Awards Evening 2019
This week we had the pleasure of coming together to celebrate the academic year 2018-2019, to recognise and applaud the achievements of our students and to thank all those who had contributed to making the three terms so successful.
The theme of the evening was ‘Fearless Individuality’ and, although we rightly mentioned the excellent headline examination figures of 59% A*-A grades at GCSE and 70% A*-B at A-Level, the focus was very much on the stories of the individuals – on the risks that they had taken, the hurdles that they had overcome and of the opportunities that they had been given along the way.
Our guest speaker was Sasha Roseneil, Professor of Interdisciplinary Social Science and Dean of the Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences at UCL. As a High School alumna, she was able to take us on a journey from Derngate to London via Yorkshire and Essex as she spoke about her ‘Places of Learning’. In an entertaining and informative speech that touched students and visitors alike, Sasha outlined her academic and professional journey, discussed memories of school, and – picking up on the theme of the evening – spoke of her own relative strengths and weaknesses, her interests and passions and of the unexpected events that have made her the person that she is today.
Being an individual – especially in one’s teenage years – can take real courage, but we pride ourselves in knowing and valuing each of our girls and they are encouraged to take risks, to trust in and develop their own skills and character and to avail themselves of the myriad opportunities on offer. These include extracurricular offerings, with sessions as diverse as Debating Club, Ukelele Group, Language Leaders, Femsoc, Cafe Sci, Yoga and the Sewing Bee, and volunteering opportunities, including the Big Bear Little Bear and Big Sister Little Sister mentoring schemes. Girls have the opportunity, too, to provide academic support as Language Leaders or Number Partners and to be involved in outreach work as Young Philanthropy Ambassadors or Community Sports Leaders.
Opportunities for personal and intellectual growth in the classroom are a given at the High School,
and the Awards Evening is a perfect opportunity to appreciate this as girls receive recognition for their public examination results, scholarship, and academic excellence and achievement. This year, we also celebrated the individual successes of a student who won a gold medal and a trip to a prestigious award ceremony in the Biology Olympiad and another who won a much-coveted place at the Newnham College Summer School for Mathematics in Cambridge. We considered, too, the two students who were selected for the English Schools Athletics Competition at Alexandra Stadium, the girl who won gold at the World Para Swimming European Championships and the former pupil who was nominated by the British Film Industry as one of 2019’s ‘faces to watch’.
Personal growth is not simply about solo recognition, though, and all of our students – including those mentioned above – understand the importance of bringing their peculiar skills and character to a group or team setting. The ability to think creatively and to work collaboratively are deemed as essential skills for future employment and lifelong learning and girls are encouraged in these, and in appreciating the value that they can add to a group.
Not surprisingly, therefore, there have been numerous opportunities to work as a group over the past year and we remembered in particular the trips to the University of Leicester for a Brain Awareness Day, Warwick University to track exotic particles using real data from CERN and the Victoria & Albert Museum for the ‘Dior Designer of Dreams’ exhibition. Longer excursions, too, including outward bounds courses, Duke of Edinburgh hikes, the World Challenge expedition to Cambodia and other overseas tours, including language exchanges. A particular highlight here was the Erasmus+ project, which involved four other European Schools and had a focus on creativity and digital competency. We are delighted and honoured to be holding the grand finale of this here in Northampton in the spring.
Group achievements include the Young Enterprise company who won the award for the best customer service and best teamwork at the county final and there was a plethora of team successes, especially in sport. The U16 badminton team represented Northamptonshire in the regional finals, where they were runners-up, and the U16 Netball team reached the national finals, finishing an astonishing 12th in the country. Meanwhile, the U13 and U15 hockey teams were once again division champions, the U13 swimming team repeated their success in qualifying for the IAPS National Finals and the equestrian team won a place at the prestigious national finals at Hickstead.
Considering the team that was the staff, student and parent body of 2018-2019, it was impossible not to mention the whole-school celebrations and achievements, including sports days, the Gym and Dance Extravaganza, the production of CATS the Musical and the hosting of BBC’s Question Time. For many, however, the 140th Birthday Gala Concert at All Saints’ Church was unforgettable. This event marked the culmination of a year of celebration and brought the whole High School community – both past and present – together. Professor Roseneil spoke of her memories of the centenary celebrations when she was a High School pupil, yet she delighted in her ex-form tutor and language teacher being present for her Awards Evening speech this week. She will be back at least once a year, to give of her time and expertise and to remember and absorb the very special atmosphere that is Northampton High School. Others will return, too, as they always do, and we will continue to celebrate the individuals who constitute our unique community.
Climate Change Is A Gender Issue Too!
Whilst we are becoming much more aware of the likely impacts of our changing climate we tend to think of the impacts varying according to wealth, but UN research indicates that, particularly in developing countries with traditionally defined gender roles, climate change impacts most on women. Women in general are disproportionately affected by climate change as they rely more on natural resources (i.e. water, food and fuel for cooking and heating), whilst at the same time being restricted in terms of their access to natural resources and decision making. For example in developing countries women are generally responsible for collecting water to meet domestic needs, a task which is becoming more difficult and time consuming for women / girls as supplies of water become more limited and they need to search further afield; this can have a negative impact on the education of girls as they may need to miss school to complete this domestic work.
Climate change is predicted to increase the amount of natural disasters, such as flooding and drought. In countries like the Philippines and Bangladesh women make up a disproportionate number of the casualties from flooding events, in part because they are less likely to know how to swim, but also because women are less well informed about impending flood warnings and shelter information (despite their common role as caregivers to children and elderly relatives). The proportion of women and children displaced by natural disasters is disproportionately high at 75%. Also disaster relief efforts often focus on men’s needs, for example following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami assistance was made available to replace fishing boats used by the men, but relatively little support was made available to replace the fish processing tools used by women.
This is not to say of course that climate change only affects women, with a specific impact of increasing drought in parts of India to lead to higher suicide rates due to difficulties in making a living from the land. Gender also continues to play a part in the different impacts within developed nations, with a study in the USA showing a 98% increase in physical victimization of women following Hurricane Katrina (domestic violence often rises following a disaster through a combination of post traumatic stress and the strains placed on families living in temporary accommodation with reduced privacy).
In recognition of the importance of gender within the impacts of climate change the United Nations has explicitly incorporated gender actions within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; the 2015 Paris Agreement explicitly refers to the empowerment of women, as well as intergenerational equity, in tackling climate change. There are already many example of projects funded by the United Nations to help communities adapt:-
- In Mali solar energy technology has been made available in rural communities to help women to grind flour more quickly (a process vital for meal preparation but very time intensive traditionally); this has freed up time for women to pursue alternative activities to generate income.
- In the hillside El Augustino district of Lima, Peru a group of 100 women have replanted 18000 square metres of land with Tara trees (a small, leguminous plant). Not only do these plants benefit the community through their medicinal properties in treating fevers and stomach problems but also the dense root systems help to hold the soil together, thus protecting communities from the increased landslide risk caused by more intense rainfall events.
Head of Humanities
Digacy – an integrated approach to digital literacy
We often think of education in terms of numeracy and literacy, but digital literacy has a vital role as well, which is why we have set up the ‘Digacy’ programme at Northampton High. Through Digacy, we aim to bring together the various strands of digital learning to ensure that our students have a healthy and holistic understanding of their digital personas and are ready for the changing world of work, where excellent digital skills are taken for granted.
There is a temptation to see digital learning through the lens of computer science, or IT functions like spreadsheets and databases, or even simply in terms of digital devices themselves. However, we cannot afford to compartmentalise in this way in a world where technology impacts on nearly everything we do. Digacy, therefore, is not a lesson that pupils go to like Maths, Languages or Computing. Rather it is witnessed throughout the curriculum in areas like science, humanities, the arts and sport. We believe that no matter what students are aiming for individually, we have a responsibility to ensure we are scattering their paths with digital ‘nuggets’ alongside the subject-specific skills they require.
Beyond learning linked to the ‘traditional’ curriculum areas mentioned above, Digacy also aims to support teachers and students as they engage with some of the more intangible aspects of the changing digital world. Online awareness and safety concerns weigh on parents and carers’ minds and questions about social media, screen time and emotional wellbeing are common at events we hold at school. There is no easy answer to these problems, but with a focused approach under the umbrella of Digacy, we can ensure that no stone is left unturned in our preparations.
We have built the Digacy programme around the Digital Competence Framework (link below) to cover the following four main areas:
- Citizenship – identity, wellbeing, online safety, digital rights;
- Interaction and collaboration – sharing, showcasing experience;
- Creation – coding, presenting, setting up websites, researching, evaluating;
- Data and computational thinking – critical thinking, how data and information link in the digital world.
Through the concepts above, Digacy is seen in both the academic curriculum and in cocurricular areas, such as PSHE and our bespoke Transferrable Skills lessons in Years 7 and 8. In addition, we have pupil digital leaders in both junior and senior schools, looking at practical approaches to highlight online safety issues, in partnership with teachers.
As a unifying element, we have introduced an eportfolio programme to all year groups from Year 6 onward. The eportfolio is effectively a personal website designed and curated by the pupils, showcasing the best and most representative examples of their learning journeys. It also allows them to track their progress through the Digacy programme via an online log and is linked to pupils’ personal pages on our VLE, firefly. At the heart of the eportfolio is a belief that harnessing the power of technology will enable students to enhance their wider lives. By actively managing their digital footprints in this way, we believe they are better placed to avoid some of the negative issues associated with social media, as well as developing a ‘Brand Me’ awareness and website building skills that showcase their interests and aptitudes for future professional audiences.
We believe this integrated approach to technology in learning through the Digacy programme will be an important tool to help our students come to a 360-degree understanding of themselves, their ideals and ambitions.
Lost words, lost worlds
Do you think that things need a name in order to exist in our minds?
This was the question I posed to the senior girls in Assembly last week. Many philosophers would argue that things for which we have no name do not exist as fully in our minds as things that have a name.
‘What’s in a name?’ says Shakespeare’s Juliet
But the fact that she is called Capulet and he is a Montague makes all the difference in the world to this couple, and seals their fate.
‘That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet’ she adds.
But when planting my garden, I need the word rose. More, I need the name of the rose – the taxonomy of roses, no less.
If you lose the word, then, you lose the world of which it is a part.
Seven years ago, a big thing happened in the naming industry of this country, when OUP published a new Junior Dictionary. To make space for newly-emerging words – analogue, broadband, chatroom – the publishers removed words which they thought had fallen into disuse, including acorn, buttercup and conker.
A furore followed; not because the technology-related words were seen as bad but because many people felt that losing the nature-orientated words would mean that the link between the future generation and the natural world would be lost.
In fact, many people believe that the link has been lost already and that the natural world has become a lost world to the young. For example, Tanya Byron’s influential report ten years ago concluded that the radius of activity outdoors for children had declined by almost 90% in a generation. The term ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ – coined by Richard Louv, in 2005 – has now been widely taken up to describe the detrimental effects, on physical and mental health, of children’s disengagement from nature. Louv defines it thus,
‘Nature Deficit Disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses’
The stats paint a concerning picture – with a third of under-16s being overweight or actually obese and an ‘epidemic of mental illness’ afflicting the young (leading to around 35,000 children in England being prescribed anti-depressants). In response, many organisations and individuals have sought to re-engage children with the Great Outdoors. The National Trust’s ’50 things to do before you are 11 ¾ ’ programme aims to ignite a love of nature in children before they reach the age when it is too late while an illustrated book of poems, entitled ‘The Lost Words,’ has taken the literary world by storm, scooping the Kate Greenaway Award and inspiring a campaign across Scotland to get a copy placed in every primary school nationwide.
Schools are, of course, crucial to the success of this endeavour. At a time when many are struggling to hold onto their green spaces, as a result of funding pressures, and other agendas are vying for attention, we are fortunate at the High School to enjoy superb resources, physical and human, for outdoor learning and can make good on the promise to keep the words and the worlds of nature alive and vivid for our students.
Forest School, led by Mrs Waters, is a brilliant starting point. Much more than an outdoor education programme, it is a fully integrated and structured programme of activities, underpinned by research and risk assessment, and combining elements of bushcraft, skills-building, environmental awareness, character education and personal well-being. Beyond that, in junior school, flower beds and vegetable patches, mud kitchens and bug hotels, sensory beds and sandpits, bird feeders and barometers present endless possibilities for exploration. For the seniors, the tranquil gardens of Cripps Courtyard provide a sunny haven in summer and an arena for snowballing in winter while Derngate Courtyard hosts intriguing biology experiments and offers shady nooks. By the time they are 11 ¾ our girls have enjoyed yearly residentials focused on outdoor learning and have cut their teeth on the Confidence and Challenge Programme amid the splendours of Snowdonia and the Carding Mill Valley.
This week the U4s have been in Cumbria, braving the elements and drinking in the fabulous scenery on Outward Bound. The calendar says summer but the barometer says monsoon. No matter – our motto remains ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing!’ Before the year is through, we shall have seen L5 and U5 through D of E Bronze and Silver expeditions while groups of our most adventurous seniors will have had an encounter with the wonders of Zanzibar, Thailand and Cambodia.
In these, and countless other ways, the High School ethos and experience encourage girls to embrace citizenship of the natural world and to gain fluency in the words of its language. The rewards are rich indeed – and will last a lifetime.
Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris ‘The Lost Words’