Head's Blog


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.


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


Dr Lee


Empowering Girls for a Changing World

The Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), in partnership with research agency YouthSight, has undertaken a remarkable initiative that has led to the creation of the Girls’ Futures Report. This report has sparked a national conversation about women and their attitudes towards leadership. In short, girls are more inclined to showcase their leadership capabilities rather than mere pursuit of leadership titles.

Subsequent media headlines have cast a spotlight on the relatively low levels of interest girls had in being ‘the boss’, revealing a profound shift in the ambitions of young women. Instead, they wanted to do a job they enjoyed, they wanted to do something purposeful, they wanted a sensible balance in their lives – but they were less interested in leadership for leadership’s sake. They were far more focused on earning respect than wielding authority, and ultimately, they want to change what it means to be a leader. It is also clear, then, that girls want to reshape the workplace so that it fits them, their preferences and their aspirations and they place a great deal of value on their wellbeing.

What can we discern from these revelations? Firstly, it is worth celebrating that the GDST is at the forefront of this conversation in its 150th year which reflects its enduring commitment to shaping the future of girls only education and women in leadership. Secondly, the views girls had about work-life balance seem to mirror the broader trends observed among Generation Z, encompassing both young men and women. Employers are increasingly recognising the need to adapt their practices and to engage a new generation of employees who expect a more sensible balance between the different parts of their lives. Thirdly, girls just seemed so sensible in their responses, and I applaud them for being 10% braver! They asked what the point was of being the boss if you really did not enjoy it. Aristotle would be very proud of them. They had a strong sense that happiness was more important than mere titles and this preference for fulfilment underscores the changing paradigm of leadership.

And therein lies a challenge for all of us who are leaders. In a world undergoing constant transformation, we do need young women to lead, whether in an official capacity or not. We need changing leadership models for a changing world – more collaborative, more open to new ways of doing things, more listening to and supporting others and improving society. This more expansive leadership style is better for girls – and for all of us.

One of the aspects of the ‘GDST difference’ was that GDST girls displayed a greater propensity for risk-taking, innovative problem-solving, and a readiness to assume leadership responsibilities. At Northampton High, we actively foster these attributes through a myriad of roles and responsibilities, such as the Sixth Form Student Leadership Team, House Captains, Form Representatives for School Council, Learning Ambassadors, Undivided Champions, Eco Team, Sports Captains, and many others. These roles help to cultivate our girls’ maturity, organisation and sense of service, and through this process they are able to lead their teams in the ways that suit their skills and personalities. More importantly, we can’t just pick our extroverts, our most obvious ‘natural’ leaders for these roles, we need to tap into leadership talent in all its diverse forms.

But what about at national and international level? What can we do to encourage girls to take the lead? They need not just the confidence and the skills but also the role models. When scanning the landscape of world leaders, few female role models come to mind. The business world remains male-dominated, and men often occupy top positions in educational establishments. That is still particularly true in the independent sector, though not in girls’ schools. Anyway, I doubt Heads are the first port of call to provide the inspiration girls need. Their peers are often a more effective source of that.

Now more than ever, it becomes incumbent upon us to empower girls to lead in their own way. They aspire to a type of leadership where measures of success are multidimensional and not necessarily reliant on traditional measures such as salary, prestige or power.

When girls take positive risks and learn new skills, they can feel a powerful sense of agency and accomplishment. And when girls are introduced to a more expansive definition of leadership, they are more likely to view themselves as leaders and change agents. As such, we also need to celebrate when girls lead with empathy, including being good listeners or standing up for a friend.

My message here is leadership takes courage. It takes integrity and authenticity. It takes an understanding that the desire for power for the sake of power does not lead to good outcomes. It takes a mindset that does not just accept the status quo. And sometimes, it takes huge personal risk. The world desperately needs more talented and empathetic leaders, and it is our collective responsibility to champion and nurture this latent potential within girls. This is the true essence of girl power.

I shall end this blog with a poignant poem written by some of our students (Esme P, Adithi, Rithika, Amelia) on Girl Power, which was featured in our Year 7 Showcase in March.

Girl Power

Hear my voice
As I speak
It’s my choice
I’m not weak

Don’t repeat our history
Let’s leave it a mystery

Let us use our education
To lead and rebuild our unfair nation
Let us write the sequel
Make the future equal

Hear my voice

After all these years, it’s time for change
Let’s find the wrongs that we can rearrange

Hear my voice

Hear my voice
As I speak
It’s my choice
I will NEVER be weak


The essence of friendship: nurturing bonds and building connections

At the beginning of a school year, the pursuit of establishing and forming meaningful friendships often takes precedence. Having people to depend on can provide the stability we need in our lives.

Friendship, once regarded as the highest of virtues by the philosopher Aristotle, was not, in his eyes, a uniform entity. Aristotle understood that not all friendships are of equal value or importance and discerned three distinct types of friendships that encompassed varying degrees of significance.

To begin with, there are friendships of ‘utility’. In this kind of friendship, individuals come together not out of deep affection for one another, but because they can help each other to accomplish specific tasks, such as collaborating on a school project or working as a team to achieve a shared objective. Each party contributes to the other’s benefit, but the bond tends to be transient, dissipating as soon as the shared utility ceases. This type of friendship is, by nature, self-regarding and selfishly motivated, though mutually beneficial.

The second category of friendship is one grounded in pleasure. Aristotle declared it to be the friendship of the young. It typically hinges on shared interests or activities that bring joy, whether it be engaging in a sport, sharing an affinity for the same music, or simply finding pleasure from the same things. However, when the enjoyment or interest wanes, so too does the foundation of the friendship.

According to Aristotle, a majority of the friendships that many of us cultivate fall within these two categories. In both cases, the other person is not being valued “in themselves” but as a means to an end. Although Aristotle did not necessarily denounce them, he did recognise that their superficial nature and depth limits their quality.

The third and most precious form of friendship, as outlined by Aristotle, is the friendship of the ‘Good’. This type of friendship forms the cement that has the potential to hold both our personal spheres and the broader world together.

In contrast to utility or pleasure, this kind of friendship is rooted in a deep appreciation for an individual as they are, with all their flaws and imperfections fully acknowledged. In fact, it is the ability to be open and vulnerable to one another that makes such friendships so special, gives their unique value, and instead of being short lived, these friendships endure. These are the individuals we can turn to in moments of adversity as well as times of celebration, and they, in turn, can confide in us. Such friendships are the most precious. Aristotle lamented the rarity of such friendships, but noted they are possible between two virtuous people who can invest the time needed to create such a bond. They also take trust and commitment to cultivate. In reality, we may count them on one hand, at most.

My message at this juncture in the academic term, as students continue to forge, navigate, and sometimes sever connections, is to reflect upon this important virtue. It stands in stark contrast to the hastily amassed “friends” found on social networking sites, where a mere click of a button can secure a connection that is often just as swiftly revoked and all too frequently hastily withdrawn. Genuine friendships, on the other hand, evolve over time, grounded in commitment, and they constitute the cement that binds not only our world but also our individual selves.

At Northampton High, we actively encourage our students to see inside each individual – to understand their shortcomings alongside their glories – to embrace their weaknesses alongside their strengths – allowing us to feel more whole, in many ways more authentic. Teaching the girls in our care to be comfortable in their own skin and to find a way to live in this world which feels good to them are the most fundamental roles we hold as educators. Key questions which perhaps we ought to ask: Whose validation are you seeking? What does validation truly entail? Is it a form of care, admiration, or love? Does it equate to genuine liking, in a good old fashioned sense of the word?

It is conceivable that our students today will continue to be drawn to the soaring delight of sharing a window into their life and awaiting the virtual applause for it. However, if we know deep down whose opinions genuinely matter, we may finally reach the toran to our freedom.


Embracing the strength of quiet

‘Quiet’ was the most common description we heard of this business-like head: ‘quietly spoken’, ‘quietly strong’ and ‘quietly confident’. This was what the recent Good Schools Guide said about me. Yet, it is interesting that they also view this seemingly understated demeanor as my superpower – a calm and serene style of role modelling that profoundly impacts the girls at Northampton High. Inspired by this revelation, I thought it fitting to write a blog to celebrate the power of quiet, or more specifically, the power of introverts. 

I have been reading a book recently by Susan Cain called Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking. For a book about quiet people, there are an awful lot of words in the title. Susan Cain’s central message is that the world tends to extol and elevate extroverts – those who exude confidence, expressiveness, social adeptness, networking prowess, and effervescence. These are delightful individuals who can light up a room with a smile or a hearty laugh. They excel at motivating others, thrive in team settings, and are generally enjoyable company. There is no denying the value of extroverts, and nothing Susan Cain says will deter me from appreciating their unique qualities. In fact, many of our students exhibit extroverted traits, and one of the first impressions I had of Northampton High girls was their penchant for conversation. As a group, they possess a treasure trove of ideas, a wonderful sense of humour, and an unshakable, irresistible confidence. 

However, it is equally true that many of our students lean towards the quieter end of the spectrum. They are introspective, serene, contemplative, and perhaps slightly reserved or shy. These individuals are deep thinkers and attentive listeners, relishing the opportunity to learn and think independently – both inside and outside the classroom. This is perfectly fine because as Susan Cain contends (and as my own observations confirm), introverts are just as valuable in any community as extroverts. In fact, she argues that the strongest teams comprise a blend of both personality types, as well as those of us who fall somewhere in between – the ambiverts. Extroverts infuse enthusiasm with phrases like, ‘let’s go for it!’ or ‘we can ace this!’ when morale dips, lethargy sets in. However, introverts contribute valuable perspectives to the table, urging for caution and reflection with questions like, ‘Stop. Wait. Think. What are we doing? Why are we doing it? Have you considered this…?’

The essence of it all is that the world, including the Northampton High community, thrives on a diverse range of individuals to function effectively.  Everyone, regardless of their inherent personality traits, plays a valuable role in this ecosystem. Therefore, we must acknowledge and celebrate the strengths of introverts, recognising all the remarkable qualities of quiet people: 

  • Listening skills: Quiet individuals often excel in active listening. They absorb information without immediately formulating their response, displaying an intense focus on what others share. Some of the most charismatic people I have known in my life have had exactly that ability and people were naturally drawn to them as a result. 
  • Observational prowess: Quiet individuals are often exceptional observers and nothing escapes them. Their keen perception allows them to offer astute analyses of social situations and a deep understanding of their teams, even if they aren’t particularly enthusiastic about socialising. 
  • Thoughtful communication: Introverts think before they speak, a trait that can make the rest of us appear hasty as we rush to fill silences. In contrast, quiet individuals come across as wise and sensible. And when they do speak, their words command respect and attention, where everyone listens and values what they say even more because they say less. They can thus be extremely impactful and influential in decision making processes because they seem so wise. 
  • Calming influence: Quiet individuals can have a calming effect on those around them, fostering a sense of stability and composure. 
  • Creativity in solitude: Albert Einstein aptly noted that ‘The monotony and solitude of a quiet life stimulates the creative mind.’ Quiet individuals are not to be underestimated; they often excel in creative pursuits like writing, art, composition, and deep-thinking during periods of contemplative solitude. 

Introverts are not short of role models either – take, for instance, JK Rowling, famously reserved and retiring. One story in particular about her life illustrates the creative powers of introverts. In 1990, while travelling on a delayed train from Manchester to London, she conceived the idea for Harry Potter. Lacking a pen and too shy to request one from a fellow passenger at the age of 25, she spent four hours on a delayed train developing ideas that would eventually bring her fame and fulfil her ambitions. 

So, my message to all pupils is this: celebrate your unique personality, whether gregarious or reserved. Embrace the differences among your friends and remember that introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated. Don’t just flick like moths to a lampshade to the brightest light in the room. You are all interesting young people with lots to contribute to this community and to the outside world. Dare to be 10% braver and take pride in who you are. I believe in each and every one of you.

Dr Lee


How curiosity is key to learning 

To start simply: learning is the quintessence of existence. Each passing day, week, and year, throughout the entirety of our lives, we are incessantly engaged in the pursuit of knowledge. Every new experience; every repeated joy that lands differently because this time round we are older and we respond in a new way; every challenge we overcome – we learn. At times, we uncover something new and delightful; at others, we learn what we don’t like, and shape our life more closely around the familiar things that matter. Nevertheless, this process unveils the profound essence of being alive. 

Now some of this learning is pragmatic and utilitarian – and this is no vice. In dire circumstances, such as marooned on a desert island, we would need to acquire the skills necessary for survival such as learning to fish. Sometimes we learn for a numeracy assessment, a vocabulary test, or obtaining a driver’s licence. In such cases, the learning is narrow and focused, necessary, and efficient, serving the immediate purpose. We acquire the skills or knowledge we need and we move on. 

Yet, we must also embrace a kind of learning that is open-eyed and open-ended, driven solely by the spirit of discovery. This type of learning enriches, inspires and motivates, seemingly serving no particular practical purpose but ultimately equipping us to live widely and wisely. 

We acknowledge that school education is important, as it serves as a pragmatic gateway to future opportunities such as access to university and fulfilling careers. However, it is evident that over the decades, education has become increasingly narrow in focus. The prevailing culture of testing, learning objectives and exam results leaves no room for curiosity, unless that curiosity aligns with the prescribed lesson plan. There is simply not enough time for it in the eyes of many hard-pressed teachers. 

That being said, many of us may remember fondly eccentric teachers who, with no apparent awareness or constraints of exam board requirement, meandered and rambled endlessly and delightfully about topics that were fascinating and gloriously silly, even if not immediately useful. But back then exams carried less weight, universities admitted students with mixed grades, and the level of competition was less fierce. 

In our present, more purpose-driven and rigorously structured educational world, every school faces the challenge of nurturing curiosity. To do so, courage and being 10% braver is paramount. We must contend for space in the curriculum to explore beyond the pre-determined, prescribed content. We must champion digression, cross-references, red herrings and even occasional blind alleys. We should set aside lesson plans to address students’ questions that lead to topics unlikely to be assessed, allowing them the freedom to be curious, to embrace challenges, and to take calculated intellectual risks. This approach stretches their existing skills and abilities, potentially bringing lifelong benefits to them. 

In short we must nurture curiosity: that great engine of learning that has nothing to do with the pursuit of top grades, yet paradoxically, it is the quality most likely to secure them. This is because curiosity taps into the essence of joy, where students apply intellectual, physical and creative effort to become self-motivated learners, thinking and learning for themselves. Ultimately, our aspiration is for our students to become fearless, lifelong learners – a vision that we seek and what we long for at Northampton High. There is no success like deep and sustaining joy in life where we strive to expand the limits of our learning and delight in the discovery of new possibilities. 

Curiosity, however, demands courage from students as well. It is easy to be curious when nothing is at stake. Yet, when the pressure of assessment looms it is another matter. There is the temptation to say wait – just tell me what is in the test. What do I need to know? But as soon as we lift our eyes from the immediate horizon, that question becomes much larger and assumes a more profound dimension. What do you need to know for the test? Perhaps a list of formulae. For life? Well, perhaps a poem whose meaning is opaque, or a scientific experience that changed the world, or a philosophical debate we could spend our lives trying to answer. 

This freedom to think, explore, and question must be at the heart of what Northampton High is all about. Because in the same way that curiosity is not concerned with top grades and yet helps to secure them, breadth of thought and interest is what achieves the two very different outcomes we all desire. It is pragmatic and utilitarian; it is what universities seek; it helps students tick the next box on their list. And at the same time it grounds us, gives us confidence and self-belief, makes us ready to ask questions and to be unafraid where there are no answers. It prepares us to live well. 

We are committed to helping our brilliant students achieve the grades they deserve, but we are equally devoted to assisting them acquire a courageous curiosity. This is what allows us to make use of qualifications and talents for our own benefit and for the benefit of all around us. Congratulations – and thank you – to you all, pupils, staff and parents, for making the Northampton High community what it is.

Dr Lee


Walking in someone else’s shoes

Empathy, as defined by Cambridge Dictionary, is the ability to understand and share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining ourselves in their situations. At the start of this month, 8 June, was Empathy Day. It is a day totally dedicated to celebrating the profound significance of empathy and recognising the transformative role that books and reading play in fostering crucial empathy skills among young people. It also aims to inspire children and young people to learn more about empathy, cultivate their empathy skills and actively contribute to the creation of a more compassionate and united world.

A key question that often confronts us is: “how can we build empathy towards individuals with whom we may not share agreement?” Even if we identify ourselves as empathetic, we may notice instances where our inherent inclination, natural ability, and desire to empathise are diminished or nearly absent in the presence of certain people or specific circumstances.

Within our school community, the advantages of empathy abound, yet many of these advantages elude our conscious awareness. For example, when our students express what makes them happy – a sense of peace, connection and perspective – it often stems from their empathetic and genuine understanding of one another’s experiences. Conversely, when stress, detachment and negativity permeate our environment, it often arises from a lack of empathy towards our peers or the situation at hand.

But what precisely constitutes empathy? It becomes pertinent for us to grasp the distinction between empathy and sympathy. When we are sympathetic, we may find ourselves overwhelmed by a sense of pity for another, it inadvertently creates a distance – be it physical, mental, emotional – hindering us from comprehending their feelings or experiences. Empathy, on the other hand, allows us to truly understand, relate to, or imagine the depth of another person’s emotional state or situation. It implies feeling with a person, rather than feeling sorry for them, derived from the Greek root pathos. Therefore, empathy entails the act of sharing the load and “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes,” in order to understand that person’s perspective, showing care and support as a result. In doing so, it leads to the skill of compassion, which is about listening. It also challenges pupils to solve real-world problems by thinking about the perspectives and feelings of others.

Engaging with characters in stories grants us all unique opportunities to explore the world from different viewpoints and diverse lenses. It bestows upon us to delve into the complexities surrounding thorny topics like gender inequality, and how these intricacies may manifest divergently and in distinct ways based on factors such as race, culture, political, or even economic circumstances. At Northampton High, we believe empathy can be taught, learnt and practised. As such, we have embraced the endeavour of stepping into one another’s shoes, challenging ourselves to do so in order to better understand what each of us may want, how we feel and how we see the world, recognising it is increasingly important in a complex, rapidly-changing and globally interconnected society.

The pandemic. #MeToo. Everyone’s Invited. Black Lives Matter – these collective experiences vividly demonstrate how important it is to understand what others are going through and the struggles endured by others. They illuminate how powerful it can be when we look out and stand up for one another to improve and heal wounds uncovered. To reconcile is to understand both sides, building upon the mistakes of the past and forging a new future through the principle of “forgive and go forward”, as opposed to simply “forgive and forget”. We aspire for children and young people to harness their superpower of empathy and become catalysts for positive change in the world.

Cultivating empathy in school is not merely an option; it is a necessity for fostering a strong and harmonious school community. Empathy is the skill that underpins connection, trust, safety and hence wellbeing. To this end, empathy deserves to have a place in every classroom. National Empathy Day beckons us all to focus on other people’s feelings and perspectives and, perhaps most importantly, it challenges us to use our improved lens and understanding to help change things for the better by making an empathy resolution. What will yours be? 

Dr Lee


Teaching Bravery, Not Perfection: Empowering Girls in Education 

I have spent much of May half term reflecting the many and excellent attributes of our Northampton High students. At the start of the break, I found myself engrossed in Reshma Saujani’s compelling 2016 TED talk titled ‘Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection’. In this thought provoking talk, Saujani elucidates the stark contrast between the societal expectations placed upon boys, encouraging them to embrace boldness, take risks and venture into uncharted territories, while simultaneously imposing upon girls the traditional notion of playing nicely, achieving highly and striving for unattainable perfection. Saujani’s captivating delivery, replete with a diverse array of illustrative examples, resonated with me as her message spoke an indisputable truth. Astonishingly, even in the 21st century, we find ourselves perpetuating an archaic stereotype of female perfection, inadvertently stifling the potential and authenticity of girls’ education.

It is imperative that we start by educating girls that being brave is more valuable than being perfect. When they learn how to be brave, they can learn how to be imperfect, and it will make them happier and more successful. As such, we need to instil in girls the understanding that they don’t have to be perfectly suitable for a job to go for it; they don’t need to possess impeccable emotional regulation to have their voices heard; they don’t have to get every answer perfectly right in class, and most importantly, they should never feel compelled to alter their bodies to conform to the skewed ideals propagated by social media, which dictate what constitutes the perfect female body.

The cultivation of bravery and the embracement of failure – at times even in a striking and dramatic manner – must assume a prominent position within the girls’ education movement, knowing that it is a stepping stone to growth. As Saujani convincingly asserts, our primary objective should revolve around teaching girls the significance of summoning the courage to attempt new endeavours and to be their unguarded, authentic selves, unfazed by the outcomes or reactions of others. Such audaciousness is deserving of celebration and serves as a testament to their strength of character.

Saujani’s talk serves as a poignant reminder that the aspiration towards unattainable standards of perfection permeates virtually every facet of a young girl’s life: from social media’s emphasis on the ideal female form, to a fear of being assertive, to the hesitancy girls feel when voicing their opinions or ideas within the classroom, and the imposter syndrome that afflicts numerous young women in the workplace.

So, as educators, what proactive measures can we undertake to effectively counteract these implicit biases? Furthermore, how can we bridge the substantial gap that exists in the approach to educating girls and boys?

Nurturing bravery involves normalising failure in the classroom. Students should understand that being brave means being willing to fail and accepting setbacks as opportunities for growth. This can be accomplished by setting clear expectations that within the classroom, the journey of making mistakes, acknowledging them, and rectifying them while progressing towards the completion of a task is equally significant as the final outcome of learning.

For example, in the context of an extended essay, motivating students to showcase their editing process using a distinct colour both visually and symbolically emphasises that achieving perfection on the initial attempt is not the norm – and it figuratively highlights that it isn’t normal to ‘get it right’ on a first attempt. Feedback should also be given in small, incremental stages, with an emphasis on skill mastery rather than fixating solely on creating a perfect end-product.

I have personally found that the most powerful and impactful lessons I teach are the ones when I share imperfect examples with pupils, and collaborate with them to gradually refine and re-craft the work. I have also observed that by intentionally demonstrating the process of making mistakes in front of the class and seeking the students’ help in identifying errors and suggesting corrections, I am effectively normalising the notion of imperfection and the act of learning from mistakes within my classroom. Consequently, the classroom transforms into a safe place where imperfections are not only accepted but also celebrated as an integral part of the learning journey.

There is no doubt that the students at Northampton High show bravery in various aspects of their lives. What intrigues me is their humble unawareness of their courageous actions. They are consistently encouraged to voice their ideas regardless of whether they perceive them as right or wrong and to embrace failures and rejections proudly as a testament to their bravery. Our teachers actively foster this environment by discouraging the use of phrases like ‘I don’t know’ and instead urging girls to engage in critical thinking, replacing self-deprecating expressions such as; ‘I don’t think this is right’ with positive self-talk like ‘I’m going to give it a go…’, ‘This question presents a challenge, but I believe ….’.  Through this courageous approach, we emphasise to young women that their ideas and opinions hold inherent value and significance. Our teachers actively embed these principles into their planning, questioning techniques and feedback. I am confident that our ongoing efforts will continue to empower girls to think, speak and act bravely. This reaffirms my conviction that our students are well-served by learning in an environment where there are no stereotypes about what girls can or cannot achieve, where they have the granted space and encouragement to explore their own interests and, of course, receive exceptional guidance about higher education opportunities and potential career paths.

I had the privilege of witnessing our students who participated in Sports Day embody the very essence of Reshma Saujani’s proposition: taking a risk, trying something at which they might not excel immediately and learning from the experience. The same can be said for our musicians and singers, every time they pick up their instruments or open their mouths to embark on a new piece of music. They know it won’t be great when they play it through for the first time but they have faith that with dedicated practice and expert guidance, their performance will undoubtedly improve over time. I am enormously proud to be the head of a school in which the students are willing to push their personal limits and exhibit a resolute determination to be 10% braver, thus embodying a remarkable spirit of growth and resilience.

By teaching bravery instead of perfection, we equip our girls with the mindset and skills to face challenges head-on, contribute meaningfully, and thrive in an ever-changing world. We are teaching them to become the best they can be and to achieve success as they define it.

Dr Lee


Celebrating our School’s Birthday

It’s always nice to celebrate a birthday, and the school’s birthday is a special day for all. This year we celebrate an incredible 145 years of Northampton High, 145 years of girls’ education! 

Today I spoke to the students, from Year 1 to Sixth Form, in assembly about our school’s rich history and proud legacy. Here’s a precis of what I told them:

At the beginning of 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 was founded in 1878 by a committee of local church people. On March 30th, 1878, the following advertisement appeared in the columns of both Northampton newspapers, the Mercury and the Herald: 

Northampton Middle-Class Girls’ School

Clevedon Buildings, Abington Street, 

Under the Sanction of the Northampton Church of England

Schools Managers’ Association

Headmistress, Miss Mary Pearson

(Certificate of the First Class) 

Object: To provide a thorough and systematic English education at a moderate cost 

The choice of name for the new school, with its suggestions of a quaint and by now out-dated snobbery, is a direct reflection of the state of female education in Victorian England. 

The school was fortunate in its buildings, situated in a central and convenient part of the town. Although no detailed records survive from these early days, it is possible to make a reasonable guess at the curriculum by looking at the timetables of comparable schools in the 1870s. Most schools of this type offered, in addition to basic skills of reading, writing and arithmetic, a range of subjects including English grammar and composition, literature, history, geography, Scripture, botanical studies, drawing and music. A good deal had to be learnt by rote, textbooks being comparatively few, and great attention was paid to standards of spelling and calligraphy. 

The school day was extremely long (as was the working day in shops, offices and factories) and it was not unusual for lessons to begin at half-past eight in the morning, and continue until six or seven o’clock in the evening. Morning school would be broken by a walk conducted in crocodile, with one mistress leading and another bringing up the rear. The luncheon break (for which pupils brought their own cold meats and pies from home, and were able to buy drinks of warm milk or cocoa to wash them down) was sometimes taken as late as half-past two. 

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 21 shillings per term for the under 12s and 28 shillings for the over 12s. Two or more sisters will be charged the lower rate, irrespective of age. 

The number of admissions was rising steadily, and by the summer of 1880 was not far short of a hundred. There was also a change of headmistress at Clevedon School. Miss Pearson left, and was temporarily replaced by Miss Collett for just one term. 

By the end of 1881, the school had its third Headmistress in the shape of Miss Waldron. Under Miss Waldron’s headship, the girls were prepared for the College of Preceptors’ examinations as well as the Cambridge Locals. Some examples of questions that can be found in the examination were: 

  • If 3000 copies of a book of 11 sheets require 66 reams of paper; how much paper will be required for 5000 copies of a book of 12 ½ sheets?
  • Mention some connective words which are not conjunctions.

The school was now advertised under the name of Clevedon Hall Church High School – it had become without question the ‘best’ school in Northampton, and its standards of discipline were extremely strict. No talking in the cloakroom or the corridors, no running anywhere, the stairs to be taken one at a time, and no girl ever to be seen out of doors without her hat and gloves; and failure to obey these and a great many other rules were punished by being kept in after school to write ‘lines’. Miss Waldron left the school after nine years and there was no doubt that it had prospered under her headship. 

In December 1890, Miss Alice Charlotte Straker became the Headmistress who led the school for 21 years, introduced the motto ‘‘The Utmost for the Highest”, and oversaw the name change to “Northampton High School for Girls” in 1898. Manners were of the utmost importance, and Courtesy Badges were awarded which the winners wore pinned to their blouse for a year; the highest award was the Good Conduct Medal, of which there was only one. Honour cards for work were given after termly examinations, and were taken home to show parents: white cards for the maximum number of honours, pink for several, and grey for those who achieved only a few. 

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 Castilian House, at the corner of Castilian Street and Derngate, for 5 years from 1914. 

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.

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).

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. 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.

At Speech Day in 1986, the then-Head, Miss Lightburne announced that a 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 from the Cripps Foundation.

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 Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and 15 years later in 2006 we joined the GDST (Girls’ Day School Trust). 

It was a brave and exciting step for the school to move out of the town centre – and ever since, our school has inspired and supported our girls to take their own brave and exciting steps in their educational journey in School and beyond. 

Throughout its history, Northampton High School has undergone many changes, both physically and academically, and established a long and illustrious heritage in the town itself. We have a proud history of helping girls to learn without limits and our mission of shaping the future of girls’ education continues to burn brightly. The school has seen many changes since it opened to just 29 students 145 years ago, but it continues to move from strength to strength, with over 500 students currently filling the classrooms aged from 2 years in the Nursery to 18 years in the Sixth Form. 

Our 145th birthday is a cause for celebration and reflection. As we mark this milestone, we honour the school’s rich history and the thousands of young women who have passed through its doors, and we look forward to a future of continued excellence in girls’ education. Through the school’s modern motto, ‘We believe in our girls and they believe in themselves’, we hope that we remain true to the original spirit and ethos of the school. A school that proudly puts girls first and a place of diversity, inclusivity, and community. May our school continue to flourish and here’s to the next 145 years – Happy Birthday Northampton High!

Dr Lee