Thoughts from the Head – Black Lives Matter
The shocking events following the tragic death of George Floyd in the USA have rightly sparked outrage and grief across the world, causing us all to reflect on our own values and attitudes towards racism – as individuals and as members of our school community.
We are privileged to be members of a racially diverse community at Northampton High School and I am proud of the fact that we avoid stereotyping, racism and unconscious bias. Indeed, our ISI inspection report earlier this year commented on this on many occasions, stating that ‘pupils show extremely high levels of respect for each other, being sensitive to different cultural traditions’ and that they are ‘tolerant and sensitive to each other’.
I am proud, too, of the fact that our school community is so passionate about the #BlackLivesMatter agenda and that there is great appetite to increase recognition of this through curricular and other means. Our students in partnership with our senior team have already been proactive in bringing matters of race to wider school community and plans are underway to move the agenda forward.
Much is already in place of course, however, we are keen to make the spirit of #BLM an inherent part of school life in all areas. We recognise that any change will be sustainable only if it comes jointly from the students themselves, myself and the senior team.
I have been hugely appreciative of our school community’s response to the situation and would like to thank the many parents who have volunteered to join the Diversity and Inclusion Forum and the students who have willingly come forward to form a society on the same theme. With so many committed to changing the culture for current and future generations of students, both in our own setting and beyond, we really have the opportunity to make a difference.
On a wider level, the GDST recognises that the organisation’s history and mission in helping girls to learn without limits – to achieve gender justice – cannot be achieved without racial justice, too. Consequently, our organisation plans to form a steering committee to work on a GDST Charter of Action that will ensure that staff, students, alumnae and parents have an opportunity to influence and contribute to the organisation’s goals and commitments in this area.
The Charter seeks to address ‘HOW we will make sure the GDST family always embodies an ethos of mutual respect and consideration; HOW we provide a safe, open and respectful working and learning environment for all; and HOW we will make sure everyone’s voice is heard as we seek to make meaningful change happen’. I very much hope that members of our community will commit to this, too.
Caroline Petryszak – 12 June 2020
Can MOOCS Support Teachers in Offering a Flexible Curriculum?
The New York Times named 2012 ‘The Year of the MOOC’ or Massive Open Online Course. MOOCs moved online learning right away from the hour-long videos of classes uploaded to secure web spaces so students who missed the lesson could catch up. Eight years on and MOOCs continue to go from strength to strength with arguably the most successful being FutureLearn, backed by longstanding experts in online learning, the Open University.
Educational technology, or EdTech, has been through a variety of stages in schools. In the 1990s and early 2000s we were teaching students how to use software in the world of work. The last decade has mostly been about the tech itself. Do we want iPads, Chromebooks, Microsoft? Do we want Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) or class-sets? Should we have smartboards or not? These questions have dominated many school discussions. I am pleased to be part of the GDST community where innovation is valued and shaping EdTech pedagogy is high on the agenda. I believe it doesn’t matter what the platform or software; the main thing is that EdTech should bring the teaching and learning to life, offer choices and give flexibility in the curriculum.
As Dr Eileen Kennedy, Senior Research Associate at UCL, writes that one of the benefits of EdTech is the greater engagement achieved for school pupils though the interaction and collaboration it affords. EdTech, and specifically, MOOCs can also be hugely advantageous due to their inherent asynchronicity. It was this feature of learning anytime, anywhere, at your own pace, that led my venture into designing a FutureLearn course. The driver for this project was the need for flexibility in our curriculum. In fact it was the very flexibility of our Sixth Form curriculum that created a problem requiring a flexible solution! Northampton High School enables Sixth Form students to create a bespoke programme of study; a pick-and-mix of 3 A Levels and a range of elective courses. The Extended Project Qualification elective, for which I am responsible, is highly valued at our school as it gives students an opportunity to study independently and in-depth a topic of personal interest. It also requires a range of skills to be taught in order that students understand how to create an academic piece of work and reflect on the journey they take through the creation of the project. With such a flexible timetable and only two staff delivering the skills, we had been struggling to enable the students to attend the skills sessions needed. So a plan took shape to devise a MOOC (or in this case a SPOC – Small Personal Online Course – as it was initially only accessible to the students at Northampton High School). Video content, suitable tasks, articles and reading materials all needed to be sourced, created or adapted to fit the online learning mode of study. I decided, for example, to use first hand materials from previous EPQ students in my video content, to hopefully bring the program to life for students.
In terms of pedagogical process, designing the course was very similar to planning a traditional scheme of work. Only this time we had a range of online tools such as YouTube clips, in-house videos, self-marking quizzes and randomised peer-marked tasks to add into our resources armoury. The other notable change in terms of setting tasks was the built in discussion tools offered by FutureLearn. Collaboration and connection are vital features in successful online courses. Learning how to help students engage in meaningful discussions was probably the aspect of course design that exercised me most.
And so far, so good. Numbers of students engaging in the EPQ at Northampton High are up this year and their discussion about topic choices appear to have been aided by the online discussions. I am certain that teachers have nothing to fear from online courses; they will not make our roles redundant but are more likely enhance engagement with our subject and give more depth to discussion and collaboration when we are face to face in the classroom.
‘The quality of the pupils’ personal development is excellent’. Northampton High School ISI Report, November 2019
At Northampton High School, we place great emphasis on personal development, and this was immediately recognised by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) on their visit to the school in November 2019. This area of their inspection report considers a number of factors including pupils’ self-esteem, self-confidence, resilience, well-being, spiritual understanding, social awareness and respect and value for different cultures. The school was judged ‘excellent’ for personal development – the highest possible grade.
Personal development is a priority from the outset at Northampton High School as our Nursery girls are encouraged to develop their independence under the careful guidance of their key worker. This member of staff works closely with the parents, as do the tutors as the girls progress through the Junior School. These partnerships of care, nurture and support are vitally important, and small class sizes allow adequate time and attention for each child.
Wrap-around care and a wide range of extracurricular activities enable the girls to develop their interests and individuality from a very young age, and those in Reception to Year 6 benefit from the expertise of colleagues from the Junior and Senior Schools – as well as external facilitators – as they explore extracurricular opportunities and begin to develop a sense of self.
Regular Philosophy for Children (P4C) lessons encourage Junior School students to philosophise about images, video clips and text extracts as they learn to express concerns, create questions, to reason and to identify inconsistencies. As they work together, they learn to become clearer in their thinking, more open-minded, less self-contradictory and increasingly aware of the arguments and values of others.
PSHEE lessons tackle key issues in an age-appropriate way and whole-school assemblies often tie in with these discussions, and with current affairs. Junior School students are encouraged to talk about these themes with their parents as they develop their social awareness. As they move through Key Stage 2 they are increasingly encouraged to take on positions of responsibility and to lead and care for others through initiatives such as peer-to-peer mentoring – opportunities that they will carry into the Senior School and Sixth Form, too.
As girls mature, relationships with friends become more complex, and we prepare them for this by adopting the ‘Girls on Board’ programme in Years 5 to 9. This approach enables the girls to find their own solutions to disagreements, giving them an emotional toolkit to use independently and empowering them to take control of their own relationships. It also helps them, their parents and their teachers to understand the complexities and dynamics of girl friendships and helps in the transition from their junior to senior years.
‘The social development of pupils is excellent’. Northampton High School ISI Report, November 2019
Promoting emotional security and developing character and resilience for life are key principles in our personal development programmes. In addition to Girls on Board, there are a number of structured programmes that underpin our Senior School Wellbeing and Development practices, and these fall both within and outside the main curriculum.
The Positive™ programme promotes positive psychology in every area of school life and we teach students to use tools such as the Worry Filter™ and Emotional Barometer™. These tools help them to notice and normalise a range of feelings, whilst working through helpful techniques to move from a negative to a more positive mindset.
In Year 7, pupils are introduced to the COaCH (Confidence and Challenge) programme. This programme, spanning Years 7 to 9, provides a range of challenging activities aimed at developing confidence, resilience and leadership, alongside introducing a range of supportive services available in school.
Our PSHEE curriculum is a core element to the COaCH programme. Through these lessons we encourage students to explore, in an age appropriate way, a range of social, personal and health matters. This includes digital literacy and awareness and dealing with problems they may encounter in school and their wider lives. Getting involved in new activities and learning new skills are vital to personal development and the COaCH programme challenges students to take up at least one new activity each term from the vast list of extracurricular offerings. This gives them the opportunity to learn about themselves and others.
Our excellent pastoral structures mean that all the pupils have a range of people to turn to for day-to-day support as well as more specialist services. Form tutors meet their tutees daily for a catch-up and termly for a more detailed tutorial. Heads of Year work with the whole year group, running activities, assemblies, relaxation breakfasts and other events to promote friendship and well-being. Our Wellbeing Assistant offers a listening ear as well as bespoke mentoring and coaching sessions and group workshops on a range of wellbeing topics. We also employ a nurse to deal with day-to-day medical issues and support with chronic complaints.
In the Sixth Form, students’ personal development is driven by an active engagement in the wider community and by a bespoke programme that supports their next steps after school. Through schemes such as the Community Sports Leaders Award, Young Philanthropy and Big Sister Little Sister, students develop practical skills while actively supporting other people, whether that be through promoting sport at local primary schools, visits to nursing homes or mentoring younger girls at the High School.
The PSHEE curriculum also includes sessions that reflect on the role Sixth Form students can play in helping to support wider society through joining the Anthony Nolan register, for instance, or taking part in the Oxford University Meningitis B vaccine trial. Leadership roles throughout school are taken by Sixth Formers, who gain valuable experiences while giving back to the school community.
We support students in making decisions about life after school through a personalised, comprehensive programme. This includes visiting speakers, trips to universities and apprenticeship fairs, opportunities for work experience through the GDST Rungway app (among others), as well as a continuing, personal dialogue between students and tutors that is supplemented by PSHEE sessions on writing applications, managing finances and making informed decisions.
‘There is an excellent awareness from all pupils as to their moral obligations to each other, themselves and the school to be the best they can be each day’. Northampton High School ISI Report, November 2019
Throughout the school, personal development is enhanced by a broad curriculum that offers students the opportunity to learn in creative ways, promoting confidence and offering independent choice without compromising on academic excellence. Our students leave us as confident and forward-thinking young women with a strong sense of their own identity and a deep respect and tolerance for each other, which is a strength of the school (ISI report, 2019). The results speak for themselves.
Caroline Petryszak, 14 February 2020
Tough lessons in learning
I always think that late January has something of a ‘between the wars’ feeling to it in school. As Year 11 students breathe a sigh of relief and head bleary-eyed back into lessons after their mock exams, Year 13 students are girding their loins for the onslaught of their own practice papers. And let there be no doubt, mock exams are a significant hurdle. At first glance, they may simply appear to be a measurement against the exam boards’ yard sticks, but, of necessity, they are crammed into a short period of time, and doomed to attempt the near impossible – to give a picture of overall attainment in courses that are not even completed in many cases.
For teachers, parents and guardians they represent a challenge too. At best, they provide a helpful pointer in terms of likely achievement, but they also often hint at how much more could be achieved if heels were picked up and whips were cracked, ringing alarm bells that can lead to disillusionment. We must help students to see mocks as opportunities for development and reflection that do not merit such draining emotional torments, while also ensuring they take them seriously.
And yet, year after year, we see final exam grades that significantly outstrip mock results. So surely they are doing their job? I would argue that this is indeed the case, and the very fact that they are able to replicate some of the high stakes to come is what leads to this success.
So, what is indispensable to effective learning and how do mocks help with this? Research points to active processes for recalling information as being the most effective. In essence, this is what tests do – force learners actively to reclaim specific knowledge from their memories, according to the requirements of a given paper.
This is why past paper practice, like the mocks, can be such a good way to revise. If you want to support a learner towards a specific aim, you practise within the context. It is of little help to a learner driver in a practical test to read and reread the Highway Code, but improving parallel parking by completing the manoeuvre multiple times in different parts of town will certainly make a difference.
In their research, Dunlosky et al. say that practice testing has ‘high utility’ and is ‘not time intensive in comparison with other techniques’. This comparison is with very widespread but unproductive methods for revision, such as rereading, highlighting and making notes. Study vlogger Ali Abdaal goes into more detail on this in his YouTube channel here: youtu.be/ukLnPbIffxE
So, gather all the past papers and individual practice questions you can. Complete them (in timed conditions, if possible) and seek feedback on all of them. Use www.thestudentroom.co.uk forums to see what other people thought of past papers and get to know what the board is looking for by reading examiners’ reports.
Don’t forget, the more active you are in extracting your memories, the more learning you are doing.
John Dunlosky, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, Daniel T. Willingham; Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. In Psychological Science in the Public Interest Journal, January 2013