Continuing our Apple Distinguished journey

This week, Mr Potter (Director of Digital Strategy) guest writes on the Headmistress blog about BGS being awarded a third successive Apple Distinguished Award.

BGS has continued to drive innovation and creativity by being awarded the Apple Distinguished Schools status for the third time, joining a small handful of schools worldwide who are three-time recipients.   

The Apple Distinguished Schools programme has been designed to highlight and recognise outstanding technology use in schools across the world with the vision that these schools collaborate and spread good practice to other schools. The programme is very exclusive and only schools that show innovation in classroom practice, leadership and a positive impact with technology are invited to apply. For BGS, this provides a unique and extensive network of like-minded schools where we can regularly share ideas as we look to our next stage of our strategic developments. 

Innovation and technology at BGS is so embedded in the learning and teaching that students and teachers no longer look at using the iPad or Google Apps as anything different to picking up a pen or pencil. They are using the skills of collaboration and creativity enhanced by the technology without a second thought; whilst the use of technology is enabling students to extend their learning skills in ways which would not be possible without it.

Our teachers and students are always willing to engage in something new. They are willing to pick new technology up and try things out with the express intent of using it to improve their educational experience. This was so evident during the periods of lockdown; not only were the teachers able to meet with students face-to-face through the google suite but they had the knowledge and tools to make those interactions really engaging and innovative to keep students enthused in their learning and building new skills.  

It was rewarding that this was recognised by Apple in their feedback to the school:

“A school at the forefront of embedding technology skills discreetly but continually throughout the girls’ education. They are forward thinking and ambitious to embrace the skills required for future careers in technology.’

This supported the findings of the schools ISI report  in 2020 which also noted: “Pupils’ competence in using ICT to support their learning is outstanding.” 

As we look to the next stage of the strategic plan, we are in a strong position to keep moving forward to ensure that our students are fully prepared to participate in a digital world with confidence. 

To understand more on the Apple Distinguished Schools Program here.

BGS ADS award 1

BGS ADS award 2

BGS ADS award 3

South Asian Influence on other Cultures

In the lead up to South Asian Heritage Month, the South Asian Society are celebrating and telling their own stories about the history of and diversity of South Asian culture. This week, Lucie Bridgman (Lower Sixth), guest writes on the Headmistress blog about how South Asian culture has had an influential impact on her life. We hope you enjoy reading her blog.

By Lucie Bridgman (Lower Sixth)

As one of the non-South Asian members of the South Asian Society, it is easy to forget how important South Asia is to other cultures. But South Asian culture has had a very big impact on my life, as it has influenced three very different countries that are very important to me.

One of these countries is The Philippines, where many of my close friends are from. The Philippines was under Indian sphere of cultural influence starting around 290 BC until around the 15th century, when Hindu/Buddhist influence was absorbed by local politics. Kingdoms in the Southeast coast of India had established trade, cultural and political relations with Southeast Asian kingdoms including Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Malay Peninsula, Champa, Cambodia and the Philippines. Southern Indian traders, adventurers, teachers and priests continued to be the dominating influence in Southeast Asia until about 1500 CE. While the Philippines has also been influenced by China and their Spanish invaders, the South Asian influence cannot be overlooked.

My family are from Guyana and you wouldn’t think a South American country could be so heavily influenced by South Asia. Indo-Guyanese are the largest ethnic group in Guyana. According to the official census, about 40% of the population in 2012 was from India or of Indian heritage. They are the descendants of indentured laborers and settlers who emigrated beginning in 1838 from India during the time of the British Raj. Most of the Indian settlers who arrived were from North India, specifically regions of the Hindi Belt, however a significant minority came from around Madras in South India. Others arrived as merchants, landowners and farmers pushed out by famine. Guyana celebrates Indian Arrival Day on 5th May with mehndi tattoos to bring us good luck. Hindu festivals are also celebrated as public holidays like Christian festivals.

South Asia has had a great many dietary influences upon Britain. Recipe books dating from the 15th century show that English cookery made extensive use of spices brought back from though trade routes to Asia and the Middle East. These spices and other commodities from the late formed British Empire played an important part in changing the eating habits and culture of wealthy Britons. Nowadays the most favoured takeaway, after Chinese, is Indian takeaway and this fascination with curry led to the creation of the chicken tikka masala by South Asians who had settled in Britain.

Influential South Asian Women

This week, Aleena Azam (Year 7), guest writes on the Headmistress blog about her influential South Asian Women.

Matisha Joshi (Lead Ambassador of the South Asian Society at BGS)

In the lead up and during South Asian Heritage Month, we want to shine the spotlight on some important female figures within South Asia, who have defied stereotypes to make the lives of thousands of people across the world better. The last few years, we have seen South Asians come into power, especially in some of the major governments across the world. The actions of these individuals constantly inspire us to strive to be the best that we can be, as well as being role models to those that come after us. We hope you enjoy reading Aleena’s article about influential South Asian Women below.

Written by Aleena Azam (Year 7) (Member of the South Asian Society)

There are many influential South Asian women both in history and in today’s society. One of the most inspirational women is Malala Yousafzai who is a women’s rights activist. She was born in Pakistan where the Taliban took control of her valley. She announced on TV that it was unfair how the Taliban were closing schools for girls because they didn’t want women to be powerful. A few days later Malala got onto the bus for school and two Taliban stopped the bus asking where she was and she was fired by guns, hitting her head. She was then rushed to hospital however Malala stayed strong and powerful and fought until the end. She is the youngest person to recieve a Nobel Peace prize. She inspires me because she didn’t give up and shows other women to continue being bold and brave no matter what others tell them. 

Another influential woman is Kamala Harris. She is the first Indian/American Vice President of the United States of America. She is a lawyer and politician who was the first Indian American to serve as a U.S. Senator. Her father was from Jamaica and her mother was from India, they were both immigrants. Harris also gained a reputation of being extremely tough as she prosecuted cases of gang violence and other major crimes. There was also a time where Rep. Tulsi Gabbard challenged Sen. Kamala Harris’ record while serving as attorney general of California. Harris responded to Gabbard’s claims and said she was proud of making a decision to not make fancy speeches and to use her position to reform a system that is badly in need of reform. She inspires many people to not let being an ethnic minority or woman stop you from following your dreams. 

Sirimavo Bandaranaike was prime minister three times and was the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party. She was the first female to be elected head of government in the world; this happened in 1960! She wanted the government to follow socialist policies. She also encouraged Buddhism and carried out a law that made Sinhalese the only official language of the country. In 1994, her daughter Chandrika Bandaranaike became president and appointed her mother prime minister after her mother was banned from the political office in 1980. Bandranaike resigned in August 2000, the same year she passed away from a heart attack in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Her story still lives on and her and her daughter continue to inspire others to keep trying and making the world a better place for us all. 

These women are not the only influential South Asian people as there are many others who are helping change the world in their own special ways. I hope you enjoyed this article about inspirational South Asian women.

Anti-Racism Week

This week, Natasha Dahir (Upper Sixth), guest writes on the Headmistress blog about the African and Caribbean and South Asian Societies anti-racism campaign.

The African and Caribbean and South Asian Societies have kickstarted this term with an important message. That is: be anti-racist. Our anti-racism campaign aims to raise awareness of racism in society and educate all of us about how we can prevent and respond to incidents in our school community and beyond. Furthermore, this week has been dedicated to progressing the conversations surrounding racism and prejudice towards marginalised communities. This is an extremely valuable experience for us all, to understand the role we play in providing a safe and all-inclusive space for each other.

We began with a Stephen Lawrence Day assembly on the Thursday 22nd of April. In 1993, eighteen-year-old Stephen Lawrence was attacked and murdered on his way home, solely because he was black. The assembly not only helped raise awareness about this infamous racially motivated attack, but also shed light on how the investigation was mishandled by the police, who were blatantly racist. Lawrence’s murder opened the nation’s eyes to the extent to which systemic racism can affect our lives and the decisions we make. It has encouraged more people to actively work against racism through charities such as Blueprint For All, founded after his death. 

Additionally, the South Asian Society produced a video celebrating the plethora of Asian cultures and their differences. Their descriptions of the parts of their cultures that make them most proud brought a celebratory tone to the week and shows us that anti-racism can also manifest itself in embracing our cultures and identities. 


The work of the late American Civil Rights Activist Claiborne Paul ‘C.P.’ Ellis is really admirable. Originally Ellis was a well-respected KKK member for 12 years. A change in him, which he described as almost being born again, made him decide to spend the next 30 years of his life fighting against racism and for the rights of black people alongside other activists. Despite receiving threats from people he once cared for, he said: “I made up my mind that what I was doin’ was right, and I was gonna do it regardless of what anybody else said”. The Netflix film The Best of Enemies summarises his ten-day journey from Klansman to Activist. I was moved by the volume of emotion this drama film was able to achieve. The message I learnt from this and would like to pass onto you all, is that change doesn’t come without resistance, but if it is for the right thing, then it will definitely be worth it.

The Importance of Digital Fluency

This week, Mr Potter (Director of Digital Strategy) guest writes on the Headmistress blog, and explains how BGS is filling the digital skills gap by being at the forefront of the use of technology in education.  

In a recent article on the BBC website research by World Skills UK highlighted that UK is “heading towards [a] digital skills” shortage as schools were not investing in providing young people with the right skills for a future jobs market; the demand for skills in AI, robotics and cloud are rapidly increasing in the workplace, as identified by Accenture, however young people are not being equipped for these areas as part of their education. 

In a week where a team of Year 8 students represented BGS at the semi finals of the NCSC CyberFirst competition and two Year 11 are taking part in the Lockheed Martin CyberQuest competition, I read the article with interest, as it seems we are clearly bucking this trend!  

As a School, we have always been at the forefront of the use of technology in education; we are looking ahead to anticipate which skills our students will need as they move into an uncertain world. We were very early adopters of iPads in education and the digital literacy that our students display was recognised by last year’s ISI inspection report as ‘outstanding’ as a result of their embedded and flexible use of iPad across their learning. However, technology does not stand still and we must continue to look to the future and anticipate the next technological breakthrough which will add real value to our students.   

The extensive use of iPads across learning helps us embed technology skills discreetly and continually throughout their education ensuring that our digital fluency is keeping pace with the changing in technological advancements and that our students stay ahead of the curve, and that these skills become part of their everyday learning. Students in the Junior School use Sphero robots to see the physical results of their coding. They code elements of a Shakespearen play, enabling characters to move around the stage and recite lines using code. As they transition through to Senior School in Year 7 they learn how to apply these skills into text based programming to solve more challenging problems as well as looking at networking, computer hardware and cybersecurity. 

To further our students’ interest and understanding of robotics, we have recently invested in a humanoid robot capable of machine learning. A group of Year 11 students will be able to use the robot to investigate social robotics – how humans interact with robots with human-like characteristics. Our students are adept in collaborating  with the use of cloud technology through Google Drive being second nature to them, to give them flexibility and ownership over their work. Students in Years 10 and 11 have access to Seneca Learning which uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to help tailor their experience in using the platform. It works effectively to highlight areas within a task that a student is finding more challenging and present these back to them in different ways to help them work on their understanding. We also operate a ‘BGS Hackers’ Google Classroom which is a mine of information about future careers in tech, challenges and competitions (access code rflztd2 – shhhh don’t tell anyone!).

Outside of the classroom, BGS is involved in many technology competitions and challenges, run by GCHQ, Lockheed Martin and Cranfield University. These give our students an insight into what it is like to work in a major technology company and the skills that are needed to succeed. We have also hosted lunchbox lectures with industry professionals in cybersecurity and robotics, providing role models and insights into the amazing jobs that many of our Alumnae are in. This year, we have also started mentoring programs in industry with some of our students lucky enough to be mentored by staff from Cardiff Metropolitan University Robotics lab and IBM. We recognise that these links with industry are hugely important as we look to be at the forefront of giving our students the technology skills they need to thrive and succeed in whatever they decide to do.

We believe that this dual approach of teaching skills and ensuring we are building links to wider tech communities, employers and universities will give our students the confidence to tackle any opportunity when they step out into the workforce as the next generation of  innovators and problem solvers. 

Speaking Out

At BGS, one of our key values is being bold, as defined in the Cambridge dictionary as “not frightened of danger”. We believe this is an essential characteristic for our students in this uncertain world. We are able to help them foster this courageousness in a safe and secure environment. Our students know their views are valued and we encourage them to question the world around them and stand up for what they believe in. 

However, we are fully cognisant that unfortunately for our young people they may at times have to confront danger. It is up to us as educators, in conjunction with parents, to not only help protect them, but also instil in them guiding principles around how we should behave towards one another. Growing up is a learning curve and no matter how well we guide them, young people will inevitably have errors of judgment. It is important that we call out when a young person falls below these standards whilst also supporting them in moving forward positively from their mistakes.

I suspect many of us have read with horror the news about the killing of Sarah Everard and what it exemplifies about the treatment of women in our society. Concurrently, alarming stories about peer-on-peer abuse and misogyny in schools has been highlighted by many students across the UK and Australia. As a school that encourages young women to have a strong voice, we are impressed to see so many speak out about the issues that are affecting their daily lives; we know this takes great courage. But these young people must also seek help and support. We need to ensure our students not only have the strategies to protect themselves, but that they have the confidence to speak out to a trusted adult, either at home or at School, if any of these issues are affecting them. 

Without those brave enough to step forward the issues will remain. I fervently hope that the world our students go out into will be fairer, kinder and safer. I want to see our alumnae continue to achieve successes in their chosen professional lives, free from gender stereotypes and able to take on any challenges that come their way. I want them to always feel safe and secure in their day-to-day lives; this should be a right, not a privilege. 

Just over 100 years ago, Nancy Astor, the first female MP, said in her maiden speech: “I do not want you to look on your lady member as a fanatic or a lunatic. I am simply trying to speak for hundreds of women and children throughout the country who cannot speak for themselves.” Her words still resonate today and are echoed by the number of female MPs who have spoken recently about the current issues facing women. Jess Phillips said, last week, before reading out the names of the 120 women who have been murdered by men in the past 12 months; “In this place, we count what we care about. We count the vaccines…We love to count data of our own popularity….However, we don’t currently count dead women…Dead women is a thing we’ve all just accepted as part of our daily lives. Dead women is just one of those things.” Powerful words indeed.

I urge our students to continue being bold: to speak out if they see injustice; to come forward when they need support; to strive to take on leadership roles in all areas of society so they can make a difference; and most importantly, to always support one another as we are, without doubt, stronger together.

Holocaust Memorial Day

This week the School community has been commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day with an informative assembly by Mrs Cruse (Head of Years 7 and 8) and a creative activity based around the Jewish custom of leaving pebbles on gravestones. The most striking part of the assembly for me was an extract from a letter written by Holocaust survivor, Haim Ginott, who said:

“Dear Teacher, I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness. Gas chambers built by learned engineers, children poisoned by educated physicians… So, I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce monsters, skilled psychopaths… Reading, writing and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more humane.”

And what a vital message this is for educators not only here at BGS, but around the world. At a time when schools are daily in the newspapers, it is important to remember that education is not just about passing examinations, though naturally that is a part of what we do. We teachers are in such a privileged position getting to work with young people, and particularly such wonderful students as your daughters. The students at BGS are impassioned, inquisitive and compassionate. Through my conversations with them and reading about all their achievements, they are clearly determined to make a difference to the world around them. They want to fight injustice, raise funds and awareness of charities that are important to them, protect the environment and go off into the world as adults committed to being agents of positive change. Naturally, they gain much of this from you, their parents, but I am confident that this is confirmed through our teaching and co-curricular activities, and the ethos that permeates BGS. 

This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme is “Be the Light in the Darkness” and I can’t think of a more apt statement for our times. The world has felt like a very dark place over this past year with COVID, multiple lockdowns, continued issues around racial discrimination and political unrest, but our students do provide us with bright spots amongst all this uncertainty and challenges. Their humour, determination, resilience and care for one another are the epitome of hope for the future. Through community events, such as this one, Black History Month and Rainbow Laces Day, we have demonstrated our commitment as a School to not only ensuring we are an inclusive environment for all, but also to standing up to discrimination and bias. 

I have had the privilege of hearing many Holocaust and other genocide survivors talk over the years and the horrors they describe cannot be readily imagined by those of us who have been fortunate enough not to live through it. The magnitude of what they suffered is overwhelming and it is distressing to hear, but it must be heard if we are ever to ensure that humans don’t allow these types of atrocities to occur again. This is why we take our responsibility as teachers so seriously; we have the opportunity to help children make sense of the darkness in the world, but more importantly we can help guide them towards the light: to be the defenders against discrimination; to be brave enough to make the right choices;  to be passionate enough to make a difference; and to be caring enough to show empathy and understanding to others.  

As always I shall leave you with a quote, this time from Elie Wisel, a Holocaust survivor, and I hope that it inspires all our students to stand up for what they truly believe in:

“ I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” 

Reni Eddo-Lodge Lifts The Curtain On A Country In Denial

Introduction

By Meranie Kairu (Lead Ambassador of the African and Carribean Society)

Last summer, during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book, Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race graced many bookshelves across the UK. This included the bookshelves of a staff member and student who were inspired to share the book’s vital message with the rest of the BGS community.

Mrs Harrold (Head of Psychology) shared her deeply personal and thought-provoking perspective on the book in The Muse (Legend in their Lifetime) last summer. It is clear that for both Mrs Harrold and Mia Dowie (Lower Sixth), Eddo-Lodge has had a life-changing impact. In this review, Mia Dowie – a member of the African and Caribbean Society (ACS) – takes us through an honest and insightful account of how this book transformed her worldview. It moved her to advocate for change against the denial and ignorance of racism in the UK. 

By Mia Dowie (Lower Sixth)

I came across the book Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, a London journalist, during the time of the Black Lives Matter Protests in May. These protests led to my eye-opening research of race, into places where I, as a white student, never realised there was an issue. I was searching for something that went beyond the mainstream discourse that focused on America and the civil rights movement. I found Eddo-Lodge’s book during my research on racism in the UK and realised there were issues all over our nation. Among the sea of complex titles, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race stands out. Its extreme title attracts lots of attention: some positive, some curious and some defensive. 

The text moves away from the general consensus that seems to have blanketed our society. The idea that racism is not an urgent issue in the UK, in comparison to other places, like America. The author explores the timeline of racism in Britain throughout history. Eddo-Lodge explores ideas of structural racism and she shines a light on a few of the harsh realities that the ‘nation in denial’ must face. She explains all the privileges a white child may have in comparison to a child of colour whose life will be ‘warped at every stage’, despite their level of skill. A reader may come out of it viewing society in a whole new light. 

Eddo-Lodge reinforces her idea about how Britain’s relationship with race is not a neat narrative with a feel-good resolution. She expresses what many people try to deny, that a post-racial world is not in sight, yet she is not without hope. Eddo-Lodge emphasises that to fight racism there is a large change that must occur and it will be an uphill battle which requires people to feel uncomfortable. To say the world is in a post-racial society creates an excuse to bury the discussion of racism, which then halts change. It is a vital realisation that is needed in order for us to be committed to fighting against racism.  

After reading this book I realised it was not one I wished to be left on the bookshelf collecting dust. This book is the wake-up call that people need. All that I have learnt this year about racism and the challenges my peers face has motivated me to make a change in myself. As a result, I decided to join the African and Caribbean Society (ACS). 

The ACS is committed to change. We aim to make BGS a place where students of African and Caribbean descent can express themselves, feel heard and celebrate their culture. However, our work extends beyond that to reach a point where students of all cultural backgrounds feel safe and cared for. A key part of what we do involves raising awareness of racism. Students and teachers must be able to recognise and understand racism in order to speak up for others. If pupils or staff are looking for a better way to understand and help, this book is a great first step. It is clear that if there are people who wish to learn more about racism and how to fight it then there is hope and a pathway to change.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas

A Christmas message to all BGS students.

“It is such a shame that we have not all been able to come together in the usual way this year, but I hope the recorded Carol Service and fun events of the last few day has provided you with some much needed Christmas spirit. 

And our holidays may look at little different too – perhaps you usually go to a pantomime as a family, or you may attend midnight mass to celebrate Christmas or gather with your family to celebrate Hanukkah, or perhaps these holidays are simply an opportunity to catch up with friends and family from around the country or further afield. You might usually throw a big party on New Year’s Eve or go to see a firework display. Although things will not be the same, I believe we can still all look forward to these holidays.

As we have seen over the past year, we humans are a resilient bunch and we have still found ways to make key events special: families have still come together either in person -socially distanced of course –  or virtually to celebrate things such as Chinese New Year, Eid, Diwali, Easter, Halloween, weddings, births and birthdays. These events might have been smaller, but they still allow us to connect with each other and remember what is important to us. 

So over these holidays, whatever your beliefs, use this time to cherish your family and friends, and to think to the future with hope. We might not be watching fireworks on New Year’s Eve or attending parties, but we can still reflect on the year that has just passed and what a momentous time in history we have all just lived through. Although it is not completely over yet, with the news of the various vaccines on offer, we can look forward more positively, congratulate ourselves for getting through 2020 and remind ourselves of all the wonderful opportunities to come in the future.

I want to wish you, your families and all of the staff a wonderful break over the Christmas holidays. I also want to thank you for making my first term at BGS so memorable, you have welcomed me into the BGS community with open arms and despite all the challenges we have faced, I feel incredibly fortunate and proud to be your Headmistress.

I hope you all stay happy and healthy. I look forward to celebrating the start of a new year, and a new era, with you all in January.” 

IB – Focusing on Language Acquisition

I am a big fan of language acquisition and believe it is central to every student’s education. I am pleased we embrace languages at BGS and I will always encourage our students to keep studying a language, or two, throughout their time at school.

I also believe that part of the fun of learning a language is starting something new, the thrill of starting with the basics and putting the words together to make sentences for the first time is always exciting. I am therefore delighted that we will be introducing an additional language option in the Sixth Form for IB Diploma students from September 2021, where students who have not studied it before will be able to take up a course in Italian. Who would not want to be able to sit on the terrace of a bar in Rome and order a meal with a perfect Italian accent, or ask for directions to The Colosseum without relying on a google translate?

Having worked in Asia for five years, the vast majority of the students I taught there were fluent in at least two languages. Many had three or four languages under their belt; they were always open to learning a new language to communicate with their new friends from other countries. In the Languages Department, they used to have a poster which stated:  “monolingualism is the new 21st century illiteracy” and I couldn’t agree more. In our interconnected, globalised world, it is imperative that we are able to communicate with one another. This is one of the elements of the IB Diploma Programme which I most love, the focus on language acquisition as a link to understanding and connecting cultures.

I studied French at A Level, and was able to study in France for a year at university, work in Brussels as a lawyer and then I had an excellent grounding for learning Spanish, whilst traveling around South America when I took a career break before moving into teaching. Learning languages has opened so many doors for me; it has changed my views on the world and created a network of friends around the world. It has given me the confidence to travel, to work abroad, to walk into a room and not be afraid of starting a conversation. Learning languages has been an important part of developing my self-confidence.

There is plenty of research that also highlights how language acquisition encourages brain development, which has extensive cross-disciplinary advantages. Languages are puzzles, the logic of learning and putting sounds and words together can be applied to other subjects, Maths, Music and Sciences. These key building blocks are fundamental to a holistic education and develop enquiring, problem-solving mindsets.

I hope our students seize this opportunity to experience a new language and through it appreciate the importance of understanding others’ customs and cultures.  As the American Law Professor and author, Amy Chua, said: “Do you know what a foreign accent is? It’s a sign of bravery”. So I encourage all our students to take these words as inspiration, to be bold, to step out of their comfort zones and to open themselves up to a world of new possibilities.