Head's Blog

06
May

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
Headmistress 

 

20
Nov

Leading women and women as leaders

Over the past few days, several events have come together that have caused me to focus on the school that we are: our school librarian’s recommendation of ‘Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men’, by Caroline Criado Perez, discussions around our response to Black Lives Matter and my virtual attendance at the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) Conference, 2020.

Criado Perez’s book covers a wide variety of issues relating to the theme of gender bias or, perhaps – more accurately – data bias, and it is a fascinating read. In it, she addresses issues from government policy and medical research, to technology, workplaces, urban planning and the media, but a theme she refers to again and again is the influence of lack of role models on girls’ self-perception and learning. This includes ‘brilliance bias’ through which she explains that by the age of six girls have often started to doubt their gender and quoting a 2017 paper on the subject:

‘A recent US study found that when girls start primary school at the age of five, they are as likely as five-year-old boys to think women could be ‘really, really smart’. But by the time they turn six, something changes. They start doubting their gender.’

Much of this she links to leadership, stating that many girls go on to view female lecturers as less qualified than their male counterparts, despite the reality, and the huge sexist bias that remains. She also states that ‘job vacancies are still often announced with masculine forms – particularly if they are for leadership roles’ and that (only) ‘27% of CEOs in the US are female, but women made up only 11% of the Google Image search results’. Relevant to our children’s ‘education’, too, she states that ‘only 13% of non-human children’s TV characters are female and of children’s films released between 1990 and 2005, 72% of speaking roles went to male characters’. And, more importantly, of failures in the curriculum: the first being the 2015 campaign by an A Level student who noticed that, ‘of the sixty-three set works included in her music syllabus, not a single one was by a woman’ and the other Michael Gove’s 2013 national History curriculum that saw an ‘almost wholesale absence of women’.

Given the above – the ‘brilliance bias’, ill-designed curricula and a disproportionately low number of female role models, particularly in leadership positions, it is not surprising that Criado Perez writes that ‘a powerful woman is seen as a norm violation’.

Inspired by her book and associated research, I took some time to explore the facts about female leadership in schools and, although the figures are now several months old, this research is still representative today.

These figures tell us that, of 221,000 teachers employed in state-funded primary schools 34,100 are men and 187,000 are women, a ratio of 1:5.5, yet there are 4,500 male heads and 12,300 female heads, a ratio of 1:2.7 – almost half the proportion. Put another way, if you are a man working in a state-funded primary school, you are twice as likely to be a head as your female counterpart; in a secondary school, you are almost three times as likely to be so. Of the (relatively few) female heads that are in post, a shocking 96.6% in state schools are of white ethnicity. This reflects, in part, recruitment to the profession, but it is also a misrepresentative statistic in its own right. And let’s not forget the zeitgeist that is the gender pay gap…

My research went well beyond these headlines, but the outcome was still the same, and that is that women leaders are still well behind men, even in the 21st century, both within my own profession and beyond.

As she opened the GSA conference this week, Jane Prescott – Head of Portsmouth High School, Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) and Chair of GSA – spoke of strong female role models who have demonstrated tremendous leadership over recent months, including Angela Merkel, Erna Solberg and Jacinda Arden. When asked “Do you think girls in schools have been inspired by female leaders around the world, whether this has given them confidence and whether empathy has been seen to be a strength?”, Jane concurred.

Speaking later in the conference, Cheryl Giovannoni, CEO of the GDST, quoted Hillary Clinton’s concession speech of 2008 in which she acknowledged that Barack Obama was the clear nominee for the Democratic Party, stating that “although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.” This is a woman whom Criado-Perez reminds us was seen, in the 2016 US presidential election, as ‘too ambitious’ to many, yet Cheryl reminded us of the fact that she displays many of the characteristics that we teach our girls every day: to be fearless, to get up, dust themselves off and carry on, and to believe in themselves and never give up on their dreams.

As members of the GDST family of schools and the GSA network we have no shortage of inspirational role models: in the GDST alone we have over 70,000 alumnae, many of whom are willing to give their time and knowledge to current students through initiatives such as the Rungway mentoring app and GDST Life.

Criado Perez’s quotes on the failures in the curriculum with regard to the absence of women are now a few years’ old and, although some progress has been made, more can be, too. Now, though, we are all rightly focusing on Diversity and Inclusion, Black Lives Matter and the associated curricula. As an independent school we have the gift to change the curriculum for all our students and we are working to do so through conversation with pupils, parents and staff. As members of the GDST and its ‘UNDIVIDED’ commitment to diversity, inclusion and real change, we can do even more.

I could not be more proud than to be leading one of the GDST family’s schools and to be a part of the wider GSA network, and particularly at this difficult time. I fully believe that our students have all of the inspiration, collaboration and support that they need to excel in life, and to eventually allow that light to beam through the place where that ‘glass ceiling’ once stood…

12
Jun

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.

Best wishes,

Caroline Petryszak – 12 June 2020

14
Feb

Personal Development

‘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

 

 

15
Nov

Awards Evening 2019

This week we had the pleasure of coming together to celebrate the academic year 2018-2019, to recognise and applaud the achievements of our students and to thank all those who had contributed to making the three terms so successful.

The theme of the evening was ‘Fearless Individuality’ and, although we rightly mentioned the excellent headline examination figures of 59% A*-A grades at GCSE and 70% A*-B at A-Level, the focus was very much on the stories of the individuals – on the risks that they had taken, the hurdles that they had overcome and of the opportunities that they had been given along the way.

Our guest speaker was Sasha Roseneil, Professor of Interdisciplinary Social Science and Dean of the Faculty of Social and Historical Sciences at UCL. As a High School alumna, she was able to take us on a journey from Derngate to London via Yorkshire and Essex as she spoke about her ‘Places of Learning’. In an entertaining and informative speech that touched students and visitors alike, Sasha outlined her academic and professional journey, discussed memories of school, and –  picking up on the theme of the evening – spoke of her own relative strengths and weaknesses, her interests and passions and of the unexpected events that have made her the person that she is today.

Being an individual – especially in one’s teenage years – can take real courage, but we pride ourselves in knowing and valuing each of our girls and they are encouraged to take risks, to trust in and develop their own skills and character and to avail themselves of the myriad opportunities on offer. These include extracurricular offerings, with sessions as diverse as Debating Club, Ukelele Group, Language Leaders, Femsoc, Cafe Sci, Yoga and the Sewing Bee, and volunteering opportunities, including the Big Bear Little Bear and Big Sister Little Sister mentoring schemes. Girls have the opportunity, too, to provide academic support as Language Leaders or Number Partners and to be involved in outreach work as Young Philanthropy Ambassadors or Community Sports Leaders.

Opportunities for personal and intellectual growth in the classroom are a given at the High School,

and the Awards Evening is a perfect opportunity to appreciate this as girls receive recognition for their public examination results, scholarship, and academic excellence and achievement. This year, we also celebrated the individual successes of a student who won a gold medal and a trip to a prestigious award ceremony in the Biology Olympiad and another who won a much-coveted place at the Newnham College Summer School for Mathematics in Cambridge. We considered, too, the two students who were selected for the English Schools Athletics Competition at Alexandra Stadium, the girl who won gold at the World Para Swimming European Championships and the former pupil who was nominated by the British Film Industry as one of 2019’s ‘faces to watch’.

Personal growth is not simply about solo recognition, though, and all of our students – including those mentioned above – understand the importance of bringing their peculiar skills and character to a group or team setting. The ability to think creatively and to work collaboratively are deemed as essential skills for future employment and lifelong learning and girls are encouraged in these, and in appreciating the value that they can add to a group.

Not surprisingly, therefore, there have been numerous opportunities to work as a group over the past year and we remembered in particular the trips to the University of Leicester for a Brain Awareness Day, Warwick University to track exotic particles using real data from CERN and the Victoria & Albert Museum for the ‘Dior Designer of Dreams’ exhibition. Longer excursions, too, including outward bounds courses, Duke of Edinburgh hikes, the World Challenge expedition to Cambodia and other overseas tours, including language exchanges. A particular highlight here was the Erasmus+ project, which involved four other European Schools and had a focus on creativity and digital competency. We are delighted and honoured to be holding the grand finale of this here in Northampton in the spring.

Group achievements include the Young Enterprise company who won the award for the best customer service and best teamwork at the county final and there was a plethora of team successes, especially in sport. The U16 badminton team represented Northamptonshire in the regional finals, where they were runners-up, and the U16 Netball team reached the national finals, finishing an astonishing 12th in the country. Meanwhile, the U13 and U15 hockey teams were once again division champions, the U13 swimming team repeated their success in qualifying for the IAPS National Finals and the equestrian team won a place at the prestigious national finals at Hickstead.

Considering the team that was the staff, student and parent body of 2018-2019, it was impossible not to mention the whole-school celebrations and achievements, including sports days, the Gym and Dance Extravaganza, the production of CATS the Musical and the hosting of BBC’s Question Time. For many, however, the 140th Birthday Gala Concert at All Saints’ Church was unforgettable. This event marked the culmination of a year of celebration and brought the whole High School community –  both past and present – together. Professor Roseneil spoke of her memories of the centenary celebrations when she was a High School pupil, yet she delighted in her ex-form tutor and language teacher being present for her Awards Evening speech this week. She will be back at least once a year, to give of her time and expertise and to remember and absorb the very special atmosphere that is Northampton High School. Others will return, too, as they always do, and we will continue to celebrate the individuals who constitute our unique community.

21
Jun

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.

https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/50-things-to-do

Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris ‘The Lost Words’ [2017]

http://www.jackiemorris.co.uk/blog/book-list/the-lost-words-a-spell-of-words-by-robert-macfarlane/

14
Jun

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.

03
May

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.

 

05
Apr

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.