No surfaces without depths
The phrase comes from journalist, Linda Grant. She was talking about clothes but, it seems to me, the thought applies equally to brands. The brand (what you see on the surface) is important because it is often the first (and sometimes the only) aspect of an organisation that you can judge before you have in some way committed yourself to an association (say, by buying).
However, the brand has to express authentically the depths of an organisation – its heritage for example and its value – or else it falls flat. We can all, I suspect, think of brands that fail to resonate with target markets because there is too much of a disconnect between the surface message and the reality beneath.
A brand, then, is about so much more than logos, colours and fonts – and one might truthfully say that ‘you can’t have surfaces without depths.’
The approach of a big birthday, celebrating 140 years of Northampton High School in 2018, prompted us to revisit our brand and to consider how well it was encapsulating the depths of our school – its history and core values, its current record and standing, and the lived experience of its students, staff and associates.
The rebranding project itself was a fascinating undertaking and, as a non-specialist, I felt privileged to be on the inside of such a complex, dynamic process. Many people – students, staff, parents, alumnae, governors and external advisors – contributed to the research and development phases and our discussion and debates (and, occasionally, disagreements!) took us to the very heart of what the School means to all of us.
Here, then, is the fruit of our labours.
We chose to return to a crest as the central symbol of the School in order to reconnect with an important part of our heritage. However, this is the traditional crest with a contemporary twist. The rose and crossed keys, both part of the original crest, reflect the fact that the School has been part of the life of Northamptonshire (rose of the shires) for generations and that, for many of those years, it had an active connection with the diocese of Peterborough. Besides this, keys are, of course, an excellent symbol for education, being a visual shorthand for the work of unlocking potential and opening the doors of knowledge and understanding, opportunity and enhanced life chances.
The Charles Rennie-Mackintosh-inspired motif (upper left quadrant), a new element, reminds us of the historic connection with Derngate in general and No. 78 in particular. The reference to an iconic motif of modern design – and an aesthetic that was years ahead of its time – also parallels the emphasis in our own philosophy and that of the GDST on being revolutionary pioneers in girls’ education. When the High School was founded, it was still relatively rare to educate girls beyond a basic level. That pioneering tradition persists in the way we embrace innovative methods, for example in using digital platforms and social media, to enhance our students’ life prospects.
Finally, the Eleanor Cross symbolises our proud place in the heart of Hardingstone for the last 25 years. It also neatly references the qualities of learning and leadership for which Eleanor of Castile, Edward I’s much-loved queen, was renowned. A powerful woman in a tough, male-dominated world and a patron of learning, she is an apt role model for our times.
Heritage and pioneering courage, strong links to our community and a commitment to educating and empowering women – these, then, are the messages conveyed in our re-imagined crest.
Alongside the visual symbol, we wanted to find a single phrase that distilled the unique essence of the education we offer. There were many things we could have chosen but, ultimately, it boiled down to one simple, compelling article of faith:
We believe in our girls
And they believe in themselves
as the key to their success and the essential ingredient that we contribute towards that success.
Qualifications are hugely important – yes, undoubtedly
Wonderful opportunities to learn new skills and broaden horizons matter – equally, yes, of course
These we take as read.
But, beyond these, the confidence to be oneself and to stride out into the world with integrity and self-possession – this is the key to fulfilment as well as success in life. Without it, the qualifications and skills alone mean relatively little. Our belief in our girls, which stems from our knowledge and appreciation of them as individuals, makes all the difference in the world as they learn and grow in pursuit of their dreams.
Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress
Vocational antennae and the 360 Degree Me Portfolio
There is a sense in the digital era that the concept of a distinct professional calling or, to use a more spiritual term, a personal vocation in life, has a reduced relevance. Young people are now taking on average 4 jobs by the time they are 32, according to LinkedIn, and Forbes advocates ‘job hopping’ to maximise salaries. Indeed, at Northampton High, we use our Inspiring Futures careers programme to help prepare our students for portmanteau careers, on the back of a skills-focused curriculum.
In the words of Fiona Monfrooy, Executive Director of Human Resources at ING DIRECT, ‘From an individual perspective, there’s an increasing need for transferrable skills; to be more adaptable. […] A flexible work approach also means, in some cases, multiple jobs’.
Yet, perhaps counterintuitively, careers advice and the pathways to further and higher education, apprenticeships and courses, often appear to focus in on highly specific areas, whether that might be in traditional domains such as medicine or engineering, academic avenues like Maths, Languages and History, or within so-called vocational areas that generally support access to certain health, sporting, technical or business roles.
Still, perhaps the system works anyway. The UK, in spite of its Brexit travails, university fees, exam-heavy education system and supposedly class-ridden society, manages to remain flexible and competitive in an international setting. According to a recent IMF report cited by the Evening Standard, the UK has a bigger growth forecast for 2018 than any other major country. Indeed, there seems to be nothing inherent in our educational programme preventing young people with passion and energy from finding their way through the multifarious permutations of the modern workplace. So, it could be argued that we are right to signpost our students to the future by tapping into their vocational predilections and to see this approach as fully in line with our skills-based educational outlook.
Angela Tilby, Canon Emeritus at Christ Church, Oxford, has described vocation as being where a person’s ‘particular deep joy’ or deep-seated interests meet society’s deep-seated needs, whether religious or not. While the idea of vocation may have become more fluid in terms of the actual jobs many people end up doing, Tilby’s suggestion seems to be that there is huge emotional and practical value in trying to find the direction that speaks most to us as individuals, so that our actions have a level of authenticity that will satisfy both ourselves and the people we serve when carrying out our roles in society.
We introduced a formal skills education programme in 2012 with five main strands that we considered to be relevant to a modern career path, cutting across curriculum areas and at all age groups, Junior to Sixth Form. I feel our assessment of the areas covered continues to be relevant, although the emphasis has shifted because faculties and teachers have become more adept at building skills-specific activities into strategic planning, increasingly expecting pupils to know instinctively which skill set is needed to achieve a given task. We realised that what was then required was actually a deeper knowledge of what drives our students as individuals, their own understanding of personal values and beliefs, as well as an awareness of how to develop these attributes in life; what one might call their vocational antennae. We introduced the concept of 360 Degrees Me in 2015 to tackle this head-on, initially via the KS3 skills and challenge days I have written about in the past.
Our aim now is to help the girls enunciate, collate and illustrate their lives, their educational and other achievements as well as their personal ambitions, in the form of a 360 Degree Me Portfolio. This is an ePortfolio, or personal website, initially private and only available within the Girls’ Day School Trust network, that can be refined and developed over the years to become a living résumé for future employers or universities, to give a real insight into each girl’s potential. At the heart of the Me Portfolio is a belief that harnessing the power of technology in this way will have the added benefit of encouraging students to think critically about their wider online lives. By actively managing their digital footprints, they can avoid falling into the dangers that social media sometimes present to young people.
Our guest speaker at the Lower Fifth (year 10) 360 Degree Me Portfolio creation day on Friday 7 July, is Alice Gividen, an alumna of the school who now works managing the social media presence of large organisations. Alice says that the scare stories about employees losing jobs because of indiscretions online are not the exaggerations of a judgemental establishment, pointing out that most companies now engage the services of professional social media investigators before employing new staff. However, she also suggests that the savvy applicants are using this fact to their advantage, curating their social media presence carefully to show they have engaging personalities, and to highlight their positive attributes and willingness to contribute to society beyond their immediate friends and family. This is doubly important since simply deleting a dubious social media history can not only be difficult to achieve, but also counterproductive, with many employers seeing the lack of an online presence just as much a cause for concern as an unattractive one.
360 Degree Me Portfolios may not in themselves inspire anyone to develop a vision for life, they are after all just personal websites, repositories of information. However, with our help, I am confident that they will provide a stage where the spotlight can fall selectively and productively on our students, as individuals. A place where vocation can start to materialise, and flourish.
Mr Henry Rickman, Deputy Head
Inspiring Futures presents Enterprise Week
Enterprise education is not an attempt to get students to go off into the world of business and set up their own company, although in some cases students have gone on to do so. It is more about facilitating them in their development of the necessary skills required to move into the work place. This might include elements of business or marketing but it might not.
At Northampton High School we have developed, through our Inspiring Futures Programme, a set of exciting events that enable students to build on their transferable skills and to fully prepare themselves for life after school. This year we kicked off this inaugural three day event with the Year 10 annual Future Focus Day.
The students met Susannah Poulton who works for the UK Department of Trade. Susannah explained in vivid terms how important Modern Foreign Languages are in the business world and Mrs Hill, Head of Languages helped by taking part in a spot of spontaneous interpretation, much to the astonishment of many of the girls!
Later in the day Charlotte and her team from Sykes and Co, a tailored recruitment firm based in Towcester, delivered a rich and detailed seminar on interview technique, setting up some entertaining role play situations. Finally, came a presentation and discussion session from three very close friends of the school, Mark Bradley, Katie Fisher and Sally Hadfield, all with daughters in various year groups and all with amazing personal work and life stories, to bring a taste of how varied and fascinating modern career paths can be. We were also lucky enough to hear from Hannah Cooper from Liz Male Consulting who explained her role with Social Media in business. This was particularly interesting as her role has not long been in existence, highlighting the extremely dynamic world of work that our girls will be moving into.
On day 2 we were joined by Lucy and Ilga from Bright Green Enterprise and the Year 10’s were joined by girls from 6.1 in a fun filled and competitive task to design a charity that would focus on specific communities in Tanzania. This form of Social Enterprise is something that is very close to the hearts of students and staff at NHS because of the large amount of charitable work that goes on in school throughout the year. The groups worked together closely and the two year groups made an excellent partnership bringing in ideas from a range of viewpoints. The winning team was a charity that focused their efforts on upcycling bicycles and sending them to Tanzania to improve transport opportunities for their given community, having identified this as a need of the people who lived there. Yambike was the chosen name and the overall work from this group just clinched the win.
The final day saw a similar structure with the same team from Bright Green Enterprise joining us to bring together the Year 8 and Year 6 students to create some ethical designs of products that would make a difference. We were thrilled with the team work, the ideas and the final pitches from all teams. The innovation that the girls demonstrated and the support that they gave one another was truly inspiring. The day started out with the older girls taking the lead and supporting the Year 6’s to put forward their ideas. However, because of the hard work of our Year 6 staff in terms of enterprise education, by the middle of the day, the Year 8’s were finding that they were learning just as much from their younger peers as they were teaching them. A very clever pen, aimed at increasing literacy and numeracy where education is limited, was the well deserved winner of the day, although the other teams were also strong and the final decision was an extremely difficult one.
Enterprise education is a high priority for the Government in the UK and something, which we take seriously at Northampton High School. The transferable skills that our girls gain through such activities are invaluable and serve them well in their academic studies as well as when they leave us at the end of Sixth Form to embark on the next stage, be it higher education or the work place. By allowing them to develop these skills, we endeavour to give all our students the best possible start to life outside of school and make sure that they are equipped to face the challenges that they might meet in the future.
We would like to extend thanks to all who were involved, guest speakers, staff and students alike, who made this event so successful. We very much look forward to developing this further next year and seeing what new ideas the girls bring to the table.
Rebecca Kneen, Deputy Director of Sixth Form & Head of Careers
Preparing for the labyrinth of life
Looking back at the GDST Annual Conference last week, I am spoilt for choice in possible themes to pick up on in my blog. Under the banner ‘A good time to be a girl?’ we explored a huge range of topics – from fairy stories to the ‘Frozen’ film script, dolls to directorships, mindsets to money.
One phrase really stuck in my mind, though, courtesy of keynote speaker Dame Helena Morrissey, Boldness in Business Person of the Year and inspiration behind the 30% Club (promoting women on boards in FTSE Top 100 companies) – preparing for the ‘labyrinth of life.’
How neatly and exactly this, to my mind, sums up the message we should be imparting to young women today.
A labyrinth rather than a road – because life as we actually live it is not really linear and, too often, seeing it as an arrow point to happiness and success sets us up for disillusionment and discontent.
A labyrinth rather than a playground – because the landscape ahead of today’s young women contains harsh landscapes that must be traversed as well as picturesque plains to be relished, and to pretend otherwise is to do our students a great disservice.
A labyrinth rather than a maze – because, in a maze a wrong turn can leave you stranded and really lost but in a labyrinth you are sure to get to the heart of it (journey’s end, if you like) if you only keep going through its twists and turns, with patience and purpose. Labyrinths, such as the beautiful example on the floor of Chartres Cathedral, are ancient devices to encourage us to pay attention and are physical representations of the idea that the truth and direction of a person’s life will unfold over time.
Where can this insight lead us?
The theme of preparing for the labyrinth offers such rich possibilities and Dame Helena was, of course, only able to offer a few of her thoughts about how it might best be done. Three in particular really resonated most with me – the value of involvement in sport, the importance of connecting with current affairs and a tip for avoiding the ‘wall of worry’ that can hold women back.
Sport hones the character even as it tones the body, teaching us how to lose and fail, how to depend on others and become dependable, how to dig deep under pressure and set self-interest aside for the good of the team.
All of this is demonstrably good for girls and young women – ‘74% of employers say that a background in sport will assist a professional career for women’ and ‘96 % of the highest ranking female executives played sports and 55% of them at university level or higher.’
Engagement with current affairs gives us a valuable perspective on our own concerns and acts as a necessary corrective to the superficial media commentary, so prevalent in young people’s lives, that is so apt to present complex issues as simple (usually with a clear villain to blame). By looking outwards beyond ourselves, we also develop the levels of empathy that enrich our own understanding of ourselves as fabulous – and flawed. Current affairs are always on the agenda in school and, for parents keen to find a launch pad for engagement at home, ‘First News’ provides an excellent starting point.
Finally, Dame Helena’s advice for young women who may feel trapped in a circle of impossibility, blocked by a ‘wall of worry’ or daunted by the prospect of crashing up against a glass ceiling was beguilingly simple and brilliantly counter-intuitive– ‘leap before you look.’ For those embarking on the ascent of a career ladder, the prescription for a dose of boldness was timely indeed. According to research commissioned by the 30% Club, ‘women’s more cautious approach to applying for jobs or promotions: 20% of men will apply for a role despite only partially meeting its job description, compared to 14% of women’ holds them back professionally.
A hesitancy about defining ambitions also limits women’s progression in the workplace relative to their male counterparts – the same report found that ‘over half (52%) of male managers had a ‘fair idea’ or ‘clear ambition’ to work in a particular role, compared with 45% of women managers. Fewer women than men (50% vs 62%) expected to become managers.’
Taking one’s courage in one’s hands and stepping out before the path ahead is completely clear – a method which, labelled as ‘act and learn’, is familiar to all educators – may be the best (and only?) way to make the most of the extraordinary journey that is the labyrinth of life.
Dr Helen Stringer, Headmistress
Sources and references
Report on the GDST Conference: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/family/private-school-chief-girls-feisty-give-credit
On sport: Read Mrs Hackett’s blog from which I have taken her favourite statistics: http://seniorblog.northamptonhigh.co.uk/2016/09/30/the-rio-olympics-what-will-be-the-legacy-for-girls/
On current affairs: https://www.firstnews.co.uk
Report on ambition and gender: https://30percentclub.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/ILM_Ambition_and_Gender_report_0211-pdf.pdf