Digital Fluency

This week, Mrs Hooley (Assistant Head) guest writes on the Headmistress blog about adaptive and innovative technology in education and how it has many benefits for a personalised learning experience.  

This month, the examining board AQA announced that it would be trialling a series of online examination papers for both A Level and GCSE subjects. These are not substitutes for the traditional written papers taken in the Summer but a pilot scheme completed alongside the physical papers to review the use of technology within national qualifications. 100 schools are undertaking papers, which will adapt to student progress and become increasingly more challenging as questions are answered correctly. They will also use elements of artificial intelligence to mark the responses. The Chief Executive of AQA, Colin Hughes, stated that it was ‘only a matter of time’ before online assessments become a reality and that they would ‘help prepare students for future learning and work settings’. It will be fascinating to review their findings and consider the further application of these methods in the future.

It was encouraging to see an examination board outwardly recognising the need to review their approach to using technology to enhance the process for both candidates and examiners. Examining bodies cannot always be as agile as they may wish due to the requirements from JCQ, Ofqual and the Department for Education, so this forward-thinking approach is certainly a pause for thought.

Our approach to using technology for learning at Bedford Girls’ School has always been future focused. We want to ensure our students are ahead of their contemporaries in their use of technology as a flexible and adaptable tool to support outcomes. We want our students to be at the forefront of innovation and stand above other school leavers and graduates when they compete in the job market; to have both the technological confidence and skills that employers will demand. Along with the use of iPads, apps, coded robotics, augmented reality modelling and virtual reality video tours, we have also invested in Adaptive Learning technology. Students in Years 10 and 11 have access to Seneca Learning Platform to trial the effectiveness of personalised revision tools and homework tasks. The application enables students to review work, revise topics and undertake tests to check their knowledge, which becomes progressively more challenging as their answers are correct or tests them in another way on a question they may have answered incorrectly. Teachers can review the responses, look at the data and check the students’ knowledge and understanding. It is an excellent way to encourage active revision for their GCSEs, as well as trialling and gaining experience in the technology, which they will be expected to use in the future.

As educators, we know that a combination of approaches to teaching and learning is essential, combining the use of technology with a variety of other methods provides the best outcomes for our students. Whilst it is perhaps challenging to consider how technology would be adequate substitute for the expertise of professional examiners, particularly in subjects such as English, Philosophy, History and Art, it is vital for our students to consistently become fluent in the skills which reflect their future environments.

Why is behaviour important?

This week, Ms Teale (Deputy Head Pastoral) guest writes on the Headmistress blog about the culture of kindness at BGS and how this helps students develop behaviours that add life-long value.  

You might just as well ask what are schools for? Schools enable young people to acquire the knowledge that for most of them cannot be acquired at home or in the community. Learning in school serves us in the future and allows us later to go further. At the heart of the educational process is the continual broadening and deepening of knowledge. Minds are contagious and one of the most powerful influences that teachers can have on younger minds relies on teachers modelling learning characteristics and behavioural norms in the classroom. This modelling helps to create an environment for learning.

It is essential that we have safe, calm and dignified classrooms that facilitate good learning and teaching. Teachers build the norms they want to see in the classroom and a common cultural norm at Bedford Girls’ School involves establishing a culture of kindness. When we establish norms, it is important that we are clear about what we mean. In early years environments children are taught about kind hands, kind eyes and kind mouths. Early years practitioners unpack and explain behaviours, they demonstrate the behaviour and get the child to practice it. 

Young people will enter into conflict with each other, this is normal and expected and they might need an adult to help them resolve the conflict. When something goes wrong, we adopt a restorative approach at BGS. We ask the student to reflect on what happened, what they were thinking at the time, who was affected and what needs to be done to make things right. Restorative approaches enable those who have been harmed to convey the impact of the harm to those responsible, and for those responsible to acknowledge this impact and take steps to put it right. Restorative approaches do not negate the need for consequences for unacceptable behaviour, but research shows that it can alleviate problems such as bullying, classroom disruption, truancy and poor attendance, antisocial behaviour, and disputes between pupils.

Young people need to see adults behaving compassionately. Teachers greet students as they enter the classroom, we speak to our students warmly, we give them encouraging words and we take notice when they demonstrate their own acts of kindness. A culture of kindness helps us all to fulfill another very important purpose of schools apart from knowledge and skill acquisition; that of building understanding, respect and community.

Celebrating Traditions  

Celebrations this year seem even more special having been separated from loved ones last year. Yet with all the news of poor supply chains due to Brexit and Covid, many have been concerned about being able to honour all of our traditional festivities. In fact, I was emailed by the company suggesting I order my Christmas Tree in October so not to be disappointed; I don’t think I have ever started planning my celebrations that early before!

The first sign of the run up to Christmas in my family is on Stir-Up Sunday on the last Sunday before advent, where I follow my grandmother’s family Christmas pudding recipe. It is handwritten in her beautiful script and in imperial measurements. I love the feeling of knowing that her mother handed this recipe down to her and that I am now carrying on the tradition. She is 101 now and not able to bake herself, so it makes it even more poignant. I also ensure that everyone in the family stirs it clockwise to honour the Three Kings journey from East to West to follow the old time tradition. I love this feeling of passing down traditions to my own family, knowing they will keep them alive in years to come. In all our cultures, the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next is valuable and precious.

And what about that tree I ordered so early this year? Most people think they were introduced to the UK by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s husband, but actually it was a bit earlier than that. The first Christmas tree was introduced by the wife of King George III, Queen Charlotte, who brought the tradition from her native Germany. However, certainly it was Prince Albert (also from Germany) and Queen Victoria who popularised the tradition with the Victorians and it is why they are so ubiquitous today. Interestingly the oldest surviving Christmas tree can be found here in Bedford at Wrest Park. It was planted in 1856 and was brought inside every year to be redecorated by the family, before being returned outside to wait until the following year. It is now far too big and too old to be decorated inside the house anymore, but it lives on in the parkland watching over the celebrations each year. 

So from my grandma’s Christmas pudding recipe to the grand old tree that have both seen well over one hundred Christmas celebrations, I think no matter what happens this year, whether we can fulfil all of our traditions or not, the central theme is being thankful for the opportunity to come together. For those of us celebrating Christmas, and those of us who are not, let’s focus this holiday on the importance of family and friends, about spending time with one another, experiencing our own unique traditions and enjoying each other’s company. 

As I am sure many of us, with younger families, will spend at least a bit of time this holiday watching a Disney film or two, it seems apt to finish on a quote from Walt Disney “Life is beautiful. It’s about giving. It’s about family”.  I wish you all a happy holiday.

Encouraging Engineering

I remember as a teenager growing up in the North of England proudly studying the Industrial Revolution which had developed my local landscape. I was fascinated by the amazing engineering feats of the Victorians: the Box Tunnel in Bath designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, which legend has it was designed so you could see the sun shining all the way through only on his birthday; the Iron Bridge in Staffordshire (that I once requested to go on a detour to see when attending a party); and the sewer and Tube systems in London, which revolutionised our capital city. 

Growing up with a step-father who is an engineer has meant that many family holidays have also been given over to the appreciation of more modern engineering feats such as the Seven Mile Bridge in Florida. So as you can imagine when I heard Carl Ennis of Siemens, a fellow northerner even more passionate about the history of British engineering, talk about the importance of getting more women into STEM industries to secure its future at the GSA Conference in Manchester, I was all ears.

He believes that in the light of COP26 and the world‘s commitment to Net Zero, Britain can seize this opportunity to lead the way in a second Industrial Revolution, this time a much greener one! However, the lack of female engineers is saddening. Despite many strides forward, the engineering industry is still not anywhere near gender equal, with only 24% of people working in STEM careers being female. He praised the work girls’ schools are doing in encouraging their students into engineering. However, he went on to say “Girls who have been encouraged, supported and nurtured through school are sent into a world of work that, in some instances, is the binary opposite of what they’d hoped for. In STEM subjects, this can mean male overalls, male safety shoes, male goggles and male workstations.” 

Siemens has been working with the GSA for a number of years to address these issues and if we really are to lead the way with a new generation of engineering innovators, there must be female voices at the table. We encourage our students to engage in STEM and particularly look at issues around sustainability: one project looks at making and analysing ionic liquids which will have important green applications as solvents and catalysts; another involves understanding Earth observation, using satellite images to track glacier calving and iceberg formation; and Year 9 Physics are currently looking at reducing heat energy losses from homes and renewable energy sources for electricity production. 

At the conference, I also heard from Phoebe Hanson from Force of Nature (a non profit organisation fighting climate change), who talked emotively about the eco-anxiety many of our young people are suffering. She highlighted that 79% of young people feel hopelessness about the climate crisis and 4 out of 10 children don’t want to have children as they don’t know what the world they will bring them into will be like. This is a terrible situation to be in. We need to help our young people to see that there are options for them to make a difference. We want our students to pursue their passions in STEM, to use the confidence they gain here at BGS to take their creative ideas and ability to problem solve out into the world, to make a difference to the future of humankind. 

As David Attenborough said: “We often talk of saving the planet, but the truth is that we must do these things to save ourselves. With or without us, the wild will return.” I understand the helplessness young people feel in the face of the climate crisis, but I hope our students will be able to feel positive about the impact they can make by using their intellect and  passion for science to reimagine the future of our world. 

Creative Solutions

With our strong results and high university acceptances rates, it is clear that our forward looking approach to education is already providing well for our students. Nevertheless, our strategy must continue evolving so we stay at the forefront of educational philosophy. 

We have now firmly entered the “Information Age” with the production of information growing exponentially. We know that in the modern workplace, it is essential that everyone has excellent technological skills. BGS students are all “digital natives”, but it is their digital fluency coupled with their ability to be creative that will set them apart from their peers. Back in 2006, an IBM paper entitled The Toxic Terabyte, predicted that knowledge would double every 12 hours in the near future. With such a huge amount of information available it is crucial we nurture our students’ imaginations. We don’t want our students to only learn what is necessary to pass examinations. We want them to be curious, to come up with new ideas and to question what has gone before; we really aspire for our students to be the creative-thinkers and the change-makers of the future, and that starts with their journey here.  

Many of our students will work in jobs that have yet to be conceived, and have multiple careers in their lifetimes. They will need the agility to work globally, understanding different cultures, languages, political systems, economies and business etiquettes. It is an exciting time to be part of the education system, but it is incumbent upon us as school leaders, through our curriculum development, to make sure that our students are equipped to succeed in these nascent job opportunities across the globe. 

At BGS, we have always believed that central to success is the promotion of creativity in education; we value it so greatly that being Imaginative is one of our key values. The writer Tham Khai Meng agrees and recently stated in the Guardian: “Creativity is the most powerful competitive advantage a business can have. Companies need to fizz with new ideas and fresh thinking. But there’s a problem – there just aren’t enough fizzy people around.” Our students are given a myriad of opportunities to develop their originality and expressiveness through all aspects of the curriculum; whether that is in the drama and dance studio, art room, a maths lesson or in the science labs, using their imagination and thinking creatively to look beyond the content builds connections, extends their knowledge, embed concepts and helps them find innovative solutions.   

The thinker and writer Edward de Bono wrote: “There is no doubt that creativity is the most important human resource of all. Without creativity, there would be no progress, and we would be forever repeating the same patterns.” The world is facing monumental issues from COVID, to climate change, to the Black Lives Matter Movement and the continued issues around gender inequality. If we are to change our future for the better, new ways of creative thinking are definitely in order and I have no doubt that BGS students will be part of finding the solutions. 

Be Kind

Our world today is an exciting place to be with technological advances and a myriad of opportunities in our globalised society. However, at times it does seem like it is missing one small element that makes a huge difference to those around us: kindness. Sadly, we often hear on the news of the many ways people are not being kind to one another: hostile posts to key figures in the public eye (more commonly women); a politically divided country; and the sexual harassment of young people in unprecedented numbers to name but a few.

It was the anthropologist, Margaret Mead who when asked what the first sign of civilisation in humans was, referred to a 15,000 year old fractured femur bone. She argued that the evidence that this bone had healed (which can take up to 6 weeks) demonstrated that others had looked after the human who injured themselves. In the natural world, a broken bone is most likely to lead to death as you cannot run from danger or find sustenance. This first evidence of humans caring for other humans is where civilised society began, not in the art they created nor their tools for hunting. 

Our society is a far more complex affair than that of early man, but our capacity to be kind to one another and to look after those that need care is surely the essence of our humanity. The pandemic in some ways helped us remember what is important to us; supporting our communities and connecting with our families. Our admiration for those in the caring professions both in the NHS and care homes was at a pinnacle. However, as life has gotten busier once more, we might have lost sight of the importance of  some of these values. 

I was so proud of our community during the pandemic; we really did nurture each other through this difficult time. And it has been a real joy seeing us all come together again this academic year. Nevertheless, I do not want us to forget how supportive we were of each other. We must continue to be kind and lift each other up, celebrating other’s successes and being there for each other when things don’t go as planned. It is central to our ethos and a guiding principle at BGS. 

A favourite saying of my grandfather was: “if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.” I think he would be horrified by some of the things written online today. I believe his statement is a good one to live by. However, we should also take it one step further and be ready to stand up for what we believe is right. If we see unkindness in person or online (in the myriad of forms it can take from racism and homophobia to misogyny or even the simply mean personal comments), we want our students to have the confidence and empathy not to be a bystander. 

It is World Kindness Day on Saturday which was set up to promote kindness around the world and help bind us together more closely; certainly an aim we can all aspire to as an antidote to all the conflict of our VUCA world. We will continue to place kindness at the forefront of our messaging to our students, through our actions, our lessons, our assemblies and our commitment to service. As Maya Angelou once said: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” and we must draw upon this inspiration. By teaching our students to be empathetic, to consider their actions carefully and to help support them if they make a mistake, we will continue to be that strong, supportive community. 

I have loved getting to know your daughters over these past 18 months and they have shown a wonderful community spirit welcoming me into BGS, impressing me with their ideas and commitment to making the world a better place. I am confident that together we will be able to live up to the Dalai Lama’s saying: “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.”

Celebrating our IB World School Status

Reflections from Mrs Crawford-Smith (IB PYP Coordinator)

This week, Mrs Crawford-Smith guest writes on the Headmistress blog about gaining our IB World School Status in the Junior School and the journey to achieve this outstanding status.

At BGS, we are always striving to be a forward-thinking and innovative school, and in becoming officially authorised as an International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme (IB PYP) school, we have achieved just that. We are one of an elite group of schools in the UK that offer the IB PYP.

The IB PYP is a world-renowned approach to learning which offers a transdisciplinary, inquiry-based and student-centred education. At its core, it is a future focused education that develops young students as caring, active participants in a lifelong journey of learning and enables students to learn between, across and beyond traditional subject boundaries.

The ethos at the heart of the PYP matches our own. Since we opened our doors 10 years ago, our goals have always been forward-thinking; our aim to be at the forefront of education. We push boundaries and push ourselves to become the most effective practitioners that we can be.

When we started our journey a decade ago, we were teaching traditional subjects and we soon saw that we needed to help the students to see the connections between the facts and skills that they were learning. As a team, we developed our own Enhanced Curriculum. Units were developed that linked the subjects together, allowing the students to make connections across their learning. This was the perfect stepping stone for us to take on the next challenge – to evolve our Enhanced Curriculum into an inquiry-led approach. A child-led approach. We wanted to give our students ownership of their learning. Give them choice in what they inquire into, and in how they explore their learning.

New units of inquiry were written that give them this voice, choice and ownership. Starting from a central idea, the class explores lines of inquiry together whilst focusing on specific concepts to guide their learning. They all pose questions linked to the concept and share these with each other, allowing them to shape the next steps of the unit and explore aspects that interest them.

The impact has been profound, both on staff and students. The role of the teachers has changed. As the units are shaped by the class’s interests, we are never sure of the exact direction it will take. Whereas before we would spend our preparation time gathering or making resources that gave the students facts and information, now we spend our time exploring questions and considering how we can help the students to find the answers for themselves. Pupil engagement and interest is far greater when they are involved in shaping their learning journey. They are exploring aspects of the concepts and central ideas that excite them with the guidance of their teacher, their facilitator. Classrooms buzz and levels of ownership, self-confidence and agency are always evident. It is exceptionally rewarding.      

Over the past two years as a team of educators, we have spent time refining our skills to facilitate the PYP approach. The curve ball of the pandemic may have made it more challenging, but this added to the need for us to be agile, creative and innovative in teaching methods. Our time as a candidate school culminated in an Authorisation visit which took place before half term. We received a glowing report and letter of acceptance from the International Baccalaureate which has really helped us to see how far we’ve come on our journey as a school. Among the many commendations, we were congratulated for, ‘facilitating and understanding and commitment to constructivism and inquiry-based learning,’ for having ‘outstanding facilities to support student learning,’ and for ‘facilitating a learning environment that allows students to become responsible for their own learning.’

I am so proud of how the pupils and our community have embraced the changes. It is an exciting new chapter to be a teacher in the Junior School at BGS; we are committed to model being life-long learners, to ensure that our students are independent, confident and innovative individuals.

Addressing the imbalance

I had the great privilege of attending the inaugural African Caribbean Education Network (ACEN) Anti-Racism Conference at Dulwich College last week; it was an inspiring and invigorating experience. I think what particularly impressed me about the conference is that ACEN was set up by a group of black mothers who wanted to ensure their children’s education in the independent sector met their needs, understood who they were and allowed them to flourish; it is a wonderful example of what women can achieve when they work together for the greater good. Seeing so many teachers and other educational professionals together working towards a common goal was galvanising and the positivity in the room was tangible.

The paralympian, Claire Harvey, posited that the system in the UK was not actually broken, but that it had in fact been deliberately made the way it is over hundreds of years. This is why change might not always be as quick as we would like it to be, but we must not lose hope as we fight for a more just and inclusive world. She argued that we must not see inclusion as being limited, so that if one group benefits, another loses out. We can amplify the common experience by being inclusive to all. We were encouraged to be not “non-racist”, but “anti-racist”, so that we regularly clarify our values and call out when they are not met. Aisha Sanusi from the ACEN urged schools not to be colour blind in their approach, but to see our students’ race and think about their lived experiences in our  day-to-day care for them and in our curriculum.  

As a history teacher, I was enthralled by Professor David Olusoga’s passionate rallying cry to teach British history in its entirety. He reminded us that history can be ugly and discomforting, but that we shouldn’t shy away from this and only see history as something which makes us feel good about ourselves. Whilst many schools are trying to redress the balance, including here at BGS, many ethnic minority stories are still being marginalised and the current history curricula at GCSE and A-Level continue to have very few modules that include their experiences. This means that for some ethnic minority students they don’t see history as being for them and the imbalance is perpetuated. Yet the history of Britain is inextricably linked with the British Empire and we must recognise that our history is shared. He finished by saying that history could either be used as a weapon to drive us further apart or used to bring us more unity, and I for one certainly hope it is the latter. 

It is important that as teachers we show cultural humility: we can acknowledge that everyone is a mixture of culture and experiences; we must preserve the dignity of each student in the classroom; we should always remain professionally curious about others; and we must remain committed to having a culturally sustaining pedagogy. We are launching our curriculum review this year, which will in part encompass a close look at how far our students can see themselves represented within our teaching in all of our subjects across the School. It is a profoundly important task and we are relishing the opportunity to undertake a deep rooted and meaningful review. 

We pride ourselves on being a warm and welcoming community, but we are on our journey and are committed to being brave; we acknowledge that we have a lot to learn, discuss and change in our ambition to become more inclusive and diverse. Our students and staff are  fantastic in guiding us, but we also want to work with our parent body and external experts to continue this exciting phase of growth and development. Our Diversity and Inclusion calendar of events will be published soon and we have already celebrated The Big Hair Assembly and Black History Month starts on Friday 1st October. We see these as opportunities to open up discussions and to allow our students to celebrate the cultures they are so rightfully very proud of promoting a greater understanding for all. Events across the year will celebrate the myriad of different cultures and religions we have in the school along with LBGTQ+ events and a focus on disabilities. As we celebrate 10 years of BGS, we will be hosting our inaugural Culture Festival in the Summer Term, encouraging all of us to come together and recognise how the diversity of our community makes us collectively stronger. 

Purple Ribbon Week

This week, our Service Team members, Lucie Bridgman (Service Prefect) and Meranie Kairu (Service Captain) guest write on the Headmistress blog about the meaning and significance of the purple ribbon.

Last week, the Service Team held our first fundraising event of the year for Bedford Women’s Centre. During the week, we embarked on a mission to sell as many purple ribbons as possible to spread awareness of the charity and their main cause, domestic abuse. With the support of our senior school students and teachers we raised a total of £120.94! This marks the beginning of many future events we hope to carry out this academic year to give more to this noble cause.

Across the world, the purple ribbon has been used to draw attention to the issue of domestic violence. The colour purple also represents BGS students and Bedford Women’s Centre, and is a prominent symbol of strength, independence, and transformation. Bedford Women’s Centre has embodied these values by supporting women in Bedford since 1982: they do this by helping them to transform their situations through liberating themselves from harmful and abusive relationships. This is done through their freedom programme, weekly workshops on healthy relationships, yoga and other fun activities designed to improve the health and wellbeing of women. The charity also provides a créche service which allows women to access these services without having to struggle with finding childcare. It also offers a safe space for the children who may have had unsettling experiences in their home environments as a result of the issues occuring in their homes. One of the main consequences of ongoing domestic violence is isolation from family and friends. To combat this, Bedford Women’s Centre facilitates groups for women to help them ease back into society and return to employment, so they have the opportunity to be financially independent and support themselves and their families.

Through a conversation with Charlotte, a spokesperson for the charity, we learned that 1 in 3 women will or have already experienced physical or sexual violence by an intimate partner or non-partner within their lifetime. This applies to women of all different social and economic backgrounds. According to the World Health Organisation, this shocking statistic has hardly shifted in any positive direction in the last 10 years. The prevalence of domestic abuse against women highlights the importance of raising awareness for our cause. Therefore we must provide support for each other by communicating that it is never acceptable and understanding that the fault does not lie with the victim, but with the perpetrator of the harm. We want to create a world with empowered women in happy relationships with their partners, with each other and everyone else in their communities. Through our partnership with Bedford Women’s Centre, we hope to come one step closer to achieving this.

 “Devastatingly pervasive: 1 in 3 women globally experience violence.” 9 Mar. 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/09-03-2021-devastatingly-pervasive-1-in-3-women-globally-experience-violence. Accessed 22 Sept. 2021.

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