Winning isn’t Everything

In many of my blogs I have extolled the value of sport; the skills, the attributes and the values that it instils in our girls.

Watching the Senior School girls play lacrosse at Cople Fields and the Junior School girls playing netball at Cardington Road, I am often reminded how sport teaches the girls resilience. When they fall over, they quickly get up, when they are losing, they dig in more and when it is bitterly cold, they move more quickly. It teaches them that the strength of the team is more important than the talent of individuals, and I was reminded that self-belief instilled by both teachers and parents drives them to greater heights.

We have had a super start to super to sport at BGS in 2017. Ranking third in the country for our sporting successes in all girls’ schools and 11th nationally, for all independent schools, is an astonishing achievement and rightly reflects the work, effort and motivation of our sporting staff. Equally one of our pupils winning the national U18 Hockey Writers’ Club Higgins group junior player of the year, won in the past by many of the hockey Olympians at Rio, is a much deserved and personal triumph. And whilst I am incredibly proud of the girls’ achievement, the email I received from a parent of an opposing team crystallised what sport can do in developing the character of our girls.

This particular parent had travelled from Marlborough to watch his daughter play hockey against our U14 team, the winner of the match would play in the National Schools’ final. It was fiercely fought, BGS did not give up, but on the day Marlborough were stronger. Our girls were despondent, losing is not easy, but what made them stand out in this parent’s eyes was their generosity in their congratulations and their grace in defeat. Sportsmanship is not always modelled for them in the professional arena, but it is in the School.

The girls picked themselves up, learned much from the game and were gracious in defeat. It is these values that sport teaches and why losing at sport is as important as winning.


Collaboration and Connectivity

It was a pleasure last week to welcome head teachers, teachers and administrators from Denmark, Finland, Greenland and Poland to see the exciting work we are doing with iPads at BGS.

Their visit was a result of our status as an Apple Distinguished School; Apple invite educators from European countries to see how we are using iPads, to help them develop this technology in their own schools.

The benefits are mutual, but perhaps I did not realise the magnitude the benefits brought to BGS. Watching our 11 year olds explaining to adults how they learned, what they gained from the technology and eagerly showing them how to use it was humbling. The teachers asked them searching questions and they responded to the challenge confidently.

As our visitors walked round the School, dropping into classrooms, it was evident that their presence was creating a frisson of excitement, with girls hoping that they would visit them. They wanted to share, to collaborate and ask questions of our visitors and our visitors wanted to do the same in return.

Education is about opening doors, widening horizons and learning from others. Our status as an Apple Distinguished School certainly has done that; we now feel more connected to many schools across Europe where we hope that future collaboration can take place, not just with technology but with other educational programmes as well. Exciting times!

Choosing the Right School

At this time of year Independent schools around the country are opening their doors to prospective pupils and asking them to sit for their entrance papers. For thousands of pupils it is a nervous time. What are schools looking for? Often they are selecting academically able pupils, but schools are also considering how they would fit into the School.

It is the latter that perhaps is more important to me. It does not matter how academic a school or pupil may be, if it is not right, the child will not thrive. Schools should never be chosen by parents as a badge of honour, as a measure of intelligence of their children. Schools should be chosen because they are right for their child or our case, their daughter. Creating the right conditions in which children will thrive is essential and those conditions created in a school will not suit every child. To me, the skill of the selection process for both parents and head teachers is to find out whether the school is right for the child.

I feel a school should feel like home. An environment where the pupils feel safe, an environment where they feel challenged and excited by the learning, but not intimidated or overwhelmed that they might not be good enough. They should feel they can come to a school with a growth mindset where they understand that their talents are developed through hard work and persistence, rather than a fixed mindset where their talents are set based on their test scores.

So how as Heads can we determine this? I interview every pupil in the Senior School and I ask them to bring in something of which they are proud. I try to tease from them what it is that makes them proud. For many it is not the prize or the award but their persistence in achieving it, the difficulties they have overcome to reach their goal. Some talk about winning races, but it is not the winning that matters to them rather their perseverance that enabled them to win. Others talk about competitions they have entered and the experience they have gained from the event. Some bring in photographs of their families and eloquently explain how they have been shaped and inspired by them, others come in leg casts or with photos of injuries and explain how they had overcome physical challenges.

Being proud of your achievements is important. It reflects the hard work, persistence and determination to do well. I want the girls to come to the interview feeling secure in the environment that they can tell their story with pride, to be able to identify they have a growth mindset and leave feeling happy and comfortable in themselves. The stories they tell reflect as much about themselves as the entrance papers they sit.

Being Bold

One of our school values is to be bold. It is an important value and one that I cherish.

To me, being bold means standing up for what you believe in, allowing your voice to be heard and having the confidence to campaign when you think an injustice has been served.

The girls at BGS have a history of campaigning and supporting campaigns around the world, such as Educate Girls India, building cricket pitches and schools for girls in Afghanistan, joining the One Billion Rising campaign against female violence to name just a few.

At BGS I want the girls to have a view on life. I want them to feel that they can make things better because I fundamentally believe that is the purpose of education – to make the world a better place. Where they see injustice I want our students to feel empowered that they can stand up, make their voices heard, make a difference and make a change. The girls in the Lower Sixth have done just this. They have joined the campaign to remove the tax on sanitary products. Speaking passionately at a school assembly they encouraged all the girls to sign the petition to remove the 5% tax on sanitary products such as panty liners and tampons. These items are taxed because they are deemed a luxury item. For every woman going through her period, tampons are not luxuries, they are necessities. Yet crocodile steaks, perhaps agreed by many to be a luxury and therefore unnecessary item, are exempt from the tax.

The girls at the assembly also talked about the impact homelessness has on women and how periods make living on the streets even more difficult. Once a month homeless women do not have the funds to look after their sanitary needs, they often are forced to use rags or toilet paper to cope with their monthly menstruation. In homeless shelters, men’s razors and condoms are often provided free, tampons and other sanitary items are scarce, expensive items.

The girls once again galvanised the School and by the end of the year we had collected over 4,000 items of sanitary products to donate to homeless shelters.  Small acts can make significant changes. The girls have not just raised awareness and started conversations at home, they have also encouraged action in order to help others.

Like me, they are now actively supporting the campaign that chips away at reducing another element of discrimination. In chipping away at these elements they are trying to make the society in which we live more inclusive. That’s why I believe the value of being bold is so important.

Technology in the Classroom

BGS is now an Apple Distinguished School (ADS). Our responsibility in being granted this award is to share with specialist ICT teachers and, Heads from both local and global schools, how iPad technology has transformed the teaching and learning at BGS.

I am very proud that we have been recognised as an ADS, but I am more excited to be able to share with fellow educators the difference using 1:1 iPad technology has made to our classroom.

What is this difference? Perhaps most of all I feel this technology has liberated the teacher. It’s freed them from being the font of all knowledge at the front of the classroom, where they deliver the same message in the same format to all the girls in the class at the same time. The teachers become the guide by the side, working with individuals to ensure they understand the work, tailoring the work to the pupils’ needs and personalising their learning experience.

iPads are able to liberate the teacher because the knowledge pupils need is shared with them before the lesson. Pupils can access this knowledge from a variety of mediums, teachers can give the information in a pre-recorded video, which the pupils can stop and start at their leisure (known as a flipped classroom), teachers can give them links to informative websites or direct them to our newly designed BGS iBooks, allowing them to arrive at the lesson with the knowledge pre-delivered.

Teachers are then liberated from knowledge dissemination and instead can use the lesson to test their understanding and application. Problems and questions are posed, higher order thinking is demanded, allowing pupils to work independently and at their own rate, freeing up teachers’ time to work with individuals on their specific problems.

Equally, pupils are liberated. They can communicate their ideas in a variety of ways. From writing in the traditional exercise book to using the App Explain Everything. Pupils can record work creatively by the use of iMovie or collaborate with other pupils using Google Apps. Work can be marked in the traditional way with comments written on the piece of work, or comments can be recorded by voiceover on the piece of work, allowing pupils to hear the teachers’ feedback or the teacher can have their comments translated into text on the piece of work. The feedback chosen is dependent on the nature of the work.

Once the teaching is transformed the learning spaces also become transformed, and the advantage of the traditional Victorian set up of classrooms is minimal. We are preparing pupils not for an industrial age (as they were in Victorian times) but for a technological age. Collaboration, problem solving, independent thought and flexible thinking are the characteristics desired for the modern work place.

iPads have enabled us to better prepare our pupils for this 21st century workplace, and this is why I am so keen to share what we are doing with others.

What is Success?

What is Success? A very good question asked of GSA Heads’ at a recent Heads’ Conference in Oxford.  For many people success is measured in relation to others, to be successful is to be wealthier than…, to be happier than…, to be higher in the League Tables than…, to be cleverer than…, to have more “likes” than…. and so it goes on.

This notion of success according to Michael Ramsden, International Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, is damaging. Despite living in affluent times where scarcity is no longer an issue and people tend to buy what they want, when they want, it has not led to increasing happiness but instead increase to mental health issues, with mental stress now affecting 1 in 4 individuals. Ramsden argues that we should measure success in the true meaning of the word which translated means “to be”. A successful person is one who knows who they are and how they can exist in that state.

In order “to be” – we have to be forgiving of ourselves and of others. He feels that in today’s world we have a narrative that focuses too little on failure. People no longer feel able to talk openly about failure because of the judgement that may be attached. He argues that if we cannot discuss our failures then we cannot ask for our forgiveness, and therefore there is no hope for our redemption. Our solution – we bury our failure and it eats away at us.

All of us have the potential to do good, to do the right thing, to be admired but equally we all have the capacity to do wrong and we need a way to deal with failure if we are able to thrive. If schools do not openly talk about failure and make pupils understand that it is alright to fail, we are not allowing them to flourish.

We have a responsibility to the young pupils in our care when the pressure on them to be successful is ever growing and becoming ever more demanding. The Government’s recent move to the controversial Grade 9 at GCSE will place even more pressure on young people especially when it will be awarded to only 20% of those who achieved A*-A under the old system. Whilst it is right to have rigour, it is not right we make pupils ill in the process. As the President of the GSA said, achievement should not be at any cost and that failure is as an important learning experience as success.

As I reflect upon these words it reminded me of all the things I have failed at in the climb up the ladder to Headship. I have learned more from failing than I have from the triumphs of success and in learning about failing I have learned more about me. As the Greek philosophers said “Know thyself” – is this not the most important facet of understanding that we are trying to instil in the young people we teach today?

Why Girls Study Physics at Girls’ Schools

This week I attended the GSA Heads’ Conference in Oxford, appropriately titled Take on the World.

On so many levels it was a deeply satisfying conference. First to catch up with all of our BGS alumnae currently studying and thriving at Oxford University, second attending lectures and receptions in extraordinary beautiful buildings such as the Ashmolian Museum, Rhodes House and the Natural History Museum, and finally to be reminded why all girls’ schools are so important to the next generation of women, providing them with skills and attributes to take on the world and, in my mind, make a difference.

One fascinating lecture was by Simon Oakes – titled Why do girls not study Physics? He suggested that gender stereotyping began at an early age and whilst education did much to moderate it, inherent bias prevailed. The teaching pedagogy in mixed schools favours the learning preferences of boys. Boys sprint through mathematical sums, they see it as a competitive game and race through the exercises, seeing who finishes it first. Girls, on the other hand, want to move through the exercises more slowly. They want to know why, they want a deeper understanding of the concepts, they want to discuss it before moving on. When taught at a sprint their confidence dwindles, which results in girls not wanting to study it beyond GCSE, and to me, even worse, girls labelling themselves as being not good at Physics or Maths.

In single sex schools, girls are taught to their learning preferences. Girls are given time to spend on mathematical problems. Time to ask questions and time to consolidate their knowledge. In teaching this way, they develop their confidence and a secure understanding and therefore thrive in Maths and Physics lessons. They love the challenge and want to continue with them beyond GCSE. By the time they reach university they are secure in their knowledge.

In fact, Oakes argued their knowledge and understanding was in fact deeper than boys because they had taken their time to understand challenging concepts. This is evidenced by the number of alumnae who are thriving in the male dominated subjects at university. They are confident in their knowledge, they see themselves as equal and challenge the bias when they encounter it for the first time.

Girls’ schools have become one of the main providers of women in STEM subjects. At girls’ schools we can challenge preconceived ideas about occupations and careers. By teaching to the girls’ preferences we give them the confidence and self-belief to thrive in these much sought after careers.

The conference reminded me why girls do study physics at girls’ schools.