Living out loud

8 Jul

HelenThe demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament on Monday by supporters of Bacc for the Future, a group campaigning for the EBacc (English Baccalaureate) to give greater prominence to creative arts GCSE courses, has brought back to the forefront of political debate the role of the creative and performing arts in our society.

 

The issue boils down to one question – do the arts matter?  At Northampton High School visitors were left in no doubt about where we stood on it last Thursday as they toured our annual Arts Festival and experienced a dazzling showcase of art, fashion textiles, food, drama, dance and music.

 

Yes, yes and yes, again!

 

First, the arts matter – to our girls at Northampton High.

 

The range and quality of art work on display – from the sea-themed tiles made by the Nursery girls to the complex 3D pieces by the GCSE and A Level students, from the feel-good fortissimo of the ‘Lion King Medley’ to the gothic horror of the Edgar Allan Poe-inspired promenade theatre installation – made the strongest possible statement about the power of the arts in their lives.

 

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We are delighted that four members of the Class of 2016 are going on to do arts-related degree courses (Shona Guha to Musical Theatre, Leonie Robertshaw to Fine Art, Su Shuang to Fashion Textiles and Emma Dutton to English with Music) and we look forward to seeing how their careers unfold.

 

Second, the arts matter – to all girls.

 

Watching Year 6 painting Georgia O’Keeffe flowers in their Art lesson on Monday, I was reminded that, historically, women have been few and far between among artists, whether in the visual or performing arts.  And, even today, women are under-represented in the highest echelons of many areas of creative endeavour.  Only just over a year ago, Tracey Emin, herself a trend-bucking figure in many ways, raised a furore in the art world by remarking –  ‘There are good artists that have children. They are called men.’  The backlash against her, however, suggested that hers is now becoming a minority view.  Far from being an arena where women cannot shine, the arts world – an area of the UK economy, incidentally, earning almost £10 million an hour according to government statistics – is a happy hunting ground for creative women.

 

14_traceyeminThink art, think Bridget Riley, Marlene Dumas and Emin herself.

 

 

Vivienne-Westwood-collects-her-OBEThink fashion, think Vivienne Westwood and Donatella Versace.

 

 

Adele's new albumThink music, think Adele or Enya (in one tradition) or Judith Weir and Joan Tower (in another).

 

 

 

 

 

helen fraserGDST logo croppedEven our artistic heritage, long seen as barren ground for women, has started to be reclaimed, partly through the campaigning efforts of Helen Fraser and the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST).  Following a petition masterminded by Twyford student, Jessy McCabe, and backed by the CEO of the GDST, the exam board Edexcel reformed its A Level Music syllabus recently to include Clara Schumann and Kate Bush among the composers studied.

 

Finally, the arts matter – to our world.

 

As last Thursday’s event demonstrated so emphatically, the arts enliven and enrich our lives.  The fact that the earliest humans painted animals on the walls of their caves, as in Chauvet, over 30,000 years ago and made flutes from bird bones over 40,000 years ago confirms for us the knowledge that self-expression through the arts is as fundamental to human nature as language.  Or, as Emile Zola put it, ‘if you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: I am here to live out loud. ‘  The fact that children in the concentration camp at Theresienstadt during WWII drew paintings of life before capture, such as Ruth Cechova’s picture of sunbathing, suggests that the arts are forms of language, because they communicate universal human ideas and emotions.

 

Like language, artistic fluency may wither away and become extinct for lack of practice.  If that were to happen, we would lose the ability to ‘live out loud’ – and we would all be much the poorer for it.

 

Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress

 

Sources

http://www.baccforthefuture.com/latest-news

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/10584193/Tracey-Emin-Why-Im-celebrating-not-having-children.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/tracey-emin-is-wrong-being-a-mother-doesnt-mean-you-cant-be-a-good-artist-too-9775997.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11841976/Britain-schools-Exam-boards-must-stop-writing-women-out-of-curriculum.html

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/dec/16/a-level-music-female-composers-students-campaign-jessy-mccabe-edexcel

https://www.gov.uk/government/news/creative-industries-worth-almost-10-million-an-hour-to-economy

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-26987720

Lessons of democracy

1 Jul

croppedWe are living in interesting times…  throughout June, the School has been pulsating with debate – whether it was the DASH inter-house debating competition (in which Artemis emerged as winners in a very closely-fought final) or, more recently, the growing controversy over Britain’s membership of the European Union.  Our mock EU referendum campaign began with a quiz in Assembly, led by Mrs Tansley and contested via mobile ‘phones using Kahoot, about how much girls and staff really knew about the EU.

 

(FILES) This file photo taken on AugustSome of the most intelligent debating I heard, in a national campaign tarnished by spin and smears on both sides,  was in the formal referendum debate on Monday 20 June when Daisy Lambert and Amy Goldup (Remain) pitched their case against Hannah Simmonite (Leave).  A few days before, over a picnic in Shropshire with Year 7s, I overheard one pupil say, with impeccable logic, that under-18s should be allowed to vote in this referendum because the result would affect their future more than the older generation.  (Whether, applying the same reasoning, the over-80s should be disenfranchised was, to the group, a moot point.)

 

eu resultsThe result in school (66% for Remain, 31% for Leave and 3% spoilt ballot papers) – while clearly out of step with the national verdict and with the vote in Northamptonshire – was in line with other GDST schools which, overwhelmingly,  recorded anti-Brexit results.  In this, as in the national picture, a clear generational divide emerged, adding yet another fracture line to the socio-economic and geographical chasms that have long been familiar contours in the British political landscape.

 

The school referendum highlighted one of the stark but salutary lessons of democracy – that having your say is not the same as having your way.  It teaches us how to cope with losing.  For some, the fact that searches in Google about the impact of Brexit surged after the outcome was announced, suggesting that the result rather than the campaign was what prompted many voters actively to seek the facts about the question, prompted some political pundits to mutter darkly about the ‘tyranny of majorities.’
Churchill 2This, however, is missing the other major lesson of democracy that the referendum teaches us.  This is not that democracy is flawed (though we know it is).  As Churchill said, ‘democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.’  It is that democracy, to be effective, relies on an informed citizenry.  The fact-lite hyperbole and mendacious mud-slinging which dominated the national debate made it difficult for any but the most assiduous and critically-minded voters to reach a well-informed judgement about the issue.

 

The story of Britain and Brexit 2016 reminds me, yet again, of the paramount importance of Citizenship education in school.  That ‘c’ word – nestled in one of the least glamorous of educational acronyms, PSHCE – is so easily paid lip service to rather than fully embraced, so often tracked perfunctorily in the interests of compliance with guidance about promoting Fundamental British Values rather than genuinely embedded in a school’s culture.

 

As the girls reasoned thoughtfully about the ethics of the franchise, tapped their ‘phones excitedly in our quiz, discussed with their teachers the pros and cons of EU membership in class and walked down corridors deep in earnest debate, I felt proud to know that the education of our girls in the lessons of democracy is a cherished part of daily life at Northampton High.  And this is why, regardless of the future direction of the UK, whether in the EU or outside, I am filled with hope for the future.

 

Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress

 

To follow Dr Stringer on Twitter please click on the icon.twitter

 

 

Sources

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-36619342

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/what-happens-if-we-leave-the-eu

 

 

The 360 Degree Challenge and the Radically Enriched Curriculum at Northampton High

24 Jun

IMG_0884LRCara Flanagan in Psychology Review comments that ‘it is not high self-esteem that brings about good academic performance’, rather ‘it is the belief that you can acquire the necessary skills to be successful’. This sums up much of current thinking about how students can develop resourcefulness, responsibility and independence and avoid the pitfalls of a fixed mindset by developing a range of positive learning styles and dispositions. Edward de BonoIn fact, these ideas are not a particularly new concept, in his seminal 1976 work Teaching Thinking, Edward de Bono explains that thinking and learning is about ‘knowing how to deal with situations […] planning, decision-making, looking at evidence, guessing, creativity’ as much as it is about ‘exploring experience and applying knowledge’. At Northampton High we want to support all this by fostering our students’ ability to devise and control their own learning. We aim to enhance their understanding of what drives and motivates them, for example, through our 360 Degree Me programme, which encourages them to look at themselves from all angles, as learners and individuals with distinct ambitions and potential.

 

 

360 degree meLast year’s 360 Me Day proved effective in altering the students’ perceptions about what is really important to them personally, so this year we wanted to go a step further and challenge them to take responsibility for managing the learning experience for themselves. The result has been our 360 Challenge Day to take place in July at Wicksteed Park in Kettering, a charitable trust whose cultural and historic significance in the area offers rich educational possibilities for this project.

 

 

P1240020Lead organiser and Head of Biology Russell Attwood says, ‘the focus of the day will be developing the attributes that are so important for school and life in general, such as resilience, teamwork, independence, planning, time management and leadership’. Students will be working autonomously in the Park on thematic projects that they have chosen themselves, in small groups from the same House. Each group will have pupils from across Key Stage 3 which will give them the challenge of collaborating with others and Year 9 students will be given the responsibility of taking the lead and supporting the younger girls.  In the weeks leading up to the project each group has been given time to plan every aspect of their day: from what they need to wear and bring with them, what and where to eat, to how they will find the information for their projects and ultimately their presentations to the rest of the House.

 

Guy ClaxtonWhat would we like the students to gain from their experiences at Wicksteed Park? I would say that character and grit would appear fairly high up on the list of hoped-for advantages, along with a deeper sense of how they learn to adapt and cooperate. In terms of outcomes, we do not expect every project to be an outright triumph in terms of preparation or execution, but for learning to be really successful, according to Professor Guy Claxton, there needs to be an element of ‘uncertainty and experimentation; having a go, seeing what happens and gradually improving’. This process is essential for personal growth and develops character, which is hugely important in helping students achieve self-reliance in their learning.

 

A single day of challenge, albeit as part of an ongoing commitment across the school to the education of the individual student via the 360 degree philosophy, will not suffice to embed the ‘crucial attitudes and capabilities’ Professor Claxton refers to. For this reason, we have looked to develop our wider curriculum to help create a more creative and self-reliant community of life-long learners in our school. To do this we have subtly adjusted the timetable, without having to change the overall timings of the day, through what we call the Radically Enriched Curriculum (REC). This new REC period after lunch has allowed us to reposition PSHE lessons and opens a new window for co-curricular activities where we can stretch and challenge student outlook and ambition. The timing also allows for a community of learners within the staff, with regular slots for peer-led training, discussion groups and working parties. As an important side effect, we have also been able to match up the Junior and Senior School timetables more efficiently, which we hope will lead to even more opportunities for innovative cross-phase and transition activities.

 

P1240019Leona Heimfeld, Stretch, Challenge and Creativity Coordinator, comments that her personal challenge ‘is to stretch the students beyond their own expectations’. She explains that this involves building ‘complexity of character, developing skills not easily learned in the curriculum-based classroom: the thrill of collaboration, the social responsibility of group work, physical and vocal self-confidence, the power of creativity and imaginative spontaneity’. The programme is geared towards providing a series of unique projects that mesh in with students’ ambitions for the future and links with our careers programme, Inspiring Futures. There is also a hugely important role for pastoral wellbeing in Leona’s opinion: ‘My studies have shown that creative projects offer much needed opportunities for de-stressing, with time to daydream and ponder reflectively’.

 

Essentially, by approaching this from a whole-school standpoint we give students and teachers opportunities to work together as equals. Assessment is not an agenda item within REC, so the focus is entirely on what is important to the educational process within a cooperative, flexible and yet individualised framework. We believe this will deepen the students’ enjoyment of learning through an appreciation, or ideally, a love of difficulty and challenge, a readiness to experiment and a real understanding of how to criticise and improve their work without being self-critical or negative about their potential for success. The idea of silencing the inner critic was a hot topic at this year’s Girls’ Day School Trust Conference where outgoing Chief Executive, Helen Fraser, called on students to release their ‘inner cheerleader’ instead. Likewise, for teachers, this approach is designed to encourage them to review their whole attitude to pedagogy beyond the REC programme, increasing student freedoms and allowing them to make as many decisions as possible to shape their own learning experiences.

 

Tanya ByronProfessor Tanya Byron, writing in the foreword to Guy Claxton’s book Educating Ruby: What our children really need to learn, comments that we need to rethink our school systems ‘to help our children get ready for the challenges and opportunities they will face’. At Northampton High we take this role very seriously; we do encourage our students to take the 360 degree view and, in fact, this is the approach we expect everyone in the school to take when it comes to intellectual self-image. To paraphrase Professor Claxton himself, we are not in the business of ‘grinding out results’, we are an open-minded community of learners and we wish to be a mill of aspiration, individuality and creativity. These are the attributes that will get our children ready for the future.

 

Henry Rickman

Deputy Head

 

References

Flanagan, Cara; in Psychology Review, Volume 1.3, February 2006

de Bono, Edward; Teaching Thinking, Penguin, 1976

Claxton, Guy; in Creative Teaching and Learning, Volume 6.2, May 2016

Claxton, Guy; Educating Ruby: What our children really need to learn, Crown House Publishing, 2015

Keep Calm and Carry On Reading

13 Jun

P1220942When I was at school reading came under the banner of  a ” good thing” and other than the set texts in English lessons we were left pretty much to our own devices. Fast forward to the second decade of the 21st Century and things have changed in many ways. One of the most striking changes has been the expansion in books produced for children and young adults; the range, number and quality available today for the average young person would have delighted the teenage me. From fantasy stories to dystopian fiction, historical fiction, adventure, crime and thrillers, as well as titles which deal with many of the issues which young people face today, the choice is pretty much endless.

 

What has also become clearer is how much of a “good thing” reading actually is.

 

Keep CalmYoung people who enjoy reading very much are three times as likely to read above the level expected for their age compared with young people who do not enjoy reading at all (34.9% vs. 10.7%). Similarly, young people who read outside class daily are five times as likely to read above the expected level for their age compared with young people who never read outside class.  The National Literacy Trust

 

It seems obvious that if you enjoy something you will improve and the more you practice the better you become.

 

Whilst having a wide choice of material is a positive position to be in, the challenge within a school environment is to encourage progression, both in the type of material the girls read and in terms of complexity of language. At Northampton High School we have our own reading scheme to encourage and support girls in their reading but like many schools we also try and vary the reading opportunities available.

 

The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals are the UK’s oldest and most prestigious children’s book awards. Often described by authors and illustrators as ‘the one they want to win’ – they are the gold standard in children’s literature.’ www.carnegiegreenaway.co.uk

 

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Shadowing the Carnegie Award on an annual basis is one of the ways in which we provide a varied reading diet for our keen readers.  Mrs Halstead (English Teacher), a group of hugely enthusiastic girls and I began meeting on Monday mornings after Easter. The eight book shortlist this year being one of the strongest we have seen and our aim to choose the winner. The girls award marks out of ten for plot, characterisation and style for each book and we then total all marks awarded at the end of the process to discover who are our winner is. Our recent track record is a good one, having chosen “The Bunker Diary” by Kevin Brooks as the winner two years ago and “Buffalo Soldier” by Tanya Landman correctly last year. The skill being in awarding marks objectively regardless of our personal preference, though sometimes our favourite has taken the main prize!

 

The girls have been impressive in these sessions, last year taking part in a streamed debate with other Girls’ Day School Trust schools. The girls prepared well and their confidence visibly grew as the session went on, defending and supporting their views in an effective manner.

 

These are some of the comments we have had so far about the shortlisted books this year:

 

The Lie TreeThe Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge: comments on the plot – “It takes a while to get going but once it started I couldn’t put it down!”

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One by Sarah Crossan: comments on style – “I don’t think that she should have written it in verse. It made it difficult to read and didn’t add anything to the story. She didn’t create mood very well, I thought it too light and easy in places for the themes”

 

 

Five ChildrenFive Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders: comments on characterisation – “Amazing” Comments on the plot – “gentle and composed on such a harsh topic”

 

 

There will be liesThere Will Be Lies by Nick Lake: comments on the plot – “The plot in the real world was fine however I felt that it kept being interrupted by the fantasy line which damaged the flow”

Find out more about the shortlisted books at http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/shadowing.php

 

The award winner will be announced on Monday 20th June so we plenty of reading time still left, but at the moment (late May) Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders is a definite contender!  The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge won the overall Costa Award last year and should be strong competition though, so we will have to wait until the end of June to see if we pick the winner again!

All short listed books are available to borrow from the School Library.

 

Ms Anne Buxton, Librarian

Real life experiences versus online

20 May

SoniaI remember my A Level History lessons with fondness. My teacher brought History to life in class by showing students her many slides of archaeological digs to ancient lands such as Israel, Greece and Egypt. This inspired me to visit some of these places throughout my life as an adult. I did not just want to read about them in a book but wanted to experience them like nothing else can, a chance to connect, understand, and explore objects, perceptions, feelings, and innovative thoughts.  Seeing a picture can’t ever replace material engagement with an object. We can’t anticipate the kinds of questions we’ll want to ask of objects in the future, so a digital record should never take the place of an object or image. There’s no replacement for the real thing.

 

 


andy warhol ashmolean
andy_warhol_wpap_by_junxlittledevil-d7ccbmoRecently I spent a day at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford visiting the Andy Warhol exhibition. Coming face to face with artworks of an inspirational artist whom I studied at school enabled me to understand more about his reasons for creating his art work and his interpretation of popular culture and consumerism. This experience broadened my knowledge and appreciation of the art work which made me think about how young people learn new material not just in class but through technology.

 

 

Teachers of young people are in a prime position to encourage them to widen their life experiences beyond the classroom and experience real life by bringing the classroom teaching alive and broadening their thoughts, feelings and ideas. We offer many school trips to cultural and science museums, art galleries and many more. The power and influence of ‘being there’, a real life experience compliments the curriculum taught and more importantly, enriches the learning of any student.

 

aretefactA reproduction of an artefact, whether it’s a photograph or a digital version of it, for example, can travel much further than the artefact itself. It can be in many places at once and so dramatically enrich the conversations that surround it. You lose something when you are engaging with a work of art or a specimen on a computer screen. You can’t walk around it, or touch it, or see how light plays upon its surface. It can be hard to appreciate the scale of something – whether it’s incredibly delicate or whether it dominates the room.

 

Digital life is so much part of society’s way of interacting with people and the world around them. This experience and way of living is only a way but not the only way. According to Jim Taylor, PhD ‘The power of prime’, a Psychology Professor at the University of San Francisco, believes that wired life is not real, meaning experiences are created by technology with the aim of ‘simulating an experience’. He goes on to explain that,

‘The problem with this “low-resolution” life is that, though it shares similarities to real life, it lacks the high resolution and the granularity of real life…..There is always something between us and our experiences’.

 

Susan Greenfield, a noted British neuroscientist, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords, who has studied the impact of new technology on people believes that, ‘for all of its appearance of freedom, technology puts us in a box, a very bright, shiny, and fun box to be sure, but a box nonetheless. You may think those dropdown menus give us options, but what they really do is limit choices that limit our thinking, imaginations, and actions’.

 

At Northampton High School, we encourage girls to be bold, creative, confident and competent women who have the skills to think, question, take risks and broaden their learning experiences.  Real life enriches our sensory experiences through sight, sound, smell, touch, taste, balance, movement, temperature and emotions. Technology has come a long way replicating these through visual graphics and sound but these are artificial and are they enough?

 

2076-640x360-nhm_skeleton_640So, what do you plan to do on the weekend or on your next holiday? Visit a museum, art gallery or walk the streets of the ancient town of a foreign city? ‘Why we go to museums, or art galleries, travel to distant lands doesn’t really matter as much as what we get out of our visit. We may go to see a famous artwork, and end up meeting someone special. We may go to get out of the rain and come face to face with an artefact that changes the way we think, or lifts us somehow; something that sets us on a wholly new journey of discovery. Make it a real experience.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g3MWzJaRXXU

 

Sonia Margareto,

Head of Pastoral Care