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07
Dec

Lost without translation

A skill deficit that costs the UK economy an estimated 3.5% of GDP.

A knowledge vacuum that 74% of business leaders identify as a major barrier to career success for graduates in today’s world of work.

You may be forgiven for thinking that I am talking about science, technology, engineering or maths – subjects which occupy so many headlines, especially where opportunities for girls and young women are concerned.

But, no.

These stats relate to Foreign Languages, an area which rarely attracts comment and stands pretty low on the national educational agenda at the moment.  And yet, I would argue that Britain is in danger of sleepwalking into an employability crisis, as many educators continue to turn a deaf ear to the research and the warning signs highlighting a comparative skills gap for our graduates that will materially harm their employment prospects in the coming years.  We are in danger of nurturing a generation of global consumers who are incapable of flourishing as global citizens, earners and opinion-formers.

The figures are eloquent – and concerning. Only a third of Britons report that they are able to hold a conversation in another language. A 2016 review of language teaching in English secondary schools found that a mere 34 per cent of pupils obtain a good GCSE in a foreign language, and less than five per cent do so in more than one language.  As language learning in schools and universities continues to shrink – with French and German A Level declining by 17% and 12% respectively in the past six years, for example,  it looks unlikely that the situation will improve for the next generation.

Many people seem to be assuming that the problem will decline after Brexit.  After all, they say, many of our trading partners are Anglophone (such as, the USA) and (American) English is the lingua franca of the global economy.  This overlooks the reality that post-Brexit Britain will inevitably turn more outwards towards non-European markets and, hence, into more difficult territories for business in countries, such as Russia and China, where the linguistic scales are even more drastically balanced against monolingual Britons than in European countries.

Professor Bianco of the University of Melbourne’s Faculty of Language and Literacy Education has put it in a nutshell: There are two disadvantages in global language arrangements: one of them is not knowing English; and the other one of them is knowing only English.

We must not rely on the fact of the first (a reality which many, many young people in non-Anglophone countries are working hard to address) to ignore the truth of the second.  Nor does this mean radically reorientating language-learning in the UK away from European languages towards Russian or Mandarin, say, a suggestion which may well leave policy-makers in education and head teachers shrugging their shoulders in impotent despair. Language-learning is about more than mastering a single language.  It is about mastering the skills for language acquisition, which can be transferred to other languages in the future.  No surprise, then, that French, German and Spanish remain in the top five languages recommended by the British Council as threshold languages for study.

It is also, and crucially, about developing the cultural awareness that opens the way for a more sophisticated understanding of other ways of doing things.  This, in itself, is a vital transferable skill, which is indispensable in international business negotiations.  It should be part of the armoury of any ambitious professional leaving education today.

With 39% of employers surveyed in 2017 expressing dissatisfaction with the global cultural awareness of UK graduates (up by 9% in just one year), the imperative facing responsible school leaders is clear.  Making the study of a Foreign Language to GCSE level as part of the core curriculum should be an absolute minimum and internationalism must be a golden thread woven through school life.

What does this look like in practice?  At the High School, for example, language exchanges, a compulsory residential in Year 8 to Normandy, cultural visits every year to a rich selection of destinations (recently Berlin and Granada), a thriving eTwinning programme and an exciting Erasmus + project, collaborating with schools in Germany, Hungary, Latvia and Portugal, provide a myriad opportunities for girls to develop a global perspective.  Last Tuesday, we hosted the European Universities Consortium for a workshop on European degree applications to feed the growing curiosity among our students about overseas study.

Whatever Brexit brings, we know that the future for our students is unlikely to be defined by the lines of national borders.  That is why igniting the fires of interest in language-learning and internationalism at school is as important as stoking the flames of STEM.

Sources:

https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/which-foreign-languages-will-be-most-important-uk-post-brexit

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/nov/06/the-cost-of-britons-failure-to-learn-foreign-languages

https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/Born%20Global_Summary%20of%20Interim%20Findings%2017%20Oct%202014.pdf

 

 

30
Nov

Celebrating achievement in an unpredictable world

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence” –  Helen Keller

 Our annual Events and Achievements celebration, held earlier this month, is without question the single event that best sums up Northampton High School’s ethos and philosophy for me. This is partly because it is designed to fulfil that role, although my perception of why it performs the function so well is broader and more personal. As the event draws nearer each year I am filled with a sense of apprehension and pride, because I know that I will be called on again to list the glittering achievements of so many students. A privilege and also a serious responsibility in anyone’s book. The achievements are extensive and varied, from academic awards to ballet grades, but perhaps the most notable are those we celebrate with the students who left us in the summer and are now busy starting the next stage of their journeys through life. Into higher education, apprenticeships or travelling, but above all into adulthood.

What does our awards ceremony mean then, if it is adequately to do justice to the young people whose lives have been channelled through the school? This is not an easy question to answer, because the breadth of achievement in schools is arguably only matched by the range of human endeavour in the world at large. However, I think that Helen Keller’s words go some way to explaining why this particular event means so much to the students receiving prizes, as well as to the wider community of the school.

Some might say that young people in the UK have little reason to be optimistic. Looking towards an erratic and changing workplace, students are naturally concerned – more so now perhaps than ever before. The vast majority of people under 25 did not want to leave the EU, with over 80% saying they would vote to remain in any future referendum, according to research by Survation. Their freedom to find work has without doubt been affected by Brexit, indeed, according to Ernst & Young, 34% of companies monitored have ‘publicly confirmed [..] to move some of their operations and/or staff from the UK to Europe’.

Yet the catalogue of destinations and courses our Sixth Form leavers have chosen, and the sheer range of prizes given for academic, musical and artistic achievement, tell another story altogether. One of optimism of the purest kind. There is opportunity for those who know how to find it and success will increasingly be defined by how well people are able to match their skills to the changing needs of employers. Striving for new and better achievements throughout life at school feeds the fire of ambition, encouraging flexibility and developing pools of resilience when things do not quite go as planned.

Success at Northampton High is not simply defined by elite performances. We reward pupils for serious academic progress as well as those who have achieved the highest results. Furthermore, our prizes for contributions to school life and to the wider community are given the same priority as those for students winning gold awards in national scientific and mathematical competitions. Beyond the actual awards in our ceremony, however, it was the recent Sixth Form Academic Scholarship that confirmed to me the confidence inherent in our students. This year well over half of Upper Fifth students entered the competition, in spite of the limited number of awards on offer. This shows huge self-belief and the realisation that there is much to be gained from the experience itself – an opportunity to give of one’s best and to learn about responding to pressure.

Helen Keller was right. Through hope, confidence and optimism, our students consistently come up with amazing achievements, no matter how uncertain our world may be.

Mr Rickman, Deputy Head Academic

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-45098550

https://readyforbrexit.co.uk/the-list-of-companies-setting-up-hqs-or-bases-on-mainland-europe-ahead-of-brexit-grows/

19
Oct

University life

There was an interesting  synchronicity to my spending the day on Wednesday of last week (National Mental Health Awareness Day) at Bristol University at a meeting of the HMC/GSA Universities Committee.   Undergraduate mental health was right at the top of our agenda, on the back of research which showed that  the suicide rate among UK students has risen by 56% in the ten years to 2016 and a recent report that there were 95 suicides in English universities in the twelve months to July 2017.

These worrying statistics have given rise to calls among some educationalists to redefine the start of full adulthood in the UK from 18 to 21, thereby giving parents a greater say in the lives of their children through higher education.  In practice, some moves in this direction are already being seen ‘on the ground.’  Bristol, which has faced adverse press coverage in the recent past on this topic, now invites students to opt into a system, which allows the university to initiate contact with parents if there are concerns about a student’s mental well-being.

The proposal to change radically the definition of adulthood has to be seen in the context of a much larger and very confusing picture.  Just think of the many anomalies in the status quo.  On the one hand, the law has relatively little to say, for example, concerning the corrosive effects of permissive immersion in social media among children far younger than 18.  On the other, 18-year-olds are sent to fight (and possibly die) for their country and, if employed, are made to pay taxes.  A broader public debate on the correct thresholds between childhood, adolescence and adulthood is greatly overdue.

In the meantime, as the Universities Committee recognised, schools play a very large part in preventing crises developing when students go to university, both in the application process itself and in the broader guidance offered.  Prompted by the debates held around that table in Bristol, I offer here a few reflections on what we do at the High School to prepare our students for university life.

First and foremost, we offer tailored application advice and this is essential to ensure that students end up on the right course at the right place for them.   Bristol’s Pro-Vice Chancellor observed how often, in her experience, mental health problems occurred when students were there ‘for the wrong reasons.’  Knowing our students really well is key to this and negotiating the labyrinth of choices is best done with teachers and tutors who know the girls, have seen where they have come from and understand their capabilities and interests.

Besides this, helping students develop a versatile toolkit to help them cope with the pressures and setbacks of university life is a vital ingredient in an excellent Sixth Form programme.  In reality, at the High School, it begins long before Y12 and has many dimensions to it, ranging from the personal and psychological to the purely practical, via the social and sexual:

– gaining self-knowledge through tutorial, coaching and mentoring programmes

– learning how to make good decisions when making important choices

– mastering basic cooking and budgeting skills

– practising networking in a social gathering

– understanding the laws about consent and coercion

– building the confidence to negotiate ambiguous or potentially threatening social situations.

Finally, the emotional element is huge.  And this, above all, is about managing expectations.  Experience has taught me, for example, to avoid telling students that my university days were the best of my life.  Not because they were not (they were not) – but because I have come to think that it is unhelpful to them.  Hearing this from the adults in their life puts a terrific pressure on them to find university life wonderful from day one – a recipe for disillusionment and self-doubt.  Actually, the first few weeks of university can be disorientating and lonely.  Not everyone finds herself living in a scene from ‘Brideshead Revisited’ in Freshers’ Week.  Equally, the later weeks (and months and years) can be quite challenging, at least at times.  This does not mean that the whole experience will not be immeasurably valuable in shaping her as a person, extending her sphere of understanding and expanding her horizons.

Talk of finding one’s passion, ubiquitous in education, can lead students to feel as though there is something wrong with them if they haven’t been transported onto a higher emotional plane by a subject by the time they are 17.  Reassuring them that they can (and will) have fulfilling lives at university and beyond without the need for a daily diet of ‘peak experiences’ but simply by spending time with people they like studying something they find interesting may be the best encouragement we can give as they prepare to press ‘send’ on those UCAS forms.

Source:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/04/12/universities-have-suicide-problem-students-taking-lives-overtakes/

 

 

 

16
Oct

Autumn reading at Northampton High School

With the temperature dropping and the leaves beginning to turn autumn has now well and truly arrived. The glorious summer we enjoyed is now an increasingly distant memory along with summer reading, which always seems to have a lighter feel. One of the good things about the change in season are the opportunities to curl up with a good book. Our new U3s have been in school for over a month now and are well into their reading lessons with Mr Viesel; the year 6 girls who visit the Senior Library on a weekly basis with Mrs Fordham are also very much enjoying their reading. One factor the girls mostly have in common is their love of the Murder Most Unladylike series by Robin Stevens, we all enjoy pouncing on the next book in a favourite series. Part of our job in school is to encourage the girls to read a variety of authors (feeding directly into achievement at GCSE) and the publishing world offers a fantastic range of choices.

Helena Duggan’s first book A Place Called Perfect is a favourite with the year 6 and 7 girls at the moment. A mixture of fantasy and adventure, the story revolves around Violet who moves to Perfect with her parents but soon begins to hate living there. It’s too clean, the people are too friendly and too nice. Violet begins to question things. Why does everyone have to wear special glasses to stop them going blind? What are the strange noises in the night? And why is Mum acting so weird? The second title in the series, The Trouble with Perfect, has recently been published.

Ross Welford, TV producer turned author, has become very popular in school over a short period of time. His latest title The 1,000 Year Old Boy is the story of Alfie Monk, who can remember the last Viking invasion, though of course no one would believe him if they knew. This is not a story about wanting to live forever but about a boy who would like to stop, which means finding a way to make sure he will eventually die…Time Travelling with a Hamster (about the dangers of time travel; ideal for Dr Who fans) and What Not to Do If You turn Invisible (being invisible sounds fun, but only if you can become visible again) are also popular titles in the Library, well-written and very entertaining!

Onjali Q. Raúf is a new author to the Library at NHS, founder and CEO of Making Herstory, an organization which works to end the abuse and trafficking of women and girls.

Told with heart and humour, The Boy at the Back of the Class is a child’s perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense.Told with heart and humour, The Boy at the Back of the Class is a child’s perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense.Told with heart and humour, The Boy at the Back of the Class is a child’s perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense.Told with heart and humour, The Boy at the Back of the Class is a child’s perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense.Told with heart and humour, The Boy at the Back of the Class is a child’s perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense.

There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it. He’s nine years old (just like me), but he’s very strange. He never talks and never smiles and doesn’t like sweets – not even lemon sherbets, which are my favourite! But then I learned the truth: Ahmet really isn’t very strange at all. He’s a refugee who’s run away from a War. A real one. With bombs and fires and bullies that hurt people. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to help. That’s where my best friends Josie, Michael and Tom come in. Because you see, together we’ve come up with a plan.” www.waterstones.com

Recently published and sure to be under many a Christmas tree is The Restless Girls written by Jessie Burton and beautifully illustrated by Angela Barrett. Based on “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” by the Brothers Grimm, The Restless Girls has been updated for the 21st century. When their mother, the Queen dies, the princesses’ father decides to keep his daughters safe at all costs, a price which includes their lessons, possessions and most importantly their freedom. The eldest daughter, Princess Frida, has a strong will and imagination; together with her sisters they fight for the right to live! There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it.

Another potential Christmas stocking filler is Doctor Who: The women who lived. Meet the women who run the Whoniverse.

“From Sarah Jane Smith to Bill Potts, from Susan Foreman to the Thirteenth Doctor, women are the beating heart of Doctor Who. Whether they’re facing down Daleks or thwarting a Nestene invasion, these women don’t hang around waiting to be rescued – they roll their sleeves up and get stuck in.

Scientists and soldiers, queens and canteen workers, they don’t let anything hold them back. Featuring historical women such as Agatha Christie and Queen Victoria alongside fan favourites like Rose Tyler and Missy, The Women Who Lived tells the stories of women throughout space and time.

Beautifully illustrated by a team of all-female artists, this collection of inspirational tales celebrates the power of women to change the universe.” www.waterstones.com

And finally, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Set during the American Civil War, the story of the four March sisters, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, has an enduring popularity. Poor from a monetary point of view the sisters have lives rich in love, colour and kindness whilst learning from their mistakes and disappointments. The perfect autumn read.

He’s nine years old (just like me), but he’s very strange. He never talks and never smiles and doesn’t like sweets – not even lemon sherbets, which are my favourite!

But then I learned the truth: Ahmet really isn’t very strange at all. He’s a refugee who’s run away from a War. A real one. With bombs and fires and bullies that hurt people. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to help.

That’s where my best friends Josie, Michael and Tom come in. Because you see, together we’ve come up with a plan. . .

With beautiful illustrations by Pippa Curnick

Told with heart and humour, The Boy at the Back of the Class is a child’s perspective on the refugee crisis, highlighting the importance of friendship and kindness in a world that doesn’t always make sense.

There used to be an empty chair at the back of my class, but now a new boy called Ahmet is sitting in it.

He’s nine years old (just like me), but he’s very strange. He never talks and never smiles and doesn’t like sweets – not even lemon sherbets, which are my favourite!

But then I learned the truth: Ahmet really isn’t very strange at all. He’s a refugee who’s run away from a War. A real one. With bombs and fires and bullies that hurt people. And the more I find out about him, the more I want to help.

That’s where my best friends Josie, Michael and Tom come in. Because you see, together we’ve come up with a plan. . .

With beautiful illustrations by Pippa Curnick

Then Violet starts to question other things… Like why does everyone have to wear special glasses to stop them going blind? What are the strange noises in the night and why is Mum acting so weird

Miss Buxton, School Librarian