School Blog

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

14
May

The Agile World of Upskilling

An architect, a cost consultant and a structural engineer walked into a bar……

This sounds like the beginning of a bad joke but when I asked my husband how his world of work was evolving, these are the professions he chose and as he reeled off the job titles, I was minded of the old ‘walked into a bar’ joke.

But to the point of this piece.  Earlier in the term, I wrote a blog exploring some of the theories about the future of the workplace set out by Daniel Susskind (2020). My closing comments of that piece focused on the idea that the world of secondary education is beginning to really embrace the development of skills, over simply covering content.  In this piece I would like to expand on that theme, not by considering how we ensure our pupils develop the skills (that is for another piece) but by considering how exactly workplaces have and continue to change and what this means for the future workforce.

Let us consider the job of navigator in the Air Force. In the era before technology was used in aeroplanes, the job was highly skilled and specialist.  Navigators might have had the same basic training as the pilot, but without the navigator by their side the pilot was blind.  The flight plan was mapped out literally on a paper map and the pilot was given directions as they flew. Fly forward to 2021 and the job of navigator is still in existence but many fighter planes are single-seater now.  The navigator plots the route electronically and with the assistance of GPS the pilot can follow the plan from the instrument panel. So, training as a navigator in the 1950s was vastly different from training in 2021 even though the basic aptitudes are the same.  

Which leads to the idea of developing transferable skills, which is something we discuss frequently with our pupils in school. 

I am reminded of the film The Full Monty and not the scenes for which it is probably most renowned. For readers who have not seen it, set in Sheffield in the 1990s, the film centres on a group of ex-steel workers.  In a series of scenes set in the local job centre, we see the men receiving support and ‘upskilling’ to prepare them for other jobs.  It is Gerald, the much ridiculed ex-foreman of the steelworks, who demonstrates that his skills of leadership and staff management are most easily transferred to a new job than the manual skills of his team.  You could replace The Full Monty with Billy Elliot or Brassed Off (1980s and mining but with similar themes of transferable skills underlying the big screen plots).

The generally accepted list of 21st Century skills are: Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Information literacy, Media literacy, Technology literacy, Flexibility, Leadership, Initiative, Productivity and Social skills.  

I wouldn’t suggest that many of these skills aren’t built into our curriculum already, but  some of these skills are difficult to teach discreetly; how does one teach productivity or flexibility for example? The simple answer is by giving daily opportunities for students to time manage, work with different people, in different environments and to sometimes fail.

Yes,

Fail.  

After all, how else do we teach our students that they may not get the job they applied for, or the scholarship they coveted, or the grade they worked hard for. And more importantly how else do we teach them that in the modern world of work you need to be agile and that sometimes the job you thought you had trained for now needs different skills, but the same aptitudes.

Before I wrap this up, I know you’re wondering about the architect, cost consultant and structural engineer! My husband’s prediction is that in the future these three roles could be carried out by one person, rather than three. At the moment, the architect designs the building, the cost consultant works out how much it will cost to build and the structural engineer makes sure the design will actually result in a building that stands up (with apologies for my oversimplification of these professions!).  With the rapid development of software which models buildings and databases containing costs of components, it may not be long before an architect can design, cost and model a building.  All that is required are the tech skills to manipulate the software successfully – and of course, agility, flexibility, technology literacy and collaboration.

30
Apr

Teacher Assessed Grades – where next for public examinations?

I have just this week received notification that our paperwork for the Teacher Assessed Grades (TAG) process has been accepted by the JCQ (Joint Council for Qualifications). For the teachers and administrators in school whose waking hours in the last few months have seemingly been dominated by the tangle of new arrangements, this is an important step, if not a champagne moment. I will be writing soon to the students, parents and guardians of Year 11 and Year 13 to give more information about what this entails for them, in the lead up to the results days on 10 and 12 August.

That we should carry out diligently the myriad procedures involved in the TAG process is clearly an important part of ensuring we get the grading right for our students. We need to do this not simply because they deserve to achieve the best possible outcomes as evidenced by their achievements over the last two years, but also because they have been impacted personally and from an educational perspective in ways that cannot be understated. Our priority is to ensure the path ahead is as smooth as it can be under the circumstances for every student in this situation. We also need to plan further ahead to consider how to protect and support students in the current Year 10 (Lower Fifth) and Year 12 (6.1) cohorts.

Indeed, this is becoming a theme for wider discussion nationally, and is precipitating a debate on the viability of certain exam types, most notably GCSE. AQA head Colin Hughes has said this week: “There is no leap back to normality in 2022 or, for that matter, arguably in 2023 […] I think we have to recognise the continuing impact of the pandemic on the entire generation, and what can we do.” A board member of Ofqual, Ian Bauckham, has gone further and noted that students taking A Levels in 2022 will be the first not to have taken formal exams at age 16. This, in his view, is an opportunity to think about the abolition of formal assessments at this point, as “nobody will be relatively disadvantaged compared with others by not having taken GCSEs before”.

The debate about the relative value of maintaining formal assessments at age 16 is not new, nor is it specifically related to the pandemic. The arguments in favour of scrapping GCSEs are compelling, to the extent that there are few developed countries that split the education experience of 14-19 year olds in the way we do in the UK. In a recent study, the independent think tank EDSK (which stands for ‘Education and Skills’) reported that making students sit as many as 30 hours of high-stakes tests when they had a further 2 years of compulsory schooling ahead was “disproportionate and unnecessary”. In addition, the approach wastes significant amounts of time in the summer of the GCSE year. Students effectively take an extended summer break before starting completely new courses in the autumn. 

GDST schools are excellently resourced to support learners over this enforced break. We run Limitless Learning courses and bridging modules to help students to keep learning and experimenting with new ideas before joining Sixth Form. Sadly though, not all schools can provide such a service and many students lose focus and momentum at this vital stage. Naturally, the best approach would be to maintain a seamless process of learning across the secondary age range. This would give the teachers who know their students best the time and opportunities to adapt programmes of study dynamically, and to support individuals to gain deeper understanding, skills and knowledge in the areas that most inspire them. 

Meanwhile, at Northampton High and in the wider GDST network, exams officers and academic staff will remain awake to any necessary technical processes over the coming months, while continuing to develop the excellent range of teaching and learning opportunities available. Thanks to this network of dedicated staff, I have no doubt that our students will be able to hold their heads high on the results days in August, and move on to the next stage of education knowing their efforts have been properly recognised.

https://www.tes.com/news/gcses-2022-no-leap-back-normality-after-pandemic

https://inews.co.uk/news/education/scrap-gcses-replace-low-stakes-computer-based-tests-848932

https://www.edsk.org/publications/reassessing-the-future-part-1/

23
Apr

Hope and Change

 

Stephen Lawrence was born in September 1974, just three weeks after I was born and I am writing this piece on the 28th Anniversary of his death.  For many reading this piece, the name Stephen Lawrence, needs no further explanation or clarification.  Indeed, the same is true for many of our pupils. But, for others, 28 years ago is well beyond a lifetime for them which  puts the events of 1993 in the category of ‘history’ and as with many horrific acts of history, should we forget them we are doomed to repeat them.   To illustrate this, let me take you back to 17 May 1959.  On that night, 32 year old Kelso Cochraine, a carpenter originally from Antigua was walking home through Notting Hill when he was attacked and killed by a gang of white youths. His murder was never solved and with hauntingly similar reports as Stephen’s death, the police investigation was considered highly flawed.  The public outcry led to commemorative events which ultimately led to the beginning of the Notting Hill Carnival.  I had not heard of Kelso Cochraine until just a few weeks ago when I heard a book review of Murder in Notting Hill (Mark Olden, 2011) on the radio one evening after work.  The impact I felt from hearing the book review led me to stop the car as soon as I could and order the book from Amazon there and then before I could forget. And really, we must not forget. That despite the outcry, despite the inquiries, 40 years later not so far away in another London street another young black man was killed by a gang of white men and the same mistakes were made. 

Our Senior School assembly this week was carefully curated and presented by Miss Robinson and gave a sensitive and informed look at the death of Stephen Lawrence, the failures that led to his killers going free for so long and the legacy of hope and change that his parents and family have chosen to promote.  Stephen Lawrence Day is now held on 22 April each year, promoted by the Stephen Lawrence Foundation set up by his grieving parents.  Their determination to remember their son in a positive way, when it would have been so much easier to eschew bitterness, has led to seismic changes in institutions across the UK. 

But finally, only in 2020, has the racism and bias (unconscious or otherwise) that is inherent in so many parts of society finally been spoken about in ways that can not be ignored any more. Black Lives Matter and the social and media movement around it has uncovered truths which should not have remained invisible and yet toxic for so many years. And it is so much harder to ignore an issue that is under such a spotlight.

Alongside her assembly, which we are delighted to share with you here, Miss Robinson has been promoting a range of ways in which our school community can make the change 

Using the #ChallengeAccepted tag, we asked the school community to join the wider community and do something simple to help others and then pass it on.  This could be through an act of kindness, a creative expression of what ‘living your best life’ looks like for you or sharing the learning about Stephen’s story.  Please take the time to talk about Stephen’s story with your daughter over the coming days as a way to ensure his story is never forgotten and his legacy of hope and change continues.

08
Mar

Educate girls – save the planet

Do you remember a TV series from about 15 years ago called Heroes? The catchphrase was ‘save the cheerleader, save the world’.

Well, my catchphrase is ‘educate the girl, save the world’.

It’s more than a catchphrase, though – it’s real.

A recent report from Project Drawdown[1] said that one of the most important keys to tackling climate change is “access to … high-quality, inclusive education”.

Worldwide, “[w]omen with more years of education have fewer and healthier children… [they] realize higher wages and greater upward mobility, contributing to economic growth. Their rates of maternal mortality drop, as do mortality rates of their babies. They are less likely to marry as children or against their will. They have lower incidence of HIV/AIDS and malaria. Their agricultural plots are more productive and their families better nourished.”

This is why I’m focussed on the transformative power of girls’ education – both in developing nations and here in the UK.

In the UK, we’re still far from being a fair place for women and girls – and it looks like the pandemic has halted and even reversed some of the progress we have been making. The horrific toll of domestic abuse on women has been made worse by lockdown, as women feel they have no escape from their abusers. When schools are closed, mixed-sex couples often decide it’s more affordable for the lower earner (usually the woman, thanks to the gender pay gap) to sacrifice her career, so childcare and home education falls disproportionally on mothers rather than fathers. Globally, women’s job losses due to Covid-19 are 1.8 times greater than men’s[2] – so much so that some commentators are calling this a she-cession[3] to set it apart from previous recessions.

Yet where are the women making the decisions for England?

Politicians have repeatedly ignored and neglected the differential impact of their policies on women – so much so that Caroline Nokes, Chair of the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, described it as “institutional thoughtlessness”.[4]

It’s timely that the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is ‘choose to challenge’. How do we choose to challenge this thoughtlessness?

It’s a thoughtlessness that pervades artificial intelligence too. AI ‘learns’ from the information available to it, and if that information is biased or incomplete, or treats men as the ‘default’ sex, then poorly written algorithms can reflect and amplify those biases back at us.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that AI is going to have more and more influence over how we work and how we live. We also know that we cannot leave the design of the future to men alone, women have to be designing the future alongside them – and we have to inspire girls to be inspired by it.

Of all the possible investments we can make in the future, it’s probably no surprise that I think education must be the priority. GDST Sixth Form students think so, too. When we recently asked them in a survey what they think will make the most difference in making a more equal world for women and men, nearly 50% said women in leadership positions. And how do women take up pole position in public life? Through education – and nearly 30% of GDST students in the same survey said education was first and foremost the route to gender equality.

Through education, we can help young people – boys and girls – grow up into confident, committed, determined individuals, ready to tackle injustice, build a more equitable society, and remake the world as a better place for all.

Cheryl Giovannoni
Chief Executive Officer

[1] https://www.drawdown.org/solutions/health-and-education

[2] https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20201021-why-this-recession-disproportionately-affects-women

[3] https://voxeu.org/article/shecession-she-recession-2020-causes-and-consequences

[4] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-55978335

04
Feb

Work – but not as we know it

There is nothing like the perfect storm of a pandemic and a Brexit to make one reassess many things, not least of which, since enforced home-working has become part of so many workplaces, is the world of employment.

Around 18 months ago, I heard Dainel Susskind, co-author of A World Without Work (2020), speak at the GDST summit.  I have since heard him ‘in conversation’ at the How To Academy and purchased the aforementioned book.  The premise of his book is that, whilst there have been fears of a dystopian future where machines take over the world ever since the industrial revolution, it is here and now that technology has developed to a stage where this really is a possibility. Or at least, it is highly possible that a range of professions could be fundamentally and irrevocably changed by developments in Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

In my opinion, Susskind makes a compelling case for a world without work; after all there are already algorithms in use that can determine whether a person in court is guilty, with 90% accuracy, which is significantly higher than the average human who manages 54% accuracy. 

Schwab (2017) calls this age ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution’.  In short, this suggests that we have moved well beyond the first Industrial Revolution where machinery, operated by humans, made manufacturing and production lines quicker and more efficient to a time when AI can simply complete jobs without human interaction.  Of course, this is not entirely true, since someone has to program the machine to perform tasks in the first place, and machine learning is still a developing concept.

Depending on your opinion about technology and the workplace of the 21st century, the idea of a world without work could be a blessing or a concern.  What is unarguable is that when when we tell our students that we are preparing them for jobs that have not even been created, we should not underestimate the uncertainty that concept could invoke. What is the point in studying to be a doctor when robots can be programmed with astonishing accuracy to carry out surgery and can work for longer even than a junior doctor.  Or when systems such as NHS 111 and online diagnosis services use intelligent systems to make a relatively accurate diagnosis of simple conditions. Teaching, legal professions, design, architecture, engineering, surveying are just a few of the many professions where AI is increasingly able to replace a significant proportion of the work involved.

My personal take on this is not that our children face a future world without employment or even without work in the aforementioned professions, but that the skill set needed and the work undertaken will be different; it will be work that only humans can carry out.  The comfort that students can take in this less certain future, is that the world of secondary education is opening its heart and mind to the importance of developing skills rather than merely covering content.  If an adult knows how to collaborate efficiently with colleagues, make efficient use of workplace technology, solve problems, think strategically and develop agile working practices, they will undoubtedly be well placed to be the future leaders as well as the future professionals.

Mrs O’Doherty
Deputy Head Pastoral

References:
SUSSKIND, Daniel (2020) A world without work. London: Allen Lane
SCHWAB, Klaus (2017) The Fourth Industrial Revolution. London: Penguin Random House

21
Jan

Edtech – Technology and Collaboration

As in the song, we might say that collaboration and education go together like a horse and carriage. However, while the latter pair are more or less entrenched in an analogue past, collaborative learning has found a new lease of life through the power of technology, or EdTech. Perhaps a better analogy now would be a battery and an electric car!

A little over 18 months ago we launched the ‘Digacy’ programme at Northampton High. Digacy stands for ­‘Digital Literacy’ but aims to go further, with the vision of bringing all things technological together under one banner, to help students develop future skills and to bring transformative approaches to teaching and learning. Little did we know that Covid-19 would push technology even further to the forefront of our thinking, giving us an unprecedented testbed for cloud-computing platforms across the school.

Using technology to support learning helps not just to deliver content in more adventurous and supportive formats, but, more importantly, allows students and teachers to connect with each other within and beyond the confines of the conventional classroom. Our school 1 to 1 device policy enables teachers to ‘break down’ the traditional home/school barriers, by sharing content before the lesson begins and allowing students to ‘preload’ with key information. It also encourages students to engage in shared working and they benefit from detailed feedback dialogue, which encourages continual improvement in skills and understanding.

The Digacy programme works from core principles, including online safety, computational thinking and the creation of content, to ensure that pupils have the adaptability they will need in the future. Digital tools like mentimeter, padlet, kahoot, flipgrid, quizlet, newsela, pobble and readtheory are amongst the many available that help teachers to support pupils individually, inspire curiosity and create inquisitive learners. All students curate their achievements online via a self-made website which we call the ‘360-degree Me ePortfolio’. This gives them the skills to manage their digital footprints positively, with an eye for their future employability. As a backbone to this, our shared platforms allow us to offer seamless learning approaches, meaning all pupils have access to the materials they need, along with their teachers’ expert advice.

As a result, both in lockdown and while just some students have been working from home, we have been able to prioritise live lessons via video to ensure as smooth a connection as possible.  Beyond Northampton High School itself, we are proud members of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), a group of 25 schools which, like us, are centres of excellence in the teaching of girls. Our home schooling process, called Guided Home Learning, has thrived because of our access to GDST-wide online enrichment programmes, and the pedagogical support of many hundreds of like-minded colleagues around the country. In addition, our resident expert Consultant Teacher has also worked to develop our feedback methodologies, with much now delivered orally to students via technology.

The standing of computer science as an academic discipline has been given a boost in recent years. Famously, Bill Gates once criticised the UK for concentrating too much on the applications of technology and not the deeper understanding of coding and algorithms that is essential for developing the next generation of technical innovators. We took the step of incorporating Computing as a subject into Mathematics and giving it dedicated curriculum time from the youngest year groups in our Junior School. This has meant that computational thinking has been placed at the heart of the curriculum and has led to healthy uptake at public exams in the subject itself.

However, the belief that, as digital natives, our young people should be able to pick up IT creation skills as easily as learning a new computer game, ignores the fact that without clear guidance they will generally only approach this when they have to. As a result they may lack standard digital competencies, such as formatting documents, ordering filing systems, using spreadsheets, and creating intuitive presentations and websites. At Northampton High, the Digacy programme also acts as a safety net to ensure that these functional IT capabilities are not lost. All pupils develop these skills at the most suitable time in their education, and in the most suitable academic discipline. For example, the website skills learned in the 360-degree Me ePortfolio, are developed in Humanities lessons as a key part of our transferable skills agenda.

EdTech is with us to stay and we are confident it will help our pupils to thrive in the future, but technology is not an answer in itself. We may be moving into a world of self-driving cars and intelligent fridges, but some things will never change. It is the human connection transcending the digital, the understanding, guidance and perseverance of our teachers, that will allow students to find their individual paths in this changing world.

Henry Rickman
Deputy Head Academic

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