School Blog


Sixth Form Reflections

In September 2019, the year started like any other for the Sixth Form. Year 12 met with Norwich, Blackheath and Bromley High Schools for the annual Inspire East Conference at Churchill College, Cambridge where motivational speaker Hayley Barnard challenged them to “Dare to Dream, but Dream with a Plan” and told them that, “If you don’t ask you don’t get!”

Joining Year 13 in the Common Room they put this into practice from day one; investigating career paths and university courses, attending open days and completing work experience, reading articles and books that interested them, taking MOOCs, Massive Open On-line Courses, delivered remotely by universities from Stanford to Queensland to demonstrate super-curricular knowledge and planning for the future. Some travelled to Riga as part of the Erasmus programme, took part in the ‘Now’s the Time’ MedVet conference or the immersive Gatsby experience in London. In October, some of us were lucky enough to travel together to California exploring San Francisco and Silicon Valley, pictures of which you will find below.

At Christmas, our musicians performed with the Orchestra of the Swan at the concert in All Saints, Northampton, and the Senior Hall was packed for the House Plays followed by Christmas lunch with music and crackers in the Dining Hall.

In the new year, the Sixth Form sat on the sofas in the Common Room or in the ‘UCAS hub’ in the sunshine, making plans for the future. Live hustings were held in the Hall for the School Student Leadership Team, votes and interviews were held, the new team was appointed.

And then, the world changed.

Suddenly, comparisons with the Roaring Twenties became horribly real. For Spanish Flu read COVID-19. Two weeks before Easter, the school closed. Together, we embraced Guided Home Learning and learned to engage with live lessons and assemblies on Teams and Google Classroom.

At home with their families, the Sixth Form adjusted to social distancing, isolation, and communicating with friends and family via Zoom and Facetime.

Things got worse as the virus took hold and then, gradually they started to get better. The rules were relaxed, we spent some time in school socially distanced during the Summer Term, and then we were back in school in the Autumn. How we all appreciated being back together and realised how much friendships and informal conversations with those around us mattered.

Year group bubbles meant that the Leadership roles the Sixth Form would have expected to take were limited to what could be achieved remotely. They took the time to explore all that the virtual world had on offer. Opportunities to connect with other GDST schools meant that students were able to attend seminars and access a programme of speakers that would have been impossible for a single school to offer. This Sixth Form cohort is better prepared for the independent learning required at university and in the wider world than any that has gone before.

Another lockdown and then, back in school before Easter, Year 13 planned their Leavers’ Week celebrations and started to make the Leavers’ Film. A nostalgic time travel theme saw the cohort revisit key moments in their High School careers and enact rites of passage that were only imagined by this cohort. Memories were made, Year 13 left and Year 12, with a new School Student Leadership Team and House Captains, took the reins and began to take the Sixth Form forward. Sports Day was a spectacular success, records were broken, the House spirit revived, and year group bubbles enjoyed picnics.

The familiar rhythm of school life returned and plans for the future were made but with a new appreciation of what we all mean to each other and how we needed each other to get through the pandemic to this point.

But just when all was getting back on track, a Covid case in 6.1 last week has meant that a number of students are back at home self-isolating.

We are looking forward to welcoming them back on Monday for the last two weeks of term. We will also be celebrating with Mr Viesel, who has been appointed to the role of Director of Sixth Form from September and is currently on paternity leave following the birth of his daughter.

He is very much looking forward to exciting times ahead as the Sixth Form moves forward taking the gains made at this exceptional time into the new school year.

Not just back to where we were before but back kinder, stronger, with greater collaboration, real and virtual, and really understanding the true meaning and value of community.

As many of you know I am retiring in August and moving on to new challenges. I have thoroughly enjoyed my 11 years at the High School, teaching Physics, leading the Science Faculty, and most recently the Sixth Form. I have always felt it to be the best job in the school. Supporting our students as they plan for the world ahead and seeing them develop and then leave as confident, articulate, ambitious individuals ready to take their place in the world in whatever is their chosen field is a great privilege. I look forward to hearing about the directions this cohort takes next year and their future successes.

Mrs Cantwell
Director of Sixth Form


International school – ‘the rights you expect are the rights of all’ (P Weller)

Northampton High has a long tradition of embracing world cultures and the international dimension in all areas of school life. There are structural elements to this ethos, ranging from our engagement with European schools for modern language exchanges, to our Erasmus+ mobilisations and eTwinning projects. We can also highlight our tours and trips, ecological campaigning, charitable work and, vitally, the academic programmes of study across the school that challenge pupils to think globally. However, a school, like a church, is not defined by its buildings, or its curriculum or liturgy, but by its community and spirit. Indeed, the real basis for our open minded and culturally diverse outlook is the student and staff body itself, proudly incorporating multiple ethnicities and bi or trilingual speakers of 20+ community languages. 

I would go on to say that the measure of a school’s success cannot simply be based on its academic outcomes. Although these are important for opening doors, fulfilling careers and lives are built on so much more than academic achievements. A good linguistic and cultural education brings an understanding of how other people live, an appreciation of the things that make us different, and how we can use this information to enhance our contributions at work and home. Employers and businesses are increasingly conscious of the need for original thinking and, at the same time, are sensitive to the global markets they work within. As such, employment practices that recognise the value of diversity and cultural awareness do not just have a moral imperative but a sound business rationale too. 

Playing in the school band in the 80 and 90s, I was influenced by Paul Weller in his various incarnations. I liked Internationalists, a lesser known recording from the time, perhaps because it had a more rocky flavour, like his earlier hits with The Jam. However, relistening to it as I thought about writing this piece, I find I can appreciate it in ways I barely understood at the time. In the light of Black Lives Matter, Weller’s prescience in Internationalists that ‘without the strength of us altogether / the world as it stands will remain forever’, might seem unusual given his roots in working class Woking. But Weller was never a stereotypical rock star and his cosmopolitan image in the Style Council was more than window dressing. Perhaps influenced by this, I went on to study modern languages and lived in France and Spain. While not exactly a globe-trotting experience of young adulthood, it showed me the value of learning foreign languages, and inspired me to see that we have far more in common with other cultures than anything that might separate us.

The move to bring European countries closer together after the Second World War, eventually leading to the European Union, was also rooted in the belief that our mutual long-term interests as neighbouring countries was of greater importance than any short-term disputes. While it is too soon to judge the full impact, it is clear that the 2016 referendum decision implies the diminishing of our overall contact with the countries around us. Luckily for us, however, the friendships we have developed with other schools in Europe and beyond mean that we are still able to maintain and strengthen the connections we have built up. 

Furthermore, Brexit has caught the imagination of the world and must not be seen as a threat, or we risk turning inwards and missing out on the chance to take advantage of new opportunities. At the High School we are looking again at the non-examined curriculum that forms the backbone of our international school approach. Complementing the Humanities Transferrable Skills programme in Years 7 and 8, for example, will now be a new offer to Year 9 students, Global Outlook. This optional course, developed under the guidance of the Head of Languages Sandy Orvoen, looks at issues such as global citizenship, democracy, human rights, gender equality and climate change, from the perspective of different groups of people around the world. 

Within the wider enrichment curriculum we will build on the highly successful Sixth Form Electives programme, by including Key Stage 4 students. In some subjects, students from different year groups will join together and be able to discuss key issues such as politics and international relations. Clubs and societies too will delve deeper into the issues of equality and fairness that go hand in hand with the international agenda. Whether that be for Eco Team, Black History Week, Model United Nations society, Femsock, debating and public speaking societies, continued links with our Erasmus+ schools, or the many other activities and clubs taking place around the school.

Paul Weller says that ‘liberty must come at the top of the list’. At the risk of ruining the rhythm of his song, I would add diversity and inclusion to the top of that list too – as an internationally-minded school we owe it to every pupil.

Mr Rickman
Deputy Head Academic

Internationalists – link to Live Aid performance 1985


The Agile World of Upskilling

An architect, a cost consultant and a structural engineer walked into a bar……

This sounds like the beginning of a bad joke but when I asked my husband how his world of work was evolving, these are the professions he chose and as he reeled off the job titles, I was minded of the old ‘walked into a bar’ joke.

But to the point of this piece.  Earlier in the term, I wrote a blog exploring some of the theories about the future of the workplace set out by Daniel Susskind (2020). My closing comments of that piece focused on the idea that the world of secondary education is beginning to really embrace the development of skills, over simply covering content.  In this piece I would like to expand on that theme, not by considering how we ensure our pupils develop the skills (that is for another piece) but by considering how exactly workplaces have and continue to change and what this means for the future workforce.

Let us consider the job of navigator in the Air Force. In the era before technology was used in aeroplanes, the job was highly skilled and specialist.  Navigators might have had the same basic training as the pilot, but without the navigator by their side the pilot was blind.  The flight plan was mapped out literally on a paper map and the pilot was given directions as they flew. Fly forward to 2021 and the job of navigator is still in existence but many fighter planes are single-seater now.  The navigator plots the route electronically and with the assistance of GPS the pilot can follow the plan from the instrument panel. So, training as a navigator in the 1950s was vastly different from training in 2021 even though the basic aptitudes are the same.  

Which leads to the idea of developing transferable skills, which is something we discuss frequently with our pupils in school. 

I am reminded of the film The Full Monty and not the scenes for which it is probably most renowned. For readers who have not seen it, set in Sheffield in the 1990s, the film centres on a group of ex-steel workers.  In a series of scenes set in the local job centre, we see the men receiving support and ‘upskilling’ to prepare them for other jobs.  It is Gerald, the much ridiculed ex-foreman of the steelworks, who demonstrates that his skills of leadership and staff management are most easily transferred to a new job than the manual skills of his team.  You could replace The Full Monty with Billy Elliot or Brassed Off (1980s and mining but with similar themes of transferable skills underlying the big screen plots).

The generally accepted list of 21st Century skills are: Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Information literacy, Media literacy, Technology literacy, Flexibility, Leadership, Initiative, Productivity and Social skills.  

I wouldn’t suggest that many of these skills aren’t built into our curriculum already, but  some of these skills are difficult to teach discreetly; how does one teach productivity or flexibility for example? The simple answer is by giving daily opportunities for students to time manage, work with different people, in different environments and to sometimes fail.



After all, how else do we teach our students that they may not get the job they applied for, or the scholarship they coveted, or the grade they worked hard for. And more importantly how else do we teach them that in the modern world of work you need to be agile and that sometimes the job you thought you had trained for now needs different skills, but the same aptitudes.

Before I wrap this up, I know you’re wondering about the architect, cost consultant and structural engineer! My husband’s prediction is that in the future these three roles could be carried out by one person, rather than three. At the moment, the architect designs the building, the cost consultant works out how much it will cost to build and the structural engineer makes sure the design will actually result in a building that stands up (with apologies for my oversimplification of these professions!).  With the rapid development of software which models buildings and databases containing costs of components, it may not be long before an architect can design, cost and model a building.  All that is required are the tech skills to manipulate the software successfully – and of course, agility, flexibility, technology literacy and collaboration.


Northampton High School’s 143rd Birthday, 2 May 2021

At the beginning or the summer term 1878, at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign, the doors of 83 Abington Street, Northampton were opened to twenty-nine pupils with the intention of providing them with ‘a thorough and systematic English Education at a moderate cost’. 

The school, initially advertised two-months earlier as “Northampton Middle-Class Girls’ School” and which was later to become “Northampton High School for Girls” was born just five years after what was to become the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), of which the school is now a member and at a hugely important time in changing the way in which young women were educated.

By the spring of 1879, just one year after opening, the school was renamed “The Clevedon School – A Church High School for Girls”, the ‘High’ fashionably emphasising that the school offered more than just an elementary education, and fees were 12 shillings per term for the under 12s and 28 shillings for the over 12s. 

By the end of 1881, the school had its third Headmistress (just) in the shape of Miss Waldron, her predecessor having been in post for just one month. An early leader but one of many, including Miss Alice Straker, who led the school for 21 years from December 1890, introducing the motto ‘‘The Utmost for the Highest”, and overseeing the name change to “Northampton High School for Girls” in 1898.

Miss Elizabeth Mary Wallace served as Headmistress from the autumn of 1912 and was the first of its leaders to hold the equivalent of an honours degree. She found new premises that would meet the requirements of the Board of Education and the school relocated to Castillian House, at the corner of Castillian Street and Derngate, for 5 years from 1914. 

School photo – 1925

Prince of Wales visit, 1927

Miss Wallace oversaw the school’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 1928 and on speech day, which was attended by H.R.H Princess Mary (later Princess Royal), and just one year after a visit from the Prince of Wales, she laid out her vision:

“I have dreamed of many things that I have wanted for our school: I am a dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions; perhaps they are practical ones, or there is some magic in the school, for one by one they are being realised. When I first knew the school, it had no garden; and although we were about to lose even the building, I dreamed of a fair and spacious garden for it. Today, in the very heart of the town, we have a delightful home with beautiful grounds and a fine view over open country…” – Miss Wallace, December 1928

This period brought new opportunities for women, and Miss Wallace wasn’t the only woman to benefit from the opportunity to pursue in-depth study via Higher Education. In a year that had seen all women in Britain gain equal voting rights with men, she added in her Jubilee speech that “the fight for equal opportunities for women and for men has been won: our girls have entered into a noble heritage, and men of vision help the work forward. The girls have won their freedom: we pray that they may use it nobly and well in the service of mankind.

Science laboratory, 1930

1933 saw celebrations of a different type as the school celebrated Miss Wallace’s 21 years as headmistress. Old Girls provided a cake with twenty one candles and presented her with a gold watch. In turn, she presented the school with a striking clock, which stood in the front hall at 44 Derngate until 1992, when the school moved to its current site. The clock currently stands in the Edward Cripps Room (ECR), adjacent to the Senior School library.

As Miss Wallace finally said goodbye to the school and a job that had been her life on 28 July 1937, and leaving a substantial sum of money for the scholarship fund, the school had almost 200 pupils; by the time her successor, Miss Marsden (a Mathematics graduate from Westfield College, London) left, there were over 700.

The war years may have seen sandbags in the cloakrooms and regular ‘shelter’ practice for the girls but they were, thankfully, relatively untouched by the happenings in Europe and by the middle period events such as Sports Days and Open Days had resumed with the former seeing intense rivalry between the four houses (then St. Monica’s, St. Hilda’s, St. Elizabeth’s and St. Cecelia’s).

Over the next few years, the Governors purchased Towerfield in Derngate for the Junior School (1941) and Spring Hill in Cliftonville was bought (1947), allowing the school to be reorganised into three distinct sections: Spring Hill (girls from 3 to 9); Towerfield (girls from 9 to 11) and Main School (girls from 11 to 19). In the midst of this, the 1944 Education Act awarded Direct Grant Status, allowing free places for girls, should they reach the required academic standard. 

1941 – Towerfield

This Act, written 16 years after Miss Wallace’s comment that “the fight for equal opportunities for women and for men has been won”, also enabled female teachers to retain their teaching position after marriage for the first time. Despite this, it would be another 44 years before the school appointed its first married headteacher, Mrs Linda Mayne.

Much of the building work and purchasing of school buildings over the following few years, including the Assembly Hall, Gymnasium and Library (1957) and 68 Derngate, was down to the generosity of the Cripps family, known for their philanthropic philosophy and the structure of the main school was feasible due to further benefaction from Mr Humphrey Cripps, (later Sir Humphrey). As such, the building was named in his honour.

The Cripps Block, 1958

At Speech Day in 1986, the then-Head, Miss Lightburne announced that an anonymous donor had purchased a considerable number of acres of land in Hardingstone to build a complete new school, to house all the girls from the ages of 3 to 18 on the same site, together with a purpose-built sports complex. This was an amazing gift that turned out to be yet another from the Cripps Foundation and planning permission to begin the build was granted in March 1987. Sir Humphrey Cripps’ son, Mr Edward Cripps, was appointed to oversee the project.

Aerial photo of Hardingstone site

Artist’s impression of Main Foyer, Hardingstone site      

By January 1990, The Sports Complex on the new Hardingstone site was opened and girls were able to travel there to use the facilities for eight terms before the classrooms were ready for a permanent move on 8 September 1992. One month later, the site was officially opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and 15 years later we joined the GDST (Girls’ Day School Trust).

The Queen formally opening the Hardingstone site on 16 October 1992.

2007 – The High School joined the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST)

The school may have seen many changes over the years, but the strong sense of community and of loyalty has never waivered and we are fortunate to have an incredibly strong alumnae network. Indeed, the OGA (Old Girls and Associates of Northampton High School) which encompasses a wider group and is currently under the leadership of Mrs Carolyn White, ex-teacher and parent at the school, is thriving. With regular newsletters and an annual lunch, those who have experienced the spirit of Northampton High School – be it at in Derngate, Hardingtone, as a member of the wider GDST or not – are able to share their particular memories of their time at Northampton High School and contemplate the effect that those years have had on their relationships and their lives in the years since.

OGA reunion lunch, January 2020

Readling the history of the High School, it could be argued that we are currently experiencing the most disrupted period ever, but we are creating our own history here and now, and will talk about ‘the COVID months’ for years to come. So many have been adversely affected by the current pandemic, but the sense of community, cohesion and camaraderie is as strong as ever and we know that we will pull through this period together.

Happy 143rd birthday, Northampton High School, and here’s to being able celebrate in person very soon!

Caroline Petryszak