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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

13
Sep

The power of the network behind Northampton High School

It is always exciting to see your name in lights and on Sunday 2 September that was what happened, metaphorically at least, as the Girls’ Day School Trust’s new national ad campaign shone a spotlight on its 25 schools, 20,000 students and 8,000 staff (with particular help from our own Chelsea Hikwa, one of the featured personalities).

This has set me thinking about the role the Trust plays at the High School – a role which is perhaps larger than we realise when we take into account all that goes on ‘behind the scenes’.  At the opening of a new academic year, with all its energy and promise, I can think of no better way to start than by describing that broad, bold backdrop to school life.

In an age where trusts of all kinds (multi-academy trusts or MATs, say) are commonplace in education, it is easy to forget how special the GDST is as a Trust among trusts. First and foremost it is far older than most, with a much longer and more distinguished track record.  Founded in 1872, at the very dawn of girls’ education in this country, it has played an integral part in the proud struggle to achieve education for girls on the same basis as for boys.

Second, is the ambition and inclusiveness of its mission.  From its inception, the Trust has sought to provide ‘education in the true sense of the word’ for all its pupils, rather than narrow training, and to ensure ‘first-rate teaching for all’ regardless of background.  This was a groundbreaking vision in Victorian society, with its rigid class system, and continues to be a relevant manifesto for our own day.  Another way of putting it would be ‘girls learn without limits.’

What does all this mean in practice for us in Northampton?

For our girls, it means extended opportunities during their school career in every facet of life – sports rallies and scholarships, competitions and conferences, placements and performance platforms.   The menu of events grows year by year.   Last year, for example, our keenest Y6 mathematicians enjoyed a conference at Oxford University while budding cricketers benefited from elite coaching from a national player and coach.

The power of the network also extends far beyond the school gate, with the largest Alum organisation in the UK standing behind our leavers as they stride out into higher education and the world of work.  University groups provide friendly support, from Freshers’ Week to graduation, while professional contacts offer a helping hand or a wise word of advice at crucial points on the professional journey.

For staff, the GDST offers access to a central training and professional development programme that is second to none – from subject-specific workshops to bespoke leadership training courses and everything in between.  We can draw on the services of experts at HQ in legal affairs, finance, health and safety and IT as well as educational matters and plug into the support of a network of fellow professionals, united by a common purpose, eager to share their skills and experiences.  The support I gain from the other Heads in the Trust – always just an email or ‘phone call away – is simply priceless and my colleagues each have their equivalent circles to call upon.

And for parents?  Because the GDST is more than the sum of its parts, each of its schools can ‘punch above its weight’.  As a charity, with Trustees but no shareholders, it can commit every penny of its income to the development of its schools.  Providing very good value for money has always been a major part of its mission and excellent stewardship remains a top priority.

This is a reassurance that parents prize greatly.  Some of the benefits are easy to see, such as the major refurbishment project for our swimming pool completed over the summer and the Inspire East conference for our 6.1s in Cambridge last Friday.  Others are less tangible but equally important.  The relative attractiveness of Trust schools as employers and training bases means they draw the highest calibre staff, which matters greatly at a time of a national recruitment crisis in education.  Access to the highest echelons of educational expertise and debate not just nationally (for example, the Annual Summit) but internationally, such as the Global Forum for Girls’ Education in Washington DC I recently had the privilege of attending as part of a GDST delegation, ensures that we keep abreast of new thinking and help to shape the broader educational debate.

Shouting from the rooftops has never been our style – we are always too busy focusing on putting the girls first.  However, this national campaign reminds us that we are stronger together,   it raises the curtain on all that we achieve together in the unique GDST community.

.

 

06
Jul

Are the arts in trouble? Not if we take a 360 degree perspective

The apparent decline of the arts subjects in many schools across the country appears to be an unintended consequence of the coalition government’s decision to champion a more overtly academic regime, with its related reforms to the exam system. With hindsight, this decline does not seem so remarkable, perhaps, particularly in the light of the dissolution of local authority control in favour of independent academies and multi-academy trusts, and the consequent loss of long-established networks of advisory specialists.  Furthermore, according to a new report funded by the Nuffield Foundation, faced with the inspectorate’s (Ofsted’s) focus on national test outcomes as the key measure of school success, headteachers have been forced to react restrictively to avoid the disastrous impacts that failure on these metrics can have on pupil and staff recruitment, as well as the wider reputation of their schools (1).

The narrowing of the curriculum that has been the result of all this has only relatively recently been recognised as a potentially damaging trend in economic terms. The creative industries contribute in excess of £90bn to our GDP and account for 1 in 11 jobs. These numbers have been rising at a rate faster than all other parts of the economy in the recent past, reliant to a large extent on immigrant talent attracted to our creative hubs. However, the danger that a large gap in the supply chain for future employees in these industries might emerge following Brexit is now very real, according to John Kampfner, CEO of the Creative industries federation, with ‘17 defined skills shortages in areas such as animation and special effects’ (2).

As with other independent schools, at Northampton High we have the freedom to consider developments in national education policy through the lens of our own philosophy and educational beliefs. This gives us the option of only gathering up innovations when we think they are beneficial and channeling our approach to structural changes, so that we can focus on the learning experience and help our students to find their own paths without having to compromise the breadth and balance of the choices they can make. We know that this leads to our Sixth Form students leaving us to go on to a striking range of futures beyond the purely academic or scientific, large numbers of them specifically arts related and many more very closely allied.

As befits our aim of helping our pupils come to a 360-degree understanding of what drives and inspires them, we place the arts squarely at the heart of school life and we encourage them to weave a path in and around the more traditionally academic subjects. Hence art, literature, film, music, food, textiles, dance and drama all feature in the day to day lives of the girls, both in curriculum time and in the wider life of the school. To mention but a very few examples from the last 12 months, this has been seen in our work with both an artist and director in residence, a link with the National Leather Collection, national awards for film, textiles and food collaborations with junior school girls, a dance and gymnastics celebration evening and extensive partnerships with humanities, science, maths and arts subjects across the school, including a STEAM extravaganza last month.

Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention our stunning annual Arts Festival which this year was bigger than ever, in honour of our 140th birthday, including 3 invited authors to suit all age groups (and parents!), a recital of music performances from girls aged 7 to 18 and arguably the most technically accomplished musical ever produced by the school, the Sound of Music. To finish off a fabulous year for the arts, we are refurbishing our Music department over the summer with the theme of female icons in music, practice rooms no longer being known as room 1 or 2, but by the name of an artist or composer, such as Beyoncé or Clara Schumann.

Needless to say, while the arts are flourishing at Northampton High and at other schools like ours, we cannot do it all. I sincerely hope that the wake-up call to government does not come too late to avoid our national influence in this vital sector being reduced beyond all recognition.

  1. Toby Greany and Rob Higham, UCL Institute of Education. Hierarchy, Markets, and Networks: analysing the self-improving school-led system agenda in England and the implications for leadership, Nuffield Foundation and IOE Press, July 2018
  2. John Kampfner. Creative industries are key to UK economy, the Guardian, January 2017

Mr Rickman, Deputy Head Academic