School Blog

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

05
Nov

Keep Calm and Carry On Reading

When I was at school reading came under the banner of a ‘good thing’. Other than set texts in English lessons, we were left pretty much to our own devices as to what to read. Fast forward to the third decade of the 21st Century and many things have changed. One of the most striking has been the expansion in books written for children and young adults; the range, number, and quality available today for the average young person would have delighted the teenage me – the choices being endless.

What has also become clearer, though, is how much of a ‘good thing’ reading really is.

Young people who enjoy reading are three times as likely to read above the level expected for their age compared with young people who do not enjoy reading at all. Similarly, young people who read outside class daily are five times as likely to read above the expected level for their age, compared with young people who never read outside class. ref: The National Literacy Trust

It seems obvious that if you enjoy something, you will improve, and the more you practise, the better you become. 

Whilst having a wide choice of material is a positive position to be in, the challenge within a school environment is to encourage students to progress with the type of material they read in terms of content and style.

At Northampton High, we provide varied reading opportunities including the reading scheme, games, and activities in class, author visits, Book Week, book clubs, and much more throughout the school year.

Our Year 6 classes, along with their teachers, Mrs Fordham and Miss Taylor, visit the Senior library on a weekly basis. We asked the girls for their thoughts about reading: 

“I was not always been the biggest fan of reading until Year 6, but because I got to go to the Senior library – which has many more book choices – it helped me find the genre of book that I like, which is adventure/murder. Right now I am reading the Alex Rider series because it has lots of tension at the start of the book which I really like.” Year 6 student

There were many more similar responses, along with confessions of getting into trouble for carrying on reading once in bed when they should be asleep.

Through the reading scheme, different genres and types of books are promoted; the reading version of healthy eating if you like. I asked one of my reading groups for their thoughts on books, reading and libraries.

“I have enjoyed funny, adventurous books, but I’m trying to read one book from each genre; we have a huge selection and are being shown interesting books.” Year 7 student

“I love reading because I love learning about all different ideas of what they think is a good book. I love a book called Holes; I thought that I would never read it but it is really good and I recommend it.” Year 7 student

“I like reading because when I read I feel that I am in that book. I recommend the Harry Potter series. It is full of action, suspense, joy, and sadness.” Year 7 student

“I read if I find the right book at the right time.” Year 7 student

“I love reading because it helps me to zone out and imagine that I am anywhere else in the world. It is also fun and gives me ideas for art that I do, and in some way, they feel connected. I can learn new words as well. Book recommendation – Wonder by RJ Palacio.” Year 7 student

Alongside educational benefits, the way in which reading can support mental wellbeing has very much come to the fore in recent years. When I asked my Year 7s for their thoughts on reading, I received the following responses, highlighting the calming influence of reading alongside encouraging empathy and understanding.

“I love reading because it calms me down and I can read in any mood, sad or happy.”’ Year 7 student

“I love reading because it helps me calm down. I also enjoy reading because I can learn so many new things. I see the library as a calm and relaxing place to read….and I will always feel safe.” Year 7 student

‘I enjoy reading a lot…..I love all libraries and book shops as I always feel like I belong there’ Yr 7 student

“I love reading because if I have had a bad day it doesn’t matter which book I open from my shelf, it will always carry me away to another world…I see the library as a safe haven from the busy corridors and crowded classrooms. It is a calm environment and I will always feel safe when surrounded by books.” Year 7 student

“I love the library. Books make me feel relaxed and help me be a different person.” Year 7 student

“Books help me understand how different people react and feel.” Year 7 student

All form groups and their tutors are invited to attend at least one Read and Relax Breakfast during the academic year. As you can see from the girls’ responses, the library supports our students in a number of ways, within the curriculum, from a wellbeing point of view and encouraging a love of reading. 

The encouragement our students receive to read widely and regularly at Northampton High builds a strong foundation, serving them throughout their school life and beyond; we hope that their reading journey fuels a love of learning, and evolves their interests as their lives shift and change over time. 

Further reading thoughts from the girls:

The comments above are from Year 6 and 7 students, but as you can see from the comments below reading continues to be an important part of the girls’ lives as they move through the school.

“I have to admit that I have never really been into reading and I have only really started this year. My goal is to try and read one book every month and I have been reaching it so far. I hope to have read a lot more by the end of the school year. I think reading can really widen your perspective and take you into a completely different world of imagination, which is one of the things I love about reading. I also read to relax and unwind after a busy day, as I’m sure many other people do too. I like to set the ambiance by lighting a candle or having a nice hot cup of tea. I hope that I will get to explore the wide variety and range of books and genres through the ongoing year. I think reading can impact your life so much and I think it helps us relate to other people and encourages us to be kind and considerate of other people’s feelings. When people read stories about other people’s lives, it helps them develop the skills to understand the world through another person’s perspective.” Year 9 student

“A book I would recommend to those in secondary school would be ‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas. It follows the story of a girl named Star who witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands of a police officer. Now facing pressure from all sides of the community the poor neighborhood she lives in and the fancy suburban school she attends, Star must find her voice to explain what really happened on the night of the shooting. This book highlights the deep-rooted racial discrimination that takes place in all areas of society, rich or poor, and who is really willing to stand up and fight against it. It is eye-opening and will help you understand the events that have occurred in society over the past year regarding racism and police brutality.” Year 10 student

“I love to read because I love to be part of different worlds when I open a book. There are endless characters to get to know and sometimes you find a book that changes your life in ways you didn’t even know needed changing!” Year 11 student

“Like many people who were stuck inside during the summer of 2020, I found that the easiest way to stay entertained and feel connected with the outside world was to continually scroll through Tiktok, binge-watch whatever series I could get my hands on, and FaceTime with my friends. However, although watching noughties crime TV was one of the main things that kept me going during the pandemic, the dopamine rush triggered whenever I opened TikTok meant that I no longer had the patience – or the attention span – to pick up any of the books accumulating on my shelf.  

When I was younger, I used to read several books a week, sometimes up to one a day. In the months since the pandemic, I’ve struggled to find the time to read, and can’t find a book that holds my attention. In today’s society, we are surrounded by quick and easy ways to satisfy our boredom, and though they can be fun at the time, I’ve learnt the hard way that they can affect other hobbies that you enjoy. I also know that I’m not alone in this experience. 

Part of the allure of reading, as many people will tell you, is the escape that it gives you from reality; open a book and you can be anywhere, anytime, for as long as you like, or at least until the book ends. And for me, as a child, that was why I loved it. But I think another aspect of reading that perhaps is more relevant to me today, as I start A Levels and consider what my future holds, is that a good book helps you see your life from another perspective, and to cherish the smaller things in life that make you happy. 

Though it is harder now than before lockdown, picking up a book is still a big source of comfort for me and helps to quiet my mind after a busy day. It sounds cheesy but I do believe that reading is good for you, in terms of helping with stress and your mental wellbeing. After these chaotic past few years, I’m working on rekindling my love of reading, and each time I am reminded of all the reasons why I fell in love with it in the first place.”  Year 12 student

Anne Buxton
School Librarian

07
Oct

Languages at Northampton High School

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

The European Day of Languages, held on 26 September annually, has always been a highlight of the year in the Languages Faculty, but this year in a post-Brexit and pandemic context, it had a particular flavour. For the first time in two years, students from different year groups were able to celebrate the occasion together. Throughout the week students from Junior School to Sixth Form took part in linguistic and cultural activities, ranging from karaoke to scavenger hunts. 

When we asked pupils why they thought learning languages was important for them, the most common answer was that they are fun. And fun there was during the week too; the energy and enthusiasm around languages were fantastic. However, while the enjoyment of our students is paramount, let’s reflect on the other benefits of studying languages in today’s Britain and why they have such a special place in our curriculum at school.

The Language Trends Survey published by the British Council paints a bleak picture for language learning in the UK, going as far as talking about ‘a language crisis’ in relation to the number of students choosing to study the subjects at GCSE. While about half of our European neighbours can speak at least two additional languages, the British Council states that only one in three people is able to communicate in another tongue in the UK. This poses a range of challenges and puts us at a disadvantage both economically and in international terms at a time when the UK needs to find its new place outside of Europe. Learning languages is not just about making transactions easier when abroad, it has a pivotal role to play in developing intercultural awareness and skills, which can then offer the opportunity for varied international experiences.

When I joined the Languages Faculty as a French and Spanish teacher six years ago I was amazed at the range of languages students could learn during their time at the High School, and the insights into different cultures pupils could benefit from to expand their horizons. Walking down the F corridor is not just a linguistic experience, it is like diving into a vibrant vortex of culture, including travel not only to different countries, but also through time to Ancient Greece and Roman times. By starting their language learning journey with French as early as Year 1, pupils develop an array of skills, building the foundation for a linguistic future.  Indeed, in the Junior School, pupils are very open to language learning and have an innate curiosity for new sounds, they show great enthusiasm and join in activities confidently. Pupils relish every opportunity to learn about different traditions and compare them with their own. In this way languages are not stand-alone subjects; they complement other areas of the curriculum as well as helping to develop empathy and cultural intelligence.

Having the opportunity to study German, Latin and Spanish in Years 7 and 8, in addition to French, is a real advantage for our students, allowing them to take their linguistic skills further. They consolidate and transfer knowledge, spotting patterns in different languages, broadening their intercultural awareness as they move towards becoming global citizens. With our long established connections with a German school and regular eTwinning exchanges with our French and Spanish partner schools, students can use their language competences in meaningful ways. Opportunities for international travel and collaborations help bring language learning to life and it is always wonderful to see the expression of pride on our students’ faces when they use their French on the market in Villedieu-les-Poêles during the Normandy trip, or when they manage to communicate with their penpals and their host families on the German exchange.

The popularity of our Language Leaders award speaks volume about our students’ attitude to language learning and the benefits they see in speaking them. By becoming language ambassadors, our KS4 and KS5 students develop valuable leadership skills, as well as helping raise the profile of languages with younger students. Through the activities and workshops that they run, often in their home languages, they celebrate the linguistic and cultural diversity of our student body.

Our Erasmus+ project started in 2018 enabled student ambassadors to collaborate with European partners on the topic of creativity and digital competencies in the 21st century. They also took part in leading an online conference last year and created a digital publication. This experience was culturally rich and allowed students to develop competences which will help set them apart from the crowd when they consider university choices or job opportunities.

Our students know that speaking English will not be enough in the future. In order to compete with other countries, having the skills to learn languages will be critical. With the technology around us, it has never been easier to experience other languages and cultures, and to learn about them. For example, it is not unusual today to find songs in Spanish in the charts or to watch a series in another language on streaming platforms. Language learning applications and podcasts too are widely available, so there is no excuse.

Let’s reverse the tide!

Sandy Orvoen
Head of Languages Faculty

https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/language-learning-decline-england-schools

https://www.britishcouncil.org/research-policy-insight/research-reports/language-trends-2021

 

01
Oct

Enrichment at Northampton High School

When we think of what learning means in schools, the notion of a ‘taught curriculum’ is often at the forefront of our minds. With this comes the classic image of lessons taking place in classrooms, with teachers drawing on schemes of work and programmes of study to build skills and knowledge that will lead students to success in public examinations. Of course, we have a far wider conception of learning and skills development than that, and it is arguably the non-examined core of our curriculum at Northampton High that really gives our learners the edge.

Needless to say, vibrant, modern teaching and learning in academic lessons focused on students taking the initiative, is an absolute necessity and a hallmark of our school. However, when we talk about scattering the paths of learners with opportunities and signposting them to achieve their dreams and ambitions, we must ensure they know what this actually means for them as individuals. This is where the huge range of extracurricular and enrichment options available at school really matters. 

I have written previously about the Enrichment programme, which ranges from STEM clubs and societies to creative arts electives, and incorporates all the music, sport and oracy activities within our extracurricular schedule. These activities do much of the heavy lifting in developing better self-awareness and encouraging creativity and independence in students. However, they also support academic areas in helping students to develop the vital problem-solving, reasoning, teamwork, critical thinking, communication, and collaborative abilities they will need in the future.

Within the cocurricular programme there are overtly academic elements, such as clinics to support individual subject areas. However, the majority of the activities tend to be just that, active. There is plentiful evidence that academic performance can be improved by participating in activities that themselves are not seemingly academic in nature. Physical activities such as yoga and dance have positive effects on wellbeing and stress levels. According to research carried out by Dr Brandon Eggleston of the National University in California, ‘mindfulness-based activities such as yoga may assist children in learning in the classroom because they are calmer and find it easier to pay attention and complete tasks’. This is certainly something our Yoga teacher Mrs Eborall would attest to, and she has written for this blog to highlight the benefits of the work she does as part of the Enrichment programme at Northampton High.

“Yoga offers a unique opportunity for students to embrace the wonder of mindfulness. In the Enrichment programme for students of Year 10 and above, gentle Hatha Yoga classes include a variety of techniques like breathwork and meditation to give students real tools to use in times of stress. Through mindful yoga, the students become more connected with their physical and emotional selves, applying awareness to help deal rationally with the pressures of modern life. In addition, mindfulness helps to improve mental clarity, focus and concentration. If you’ve ever felt tearful, exhausted, lacking in motivation, had difficulty sleeping or switching off, then yoga could be just what you need.  

Each yoga session, students are introduced to different techniques to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to help feel calm and grounded. They are then guided through a series of poses and sequences to increase endorphins and decrease stress hormones. The end of the session is time for relaxation and meditation to help access deep inner peace. Each weekly session is based around a theme, further designed to inspire, improve wellbeing and help students live purposefully. 

If you look at many of the most successful people in the world you will start to see a pattern. So many successful entrepreneurs are committed to wellbeing, including exercise, meditation and reflection in their daily routines. There are many advocates promoting the benefits of yoga and meditation including Beyonce, Tom Hanks, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Arianna Huffington. The list goes on but hopefully the message is clear. Yoga and meditation are success formulas well worth following.”

Students in the Enrichment programme either in Key Stage 4 or 5 are able to select a range of activities at various points throughout the four-year journey to taking their A Levels. Of course, all pupils are always encouraged to try new extracurricular activities too. These interests and endeavours weave their way around the academic pathways and lend originality and flavour to the individual learning voyages that are being taken. For our students we believe the future is bright, and, we trust, enriching.

Eggleson, B., The Benefits of Yoga for Children in Schools; International Journal of Health, Wellness & Society, Sep 2015, Vol. 5 Issue 3

24
Sep

The school of unlearning

‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn’ Alvin Toffler

The American futurist Alvin Toffler was acutely aware of the seismic changes that society was facing when he wrote his best seller Future Shock in 1970. He saw the fundamental transformation of societal structure and values since the industrial revolution through to the technological age as all pervasive and constantly accelerating. His prescience was striking, as so much the world of the 70’s is unrecognisable from the one we live in today, in areas such as employment, technology, personal identity and the media. 

Education has changed enormously in that time too, of course, although the structure of the school year and the way we run them in classes and year groups has, in fact, not really altered much since the industrial revolution. However, one recent shock that even Toffler could not have foreseen has, arguably, had a bigger impact on pedagogy and schools than decades of political machinations and assessment changes. 

The Covid pandemic forced educators to think about teaching and learning in a completely new way. Distance education was an immediate priority for families and teachers, who, along with most other people, became experts in video conferencing overnight. The new learning that went into this process happened on a scale never before seen in our educational establishment. Managing the education of 20+ young people in a classroom is no easy task, but replacing that with the complexities of delivering stimulating lessons, monitoring progress and providing meaningful feedback for improvement in an online setting – this called for skills that had barely been tested in most schools.

Ironically, developing this new approach often involved ‘unlearning’ old ways of working, both for students and teachers. The new pedagogy could not rely as much on teachers being present with students when the learning took place. Learning became more ‘blended’ with teachers working as facilitators for more of the time, rather than instructors. This led to students who could take more initiative, working collaboratively with other learners and assuming more responsibility for how they gathered information and developed their knowledge. The teacher is certainly essential to this arrangement, to lead the learning, encourage participation and ensure accuracy, but student independence is the key to success. After all, is it not generally better to learn to make your own dinner rather than calling for a takeaway?

Clearly, these dispositions are hugely positive for learners. However, the wellbeing benefits of being together physically in a learning environment became increasingly obvious as time went by under lockdown. Within classes now, students and teachers can make use of the new ways of working that we developed in lockdown, often with the help of EdTech, while benefiting from the calming social structures of physical school to create a more blended approach to learning. Teachers can choose which parts of a lesson lend themselves better to individual study, or group instruction, and which parts work better with a collaborative approach. Students who are self-isolating can also dial into these lessons and not feel as though they are working in a vacuum. All this leads to a virtuous circle where anxiety is reduced and confidence is built through a group dynamic, which leads to deeper and more fulfilling learning experiences for all.

The challenge for schools now is to resist the temptation to relearn what we have unlearned;  to continue to learn how to do better things instead. Our focus must be to unlock even more potential and to imbue students with the key intellectual character traits, such as adaptability and independence of thought, that will allow them to face an uncertain future with a smile. To give them the confidence to know they have the skills and dispositions to be fully ‘literate’ and can flourish in the fluid employment market they are entering. 

As the mole so rightly tells the boy in Charlie Mackesy’s zeitgeisty modern classic The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, ‘most of the old moles I know wish they had listened less to their fears and more to their dreams’. If fear of failure is something that can be unlearnt then we can all be confident of a better future.

Henry Rickman
Deputy Head Academic

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse, Charlie Mackesy, Ebury Press, 2019

Future Shock, Alvin Toffler, Random House; 1970

01
Jul

Sixth Form Reflections

In September 2019, the year started like any other for the Sixth Form. Year 12 met with Norwich, Blackheath and Bromley High Schools for the annual Inspire East Conference at Churchill College, Cambridge where motivational speaker Hayley Barnard challenged them to “Dare to Dream, but Dream with a Plan” and told them that, “If you don’t ask you don’t get!”

Joining Year 13 in the Common Room they put this into practice from day one; investigating career paths and university courses, attending open days and completing work experience, reading articles and books that interested them, taking MOOCs, Massive Open On-line Courses, delivered remotely by universities from Stanford to Queensland to demonstrate super-curricular knowledge and planning for the future. Some travelled to Riga as part of the Erasmus programme, took part in the ‘Now’s the Time’ MedVet conference or the immersive Gatsby experience in London. In October, some of us were lucky enough to travel together to California exploring San Francisco and Silicon Valley, pictures of which you will find below.

At Christmas, our musicians performed with the Orchestra of the Swan at the concert in All Saints, Northampton, and the Senior Hall was packed for the House Plays followed by Christmas lunch with music and crackers in the Dining Hall.

In the new year, the Sixth Form sat on the sofas in the Common Room or in the ‘UCAS hub’ in the sunshine, making plans for the future. Live hustings were held in the Hall for the School Student Leadership Team, votes and interviews were held, the new team was appointed.

And then, the world changed.

Suddenly, comparisons with the Roaring Twenties became horribly real. For Spanish Flu read COVID-19. Two weeks before Easter, the school closed. Together, we embraced Guided Home Learning and learned to engage with live lessons and assemblies on Teams and Google Classroom.

At home with their families, the Sixth Form adjusted to social distancing, isolation, and communicating with friends and family via Zoom and Facetime.

Things got worse as the virus took hold and then, gradually they started to get better. The rules were relaxed, we spent some time in school socially distanced during the Summer Term, and then we were back in school in the Autumn. How we all appreciated being back together and realised how much friendships and informal conversations with those around us mattered.

Year group bubbles meant that the Leadership roles the Sixth Form would have expected to take were limited to what could be achieved remotely. They took the time to explore all that the virtual world had on offer. Opportunities to connect with other GDST schools meant that students were able to attend seminars and access a programme of speakers that would have been impossible for a single school to offer. This Sixth Form cohort is better prepared for the independent learning required at university and in the wider world than any that has gone before.

Another lockdown and then, back in school before Easter, Year 13 planned their Leavers’ Week celebrations and started to make the Leavers’ Film. A nostalgic time travel theme saw the cohort revisit key moments in their High School careers and enact rites of passage that were only imagined by this cohort. Memories were made, Year 13 left and Year 12, with a new School Student Leadership Team and House Captains, took the reins and began to take the Sixth Form forward. Sports Day was a spectacular success, records were broken, the House spirit revived, and year group bubbles enjoyed picnics.

The familiar rhythm of school life returned and plans for the future were made but with a new appreciation of what we all mean to each other and how we needed each other to get through the pandemic to this point.

But just when all was getting back on track, a Covid case in 6.1 last week has meant that a number of students are back at home self-isolating.

We are looking forward to welcoming them back on Monday for the last two weeks of term. We will also be celebrating with Mr Viesel, who has been appointed to the role of Director of Sixth Form from September and is currently on paternity leave following the birth of his daughter.

He is very much looking forward to exciting times ahead as the Sixth Form moves forward taking the gains made at this exceptional time into the new school year.

Not just back to where we were before but back kinder, stronger, with greater collaboration, real and virtual, and really understanding the true meaning and value of community.

As many of you know I am retiring in August and moving on to new challenges. I have thoroughly enjoyed my 11 years at the High School, teaching Physics, leading the Science Faculty, and most recently the Sixth Form. I have always felt it to be the best job in the school. Supporting our students as they plan for the world ahead and seeing them develop and then leave as confident, articulate, ambitious individuals ready to take their place in the world in whatever is their chosen field is a great privilege. I look forward to hearing about the directions this cohort takes next year and their future successes.

Mrs Cantwell
Director of Sixth Form

21
May

International school – ‘the rights you expect are the rights of all’ (P Weller)

Northampton High has a long tradition of embracing world cultures and the international dimension in all areas of school life. There are structural elements to this ethos, ranging from our engagement with European schools for modern language exchanges, to our Erasmus+ mobilisations and eTwinning projects. We can also highlight our tours and trips, ecological campaigning, charitable work and, vitally, the academic programmes of study across the school that challenge pupils to think globally. However, a school, like a church, is not defined by its buildings, or its curriculum or liturgy, but by its community and spirit. Indeed, the real basis for our open minded and culturally diverse outlook is the student and staff body itself, proudly incorporating multiple ethnicities and bi or trilingual speakers of 20+ community languages. 

I would go on to say that the measure of a school’s success cannot simply be based on its academic outcomes. Although these are important for opening doors, fulfilling careers and lives are built on so much more than academic achievements. A good linguistic and cultural education brings an understanding of how other people live, an appreciation of the things that make us different, and how we can use this information to enhance our contributions at work and home. Employers and businesses are increasingly conscious of the need for original thinking and, at the same time, are sensitive to the global markets they work within. As such, employment practices that recognise the value of diversity and cultural awareness do not just have a moral imperative but a sound business rationale too. 

Playing in the school band in the 80 and 90s, I was influenced by Paul Weller in his various incarnations. I liked Internationalists, a lesser known recording from the time, perhaps because it had a more rocky flavour, like his earlier hits with The Jam. However, relistening to it as I thought about writing this piece, I find I can appreciate it in ways I barely understood at the time. In the light of Black Lives Matter, Weller’s prescience in Internationalists that ‘without the strength of us altogether / the world as it stands will remain forever’, might seem unusual given his roots in working class Woking. But Weller was never a stereotypical rock star and his cosmopolitan image in the Style Council was more than window dressing. Perhaps influenced by this, I went on to study modern languages and lived in France and Spain. While not exactly a globe-trotting experience of young adulthood, it showed me the value of learning foreign languages, and inspired me to see that we have far more in common with other cultures than anything that might separate us.

The move to bring European countries closer together after the Second World War, eventually leading to the European Union, was also rooted in the belief that our mutual long-term interests as neighbouring countries was of greater importance than any short-term disputes. While it is too soon to judge the full impact, it is clear that the 2016 referendum decision implies the diminishing of our overall contact with the countries around us. Luckily for us, however, the friendships we have developed with other schools in Europe and beyond mean that we are still able to maintain and strengthen the connections we have built up. 

Furthermore, Brexit has caught the imagination of the world and must not be seen as a threat, or we risk turning inwards and missing out on the chance to take advantage of new opportunities. At the High School we are looking again at the non-examined curriculum that forms the backbone of our international school approach. Complementing the Humanities Transferrable Skills programme in Years 7 and 8, for example, will now be a new offer to Year 9 students, Global Outlook. This optional course, developed under the guidance of the Head of Languages Sandy Orvoen, looks at issues such as global citizenship, democracy, human rights, gender equality and climate change, from the perspective of different groups of people around the world. 

Within the wider enrichment curriculum we will build on the highly successful Sixth Form Electives programme, by including Key Stage 4 students. In some subjects, students from different year groups will join together and be able to discuss key issues such as politics and international relations. Clubs and societies too will delve deeper into the issues of equality and fairness that go hand in hand with the international agenda. Whether that be for Eco Team, Black History Week, Model United Nations society, Femsock, debating and public speaking societies, continued links with our Erasmus+ schools, or the many other activities and clubs taking place around the school.

Paul Weller says that ‘liberty must come at the top of the list’. At the risk of ruining the rhythm of his song, I would add diversity and inclusion to the top of that list too – as an internationally-minded school we owe it to every pupil.

Mr Rickman
Deputy Head Academic

Internationalists – link to Live Aid performance 1985

https://youtu.be/0Ie8d-zdpFE