Building resilience

17 Mar

What is resilience?

 

Resilience can be defined as: a person’s capacity to handle environmental difficulties, demands and high pressure without experiencing negative effects (Kinman and Grant 2011 – lead Professor at Bedford University and Chartered Psychologist).

 

It is a word that is used quite a lot in the media and in education but what does it look like? How do young people acquire it? We tend to idealise childhood and adolescence as a carefree time, but youth alone offers no shield against the emotional hurts and traumas many children and young people face.

 

At School, the pastoral teams work closely with girls to encourage and support their development of resilience because we know that adolescents have to deal with problems ranging from adapting to a new phase of education, falling out with friends, and possibly traumatic family situations in addition to the uncertainties that are part of growing up. Building resilience can help our girls to manage stress and feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.

 

However, being resilient does not mean that young people will not experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common when we have suffered major trauma or personal loss, or even when we hear of someone else’s loss or trauma.

 

Dr Ginsbury, a leading paediatrician specialising in Adolescent Medicine at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, US has identified 7 “C”s of resilience. These identifiers are what we encourage and foster at Northampton High School.

 

Competence – the feeling of knowing that you can handle a situation effectively

 

During PSHEE sessions, students are given scenarios that young people face regularly such as falling outs with friends, bereavement, stress and many more and discuss positive coping strategies to deal with these.

 

Confidence – a young person’s belief in her own abilities

 

This is about focusing on the best in a young person. Getting to know our girls, developing a close tutor/tutee relationship is crucial so that we can praise their qualities, personal achievements and academic success.

 

Connection – developing close ties to family and community, creating a sense of security leading a young person to connect with others

 

Recognising our values and core beliefs as a person so that young people understand what constitutes a healthy relationship. Working with peers, staff, the community and parents in a positive way helps a young person foster healthy relationships.

 

Character – how a young person develops a solid set of morals and values to determine right from wrong and to demonstrate a caring attitude toward others

 

Fundraiser for Plan UK, the School Charity

How older girls modelling positive behaviour influences younger girls to treat others with respect and tolerance. Working not only as a school community but smaller communities within that, such as the House system, tutor groups, charity working groups, and many more. 

 

Contribution – understanding the importance of personal contribution and how that can serve as a source of purpose and motivation

 

We encourage girls to take part in as much volunteering and charity work as time permits. Sometimes young people may feel helpless but can be empowered by helping others. Duke of Edinburgh Award Schemes, National Citizens Service, House charities and Form charities are opportunities for each young person to contribute in some specific way.

 

Bis Sister Little Sister Breakfast

Coping – learning to cope effectively with stress through developing positive and effective coping strategies

 

Guidance by staff, tutors and parents enables a young person to model positive coping strategies. The Big Sister Little Sister programme builds ties with older girls who share their experiences with younger girls, in order to provide them with the right guidance in how to cope with a stressful situation and advice on which person from their network of support can assist.

 

Pancake Races

Control – young people who realise that they can control the outcomes of their decisions are more likely to realise that they have the ability to bounce back. Empower girls.

 

Tutors and teaching staff dedicate a lot of time to talking with girls, providing guidance and support in their personal endeavours and academic needs. The partnership between staff, girls and parents is very important to us as we aim to nurture and promote confidence and competence in our girls.

 

There is no simple solution to guarantee resilience in every situation but we believe that knowing girls well and the adequate training and experience of staff can help girls develop the ability to negotiate their own challenges and to be more resilient, more capable, and happier.

 

Staff Mental Health Training

Recently, a cross section of teaching and support staff were trained in a Mental Health First Aid course, designed to equip staff with the skills needed to support girls who face mental health issues. We know that mental health and emotional problems often develop during adolescence. With greater awareness and understanding of these issues, we are able to provide help to prevent the emotional or mental health problem developing into a more serious state.

 

Even our Prime Minister, Teresa May’s speech signalled a ‘long-awaited and much-needed shift in thinking’ on Mental Health and the government’s recognition ‘..that the key to creating a mentally healthy society is held within our schools, communities and workplaces, not just in our health service…. This is perhaps the most vital context to help prevent mental health issues. We need the whole school to take responsibility for our children’s wellbeing’. This is a welcome approach and focus as mental health influences how we think and feel about ourselves and others. The capacity to learn, communicate and to form, sustain and end relationships, coping with change, all test our resilience.

 

We aim and believe in fostering an environment that enables girls to develop their emotional and spiritual resilience which allows them to enjoy life in school with a positive sense of well-being and an underlying belief in their own self-worth.

 

Sonia Margareto

Head of Pastoral Care

Whose Story….?

10 Mar

‘The history of the world is but the biography of great men.’  So said Thomas Carlyle, famous Victorian man of letters, putting into words what has been, for many, the received idea about history and their experience of studying it at school and beyond.

 

But what of ‘herstory’?

 

The very concept of ‘herstory’ (history, one might say, with the women put back in) –  a product of second-wave feminism in the 1970s and ‘80s – was attacked and even ridiculed at the time (and since) as tokenistic or ideological.  True, herstorians, in rejecting history as ‘his story’, have missed the true etymological roots of the word (historia = a knowledge-based enquiry).  However, even a passing acquaintance with the History curriculum in British schools will make clear how few female voices are heard and, as a career teacher of History, I have always been struck by the paucity of women on the syllabus.  Beyond Elizabeth I, Queen Victoria, Florence Nightingale, Edith Cavell and Rosa Luxemburg, the textbooks are largely silent.

 

The (missed) chance of having a woman in the top job in the White House as well as in Number 10 and Berlin has raised the profile of women in public life in our own day and helped to stimulate research into the many heroic women of the past whose stories remain largely untold.  In truth, this work of retrieval has been going on for years, though it has yet to make much impression on the school curriculum.  In 1979, for example, the American artist Judy Chicago created an art work called ‘The Dinner Party’ which identified and commemorated 1,038 great women from the past.  These were the women, Ms Chicago said, who deserved an invitation to her dinner party (rather than being consigned to the kitchen, as so many women had been in the past).

 

  

 

 

International Women’s Day (IWD) provides a perfect opportunity to take stock of how far we have come in this work of unearthing remarkable female deeds and voices.  Embracing this theme, at Northampton High, we decided to mark IWD 2017 with a debate on the herstoric women who have done most to change our world.   Characteristically, we had several willing volunteers to stand up and promote their chosen candidate – Kate Harrison and Jess Picot nominated Rosa Parks, Zoya Bilal chose to speak about Coco Chanel, Lexy Daly and Sabrina Sheikh introduced us to Lotfia ElNadi, a pioneering aviator, while Kate Jameson and Ezri Mannion staked a claim for Eliza Shuyler Hamilton, philanthropist and abolitionist.  It was exciting to learn about women whom I had never heard about before alongside more familiar individuals. All our speakers spoke with passion and conviction about their choices.  Ultimately, only one nominee could be chosen and the winner was Rosa Parks.

 

 

IWD 2017 marks a very important anniversary – the centenary of the protest march by the women of St Petersburg which was instrumental in bringing down Tsar Nicholas II and setting in train the events of the Russian Revolution.  These women – we do not know their names – were change-makers on a seismic scale.  They never achieved the fame of a Lenin or Trotsky but their actions set in motion a revolutionary movement that changed the course of history and helped to shape our modern world in ways which we are only just beginning to understand.

 

We will never be able to do more than pick out a few bare threads in the narrative of world history to delineate the contribution, enterprise and sacrifice of women.  However, by taking the lead from our IWD speakers this week, we can bring at least some of the great women of the past back into their rightful place in the sweep of our national and global heritage, to invite them, so to speak, to the global dinner party, and offer them a place at the table and a vote of thanks for all that they achieved.

 

Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress

“In Loco Parentis”

3 Mar

In a few weeks’ time, my usual brood of children will temporarily drop down from 3 to 2. One will be participating in the Year 8 trip to Normandy whilst the other will be heading for the ski slopes of Alpe d’Huez  on the Junior School trip the following week. Apart from the logistical headache of collecting one at 11pm one night and dropping the other off at 3am four hours later, the fact that our normal family of five will be four for two weeks is a rather curious feeling.

 

As a parent, it is only natural to worry about your offspring – will they be homesick? Will they eat enough? Did I pack enough socks/snacks/sun cream (delete as applicable!). What if they’re ill? But as a parent and a teacher with experience of many school trips, perhaps my level of anxiety is less, simply because I know what goes on behind the scenes before, during and after any school day trip or residential.

 

In my professional career, I have undertaken many duties on trips which can be part and parcel of the job: dried up tears, mediated in teenage squabbles, cleared up sick, accompanied injured students down a mountain in an ambulance, acted out concussion in the A&E department of an Italian hospital, effectively bribed a child to carry on walking in the Lake District using chocolate raisins and even re-dressed an infected in-growing toenail on a daily basis! Perhaps the person who said “never work with animals and children!” was right?

 

But alongside the less glamorous side to the job is the immense pride I feel when a student overcomes their fear of heights, or picks themselves up after falling over on the slopes, or makes a purchase using a foreign language or even just looks at something with new found awe and wonder. Effectively, you get the buzz of parental pride, just with someone else’s children and that is what makes me get up for work in the morning.

 

Ski Trip Austria 2016

The concept of  “in loco parentis” is not a new one. Teachers have a duty of care to pupils which derives from ‘common law’ i.e. developed through decisions of the Court as opposed to law which has been determined by Parliament and set down in statute.  Traditionally, the term “in loco parentis” was used to describe the duty of care that a teacher has towards a pupil, to the effect that a teacher has a duty to take the same reasonable care of the pupil that a parent would take in those circumstances.

 

“In loco parentis” originally embodied the nineteenth century common law principle that a teacher’s authority was delegated by a parent so far as it was necessary for the welfare of the child. A court held, in 1893, that “the schoolmaster is bound to take such care of his pupils as a careful father would”.  During the 1950s and 1960s, case law was developed further by the courts. In 1955, it was held that “a balance must be struck between the meticulous supervision of children every moment of the day and the desirable object of encouraging sturdy independence as they grow up”. Teachers’ professionalism was recognised by the courts in 1962, where the “standard of care expected of a teacher was held to be that of a person exhibiting the responsible mental qualities of a prudent parent in the circumstances of school, rather than home life”.

 

The current standard of care expected of a teacher is that of a reasonable person in the circumstances of a class teacher. It has been recognised that a teacher’s duty of care to individual pupils is influenced by, for example, the subject or activity being taught, the age of the children, the available resources and the size of the class. Furthermore, it is clear from case law that the standard of care expected is the application of the ordinary skills of a competent professional, the skill and care of a reasonable teacher. If it can be shown that a professional acted in accordance with the views of a reputable body of opinion within their profession, the duty of care will have been satisfied, even though others may disagree.

 

Normandy Trip 2016

So as teachers, it is our duty to assess the risks, plan for many eventualities (including those curve balls that life sometimes throws), oversee the many and varied activities that our students participate in, rejoice in their successes, commiserate when things don’t go according to plan and bring them home to their parents full of stories of new experiences and with a little more independence and resilience. It’s not that dissimilar to part of the role of being a parent.

 

So as the departure dates approach for my own daughters, I will endeavour not to show that I am anxious, I will revel in their excitement and intrepidation. I will hug them a little tighter and wave them off on their travels. While they are away I will sleep a little lighter but ultimately I am safe in the knowledge that they are in the best hands as they broaden their horizons beyond the confines of the classrooms at Northampton High.

 

Imogen Tansley, Subject Leader Economics and Business

Let Them “Shine”

24 Feb

This year at Northampton High School, as part of our outreach programme, we have run the SHINE- ‘serious fun on a Saturday’ project. SHINE is an education charity that gives children the opportunity to acquire the skills and confidence they need to turn their potential into success at school and beyond. The charity assisted us in providing ten workshops to twenty-four Year 5 girls from local primary schools.

 

The workshops cover a variety of subjects including geocaching, drama, forensic science, water works challenges, Atomic Science and engineering to name but a few.
These sessions have either been presented by external experts or school staff have volunteered their time and the project has been coordinated at the School by Claire Tilley, Physics Technician.

 

 

Below is an account of one of the sessions which was run by Anne Buxton, Librarian and Leona Heimfeld, English/Film Teacher.

 

Anne Buxton, Librarian

 

When I volunteered to run a SHINE session in Spring 2016 I hadn’t any idea what sort of session I would deliver. However, after a very successful summer term shadowing both the Carnegie and Greenaway book awards (the latter with girls in the Junior and Senior School) it seemed an obvious activity to try with the girls during my session with them in November.

 

The CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal was established in 1955, for distinguished illustration in a book for children. It is named after the popular and highly influential nineteenth century artist known for her fine children’s illustrations and designs. Awarded annually, the Medal is the only prize in the UK to solely reward outstanding illustration in a children’s book. Previous winners include Levi Pinfold, Raymond Briggs, Shirley Hughes, former Children’s Laureates, Quentin Blake and Anthony Brown, and current Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell. In school we shadow the award in real time over a number of weeks trying to work out who we think the overall winner should be and then waiting to find out if the judges agree with us at the awards ceremony in June! Marks are awarded out of ten for artistic style, format, the synergy of illustration and text and overall visual experience.

 

As I would have just over an hour with the girls it seemed sensible to make this a timed activity, in effect, speed dating with picture books! Ms Tilley divided the girls into groups and each group had an attached member of staff or sixth former. One of the Sixth Form became our time keeper, each book being allocated six minutes to be read and swiftly judged. The girls rose to the occasion, quickly understanding what was expected and making very perceptive comments about the books.

 

The girls’ overall favourite was There’s a Bear on My Chair by Ross Collins which “Reminds us to share. Shows us not to hold a grudge” –   Eleanor.

The actual winner, The Sleeper and the Spindle written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Chris Riddell, was also popular but did divide opinion. The girls weren’t always sure about a Queen going on an adventure and leaving the Prince behind!

 

Mrs Heimfeld – English/Film Teacher

 

The second part of the session aimed to develop engagement with the books into a creative act. Equipped with their evaluations, the girls set out to make a film trailer for an imagined movie of the books. First, each group decided what genre the film would encompass (romance, adventure, fairy tale or comedy) and chose a suitable background and music. Next ideas were story boarded, considering how to best convey the plot and the spirit of the illustrations. The production was cast, a director chosen, and locations were scouted. Then they took the iPads and with just half an hour to complete the projects, began filming. The results were imaginative and faithful to the books, with the girls translating the often subtle and particular nuances of the illustrations into moving pictures.

 

 

Sources:

https://northamptonhigh.fireflycloud.net/film/shine-greenaway-prize-films

http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/

https://www.shinetrust.org.uk/what-we-do/shine-saturday-programmes/serious-fun-on-saturday/

 

 

On not having the time to read…

10 Feb

The arrival in the White House of a man who, by his own account, ‘doesn’t have time to read’ (or, if he does, ‘reads chapters’) in place of a President well known for his love of reading has prompted me to consider the place of book-reading in our changing world.

 

Does it matter if you don’t have (or perhaps we should say ‘make’) time to read books?

 

Our annual Book Week in school last week invited us to consider the importance to us of reading books.  This, in the context of rising evidence of reading culture being under pressure.  For example, Kevin Stannard, in a recent blog for TES about book culture, drew upon recent research which found that 10% of the UK population do not own a single book, even as the average household was found to have eight devices connected to the internet, suggesting that reading is in decline and book culture is on the retreat nationally.  The drastic decline in public libraries in recent years is surely both a cause and a symptom of the same trend.

 

To look around me in school, however, suggests a very different story and evidence of the continuing vibrancy of a book culture is writ large all around us.  Witness just a few examples from the last fortnight; Mrs Farrar’s Class Assembly with Reception focused on the power of story-telling as a threshold into reading, moving from pictures to words, while Miss Buxton’s Assembly to Senior School shared with us the life and work of a favourite author of the seniors, the late Siobhan Dowd, as a launchpad for our annual Book Week.  Jodie Welton’s contribution to the latter, reading aloud an extract from Dowd’s ‘The London Eye Mystery’, conjured up for us the pleasure, probably now experienced only as a memory for most, of being read to.

 

Reading is all-too-easy to characterise as an unsociable activity, in contrast to more collective endeavours, such as team sports or social networking.  But this is not really the case.  As C S Lewis is heard to say in ‘Shadowlands’ – ‘We read to know that we are not alone.’ In reading what someone else has written, we enter into the mind of another, forging powerful connections with the writer – even if that writer is long dead or far distant from us and our lives.  Our favourite authors become like companions to us on life’s journey –  and how often have we read a passage describing the thoughts, feelings and experiences of a book’s character and been struck by the feeling that ‘ah – that is exactly how it is for me too’?

 

Or else, reading, by connecting us with the unfamiliar, nourishes our powers of empathy.  Barack Obama has said, recalling his own experience, ‘When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president…the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels.  It has to do with empathy.  It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that. And the notion that it’s possible to connect with someone even though they’re very different from you.’
Identifying with characters from books is surely a universal experience.  So, the annual Harry Potter party for Y5-U3 on 2 February gave girls the chance to take on the identity of their favourite HP character while Nursery girls (and their teachers) had plenty of fun earlier in the week dressing up as their favourite story-book characters –  from Cinderella to Wally.

 

Reading also connects us with other readers.  When I think of the great array of human pursuits that revolve around the shared enjoyment of reading – book groups, literary festivals, reviews, blogs, book prizes, recommendations, literary quizzes – it is clear that, even as we have witnessed theexponential growth of digital networks, book culture remains as durable as ever and part of the very bedrock of our society.   Only consider the appeal and success of Emma Watson’s feminist book club and media platform ‘Our Shared Shelf.

 

Robert Macfarlane’s excellent essay ‘The Gifts of Reading’, published just before Christmas, is a moving meditation on the ability of book-giving and -exchange to bring us closer to each other, as well as enriching our minds along with our bookshelves.  Junior School pupils sampled this pleasure last week when Year 3 shared their favourite stories with Year 1 while Year 5, in turn, offered their book recommendations to Year 3.

 

    

 

Access to reading is not, alas, a birth right – UNESCO estimates that nearly 17% of the adult population globally is illiterate, with 493 million women and 122 million young people being unable to read.  Inevitably, illiteracy is both a symptom of inequality – with non-readers concentrated among the poorest and most underprivileged segments of the population – and also a cause of its perpetuation, being a major barrier to employment and social mobility.

 

Mark Twain, an author who has stood high on many a list of favourite authors among past generations, observed, ‘the man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.’  I pause to consider how this observation will strike the millions of our world’s citizens in the developed world, including the current President of the United States (POTUS), who believe that they don’t have time to read.

 

Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress

 

Sources:

R Macfarlane ‘The Gifts of Reading’ https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/294596/the-gifts-of-reading/

http://www.unesco.org/new/en/education/themes/education-building-blocks/literacy/resources/statistics

https://www.tes.com/news/school-news/breaking-views/will-e-reading-spell-extinction-bulky-perishable-non-interactive

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/10-of-people-do-not-own-a-single-book-b0bl35qbj

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jan/07/emma-watson-to-start-feminist-book-group-on-twitter-our-shared-shelf

Resilient Minds

3 Feb

“If you can keep your head when all about are losing theirs” ……. Joseph Rudyard Kipling

As part of our ongoing commitment to develop resilient minds in our pupils here at Northampton High School we are about to launch a programme based on the research of the Positive group. http://www.positivegroup.org/

 

Positive are a specialist learning provider working across the corporate, public and educational sectors. Their work is informed by research in psychology, neuroscience and the medical sciences. They use the relevant principles of psychology and human behaviour to develop practical, versatile tools and techniques that enable individuals and teams to manage pressure and adapt to change and uncertainty in our ever evolving world. A group of our staff are at present receiving training in the delivery of this programme and the science behind it, using a number of app based tools. These will range from an Emotional Barometer, self-talk, an inner coach, a positive data log and a virtual pinboard. These will also be underpinned by a series of Mindfulness sessions.

 

 

Advances in neuroscience have shown how emotions override the brain’s operating systems, constantly influencing how we think and behave; often without us even knowing. By improving emotional literacy, we can improve both psychological health and performance. We change our minds all the time but we can also change the way our brains work by making new connections. If we focus purely on the negatives we get very good at it!

 

 

The first tool the pupils will be introduced to is the Emotional Barometer, which is a visual metaphor tool, designed to track and display your mood state over time and how we cope with stress and pressure, (see the Yerkes-Dodson model above). It will give students an insight into their emotions, how they affect their thoughts, feelings and behaviour and provide them with a basis for developing emotional literacy.

 

We all talk to ourselves and it can have a significant impact on our psychological health and quality of life. The tone and context of this inner dialogue impacts how we think, feel and behave. The self-talk tool and inner coach will enable the students to become aware of their own inner dialogue and supports anyone in a challenging situation to seek solutions and opportunities and to let go of negative cognitive patterns quicker. By improving emotional literacy, you can reduce psychological problems.

I have already attended the teacher training sessions and found it to be one of the most engaging I have ever experienced. The combination of science, knowledge and practical application was expertly done and it will help build resilience and improve the health and wellbeing of all our pupils.

 

Michele Langhorn

Assistant Head (Staff Development and Wellbeing)

Professional Development at Northampton High School

27 Jan

Imagine: being paid to teach and learn. I think we all can, because we all are, eventually.

 

The nurturing of inquisitive minds and genuine life-long learners, beyond necessary and vitally important examinations, is a cornerstone of any true educational establishment. We expect our students to learn and to reflect on their learning. We expect our students to be willing to take educational risks: trying a more challenging task for example, not leaving revision to the last moment!

 

It follows then, that as teachers we are, and must be, learners too. As learners, we must reflect on our own practice, to ensure that we fulfil the changing needs of our charges, as well as to promote positive role-models of educational risk-taking and innovation. We must be open to new ideas and new approaches. Like any good learner, however, we must also be critical; we must ask for evidence of the value of new initiatives or new educational theories, and our students should never be guinea pigs for new fads. Fear not however; your daughters are in safe hands and there is plenty of healthy scepticism surrounding any swift panacea for all of education’s challenges.

 

Continuous professional development will be familiar to parents from all walks of life and it is perhaps reassuring to know that this is no less the case for staff at Northampton High School. This academic year saw the introduction of a new CPD (Continuous Professional Development) Hub, the purpose of which was to promote structured discussion, collaboration and debate within its staff, across Junior and Senior School teaching staff as well as support staff.

 

The first September INSET day included a carousel of workshops led by staff, for staff:

  • The Emotional Barometer; a way to understand and manage feelings positively
  • OneDrive; a practical guide to storing and sharing electronic resources easily, including integrating them into Firefly.
  • Philosophy for Children; using enquiry based learning.
  • Starters and Plenaries; a showcase of practical suggestions from different curriculum areas.
  • VESPA; the A Level mindset programme, useful when coaching A Level classes or tutees.

 

The new REC period has also opened up more opportunities for staff to meet. Training and collaboration has got underway in a number of areas, such as Action Research, Lesson Study, GCSE Pod and Firefly, among others.

 

A regular Staff room Challenge has also been a feature of break-times, with educational articles circulated and commented on over tea and coffee, as well as via Firefly; there have not been too many sparks flying! Passion is great though. Why not read one of the articles, about expectations?
A twilight training session in late November showcased a fascinating workshop on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, led by the new School Counsellor, Sarah Hanlon. There was also a workshop on Growth Mindsets, which explored practical applications for this increasingly popular and well-researched educational theory, which essentially holds the premise that intelligence is not fixed and that praise should be offered for effort rather than outcome.

 

These are just a few of the adventures which have been taking place aboard the NHS ship, which proudly hoists its Green Flag and sails with great confidence into the future, serving its girls and celebrating their success and endeavour.

 

Jonathan Williams

CPD Hub Coordinator

Reflecting on climate change in 2016

20 Jan

More than once Dr Stringer has stated that climate change is the defining challenge of our times. Personally I couldn’t agree more, but in 2016 the media focus (perhaps understandably) has been on the seismic political shifts on either side of the Atlantic. However, with the official confirmation that 2016 was the hottest year on record (breaking the record for a third year in a row) now seems an apt time to reflect on reports linked to climate change in 2016. Analysing the various climate related stories from the previous year reveals grounds for optimism in terms of our progress towards slowing (and eventually reversing?) the warming trend, as well as reasons to be much more pessimistic.

 

Initially announced at the end of 2015 the historic Paris agreement, signed by 194 countries, has provided a renewed global framework for managing climate change, whereby countries have committed to trying to limit global warming to no more than 2o (the more ambitious 1.5o target already seems improbable given that we have already warmed roughly 1o since the Industrial Revolution). During 2016 countries began to formally ratify the agreement, with the UK becoming the 111th to ratify the agreement in November; at the time of writing 125 countries in total have ratified the agreement, taking the treaty past the 55 signatories needed for it to become legally enforceable. Of potentially greater significance was the fact that both the USA and China have now formally ratified the agreement, submitting their proposals for cutting carbon emissions and helping to fund mitigation strategies in developing countries.  China’s ratification sent a strong signal to the developing world as they committed to peaking their carbon emissions in 2030. The USA famously refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol (a forerunner of the Paris agreement), fatally undermining its impact; the symbolism of the USA ratifying the agreement sent a clear, positive message to other countries. Perhaps the Paris agreement will form the foundation finally for effective, coordinated global action to tackle climate change?

 

Of course an instant rebuttal to the above would be to consider the potential impact of the inauguration of President Trump on America’s climate policy, particularly in the context of his infamous ‘Chinese hoax’ tweet. At this point it is worth stating that the anthropogenic forcing of climate change is no longer seriously debated, with 97% of actively publishing climate scientists agreeing that climate warming trends are likely to be the result of human activities (for the pedants that seize on the word ‘likely’ as a reason for inaction I refer them to this argument by David Mitchell). The election of such a senior politician espousing climate denial is clearly unhelpful in tackling climate change, but perhaps it is not as important an event as some fear (in a climate context that is; the geopolitical implications of President Trump are to my mind terrifying). For a start China has simply reaffirmed its own commitment to sustainable growth and now talks openly about replacing the US as the global climate leader; China has genuine ambitions to be recognised as a global power and its politicians seem to recognise the extent of the threat posed by climate change, so perhaps their rhetoric will be matched by reality? Secondly there are strong centres for positive action within the US, most notably the large state of California, with their Governor, Jerry Brown stating ‘We’ve got the lawyers and we’ve got the scientists and are ready to fight’. Thirdly, and perhaps more fundamentally, even Trump will struggle to completely revive the fortunes of the coal industry; investors aren’t stupid and Goldman Sachs’ warning that ‘peak coal is near’ and ‘the industry does not require new investment’ probably means the point from which we will permanently be burning less of this most polluting of the fossil fuels is not too distant.

 

Indeed evidence that progress in addressing global emissions is being achieved was the reported third year in a row without an increase in carbon emissions, therefore does this mean 2016 represented a more positive turning point in the fight against climate change? Unfortunately, the answer is almost certainly no, with one reason being that much of this was attributable to a decline in demand for Chinese manufacturing, with the likelihood of a concurrent increase in emissions again once demand increases. More fundamentally, was 2016 the year we began to realise we had focused too much on carbon dioxide? Scientists have now discovered that over the last 10 years there has been a rapid rise in methane concentrations within the atmosphere; this is relevant because methane is twenty times as potent as carbon dioxide in terms of its greenhouse effect. Unlike carbon emissions we do not have such clear monitoring strategies for methane.

Methane concentrations are higher in the northern hemisphere because both natural- and human-caused sources are more abundant there. Photograph: AIRS/Aqua/Nasa

 

At this point it seems important to cover two fundamental geographical concepts; these are positive feedback loops and tipping points. Positive feedback is where an initial change in one direction causes additional changes in the same direction (for example interest on a savings account used to cause the money to grow, causing more interest to be paid on the savings). Within climate change a number of positive feedback loops exist, with perhaps the best example being the melting of the permafrost as a result of the accelerated rate of climate warming in the Arctic. Melting of the permafrost releases methane trapped in the peat for thousands of years, causing further warming and therefore further permafrost melting. Scientists worry that soon we may reach a climate tipping point, whereby so many greenhouse gases have been emitted that positive feedback amplifies the warming to such an extent that runaway climate change (more than 2oc warming) is unavoidable.

 

Observations of the Arctic sea ice in 2016 provided a stark reminder that our polar regions are already changing more quickly than most scientists predicted; in November it was predicted that the North Pole was a staggering 20oc warmer than average. Whilst this will surely prove to be an anomaly, the implications for a significant reduction in sea ice this year help to further highlight positive feedback as the warming temperatures melt the sea ice and will probably lead to a record sea ice minimum next summer over the Arctic Ocean. This will reduce the albedo effect (reflection of incoming solar radiation), thus enabling further warming of Arctic waters; a further example of positive feedback.

 

So was 2016 a positive year for climate change or are we now all doomed? (I use this hyperbolic term as it is so often the way the question is phrased to me). Clearly I don’t have a crystal ball, but I feel confident enough to assert we are not doomed. To clarify, by we I mean those of us lucky enough to live in this benign mid latitude climate. A warming world seems likely to bring more unpredictable weather, more heatwaves, more frequent and powerful storms (but not hurricanes) to our shores. This will bring more flooding, more water shortages and very significant challenges for agriculture, but should not pose insurmountable obstacles to a developed economy.

 

However if geography is taught properly it should remind us that the world is unequal and that the impacts of climate change in tropical and particularly sub-tropical regions are predicted to be much more severe; it has been reported that climate change could, for example, make the Middle East and parts of North Africa uninhabitable, surely driving refugee movements that dwarf any historical precedent. What 2016 taught me was that whilst we are responding as a species to climate change the planet is also responding, amplifying our changes – these changes will continue even as we cut emissions; regardless of whether 2016 was positive or negative for climate change the need is as urgent as ever to go further and faster in cutting emissions (of all greenhouse gases), whilst we still have a world our children would want to inherit.

 

Mr James Earp, Head of Humanities

 

A woman for all seasons (not just the flat season)

13 Jan

Clare Balding is the sort of person who makes a powerful impression.  And a brief encounter with her on her visit to school in December has, indeed, stayed in my thoughts ever since.  Granted, her celebrity status endows her with a certain charisma but, in her case, I suspect that the charisma predates the celebrity and partly accounts for it rather than the other way around.  She is a role model for our times.  What makes me say that?

 

Partly, it is about the things she said and the messages she conveys to young people.  When she visited us, for example, not only was she able to capture and hold the attention of a hall full of 5-11 year olds for an hour, telling them stories based on her recently-published children’s book The Racehorse Who Wouldn’t Gallop, she was also able to captivate an equally large audience of 11-18 year olds (not to mention the grown-ups in the room) with stories based on her life experiences.

 

Many of the things she said stuck in the mind not necessarily because they were of ground-breaking originality but because they were so pungently expressed, often with the addition of a memory-hooking anecdote – and because they were true.

 

Two examples will give a flavour.

 

  1. Stop worrying about what you look like and just enjoy being you.

As a tall and large-framed woman, Clare struggled to maintain her weight as a jockey but had the last laugh when she won as a prize her own body weight in champagne.

 

  1. Dare to be different because thinking all the time about what other people think of you and worrying about whether they like you makes you self-centred, less happy and less likable.

 

She recalled how she came close to getting expelled from school for shoplifting, which she had only done because she wanted to fit in with the gang and gain acceptance – a nasty experience but an important learning journey for her.

 

Part of her power as a role model lies in the deeds that lie behind her words.  Truly a Renaissance woman for our times, she has been a champion jockey, sports commentator, TV presenter, radio broadcaster, raconteuse, memoirist, novelist and campaigner.  And she is only 45! A pioneer in many ways, her success in breaking into traditional male sporting bastions, such as horse-racing and rugby league, plus her outspoken promotion of the rights and profile of women in sport and public life, have given her an almost unique authority in broadcasting.

 

Above all, though, the key to her impact is, simply, who she is.  She wears her fame lightly and her ability to communicate comes as much from the attention she pays to the individual standing in front of her at a book-signing as to the oratorical skills that come into play in front of a mass audience.  Always true to herself, she has been candid about the strains in her relations with her parents when she was young and comfortably open about her private life – happily married to Alice Arnold – when the prurience of the mass media, and the bigotry to be found on its outskirts, must test the resilience of even the most self-confident public figure.

 

I was interested to hear her say recently on the radio that she approaches her life as though she were still at school because she enjoyed her life at school (shoplifting episode excepting, I imagine) so much.  So, her live appearances on TV are like exams and her well-known rambles are like geography field trips.  With her customary wit and lightness of touch, she has hit upon a serious philosophical truth, I think – that a life lived as a lifelong learner never fails to be rewarding.

 

Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress

A hobby, an interest, a passion

6 Jan

Time spent on recreation is never wasted time, it is extremely important time. The opportunity to recreate oneself in preparation for the normal routine is what allows us to fulfil the normal routine on a daily basis. The range of recreational activities on offer to adults nowadays is huge and, as I ponder on my own choices, it makes me aware that there have been many influences in my decisions and equally raises my awareness of how many young people I have influenced in my career in education.

 

All teachers will pass on their own passions unwittingly to their students. It is impossible to curb your enthusiasm and I have observed many colleagues reach an outstanding level when they are teaching something that clearly inspires them. Children are very good at responding to enthusiasm; even someone’s favourite subject will be uninspiring if taught without passion, pace and energy.

 

The best teachers will try to remain neutral on the question of their favourite subject or topic, but children are no fools and I am sure, if asked, would be able to read the tell-tale signs during the week.

 

“My teacher always allows us to ask lots of questions, she always tells us stories about her own experience, the explanations are always so clear, we always seem to spend longer on X..” etc.

 

Thinking about my own time in school I recall that there were teachers who were inspirational to my friends but I just didn’t catch the bug. I was motivated by other factors, namely praise and success. The people who inspired me were excellent role models but they had the advantage over my Physics and French teachers in that they could easily find reasons to praise me. My personal talents were best suited to those activities, success came easily and I became an empty vessel which my inspiring teachers could fill with knowledge, drawing out all of my potential.

 

The opportunity to socialise with like-minded people can also be a contributing factor to our choice of hobby. Certain people are drawn to activities which promote opportunities to meet new people regularly, for some they prefer small groups with regular and consistent contact, others prefer individual activities which allow space to focus and time to concentrate. Regardless of the activity, being in a group or alone, there is always the opportunity to talk about it with people who are equally passionate. Dinner tables around the country would be considerably quieter if the topics of hobbies and interests were banned.

 

Many people are influenced in recreational choices by other family members and it is of course nice when siblings share a passion, although it can lead to rivalry and the removal of board games from the home! It is highly likely that children will be encouraged by their parents to enjoy an activity that can be shared. This is common and only causes an issue when the child is taking part when they would rather be doing something else. I agree completely with a friend who willingly wakes up early every morning to take his daughter swimming before school on the premise that the alarm clock is beside her bed and that she wakes him up.

 

The environment in which the activity happens can also be a strong factor. There are those who adore the outdoors and resent free time spent indoors. Some people love being in water, some in the sky, a library can appeal as can a sports field, a fast pace or a slow pace; the list is very long. It can sometimes take many years for a perfectly matched environment to be experienced, which leads to what I see as the most important factor for schools and parents to remember – variety.

 

Variety of opportunities is most certainly required throughout childhood to enable young people to find their passion. It must be evident in the curriculum so that the classroom experience is wide ranging and full of opportunities for passions to develop. Outside of the classroom there needs to be a co-curricular offer which is balanced across the most common recreational fields including Creative Arts, Sport and  Music. Ensuring this alongside passionate teachers and leaders is a recipe for the correct recreational decisions to be made and all of the positive benefits they will provide in the future.

 

Many people will move between hobbies and new passions will be discovered as people mature and travel, however the process most definitely starts in school and is an important aspect that we must never disregard.

 

Ross Urquhart, Head of Junior School