School Blog

24
Nov

The Crucial Role of PSHE in Education

At the heart of every educational institution lies a commitment not only to academic excellence but also to nurturing well-rounded individuals equipped to navigate life’s challenges. This commitment finds its embodiment in the often underappreciated yet profoundly impactful subject: Personal, Social, Health, and Economic Education (PSHE). Today (Friday), our school celebrated its inaugural annual PSHE day, delving into an array of crucial topics vital for the holistic development of our students.

In assembly on Monday, I acknowledged to the students that PSHE is not always their favourite subject and that events such as this one, are often met with a chorus of groans and some olympic grade eye rolling! We are aware that students often find PSHE lessons difficult. Not because the content is too much for them to access, but because the nature of a good PSHE lesson opens the floor for discussion on some challenging and, often, uncomfortable topics. I invite you to imagine yourself now in a room full of your peers, discussing issues on sex and relationships, consent, self harm, discrimination against those with protected characteristics or pornography to name just a few. Now think back to how you would have experienced that as a teenager. Our societal expectations and tolerances for such topics are often still to view them as taboo, restricting the ability of young people to discuss them freely and openly, and therefore the role of PSHE in school is vital.

Exploring these themes in a safe and non judgmental environment is crucial for children and teenagers. So much of the information they receive on these topics is thrust at them from a variety of online sources, many of which are largely inaccurate, to put it mildly, and some of which can be fundamentally harmful to their understanding of the realities of adult life. PSHE offers them the chance to experiment with concepts and allow themselves the thinking time to consider their own thoughts and feelings towards them without pressuring them to reach a solid conclusion. PSHE debunks myths about life that they may have been exposed to via social media or “playground gossip”. And PSHE supplies them with the tools they need, like reasoning, debate and empathy, to navigate the increasingly tricky waters of the outside world.

Some of the topics we have covered in this week’s PSHE day, are topics that we feel are important to our students for their ongoing social development and to better equip them to manage personal challenges that they may experience at some point in their future. Whilst we wish smooth sailing in life for all of our students, we must acknowledge that this is not always the case. Inviting experts into school to discuss some of the grittier areas of the curriculum ensures that our students have an opportunity to consolidate prior learning in the most valuable way. The following themes have formed significant elements of the day:

  • One of the primary pillars of PSHE revolves around mental health and self-care. Discussions around self-harm and managing one’s wellbeing are indispensable in today’s world. Our students engaged in conversations that not only fostered understanding but also provided coping mechanisms and support networks for those in need.
  • In an age where digital realms dominate, addressing harmful online content, including the exposure to pornography, is imperative. Empowering our youth to navigate the internet safely and responsibly is part of our duty as educators. The PSHE day was a platform to illuminate the potential dangers and promote strategies for responsible online behaviour.
  • Understanding consent is paramount in fostering healthy relationships. The sessions on this topic were aimed at instilling respect, boundaries, and the importance of mutual agreement in all interactions. Addressing issues related to sexual violence within this context, further empowered our older students to recognise and combat such behaviors.
  • Financial literacy stands as a fundament of adult life. Equipping our students with the knowledge and skills to manage their finances ensures they step into the world beyond school as prepared and confident individuals. These discussions on finance during the PSHE day opened doors to understanding budgeting, investments, and responsible financial decision-making.

Central to the success of these discussions are the skilled professionals who guide and shape these sessions. Lucienne Shakir, Deana Puccio Ferraro and Satveer Nijjar are experts in their fields, adept at tailoring their discussions to be not just informative but also accessible and age-appropriate. Their contributions were invaluable in making the day a resounding success. I must also thank Mr Pietropaoli, our dedicated PSHE Coordinator, who has carefully crafted the arrangements for this day to take place. Without his hard work, this day would certainly not have been so successful. In his letter to parents earlier this half term, Mr Pietropaoli commented,

“The PSHE curriculum plays a vital role in the holistic development of children and teenagers. It goes beyond traditional academic subjects to address the crucial life skills, values and knowledge of which our students need to thrive in today’s complex world. A varied PSHE curriculum encompasses topics such as mental and physical health, relationships, financial literacy, personal safety and much more. Research has consistently shown that a robust PSHE program can have a profound impact on the well-being and future success of our students.”

His commitment and passion to the ongoing development and success of PSHE as a subject is commendable and we eagerly await further progress in this area of school life.

Moreover, the active involvement of parents as contributors added a unique dimension to the discussions. Their insights and experiences added depth and relatability to the topics covered, reinforcing the collaborative effort between home and school in nurturing well-informed and responsible individuals. As we reflect on the success of this inaugural PSHE day, we eagerly anticipate planning future events. We extend our gratitude to all contributors and especially to the parent contributors whose participation added an extra layer of value to the day. Looking ahead, we invite individuals passionate about PSHE topics to join us as volunteers for upcoming events. Your valuable contributions could shape the minds of our future generation. As a parent, if you have expert knowledge on a topic that would be useful for our students, please do reach out to us and we will be delighted to discuss options for your involvement within our PSHE programme.

In conclusion, PSHE is not just another subject in the curriculum; it’s a cornerstone in the foundation of our students’ lives. By addressing these vital topics, we empower young minds with the information and tools they need to navigate the complexities of the wider world confidently and responsibly. I am incredibly proud of our students and the incredible young adults they go on to become, and I know that our commitment to PSHE continues to help make their success in life possible.

Miss Kneen
Deputy Head Pastoral

20
Nov

Why girls only from the very start?

Your daughter only has one opportunity to benefit from an excellent education and getting the foundations right is fundamental to facilitating her future success. A parent’s school choice is pivotal to their child’s happiness and, whilst getting it ‘right’ can feel like a heavy burden, here at Northampton High School we are confident in making this decision as easy as possible for you. Making the right choice and allowing your daughter to benefit from an education that is ‘Made for Girls’ is likely to be the best gift you can give to her as parents.

As the leading all-through girls-only school in Northamptonshire, everything we do is purposefully tailored to support girls in their educational journey and in their future endeavours. We are proud members of the Girls’ Day Schools Trust (GDST) and as such benefit from the strength of a 25-school network that is united by a girls-first philosophy and a mission to ensure girls learn without limits and strive for gender equality.

Whilst increased societal focus on the gender gap has led to some improvements, we know that girls’ lived experiences are different to those of boys, and that this must be reflected in certain areas of girls’ education and learning design.1 This is why Dr Kevin Stannard, GDST’s Director of Innovation & Learning, states, “In a more equal world we still need single-sex schools because, while society and coeducational schools are more gender-blind, they are still far from gender-equal.” 2  We believe your daughter deserves to be seen, heard and guided, without gender stereotypes and expectations, right from her very first moments in Reception.

We know girls benefit from lessons that promote collaboration and that they are deeply inspired by strong, positive role models who, through the delivery of a curated curriculum, give them space to explore and flourish.3 Girls need a learning environment that is focused, emotionally safe and provides a space in which they can speak, be heard, challenged and supported. Northampton High Junior School is built with these fundamentals at its core.

Our pupils develop a genuine self confidence that they then have the skills to execute in a positive manner. As the Girls’ Futures Report shared, “There is plenty of evidence that the ‘confidence gap’ can be closed, but it takes effort. It takes design.” This is why “GDST schools are girls’ schools by design: founded on the belief that success is best achieved by educating girls separately in distinctive, girl-friendly environments.”

Every girl. Every day. Our small class sizes mean we know our girls as individuals and ensure each learning and pastoral need is met, allowing students to flourish on a journey owned and directed by themselves. Our job, as expert staff in girls only education, is to guide this journey along a pathway that is sprinkled with high quality experiences. At Northampton High Junior School, students’ days are bursting with opportunities, from Forest School sessions in our own onsite forest, swimming lessons in our 25m pool, science lessons in our laboratory, Art and DT lessons in our art studios, a broad co-curricular offer, termly trips and a well-planned, challenging curriculum; all delivered by teachers who are experts in girls-only education. Our Junior School formula is developed using a strong evidence base and its results speak for themselves when you meet our pupils. 

If you are keen to explore what your daughter can gain from joining our Junior School community, we would be pleased to invite you to see us in action. We firmly believe that choosing a school that is ‘Made for Girls’ is a gift for which your daughter will be eternally grateful, and we would love to welcome her into our Reception.

1 Girls Day School Trust, The Girls’ Futures Report 

2 Dr Kevin Stannard, Why (and how) girls thrive in girls-only schools

3 The GDST Difference

15
Nov

Nurturing Inspiring Futures: a holistic approach to careers education

In the rapidly evolving landscape of the 21st Century, careers education is no longer solely about finding the right job; it has become a dynamic process aimed at equipping students with a versatile skill set that transcends the boundaries of specific professions. To do it well requires a holistic approach that not only provides relevant information and guidance, but also fosters essential skills to ensure adaptability in the face of a job market increasingly impacted by artificial intelligence (AI). This is why careers education appears under the Learn section in the Northampton High School approach wheel, as a keystone of our academic provision, cutting across all areas of learning.

It is a pleasure to introduce our new Careers Coordinator, Wendy Forsyth, who will be known to many of you as a member of the Maths faculty. Mrs Forsyth comes from an engineering background and runs the popular ‘problem-solving maths’ elective in the Sixth Form. This course focuses on the kinds of skills needed in mathematics to develop solutions to some of the most important issues facing the world today. She is also a tutor in the Sixth Form and has worked closely with students and other staff members to help them choose the best courses at university to enable them to achieve their ambitions for the future.

Mrs Forsyth writes:

Having been a Sixth Form tutor for many years, I have always enjoyed helping students explore their next steps. I am therefore very excited to be taking on the role of Careers Coordinator across the school. 

Careers education is about so much more than simply deciding what job you want to do. As a school we understand the need to prepare our students to succeed and to be ready to lead in an ever-changing world. A recent survey by the British Council said that two thirds of Primary School children will enter careers which do not currently exist. The rapid developments in the realm of AI will further change the nature of employment. 

Academic knowledge is still very important, but equally it is essential that young people are aware of their transferable skills and seek opportunities to develop them. With this in mind, we prefer to think more broadly and we call our suite of activities and guidance opportunities ‘Inspiring Futures’. The Inspiring Futures programme is wide ranging, incorporating PSHE lessons, external speakers, enterprise days and specific advice and guidance events. If you’d like to know more about this, do feel free to contact me by emailing w.forsyth@nhs.gdst.net

So, we firmly believe that careers education should encompass a broader perspective, emphasising the importance of acquiring transferable skills that can be applied across various domains. But what does this mean in practice? Rather than focusing solely on the technical aspects of a particular job, we feel that students need to develop critical thinking, creativity, communication, and problem-solving skills. These abilities form the foundation of adaptability, enabling individuals to navigate through unpredictable career trajectories and embrace emerging opportunities.

Incorporating real-world experiences into the curriculum is another crucial aspect of effective careers education. Every subject area in school offers resources and invaluable insights into different industries, helping pupils make informed decisions about their career paths. Through the GDST Innovate and Lead programmes in the Sixth Form, students can also access diverse work environments, which not only aids in identifying personal preferences but also cultivates an understanding of the future job market.

Furthermore, the role of technology in careers education cannot be overstated. With increasing automation and AI formats in the workplace, the skills demanded by the job market are undergoing a paradigm shift. Integrating technology-related coursework and fostering digital literacy via our Digacy programme in school are essential components in preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow. This not only ensures that pupils are equipped to embrace technological advancements but also promotes a mindset of continuous learning, a critical attribute in an era where the pace of change is unprecedented.

To ensure that pupils have the best information and guidance, as schools, we must collaborate closely with industry experts, keeping our resources updated to reflect the latest trends and demands. Career support should extend beyond merely suggesting professions based on current market trends; we also need to focus on cultivating students’ self-awareness, helping them understand their strengths, values, and interests, laying the groundwork for a fulfilling and adaptable career. We do this through our ePortfolio programme based on our ‘360-degree Me’ concept that encourages students to reflect on what has made them who they are today and to consider who they would like to be in the future. 

As Mrs Forsyth has mentioned, predicting specific jobs can be challenging due to the rapid pace of technological innovation. However, we can anticipate a growing demand for roles that bridge the gap between human capabilities and advanced technologies. Jobs in fields such as artificial intelligence ethics, digital health management, sustainable energy consultancy and virtual reality experience design are likely to emerge as prominent career options.

In conclusion, careers education is undergoing a transformative shift from a narrow focus on job placement to a more holistic approach that prioritises adaptable skill development. By providing students with a diverse skill set, real-world experiences, and a technology-infused curriculum, we believe we can empower them to thrive in an ever-changing job market. The key lies not only in preparing students for specific professions but in nurturing a mindset that embraces change, fosters continuous learning, and positions individuals to navigate the uncertainties of the future with confidence.

Mr Rickman
Deputy Head Pastoral

13
Oct

Reach Reading Weeks

At Northampton High we believe holiday time should equal family time. This is why we do not set prep (homework) over any of our school holidays. While there are some good reasons why Years 11 and 13 might deviate from this important rule, we think that even they should spend at least half their school holidays relaxing with the important people in their lives. 

Reading for pleasure is not prep, however, and holidays are a great time to develop and strengthen this habit. As you may have seen in my article in Headlines at the start of term, we are starting formal reading weeks, under the banner of our Reach programme, in the weeks immediately before each school break. The aim is that pupils will continue to flick through their books into the holidays themselves, and beyond, of course!

There are enormous benefits to young people when they allow themselves to rest and relax, leading to improvements in mental health and academic performance. Reading too has immense value in shaping well-rounded, informed individuals. By combining reading and relaxing in holidays and the weeks before them we are keen to tap into the positive possibilities of both.

Reading weeks before half-term breaks will be based on non-fiction books and articles, while the weeks in advance of the main term holidays will focus on fiction. For non-fiction reading weeks, teachers will make recommendations based on their subject areas and pupils should aim to pick out around 3 or 4 to investigate. For the fiction reading weeks, the English faculty and the Library will join forces and recommend age-specific texts to fire up the imagination.

Of course, there is something of an ulterior motive behind our reading weeks. Non-fiction texts provide pupils with factual knowledge, fostering critical thinking and research skills. They learn to discern reliable sources, evaluate evidence, and form informed opinions. This equips them to engage with the world intelligently and make well-informed decisions. Likewise, fiction serves a vital role in nurturing empathy and creativity. It exposes pupils to diverse perspectives, cultures, and emotions, helping them understand the complexities of human experiences. They develop strong analytical and interpretive skills and learn to appreciate the nuances of language and storytelling, which enhances their own writing abilities.

We very much hope that our new reading weeks will encourage a love of reading, transcending the confines of academic requirements and providing an avenue for personal growth and enrichment. Reading both fiction and non-fiction works contributes to a holistic education, preparing students for academic success and offering them a deeper understanding of the world. Furthermore, we believe reading can play a pivotal role in moulding intellectually curious, empathetic, and culturally aware individuals, ready to tackle the challenges of an ever-evolving global society.

If you would like to find out more about the Reach reading weeks programme, please feel free to contact Miss Anna Kilby, Reach Coordinator, or me.

Henry Rickman
Deputy Head Academic

13
Oct

Self-confidence is a super power

You walk into a room of strangers. How do you feel? Do you stride in, smile generously and introduce yourself, or do you have to summon up courage, take a deep breath and do your best?

You are asked to stand at the front of a theatre and speak to a large audience of adults and multiple rows of your peers, perhaps in your professional role or at a large social gathering. Do you leap at the challenge, eager, positive and prepared, or do you hesitate, shudder and make your excuses?

How about standing under hot spotlights, with video cameras focusing on you, watched by a room full of people? Feeling uncomfortable yet? These scenarios would make many an adult turn on their heel and head for the hills, but not so for our students.

Over the past 10 days, our students – the youngest only 2 years old and the oldest 18 – have stood in front of video cameras, delivered their lines, played their roles, with a smile and an inner confidence that is humbling for the most confident of adults. They have been poised at the lectern at the front of the theatre, facing over one hundred students and over double that number of adults and their families – all of whom are strangers – and they have delivered personal, carefully crafted speeches, all their own work, with eloquence and aplomb. They have introduced themselves to visiting families, talked to children, their aunts, uncles and grandparents, and have expertly guided them around their school – navigating large groups of people, speaking to their teachers, describing their experience of the school, which for some has only been for one short month, with pride, honesty and enthusiasm.

This is what I have experienced of our students in my role in just recent days: a film shoot for our new brand film (we can’t wait to show you), pupils delivering talks to large groups of people in our welcome speeches and touring guests at our open morning last Saturday. These displays of confidence – quiet, unassuming and modest confidence – are witnessed every day in our school, from the student-led assembly, to the presentation to the class, from a tackle on the hockey pitch to speaking up and asking for help.

Confidence is part of The High School Approach – the ‘wheel’ – which outlines the intellectual characteristics we seek to develop at the High School. This confidence is part of our everyday ethos and community culture. We at Northampton High, in all our interactions in and outside the classroom, teach each girl the value of developing and living by her own definition of success.

Research conducted by the American Association of University Women found that girls in single-sex schools or classrooms reported higher levels of self-confidence and greater participation in class discussions than girls in coeducational settings. The Girls Futures Report* (based on UK research of a nationally representative sample of 1,358 girls in 2022) found GDST-schooled girls to be more confident, more self-assured, more empowered, better able to pursue their ambitions and feel unhindered by their gender.

Working with a specialist research agency, YouthSight, the GDST surveyed over 5000 young people between the ages of 9 and 18 including a nationally representative sample of girls from non-GDST schools, girls from GDST schools and boys at the ages of 9, 14 and 18. They also carried out in-depth interviews and focus groups with young people and consulted experts in educational psychology, careers and equality.

Compared to their peers in non-GDST (and mainly mixed-sex) schools, GDST girls report that they feel more confident, less restricted by gender stereotypes, happier to take on leadership positions and more comfortable taking risks, than girls elsewhere. Trends in confidence, positivity and ambition in students at GDST schools are also closer to those of a representative sample of boys in the UK than other girls across the country: from knowing what job they want, to feeling prepared for the future.

The report found that across age groups, 66% of GDST girls agree they are comfortable taking risks compared to 52% of non-GDST girls. Girls in GDST junior schools have strong self-confidence: only 5% of GDST girls feel negatively about the future compared to 20% of boys and 35% of non-GDST girls aged 9. And only 6% of GDST girls aged 9 say they avoid some activities because of their gender, compared to 37% of 9 year old girls and 31% of boys in the national samples.

Though confidence does dip in the middle secondary years, GDST girls have built a reservoir of resilience, and self-belief grows through the sixth form, in contrast to their peers – largely in mixed schools – whose confidence continues to fall. The research shows that it is wrong to assume that, because girls do not mix with boys in a school environment, that they will struggle to do so in the wider world. In fact, girls are given the freedom and facilities to gain a deeply seated confidence in girls-only schools. They are not held back by gender stereotypes or the pressures of conformity that are felt in mixed-sex classrooms. The confidence gained in a girls-only environment – through trying out leadership roles, working collaboratively and innovating with the freedom to fail – is taken into the wider world and applied to social interactions.

It is not only the GDST research that expounds the importance of confidence, particularly for girls, to succeed. Authors of The Confidence Code: The Science and Art of Self-Assurance – What Women Should Know,** Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, have supported adult women to understand how to build their own confidence, but they frequently heard from women who wanted to know how they could help their younger and teen daughters. Kay and Shipman worked with a polling firm to learn more about the issue and were shocked to discover that girls’ confidence drops by 30% between the ages of 8 and 14. “Right until age 8, there’s really no difference [between girls and boys] in confidence levels,” Shipman says. “We were surprised at how quickly, how deep that drop is.”

There is much research out there on confidence and girls. One thing is for sure, we couldn’t be prouder of our students. They believe in themselves and we believe in them; it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Helping girls develop the self-assurance required for independent thought, our next generation of women will be equipped with the resilience to challenge, reshape and enrich our communities, the flexibility to navigate new paths, and the self-confidence to feel unashamedly empowered and fulfilled – the confidence our girls across the school demonstrate day after day – in the classroom, in leadership roles, in clubs and societies, in their discussions and relationships – will facilitate their success however they define it and in whichever direction they choose.

*The GDST Girls Futures Report 2022 by Dr Kevin Stannard
**https://www.amightygirl.com/
https://www.northamptonhigh.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/GDST-Difference-Booklet.pdf 2023

Mrs Wilmot
Director of Marketing & Admissions

06
Oct

A princess, a spy and a socialite walk into a hall…

It’s not often you find yourself at an event with a doctor turned investment banker, a former spy chief, the brains behind Made in Chelsea, and – among others – not one, but two princesses. When it does, it’s a day to remember.

The High School’s Student Senior Leadership Team had been invited to attend a conference organised by the International Coalition of Girls’ Schools, entitled “Inspiring Future Female Leaders”. Our minibus set off early in the morning heading towards the winding lanes of rural Kent via the glamour of Newport Pagnell Services and the M25. Perhaps characteristic of our Year 13 students – aside from occasional conversations about Taylor Swift and other apparently popular figures – the journey became an impromptu personal-statement-editing and flashcard-wielding revision session. I was struck subsequently that the girls had preempted one of the common threads of the later conference: that you have to put in work and effort to be successful in your chosen field, that you have to be proactive in grabbing opportunities that come your way and that, in the words of Georgina Seccombe, Team GB’s Chef de Mission, “no-one’s going to do it for you”.

If individual effort and dynamism were two of the keywords that connected various speakers’ contributions, another was collaboration. We arrived just in time to hear the Head of Benenden College, Samantha Price, describe collaboration as a specific strength of female leaders, a view that was echoed by Dr Amy Jadesimi and others. Again, in the minibus on our way back to school, it was the girls themselves who showed that they understood this not in theory but in practice, working together to organise SSLT drop-in sessions to help younger students and developing plans to share with Years 12 and 13 to improve the Sixth Form Common Room. I would like to think that this ready focus on positive collaboration has been instilled in part through the High School’s expertise in girls’ education.

Dr Jadesimi, who is now Chief Executive of Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Base, also made a thought-provoking link between women as leaders and global sustainability. Arguing that sustainability is part of “the way women think”, she outlined how women are “critical” to future social and economic development and that sustainability “won’t come without gender equality”. She cited research that indicates that gender equality adds 3% to a country’s GDP, with other studies suggesting potentially even higher economic gains. The High School’s lively and successful Femsock and EcoTeam societies perhaps indicate how much these concepts are indeed integral to the ways young women, in particular, are thinking.

What about the barriers to leadership that women faced and continue to face, especially in the workplace? While the focus of the conference was on sharing practical approaches to developing as leaders and on inspiring young women to pursue leadership opportunities, speakers were candid about some of the challenges and outright discrimination they had faced. Baroness Manningham-Buller, former Director General of MI5 and – more importantly perhaps – a former student at Northampton High, shocked the audience with descriptions of the institutional sexism that she encountered, especially in the early days of her career. But, in common with other speakers, she emphasised the ways in which strong mentors and a network of allies, as well as a focus on one’s own goals, can enable individual women to begin to challenge such entrenched barriers. I suspect her sense of humour helped her too, as she shared some wonderful stories about her career in MI5 (I would love to recount them here, but we were all sworn to secrecy).

A challenge that was recognised by HRH Princess Basma bint Talal of Jordan among others was the ways in which there is a tension between working life and family life that impacts women disproportionately. Baroness Manningham-Buller’s advice – “don’t be unkind to yourself” – chimed with Samantha Price’s opening statement to “prepare to get things wrong”. As they already know, there aren’t going to be solutions to all the challenges our young people face before they get started in the world.

We were also privileged to hear from three other speakers: Dame Didi Wong, Amber Atherton and HRH The Princess Royal. We came away from the day with a strong sense of some key themes, as described. Above all, though, I felt that, given the calibre of the young women at the event, the future is absolutely not as bleak as we are sometimes led to believe.

Mr Viesel
Director of Sixth Form

29
Sep

Nurturing the Seeds of Success: Enjoying the fruits of your labour

Autumn is my favourite time of year! Woolly jumpers, snuggly thick socks and hot chocolate….. What could be better? The trees have begun their annual display of showing us how beautiful it can be to embrace change and let go of things of the past, readying themselves for a rest before a fresh start next spring, and all the joy and anticipation that this can bring. Autumn is also the time when nature reveals its true bounty. The trees and hedgerows are laden with fruit and gardeners nationwide are filling their sheds, garages, freezers and any other available space with pumpkins, apples, berries and the like. Gardeners, perhaps better than most, understand that in the intricate tapestry of life, the connection between nature and hard work is a thread that runs deep. How then, can we apply that wisdom to ourselves, and our continued quest for knowledge and education. Drawing insights from educational researchers such as Carol Dweck and John Hattie, we can start to understand this important link.

Every great endeavour begins with a seed of ambition. Just as a tiny seed contains the potential to become a mighty oak, your dreams and aspirations hold untold possibilities. When you plant the seed of hard work and dedication, you set the stage for the natural processes of growth and maturation. Just as a seed requires the right soil, sunlight, and water to flourish, educational efforts require the right environment and resources. As our students embark on their journey towards their goals, they will find that hard work and perseverance are the essential tools in their learning tool kit. Nature teaches us that growth is a process that takes time. In the same way, success rarely happens overnight. It’s the daily nurturing of your ambitions, the consistent tending to your goals, that will yield the sweetest fruits in the end. But that takes perseverance!

Developing perseverance and strong foundations in education is an ongoing process. It starts early and should be nurtured throughout a student’s academic journey. Encouraging curiosity can stimulate a child’s inner interests by exposing them to a variety of subjects and experiences. Encouraging questions and exploration from an early age will teach them to develop their skills and not give up when things get tough.

On the educational journey of our students at the High School, these seasons may not align perfectly with the school calendar, but their lessons are no less applicable. We want to encourage them to embrace the seasons of their life, recognising that each phase has its own unique beauty and purpose. Sometimes, the harsh winters of setbacks and failures are essential for strengthening your roots and preparing for future growth. They help us to recognise that the rewards of perseverance are well worth the wait. When the time is right, and you’ve nurtured your dreams with care, the joy of harvest is unparalleled. Just as a farmer rejoices in a bountiful crop, you’ll savour the satisfaction of achieving your goals. The fruits of your labour may be material success, personal growth, or a sense of accomplishment in your educational journey. But a successful harvest does depend on the work that is put into it. At the start of the academic year, we expect our students to be laying the foundation for success from the word go.

Dr. Carol Dweck, a prominent psychologist, has extensively studied the concept of the “growth mindset.” In her research, she emphasises the idea that individuals who believe their abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work are more likely to succeed than those who view their abilities as fixed traits. Dweck’s work highlights the importance of perseverance in education. When students embrace a growth mindset, they are more inclined to tackle challenges, learn from their mistakes, and persist in the face of setbacks. This mindset shift is particularly significant in the educational context because it fosters a love for life long learning and a willingness to put in the effort required to excel.

In John Hattie’s work, Visible Learning for Teachers, we see the emphasis of importance that educators and students should have a clear understanding of their learning goals, the progress they are making and the strategies that work best for them as individuals. Just as every gardener must work out which strategy works best for them to get the most out of their tomato plants, this can be a bit of a trial and error process! Emphasis on the ‘error’ here. Learning from mistakes is a vital part of the educational journey and Hattie refers to this regularly, highlighting the importance of feedback from teachers, but also self reflection from students. He notes that their self belief is vital, and that they will develop perseverance as learners if they can remind themselves that failure in their day to day experimentation with learning, does not mean that they themselves are failures. Adopting this positive mindset, or ‘Growth Mindset’, in Dweck’s words, will develop perseverance and make students more successful learners overall.

The changing seasons in nature offer profound lessons in perseverance, as well as patience and adaptability. Spring represents the beginning, the planting of the seed, and the excitement of new possibilities. Summer is a time of growth and abundance, where the fruits of your labour begin to take shape. Autumn reminds us of the importance of harvesting at the right moment, for if we wait too long, the opportunity may be lost. And finally, winter allows for reflection, rest, and preparation for the next cycle. Sometimes, it may feel a little like ‘Groundhog Day’, that we are repeating the same cycle over and over. In moments of doubt, it is important to remember that each new cycle offers the opportunity for improvement and progress. Sometimes we must adopt resilience to see that our failures are helping us to learn and move forward with perseverance to reach our goals.

Perseverance in education, guided by the principles of Carol Dweck’s growth mindset, is the cornerstone of success. Laying strong educational foundations is akin to building a robust structure that can withstand the tests of time. Fostering healthy learning habits from an early age ensures that this foundation remains sturdy and can support a lifetime of achievement. Education is not just about acquiring knowledge; it’s about developing the mindset and skills necessary to thrive in a constantly evolving world and motivate ourselves to work hard.

In the grand symphony of life, the harmony between nature and hard work is a vital one. Just as the seasons change, our students will find that their journey through education will have its ups and downs, but by embracing the lessons of nature, they can cultivate the fruits of their labour with patience and determination. Whether they are striving for personal success or seeking to enrich their education, remembering that their journey is a reflection of the natural world’s timeless wisdom is an important lesson. As they nurture their ambitions, tend to their goals, and savour the joy of harvest, they will find that the connection between nature and hard work is a source of inspiration, guidance, and profound fulfilment. I hope that all our students will embrace this approach over the coming weeks, and use this important and busy term to set themselves up for success at the end of the academic year.

Miss Kneen
Deputy Head Pastoral

22
Sep

School reports – a developmental journey

Parents and guardians may recall that I wrote in the opening Headlines newsletter for this term about a change we have made to our reporting. In a way it is only a relatively small change. We have not altered the style or structure of the reports, nor have we reduced the scope of what are, we hope, supportive and helpful documents for both parents and pupils.

This said, we have reconsidered the language we use to talk about various aspects of pupil performance and attitudes to learning, and, at its heart, this is much more than a minor tweak. As I explained in the newsletter, when we use indicators to offer an overview of pupil achievement and performance, we will now focus on development. We were keen to redefine what might be seen as more limiting and/or critical indicators, such as ‘Good’ or ‘Changes needed’. Instead we are now using the terms ‘Acquiring’, ‘Emerging’, ‘Enhancing’, ‘Extending’ and ‘Mastering’, to refer to pupil progress, prep and attitude to learning. 

The change in the indicators is logical and mirrors the work that has been done in the background over many years to ensure reports, feedback and verbal interactions such as tutorials are more focused on the individual.  These new terms are far more in line with our philosophy and aims. We say ‘we believe in our girls’, and for this to be more than just words, we have to demonstrate that belief in every aspect of school life. Likewise, if we truly expect the girls to fulfil the second part of our motto ‘and they believe in themselves’, we must try to avoid potential pitfalls that may impact negatively on their self-esteem or personal development.

So why is using developmental language so important? Firstly, it helps pupils recognise their strengths. When pupils read positive and constructive feedback about their abilities and achievements, it boosts their self-esteem and fosters a sense of accomplishment. This recognition of their strengths can motivate them to continue excelling in those areas.

Secondly, developmental language provides students with the guidance they need to make improvements. Constructive feedback not only points out areas for growth but also offers specific advice on how to enhance skills. This targeted advice empowers pupils by giving them actionable steps to follow, promoting self-directed learning, and encouraging them to take ownership of their progress.

Moreover, developmental language promotes a growth mindset. When students understand that their abilities are not fixed but can be developed through effort and learning, they are more likely to persevere in the face of challenges. This mindset shift is essential for long-term success, as it cultivates resilience and a willingness to embrace challenges as opportunities for growth.

It is perhaps worth reflecting on reports and how much they have changed since many parents (and teachers themselves!) were at school. In an amusing article in Country Life, Jonathan Self lists some of the more egregious comments made by teachers towards their students in the past:

‘Is a constant trouble to everybody and is always in some scrape or other. He cannot be trusted to behave himself anywhere’. (Winston Churchill, Prime Minister)

‘He must devote less of his time to sport if he wants to be a success. You can’t make a living out of football’. (Gary Lineker, footballer)

‘Jilly has set herself an extremely low standard, which she has failed to maintain’. (Jilly Cooper, author)

While we may smile at these embarrassing comments from teachers whose pupils clearly went on to demonstrate success far in excess of their own achievements, it is worth reflecting on the many pupils who will have been negatively affected by similarly unhelpful opinions.

One of the most important responsibilities of educators is to scrupulously avoid impacting negatively on pupil confidence. Confidence, (arguably alongside basic literacy and numeracy), is what might be referred to as a ‘hygiene factor’ when it comes to a young person achieving well academically, or in sport or artistic pursuits. 

When I mention educators, of course, this is a wide group of people and the role of families and friends cannot be ignored in this. However, the impact teachers can have on academic confidence and self-image far outweighs any other factors. According to research collated by the Australian educational researcher Prof John Hattie, positive teacher estimates of achievement, and high teacher expectations based on developmental feedback can lead to enhancements in pupil outcomes that are the equivalent of over a grade’s improvement.

Needless to say, this approach needs to be embedded in sound pedagogy and based in an environment where pupil wellbeing has a high priority for the best progress to be made. But if we can avoid unhelpful language that leads to self doubt and demotivation, we are already heading in the right direction.

In Self’s article he comments that we must avoid reports that are ‘formulaic: a combination of computer-compiled scores, platitudes and overused statements’. We couldn’t agree more. Indeed our full reports are always written in original prose, monitored by Heads of Faculty and Heads of Year. They include a personal message from the Head, who reads every single one. I believe we live up to the writer’s ambition that, ‘A well-written school report will, of course, congratulate and commend where appropriate. More importantly, it will highlight areas that need attention and advise pupils and parents alike of potential issues. It is personal and individual.’

Hattie, J. 2012, Visible learning for teachers – maximising impact on learning, Routledge

https://www.countrylife.co.uk/independent-schools/10-hilariously-bad-school-reports-world-famous-einstein-churchill-174458

Mr Rickman
Deputy Head

22
Aug

Embracing the final chapter of school

Just before starting Year 12, the thing that worried me the most was doing poorly in my subjects. I’ve always held myself to a really high standard academically, and I was determined to surpass my already large expectations for myself in my A-Levels. Now that the year is over, I feel nothing but proud of myself for what I’ve achieved, and despite feeling undoubtedly nervous for Year 13, I know that if I continue to put my mind to it, I can leave school next year with the same amount of confidence and pride that I have now.

Whilst this may not be a universal experience, I don’t regret the A-Level subjects that I chose. My Dad told me to choose subjects that I firstly enjoyed, and secondly that I was good at, which definitely made my decision a lot less difficult. I chose to take English Literature, History and Business, and whilst the workload sometimes catches up to me, it’s overlooked by the fact that I enjoy them so much. I believe that it’s a combination of my own personal interest in the subjects, as well as the support of my teachers that make the occasional feelings of frustration feel overcomeable. 

However, the main thing that has carried me through Year 12, and has made the year as enjoyable as it was, has been the support from my friends. It would be a complete understatement for me to say that I simply appreciate my friends for being there for me this year. Without them, I know that the many deadlines and new priorities that being in Sixth Form brings may have felt overwhelming. I strongly believe that having good friends is one of the most important things in life, whether that’s during Sixth Form or when working 20 years from now, and I know that Year 13 will be far easier in their company.

My ambitions for the future are as certain as they were since the start of Year 12, and remain to be one of my biggest motivators to achieve success once I leave school. I want to go to university to study Marketing and Management, and have enjoyed experiencing what that route could look like through opportunities facilitated by school. This summer, I spent a few days in school doing work experience with the Marketing and Admissions Department, which I hugely enjoyed. This has made me all the more excited about continuing down a similar path after A-Levels, and perhaps less nervous about what the future holds for me.

With Year 13 being only a couple of weeks away, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel slightly anxious. Entering such an important year in my life, that has such a strong sense of finality to it, I mainly hope to enjoy it as best as I can. Whilst I feel excited to be so close to starting the next chapter in my life, I equally want to cherish the little time I have left in school before I leave it all behind. I suppose in a way, that means I’m approaching my last year at the school with mixed emotions, but then again, that’s exactly what life is all about.

Natasha
Year 13 student