School Blog

13
Nov

Ceramics at Northampton High School

Clay is an exciting medium and never fails to intrigue and excite children of all ages. I love to see faces light up when young people are handed a block of stoneware at the beginning of a project, and see the amazement when you simply slice a block with cut-off wire to reveal that flat, smooth clean edge.

I am lucky; I started my teaching career in 1994 with Glyn Thomas at Kenton School, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where ceramics was strong and celebrated. Glyn and his team have sent many excellent ceramicists onto higher education, including Stuart Carey, but over the years we have seen how the Arts in schools, particularly traditional crafts, have been in decline. I hear stories of whole ceramics departments shutting down due to the scale, space and running costs needed to sustain courses in universities and colleges; not to mention the expertise needed to manage kilns, pug mills, slab rollers and wheels. Teachers do worry about where clay is going but I know there are schools and colleges in the UK who, like us, have a passion for clay.

What is happening to the craft of clay? How many schools are still using potters wheels? If courses are not available what is the point in continuing to teach children these skills? Why? Because children love handling clay. They want to squeeze it and experiment with shape and form. They want to see it ooze between their fingers. They want to give it a good bash on the desk. They are liberated, energised and excited by its possibilities.

Junior School Year 4 Owls from 2019, Constructed through Slabs and Coils.

My department are experienced enough to know that allowing the girls to independently explore their ideas is going to lead to fantastic sculptures. We plan and lead projects across our Junior and Senior School, and in particular, the last two years have been busy for us with a range of hand building projects taking shape. We find our sources of inspiration from surprising starting points and impromptu discussions in the department. Hand built animals are always popular, and we like to explore cultures through clay, examples include Egyptian Canopic Jars, Islamic Tiles and Native American Totems.

Researching projects is a fantastic element of Art, Craft and Design teaching and Karen Bull, who studied Ceramics and Glass at Cardiff, spends her valuable technician time creating exemplar sculptures as teaching aids, in addition to team teaching with Nieldre Laubscher and myself. She is very much at the forefront of the department, not just the mysterious figure loading the kiln at the back of the classroom. The girls know her.

Clubs such as Polymer Clay have popped up with students in Year 8 leading these sessions during their lunchtime, continuing their love of 3D work. This group of girls then formed a business venture through one of our Business Studies teachers, Imogen Tansley. The Tenner Challenge is a national competition – ‘Clay Create’ made a healthy profit after successful sales from stalls and markets.

‘ClayCreate’ Year 8 Students (Ariana, Mia, Annie-May and Lois).

Ceramics and working with clay is enjoyed by students of all ages, and we love giving our pupils the chance to be creative and see their ideas come to life. They love to use their imagination, and express themselves with different methods and techniques, to create a final product to be proud of and celebrate. This is the case across the whole of the school, with methods of study and practical tasks progressing as students grow, as you will see below.

A Level student Freya visited Kew Gardens and she was inspired by the glass art installation of Dale Chihuly. She wanted to use clay on a larger scale within a designated space, as opposed to creating a small sculpture, vessel or ornament. She examined curves, rhythms and repetition, before sketching and planning her interior space in The Studio. Additionally, she has made prototypes and support work in paper and card, experimenting with colour and monochromatic pieces.

Left: A Level work in progress. Component parts ready for larger ceramic installation.
Right: Year 4 Owls in Progress. Showing use of hands and modelling tools to achieve texture.

In our Junior School, Year 4 students have taken up the enjoyable task of creating clay owls. Starting with a block of clay, we used various wooden and metal tools, along with knives to refine and develop owl shapes and features, but we talked to pupils about our hands being the best for sculpting. The pupils quickly learned the importance of balance, use of slip and the drying out process before firing.

In Year 8, one exciting task our students undertook during the summer term was to create Islamic designs using traditional terracotta clay. Groups consulted traditional Islamic patterns and symmetry before creating their tiles, which the students carved with wooden and metal tools, incised with knives or built up with raised slabs to create a variety of designs and finishes. Card and paper templates ensured high quality results.

Islamic designs, ready for tile construction, using traditional terracotta clay for authenticity.

Students in Year 9 had great fun creating Club Tropicana inspired plates. Using slabs and underglazes for colour, old plates were used as moulds for the ease of construction and to give a smooth finish, with the finished items being displayed proudly at the front of the school. A recent task for our Year 10 students was to plan and create their own Canopic Jars. Using the coil technique to hand build the structure, the final results were fantastic as you will see below.

The finished results of our Year 9 Club Tropicana plates and the Year 10 Canopic Jars

One of our recent projects was ambitious in both number and scale, with us transforming our Senior School foyer to represent an ocean bed ceramic installation. 71 Year 8 students looked at a range of artists including Ernst Haeckel and Kate Malone, to inspire shapes and forms for their sculptures. Sea sponges, urchins, coral and kelp all provided ideas for the girls to express themselves through slabs, coils and hollowing out solid shapes.

Our intention was to provide our visitors not just with a decorative ocean bed, sweeping underneath our large open stairways, but to share a social comment on plastic in our oceans and the need for this to cease. Upon further inspection, the audience could see the plastic remnants we place in our installation and read the statistics and the action taken to stop this plastic pollution. Eco bricks created and donated by our school community and Eco Team, led by Head of Humanities, Mr Earp, will form part of the installation.

As we return to school, many new exciting projects are underway across all areas of the arts. We are excited to share our progress, and we invite you to head to our Twitter page (@ArtsNHS) where you will find a plethora of media showcasing our students’ outstanding work.

Mrs Mel Beacroft
Head of Creative Arts Faculty

09
Oct

The Blackhole of Social Media

Prompted by a number of parent recommendations and lured by it racing up the Netflix charts, I finally caught up with some of The Social Dilemma last weekend and it offered rather more food for thought than I anticipated.

I hold my hand up here – I am a social media user. But I am also way behind some of our Senior School pupils; I cannot get to grips with media-rich social platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat and I believe the official term for most of my Facebook use is ‘lurking’ (that and shouting at the ridiculous posts on my local Facebook page). But enough about my own use. Suffice to leave it here that I think social media platforms can be a fantastic tool to connect people young and old and conduct citizen science research. And I also think they can be insidious timewasting wormholes, twisting reality and taking young people into black holes filled with worrying misinformation.

The latter of my opinions above is where we meet The Social Dilemma, directed by Jeff Orlowski who is well known for his films about environmental disasters.  Are we suggesting that Social Media is the new disaster waiting to engulf society?  It is presented in what is described by Professor Mary Aiken  as a ‘documentary drama hybrid’ and contains numerous interviews with former employees of various social media companies, who have apparently ‘now converted on some Internet superhighway to Damascus’ (ibid). Yet, despite the high drama and the stark warnings, which one could call out as hypocritical when delivered by these former silicon valley employees, there is something unsettling about watching this series.

The adult me understood the warning about usage of personal data, for example, but I know that teenagers do not generally understand fully what this could mean in terms of the post, information, photos and personal information they willingly share in what they think are closed environments.

My reflections went somewhat deeper than this though and considered the wave of mixed-messages given out by various organisations recently about how dangerous social media is.  The Department of Culture, Media and Sport recently published a white paper  following a consultation about online harms and is possibly as good as we have at the moment. The consensus here being that more research is needed to understand the potential harms.  A quick search online shows the numerous reports giving conflicting conclusions about whether social media causes increased self-harm, anxiety, depression and confusion amongst young people or not.

So where does this leave parents, educators and most importantly young people? Well firstly, I am certain that it is counterproductive for us to demonise mobile devices and social media apps. By doing so, we risk alienating young people who will dismiss our opinions as outdated and uninformed (‘you don’t even use TikTok do you Miss?’!). But we do need to remember that, as with all other aspects of life, our jobs as parents and educators is to guide young people and set clear boundaries.  It is not an easy task but in school we openly talk about social media use, what the good points are and how to protect themselves from the various different dangers that can lurk, including the unrealistic views of perfection that can be found.  Parents can certainly set limits on social media use by restricting app purchases or screen time.  But I would suggest that it is best not to fall into the trap of thinking that banning things is the best way to keep young people safe. Childnet  advise that a Family Agreement on mobile device use is a great tool – and that means agreements for parents too! Certainly, I know a number of families already successfully make use of a set ‘family meeting’ time each week where everyone switches devices off and talks about all sorts of things, including use of devices and what is happening online.  By bringing things out into the open, in a non-judgemental way, you can perhaps help your child to solve the social dilemma.

Parents may find this video of interest. It is part of a series we will be using with older students as part of our ongoing online self-awareness session.

Mrs O’Doherty
Deputy Head (Pastoral Care & Guidance)

06
Mar

Can MOOCS Support Teachers in Offering a Flexible Curriculum?

The New York Times named 2012 ‘The Year of the MOOC’ or Massive Open Online Course. MOOCs moved online learning right away from the hour-long videos of classes uploaded to secure web spaces so students who missed the lesson could catch up. Eight years on and  MOOCs continue to go from strength to strength with arguably the most successful being FutureLearn, backed by longstanding experts in online learning, the Open University.

Educational technology, or EdTech, has been through a variety of stages in schools. In the 1990s and early 2000s we were teaching students how to use software in the world of work. The last decade has mostly been about the tech itself. Do we want iPads, Chromebooks, Microsoft? Do we want Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) or class-sets? Should we have smartboards or not? These questions have dominated many school discussions.  I am pleased to be part of the GDST community where innovation is valued and shaping EdTech pedagogy is high on the agenda. I believe it doesn’t matter what the platform or software; the main thing is that EdTech should bring the teaching and learning to life, offer choices and give flexibility in the curriculum.

As Dr Eileen Kennedy, Senior Research Associate at UCL, writes that one of the benefits of EdTech is the greater engagement achieved for school pupils though the interaction and collaboration it affords.  EdTech, and specifically, MOOCs can also be hugely advantageous due to their inherent asynchronicity.   It was this feature of learning anytime, anywhere, at your own pace, that led my venture into designing a FutureLearn course.  The driver for this project was the need for flexibility in our curriculum. In fact it was the very flexibility of our Sixth Form curriculum that created a problem requiring a flexible solution! Northampton High School enables Sixth Form students to create a bespoke programme of study; a pick-and-mix of 3 A Levels and a range of elective courses. The Extended Project Qualification elective, for which I am responsible, is highly valued at our school as it gives students an opportunity to study independently and in-depth a topic of personal interest. It also requires a range of skills to be taught in order that students understand how to create an academic piece of work and reflect on the journey they take through the creation of the project. With such a flexible timetable and only two staff delivering the skills, we had been struggling to enable the students to attend the skills sessions needed.  So a plan took shape to devise a MOOC (or in this case a SPOC – Small Personal Online Course – as it was initially only accessible to the students at Northampton High School).   Video content, suitable tasks, articles and reading materials all needed to be sourced, created or adapted to fit the online learning mode of study. I decided, for example, to use first hand materials from previous EPQ students in my video content, to hopefully bring the program to life for students.

In terms of pedagogical process, designing the course was very similar to planning a traditional scheme of work.  Only this time we had a range of online tools such as YouTube clips, in-house videos, self-marking quizzes and randomised peer-marked tasks to add into our resources armoury. The other notable change in terms of setting tasks was the built in discussion tools offered by FutureLearn. Collaboration and connection are vital features in successful online courses.  Learning how to help students engage in meaningful discussions was probably the aspect of course design that exercised me most.

And so far, so good.  Numbers of students engaging in the EPQ at Northampton High are up this year and their discussion about topic choices appear to have been aided by the online discussions.  I am certain that teachers have nothing to fear from online courses; they will not make our roles redundant but are more likely enhance engagement with our subject and give more depth to discussion and collaboration when we are face to face in the classroom.

References:

https://edtechnology.co.uk/Article/what-impact-is-edtech-having-on-pedagogy/

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/04/education/edlife/massive-open-online-courses-are-multiplying-at-a-rapid-pace.html

 

24
Jan

Tough lessons in learning

I always think that late January has something of a ‘between the wars’ feeling to it in school. As Year 11 students breathe a sigh of relief and head bleary-eyed back into lessons after their mock exams, Year 13 students are girding their loins for the onslaught of their own practice papers. And let there be no doubt, mock exams are a significant hurdle. At first glance, they may simply appear to be a measurement against the exam boards’ yard sticks, but, of necessity, they are crammed into a short period of time, and doomed to attempt the near impossible – to give a picture of overall attainment in courses that are not even completed in many cases.

For teachers, parents and guardians they represent a challenge too. At best, they provide a helpful pointer in terms of likely achievement, but they also often hint at how much more could be achieved if heels were picked up and whips were cracked, ringing alarm bells that can lead to disillusionment. We must help students to see mocks as opportunities for development and reflection that do not merit such draining emotional torments, while also ensuring they take them seriously.

And yet, year after year, we see final exam grades that significantly outstrip mock results. So surely they are doing their job? I would argue that this is indeed the case, and the very fact that they are able to replicate some of the high stakes to come is what leads to this success.

So, what is indispensable to effective learning and how do mocks help with this? Research points to active processes for recalling information as being the most effective. In essence, this is what tests do – force learners actively to reclaim specific knowledge from their memories, according to the requirements of a given paper.

This is why past paper practice, like the mocks, can be such a good way to revise. If you want to support a learner towards a specific aim, you practise within the context. It is of little help to a learner driver in a practical test to read and reread the Highway Code, but improving parallel parking by completing the manoeuvre multiple times in different parts of town will certainly make a difference.

In their research, Dunlosky et al. say that practice testing has ‘high utility’ and is ‘not time intensive in comparison with other techniques’. This comparison is with very widespread but unproductive methods for revision, such as rereading, highlighting and making notes. Study vlogger Ali Abdaal goes into more detail on this in his YouTube channel here: youtu.be/ukLnPbIffxE

So, gather all the past papers and individual practice questions you can. Complete them (in timed conditions, if possible) and seek feedback on all of them. Use www.thestudentroom.co.uk forums to see what other people thought of past papers and get to know what the board is looking for by reading examiners’ reports.

Don’t forget, the more active you are in extracting your memories, the more learning you are doing.

 

John Dunlosky, Katherine A. Rawson, Elizabeth J. Marsh, Mitchell J. Nathan, Daniel T. Willingham; Improving Students’ Learning With Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions From Cognitive and Educational Psychology. In Psychological Science in the Public Interest Journal, January 2013

 

17
Jan

There’s a rumble in the jumble – A textile teacher’s pledge to support a sustainable fashion future

2020, a new year, a new decade even! Talk of new ideas and resolutions are flooding onto my instagram feed.

This year I am not contemplating dry January or any get fit quick regimes, I have decided to set myself a challenge which is by far more difficult for a self confessed shopaholic.

For 2020 I am setting myself the task not to buy any new items of clothing for one whole year (with the exception of smalls).

Faced with tempting sale rails and new season window dressing, I know I will find it hard to resist the lure of the high street or filling my ASOS basket with gorgeous goodies, but before I head out into the January sales I am taking a stand to think about the impact of fast fashion on the environment.

I am sure this pledge will come as a laugh out loud surprise to many, particularly those who know me well, this is for several reasons.

  1. I am a fashion addict.
  2. I worked as a designer in the fashion industry for 11 years (prior to my teaching career), therefore this concept is somewhat hypocritical.
  3. My current job title (Subject leader and teacher of Fashion and Textiles) involves me inspiring and motivating a new generation of designers who could well seek careers within the fashion industry.

That being said, what better way is there to inspire and teach this generation to consider environmental and ethical issues surrounding fast fashion to create a more sustainable future for the industry.

The fashion industry is one of the major polluting industries in the world, the production and logistics of crops, fibres, fabrics, dying/printing processes and garments all contribute to the pollution of our environment, not to mention the 300,000 tonnes of used clothing which goes into landfill in the UK every year.

So what will I do? How will I raise awareness? How will I feed my addiction for shopping? How will I survive without regular retail therapy? And how will I avoid looking like a dishevelled version of my former self?

  • I will need to consider the fibres and fabrics of which my clothes are made and the way they have been manufactured. Ultimately the best thing I can do is to keep my clothing in use for longer and buy no new stuff.
  • I am a magpie for collecting vintage textiles, fabrics and trinkets so already I relish the thought of rifling through a vast array of charity shops and vintage fairs in order to feed my addiction for  clothes shopping.
  • I am looking forward to the thrill that comes with a winning bid on eBay and also learning how to use depop to buy and sell.
  • I have the advantage that I know how to design and make my own clothes (these of course will need to be made from fabric which is already in my existing stockpile, as buying new will go against my pledge).
  • I have an open invitation to staff and pupils to attend our sewing bee/make do and mend sessions in D4 on Monday lunchtimes during REC
  • Plans are already underway to organise a jumble sale within school (volunteers and donations needed).

I will report back in 6 months’ time with an update of my progress. Wish me luck, I think I am going to need it.

Some ideas for upcoming sustainable fashion events and local vintage shopping:

January 18th Jumble fever (Oxfam), Oxford town hall
February 1st Lou Lou’s Oxford Vintage Fair, Oxford town hall
February 15th Worth the Weight Vintage Kilo Sale, Milton Keynes, see facebook page for details
The Vintage Guru, St Giles, Northampton – a wonderful emporium of vintage pieces.

Miss Lycett

Image: A vintage skirt which I reworked from a 1950s dress. I am looking forward to wearing this during the summer.

08
Nov

Climate Change Is A Gender Issue Too!

Whilst we are becoming much more aware of the likely impacts of our changing climate we tend to think of the impacts varying according to wealth, but UN research indicates that, particularly in developing countries with traditionally defined gender roles, climate change impacts most on women.  Women in general are disproportionately affected by climate change as they rely more on natural resources (i.e. water, food and fuel for cooking and heating), whilst at the same time being restricted in terms of their access to natural resources and decision making. For example in developing countries women are generally responsible for collecting water to meet domestic needs, a task which is becoming more difficult and time consuming for women / girls as supplies of water become more limited and they need to search further afield; this can have a negative impact on the education of girls as they may need to miss school to complete this domestic work.

Climate change is predicted to increase the amount of natural disasters, such as flooding and drought. In countries like the Philippines and Bangladesh women make up a disproportionate number of the casualties from flooding events, in part because they are less likely to know how to swim, but also because women are less well informed about impending flood warnings and shelter information (despite their common role as caregivers to children and elderly relatives). The proportion of women and children displaced by natural disasters is disproportionately high at 75%. Also disaster relief efforts often focus on men’s needs, for example following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami assistance was made available to replace fishing boats used by the men, but relatively little support was made available to replace the fish processing tools used by women.

This is not to say of course that climate change only affects women, with a specific impact of increasing drought in parts of India to lead to higher suicide rates due to difficulties in making a living from the land. Gender also continues to play a part in the different impacts within developed nations, with a study in the USA showing a 98% increase in physical victimization of women following Hurricane Katrina (domestic violence often rises following a disaster through a combination of post traumatic stress and the strains placed on families living in temporary accommodation with reduced privacy).

In recognition of the importance of gender within the impacts of climate change the United Nations has explicitly incorporated gender actions within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; the 2015 Paris Agreement explicitly refers to the empowerment of women, as well as intergenerational equity, in tackling climate change. There are already many example of projects funded by the United Nations to help communities adapt:-

  • In Mali solar energy technology has been made available in rural communities to help women to grind flour more quickly (a process vital for meal preparation but very time intensive traditionally); this has freed up time for women to pursue alternative activities to generate income.
  • In the hillside El Augustino district of Lima, Peru a group of 100 women have replanted 18000 square metres of land with Tara trees (a small, leguminous plant). Not only do these plants benefit the community through their medicinal properties in treating fevers and stomach problems but also the dense root systems help to hold the soil together, thus protecting communities from the increased landslide risk caused by more intense rainfall events.

    Mr Earp
    Head of Humanities

13
Sep

Digacy – an integrated approach to digital literacy

We often think of education in terms of numeracy and literacy, but digital literacy has a vital role as well, which is why we have set up the ‘Digacy’ programme at Northampton High. Through Digacy, we aim to bring together the various strands of digital learning to ensure that our students have a healthy and holistic understanding of their digital personas and are ready for the changing world of work, where excellent digital skills are taken for granted.

There is a temptation to see digital learning through the lens of computer science, or IT functions like spreadsheets and databases, or even simply in terms of digital devices themselves. However, we cannot afford to compartmentalise in this way in a world where technology impacts on nearly everything we do. Digacy, therefore, is not a lesson that pupils go to like Maths, Languages or Computing. Rather it is witnessed throughout the curriculum in areas like science, humanities, the arts and sport. We believe that no matter what students are aiming for individually, we have a responsibility to ensure we are scattering their paths with digital ‘nuggets’ alongside the subject-specific skills they require.

Beyond learning linked to the ‘traditional’ curriculum areas mentioned above, Digacy also aims to support teachers and students as they engage with some of the more intangible aspects of the changing digital world. Online awareness and safety concerns weigh on parents and carers’ minds and questions about social media, screen time and emotional wellbeing are common at events we hold at school. There is no easy answer to these problems, but with a focused approach under the umbrella of Digacy, we can ensure that no stone is left unturned in our preparations.

We have built the Digacy programme around the Digital Competence Framework (link below) to cover the following four main areas:

  • Citizenship – identity, wellbeing, online safety, digital rights;
  • Interaction and collaboration – sharing, showcasing experience;
  • Creation – coding, presenting, setting up websites, researching, evaluating;
  • Data and computational thinking – critical thinking, how data and information link in the digital world.

Through the concepts above, Digacy is seen in both the academic curriculum and in cocurricular areas, such as PSHE and our bespoke Transferrable Skills lessons in Years 7 and 8. In addition, we have pupil digital leaders in both junior and senior schools, looking at practical approaches to highlight online safety issues, in partnership with teachers.

As a unifying element, we have introduced an eportfolio programme to all year groups from Year 6 onward. The eportfolio is effectively a personal website designed and curated by the pupils, showcasing the best and most representative examples of their learning journeys. It also allows them to track their progress through the Digacy programme via an online log and is linked to pupils’ personal pages on our VLE, firefly. At the heart of the eportfolio is a belief that harnessing the power of technology will enable students to enhance their wider lives. By actively managing their digital footprints in this way, we believe they are better placed to avoid some of the negative issues associated with social media, as well as developing a ‘Brand Me’ awareness and website building skills that showcase their interests and aptitudes for future professional audiences.

We believe this integrated approach to technology in learning through the Digacy programme will be an important tool to help our students come to a 360-degree understanding of themselves, their ideals and ambitions.

https://hwb.gov.wales/curriculum-for-wales-2008/digital-competence-framework/framework/

15
Mar

Out of sight but not out of mind

Without a doubt the purpose of school is to educate, and the primary focus is understandably on students and teachers. It is surprising to realise therefore that, in common with most other schools, there are almost as many support staff as teachers at Northampton High. Why should this be? And what do they all do? Particularly when the school is closed during the evenings and school holiday periods.

It is reassuring that almost 50% of the support staff are directly involved in supporting teachers and students whether they be Science Technicians, IT Technical support, Teaching Assistants, Before and After School Care, Nursery Nurses, School Nurse, Counsellors or Examination Invigilators.

We have made a conscious decision at Northampton High to keep all school services in-house rather than contracting these functions out. This means that we have experienced teams of caterers and cleaners who take a great pride in keeping the domestic side of school running smoothly and to a high standard. The beauty of having in-house teams means they are flexible and responsive to the needs of the school community, whether this is during term time, or to support the community use of the building in the evenings, holidays and at weekends. It also means that these staff are generally long serving and very much an integral part of the wider school community which adds value in so many ways.

Our administration team take care of the two school Reception desks, transport administration, financial administration, examinations, database management, HR, marketing and admissions, trips organisation, ordering goods and services, as well as supporting teaching staff with routine administrative matters. I think anyone who has had reason to visit or telephone, either the Senior School or Junior School Reception, will acknowledge that they received a warm welcome and help with their enquiry.

This just leaves our Premises team who cope admirably with the running of a 27 acre site and school mini bus service. They are on hand 7 days a week to meet the demands of the school and out of hour’s lettings. The growing demands of compliance involve them dealing with the management of tree surveys, legionella, water risk assessments, asbestos management plans, health and safety, COSHH risk assessments, grounds contracts, swimming pool plant and our several school boiler rooms. They are an experienced team with a wealth of knowledge about the school site and infrastructure and are always on hand to carry out work requests from teaching staff. One of their favourite tasks is getting up at 3 am to open up the school to wave off a trip! Or being woken at 2 am when the intruder alarm has been activated by a display falling from a wall!

It feels like there has been a need for increasing numbers of support staff over the years brought about by an increase in legislation, inspection regimes and compliance, adherence to best practice in safeguarding and the need to risk assess just about everything we do. It would be good to think that the additional support staff have eased the workload of teachers but this is most certainly not the case. The job of the teacher is as challenging as ever, demanding a huge level of commitment, talent and many working hours. However it is true to say that the school could not operate with the dedicated team of support staff that also work hard, often behind the scenes, out of sight, and sometimes out of hours.

One of the joys if working at Northampton High is that all staff come together to form a community united in its aim of doing the best it possibly can for our pupils. This applies to all staff, whatever role they have to play.

31
Jan

Should ‘Be More Kind’ Be the First School Rule?

“There is a momentum in kindness, that beats the momentum of ‘no tolerance” [1]

In these last few dark days of a seemingly endless January, it would be easy to be even less optimistic about some of the challenges in caring for the wellbeing of young.  Many school staff (and parents too) face a huge challenge in trying to gain support from overstretched local services whose job is to offer advice and guidance.  And with the opening of every newspaper, teachers discover yet another 21st Century problem could be fixed by simply ‘teaching it in schools’ (mobile phone safety, financial skills, cooking, resilience – you get the picture – many of those things that communities used to teach their children).[2]  So I was delighted to discover that my cold journey to the ASCL Pastoral Conference, in the shadow of Blue Monday, was to prove a refreshingly positive experience.

Pastoral Care is a tough one; it encompasses all of those things that are not the nuts and bolts of academic work. To name a few strands, we are talking about health in all its guises, including mental health, extracurricular offerings, happiness and resilience, behaviour and rewards, safeguarding and online safety. Countless things that are so important to the wellbeing of our pupils, and that make such a difference to their potential to thrive and succeed.

The conference I attended introduced keynote speakers who all talked of the increasing challenges facing all teachers and especially those charged with leading on pastoral care. There was acknowledgement that times are difficult, local support is sparse and an acceptance that young people are facing challenges that adults are struggling to get to grips with.  But this was no navel-gazing self-help group. It was a conference filled with practical advice and professionals sharing their experience of supporting pupils and parents in myriad, innovative ways. Paul Dix, founder of Pivotal Education, whose astonishingly effective behaviour management techniques advocate simple kindness and consistency (and tearing up the long list of rules) was both entertaining and practical.  Then there was Tony Clifford’s enlightening talk on Attachment[3] in which he discussed how understanding the impact of experiences in early childhood can affect the behaviour and attitude of the teenager will really help teachers get the best out of their pupils. Other workshops included a practical session on digital parenting (useful for parents and teachers) from Maria O’Neill of UK Pastoral Chat[4] and workshop from Janet Goodliffe on developing a whole school approach to student emotional health and wellbeing.

It is good, for any professional, to get out of normal routine and discover what others are doing, particularly in these times of change and uncertainty for young people and their wellbeing. I’m looking forward to implementing some of the strategies and ideas learnt.

But the day also made me reflect on the fact that the staff at the High School really care about our pupils and really want the best for them. We aim for pro-active pastoral care; spotting issues before they get out of hand and supporting the pupils in building a toolkit of strategies to help them deal with things that life can throw at them.  We achieve this through our PSHEE programme, tutorials and lots of informal support. Our adoption of the Girls on Board[5] programme to empower our pupils to tackle friendship problems with adult support, rather than interference, has been groundbreaking.  We also embrace the Positive Project[6], which is used across the GDST network, to help young people tap into their feelings and determine some strategies for improving how they feel about life’s ups and downs.

As a reflective practitioner, I am always evaluating areas where we could make small tweaks to turn the volume up on warmth and support too; I fully advocate the notion, from Paul Dix, quoted at the top of this post. We are fortunate to have few behavioural issues of any consequence in our school, but that quote really embodies for me what every interaction between a pupil and member of staff ought to be. Anyone who has spent time in my office will be familiar with my chalkboard wall, upon which I write quotes that I find inspired or inspiring. For some time now, the Frank Turner lyrics ‘In a world that has decided that it’s going to lose its mind, be more kind my friend, try to be more kind’ has been on that wall.   And the facts back up the words – there is strong evidence that schools that embody mutual kindness between all members of the community have fewer behavioural issues and a greater academic purpose too.


[1] Paul Dix, founder of Pivotal Education. https://pivotaleducation.com/

[2] http://www.parentsandteachers.org.uk/resources/what-should-schools-teach

[3] The Attachment Research Community https://the-arc.org.uk/about

[4] https://ukpastoral.chat/

[5] https://www.girlsonboard.co.uk

[6] https://positivegroup.org/schools