Supporting our students to succeed 

This week, Mrs Hooley, Assistant Head guest writes on the Headmistress blog about how we support our students during examinations and assessments. She also reflects on some excellent strategies which were highlighted by our Head of Learning Support, Mr Williams during this week’s Curriculum Conversation. 

Young people continue to be impacted by the after effects of the pandemic, whilst the practical restrictions to their lives may have faded from memory the consequences to mental health and well-being are being seen globally. Sapien Labs, a non-profit organisation undertook their third annual mental state of the world report with 400,000 participants across 64 countries and recognised that the mental health quotient for young people has remained at the same level as 2021. Despite this context, young people are still expected to undertake the regular milestones of their academic career and external examinations will take place for our Years 11 and Upper Sixth students in pre-pandemic conditions. It’s important that we are able to support our students at home as well as in school, when they are preparing for assessments and encourage them to recognise strategies which might further aid their revision.

At Bedford Girls’ School, we take an incremental approach to examinations and assessment; hopefully helping students develop their examination skills and strategies in a less stressful manner. In Years 7 and 8 students are assessed throughout the year in small, low-stakes tests. This supports the use of spaced learning when topics are covered and then assessed, preventing the need for a large amount of content to be revised for a terminal or end of year examination. Year 9 undertake more formal assessments in most of their subjects during a week in May, whilst the tests still take place in a classroom environment, they are expected to follow some of the external examination guidelines such as separated desks, timed papers and silent invigilation. In Year 10, there is further preparation for the expectations of external examinations with assessments taking place in a Hall and students lining up as they will for their final GCSEs. This is followed by January mock examinations for the Year 11 students to further gain experience of the Exam Hall and follows a similar pattern in the Sixth Form. Students from Years 7 to Upper Sixth are provided with targeted revision strategies through Assemblies, form time activities and their subject lessons to equip them with the skills they need to revise independently.

For some this summer will be first time households have had to work towards assessment and this week we hosted  a Curriculum Conversation where our Head of Learning Support, Mr Tom Williams provided parents with some excellent strategies to enable them to be a supportive force for their daughters, summary

Positivity: There will be times that every student feels demotivated or overwhelmed, they may be juggling the challenges of social demands, work and school requirements. When this happens, acknowledge their feelings and help them move towards finding a solution. It also helps to provide a sense of perspective to avoid your teenager catastrophising potential outcomes.

Flexibility: Agreeing a balance between work and social life and sticking to the agreement can create certainty and support students when organising their revision. There are always going to be occasions when flexibility is important and an 80/20 approach might help; if your daughter is sticking to what they should be doing 80% of the time, they will be OK!

Inspiration: Role models are essential for our young people, you may know students who are already in the Sixth Form or at university who would be fantastic mentors for your daughter and support their approach to examinations. Looking up to an individual who is already working in the career that they aspire to can help young people to focus on the long term gains, even if it means some small sacrifices in the short term. Your own successes can also be an inspiring talking point, when students know that it hasn’t always been an easy path for many people, it will encourage them to add to their efforts.

Accessing resources: Our students all receive study skills sessions from the Learning Support team which will have provided them with techniques to support active revision such as summarising, mnemonics, mind maps, mandalas, posters and flashcards. Subject teachers are an excellent source of information if your daughter is finding a specific topic challenging and Form Rutors or the Head of Year are on hand for emotional support. Encouraging your daughter to discuss any difficulties or challenges that she is experiencing can help to empower her to reach a solution and overcome those difficulties the next time.

Managing revision and assessments, like any other type of learning, takes time to finesse, we understand this and support every student on her journey. As experts in girls’ education, we have helped thousands of students through their examinations over the years and we hope that, by working together, we can best prepare your daughters to be well prepared for their final external examinations in a calm and organised manner. 

Culturally Connected

Over the half term I returned to my family home in the North of England with my oldest son. I jokingly said I wanted him to engage in his “Northern” roots as I excitedly showed him Manchester city centre for the first time, pointing out the haunts of my youth and more importantly the proud industrial history of the area. I have to confess my Year 7 history classes were more engaged in my recent lessons on the Industrial Revolution than he was, but I am sure it will still sink into him eventually.

It got me thinking about the importance of culture and identity to young people. Until recently my two children had been typical third culture kids, having left Britain when they were too young to remember it in detail and spending their younger childhood growing up in the rich cultural traditions of South Korea and Hong Kong. And what an experience they had, from their ability to eat the spiciest of noodles with chopsticks like a pro, to memories made at wonderful festivals, visiting amazing temples, rice paddies, the iconic Hong Kong skyline, mountains, and beaches and so much more.

A photo captured by Mrs Gibson at the Guilin Longji Terraced Fields in October 2019.

Research has shown that third culture kids are often more flexible and able to cope with change. They also have a high probability of being university educated and speaking two or more languages. This makes them very attractive to employers. However, there are downsides such as often having to leave best friends behind and anecdotally some struggle with not having a cultural identity that they can strongly identify with. I believe it is important in schools to help every child find that sense of identity, as is building their ability to appreciate and celebrate others too. 

This is what I love about BGS; despite not being an international school, we certainly have the feel of it, with a number of our students and staff having lived in other countries and a  huge variety of cultures represented within our school community. We actively promote the importance of this diversity from our celebration of Mother Tongue Day this week to CultureFest, World Hijab Day, Jubilee celebrations last year or our annual Lunar New Year and Diwali lunches. We encourage all of our students to share what parts of their culture they feel is important to them. 

Every year I (remotely) interview prospective students all over the world either returning to the UK after a stint with their families to far flung parts of the world, or other families moving to the UK for the first time. I am endlessly fascinated by others’ cultures and experiences and am always proud to share my experiences too. I am proud to be Northern (famed for our friendliness, but also sometimes our bluntness!) and I am privileged to have lived and travelled all over the world. And I hope that all the students at BGS feel the same, that they are proud of what makes them who they are, their experiences and their culture, and that they seize every opportunity to learn more about what the world has to offer. 

So if I may I will finish on a quote from the world renowned Mancunian and Suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst: “Manchester is a city which has witnessed a great many stirring episodes, especially of a political character. Generally speaking, its citizens have been liberal in their sentiments, defenders of free speech and liberty of opinion.” I hope that I can live up to her views on the people of Manchester and that in time my children will come to appreciate their Northern roots as much as I do. 

Our thriving community

I can’t quite believe that this is my third year at BGS; it has all gone so quickly. And for those students who will be accepting places with us soon and those moving up from the Junior School to the Senior School, I want to reassure you that it will be the same for you. Any nervous feelings you may have at the start will soon disappear and all too quickly you will be wondering where the time has gone. That is what life at BGS is like; it is so busy with daily routines, exciting lessons, a myriad of co-curricular activities and so many wonderful events that time passes before you know it.

I have been talking with the Year 6s recently about their transition to the Senior School and asked them to tell me an interesting fact about themselves. Many mentioned their favourite subjects or sports or that they love art or dancing. An equal number mentioned their pets or some of the exciting places they have lived before. This got me thinking about my journey here. When I joined BGS, we were still in the middle of the pandemic and we travelled halfway around the world from Hong Kong to become part of this wonderful community in the summer of 2020. You may recall that this time in 2021, we were back in lockdown and in order to help keep our community together I introduced one of our youngest members…our family dog, Malteser, who was a cute and slightly naughty chocolate Labrador pup back then. He was carefully guarding the school for the students whilst they weren’t able to be here themselves.

Thankfully students are able to be here all the time now, which Malteser has become accustomed to after a quiet start. However, I understand that students in DT still look out for him as he barks at pigeons on the roof. The Year 6s were curious for an update from him as he was the star of his own interview in 2021 and it led to an outpouring of photographs of our well loved pets. We got to spend so much time with them then and no doubt they were a huge solace to us when we couldn’t be with our friends and colleagues. So for those of you who were curious what has happened to Malteser, he has grown from that tiny little puppy to a whopping 35 kilogram, strong and energetic dog. He is still naughty and will steal socks whenever he can, but is the most loving and kind family pet we could wish for, who has comforted us when we are down and made us laugh with his silly antics.

And that ties in perfectly with one of the themes of an assembly this week,, where our Head Girl asked, as part of LBGT+ History Month and in the lead up to Valentine’s Day, what does love mean to us? For me that question always centres around family. which obviously includes our beloved pets. As the French poet, Anatole France, said: “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” So I am sure the students in school, when asked about love, will often think of their family and possibly a treasured pet or two. However, I am sure their views also include the love of their friends here at BGS, many of whom will be held dear for the rest of their lives. For the parents reading this, our school friends may be spread out all over the world now, but we know that the intense friendships you make whilst at school are like no others. As Helen Keller once said: “True friends are never apart, maybe in distance but never in heart.” I know that this will apply to so many of our students at BGS now and in the future, as at this time in the year we excitedly start to look forward to welcoming new students into our community come September.

Everywoman in Tech Awards

Guest blog by Mrs Hudson-Findley, Director of Digital Learning, Enterprise and Sustainability

Mrs Hudson-Findley reflects on the achievements of Alex Gentry (Lower Sixth) and Athena Kurtti (Upper Sixth), who sailed through the shortlisting process at the FDM Everywoman in Tech Awards, with Alex progressing as one of the five finalists

I wonder if Bill Gates’ or Reshma Saujani’s teachers ever watch the news and sit back and think “I knew it”? If they saw the young versions of the tech giants that they are today and knew they would change the world someday? As a teacher of 20 plus years, it is rare to find a student that gives you that feeling. That knowledge that they will go far and be an influencer in their field. It’s even more rare to find two. Athena Kurtti (Upper Sixth) and Alex Gentry (Lower Sixth) fit that bill to a “tee”.

When I saw that the FDM Everywoman in Tech Awards were holding a category for the One to Watch, I immediately thought of Athena and Alex. The category is sponsored by Computercentre and is for girls aged 11-18 who are creating a positive influence within STEM. The category description states “This award seeks to identify young game-changers and is open to inspirational students”. Considering the work that Athena and Alex regularly contribute to clubs, competitions, various awards, school projects and so much more than I have space here to mention, the nomination statement practically wrote itself.

Athena is one of the co-founders of the Lovelace Society, who meet every Friday at first lunch to investigate and probe the boundaries of what is happening in the world of Computer Science. With the help of Digital Design Creator and teacher of Computer Science, Ms Davies, she has organised activities, competitions and various guest speakers from the world of Tech. She is also one of the key members of our school’s Digital Outreach project which seeks to help combat Digital exclusion in the elderly. Athena freely admits that she is “in love” with computing and wants to help others to discover their passion for computers too. When I asked Athena how she are doing this, she seemed to ignite and enthusiastically told me all about how she wants to help individuals to understand that people do not need to be “good” or a genius to be involved in computing.

Alex is equally passionate about STEM. Alex’s CV is not only impressive, it’s growing. To date she has over 38 various achievements and awards under her belt. The interesting fact about this list is that the majority of them are achievements that are for the enhancement of her peers and her school. She is the founding member of Bedford Girls’ School’s STEM Society. Through this she is giving students in Years 7- Upper Sixth an opportunity to enjoy a fun and safe environment to explore these subjects to grow their knowledge and skills. From an outside perspective it may be easy to view Alex’s achievements as a collection or list from a talented student. What isn’t easy to understand from her impressive list of experience is the attitude and energy that radiates from her as she speaks about what these achievements have meant for her fellow students. For her, the passion comes from what she calls the “creation of possibility”. In STEM, for her the magic and wonder comes from being at “the forefront of modern understanding”. She loves that through combining these subjects she can create “whole new possibilities”.

Alex and Athena sailed through the shortlisting process. The panel were inspired and impressed with the hard work and commitment that these two individuals have demonstrated for their peers.

The final Award will be decided at a prodigious dinner and ceremony at the Park Plaza Hotel in London on Thursday 9th March. Alex has progressed to be one of the five finalists and I wish her the best of luck. She won’t need it though. I have every confidence that I will be one of those teachers who will be watching both her and Athena change the world someday.

Classrooms Without Walls: VR Comes to BGS

This week, Mrs Hudson-Findley (Director of Digital Learning, Enterprise and Sustainability) guest writes on the Headmistress blog about the endless possibilities of VR inside and outside of the classroom.

One of my guilty pleasures is to watch old science fiction films and marvel at the projections they would make about what the future would look like for us. As a little person, I was delighted by hovering skateboards, robot butlers and frequent trips to the past. While the hoverboards are still woefully lacking, some of the innovative technology from those films is feeling closer than ever.

What has always fascinated me is the capacity for the technology in those films to take us out of the real world and transport us to a place full of imagination. While some of those simulated realities were decidedly dystopian in their portrayal, they did all have one great thing in common – personal possibilities. Quite often main characters would become immersed in an alternative world where they overcame challenges and journeyed through self-discovery. This was part of the appeal for watching and where I think BGS can take a cue. Enter VR.

There have been several studies which have looked at the possible benefits of VR within the classroom from around the late 90s onwards. While the hardware hadn’t quite caught up with educator’s expectations, the desire to offer students an interactive and immersive learning experience was certainly the key motivating factor in those early classroom experimentations. David Passig from the University of Israel has been writing about VR and the benefits of “self-discovery and immersion in the learning process” since 2001. They argue it has been proven to “increase attainment” in students who have participated in using headsets in lessons (Passig, 2001: 5). An interesting study by the University of Warwick found that VR can positively affect performance and engagement, and students were able to remember virtual materials far more than books or videos (Allcoat, 2018). I’m reminded of the old Chinese Proverb “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand”.

Speaking of understanding; what is VR exactly? Dictionary-swallowing experts would have us believe it’s all about offering the user a three-dimensional, participatory, multi-sensory, computer-based simulated environment, occurring in real time. Yes, absolutely. That incredibly wordy definition is correct, but I think it is much more. I think it offers people, and students in particular, the opportunity to fail. You may have read that last sentence twice and thought, “surely this is not a good educational motivator”. Let me change your mind.

Firstly, let’s think about the bigger picture. Many of us have had several career changes before we felt like we found the right one. Some of us are still in the process of career discovery now. Imagine how much easier that process could have been if we had been able to live or experience different aspects of different industries first. Enabling students to experience life on an oil rig, an operating theatre, nuclear power plant or an archaeological dig for example has the power to spark the curiosity of the workforce of the future. The ability to form and shape career decisions within the virtual space sounds like a pastoral dream. One that can be achieved from the comfort of our classrooms.

Within the classroom environment, there are the abstract learning opportunities VR offers. This enables students to build mental models and representations of subject matter, failing and re-evaluating as they go. The interactive problem-solving opportunities this offers could allow students to feel they can take risks in their learning within their own personalised learning space, only they and their teacher can see.

It’s also worth reminding ourselves that the current generation who are in education and training now are the most digital native individuals society has seen so far. They do not have fond memories of the modem dial up tone or phones that were not smart. For them that has all been replaced by hashtags and high speed internet. So there is the very real benefit of providing education on their terms. I’m not suggesting that we should do away with books or other more traditional ways of learning, but offering very digital people learning material in a way that feels inherently natural for them feels like a win. Future Learn conducted a recent study where young participants were asked which technological innovations in education they would like to see by 2030. One in three of the respondents selected VR (Future Learn, 2022).

I’m confident that if we surveyed our students we would see higher figures. Our students are inquisitive, curious and hungry for what is next. So here’s to giving them just that. A classroom without walls and a world full of possibilities. I look forward to seeing where it takes us.

Breaking boundaries

Towards the end of last term, I ventured to London Bridge for the annual GSA Conference with a focus on Future Female. I always relish attending these events because they resonate so strongly with our values, being future forward and encouraging our students to be bold. The impact from a number of the sessions has stayed with me over the last month and given me plenty of food for thought. 

I particularly enjoyed the session that focused on young women forging exciting careers in areas which traditionally have been male led. It reminded me of the start of my career both as a lawyer in the construction industry and my first senior leadership role in teaching in an all boys’ school, where I was at one point the only woman in the team. I am thankful that this was never an impediment to me in my career, but recognise that this is not always the case. This is why the education our students receive here, which gives them confidence and self belief is crucial to ensuring that women never feel their gender goes against them in their career. 

The session was led by Hero Brown who set up the hugely successful lifestyle blog, Muddy Stilettos, after the birth of her children, as she could see a gap in the market for professional women wanting more information about their local areas. However, it also allowed her to set up a business that could work on her own terms and with an all female staff this flexibility makes it possible for professional women to continue to forge their careers whilst balancing family life. 

I was particularly impressed listening to Dr Jess Wade who is a physicist at Imperial College London, she is determined to get wider participation in physics from women and also people from different ethnicities and backgrounds. She highlighted the importance of diversity of thought in science and reminded us that not all science is undertaken by men in the Western world, though the focus sometimes is too often limited in scope. To combat that she has started writing Wikipedia pages on neglected female scientists; she has written thousands of them! 

It was also wonderful to hear from Lydia Garratt who is campaigning to ensure that women know that the banking industry can be for them. Not only that but she now manages a portfolio that supports women in business with female CEOs and female friendly cultures, and filtering out those that have bad practices. She felt that the issue for women in banking was not a glass ceiling, but the whisper in the girl’s head saying she is not up to it. She challenges young women to try things they think seem beyond them.

Girls in particular are susceptible to gender priming as research in the early 2000s showed; when young women are told they are not good at maths, their results in tests decrease. It shows the devastating impact stereotyping can have on their attitudes to academic domains and their achievements.This is why the role of all girls’ education is critical in young women such as by breaking down barriers in what have traditionally been seen as men’s professions. Lastly we heard from Zena El Farra, who had a high-flying career in banking, but subsequently became an entrepreneur setting up her own art business which focuses on wellbeing, who talked about leaning into your weaknesses. 

What I thought was extremely interesting about these inspirational young women was that they didn’t always have linear paths to where they have ended up. Dr Jess Wade did an art foundation course before going into Physics and said that you need creativity and communication skills to be a great scientist, along with having an international perspective and the ability to work in a team. Zena El Farra also agreed that having a broad education is beneficial. And Lydia Garratt proudly advocates for women going into banking without having studied economics or related courses beforehand, having studied politics herself at university. They all highlighted how having broad interests and skills throughout their education had a clear impact in their current professional lives and in their career paths so far. This approach resonates so clearly with the philosophy of the IB, which they all agreed was a great approach. 

It was so inspiring hearing these young women talk so passionately about their careers and I am sure many BGS alumnae are doing the same. As we start a new year I feel it is a good time to adopt the advice from the film director Katie Aselton: “I really want women to throw their shoulders back and stand up straight and use their big girl voices and not feel like they’re compromising their femininity to be strong and smart!.” 

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas 

I love this time of year; the decorations, the festive food, the celebrations and the singing! The latter, I have to confess, is my favourite. Belting out a Christmas carol, particularly when accompanied by a full orchestra, as we were at our Senior School concert earlier this week, is so good for the soul. It has been wonderful to bring singing back to the school after the two years of the pandemic. From the rousing version of Sweet Caroline in honour of the Lionesses’ win in our first whole school assembly of the year, the poignant rendition of of I vow to thee my country for the Queen’s commemorative assembly, to the very enthusiastic house singing this week, and our final coming together in the church services on the last day of term. I have enjoyed every opportunity to sing as a community. I have really missed singing, how it feels when we all sing together; the collective rhythm and energy is a feeling you can’t beat.  

It has been a long and busy term, where the students have achieved great things. I have been blown away by the depth of  talent from our wonderful concerts to our first fantastic drama performance of the year, the joint production of Bugsy Malone: The Musical with Bedford School. There have also been amazing sporting successes, academic achievements and exceptional service through commitment to our outreach programmes with local primary schools. The students have been phenomenally busy, but thanks must also go to our outstanding staff, who give so much to make all of this possible. I am honoured to lead a team of such dedicated and caring colleagues who are so committed to our students in their studies, their co-curricular pursuits and their well-being. 

When we were living through the pandemic, the focus of my messages to the students was about how we were living through an important moment in history, and that though it was tough, it would not last forever. I know that we are still living in difficult times, the prospect of ongoing economic instability, the rise in the cost of living and the war in Ukraine adds a sense of uncertainty for many of us. I trust that once again we will continue to pull together as a community and focus on being empathic and kind to one another. And what an apt message that is at this time of year, when we often come together as families and the adage of peace and love is at the forefront of our minds. As the US President Calvin Coolidge said “Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

And on that note, may I wish you all a wonderful holiday; make sure you rest (even if you are studying for mock examinations), enjoy time with your family and Merry Christmas to those of you who celebrate it. 

Community Outreach – Making a positive impact

This week, Mrs Axford (Assistant Head – Co-Curriculum and Experiential Learning) guest writes on the Headmistress blog about the positive impact of our community outreach programme in Bedford. 

Listening to a primary school child read a book may not sound like a big deal. But we hope that sustained engagement by Bedford Girls’ School (BGS) with local primary schools is helping to enhance the life chances of children in our borough.

Over the weekend I met up with an old friend and we got talking about her experiences as a volunteer at a local primary school, helping young children with their reading. My friend spends two hours each week at the school, where she listens to the young children read, providing them with caring, one-on-one support. My friend has a busy full-time job, but she said that working from home meant she now had more time to dedicate to other activities. She clearly loves her volunteer work, and enjoys seeing how the children grow in ability and confidence, as they giggle their way through Captain Underpants or follow Gobbolino, the Witch’s Cat, as he goes on adventures and chases his dreams. This free one-to-one reading support is organised by Bedford charity, “Schoolreaders”, which matches volunteers to local primary schools across the country.

This conversation led on to a discussion of similar outreach activities that we’ve been doing at BGS for some time.  Back in 2019, we began working with Shackleton Primary School here in Bedford. Fifteen Lower Sixth students began going into Shackleton once a week to help the children with reading. Despite some stop-start through Covid, the activity has grown, and this year, since the start of this autumn term we have had sixty BGS Sixth Formers involved, going into two local schools each week. In addition to Shackleton we are also working with Marston Vale School. The BGS students provide 1:1 reading support to children from reception right through to Year 6. Our students are out of school for 90 minutes each session, making use of the lunch break, giving at least one hour of dedicated reading support time each visit.

Before they start, we provide training to the BGS students to ensure that they have the appropriate strategies and tools at their finger-tips to maximise the benefit to the children. Fluency of reading affects future life chances. If a child cannot read English easily, they cannot access the rest of the school curriculum easily, or access many aspects of the wider world. And a young person who leaves school with poor literacy they might struggle to read a medicine packet, or fill out an application form, and at an extreme, the ability to read has a positive impact on keeping young adults out of the criminal justice system, as a BGS governor who works in that system highlighted to me recently. 

BGS is nestled in a borough where many families face significant daily challenges.  Even before the pandemic, research showed that in our borough, children receiving free school meals had literacy attainments on average over a year behind the general cohort by the age of 11. Post pandemic it is highly likely that that gap will have widened. Schools across the borough face a variety of challenges. At Shackleton Primary, over 60% of the school children’s first language is not English. The OFSTED inspectors commented in 2021 that ‘Shackleton Primary is in a deprived area where many families live in poverty’. The report continued that. ‘Shackleton’s leaders refuse to accept this as an excuse for underachievement, and have created a “buzz” at the school, a feeling that “something interesting is going on from the moment you walk through the door”. We are so proud that BGS students are playing their own small part in supporting the work of this school and their students.

I see the reading support we provide to local primary schools as a ‘marathon rather than a sprint’, with each cohort of BGS students passing the baton on to fellow-students in the years below; each year building on the support that the BGS students have given in the years before.  By the time we break up for the summer holidays this year, we will have provided 1,800 hours of one-to-one reading support to children at local primary schools across the school year.  We have already been working with local schools for three years. If we can sustain this for seven years, we will have seen primary school children from Reception all the way through to the end of Year 6, providing 12,600 hours of 1:1 reading support.

The sustainability of the project is key. I hope our current BGS community is building a legacy of service that will last long into the future. I hope that the sustained intervention of our BGS students at local primary schools – a decade of Captain Underpants and Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat and hundreds of other books – will help to transform the reading ability of thousands of children in our borough, helping local children get the most out of their education, enhancing life chances.

And enhancing life.  

Changing our Culture

This week, Upper Sixth Form students, Sophie Forbes-Laird and Nina Leech, guest write on the Headmistress blog about leading the Changing our Culture project.

97 percent of women in the UK have been sexually harassed, recent research has found. As young women ourselves, we and our friends were not nearly as surprised at this statistic as our male peers, when it circulated social media. 

In England and Wales, 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted. Again, as young women in today’s society, this statistic did not shock us. Sexual assault and in particular sexual harassment is far too common, and given women are regularly the victims of this behaviour, it’s an issue important to many of us at BGS.

In April 2021, Ofsted published a report following the rise of the Everyone’s Invited campaign. This is an anonymous platform, looking to fight rape culture through education and awareness, allowing young people to submit their experiences of sexual assault and harassment. Over 50,000 testimonies have been submitted, with that number still rising today. The Everyone’s Invited research also found that 9 out of 10 school girls had received unwanted inappropriate pictures online and had been subject to sexist name-calling. Everyone’s Invited highlighted a huge issue in society and the culture surrounding young people across the UK, importantly it began a conversation about experiences that are so common, that they get overlooked. 

Recognising that change needed to happen, Sixth Formers from Bedford School and BGS began collaborating on a ‘Changing our Culture’ project;  We are both passionate about this issue and have both been involved in the project from its inception in 2021 and took over the lead this year to drive this project forward. 

Our project has a real focus on sexual harassment and sexist comments. More violent behaviours are rarer and unrelatable to our younger students; but every single one of us can help change the culture that we live in. 

Research finds that the root of so many of these unacceptable behaviours stem from a long history of objectifying women. We want to encourage the students we are working with to recognise that small changes to behaviour and humour can make a  huge difference to our culture and stop the encouragement of the unhealthy attitudes towards women and girls that have been circulating for so long. 

We recognise that to change the environment that young women are growing up in, we need everyone in our community to get behind this issue. Therefore we have been really fortunate to have been met with excellent collaboration and support from the Bedford School citizenship team, students and staff; working together is key so that both boys and girls have role models that they can look up to.  Although girls are generally the victims, sexual harassment and assault are not problems for women to face alone; and they are certainly not ones we can reduce without the boys and men in our community engaging with the issue. It’s not unlikely that young men would be unaware of the challenges women face, for example on public transport, if they aren’t directly experiencing it. 

That’s why the focus of our project with the boy’s citizenship team has been on developing empathy.  We aimed to educate the Year 9 boys on a culture of respect within the school community as well as the wider society.  We were fortunate to find great empathy and an eagerness to engage from both the older boys in the citizenship team, but also the younger boys in Year 9, who we worked with last Tuesday, in their citizenship morning at Bedford School. 

An informative presentation was given by two girls and two boys from Upper and Lower Sixth tackling rape culture and focusing on how to be a positive ally towards the girls and women in their lives; including a clear focus on what behaviours are not tolerated or acceptable.

Following the presentation, partnerships of Sixth Form students ran ‘breakout rooms’ in which practical scenarios were discussed with smaller groups of Year 9 boys – including discussions on consent and solutions. The boys listened and engaged with the issue seriously, the breakout rooms allowed them to ask questions and develop their understanding. We feel it was really powerful for them to learn about these issues and hear our experiences. The session was very successful and hopefully, this chain of positive behaviour will continue to be infiltrated not just into the school community but elsewhere as well. 

The morning left us feeling enthusiastic about the future of this project, and we look forward to running a similar session with our Year 9s at BGS, ensuring our message is delivered consistently across our communities. Delivering this project together, as two united schools, was really powerful and something we will remember for a very long time. We are honoured to be the ones delivering this message, it feels like the start of a truly positive change. 

We are thankful to all of the Sixth Form students who gave up their time to help us. We are excited for this to be a continuous link between our two schools, so we can keep shining light on these issues and spreading this awareness. Alice Swallow, Head of Citizenship at Bedford School, who greatly supported us alongside our pastoral staff at BGS, pointed something out to us recently; that, by September 2024, the students leading this project will be the first year group that we brought this project to, when they were in Year 9. From then on, everyone across our schools will have the opportunity to both listen and lead this campaign. This is exciting and  we cannot wait to see the positive impact this project continues to have.

Sixth Form – Follow your passions

This week, Mrs Woolley (Director of Sixth Form) guest writes on the Headmistress blog about seizing every opportunity during your Sixth Form years. 

In the Sixth Form we have spent a large amount of time over the last few weeks reading Upper Sixth references and personal statements as the UCAS applications process starts to kick in with the early applications for Medicine, Dentistry, Vet Med and Oxbridge deadline looming. It is an exciting time for these students and I always enjoy reference reading. It gives me a chance to reflect. I am always blown away by the intellect, sophistication and the confidence that shines through in the description of each student. I think back to when these same students put on their new Sixth Form suits and slightly tentatively entered the Common Room for the first time just over a year ago. I am amazed by the rapid transformation from teenagers to bold, accomplished young women ready to take on greater challenges. 

Sixth Form goes fast, really fast. I stress time and time again to our Lower Sixth students that they should really grasp all of the opportunities we have on offer. They are so lucky at BGS, they really can turn their hands to anything and my advice is get stuck in, have a go, move out of comfort zones. They all find new passions, further hone great employability skills and together, with a deep understanding of their academic studies, form the basis for a great UCAS statement. 

None of this can be achieved without hard work and commitment; whether they study A Levels or the IB Diploma programme, our Sixth Formers have to learn to study continually and that is not always easy to do around the many distractions that life throws. Sixth Form is all about learning to juggle, prioritise and asking for help when you need it. Our role as the Sixth Form Pastoral Team is to ensure our students make sensible choices about the Sixth Form subjects. We are here to mentor, coach and advise them as they develop aspirations and research the  next steps beyond Sixth Form. 

Throughout Sixth Form, our Pastoral Team helps students to develop self-reliance and strategies. We want our students to be able to balance academic deadlines alongside their wider interests, as they prepare to maximise the opportunities on offer to achieve their very best. We gently direct them how to do this for themselves going forwards, in order to prepare them for the increasing independence that those next steps allow.

Within this environment are students achieve incredible things, and I am reminded of these as I read their references; of the campaigns they have launched, the national level awards for science that they have won; the teams they have represented and the incredible research undertaken for an EPQ or Extended Essay that has ignited a passion which has shaped their higher education choices. Our Sixth Form students are impressive, they are ready to take the next steps and make a difference to the world around them. Our Sixth Formers are also fantastic company, engaging, interesting and have great hearts. They make me very proud!