As the retail frenzy in preparation for Valentine’s Day next week reaches a crescendo, it is time to ask a question that in schools perhaps we don’t ask often enough – how do we tell the truth about love?
Readers may be surprised to learn that, until now, education about relationships and sex (RSE) has not been compulsory in schools outside local authority control. The announcement by Justine Greening recently that this will change from September 2019 has sharpened debate about what exactly should be taught to young people about the R and S in RSE, and at what stage of their lives. Many column inches have been devoted to the question but I have yet to see any of them devote any serious attention to telling the truth about love. The nature and power of love – its joys and pains – are, it seems, generally confined to literature lessons and the outer margins of the humanities curriculum. (Indeed, as I reflect on it, history in school has little to say about love beyond the repercussions of Henry VIII’s crush on Anne Boleyn and the political embarrassment surrounding Edward VIII’s passion for Wallis Simpson. Hatred on the other hand…)
Now, this is odd, because one may fairly say that our understanding of love is one of the rare examples of a topic on which our ancient antecedents could knock us Moderns (or post-Moderns) into a cocked hat. Only consider, as the cultural historian Roman Krznaric has put it, that, while we have six different words (at least) for our daily cup of coffee (Americano, cappuccino, espresso, flat white, macchiato and mocha), we have only one word for love compared with the six (or more) variations in Ancient Greek.
Could it be that ‘our impoverished language of love’, which Krznaric likens to ‘the emotional equivalent of a mug of instant’, is at the root of many of the difficulties, from sexting to porn addiction, that our new-look RSE is supposed to address?
By failing to distinguish between eros, the sexual passion and desire we associate with falling in love, and ludus, the playful affection which can fuel flirtation between strangers, a frisson of excitement between dancers or banter between friends, for example, we may find ourselves in relational hot water very quickly. Understanding, too, that eros is likely, with time, to mellow into pragma, the deep mutual understanding (often mixed with patience with and tolerance of each other) which characterises successful long-standing relationships, may help us by tempering our expectations at the outset of a marriage, civil partnership or other open-ended commitment of the kind.
Recognising philia – the love that forms a golden thread through genuine friendships – is as necessary to us as the erotic or romantic love of a partner encourages us to pay more attention to cultivating and sustaining the friendships that bring us much joy and help in life rather than devoting all our energies to searching for The One. Finally, by grasping that there is a place in our moral universe for both agape, the selfless love which drops a pound in the beggar’s paper cup or pulls into the hard shoulder to let the ambulance speed by, and Philautia, the self-love that we would describe as a healthy level of self-esteem, we might avoid some of the traps of guilt and jealousy that plague the lives of many.
I suspect that the concept of ‘love, actually’ – as immortalised in the hit film of the same name – comes closest in our cultural lexicon to expressing the subtleties of love that were so much a part of everyday understanding for the Greeks. As the old song says, it is a ‘many-splendoured thing’ and I hope that, wherever you are on 14 February, you will find time in the day to celebrate and appreciate the many splendours of love, actually (agape, eros, ludus, philautia, philia and pragma) in your life.
R Krznaric, The Wonderbox (Exmouth, 2011)
Let the debate begin!
We are constantly warned of the dangers of The Digital Age from its ability to limit our powers of reasoning to being a destroyer of good health, both mental and physical. Perhaps most worryingly, employers from all sectors warn of the damage The Digital Age has already caused to the way in which we communicate. That is why oracy, the skill that enables us to be confident, fluent public speakers through opportunities such as debating, discussions and engaging in dialogue, is so vital. Learning to use the spoken language are as important as learning skills in literacy and numeracy.
Well, I am here to report good news! The skills needed for effective oracy are alive and well for girls at Northampton High School and in the wider community we have reached out to during our Outreach Debating Project.
In partnership with Noisy Classroom, an organisation dedicated to ensuring the skills of effective oracy are kept at the forefront of educators’ minds, we have successfully worked with Year 5 and Year 6 girls from three local primary schools to explore oracy through debating.
These workshops culminated in a final day of debating where all schools taking part proved, without question, that the skills of oracy are indeed alive and well. Perhaps even more importantly, the day also further emphasised just how important that we, as the guardians of future generations, must continue to give our girls the opportunity to develop this invaluable life skill whether it be at the dinner table at home or in the classroom!
Let the debate begin!
Year 6 teacher and Humanities Coordinator
Learning the new shorthand is a barrier to employability
For our fore-mothers, learning shorthand as part of a repertoire of secretarial skills was considered a vital attribute in preparing them for a world of work. Women with such skills had an advantage in many realms of the employment market.
The arrival of digital communications has rendered obsolete the conventional skills of shorthand writing. Why laboriously notate speech when you can record it and convert it into a written document at the touch of an icon? And, this done, endlessly reproduce it and publish it at will.
As with so many aspects of the digital revolution, however, we have replaced the challenges of scarcity with those of superfluity. So, the focus of difficulty has shifted away from the creation of documentation to its storage and security. The quest to locate scarce information, locked away in paper archives, has given way to the search for worthwhile information amid clouds of words free floating in the ether and all competing for our limited attention.
And what if that search becomes not an active process but a passive one –as we feed on the information we are given rather than actively seeking what we need?
Information curated for us as a result of algorithmic calculations about us as consumers. Information channelled to fit our political bias and preferences.
The age of shorthand writing has, in other words, given way to an age of shorthand reading. And, shorthand reading brings with it the ever-present risk of shorthand thinking.
We say that we know something from scanning a few characters about it on Twitter or an online post. Pictures are used allusively to add narrative force, apparently making redundant the need for actual words to define and refine the meaning or interpretation of the headline.
This is not new. In an age before mass education, the handbills of the print era summarised stories, sensationalised them and offered opinions in a shorthand form, without the need for much text at all, if any.
It is worrying. Just as the handbills of history were linked to outbursts of mass hysteria and the spread of damaging fantasies, such as the witch-crazes of the 17th century, so the digital feeds of today are linked to the rampant circulation of fake news. The widespread credence given to the story that a dead gorilla received 11,000 votes in the last US presidential election illustrates the point.
We all concur but what is harder to agree upon is what to do about it. This is an urgent question for schools, which are, after all, the training grounds for the leaders as well as voters and employees of tomorrow. The OECD recently called upon schools to do more to teach young people how to spot fake news. Readers who believe that gorillas can stand for election may end up voting a gorilla into the White House.
There are risks here of a knee-jerk reaction. Above all, this cannot simply become a campaign against the internet – or phones. Superficial reading is, after all, not necessarily purely an effect of material being in a digital form, though the size of the phone or tablet screen does lend itself to bite-sized consumption. Nor does a digital format always lead to skimmed reading. Let’s not forget that digitisation has actually made it much easier to read ‘War and Peace’ in bed.
It is much more about fostering an attitude of mind.
Courses such as the GDST’s Career Start Workshop on ‘Understanding the Media’ – which our Sixth Form students took last term and which unpacked the layers of the dead gorilla story as a case study – lay a good foundation stone. Promoting in-depth reading is also vital. At a time when many schools are doing away with their libraries and the county’s public libraries are facing closure, I see great value in maintaining a conventional library, blending books and digital materials, at the heart of the High School (both literally and metaphorically).
But nothing less than a culture shift, in opposition to the prevailing currents pushing students towards shorthand reading and thinking, is needed. I end with a suggestion for a starting point: that we accept as a first principle that we cannot claim to have an understanding of a topic from a standing start unless we have spent at least 15 minutes reading about it. I believe that ‘longhand’ reading and the thinking habits that go with it are the key skills for employability; the challenge of developing them is one that schools neglect at their peril.
Karen Kimura of GDST has kindly shared details of her Career Start Workshop and the following sources
Dr Stringer, Head Teacher
Happy New Year!
As we take our first steps into a new year, a year in which we will celebrate 140 years of the School’s work, I use this platform to reflect on our academic year so far and to look ahead to some of the highlights of the term ahead.
A digital report from Senior School by Mr Rickman
It has been a busy term for technology in school with Mr Rittler and his team working hard to replace the computers that power the interactive whiteboards in the classrooms. These fast machines are now being linked to CleverTouch boards, which offer many exciting opportunities for students to interact with the displays in class. Mrs Hodgetts-Tate in Science has been leading the way with this technology and the screens have now also been fitted in the Maths and Languages classrooms. In October we relaunched the school virtual learning platform, Firefly, giving it a fresh new look and improving the way teachers use the site to set and collect in homework, or prep. Using our links to OneDrive and Google apps for education, pupils can now collaborate with each other and share work directly with their teachers. Parents can also keep track of the prep that is being set, as well as other information about their children, via the parent portal on Firefly. If you have not yet accessed the service, please see instructions in the attached document. My assembly in November touched on the important issues of online safety and how students should use their own devices in school, as well as showcasing the ePortfolios students have been creating since the summer term in 2017. ePortfolio websites built on the GDST Google platform are a great way to allow students to curate their online presence while showcasing their achievements and progress in school. In January, U4 pupils will start to design and build their own ePortfolio websites, joining the students who have already made them, from L5 through to the Sixth Form. Finally, from the technological viewpoint, I’m pleased to say that our uptake of GCSEpod more than doubled over the term. This is a service designed to help students learn and revise for GCSE courses in small audio-visual chunks, via their digital devices and in class. Our group of GCSEpod champions in U5 ran an assembly for younger girls and were recognised by the company for their work in supporting other students. Meanwhile, Mr Donaldson, Head of History, has been selected to join the writers and his first ‘pods’ will soon be available on the system. GCSEpod is an excellent support for learning for all students in U4-U5 and instructions for signing up are available on Firefly.
From Sixth Form, Mrs Cantwell reports…
For 6.2, the slog of the Autumn Term is behind them, meaty chunks of their academic courses are now covered and the hours spent refining UCAS applications are beginning to bear fruit in the form of university offers. Eleven students are waiting to hear if their applications to Oxford and Cambridge have been successful for courses including Linguistics, Engineering and Philosophy and Maths at Cambridge and Classics, French and Music at Oxford. Our eight medics, vets and dentists are waiting for the results of recent interviews and others are planning to follow other NHS alumnae to study, for example, Law at Leeds, Engineering at Imperial and Geography at Newcastle, Politics and International relations at Bristol and Theoretical Physics at Durham. Others are breaking new ground, with applications for Fashion Design at the University of the Arts, English and Film Studies at Exeter, Sports Product Design and Technology at Loughborough and Interior Architecture at Oxford Brookes, to name but a handful.
An emerging trend is the growing popularity of the apprenticeship route with a number of students exploring the option of completing a degree while earning and experiencing the world of work without the burden of student debt.
6.1’s, in their turn, have embraced all the opportunities available to them with great enthusiasm and positivity. They are looking forward to the chance to stand for election to new 6th Form Leadership and House Leadership teams later this term. The superb House Plays and the reports from House Charity Leaders and the Deputy Head Girl (Charities) in the Celebration of Giving on the last day of term offered snapshots of the impressive work our student leaders do.
Our students are enjoying the opportunities provided by the new linear A-levels, leaving time and flexibility to explore other areas of interest through the 6th Form Electives programme. Many have chosen an EPQ, Extended Project Qualification, allowing them to research an area of interest and develop skills which will be greatly beneficial once at university. Others have chosen from a range of MOOCs, Massive Open On-Line Courses, offered by universities across the world or taken the Politics and International Relations, Film Studies, Art History courses or joined the Social Enterprise Changemaker programme.
Some interesting nuts and bolts… As you know, Parentpay was introduced at the beginning of the Autumn Term as a more flexible method for you to pay for school extras. This has proved to be very popular with parents and the majority are now signed up and using the system effectively. If you require any further support with the system, please contact our Finance Manager Bo Kuzniewska email@example.com and she will be happy to help.
The school facilities have always been available to hire out of school hours but, from January 2018, we hope to make this easier to book by using Schoolhire as a platform to manage bookings and payments. If you are interested in booking school facilities, please refer to https://nhs.schoolhire.co.uk/. Please remember that as a parent you are very welcome to join our Sports Centre Community at a preferential rate.
This will enable you to participate in a wide range of fitness classes, and use the swimming pool and fitness facilities out of school hours. For further details, contact https://www.northamptonhigh.co.uk/sports-centre/join-now/
Active in the community
Our new Outreach Coordinator, Ms Heimfeld, gives a round-up of current events…
There have been fantastic Outreach programmes run in Autumn Term, including Sixth Form Volunteering, an Expressive Arts Enrichment Day, Femsock attending the National Council of Women Conference, hosting the English Speaking Union ‘School’s Mace’, and Screen Northants filming ‘Reverberations’ in the Science corridor and Dining Hall. Just before Christmas, U5 visited Age UK to sing carols and bring Christmas cheer and a group of students participated in the Hardingstone Living Nativity.
Looking ahead, on Friday 19 January, the Head Girls’ team are organising a Pizza and Quiz Night for students, parents, staff and local pensioners. Annie Loveday Hill will be conducting opera and vocal exercise classes in the new year and Go Code Academy will be running tech camp and holiday coding workshops in February half-term.
As we approach the School’s 140th Birthday, we are launching a project entitled WHEW! – Women Helping to Empower Women. We would like to have a positive impact upon the future lives of 140 young women in our community. The first phase of the programme is a Summer Steam Extravaganza with 14 primary schools bringing 10 students each to a day of science, maths, engineering and arts. The second phase of WHEW will be 4 weeks of Saturday Masterclasses in the Autumn of 2018 for these 140 girls, stretching their potential and encouraging career ambition. A key focus for WHEW! is the opportunity for our own students to mentor young women in the community and to take organisational roles within the events.
And looking beyond
It gives me great pleasure to report two prestigious awards for the School in the area of internationalism. The first is an International School Award (Foundation Level). The International School Award celebrates exceptional work in international education through, for example, fostering an international dimension in the curriculum and helping young people gain the cultural understanding and skills they need for life work in today’s world. The second is our success in being selected as secondary school category winner from entries across 42 eTwinning countries in a competition organised by the British Council, entitled ‘Don’t judge a person by a face.’ Many congratulations to our Languages Faculty on both these achievements.
The power of the network One of the highlights of last term was our Awards Evening, when the CEO of the GDST, Cheryl Giovannoni, came to present the prizes and congratulate the students on their achievements. In her speech, Cheryl spoke about her commitment to ensuring that the GDST is as effective as possible as a movement for positive change for girls and young women, building on its pioneering origins. Her message is one that is gaining traction, not only in our schools but also in the wider world. In October, for example, Cheryl was named in the Evening Standard’s Power 1,000, being cited as one of the most influential people in education (follow the link here to read more https://www.standard.co.uk/news/the1000/the-progress-1000-londons-most-influential-people-2017-social-pillars-education-a3653956.html)
Her message – that now is THE time for us to bring transformative change for girls and young women – sent me back to one of my favourite quotations, from Barack Obama, which I included in my start-of-term Assembly to the senior girls and which I use to sign off, with all best wishes for the year ahead, my newsletter to you. Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.