Archive for January, 2017

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