Head's Blog

13
May

Why girls only?

On 2 May, Northampton High School marked another significant milestone, celebrating 146 years of expertise in girls’ education. Reflecting on my own positive experiences of a girls-only, all-through education has only fuelled my passion and commitment to what I am continually doing at Northampton High School GDST. Here, we do more than education; we empower young women to tackle life’s challenges and break societal expectations. This article discusses why schools like ours are pivotal in nurturing capable, confident young women ready to create a more equitable world.

The benefits of an all girls’ education are manifold. A quick look at the toy and clothing industries, children’s literature and television shows reveals how deeply ingrained societal messages about gender roles are from an early age. These messages not only reinforce outdated gender norms, but also limit girls’ aspirations and reinforce stereotypes. For instance, many ostensibly female children’s clothes emphasise passive states rather than actions or achievements – being cute, being pretty, or being a princess.

Similarly, girls’ toys often align with this narrative, emphasising the cultivation of appearance through activities such as jewellery-making, hair-styling, make-up. Take, for instance, Lego Friends, marketed as a female version of Lego, perpetuates traditional gender roles despite the fact that girls don’t necessarily require a separate version to develop spatial awareness, as other traditional boys toys encourage. Arguably, the toy industries have become increasingly gendered over the past few decades and the reason is utterly cynical. The motive is to manipulate consumers into buying different toys for each gender, preventing them from recycling toys when they have children of the opposite sex.

However, girls and young women are not passive victims; we are agents of our destinies as much as men. We may not, as a general rule, be as physically strong, but we are every bit as brave. In essence, the imperative of championing the cause of girls’ only education looms larger than ever before.

In a girls’ only education setting, opportunities are limitless, with everything designed with girls in mind, including the classroom, curriculum and culture. Hence, it is no surprise that girls are more likely to take STEM A Levels, engage in sports like football and cricket, or participate in activities like debating club in an all girls’ school than in a co-ed. Girls have the space to be seen and the voice to be heard; they are inspired to think for themselves and enjoy and celebrate success, however they may define it.

There’s an inescapable truth: girls learn differently from boys and thrive in an environment specifically designed just for them. This is why I am a strong advocate for single sex education for girls; the unique learning styles and needs of girls warrant a tailored educational approach that fosters confidence, curiosity, collaboration and critical thinking. In such environments, girls are free from judgement and societal constraints, and they learn to tear up the rulebook on what they can and can’t achieve. A classroom devoid of gender-based expectations regarding academic strengths or weaknesses, and free from the fear of embarrassment or labelling, provides girls with the freedom to experiment, test their assumptions and confront their limitations – essentially, it allows them to truly learn.

It’s there in the research and evident in my daily observations at Northampton High. Our girls can try and fail without judgement, forge their own identities, assume leadership roles or support their peers, and build self-confidence, self-worth and self-knowledge. Our Sixth Formers take leadership roles as part of the Student Senior Leadership Team and Heads of House and deliver them in their way, be that collaboratively, authoritatively or creatively, influencing through teamwork, persuasion and co-operation. We are modelling the world we want to see. Moreover, we prepare them for a co-ed world by discussing and encouraging healthy relationships, exploring how a mortgage works and providing the emotional support they need to navigate life.

In today’s world, girls-only education is more important than ever. Girls learn best through discussion and exploration because more areas of their brain are dedicated to verbal functions, while a greater part of boys’ cerebral cortex is concerned with spatial and mechanical functioning, resulting in their shorter concentration spans than girls. In classrooms without boys, girls can flourish. They feel more free to pursue a wider range of subjects, to participate more actively in lessons, challenge others’ views, take leadership roles, work collaboratively and contribute meaningfully towards an equitable society.

We must continue to recognise and champion the importance of girls’ only education in shaping a brighter future for all. At Northampton High, we are proud to provide a diverse and inclusive community that empowers our girls to believe there is nothing they cannot achieve and that everything is possible.

29
Apr

Nurturing healthy friendships

The ability to establish and maintain healthy friendships, communicate effectively, resolve conflicts, resist peer pressure and collaborate are important in life, and in school. However, it is nearly inevitable that during her school years, your daughter will experience some form of friendship issue and encounter the ebb and flow of social dynamics.

We recognise that the dynamics of friendship typically change at secondary school, as girls gain maturity, social circles evolve and teaching groups change. Girls are better able to assess what is going on as they get older, they can see the potential for destructive situations, so they develop skills to make sure the painful things do not happen. They exercise caution and are more careful in choosing their friends.

In an all-girls learning environment, their sense of identity and self-worth is partly dependent on the feedback they get from their peers. Girls do not learn well when they are unhappy so an emotional issue can mean they start underachieving.

We share some proven approaches to equip you to best support your daughter to navigate school friendships, and to enable her to thrive socially and academically.

Accept it is going to happen

Accepting that changes in friendships are inevitable is perhaps the most significant step in helping your daughter navigate these relationships. As children grow and develop, they are changing, expressing themselves in different ways and learning along the way. Consequently, friendship groups will evolve, someone will try and find a new friendship, and one child may feel ignored. Something may go wrong in a group and, in trying to navigate a complex situation, girls can make poor choices and handle it badly. Friendship dynamics can get messy, and if we add social media into the mix with words pinging via messaging and text, and the margin for error is amplified.

When challenges arise, encourage your daughter to take a step back and reflect on the situation. Ask whether this is just one individual having a fleeting lapse in judgement rather than a deeper problem. Or, perhaps a friendship has become unhealthy and it is time to gradually distance herself and gravitate towards different friends. Acknowledge your child’s feelings and reaffirm that it is okay; people change and grow and will not always remain close friends. Empower her to make informed decisions about her social circles.

Cultivate open and honest communication

Maintaining open and honest lines of communication between yourself and your child will in turn help to forge stronger relationships with her peers. Find the time and space to listen and let your daughter share her thoughts and concerns.

Do bear in mind you will never get the whole picture and ‘the truth’ is multifaceted and usually does not exist objectively in the way you would like it to be. What we hear is one person’s account of their experience of a situation. Our reflex is to automatically believe our child has been wronged, but be open to the idea that there is likely to be another child feeling exactly the same way.

Modelling conversation by naming the difficulty is a good way to encourage conversation. This is helpful when dealing with more tricky conversations. In this case, we encourage families to use the rose bud retrospective: what is positive (the rose) and what is challenging or bad (the thorn) and what is growing or is something you are excited about (the bud). Parents can drop this into dinner or bedtime routines to encourage a healthy review of the day, but on the same token, parents must model this and share a review of their own day.

Champion resilience 

Resilience is the ability to do well despite challenges in life. It helps us adapt successfully and bounce back from adversity, failure, conflict and disappointment. When faced with friendship turbulence and difficulties, resilient children still experience anger, rejection, grief and pain, but they can function and recover.

Coping strategies and emotional resilience can buffer the effects of any negativity among friends. Help your child develop problem-solving skills, teach them healthy coping strategies, and provide emotional support. For example, empathy is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence and it is a critical skill for building and maintaining positive, healthy and meaningful friendships. We can encourage our girls to consider the feelings of others and to act with kindness in order to navigate conflicts with compassion and understanding.

Develop self-confidence and self-belief

Promoting assertiveness skills can help girls establish and maintain healthy boundaries in their friendships. Through our COACH programme at Northampton High, where our co-curricular and extracurricular activities and events are designed to help our girls to become confident communicators and critical thinkers, we are engendering a culture where speaking up and speaking out is actively encouraged. We believe that by promoting an environment that values self-expression and autonomy, we are empowering our girls to navigate peer pressure with confidence and integrity.

At home, encourage your daughter to express her opinions, stand up for herself and assert her personal boundaries. Developing the ability to say no to something that makes a child feel unhappy, unsafe and uncomfortable is important, and can protect them from giving in to peer pressure as they go through school.

Friendship turbulence, fallouts and problems at school happen and most are, thankfully not due to bullying. Mostly, there is no winner or loser, or clarity around what occurred. Friendships change and can simply get messy. By helping your daughter to practise friendship skills such as listening, sharing, compromising and negotiating can all be effective in addressing friendship issues. Likewise, by supporting your child to navigate the complexities and intricacies of friendships you are equipping her to develop healthy and supportive relationships in life.

‘Friends come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime’ – Brian A. “Drew” Chalker

I love this quote – the friendships your child has now might be for this moment or it could be for a lifetime, but it is important to know that this will change and evolve. Supporting your child through these times can be joyful but they can also be challenging and upsetting but it is about being there in all those moments to support your child in navigating friendships as they grow.

Dr Lee
Head

25
Mar

Character development, education and growth mindset

The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384 BC) made significant and lasting contributions to nearly every aspect of human knowledge, from the intricacies of logic to the nuances of biology, ethics and aesthetics. At the core of Aristotle’s philosophical inquiry lies a fundamental question: what constitutes a good and fulfilling life? He observed that it entails the acquisition and cultivation of particular virtues of character.

Aristotle delineated virtues such as courage, patience, generosity, friendliness as important characteristics that would benefit not only an individual’s wellbeing, but society as a whole, epitomising the age-old adage that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. The unification of the behaviour of disparate parts can be seen within our school community.

At Northampton High, we have designed a coherent approach to nurturing pupils’ academic and personal development, exemplified by our well-respected ‘Northampton High Approach’ Learn-Reach-Coach programmes. Across the whole school, our pupils know and can explain the educational ethos of this programme; collaboration, curiosity, perseverance, independence and risk taking, recognising these intellectual characteristics serve as guiding beacons, helping to keep them focused throughout their school career.

The ‘Northampton High Approach’ lies at the heart of much that we aim to do in our curriculum, classroom and culture. Here, our pupils develop their self-worth, self-confidence and self-knowledge, evidenced through active participation in competitive events, group participation (a shining example being the recent Year 3 and 4 ‘Ocean Commotion’ production) and by presenting to fellow pupils in assemblies.

However, Aristotle also recognised that we cannot change our behaviour just at the drop of a hat. But change is possible, eventually. Moral goodness, says Aristotle, is the result of habit. It takes time, consistent practice (like mastering a musical instrument), encouragement and good role models from whom to learn. Aligned with this philosophy, our ‘Northampton High Approach’ instils a set of dispositions and behaviours that empower our pupils to successfully approach problems and challenges in the classroom and everyday life. The overarching goal for the whole school is to ensure that these intellectual characteristics are developed. Thus, when pupils are faced with an answer that they do not immediately know, they display these characteristics in order to manage the situation intelligently.

Coupled with our emphasis on fostering intellectual characteristics, we also aim to develop pupils with a growth mindset. This is a mindset that we can grow and improve our abilities over time, the opposite of a fixed mindset which may stop us from even trying. If we have the belief that we can improve (which we can), we are more likely to put in the effort actually required to learn and grow. That does not mean that everyone has the potential to achieve top grades in everything with the right amount of effort (a damaging mindset), but that from whatever our initial skill level or starting point we can make meaningful steps forward in learning and our personal development.

This is of course good news! And it is also backed by science researcher and writer David Robson in his recent book ‘The Expectation Effect’. In this he makes a clear case for how expectations shape our experience in many aspects of life and can be self-fulling prophecies, for better or for worse depending on those expectations. We can bring about change, not through ‘magical’ thinking but by reframing our thoughts which change our habits and behaviours.

The challenge we all face is to develop a more ‘can do’ as opposed to a ‘can’t do’ attitude particularly in those areas we may find more personally challenging. If our young people at Northampton High can cultivate good habits of minds now, it really can make a difference to their ability to learn and develop greater resilience in an ever changing world.

As Carol Dweck aptly puts it, ‘People with a growth mindset know that it takes time for potential to flower’. It is not about immediate perfection but rather the steadfast commitment to confronting challenges and effectuating incremental progress. This philosophy resonates deeply with the enduring ethos of learning and growth that permeates every corner of life at Northampton High.

Dr Lee
Head

04
Mar

Reflection on the inspection process

 

Before the recent half-term break, Northampton High School was inspected under the Independent Schools Inspectorate’s (ISI) new framework, which came into effect from September 2023. Under the Framework 2023, schools no longer receive a traditional single-word judgement or grade; instead pupil experience is meticulously scrutinised under four key areas: leadership and management, quality of education, pupils’ physical and mental health and emotional wellbeing, pupils’ social and economic education and contribution to society.

The inspection took place over 2.5 days and entailed a multifaceted approach. Inspectors observed scores of lessons, engaged in collaborative lesson walks with school leaders, met with hundreds of students and a wide range of teaching and non-teaching staff, and held discussions with the School Governing Body and the GDST Senior Management Team. Additionally, questionnaires were sent out to parents, pupils from Year 5 and above, and staff, and responses were analysed.

The inspectors were tasked to gather evidence for evaluating pupils’ progress and outcomes, while assessing how teachers fostered opportunities for intellectual, creative and physical engagement within and beyond the classroom, nurturing self-motivated and independent learners. At the heart of this approach lay a strong emphasis on acquiring new knowledge, increasing understanding, and developing skills tailored to individual abilities across various subjects. In other words, the inspectors were trying to ascertain and delineate the learning ethos and culture fabric of our school, aiming to identify what sets us apart and makes us unique.

The inspection process prompted me to recall and contemplate the proverb: ‘Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick tempered displays folly’. This age-old proverb raises questions of values, moral behaviour, and the essence of right conduct. It resonated with me deeply as the inspectors endeavoured to define and understand the collective identity of Northampton High School and gain insight into what it is like to be a pupil within our precincts.

The proverb points to the importance of ‘great understanding’ and its connection to the virtue of patience. In the absence of a nuanced understanding, similar to the challenge faced by the ISI inspectors, hasty judgments and misinterpretations may ensue. It is only by getting ‘under the skin’ of something, and dedicating time to acquire a proper understanding of a person and their situation thoroughly that we can exercise genuine empathy for them.

To this end, understanding entails thoughtful and deliberate consideration of a situation, leading to appropriate responses. A fool is not necessarily a person who lacks intelligence but someone who reacts impulsively or loses their temper at the slightest provocation – or even without provocation at all. Reacting from pure instinct without having gathered all the facts is pure ‘folly’.

Furthermore, it behoves us to distinguish between knowledge and understanding. While schools impart knowledge, and pupils spend a lot of time getting to know a lot of stuff but without understanding the meaning or application of that knowledge, it can be of little use. Knowing is static, while understanding is active, describing the ability to analyse and place those facts in the context of a bigger picture or within a broader framework. It bridges the gap between knowledge and wisdom. When you comprehend the information you have learned, or knowledge you have acquired, you understand it. When you understand the knowledge and learn to apply it discerningly in decision-making and negotiations, you gain wisdom. It is also true that knowledge can exist without wisdom, but not the other way around. One can be knowledgeable without being wise.

In summary, the inspection process served as a poignant reminder that the right understanding serves as a precursor to acting and behaving wisely. This necessitates patience in listening, seeking informed perspectives, and refraining from hasty ill-tempered reactions. It is a quality essential for fostering greater empathy, deeper kindness, and wisdom in our interactions with others and in navigating the complexities of the world.

Dr Lee
Head

09
Feb

The strength of knowledge

Three years ago, the Mastermind of Britain competition witnessed its youngest ever champion: Jonathan Gibson. A student pursuing a PhD in modern history at the University of St Andrews at the time. Jonathan described himself as the “black sheep” of a family of lawyers and insisted that the secret to success in quizzing lies not in innate brain power, but in curiosity and dedicated practice. I for one found his enthusiasm and excitement at quizzing rather infectious and the fact that he credited his success down to curiosity, which is one of the five intellectual characteristics that we value at Northampton High School. We believe that with curiosity, we can push the boundaries of our knowledge and relish the discovery of new ideas, and there are no limits to what a Northampton High girl can achieve.

Jonathan, having charmed the nation with his specialist subject knowledge on the musical comedy duo Flanders and Swann, modestly remarked “I wouldn’t say it has anything to do with intelligence in a classical way”. I thought this showed a degree of humility but also was probably a true measure of his own character and intelligence, acknowledging that the more you know the more you are aware of the amount you do not know!

My blog draws inspiration from Socrates, often regarded as philosophy’s martyr. Sentenced to death in 399BC for allegedly corrupting the minds of the youth, Socrates never recorded his thoughts, believing that words lost their meaning. However, we understand his thinking through his pupil Plato’s writing. Plato’s Socratic dialogues feature Socrates in lively conversation on a wide range of subjects, from justice and virtue to art and politics. The central theme in Socrates’ thinking concerns the nature of knowledge, specifically on how most of us have very limited amounts! As Socrates says in the dialogues:

‘True wisdom comes to each of us when we realise how little we understand about life, ourselves and the world around us’. 

Socrates encouraged his pupils to question everything (which is why he was suspected of corrupting the minds of the youth) in order to gain deeper insight to a question or to suggest doubt to a previously held truth. By using his method of limitless questioning, Socrates soon discovered that, in fact, few people knew anything claimed to know for certain.

There is much we can learn from the Socratic method, not least to be wise to the limits of our own knowledge and certainty. Certainty can make us feel secure, but it can also be a barrier to intellectual growth and discovery. As such, we need to take the initiative and trust our instincts and we do not accept artificial limits to our potential. The key here is about actively seeking knowledge, constantly learning, and validating assumptions.

Crucially, we also need to seek knowledge from the best and stay curious, but recognise in humility that we will only ever know a very small amount of what there is to be known. In today’s fast paced world where we are bombarded with information from all sides and we have access to more knowledge than ever before, so many people are quick to accept things as facts without questioning them. Socrates’ quote, “I know that I do not know” is a much needed reminder that we should always be open to questioning our own assumptions and that true wisdom comes from acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers. Questions can therefore help us to define tasks, to express problems and to delineate issues.

At Northampton High, we have Reach cross-curricular weeks for Years 7 to 9 this term. These provide opportunities for our pupils to explore and discover how facts and ideas connect with one another across subjects, and build on the educational research that we learn when we are able to make connections. Additionally, if pupils are excited about a particular topic or theme, linking it to another subject can help motivate and inspire them toward learning across the whole curriculum, and foster their critical thinking and collaboration with each other. Fundamentally, we know that the world isn’t neatly divided into different subjects, so why should classroom education have to be?

Our cross-curricular weeks are complemented by open prep, where pupils are tasked to create an independent project based on a thematic word. In Year 8, the theme is ‘Memory’, while Years 7 and 9 focus on the concept of ‘Time’. These projects are expected to demonstrate higher order thinking skills, including documentation of research, and the school’s characteristics such as curiosity, risk-taking and independence. Teachers are allocated these to mark and there is no ‘normal’ homework set during this term. The open prep approach encourages our pupils to think creatively and outside the box.

In closing, adopting a humble mindset and keeping dialogue open are both essential in a world with competing truth claims, so that we might gain deeper understanding and exercise greater compassion towards those different from ourselves.

Dr May Lee
Head

26
Jan

The benefits of knowing oneself and being oneself

Our term continues apace and it seems to be flying by! We recently held our Year 7 Entrance Assessment Day, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to acquaint prospective families with our school. During my informal conversations with them, I often set out our school mission statement, “we believe in our girls, and they believe in themselves” and how this remains the cornerstone of everything we do here. 

I also get asked about the defining features and attributes of a Northampton High education and how it is different from the competition. I take great pride in elucidating the four uncompromising principles that underpin all that we do: 

  • Girls will always come first: everything is built around the girls and their needs including our classroom, our curriculum, and our culture. For example, all of our pupils swim in our pool from the age of three and a half and our aim is to break the mould and give our girls the confidence to question everything.
  • We are fearless and nurture it in our girls: girls who, in turn, are unafraid to speak up, speak out and speak loud, and to think differently. This is achieved through our innovative High School Approach and by our Learn, Reach and COaCh programmes. 
  • We are forward-thinking: our school embraces change to prepare girls for an exciting future in dynamic learning environments for everyone. Our girls believe everything is possible and the intellectual characteristics – collaboration, curiosity, independence, perseverance and risk taking – are in the High School’s DNA. 
  • We are a family, which collaborates, supports, and shares all our learnings and experiences. We are also part of an extended family of GDST schools – with 25 schools and academies united in one purpose: to help every girl fulfil her potential and to lead the way in providing an unrivalled education. 

It is evident that our prospective families recognise many of the elements that I have highlighted above, and they were sensing the authenticity of my message. This got me thinking about the importance of personal authenticity. As human beings we have an instinct for those people who we feel are inauthentic and, when we sense that we are not seeing the ‘real’ person, it can make us feel uneasy and uncomfortable. By contrast, authenticity is perceived when a person’s actions are consistent with their beliefs and desires: what they say about themselves seems to match up with what they do. 

‘Know thyself’, was inscribed in the forecourt at the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. This, according to Sorates, leads to true wisdom because it involves both being aware of what you do know but more importantly, knowing what you do not know. The ancient aphorism ‘know thyself’, which in modern times has been expanded to ‘know thyself be thyself’ to encapsulate the essence of authenticity, is well known but what does it take to be authentic and how authentic do you think you are? 

People who have personal authenticity tend to have realistic perceptions of reality and an understanding of themselves. Those who are self-aware and secure in their identity are able to encounter beliefs different from their own without any sense of threat. We also tend to trust people who we sense are authentic because they keep their word and there is a sense of consistency to how they act and behave, and what they do. Inauthentic people are often self-deceptive in ways that do not appear to correspond with who they are. You cannot be authentic without first possessing a strong sense of character.

To know ourselves we need to be self-reflective because if you don’t examine the values and principles you hold, the things you enjoy, the political views which best match your ideals, then it is difficult to know yourself. Knowing what matters to you can be very liberating – it frees you from worrying about what other people are thinking and doing because your knowledge of yourself determines your actions and decisions – but this self reflection should be continuous. It can be easy to think this sort of process is most important during teenage years when you are establishing your independence and forming personal views on the world, but over time, with maturity and life experiences, the things which are true reflections of ourselves evolve. 

To be authentic we need to accept ourselves. It’s all very well to ‘know ourselves’ but if we decide that we aren’t too keen on what we find, or are overly concerned about what other people might think, then we will present something false to the world and our sense of self-worth will be reliant on approval from others. This potential social barrier to achieving authenticity (or self-realisation) is experienced regularly by our girls and their personal authenticity is diminished by the need for the esteem of others in societies characterised by hierarchy, inequality and interdependence. At Northampton High, we encourage our girls to challenge themselves and their behaviours and to check that the person they are presenting to the world is a true reflection and the best version of themselves. If they believe they are open-minded, inclusive or kind, then it is worth checking that the way they are behaving (in both the real and digital world) aligns with who they think they are. 

In closing, authenticity takes some effort and may require us to act with courage and conviction on occasion but I have no doubt that the benefits of both knowing yourself and being yourself far outweigh this effort. When we know what we do not know without fear, we will be ready to hear the voices of others.

Dr Lee
Head

06
Dec

Educating girls for life, not just school

I spent the first part of last week at the annual Girls’ Schools Association (GSA) Conference in the serene Cotswolds, which was a fabulous opportunity to connect with fellow heads of girls’ schools and to discuss together the prevailing themes and challenges facing us in education. I have come away with plenty of food for thought and an abundance of reflections, providing ample material for future instalments of High News. I heard fascinating talks on the authority gap, the mental health of our adolescents, the development of inclusive cultures in schools, among others.

During her opening speech, GSA President Marina Gardiner-Legge, who also leads Oxford High School, lauded the resilience, persistence and adaptability fostered by the tailored education provided by girls’ schools. I think that our annual Senior School House Plays performance is a great example of this. Even though the students may initially consider taking part as just about singing, dancing and putting on a show, they are in fact developing vital skills of communication, collaboration and adaptability, essential tools for navigating the complexities of the modern world. Furthermore, they are also making memories that will last for years to come.

I often say in my meetings with prospective families that one of the unique joys of a girls’ school is that everything in it is meticulously designed just for them: the curriculum, the classroom, the leadership opportunities, and the very culture of the school is intricately woven around the empowerment of women. This week, I had the privilege of interviewing several Year 11 students applying for the Sixth Form Spirit Scholarship. It is interesting to hear their perspectives on the value and importance of an all-girls learning environment. Even more inspiring and commendable is their answer to what contributions they would like to make to the GDST and our school. Every one of them said, in their own way, it is vital to prepare and educate girls and young women for a world which is not equal, and to help them develop the skills necessary to confront the evident bias and challenges which still remain in many aspects of society.

This theme resonated with Marina’s speech, as she highlighted the ways in which women’s standing globally is still unequal, despite significant progress and development in recent years. From the disproportionate impact of war on women in conflict zones to the widening global pay gap and the burdens of the ‘second shift’ of home duties for working women, the challenges are vast and multifaceted. For us in schools, there is no doubt that the cost and availability of childcare is having an impact on teacher recruitment and retention, and that’s just one way in which becoming a mother can adversely affect a woman’s working life.

As Marina aptly pointed out, the world is not just unequal and underrepresentative of women, it can also be actively unpleasant for them. This stark reality was further illuminated by journalist and broadcaster Mary Ann Sieghart in her discussion of her new book, The Authority Gap: Why women are still taken less seriously than men and what we can do about it. Sieghart demonstrated the inequalities of attitude faced by women, by citing study after study which demonstrated the myriad ways in which women are systematically underestimated, patronised, assumed to be more junior, frequently interrupted. Interruptions were an interesting example. As Sieghart put it, interrupting someone fundamentally tells them you are more important than them which is a fundamental assertion of dominance. She quoted a study of US Supreme Court hearings revealing that female Supreme Court Justices were interrupted three times more often than their male counterparts, with 96% of the interruptions coming from men. These women are some of the most powerful in the federal government and yet they remain subject to the basic inequality: an excellent demonstration of the authority gap.

Therefore, it is incumbent on us to unleash the power of girls, instilling in them the confidence and self-belief required for a future that is not just designed for them but with their active participation. Students in girls’ schools, as trailblazers, serve as catalysts for a more inclusive society, and there is no doubt that the unique collective understanding of a girls’ school offers opportunities for female leadership and empowerment in an environment where every pupil can be a role model for each other.

We know every girl in our school. Education is a personal journey, one that involves igniting each girl’s curiosity and enabling her to understand herself and her aspirations, so she can navigate life with persistence and purpose, enacting positive change for those around her. As the world and other young women see more girls boldly and courageously living their lives in all parts of society, the more will be inspired to join them, confidently taking their place alongside these trailblazers.

I am encouraged that Northampton High is taking practical steps to make a real change and to encourage our girls to speak up, speak out and speak loud, where they feel equipped and ready to do what is right rather than what is easy, to be captain of their lives and make them fulfilling and meaningful. I know that we are educating our girls for life, not just for exams, university and work and we must find ways to continuously reinforce the worth and value of women in society, and to give them the confidence to know that their voices will be heard for the benefit of everyone. The skills often associated with women – collaboration, empathy, communication, integrity, moral courage – are desperately needed in all sectors and in our leaders.

Thank you for your continued support as we work together to empower and support our girls, and embrace the extraordinary magic of a girls only school.

13
Nov

Remember, remember

To remember is to be able to ‘bring to one’s mind an awareness of someone or something from the past’. In other words, it is the act of summoning the past into our consciousness. This act of remembrance is a potent force, capable of evoking both happy and sad memories. Arguably it is our particular set of memories that make us uniquely who we are, filled with the people and experiences that have defined us. So, remembering may be shaped with both thanksgiving for the good things, a sadness for those things over which we had no control and a remembrance of bad things that we wish not to repeat.

All these aspects of remembrance are present as we look ahead to Armistice Day, the day on which we remember that on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the conflict of WW1 ended. Many will be wearing poppies in remembrance and observe the two minutes silence. This act of remembrance is special in that it is a collective act of remembrance marked by the whole nation and etched into our identity. Even though WW1 has faded from living memory, the importance of remembering the sacrifices made in that war is paramount, as we are reminded, “Lest we forget”. Sadly, it was not the war to end all wars, as others have followed and some continue even today. While thankfully many of us will never know what it means to be in combat firsthand, we are the beneficiaries of those who do. There are few if any families who will not have been touched by the effects of war in their family histories. So, this week, we remember, because it is our duty and failing to do so risks the repetition of history’s gravest mistakes.

The theme of remembrance weaves through the winter season, a time when our culturally diverse community celebrates significant milestones in their calendars. Some may already be knee-deep in preparations, while others are just beginning to sense the impending festivities. Yet, the clock is ticking on preparing for festivals including Diwali, Hanukkah and Christmas. A recent supermarket trip felt like navigating a slalom course around pop-up stacks of chocolate selection boxes and table crackers – further prompting our subconscious that December is just around the corner. In the coming days, different faiths and communities will celebrate the power of light over darkness, good over evil, and the sheer excitement of families enjoying firework displays across the country.

We have already had timely reminders, with Halloween during the half term break and Fireworks Night behind us and the changing of the clocks providing that all important extra hour in bed. Further signs will soon follow and before you know it, you are sitting down to watch the newest John Lewis advert which has become for many just as much of a festive tradition as picking out a Christmas tree, putting up the lights and opening the latest door on the advert calendar.

Being part of the school community is a blessing as this half-term although busy and may feel like, at times, a whirlwind, it is also teeming with excitement, adventure and joy for both students and parents. There is much to look forward to, including our inaugural Parent and Staff Quiz Night, the annual Christmas Fayre with its many exciting attractions, the Junior School Christmas Craft Workshop and celebration evening, House Plays which stands as the grandest house event of the school year and the spectacular Christmas concert, to name but a few. This half-term is always busy, but we know the students really do love this time of year at school.

As the march towards the end of the calendar year starts in earnest, we can’t wait to welcome you into school for some or all of these events, and share moments with your daughter that will last a lifetime. Then in the years that follow, you can reminisce and remember the joy and connection that define this remarkable season.

19
Oct

Revision Tips

As we step into the Autumn Assessment period at Northampton High, I would like to share some guidance on effective study and revision techniques, particularly geared towards our students in Year 10 through 13.  

To begin, let’s address a common misconception: cramming. It is a study method that, despite its allure, does not yield the desired results. Research demonstrates that people who cram forget most of what they have tried to learn within a matter of hours. For genuine retention and secure understanding, a well-planned revision programme that enables regularly revisiting and reviewing of the material, with each return strengthening your memory, is the key.  

The learner needs to actively engage with the material they want to learn. Reading and then re-reading a textbook or a set of notes is not an effective way to revise and won’t suffice. When you reread something, it seems familiar, but this familiarity is an illusion, not an indication that you have learnt the material in question and can be misleading. 

What you need to do is check to see if the knowledge and information you have read is firmly lodged in your brain. There are several effective strategies to verify your understanding. For example, verbally repeat what you have learned, using prompts only when necessary (when you are stuck); create mind maps or diagrams to visualise and condense the material; work through practice questions or past papers; make flashcards with a key word on the front and crucial information on the back, for self-testing. All these techniques enable the learner to interpret and elaborate on what they are trying to learn. 

In equal measure, diversifying your revision techniques can stave off boredom and maintain motivation. Additionally, here’s a surprising one: revising in different locations has proven benefits. Educational research by Robert and Elizabeth Bjork highlights that studying in at least two different places enhances your ability to recall information during exams. This prevents your brain from overly associating the material with a single location, making it harder to recall in a third place (the examination hall). I would strongly encourage our Year 11 and 13 students to come into school during their study leave for their January 2024 mock examinations. Not only do we provide a different venue in which to study but also easy access to teachers who are ready to assist with queries, mark practice questions, and provide any other additional support required.

Revision timetables are indispensable, but they must be realistic. Plan for scheduled breaks, including full days off. Reserve time for a sporting activity or a walk or indulge in another hobby. Never eat and work at the same time. Meals should be times when you relax. Crucially, avoid dedicating entire days to a single subject. The reasons for this are similar to the reasons why you should not cram. If you work continually on the same thing, you will acquire a sense of familiarity with it which you might mistake for learning, but which is not learning in the true sense of the word. Switching between subjects during a working day compels your memory recall and promotes effective long-term retention. If you study one subject, then another, then a third, then return to the first thing, you have to recall that first thing back to mind again, which helps transfer the information to your long-term memory.

Perhaps the best news from the research is that there is nothing wrong with incentives, as long as they are judiciously used. In fact, one substantial reward at the end often outperforms a series of small, incremental rewards. It can, however, be a good idea for someone else to be doling out the treat, because people in charge of their own rewards are prone to succumb to temptation prematurely. 

Finally, getting enough sleep is crucial; the more tired you are, the more likely you are to give into distractions, such as checking your phone or watching something on Netflix. A second reason to prioritise a good night’s sleep is that sleep helps to consolidate our memories. There is even research suggesting that an hour of sleep shortly before an examination is more efficacious than an hour of last-minute revision.

In closing, your daughter will have access to a wealth of subject-specific revision resources provided by her teachers, including practice questions, past examination papers and mark schemes. She should make the most of these, not least for mastering challenging topics. The overall message here for those in the throes of revision is to set manageable goals, maintain a varied study routine and prioritise your health and well-being. And remember, please ask for help if you need it.

More information about study skills is available here in firefly

https://northamptonhigh.fireflycloud.net/360-degree-skills-based-learning/on-track-study-and-examination-skills.

Dr Lee
Head