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’ 
Sports Day 2019
What will be the lasting memories of Sports Day 2019? Let me share with you my top 5.
The sound of school records tumbling, with new records in the U3 200m, L4 Long Jump, 100m and 800m, U4 Javelin, L5 100m and Relay, U5 100m and the 6th Form Long Jump being set. 2019 was a record-breaking year for breaking records! Well done to all our record-breakers, Arianna Hay, Janice Huang (twice), Phoebe Haynes, Lilli Trimble, Isabelle Kaspruk, Artemis relay team, Georgina Forde-Wells and Hollie-Megan Mullen respectively.
The sight of so many girls giving their all in their events – whether because they were going for those records in their chosen elite sport or because they just wanted to do their bit for their House. I spent some time helping at the High Jump and came away filled with admiration for the pluck of the girls who made that leap of faith in an event they didn’t normally excel in, as well as marvelling at the explosive energy of the natural adepts.
The beaming faces of the Junior School girls as they carried away an array of stickers – and, again, it was a pleasure to see how a ‘Well done’ badge meant as much to some girls as those ‘First’ rosettes did to others. Whether it was the 100m or the egg-and-spoon race, the pleasure of achievement was the same – and all the points counted in the competition.
The magnificent team spirit – exhibited in countless ways. Most notable were U5 girls coming hot-foot from their GCSE Maths Paper 2 exam to the track to take part in the races and the wealth of volunteers (from whatever house) running alongside the strugglers in the 800m races to encourage them through the final furlong and across the line.
Finally, the turnout of so many family members – making another record-breaking year, we think. Impressive picnics and seating arrangements brought a hint of Glyndebourne style to the High School fields for the day while active contributions – whether physical on the track (with Ms Taylor and Mr Peng in the forefront) or verbal from the sidelines (with a little bit of armchair coaching, of course!) – added a festive feel to a much-loved school tradition.
A very big ‘thank you’ to everyone – led by Mrs Hackett, Mrs Littlewood and all members of the Sport Faculty – who contributed to making it such a special day.
Celebrating the School Birthday
Whenever I tell people that I am a teacher, they almost always make the same reply. They tell me about a teacher they remember from their own school days. They repeat to me verbatim what that teacher said to them – often something inspiring or encouraging but sometimes, alas, the opposite. Their school days may have been many, many years ago but the memory of what their teacher said stays very fresh. (A comment to me by the teacher in charge of Careers at my school – ‘well, of course, it is easier for girls because you can either be a success or marry a success’ – still has the power to annoy me!) This reminds us what a big impact teachers can have and what an important job teaching is.
Currently, though, the standing of the teaching profession is lower than it has ever been in my career – and recruitment levels to the profession are correspondingly depressed. Time, then, to redress the balance in a small way by celebrating the joys of teaching – and what better opportunity than our School Birthday?
For 141 years, the High School has been a magnet for talented teachers and, though some of them have passed through its classrooms and corridors uncommemorated (except in the hearts and minds of their pupils at the time), others have left a permanent legacy. I think of Miss Straker with her motto – ‘work or go!’ – or the formidable Mrs Gee, immortalised in legends and a Bryan Organ portrait. I think of KM Peyton, Art teacher turned prize-winning author, and Mrs Wanda Davies – the lady with the famous bicycle.
Currently there are 77 teachers at the High School. Their teaching roles are as varied as one can imagine, from Mrs Waters in Pre-School to Mrs Hymers and Mrs Tansley, who specialise in A Level Business and Economics for the Sixth Form. Some are relative newcomers, while Mrs Dadge has been at the High School since it opened in Hardingstone in 1992. Many of us have been lifelong members of the profession while others, such as Mrs Forsyth and Mrs O’Doherty, have had other careers (engineering and librarianship respectively), besides.
Whatever our many difference, we all have one thing in common – our love of the work we do. This is what we celebrated in our Assembly. Our speakers (Miss Brandon-Jones, Mrs Dadge, Mr Donaldson, Mrs Forsyth, Mrs Halstead, Mrs Hill and Mrs Petryszak) entertained us with their stories, inspired us with their philosophies and moved us with their tributes to the job they love. Everyone in the room, from the Reception girls to the 6.2s, could take something of lasting value away. Many doubtless will.
The contributions of past generations of teachers form the geological underpinnings of our remarkable school. The contributions of the current generation are building a launch pad from which our students will take off and fly. Some of them – who knows? – may become teachers.
Day in the life of a Head
Pondering my parting message to you for the spring term, my mind travelled down the list of my appointments for just one day of this week (Wednesday, as it happens) and it struck me that my Day in the Life of a Head made a very suitable Life in a Day of the School.
And what a day it has been! A Class Assembly from Year 4 on Water was a model of cross-curricular learning, featuring science, ecology, oracy, singing and (a first for me) tanka poetry. A few steps across the Dining Hall, the Sixth Form Rock Band were centre-stage for a very different sort of Assembly, going through their paces with covers from, among others, Arctic Monkeys. This was closely followed for me by a visit to Reception, finding out more about how the girls use the outdoors for their learning. The flower beds in their garden are ready for planting and – more joined-up learning here – Mrs Shaw is hoping that the class can make soup from the carrots that they grow this season. A spell with Year 2 practising number bonds through an Easter Egg Hunt in the grounds completed a deep dive into the many ways in which junior girls can learn through adventure and exploration.
Late morning brought a planning meeting for our visit from BBC’s Question Time team. Interest in current affairs is at an all-time high among our students and so great excitement greeted the news that we had been selected as the venue for the 9 May Show. We are keen to make the most of the opportunity for them to gain insights into the logistics of the programme as well as introducing them to the cut and thrust of contemporary political debate. All the budding TV producers, journalists or politicians out there – this one is for you.
The afternoon brought a final meeting with a 62 student whom I have been supervising for the Extended Project Qualification, as she prepared to submit her final product. It is always a pleasure to take part in this programme, as individuals take on ambitious projects, juggle their many commitments and wrestle with ethical and methodological questions to reach their final goal. It has also been particularly stimulating for me to supervise a project on mathematics, quite a long way from my specialism, in a programme that encourages the demolition of subject barriers in the pursuit of original intellectual inquiry. A better preparation for university research would be hard to find.
If I stretch a point and include the full 24 hours since tea-time on Tuesday, the line-up of events becomes even more remarkable. Four o’clock found me at a Private View we hosted at the University of Northampton of ‘Yuli’ – an extraordinary film about the life of Cuban ballet phenomenon Carlos Acosta. Not only did we premiere the film a day before it was shown in Covent Garden but we were also able to meet the Director, Icíar Bollain (a Madrilenian living in the UK), who had generously accepted Ms Diez’s invitation to take part in a Q&A with our students. (This they did in Spanish, naturally.) With our GCSE Language oral exams kicking off and the German exchange visit winding down (and planning for the finale of our Erasmus+ project continuing in the background), this has been an intense week for building European links and has taken us several steps forward in our bid to increase the international awareness of all our students as they head towards a global workplace.
Minutes after the film credits rolled, it was a quick change of scene as we began our annual Sports Awards Evening in the Senior School Hall. With a new format and a dazzling line-up of prize winners and guests, the evening reminded us what a very successful year this has been in sport – culminating in the U16 netball team being placed 11th in the National Finals. International netballer, Eboni Usoro-Brown, had earlier in the evening delighted girls in the Junior Awards with her story of playing for England, and her 5 tips for success (including ‘enjoy the journey’) hit the mark exactly for her eager audience. With the summer season yet to start in earnest, it is clear that huge numbers of girls are ‘enjoying the journey’ of their life in sport.
That, then, was my day (and what a privilege to be able to call this work!). From Reception to 62, rock music to ballet – via netball and number bonds, politics and poetry – school is a kaleidoscope of experiences and opportunities. Every girl, every day.
Little wonder, then, that we are ready for a break when the end of term comes. Whatever the spring break brings for you, I hope that it is happy and healthy.