School Blog

13
May

The Teenager and the Internet

The title of my blog this week might suggest notions of fairytale or fable, much like ‘The Princess and the Pea’, or ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. Not entirely inappropriate as it happens, although this is more of a cautionary tale than a fluffy bedtime story. 

There is no question that the internet is a fabulous tool available to us all, and I cannot imagine a world without it now. Even as I write this, I am connected to the Cloud via Google and, rather embarrassingly, I just used a search engine to find appropriate fairytale titles as it has been a while since I had bedtime stories myself! So, we can probably all agree that modern life is fairly dependent on the internet and, on the whole, has made our lives more efficient, and significantly easier. However, as with all powerful tools, a certain amount of caution must be advised when using, and certainly for younger users, there are a myriad of challenges to overcome along the way.

In my role as part of the pastoral team, I am regularly sent links to things online which warn of the dangers of the internet for teenagers and invariably, they lead to worrying stories of image or video sharing, usually explicit and often with a sinister undertone of predatory behaviour. Much of the conversation around online ‘peril’ focuses on images, video and social media, and they are certainly issues to be aware of. 

On Monday this week, we welcomed Tanya Goodin into school to address our Year 9 and 10 students and to discuss these matters further with our parents. The talk was fascinating and a really poignant reminder of the side effects of too much screen use. She discussed, at length, the negative impacts of social media on mental health, particularly for teenage girls. She alluded to the research conducted by the GDST in 2017, where it was found that over 60% of students said they wished social media had never been invented, and yet they feel compelled to use it on a daily basis for fear of missing out. 

Social media might well be the biggest concern for many parents out there. Who is your child conversing with and what are they conversing about? Are they receiving unsolicited images or unkind messages? Or perhaps, are they the ones sending the messages? Either way, the implications for all concerned in these exchanges are serious ones. For the sender, the message or image or video is now out there and out of their control. The potential for resharing, grabbing a screenshot or retrieving deleted data is unlimited. Even for messaging sites that claim their content is automatically deleted after a set time period. Essentially, once that send or upload button has been pressed, there is no going back. The permanence of their actions in sending or uploading content is something that young children and teenagers forget time and time again. Equally alarmingly for the receiver of messages, not only may they be potentially harmful to them as an individual, but they may suddenly be at risk of owning inappropriate or illegal content, regardless of whether they asked for it or not. 

More recently though, another challenge has become more prevalent for the teenage target audience. Online fan fiction and literature, where anyone can write and upload content to blog sites, online discussion groups and tumblr.com, to name just a few, are becoming areas of the internet that conceal multiple dangers. Much of this is harmless and fairly innocent, providing a good opportunity for budding literaries and authors alike. However, there are multiple examples of where the content of these sites is not age appropriate and in some more concerning examples, it is wildly unsuitable in that it describes illegal and profoundly harmful practices, to put it euphemistically. These range from sexually explicit to self-harm and suicide, everything in between, and to be frank, a combination of the two in some instances. 

So what are our children and teens reading at bedtime? Is it appropriate or is it potentially harmful? What are they downloading, and what are they uploading? These are questions we need to be asking and discussions that we need to be opening up at home. These concepts are introduced to all our students through the PSHE programme at the High School and they are revisited across each year group. However, it is an easy thing to forget when you think you are anonymous. The key thing to remember here is that when you are online, you are never really anonymous.

The internet and all its applications is a very powerful tool and this week’s slightly negative approach is more of a cautionary message than a message of total despair. However, I do think that further conversations around managing online activity will be invaluable for our students as individuals and as a community. In conversation with someone last week, the phrase, “Oh they just need to get on with it and be mature in their approach to social media”, was used. In one sense, yes they do, but would you hand your teenager the keys to your car and tell them to work it out and just be sensible? Guidance is necessary in many things and I believe that navigating social media is more difficult than people imagine it to be. 

Ongoing work in school on this subject area will continue across all year groups, but please do open up a dialogue with us if you are at all concerned about how best to support your daughter in an online world. We will continue to share useful information about online safety, but to get us started, I have included a here sheet on what parents need to know about group chats online. I hope it helps!

Miss Rebecca Kneen
Assistant Head – Pastoral

04
May

The ‘High School approach’ wheel – A holistic overview of education at Northampton High School

In our school crest the rose represents the pupils, who are, naturally, at the heart of our educational approach. We recognise that school days are precious and fleeting, and our golden opportunity to shape the future. Our imperative is to get to know the children in front of us today and to help them achieve their ambitions for tomorrow. This means pupils have to understand themselves too and develop a positive academic self-image, as well as the ability to become life-long learners. We believe this comes through a 360-degree approach to teaching and learning, as reflected in the Northampton High Approach Wheel.

We have worked on shared language around the intellectual character dispositions, or mindsets, that we would like our pupils to develop over their time at the school. We have settled on five key areas to enable us to achieve our aims in learning and personal development and, logically, they also appear at the centre of the diagram, around the rose. It is perhaps worth looking a little more closely at these, as they are the result of many hours of research and discussion among colleagues and pupils.

Collaboration – we value shared experiences and trust those around us to support us in our learning.

Curiosity – we strive to expand the limits of our learning and delight in the discovery of new ideas.

Independence – we take the initiative and trust our instincts; we do not accept artificial limits to our potential.

Perseverance – we keep trying when things go wrong and we celebrate the new learning this brings.

Risk taking – we challenge ourselves every day and we do not see perfection as the ultimate goal.

It is impossible to separate the purely academic aspects of school life from the wider cocurriculum and the pastoral threads that run through school. This is why the High School approach takes the form of a circle or wheel, with these aspects represented by the words Learn, Reach and Coach. They form a unity; without one part the others would be incomplete and the rounded education we seek to provide would be compromised. Of course, there is no attempt to itemise the whole programme at Northampton High. Instead, the labels in each section aim to give a flavour of the many areas of focus.

The Learn banner represents the curricular programme, including class and subject academic study across the school, and public examinations and other assessments. Individual 360-degree learning profiles are developed for every student as they move up the school and, of course, dedicated support for different learning styles and needs are on offer from our Learning Enhancement Coordinator and the school’s pupil-focused Examinations Officer. Keystones are vital nonexamined elements such as social and health education, alongside careers and financial awareness training. Under the subheading Digacy, we look at key tech skills as well as the ‘360-degree me’ eportfolios that each pupil builds up over the senior school years.

By Reach, we refer to the expansive and diverse cocurricular programme of activities to support, stretch and inspire pupils throughout the school. Clubs and societies under the subheadings of Spark, Explorer and Thinker scatter their paths with opportunities to satiate their curiosity and expand their horizons, or inspire them in various ecological, scientific, sporting and artistic areas. Many clubs run across the junior and senior school years, allowing older pupils to enjoy time in the company of younger ones at lunchtimes.

The Enrichment programme in Years 10-13 also contributes, with a huge range of courses, from politics and international relations to computing, from dance to yoga. Our Scholar programme gives pupils with specific skills and talents the opportunity to shine. The Focus subheading caters for the needs of groups of students, such as those taking public examinations, or with specific university requirements, such as for medicine and engineering.

Coach stands for Confidence and Challenge. We strive to foster a safe and supportive environment for our pupils in school, however, it would be a mistake to assume that school life comes without its anxieties. Indeed, helping young people to navigate their complex daily interactions is a priority for all schools. Growing up is not always easy and we are experts in supporting girls to develop close and rewarding friendships, where problems are not ignored, but resolved through caring and sympathetic systems, such as the Girls on Board and Positive programmes.

Developing pupils’ knowledge of themselves and how they come across in communal situations is enhanced by our comprehensive trips and visits programme. The school House system builds community spirit and allows older pupils to develop their leadership skills. Volunteering and philanthropy, too, are hugely important as pupils continue their pathways through the school. These take on a new imperative in the Sixth Form, where pupils gain one or more of the Northampton Laureates that reflect the distinct contributions students have made over their time at the school.

The final element of the holistic wheel are personal development aspirations, running through all areas of Learn, Reach and Coach. There is a focus here on diversity and inclusivity, as represented by our Undivided programme and concepts of moral compass and social responsibility. Here, pupils are asked to set themselves high standards of decency and behaviour, not only in their interactions in school with fellow pupils, staff and guests, but also at home and online.

We help them to understand their own welfare and safety needs and support them when needed via our dedicated wellbeing team in school, including our family liaison officer and the school nurse. Emotional intelligence and a renowned High School trait, kindness, complete this circle, as we help pupils to live their lives with the needs of others at the forefront of their minds. As compassionate, reflective and impactful members of society.

Mr Henry Rickman
Deputy Head Academic

 

 

01
Apr

Dealing with self harm

Last week we were fortunate enough to be able to invite a speaker into school who is an expert on one of our more difficult pastoral issues in school. Satveer Nijjar is a well-renowned public speaker on the subject of dealing with self-harm. She has worked for many years in this field and is passionate about removing the stigma attached to the subject, so that we might discuss it more openly as teachers, as parents and as friends.

I’m sure for all of you, the idea of your child engaging in such behaviours is terrifying and something that you would rather not consider. However, sadly, there is a rising trend in self-harm, particularly amongst teenagers, and ever more so since the outbreak of COVID, back in late 2019. It is therefore vital that we, as a community, take on board the information available to us.

Many of you will know that I am not usually speechless at any moment, but the raw and honest way in which Satveer was able to convey her messages, based on first-hand experience, was quite remarkable, and directly after the talk I found that I had a lot more thinking to do than talking. She held her audience captive for a full 90 minutes and engaged with us to allow exploration of the reasons for self-harm, highlighting the issues as being the root cause, rather than the behaviour itself. In many cases, self-harm is not medically significant, although we must, of course, be mindful of the clear links between self-harm and suicide. That said, in most cases, self-harm is used as a coping strategy, and when we delved into this further, we discovered that it could be argued that a great many of us engage in ‘self-harm-type behaviours’ from time to time. A large glass of wine after a hard day at work, “just to take the edge off”, or binge-watching the entire series of Bridgerton in one go ‘to avoid reality for a short while’, resulting in us being tired and less effective at work the next day, could be seen as potentially harmful behaviours. An interesting topic for debate perhaps!

I very much hope to invite Satveer back into school in the autumn term to speak with us again, to offer parents another chance to be involved in the discussion. I cannot possible sum up her talk eloquently enough to do it justice, so I will sign off here and instead attach her own summary sheet which I encourage you to read. If you are concerned about your daughter in regards to self-harm, please talk about it with us. We do not have all the answers but we can work with you to support her if she is struggling. The attached helpsheet gives a range of insightful tips on how to start conversations with your teenager or child on this difficult subject, and could be an opportunity to start dealing with self-harm.

The May event in our Parent Talks programme will take place on Monday 9 May at 6pm. This event will feature Tanya Goodin (www.tanyagoodin.com/) on the subject of Teens and Screens.

Tanya is a trailblazing author, pioneering thinker and campaigner on digital wellbeing and tech ethics, and founder of the digital detox movement, Time to Log Off.

The event will be held in the Theatre; please arrive at 5.45pm for a 6pm start. Light refreshments will be served and there will be an opportunity to ask questions at the end of the session.

To book a place for the Teens and Screens event, please click here.

We look forward to welcoming you.

Miss Rebecca Kneen
Assistant Head – Pastoral Care and Guidance

18
Mar

Science Week at Northampton High

The theme of Science Week this year is growth.  Seems a sensible topic as Biology is all about growth and there are many aspects that the wonderful Science faculty could deliver lessons about.   

I wanted to take this a bit further and extend past the ordinary simple definition and grow our Science Week.  This year we have seen Year 7 take on engineering challenges to grow the tallest/strongest tower; Year 8 and 9 have grown their ideas about careers in STEM and found some jobs they didn’t know existed.  Year 11 and some Sixth Formers were treated to a truly inspirational talk from Dr Emily Grossman about her career in science and the performing arts, and how her personal and professional growth has led to her being able to marry her two passions of performing and science as a Science Communicator.  I think I can speak for everyone when I say we were captivated and motivated by Dr Grossman and look forward to welcoming her to school in the future.   

Years 1 to 4 had a workshop with Grace Webb, from CBeebies’ Grace’s Amazing Machines, where they learned about forces and motion.  What is this to do with growth Mrs H-T?   

Well, I saw them all grow and refine their teamwork skills alongside their growing interest in a career in mini moto racing.  We have also experienced gastronomic growth in the canteen on Wednesday at lunchtime when we had the opportunity to make some dessert topping from alginate balls made from apple juice.  Move over Heston, here come the High School students! On Friday, we welcomed Dr Sharon Brookes, Lead Scientist for Animal and Zoonotic Viral Diseases at APHA, who gave a fascinating talk on career growth in STEM-based subjects.   

The topic of growth can be defined in many ways and the meaning according to the dictionary I found online is “the process of increasing in size”; this often makes me wonder how many times we grow in a day.  Do we just grow in the physical sense until we hit 16 years old, or do we grow daily?  As a good biologist will tell you, as you read this your cells are both dying and reproducing simultaneously, so an aspect of you is always growing.   

Can we explain growth in any other ways?  In my assembly this week to both Senior and Junior pupils, I talked about mindset and use words to encourage a growth mindset.  In school today we face many tasks that are challenging, and if we approach them with a ‘can do’ attitude, we may, in fact, be able to achieve a lot more. 

I also spoke about lifelong learning, and I included this in the theme of growth as I feel that even though I have the relevant qualifications to do my job, I always treat every day as a learning day.  I feel utterly privileged to work with young people on a daily basis and remind myself that we are always learning from each other.  Only recently I have learned how to make a reel on Instagram by listening to the Year 10 students make their videos in class, showing the growth of global climate change.  Sadly, yet another form of growth we have discussed this week. 

Science Week kicked off last week with a wonderful assembly led by Mrs Vizor and the Year 12 Physics class about the growth of the universe.  Mrs Vizor made an exceptionally difficult concept seem very straightforward and left me wondering why I found the thought of Physics A Level such an awful concept when I was making my choices at age 16.  Maybe I should have been taught about a growth mindset when I was at school and I might have tried Physics rather than Biology which I perceived to be easier. It wasn’t. Little tip for you: all A Levels are hard if you don’t work at them.  I clearly hadn’t grown my “able to work independently” skills enough for my first year of A Levels, but we got there in the end. 

So, this week I have been reminded about the growth that I see every day around me.  Students growing their academic ability alongside their personal growth. Everywhere I have looked this week I have found an aspect of growth and growing, from the new bulbs springing into life, to students growing in confidence in their own abilities.  I think everyone should take a few minutes each day to either appreciate the growth around them or try something to grow their minds.   

I always remember a quote I heard from one of my most inspirational teachers, “growing old is inevitable growing up is optional”. 

04
Feb

Holocaust Awareness Week

When applying to become a UCL Beacon school for Holocaust Education, we realised early on in the process that Northampton High School had an amazing opportunity to bring together the fantastic range of lessons and personal experiences already being shared with the students. From studying human rights in Geography, to life in Berlin under the National Socialists, in German lessons, students were gaining an understanding of how the legacy of the Holocaust still has an impact on the world to this day.  

It therefore made perfect sense to bring the school together for a week of focused education and reflection, rather than just one day’s remembrance on the official date of January 27. 

Theology and Philosophy and History lessons were an obvious starting point, but very quickly we were able to assemble a week-long series of focused assemblies, lessons and events involving staff from Psychology, Drama, Film, Food, and English, to name but a few, as well as a team of student volunteers from Year 8 to 13. 

Reflecting on the week’s events with the volunteer student team, the Sixth Formers overwhelmingly agreed that Ms Heimfeld’s assembly and lunchtime session had the most impact on them, hearing about  how her parents survived Auschwitz in very different ways. Georgie expressed how hearing about it from a child of survivors brought a different perspective that she hadn’t considered before. They were all fascinated and moved to hear how life continues after such experiences. 

One member of the team, Molly, explained how impactful she had found researching and sharing individual stories under the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s theme of ‘One Day’. As an older student she was aware of the statistics – 6 million Jews murdered, including 1.5 million Jewish children – but found investigation into and reflection on the individual stories deeply moving and perspective-altering. Another student, Bella, commented how varied survivor stories are, and, again, how the personal connection widened understanding of more components of the Holocaust, such as the geography of the Holocaust and the ethnicities affected, rather than just the history of it through facts and statistics.  

We learned about survivors like Lily Ebert, Margaret and Hans Rey and Florence Nankivell, sharing our findings in a recorded assembly on Monday. One powerful element of the assembly was the contribution of Lilybella whose Oma (Grandmother) and Opa’s (Grandfather) families experienced the Holocaust. We loved Lilybella’s interview with her grandparents who shared with us a positive message of hope, love and peace for the future. Opa passionately made a connection to our challenges today with refugees urging kindness and compassion. Oma and Opa closed the interview with the beautiful expression of ‘Shalom’ (meaning hello, goodbye, peace, harmony, wholeness and prosperity) to us all. 

Other members of the team, including Florence, felt they were now thinking differently about when this happened, realising that it really was not that long ago. Film screenings (for example Modern Foreign Language’s showing of ‘The Roundup’) and personal testimonies enhanced realisation that the Holocaust is still in living memory. 

The students also spoke about how they had shared their thoughts and feelings with families. The whole team had found dinner time an opportunity to have conversations with parents and siblings, who, in turn, shared their understanding of the Holocaust. Some students spoke of an emotional exchange, others of a storytelling atmosphere and others moving from the Holocaust to subsequent genocides, politics, history, religion and other relevant topics. All triggered from our Holocaust Awareness week. They also felt it helped them engage more with the news, as they understood more about what was going on in the world today. 

Jasmine and Honor reflected on how Mr Earp’s assembly on the Holocaust and subsequent genocides had been inspiring when he shared the personal experience of Arn Chorn-Pond who survived the Cambodian genocide. Born in Battambang (the second largest city in Cambodia), Arn was taken, along with thousands of other children, to prison camps by the Khmer Rouge. Arn’s ‘One Day’ of survival was simply about him being able to play the flute for which he was selected and used to entertain soldiers, avoiding death.  

On Friday afternoon, a matzo making workshop was held for students to make a Jewish flatbread traditionally eaten during Passover. Matzo is an unleavened bread which doesn’t contain yeast, therefore helping to prevent it from rising (alongside docking the surface). The students, a mixture from Years 10, 8 and 7, really enjoyed making, learning about, and of course, eating the matzo. Matzo making was also incorporated into the Year 7 scheme of work. They researched into the history of matzo, before watching a demonstration on how it is made, and finished the lesson with taste testing. The students really enjoyed being introduced to this Jewish unleavened bread.

Holocaust Awareness Week at Northampton High School is a legacy. We are committed to Holocaust education, hoping that ‘never again’ really does become an accurate description of our future.

Miss Robinson & Ms Eldridge
Theology & Philosophy Department

28
Jan

Houses at Northampton High School

When I wrote about the enrichment and extracurricular programmes at Northampton High in my last blog entry, I mentioned how academic lessons in the classroom leading to public exams often dominate people’s conceptions of learning in a school. This is particularly true in a national system which prioritises, or arguably even obsesses about, examination outcomes. Sadly, this is sometimes at the expense of the wider concepts of lifelong learning and personal development that we believe should be at the heart of the school experience. 

I have often said that it is the non-examined element of the curriculum at Northampton High that really gives our learners the edge. Of course, we continue to focus on developing lively and fresh pedagogy for our lessons, where pupils are given responsibility for their own development within a supportive and accepting community of learners. But in order to gain the necessary independence of thought, collaborative abilities and essential subject skills that will lead to excellent exam results, we must allow them the opportunities to find out what this means for them as individuals. This is where a vibrant extracurricular and enrichment programme is so helpful; but arguably the most important ingredient in the wider co-curriculum is our House system, as this brings the whole community together in very tangible ways.

The concept of Houses in schools reflects the ideas of family, teamwork and belonging. At the High School, pupils are members of Artemis, Demeter, Hestia and Selene; House names taken from Greek goddesses, as originally chosen many years ago in a vote by the students. While House members do not physically live and eat together as would be the case in a boarding school, the concept of spending time together and caring for each other in a special group is very much alive. 

The House system globally has been given something of a boost in recent years with the Harry Potter franchise. Indeed, we were pleased to reward the winning House for the autumn term, Demeter, with a Harry Potter themed lunch in the spectacularly redecorated ‘Grand Hall’ at Christmas, including special guests Professors McGonagall and Snape! That said, where the audience in Harry Potter might have an emotional response to certain houses, such as a feeling of resentment towards Sytherin, the reality is that ours are equitable and exhibit a gentle ebb and flow over the years. For example, you may find one year that a House is successful at sports while another excels in the dramatic arts. However, over time, everyone gets the chance to excel and enjoy successes, as well as to commiserate with each other, as part of a caring and shared experience.

Our House Leader is Mr Laubscher, who took over the role from Miss Orvoen in September. Each year, Heads of Houses are elected from the Sixth Form and work closely with the House Leader to develop the programme of events and activities throughout the year. These include House Plays and Storytelling and the brand new ‘big brag’. Not forgetting, of course, the all-important whole-school Sports Day in the summer term. Regular House assemblies also take place to help gel the membership and rehearse for the various activities; these are led by the Heads of Houses, with support from teachers within each House.

When I spoke to Mr Laubsher about his thoughts on becoming House Leader, he reflected on his own school days:

“My school was in a very hot part of South Africa, often reaching 40 degrees in the daytime. I recall Sports Day at the sports field where all the parents would have gathered, fires would be lit for barbecues and pavilions decorated with House colours and posters. I was a terrible athlete but always super excited about this event. Did I realise at the time that this would be a very dear memory of my school days? Probably not. What I did feel was that I was part of a team. I belonged. On the day, it did not matter if I won or lost personally. I was happy driving home with my parents after the event, insisting that my House was better than my sister’s.”

What Mr Laubscher loves about the House system at Northampton High is how, within the huge range of activities available, every student can find a role. Perhaps they might enjoy creating props for the events, choreographing routines, making banners, participating in the sport events or writing a rap for their ‘big brag’ chant. In the process they develop relationships with other students in different year groups and feel part of a team. They feel that sense of belonging that was so important to him as a youngster. Mr Laubscher goes on to say:

“House events contribute to pupils’ understanding of their own values; teamwork, respect for others, leadership and ambition. In short, the House system teaches pupils lessons for the real world and is vital for the formation of deep-seated ties of camaraderie and identity. I know that when students start to reminisce about their school lives, it will be the activities associated with House events that will often be retold and cherished.”

 

10
Dec

12 days of Chemistree

As I write this we are currently preparing for our annual Chemistry Christmas spectacular, which, this year, has the theme of ‘The Magic of Christmas’.  Of course, I have taken this as another way to get the magic of Harry Potter into my year, lessons and life, and we have written the experiments around some of the spells from the films.  We have included Agua Menti, Expecto Patronum and Incendio to name but a few.  I often think back to my own school days and my Latin lessons when I hear the spells and have a wry smile when I can make the links.

I often wonder what other links I can make in lessons and in school to enlighten and enrich the Chemistry that we teach.  I don’t find it easy to write, but I have found lots of links between Chemistry and the 12 Days of Christmas, so I thought I might share a few of them.

On day one the gift was a partridge in a pear tree. In GCSE and A level Chemistry, we make a wonderfully smelly substance called an Ester, and if you ask your parents they might be able to tell you most esters smell like pear drops.  You can see where my tenuous links are going now!

On the second, third and fourth day of Christmas, the gifts were all feathered birds of some sort.  I’d like to draw a parallel here with Chemistry, but the more obvious link is the physics of flight.  Planes aren’t technically designed to fly, but science made that happen.  Aren’t we glad that those wonderful physicists made it happen, or we would never be able to escape around the world.

On the fifth day there was talk of five gold rings. The atomic number of gold is 79, which is only one more than the total number of items in the 12 days of Christmas.  Coincidence or very good planning on the part of the songwriter? I’ll let you decide.

Day 6 we are treated to 6 geese laying eggs.  Eggs are a chemical dream as they are a wonder of biochemistry, and the only question I have ever been asked that totally stumped me in a lesson.  A Year 7 pupil once asked me, “If we heat solids to get liquids, and heat liquids to get a gas, how come when you heat a liquid egg it turns solid?”  What a question!

On day 7 we are back to the feathered variety, and we have 7 swans-a-swimming.  Now interestingly, another chemical allows us to safely swim in pools, but in the wrong hands can be deadly.  Chlorine in the concentrated form can cause issues by forming acids in the body and yet, in the diluted form is safe enough for us to ingest and swim in. Macro versus micro properties is another debate I can write about another time.

On day 8 we meet the maids who milk the cows. I love a cow, they make life look so simple and I do find them quite tasty.  This provides me with my Chemistry link as there is a huge debate currently as to whether the methane that cows produce is wholly, partly or not in the slightest bit responsible for the climate issues we face.  Again I am going to leave you to debate that at home as I have my own opinions, which I will share if you see me in the corridors.

Day 9 and 10 we meet the music-makers and dancers. Music for me is a way to take myself away from stresses and strains of everyday life; I often try to include music in lessons where I can.  Your brain makes connections from a very young age to music and has even been known to be influential in the womb.  Again, a struggle to link to Chemistry, but the chemistry of the forming and developing brain are fascinating topics. I am sure Miss Chapman can have a long conversation about this when she returns to school. I also have a secret wish to learn to dance, a bit like Strictly, but again for another time. 

So nearly there with my links and countdown. Onto the leaping 11 lords. How can I possibly make a link to Chemistry from leaping and lords? Well, here goes: In my assembly for 5 November, I mentioned that fake news stated Guy Fawkes was a Chemistry teacher who tried to blow up the House of Lords. I bet those lords had to leap over the 36 barrels of gunpowder in order to save themselves. Not my finest link to Chemistry, but I like it nonetheless.

My final link is to the 12 drummers drumming,  At the University of Northampton, they still have a lab where they tan their own leather and this is one of my favourite school trips.  The chemistry of leather, and using every part of the animal, has been championed by Inuits for their lifetime.  There is a lot to be said for taking just what you need and using it all with no waste.  Drum skins are made from animal skin such as goats and cows, or a polymer called Mylar invented in 1957. Drummers tend to prefer animal skin as it gives a more authentic tone apparently. I must find a drummer to ask them one day.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas.  

Mrs Hodgetts-Tate
Head of Science Faculty and Teacher of Chemistry

18
Nov

COP26 – A Student Perspective

This blog has been written by the Northampton High School Current Affairs Team at the culmination of COP26 to express our thoughts on it’s achievements and likelihood of its success.

COP26 For Dummies (What is it and why is it so important?)

COP stands for Conference of the Parties and they are the governing body of an international agreement; in this case, in the context of the global response to climate change. Other COP’s exist, such as for the Convention on Biological Diversity, another issue of huge environmental importance. 

COP26, hosted by the UK in Glasgow this month, has been seen as incredibly important, as countries have been asked to produce their plans to cut carbon emissions by 2030, in order to keep global warming below the 2 degree threshold; this threshold has been identified by scientists as representing more dangerous, potentially runaway, climate change. 

In the run up to the conference, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the UN body responsible for assessing the most reliable science related to climate change, released its sixth impact report, highlighting the urgency of taking immediate action; a press release summarising their findings can be found here.

What key policies have been announced?

A number of key policies have been announced as a result of negotiations at COP26; we’ve chosen a few to highlight: 

Cutting deforestation An historic deal was announced to halt deforestation by 2030 (of significance as land clearance relates to around a quarter of greenhouse emissions), coal-fired power and methane emissions. Previous agreements to tackle this have failed (notably the 2014 New York Declaration on Forests); however the signatures of countries like Brazil to the 2021 agreement, alongside the significant financial support ($14bn), gives some cause for optimism that more can be achieved this time.

Countries to go above the $100 billion target that they have to give each year to help slow down climate change.

Cutting methane – Whilst there seems to be a high degree of public awareness about the role of carbon dioxide in driving climate change, it is only recently that attention has shifted to the role of methane, which in the short term is much more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Therefore it is very significant that countries have agreed to cut 30% of methane emissions by 2030.

Phase down of coal – More than 40 countries have agreed to shift away from coal. This proved to be one of the most controversial areas within negotiations, with a late change to the agreement text from ‘phasing out’ coal to ‘phasing down’ coal, with the implication being that this allows countries reliant on coal to retain its importance within their energy mix well into the future. It is considered crucial to keep the majority of remaining coal reserves in the ground to be able to restrict warming to less than two degrees; this article by CNN summarises the current role of coal.

Who is doing well?

Of the countries analysed by Climate Action Tracker, none are yet considered to be adopting policies completely compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5o, however a small number of countries are considered to be almost sufficient, with the UK standing out as the only developed western nation in this category. This is, in part, based on efforts to decarbonise the UK’s energy sector, with 43% of electricity in 2020 being generated from renewable sources. In the lead up to COP26, the UK also launched its net zero plan for 2050, considered to be the most ambitious in the G20. 

Despite these strengths, the UK is still only ‘almost sufficient’, with the need for action to be strengthened to ensure targets are met; particularly for the UK, to increase contributions towards the $100bn climate target. There has been some controversy raised over whether a stated increase in contributions to this fund was actually new money or had previously been promised. 

Who needs to do better?

Unfortunately some countries can be observed to have engaged more with COP26 than others, with some notable world leaders not attending the conference at all, including Jair Bolsonaro, President of Brazil; Vladimir Putin, President of Russia and Ebrahim Raisi, President of Iran, all countries that can play a key role in the global response to climate change. President Xi Jinping did not attend in person, but did join the conference virtually, and the joint declaration by the US and China in week 2 of COP26 did seem to indicate some Chinese engagement with climate action. 

Going beyond attendance, the climate action tracker also helps to examine the policies of countries deemed as insufficient or highly insufficient at keeping warming to 1.5o. An examination of the climate action tracer highlights that Russia has made no substantial contribution to international climate finance goals, and has highly insufficient domestic targets and climate policies. Similarly, under Iran’s current targets and policies, emissions will continue to rise and are consistent with more than 4°C warming. Iran’s internationally supported target for 2030 reflects minimal to no action and is not at all consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. 

Amongst developed countries, Australia has been exposed to some of the sharpest criticism for its stance on the use of coal in the medium term, which the country is keen to continue exploiting for the foreseeable future, despite the significant carbon emissions associated with the dirtiest of the fossil fuels.

Final Reflections

The following are messages from the Northampton High School Current Affairs group to decision makers, such as world leaders and business leaders:

‘Time is running out to cut fossil fuels and stop deforestation, because if we don’t start saving our planet now, it will be too late.’

‘The unborn people of the future need us to protect them now.’

‘The people that don’t want a transition to clean energy are taking an economic risk (they will be left with stranded assets); they are taking a short term economic view.’

‘There are concerns over whether pledges made will transfer into action.’

‘It feels a bit late; we are changing our strategy when the game is nearly over – we need more planning ahead and urgency.’

What are your views?

12
Nov

Why does my daughter….?

“Adolescence represents an inner emotional upheaval, a struggle between the eternal human wish to cling to the past and the equally powerful wish to get on with the future.”

Louise J. Kaplan

I am often asked, ‘Why does my daughter…… act irrationally, speak to me this way, make poor choices, drive me up the wall, etc?’ by fraught parents who are experiencing the teenage years with their daughter. Often this is their first encounter of the teenage years since their own teenage experience. More often than not, they have conveniently forgotten the antics that they themselves got up to, or the behaviours that they presented at that stage of their life. Or they remember only the good times, looking back at them as ‘The Glory Days!’.

I am not a parent myself, but from what I have seen, it looks terrifying! I have every respect for parents at any stage, but the teenage years particularly. So, whilst I cannot share my own parenting tips, I can perhaps offer a few possible reasons for some behaviours and draw on the last 10 years of my career to offer some insight and reassurance to any of you battling sullen moods, slamming doors or a general refusal to communicate.

First and foremost, you are not the only parent to experience this. Almost all teenagers experience a change in personality to some degree during their development. It is also important to mention here that this change is not limited to just teenagers. It can start in children as young as 9 years old, and some psychologists now believe that brain development in young adults is not fully complete until the late 20s or even early 30s.

The Teenage Brain

This change that adolescents go through, is also not really their fault. It is all to do with chemical changes that occur within the brain during the later stages of brain development. The brain develops from the back and bottom, and works its way forward towards the front. One of the first parts of the brain to develop is the amygdala, which houses the emotional centre of our brain. This is the bit that reacts to events that cause a strong emotional response. This might be a positive response like laughter at something funny, or it might be a negative response like fight or flight when faced with threat.

One of the last parts of the brain to develop is the Prefrontal Cortex. This is the part of our brain that deals with rational thought and reasoning, and essentially helps regulate responses from the amygdala so that we are not running around like headless chickens all our lives. Unfortunately, the prefrontal cortex is not well established until after the age of 20 and so many adolescents struggle to regulate their emotions.

Powerful Emotions

The pattern of brain development is also responsible for some of the less desirable teenage behaviours that we are likely to see in children. For parents, one of the most problematic is risk taking and risky behaviours. During brain development in teenagers, a process of self-pruning takes place in the grey matter, whereby the brain starts to get rid of things it uses infrequently or are not essential and in turn, this allows other parts of the brain to strengthen and become more dominant. Sadly, this process takes time and is not fully complete until a person is in their mid-20s.

In early puberty, this process is slightly erratic and the grey matter in the brain is firing millions of electrical signals to other parts of the brain as it tries to make sense of its surroundings. The dense grey matter is extra sensitive to reward and drives adolescents to make choices based on appeasing the pleasure centre of the brain. This often feeds off adrenalin and so behaviours often display as risky (i.e. behaviours that might be dangerous or harmful if they go wrong). For example, experimentation with alcohol or drugs, staying out late, sexual experimentation, pursuing high risk sports and pushing boundaries at home. At the same time, the parts of the brain that deal with fear are becoming less sensitive and so punishments start to have less impact. Withholding pudding at dinner time, for example, might be devastating to your 5 year old, but not so effective with your 15 year old. In fact, with your 15 year old, in their attempt to push boundaries, you may end up wearing the pudding instead.

The importance of a little freedom

It will be little comfort to know that this ‘boundary pushing, risk taking phase’, is actually really important. We learn from experience and so it is essential that teenagers have the chance to dip their toe into the scalding waters of the real world to test it out and discover where their own limits lie, before being thrown in at the deep end. Children of all ages can be challenging, especially when in the company of their parents. There is a really good reason for this. You haven’t done a terrible job in raising them, and they don’t hate you as much as they may make out. Quite simply, you are their safety net. They know, deep down (sometimes seemingly very deep down), that the unconditional love of a parent means they can be horrible sometimes and you will still be there to scoop them up at the end of the day.

A teenager’s lifeline

Friendships are one of the most important things in a teenager’s life. Particularly for girls. Problems in the adolescent years often stem from friendship turbulence. Again, this is very normal but can be extremely painful for those involved. Often perceived as ‘bullying’, by children and parents, ‘Friendship Turbulence’ is very common, and a fairly normal part of social development, as individuals work out where they feel comfortable amongst their peers. It can be very upsetting and can also involve some ‘not nice’ behaviours or unkind words or actions. However, it is rarely persistent or targeted and therefore it is usually handled best, when adolescents are empowered to deal with it themselves, rather than adults wading in and making the situation worse.

At the High School, we use a system called Girls On Board, which does just that. It empowers girls to ensure that their peers are well-cared for by everyone in their community. It teaches them empathy and encourages them to see things from the point of view of their classmates. This is not to say that bullying never occurs, but real cases of bullying are actually very rare. Individuals who are displaying bully behaviours often have a very specific set of their own issues that they need support and care to work through.

The friendships of the average teenage girl are very complex, and I will explore these in a future blog. However, it is worth remembering that your daughter’s circle of friends are her confidants. Whilst she might not be comfortable talking to you about what is going on in her life, she will be talking to her friends. This is not because she doesn’t trust you, but because she thinks you don’t understand. Actually, she is probably correct in her assumption. You may have been through the trauma of the teenage years yourself, but her experience is different. She is dealing with modern technology, modern education, national and international media storms on race, climate change and politics and trying to navigate the trials of social media. Her friends are experiencing this with her and so are a more natural port of call when things go wrong in her life, and she needs to offload.

What can you do?

  1. Manage their expectations – social media paints a stunning picture of endless happiness, flawless features and good hair days. The reality is anything but. Adolescents are fed a stream of unhelpful messages through the media that every day should be joyous and exciting. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being awful and 10 being the best day ever, most of us pootle along at a ‘5’ on most days. Normalising this is helpful in helping children to manage their own expectations of how they should be feeling. There will be days or moments that are a 10, but there may also be days and moments that are a 1 and it is important for them to recognise that this is how life works.

  2. Remain consistent – this can be hard as a parent, just as it can be hard as a teacher. On one hand, each child and each situation is different and therefore needs an individually tailored response. However, an element of consistency is important. Make sure they know what the expectations of their behaviour are and ensure that this message remains clear and unchanging.

  3. Set boundaries – similarly to above, ensure that boundaries are clear. It might feel like you are playing the cruel and evil parent, but children who grow up in an environment with boundaries, are significantly happier than those who don’t. They need to know what is ‘too far’ in terms of what is allowed at home. Ideally, these boundaries should be similar to the boundaries we set in school. There will be differences, of course, but we will not tolerate poor behaviour, and neither should you. It sends mixed messages and they are likely to try to play you off their teachers and visa versa.

  4. Follow through with consequences – empty threats are a waste of time and will end up making the situation worse. Ask any teacher who has threatened a detention for missed homework and then not followed through. The next 6 pieces of homework will also be missed because they don’t believe that there will be any consequences for their actions. This is likely to escalate and links back to the ideas of consistency and set boundaries.

  5. Don’t try to be their best friend – as tempting as it might be to try to be best friends with your daughter, it is not a good idea. Not least of all because she probably has a best friend at school. It also muddies the waters when trying to enforce discipline at home or at school. They see you as their mate, not their parent. Your relationship with them will change as they grow up and you may well find that friendship is a natural occurrence when they reach adulthood.

  6. Talk less, listen more – children often tell you things, not because you particularly need to know the information, but because they need to tell you, to get it off their chest, to offload. In these moments, a sympathetic ear is far more effective, and welcome, than a list of actions they can take to fix the problem.

  7. Keep lines of communication open – ensure your daughter knows they can talk to you. Sometimes they forget that you are there for them. Equally, don’t forget the people who are there for you. Talk to other parents to get a fresh perspective on a situation, or talk to the school, even if it is just to offload yourselves. 

When to worry

Essentially a huge amount of what teenagers go through is perfectly normal. There will be times when they are emotional or moody. There will be times when they are downright rude. There will be times when they don’t want to speak to you or will only communicate in grunts. Doors will be slammed and eyes will roll.

All…….totally……normal

This is not to say, of course, that there will never be times when you should worry. Extreme behaviours are rare but should be taken seriously. Serious aggression or sudden and dramatic changes in demeanour over the course of a few days may indicate something more serious and should be looked into. Similarly, dangerous behaviour like experimenting with drugs, or excessive alcohol is not a normal part of adolescent development. Sudden weight loss or weight gain may also be an indication that things are not quite right. In these cases, please seek help if you need it. The school is here to support you as well as your daughter, and, although we might not always have the answers, we will more often than not, be able to point you in the direction of someone who does.

 “Even as kids reach adolescence, they need more than ever for us to watch over them. Adolescence is not about letting go. It’s about hanging on during a very bumpy ride.

Ron Taffel   

Becky Kneen
Assistant Head Pastoral