The Teenager and the Internet
The title of my blog this week might suggest notions of fairytale or fable, much like ‘The Princess and the Pea’, or ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. Not entirely inappropriate as it happens, although this is more of a cautionary tale than a fluffy bedtime story.
There is no question that the internet is a fabulous tool available to us all, and I cannot imagine a world without it now. Even as I write this, I am connected to the Cloud via Google and, rather embarrassingly, I just used a search engine to find appropriate fairytale titles as it has been a while since I had bedtime stories myself! So, we can probably all agree that modern life is fairly dependent on the internet and, on the whole, has made our lives more efficient, and significantly easier. However, as with all powerful tools, a certain amount of caution must be advised when using, and certainly for younger users, there are a myriad of challenges to overcome along the way.
In my role as part of the pastoral team, I am regularly sent links to things online which warn of the dangers of the internet for teenagers and invariably, they lead to worrying stories of image or video sharing, usually explicit and often with a sinister undertone of predatory behaviour. Much of the conversation around online ‘peril’ focuses on images, video and social media, and they are certainly issues to be aware of.
On Monday this week, we welcomed Tanya Goodin into school to address our Year 9 and 10 students and to discuss these matters further with our parents. The talk was fascinating and a really poignant reminder of the side effects of too much screen use. She discussed, at length, the negative impacts of social media on mental health, particularly for teenage girls. She alluded to the research conducted by the GDST in 2017, where it was found that over 60% of students said they wished social media had never been invented, and yet they feel compelled to use it on a daily basis for fear of missing out.
Social media might well be the biggest concern for many parents out there. Who is your child conversing with and what are they conversing about? Are they receiving unsolicited images or unkind messages? Or perhaps, are they the ones sending the messages? Either way, the implications for all concerned in these exchanges are serious ones. For the sender, the message or image or video is now out there and out of their control. The potential for resharing, grabbing a screenshot or retrieving deleted data is unlimited. Even for messaging sites that claim their content is automatically deleted after a set time period. Essentially, once that send or upload button has been pressed, there is no going back. The permanence of their actions in sending or uploading content is something that young children and teenagers forget time and time again. Equally alarmingly for the receiver of messages, not only may they be potentially harmful to them as an individual, but they may suddenly be at risk of owning inappropriate or illegal content, regardless of whether they asked for it or not.
More recently though, another challenge has become more prevalent for the teenage target audience. Online fan fiction and literature, where anyone can write and upload content to blog sites, online discussion groups and tumblr.com, to name just a few, are becoming areas of the internet that conceal multiple dangers. Much of this is harmless and fairly innocent, providing a good opportunity for budding literaries and authors alike. However, there are multiple examples of where the content of these sites is not age appropriate and in some more concerning examples, it is wildly unsuitable in that it describes illegal and profoundly harmful practices, to put it euphemistically. These range from sexually explicit to self-harm and suicide, everything in between, and to be frank, a combination of the two in some instances.
So what are our children and teens reading at bedtime? Is it appropriate or is it potentially harmful? What are they downloading, and what are they uploading? These are questions we need to be asking and discussions that we need to be opening up at home. These concepts are introduced to all our students through the PSHE programme at the High School and they are revisited across each year group. However, it is an easy thing to forget when you think you are anonymous. The key thing to remember here is that when you are online, you are never really anonymous.
The internet and all its applications is a very powerful tool and this week’s slightly negative approach is more of a cautionary message than a message of total despair. However, I do think that further conversations around managing online activity will be invaluable for our students as individuals and as a community. In conversation with someone last week, the phrase, “Oh they just need to get on with it and be mature in their approach to social media”, was used. In one sense, yes they do, but would you hand your teenager the keys to your car and tell them to work it out and just be sensible? Guidance is necessary in many things and I believe that navigating social media is more difficult than people imagine it to be.
Ongoing work in school on this subject area will continue across all year groups, but please do open up a dialogue with us if you are at all concerned about how best to support your daughter in an online world. We will continue to share useful information about online safety, but to get us started, I have included a here sheet on what parents need to know about group chats online. I hope it helps!
Miss Rebecca Kneen
Assistant Head – Pastoral
The ‘High School approach’ wheel – A holistic overview of education at Northampton High School
In our school crest the rose represents the pupils, who are, naturally, at the heart of our educational approach. We recognise that school days are precious and fleeting, and our golden opportunity to shape the future. Our imperative is to get to know the children in front of us today and to help them achieve their ambitions for tomorrow. This means pupils have to understand themselves too and develop a positive academic self-image, as well as the ability to become life-long learners. We believe this comes through a 360-degree approach to teaching and learning, as reflected in the Northampton High Approach Wheel.
We have worked on shared language around the intellectual character dispositions, or mindsets, that we would like our pupils to develop over their time at the school. We have settled on five key areas to enable us to achieve our aims in learning and personal development and, logically, they also appear at the centre of the diagram, around the rose. It is perhaps worth looking a little more closely at these, as they are the result of many hours of research and discussion among colleagues and pupils.
Collaboration – we value shared experiences and trust those around us to support us in our learning.
Curiosity – we strive to expand the limits of our learning and delight in the discovery of new ideas.
Independence – we take the initiative and trust our instincts; we do not accept artificial limits to our potential.
Perseverance – we keep trying when things go wrong and we celebrate the new learning this brings.
Risk taking – we challenge ourselves every day and we do not see perfection as the ultimate goal.
It is impossible to separate the purely academic aspects of school life from the wider cocurriculum and the pastoral threads that run through school. This is why the High School approach takes the form of a circle or wheel, with these aspects represented by the words Learn, Reach and Coach. They form a unity; without one part the others would be incomplete and the rounded education we seek to provide would be compromised. Of course, there is no attempt to itemise the whole programme at Northampton High. Instead, the labels in each section aim to give a flavour of the many areas of focus.
The Learn banner represents the curricular programme, including class and subject academic study across the school, and public examinations and other assessments. Individual 360-degree learning profiles are developed for every student as they move up the school and, of course, dedicated support for different learning styles and needs are on offer from our Learning Enhancement Coordinator and the school’s pupil-focused Examinations Officer. Keystones are vital nonexamined elements such as social and health education, alongside careers and financial awareness training. Under the subheading Digacy, we look at key tech skills as well as the ‘360-degree me’ eportfolios that each pupil builds up over the senior school years.
By Reach, we refer to the expansive and diverse cocurricular programme of activities to support, stretch and inspire pupils throughout the school. Clubs and societies under the subheadings of Spark, Explorer and Thinker scatter their paths with opportunities to satiate their curiosity and expand their horizons, or inspire them in various ecological, scientific, sporting and artistic areas. Many clubs run across the junior and senior school years, allowing older pupils to enjoy time in the company of younger ones at lunchtimes.
The Enrichment programme in Years 10-13 also contributes, with a huge range of courses, from politics and international relations to computing, from dance to yoga. Our Scholar programme gives pupils with specific skills and talents the opportunity to shine. The Focus subheading caters for the needs of groups of students, such as those taking public examinations, or with specific university requirements, such as for medicine and engineering.
Coach stands for Confidence and Challenge. We strive to foster a safe and supportive environment for our pupils in school, however, it would be a mistake to assume that school life comes without its anxieties. Indeed, helping young people to navigate their complex daily interactions is a priority for all schools. Growing up is not always easy and we are experts in supporting girls to develop close and rewarding friendships, where problems are not ignored, but resolved through caring and sympathetic systems, such as the Girls on Board and Positive programmes.
Developing pupils’ knowledge of themselves and how they come across in communal situations is enhanced by our comprehensive trips and visits programme. The school House system builds community spirit and allows older pupils to develop their leadership skills. Volunteering and philanthropy, too, are hugely important as pupils continue their pathways through the school. These take on a new imperative in the Sixth Form, where pupils gain one or more of the Northampton Laureates that reflect the distinct contributions students have made over their time at the school.
The final element of the holistic wheel are personal development aspirations, running through all areas of Learn, Reach and Coach. There is a focus here on diversity and inclusivity, as represented by our Undivided programme and concepts of moral compass and social responsibility. Here, pupils are asked to set themselves high standards of decency and behaviour, not only in their interactions in school with fellow pupils, staff and guests, but also at home and online.
We help them to understand their own welfare and safety needs and support them when needed via our dedicated wellbeing team in school, including our family liaison officer and the school nurse. Emotional intelligence and a renowned High School trait, kindness, complete this circle, as we help pupils to live their lives with the needs of others at the forefront of their minds. As compassionate, reflective and impactful members of society.
Mr Henry Rickman
Deputy Head Academic
Dealing with self harm
Last week we were fortunate enough to be able to invite a speaker into school who is an expert on one of our more difficult pastoral issues in school. Satveer Nijjar is a well-renowned public speaker on the subject of dealing with self-harm. She has worked for many years in this field and is passionate about removing the stigma attached to the subject, so that we might discuss it more openly as teachers, as parents and as friends.
I’m sure for all of you, the idea of your child engaging in such behaviours is terrifying and something that you would rather not consider. However, sadly, there is a rising trend in self-harm, particularly amongst teenagers, and ever more so since the outbreak of COVID, back in late 2019. It is therefore vital that we, as a community, take on board the information available to us.
Many of you will know that I am not usually speechless at any moment, but the raw and honest way in which Satveer was able to convey her messages, based on first-hand experience, was quite remarkable, and directly after the talk I found that I had a lot more thinking to do than talking. She held her audience captive for a full 90 minutes and engaged with us to allow exploration of the reasons for self-harm, highlighting the issues as being the root cause, rather than the behaviour itself. In many cases, self-harm is not medically significant, although we must, of course, be mindful of the clear links between self-harm and suicide. That said, in most cases, self-harm is used as a coping strategy, and when we delved into this further, we discovered that it could be argued that a great many of us engage in ‘self-harm-type behaviours’ from time to time. A large glass of wine after a hard day at work, “just to take the edge off”, or binge-watching the entire series of Bridgerton in one go ‘to avoid reality for a short while’, resulting in us being tired and less effective at work the next day, could be seen as potentially harmful behaviours. An interesting topic for debate perhaps!
I very much hope to invite Satveer back into school in the autumn term to speak with us again, to offer parents another chance to be involved in the discussion. I cannot possible sum up her talk eloquently enough to do it justice, so I will sign off here and instead attach her own summary sheet which I encourage you to read. If you are concerned about your daughter in regards to self-harm, please talk about it with us. We do not have all the answers but we can work with you to support her if she is struggling. The attached helpsheet gives a range of insightful tips on how to start conversations with your teenager or child on this difficult subject, and could be an opportunity to start dealing with self-harm.
The May event in our Parent Talks programme will take place on Monday 9 May at 6pm. This event will feature Tanya Goodin (www.tanyagoodin.com/) on the subject of Teens and Screens.
Tanya is a trailblazing author, pioneering thinker and campaigner on digital wellbeing and tech ethics, and founder of the digital detox movement, Time to Log Off.
The event will be held in the Theatre; please arrive at 5.45pm for a 6pm start. Light refreshments will be served and there will be an opportunity to ask questions at the end of the session.
To book a place for the Teens and Screens event, please click here.
We look forward to welcoming you.
Miss Rebecca Kneen
Assistant Head – Pastoral Care and Guidance
Science Week at Northampton High
The theme of Science Week this year is growth. Seems a sensible topic as Biology is all about growth and there are many aspects that the wonderful Science faculty could deliver lessons about.
I wanted to take this a bit further and extend past the ordinary simple definition and grow our Science Week. This year we have seen Year 7 take on engineering challenges to grow the tallest/strongest tower; Year 8 and 9 have grown their ideas about careers in STEM and found some jobs they didn’t know existed. Year 11 and some Sixth Formers were treated to a truly inspirational talk from Dr Emily Grossman about her career in science and the performing arts, and how her personal and professional growth has led to her being able to marry her two passions of performing and science as a Science Communicator. I think I can speak for everyone when I say we were captivated and motivated by Dr Grossman and look forward to welcoming her to school in the future.
Years 1 to 4 had a workshop with Grace Webb, from CBeebies’ Grace’s Amazing Machines, where they learned about forces and motion. What is this to do with growth Mrs H-T?
Well, I saw them all grow and refine their teamwork skills alongside their growing interest in a career in mini moto racing. We have also experienced gastronomic growth in the canteen on Wednesday at lunchtime when we had the opportunity to make some dessert topping from alginate balls made from apple juice. Move over Heston, here come the High School students! On Friday, we welcomed Dr Sharon Brookes, Lead Scientist for Animal and Zoonotic Viral Diseases at APHA, who gave a fascinating talk on career growth in STEM-based subjects.
The topic of growth can be defined in many ways and the meaning according to the dictionary I found online is “the process of increasing in size”; this often makes me wonder how many times we grow in a day. Do we just grow in the physical sense until we hit 16 years old, or do we grow daily? As a good biologist will tell you, as you read this your cells are both dying and reproducing simultaneously, so an aspect of you is always growing.
Can we explain growth in any other ways? In my assembly this week to both Senior and Junior pupils, I talked about mindset and use words to encourage a growth mindset. In school today we face many tasks that are challenging, and if we approach them with a ‘can do’ attitude, we may, in fact, be able to achieve a lot more.
I also spoke about lifelong learning, and I included this in the theme of growth as I feel that even though I have the relevant qualifications to do my job, I always treat every day as a learning day. I feel utterly privileged to work with young people on a daily basis and remind myself that we are always learning from each other. Only recently I have learned how to make a reel on Instagram by listening to the Year 10 students make their videos in class, showing the growth of global climate change. Sadly, yet another form of growth we have discussed this week.
Science Week kicked off last week with a wonderful assembly led by Mrs Vizor and the Year 12 Physics class about the growth of the universe. Mrs Vizor made an exceptionally difficult concept seem very straightforward and left me wondering why I found the thought of Physics A Level such an awful concept when I was making my choices at age 16. Maybe I should have been taught about a growth mindset when I was at school and I might have tried Physics rather than Biology which I perceived to be easier. It wasn’t. Little tip for you: all A Levels are hard if you don’t work at them. I clearly hadn’t grown my “able to work independently” skills enough for my first year of A Levels, but we got there in the end.
So, this week I have been reminded about the growth that I see every day around me. Students growing their academic ability alongside their personal growth. Everywhere I have looked this week I have found an aspect of growth and growing, from the new bulbs springing into life, to students growing in confidence in their own abilities. I think everyone should take a few minutes each day to either appreciate the growth around them or try something to grow their minds.
I always remember a quote I heard from one of my most inspirational teachers, “growing old is inevitable growing up is optional”.