School Blog


View Point – Think About Politics for the Moment

Think about Politics for a moment. A Conservative government struggling. Divisions in cabinet as plots swirl around Westminster and knives are sharpened as rivals jostle to satisfy long held ambitions. The issue of Europe is high on the agenda causing exasperation and confusion. The economy is still unable to generate anything remotely like a feel-good factor. We have the resignation of cabinet ministers for falling short of the required standards of professional, parliamentary behaviour. There are concerns amongst the general public that the NHS is on the verge of breakdown and that the privatisation of the public sector is serving to enrich the few and leaving the many to pick up the pieces. There exists a resurgent opposition with a populist leader allegedly more in tune with the common man and woman. There is a tangible sense of despair; a concern that society isn’t working and that something has to change.

Were you thinking of 2018 and the recent political scene? Did you picture Theresa May, Carillion, the NHS winter crisis and Brexit? Did you recognise Boris and Gove and think about what might have been on Damian Green’s internet browser? Were you running through fields of wheat or at Glastonbury with Jeremy Corbyn? Or were you thinking of food banks or whether you should have left some spare change with that homeless man or at least gone and bought the poor bloke a coffee from the Starbucks across the street?

Or were you back in the 1990’s? Was it an ailing John Major that you witnessed, shovelling peas around his plate on Spitting Image and getting greyer and greyer by the episode? Did you see a country still debating our future in Europe, contemplating the surrender of the pound and noting the arrival of UKIP on the political landscape? Did you recall Neil Hamilton, Cash for Questions, Jeffrey Archer heading to prison or David Mellor and his Chelsea shirt? There was the re-emergence of the Labour Party under Messrs Smith, Blair and Brown and the prospect of the railways, the Post Office and even the NHS being sold off to the highest bidder at some point in the future. Then there was Black Wednesday in 1992, the Bulger murder in 1993 and the unnerving feeling that things were just not how they were supposed to be.

Perhaps, some of you were back in the early 1960’s with Harold Macmillan and the Etonian gentlemen clique trying desperately to run a nation that was socially leaving the familiar world of austerity and deference behind? The stop-start of the economy and the rejection of De Gaulle as we begged to join the European Economic Community and the Night of the Long Knives where the embattled PM sacked a third of his cabinet in a matter of hours including many of his closest friends and colleagues. A much younger Harold Wilson offering a revived Britain in the white heat of the technological revolution to the accompaniment of a society falling in love with the Fab Four, reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover and entertaining the end of capital punishment and decriminalising homosexuality. Did you think of Profumo and Christine Keeler and that picture of her posing on that chair? Did you experience that feeling again that we could do better and needed something different?

We could go back further but we’ll stop there. We’ll stick to the period of Modern British History that our Sixth Form girls study at A Level. History and Politics runs in cycles, almost as if there are simple routines that are repeated and played out on a nationwide macro scale every couple of decades or so. That should not be surprising; from the moment we wake up, indeed from the moment we are born, life becomes a repetition of certain rules, practices and regimes. It would be ridiculous and somewhat naive for us to think that History and Politics do not tread a similar path. Some would say that through History we learn about the past but I’d like to think it also teaches us about the future.

“They say the next big thing is here, that the revolution’s near, but to me it seems quite clear that it’s all just a little bit of history repeating.”
– Shirley Bassey (with Propellerheads)
“Maybe history wouldn’t have to repeat itself if we listened once in a while.”
– Wynne McLaughlin

Andy Donaldson, Head of History


Let the debate begin!


We are constantly warned of the dangers of The Digital Age from its ability to limit our powers of reasoning to being a destroyer of good health, both mental and physical. Perhaps most worryingly, employers from all sectors warn of the damage The Digital Age has already caused to the way in which we communicate. That is why oracy, the skill that enables us to be confident, fluent public speakers through opportunities such as debating, discussions and engaging in dialogue, is so vital. Learning to use the spoken language are as important as learning skills in literacy and numeracy.

Well, I am here to report good news! The skills needed for effective oracy are alive and well for girls at Northampton High School and in the wider community we have reached out to during our Outreach Debating Project.

In partnership with Noisy Classroom, an organisation dedicated to ensuring the skills of effective oracy are kept at the forefront of educators’ minds, we have successfully worked with Year 5 and Year 6 girls from three local primary schools to explore oracy through debating.

These workshops culminated in a final day of debating where all schools taking part proved, without question, that the skills of oracy are indeed alive and well. Perhaps even more importantly, the day also further emphasised just how important that we, as the guardians of future generations, must continue to give our girls the opportunity to develop this invaluable life skill whether it be at the dinner table at home or in the classroom!

Let the debate begin!

Karen Fordham

Year 6 teacher and Humanities Coordinator


Transferable Research Skills: skills for life!

Universities have long complained about the lack of academic independence which many of their new under graduates exhibit. Research into this area has found that many new students struggle to write essays, carry out independent research and build arguments; a lack of skills which leaves them ill equipped for the rigorous academic approach required in higher education.

Many universities have responded by providing study skill sessions for their new under graduates. The University of Edinburgh for example provides modules on ‘Taking effective notes’, ‘Preparing bibliographies and avoiding plagiarism’ and ‘Using the Library and understanding your reading list’.

At the High School, we take a proactive approach to study and research skills, equipping our students with the skills to make their transition into higher education a smooth one.

Library orientation and research skills such as planning, note taking, bibliographies and plagiarism are embedded within the Humanities curriculum, through History in Year 7 and Geography in Year 8. In Year 8 we are particularly ambitious for the girls, teaching the use of citation, a challenge which most of the girls rise to with aplomb.

In Autumn 2017, Ms Heimfeld and I have introduced a new initiative based around the Reith Lectures. Girls in U4 have the opportunity to practice the skills learnt through Humanities Transferable Skills and linked to the marking criteria of the EPQ, whereby we are interested in the process of completing a piece of work, not just the end product. The aim is for the girls to finish their essay on their chosen subject by Easter, presenting their findings in the summer term.

The EPQ (Extended Project Qualification, worth half an A Level at A2) is one of the elective choices on offer to the girls as they move into the Sixth Form. A response by the examination board AQA to university complaints about student lack of research skills, it allows candidates to choose a topic they wish to explore which isn’t covered in any of their exam subjects or to take a subject of interest beyond the curriculum. Similar to writing a dissertation at university, in that the end product must come out of academic research, but very different in that candidates are credited for the learning journey, not just the end product. The end product may also be an artefact, which can be pretty much anything, from making a film to designing and building a hover board!

Candidates have the opportunity to learn how to work at university level whilst having support within the school environment; the EPQ is proving a popular qualification with our girls.

“I would say that the EPQ has helped me gain skills that will be essential to life at university – and who wouldn’t love those lower university offers! An EPQ is a great asset to your personal statement and makes you stand out at interview”.

Lara Pieczka; Lara completed an artefact for November 2017 submission – The Queen’s Codebreaking Catastrophe: A code breaking workshop for Key Stage 2 pupils.

“The EPQ was an inspirational process for me, the freedom to think, away from the curriculum, allowed me to realise my true interests; it was a deciding factor in my choice of degree for university, clarifying the situation hugely”.

Julia Wardley-Kershaw; Julia completed an artefact for November 2017 submission – The Violet Hue: an exploration into European cinematography.

We look forward to this year’s girls receiving their results in January as the new 6.1 girls begin their EPQ journey.

Mrs Buxton, School Librarian


The Sporting Gender Gap

According to the World Economic Forum, it could take 217 years for the disparities in pay and employment opportunities for males and females to end. In sport, despite the successes of our female sports women on the international stage, there is still a veritable gulf between men’s and women’s sport in a range of areas. In the context of professional football, the highest paid English female footballer Steph Houghton earns £65,000 a year whilst Wayne Rooney earns £300,000 a week. Will this be a gap in professional sport that could ever be closed, or even should it be?

We hear comments such as ‘women’s sport isn’t as exciting to watch’ or ‘women aren’t strong enough’, or the particular favourite ‘sporty women are aggressive or unfeminine’. All of these myths have been dispelled many times, and time over elite sports women have shown that female sport is no worse than men’s sport – it is just different. Women’s sport often involves higher levels of skill, as the level of power is lower. Advertising campaigns such as ‘This Girl Can’ have gone a long way to diminish the gender stereotypes associated with sporty women, highlight the opportunities for all females and the diversity of the sporting offer nationally. Why is it, then, that the press is still full of articles such as ‘Tubby and Terrified – How girls’ fear puts them off PE’ or ‘Girls lose out in the PE Gender Gap’? From what has been said, girls are not losing out, but coaches, schools, staff and parents have to adapt to the changing mind set of female athletes. This is not a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Girls are struggling with a lack of high profile female role models.

This movement started last summer when 1.1 million people tuned into Sky Sports to watch hosts England win the ICC 2017 Women’s Cricket World Cup. This was three times more viewers than the number watching the final day of England men’s victory over South Africa in the first Test of the series at Lord’s. For the first time, Lord’s cricket ground was a sell-out for Women’s Cricket World Cup Final; 50% of World Cup ticket buyers were women. We have started to reduce the gender gap, but this is only in one sport. Traditional ‘female sports’, such as netball, are increasingly receiving more television coverage, but the levels are still significantly lower than for their male counterparts.

So how do we reduce this Sporting Gender Gap significantly faster than the gender pay gap is closing? Females in sport still need to be females. Sports clothing is now much more fashionable – it is no longer the wrap around skirt and gym pants. Girls need to be provided, as standard, with girls’ fit sports clothing, in a range of styles and cuts. We need more high profile female role models, and alongside this more mums at home exercising, encouraging their daughters to exercise and show that this is the norm. We need PE departments to offer varied and diverse programmes of study and activities to engage and inspire all. We need to highlight player pathways and opportunities that sports can open up.

None of this is new or revolutionary. Many male coaches have found success coaching female teams, and have discovered that the coaching style required can much more complex. Mark Robinson, Head Coach of the England Women’s Cricket team, said ‘generally nothing they do is ever good enough [in the women’s minds]; it’s all about giving them belief’. He has had to change his delivery style to reach all players and help them to achieve their potential.

Sport needs to become trendy. In 2017, it is the accepted norm for females to participate in sport and want to show their competitive side. We need to highlight what is good in female sport and not focus on the negatives. Yes, there is a difference between men and women’s sport, but does that matter? Sport is reinventing itself in so many areas; look to tennis and Wimbledon. The prize money on offer now shows promise that sport can break down the Gender Gap, but that this is still a work in progress.

Mrs Hackett


Confidence Tricks

Confidence is a highly desirable attribute, in life and in learning. The magnetic illumination we sense around people with confidence is almost physical, while the feeling of being confident is exhilarating and empowering; an unstoppable force where there are no immovable objects.

Gaining or maintaining confidence is the tricky part of course. Whether it be a nagging inner voice which tells us we are not good enough, or past mistakes that have scarred us, or others’ judgements voiced without thought for the consequent impact, or even well intentioned praise which is twisted around, it can be difficult to gain the magnetism of a virtuous cycle.

Self-awareness can be double-edged, but critical in sustaining a resilient sense of our own identity and in valuing our own attributes, as well as those of others around us. Filtering the pseudo-perfect and finding the grittier reality allows us to gain traction and control.

It can seem murky and lonely, like staring up a darkened cliff-face from a seeming abyss, when the familiar crumbles or change swifts in with rug-pulling challenges, scattering our beliefs like iron filings. At such times it is understandable that we might hide, avoid, fall silent, excuse, flee, lash out; but in order to climb back into the light and re-forge our beliefs, we must take a risk, take on the challenge, find or re-polarise our magnets: our sense of self.

I am confident. I say it and therefore I am. My inner voice is very nice to me; it didn’t use to be, so I sacked it years ago and hired one of my own choosing. I am in no way remotely perfect, yet experience has taught me what I can achieve when I set my mind to it.

How startling it was then, ten months ago, when I confidently sat down one Sunday morning in January to write model reading answers for the new English Language GCSE. I had marked my Upper Fifth’s papers, had seen and understood the mark scheme, had had time to let the source material sink in. I had one hour, a pen and paper. I had my experience and my confidence, as a student but also as a teacher. There were four questions, with 40 marks distributed unevenly towards the latter questions. I expected almost full marks.

As time ticked inexorably on, I began to realise that I had seriously misjudged things. Each question seemed to require far longer than I could afford to give it, yet my experience told me I had to stay calm and see each point through properly, otherwise it would be wasted. At every pause there came a fresh wave of rising panic, a rush of blood, a prickling of the skin, a sense of things unravelling. Not since an A Level Biology examination some 21 years ago had I expected so much and delivered so little. I was being harsh on myself of course, but I had effectively failed; I had only answered three questions in over an hour and needed at least 25 minutes more for question 4. My ambition, my confidence, my sense of self were being threatened.

I would not accept it.

This was not a real examination. I could re-write my answers, learn, adapt, cut back, speed up. I had a coffee break and started again. 75 minutes later I had something like I had expected the first time around, with the benefit of having learned from a mistake. I shared the experience with my Upper Fifth. I think they appreciated the honesty. My message to them was to take confidence that we all learn to adapt, that with practise comes improvement and to repeat my advice that mocks are so valuable as long as you give it everything you have at that point.

It has been said that we learn best by teaching, something I tend to agree with. I decided to take it a step further: we learn best when there is motivation. For me that motivation involved a risk, one which would sharpen my own learning and therefore my teaching and consequently my students’ learning. I entered myself for the actual public examinations in June.

I was called “a brave man.” If I was expected to gain the highest grade, what was there other than the risk of failure? To me, it was a principle: if I expected my students to do it, and yet I was not confident that I could do it myself, I needed to regain that confidence. With greater risk came greater motivation and from that the ‘confidence trick’. I believed I could do it, I worked towards it, I practised. I sat the examinations in real conditions and experienced again all those sensations felt by teenagers across the country. I walked out knowing I had done my best, had stuck at it when the going had got tough, had stayed calm and strategic.

Regardless of any outcome, I was proud of myself because I had not hidden, but had played my trick and forged ahead, feeling the dynamism energise me as I did so. 21 years ago I entered an examination expecting to gain the highest grade, having worked for it, and the wheels came off. 6 months later I re-sat the paper, dealt with the pressure and gained the grade I wanted. That was the start of my belief that I could do anything if I applied myself to it; my ‘confidence trick’. 21 years later I have revitalised that trick. It would be easy to make light of what I did, or to dismiss it, but that would be to rob me of my confidence, to doubt, to criticise, to put obstacles in front of something so hard won and so easily lost: confidence.

I often talk about confidence with students and parents and it is something I seek to nurture. Our school is a brilliant environment, where the girls really do grow visibly in confidence over the years, albeit not without bumps along the road. All I really want is for our students to be confident enough to dare to be the best them they can be on any given day.

So, look out for opportunities to build confidence, be kind to yourselves and each-other, feel able to take some risks and become unstoppable forces.

Mr Williams


Learning spaces

As we finish preparations to allow younger girls from age 2 to experience Northampton High School it has sparked thoughts of what makes the best environment for the perfect learning experience, and do the requirements change with different ages? It is probably best to start by thinking about two prime ingredients in all aspects of education, namely safety and enjoyment. A safe learning space for a 2 year old is very similar to that of older nursery age girls. We believe that an open plan space which enables girls to learn routines and rules whilst also making decisions for themselves is important. All nursery aged children should feel that they have space to move around and that their area is full of a wide range of learning and playing options, as well as space to be alone, to be quiet and to watch the goings on of others.

Girls under 3 do need to have a higher level of adult supervision and support whilst learning to be independent but the requirements of space remain the same. Happiness comes through from our environment but also the types of activities which should be stimulating and challenging, ensuring that well-rounded progress is made. Nursery age girls most definitely require a different experience to boys of the same age. Girls crave structure and routines, where boundaries are clear and expectations high. I am frequently asked about the suitability of girls only at the nursery age and can answer the question simply by giving a tour. Seeing the learning, both direct and indirect, in our setting along with the standards of behaviour and positive friendships is often sufficient to answer the question for me.

With each year that passes there are subtle changes required to create the best learning space. Role play areas can become more adventurous and allow interaction which is at an age appropriate level. Right now, our Reception girls are able to experiment with light in their own dark room and have a space full of reflective surfaces to create reflections and patterns. Outdoor spaces are vital in the daily routines of children at school and they will gradually need more freedom to create their own games and to turn the space into an area for whatever activity is currently popular. We use our outdoor areas for growing and girls enjoy learning to plant, water, weed and feed; instilling in them the need to be responsible and reliable, or else the plants will wither.

Vegetation in the classroom is an idea that we are currently investigating in the light of a GDST research project into CO2 levels and classroom productivity. Some of my favourite classrooms as a child were the ones with huge pot plants that generated interesting smells and shadows. They also help to replenish the air with oxygen, an ingredient which can often be taken for granted in the classroom. We are preparing to install some CO2 monitors in our classrooms to monitor the levels and make sure that a window is opened whenever we reach the cut-off and girls begin to lose their focus. I am sure we will also see classes popping outside for a quick-fire exercise session to reinvigorate and boost those O2 levels in preparation for more hard work.

Many of our girls would argue that the perfect learning environment is actually in our Forest School, and I find it hard to disagree. I am always amazed by the work that takes place ‘at the end of the field’, across the full range of curriculum areas. The elements never seem to get in the way as the tarpaulin shelter is rapidly put up. We hope to make this an even more comfortable space when the clouds darken by installing a permanent shelter to go with the composting toilet!

On reflection, I don’t know that anyone can tell you what makes the perfect learning space but there are certainly guiding principles to follow. Our school building may be 25 years old but it has withstood the test of time and continues to provide a wonderful place for girls to learn and play.

Mr Ross Urquhart, Head of Junior School


Vocational antennae and the 360 Degree Me Portfolio

There is a sense in the digital era that the concept of a distinct professional calling or, to use a more spiritual term, a personal vocation in life, has a reduced relevance. Young people are now taking on average 4 jobs by the time they are 32, according to LinkedIn, and Forbes advocates ‘job hopping’ to maximise salaries. Indeed, at Northampton High, we use our Inspiring Futures careers programme to help prepare our students for portmanteau careers, on the back of a skills-focused curriculum.


In the words of Fiona Monfrooy, Executive Director of Human Resources at ING DIRECT, ‘From an individual perspective, there’s an increasing need for transferrable skills; to be more adaptable. […] A flexible work approach also means, in some cases, multiple jobs’.


Yet, perhaps counterintuitively, careers advice and the pathways to further and higher education, apprenticeships and courses, often appear to focus in on highly specific areas, whether that might be in traditional domains such as medicine or engineering, academic avenues like Maths, Languages and History, or within so-called vocational areas that generally support access to certain health, sporting, technical or business roles.


Still, perhaps the system works anyway. The UK, in spite of its Brexit travails, university fees, exam-heavy education system and supposedly class-ridden society, manages to remain flexible and competitive in an international setting. According to a recent IMF report cited by the Evening Standard, the UK has a bigger growth forecast for 2018 than any other major country. Indeed, there seems to be nothing inherent in our educational programme preventing young people with passion and energy from finding their way through the multifarious permutations of the modern workplace. So, it could be argued that we are right to signpost our students to the future by tapping into their vocational predilections and to see this approach as fully in line with our skills-based educational outlook.


Angela Tilby, Canon Emeritus at Christ Church, Oxford, has described vocation as being where a person’s ‘particular deep joy’ or deep-seated interests meet society’s deep-seated needs, whether religious or not. While the idea of vocation may have become more fluid in terms of the actual jobs many people end up doing, Tilby’s suggestion seems to be that there is huge emotional and practical value in trying to find the direction that speaks most to us as individuals, so that our actions have a level of authenticity that will satisfy both ourselves and the people we serve when carrying out our roles in society.


We introduced a formal skills education programme in 2012 with five main strands that we considered to be relevant to a modern career path, cutting across curriculum areas and at all age groups, Junior to Sixth Form. I feel our assessment of the areas covered continues to be relevant, although the emphasis has shifted because faculties and teachers have become more adept at building skills-specific activities into strategic planning, increasingly expecting pupils to know instinctively which skill set is needed to achieve a given task. We realised that what was then required was actually a deeper knowledge of what drives our students as individuals, their own understanding of personal values and beliefs, as well as an awareness of how to develop these attributes in life; what one might call their vocational antennae. We introduced the concept of 360 Degrees Me in 2015 to tackle this head-on, initially via the KS3 skills and challenge days I have written about in the past.


Our aim now is to help the girls enunciate, collate and illustrate their lives, their educational and other achievements as well as their personal ambitions, in the form of a 360 Degree Me Portfolio. This is an ePortfolio, or personal website, initially private and only available within the Girls’ Day School Trust network, that can be refined and developed over the years to become a living résumé for future employers or universities, to give a real insight into each girl’s potential. At the heart of the Me Portfolio is a belief that harnessing the power of technology in this way will have the added benefit of encouraging students to think critically about their wider online lives. By actively managing their digital footprints, they can avoid falling into the dangers that social media sometimes present to young people.


Our guest speaker at the Lower Fifth (year 10) 360 Degree Me Portfolio creation day on Friday 7 July, is Alice Gividen, an alumna of the school who now works managing the social media presence of large organisations. Alice says that the scare stories about employees losing jobs because of indiscretions online are not the exaggerations of a judgemental establishment, pointing out that most companies now engage the services of professional social media investigators before employing new staff. However, she also suggests that the savvy applicants are using this fact to their advantage, curating their social media presence carefully to show they have engaging personalities, and to highlight their positive attributes and willingness to contribute to society beyond their immediate friends and family. This is doubly important since simply deleting a dubious social media history can not only be difficult to achieve, but also counterproductive, with many employers seeing the lack of an online presence just as much a cause for concern as an unattractive one.



360 Degree Me Portfolios may not in themselves inspire anyone to develop a vision for life, they are after all just personal websites, repositories of information. However, with our help, I am confident that they will provide a stage where the spotlight can fall selectively and productively on our students, as individuals. A place where vocation can start to materialise, and flourish.



Mr Henry Rickman, Deputy Head



Inspiring Futures presents Enterprise Week

Enterprise education is not an attempt to get students to go off into the world of business and set up their own company, although in some cases students have gone on to do so. It is more about facilitating them in their development of the necessary skills required to move into the work place. This might include elements of business or marketing but it might not.


At Northampton High School we have developed, through our Inspiring Futures Programme, a set of exciting events that enable students to build on their transferable skills and to fully prepare themselves for life after school. This year we kicked off this inaugural three day event with the Year 10 annual Future Focus Day.


The students met Susannah Poulton who works for the UK Department of Trade. Susannah explained in vivid terms how important Modern Foreign Languages are in the business world and Mrs Hill, Head of Languages helped by taking part in a spot of spontaneous interpretation, much to the astonishment of many of the girls!




Later in the day Charlotte and her team from Sykes and Co, a tailored recruitment firm based in Towcester, delivered a rich and detailed seminar on interview technique, setting up some entertaining role play situations. Finally, came a presentation and discussion session from three very close friends of the school, Mark Bradley, Katie Fisher and Sally Hadfield, all with daughters in various year groups and all with amazing personal work and life stories, to bring a taste of how varied and fascinating modern career paths can be. We were also lucky enough to hear from Hannah Cooper  from Liz Male Consulting who explained her role with Social Media in business. This was particularly interesting as her role has not long been in existence, highlighting the extremely dynamic world of work that our girls will be moving into.



On day 2 we were joined by Lucy and Ilga from Bright Green Enterprise and the Year 10’s were joined by girls from 6.1 in a fun filled and competitive task to design a charity that would focus on specific communities in Tanzania. This form of Social Enterprise is something that is very close to the hearts of students and staff at NHS because of the large amount of charitable work that goes on in school throughout the year. The groups worked together closely and the two year groups made an excellent partnership bringing in ideas from a range of viewpoints. The winning team was a charity that focused their efforts on upcycling bicycles and sending them to Tanzania to improve transport opportunities for their given community, having identified this as a need of the people who lived there. Yambike was the chosen name and the overall work from this group just clinched the win.



The final day saw a similar structure with the same team from Bright Green Enterprise joining us to bring  together the Year 8 and Year 6 students  to create some ethical designs of products that would make a difference. We were thrilled with the team work, the ideas and the final pitches from all teams. The innovation that the girls demonstrated and the support that they gave one another was truly inspiring. The day started out with the older girls  taking the lead and supporting the Year 6’s to put forward their ideas. However, because of the hard work of our Year 6 staff in terms of enterprise education, by the middle of the day, the Year 8’s were finding that they were learning just as much from their younger peers as they were teaching them. A very clever pen, aimed at increasing literacy and numeracy where education is limited, was the well deserved winner of the day, although the other teams were also strong and the final decision was an extremely difficult one.














Enterprise education is a high priority for the Government in the UK and something, which we take seriously at Northampton High School. The transferable skills that our girls gain through such activities are invaluable and serve them well in their academic studies as well as when they leave us at the end of Sixth Form to embark on the next stage, be it higher education or the work place. By allowing them to develop these skills, we endeavour to give all our students the best possible start to life outside of school and make sure that they are equipped to face the challenges that they might meet in the future.


We would like to extend thanks to all who were involved, guest speakers, staff and students alike, who made this event so successful. We very much look forward to developing this further next year and seeing what new ideas the girls bring to the table.


Rebecca Kneen, Deputy Director of Sixth Form & Head of Careers


Opening the lid on Mental Health

In a recent education update that landed in my inbox, I was particularly taken by a document published by the House of Commons. [1] The Health and Education Committees have worked together to produce a report on the role of education in children and young people’s mental health. Indeed, the topic of the mental health of young people has (and rightly so) been a very hot one in the media recently, helped by the openness of the younger generations of the Royal Family.


As educators, we tend to find that, whatever the latest initiative is to support young people, the words ‘….they should teach that in schools’ strike a rather discordant note. After all, between the ever more rigorous demands of the curriculum, GCSEs, A Levels, university entrance tests and interviews, delivery of high quality sport, drama and music, how do we begin to fit in financial education, healthy living, online safety and the myriad other excellent ideas into the school day.  That is not to suggest these aren’t really important matters; they very much are but teachers are not trained in these areas, never mind wondering where we might squeeze in that lesson on loans and interest rates!


A recent article in the Independent [2] newspaper, suggested a range of “Life skills that should be taught in schools but aren’t”. Amongst them were: how to cook a roast dinner, managing your tax affairs, sexual values, respecting boundaries and being in tune with your mental health.


It is the latter of these that particularly struck me and on which, more anon. Although I interrupt this thought with a further one which ponders how many of those listed were skills which we would previously have seen passed down through generations and communities. What role has been played, in losing these skills, by the perceived lack of community in our lives? – but that is perhaps a blog post on its own.


So to return to the topic of mental health and the role of education, I feel both hugely positive on the one hand and somewhat frustrated on the other.  On the one hand we are more open about the mental health problems which face some young people and they are, themselves, more able to articulate these problems to peers and adults. In addition, parents and professionals are more comfortable with the topic, on the whole, than we would have seen in the past, making the taboo lessened if not totally quashed.


The flipside to this is that we have opened Pandora’s box without fully realising the consequences or putting a safety net in place to capture its contents. According to Greek mythology, after the contents of Pandora’s box were released, only Hope was left in the bottom when she closed it up again and, in this myth, we can see an explanation of why, when all else in life could seem to be bleak, we still always have Hope.


The aforementioned House of Commons report made certain recommendations and I feel proud that Northampton High School is a step ahead on this.  Strengthening the training of staff in mental health first aid was one recommendation and I am pleased to say that we trained sixteen teaching and non-teaching staff in Mental Health First Aid earlier this year in an attempt to ensure we have a whole team of staff to cascade knowledge and work hard with our students, in recognising signs of distress. If you are interested in what this training entails, I have included a link at the end [3] and Ms Margareto discussed it in her blog post in March. The report also welcomes the Government’s commitment to make Personal, Social, Health and Economic Education (PSHEE) mandatory in schools.  Through not only our Radically Enriched Curriculum (REC) periods, but through the interactions, conversations and activities in tutor time, we already lead the way in this area.  A final major recommendation of the report was that links between schools and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) should be strengthened and here is the safety net for the opening of Pandora’s box. Staff can do so much to support young people in need in school, but fully trained and experienced professionals are vital and it is to be hoped that funding into these specialist services will be a priority of our new Government.


In conclusion, I firstly cannot overlook the role of 21st Century life on the mental health of young people; we have only scratched the surface of the possible consequences of social media, an ‘always switched on’ generation of young people, sleep deprivation and harmful online content; this again is a post in its own right and understanding the role of these issues in the mental health of young people will make a big difference. In the meantime, we have much of the Hope from Pandora’s box to keep us going. We can also give thought to the balance in our school day of subject-specific education against life skills and co-curricular matters and the external influences upon young people’s mental health.


Adèle O’Doherty, Deputy Head (Pastoral Care and Guidance)







Education for Centurions

During the autumn term, I was fortunate enough to attend a conference where the keynote speaker was Lord Jim Knight, Chief Education Advisor at TES Global, visiting professor at the UCL Knowledge Lab and a member of the House of Lords. He served as an MP from 2001 – 2009, during which time he was a minister for rural affairs, schools and then employment before becoming a cabinet minister.



His speech was entitled “Education for Centurions” where he considered the prospect of those students who are now starting school living into their hundredth year and beyond. With such longevity, people will be working longer, and changing professions more frequently; some of the careers our students will pursue haven’t even been invented yet! He talked also about lifelong learning, where the current model of three separate stages of education, employment, and retirement will be replaced with continuous learning and working, with an overlap also between working and retiring. I would also add that I hope to be learning well into my retirement! Lord Knight’s message was simply this: that in a world of lifelong learning we must pass on to our students a passion for, and a joy in, learning.


Our challenge therefore as educators today is to prepare our students for this future. Adaptability, resilience, creativity, taking risks, embracing change – these are all qualities that our future workforce must possess in order to start afresh in a second or third career and reinvent themselves in another professional role. Lifelong learning will not be sufficient in this new model of overlapping learning and employment. If one is to continue to enjoy a balanced personal and professional life, embracing the changes that will come it, is a lifelong LOVE of learning which we must nurture in our students today. There is nothing more satisfying as a teacher than to have students who are engaged in and beyond the classroom and who have a passion, not just for the subject but also for learning new skills, experimenting with new ideas, extending their knowledge and improving their own personal best, whether in an MFL classroom, a science lab or on the sports field.


I have spent a fair bit of time recently accompanying my two sons to numerous university open days as they each make their choices for the next stage of their education pathway. What has struck me is the changing face of assessment at many of these institutions. Having listened to what employers want, assessment programmes have been developed accordingly. Employers are looking for so much more than the ability to pass exams; they want good communication skills, the ability to work collaboratively and the resilience to bounce back. University assessments are increasingly being designed to reflect this need, with collaborative tasks, podcasts and presentations alongside the more traditional end of course formal examination. Assessing performance and skills is becoming more popular and presents another challenge for us as secondary school educators: the need to prepare our students for those formal public exams at the ages of 16 and 18, but also to look beyond this to what employers require of the workforce of the next generation and to prepare our students accordingly.


As teachers, we also consider ourselves to be a community of professional learners, constantly seeking to improve our skills, extend our knowledge and develop our craft in the classroom. We recognise that a good teacher never stops learning, whether that is by enrolling on a professional development course, undertaking a project in school, working with colleagues or sharing good practice. On more than one occasion recently I have had to bite my tongue when, on one of the aforementioned university open days, lecturers told the assembled sixth formers and their parents that one of the main differences between their teachers at school and their university lecturers was that the latter group are actively engaged in research, whereas their teachers are not. This is just not true! Increasingly, schools are engaging in action research as part of the professional development of their staff. One aspect of my new role as School Consultant Teacher  involves me conducting my own action research project and there are now a number of staff currently engaged in evidence based professional development here in school, working on projects which will directly benefit and impact on the learning of our students in our classrooms. Our students will be used to a member of staff or an inspector coming to observe a lesson, for a variety of reasons. They will be less used to groups of teachers in their lessons, but this is now happening more frequently in school as our teachers engage in action research as part of their own joint professional development. Using the Peter Dudley Lesson Study model, colleagues are working collaboratively on a number of different initiatives to enhance our students’ learning experience. So far girls have been willing participants and have welcomed staff into their lessons, recognising that we are lifelong learners and also passionate about what we do, thus modelling the behaviour and attitudes we want to instil in our students. In an age where artificial intelligence is developing rapidly, the world needs teachers like never before: passion for and involvement in lifelong learning is as crucial for the professional learning community here at Northampton High  as it is for our future centurions whom we seek to educate and inspire.


Mrs Deborah Hill, Head of Languages Faculty and School Consultant Teacher


Sir Jim Knight’s keynote speech, Firefly conference November 2016

The 100 year Life by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott.

Peter Dudley: