to underpin the future success of our girls.

 

Tuesday 2 May 2017 was, for me, a day to remember – just like every other.

 

Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress

Out of School Hours

5 May

Activity at Northampton High School does not come to an end at the close of the school day or indeed at the end of a term. The school is lucky to have an extensive site and great facilities that it is keen to share with the wider community.

 

The school Sports Centre incorporates a fitness centre and fitness studio, swimming pool, tennis courts, squash courts, netball courts, sports hall, an all-weather pitch and an extensive sports field. For more information e-mail: sportscentre@nhs.gdst.net

 

The community gym is open every evening and on Saturdays and Sundays for members. As well as the fitness suite there is also a programme of fitness classes on offer each week and you can book the squash, tennis and badminton courts.  Although membership is for over 16 year olds there are opportunities for a family swim on a Sunday and family use of the tennis courts.

 

 

The sports facilities are also used extensively by a wide variety of local swimming, football, hockey, badminton, tennis and netball clubs as well as local primary schools who make use of our swimming pool during the school day.

 

During school holidays for pupils and children in the wider community, we host Kings Camp http://www.kingscamps.org a charitable organisation that run sports activity camps and Mad Science Camps http://www.madscience.org/ .

 

 

A Saturday morning in term time will see the NMPAT Queens Cross Centre in operation at the school running sessions in music, art and drama http://www.nmpat.co.uk/out-of-school-activities/regional-music-and-performing-arts-centres/queens-cross-music-and-performing-arts-centre

 

The school hall offers an excellent community venue for events but is also a regular venue for groups such as Masque Youth Theatre Company, https://masqueyouththeatre.co.uk/about/venue/

 

and Northampton Bach Choir http://www.northamptonbachchoir.org.uk/

 

 

Other groups using the facilities range from the NCT, Blood Donors, Rotary events, The Diocese of Peterborough, SANDS and private functions.

 

The school is proud to be able to offer its facilities for use beyond the school day and term. The site is open from 7 am until 10 pm during the week all year round and 8 am until 6 pm at weekends. Community use of the facilities in this way is mutually beneficial and many of our pupils and their families participate in these clubs and groups. Pupils enjoy being able to bring their friends and siblings along to their school to share in the activities and facilities on offer.

 

Anne Headley, Director of Finance and Operations