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Reaching out to sheep and Streatham

Whole-school assembly delivered on Friday, 18th May at Streatham & Clapham High School

Remember that snowy weekend a month or so ago. That was when our Cambodia team was due to have their training weekend for their summer expedition. There wasn’t a flake of snow in the sky on Friday evening as the team set off and soon they arrived at the campsite and put up their tents. After cooking a meal of pasta, everyone crept into their sleeping bags. On Saturday, the team awoke after a cold night and found a few beads of ice on their tents where the dew had frozen. However, it wasn’t snowing and the team set out to complete their first day of training and went up onto the South Downs. As the day wore on, the skies became greyer, the wind arose and the first flakes began to fall. Eventually, it became a blizzard and we decided to head back down to the campsite and the warmth of the nearby church hall.

As we descended, we came across a flock of sheep blocking our path. They had obviously escaped from a field and were now filling the path between two high hedgerows of briars and brambles. There was no way past these sheep, which were huddling together in the cold. There was nothing else to do but to march into the flock, single-file, and see if we could push our way past.

However, as we walked forward, the sheep ran further down the path, we moved forward again, and then they moved forward. This kept happening until the sheep reached a gate and could go nowhere else and so they just stood there bleating helplessly.

There was nothing for it. We walked straight into the flock to reach the gate. However, instead of running back up the path. This large flock of sheep pushed its way into the dense thicket on our left. I was surprised how so many sheep could fit into such a small space. Anyway, success! We went through the gate and knew we would soon be back at the campsite and once we had closed the gate, the sheep came out from their hiding place and ran back up the path and away.

As I was locking the gate, I heard a weak, ‘baaaa’. I listened more carefully. ‘baaaaa’ There it was again. ‘baaaa’ then again. I walked around the fence on the other side of the hedgerow and there it was. One poor sheep had got itself caught in amongst the thorns. The branches had plaited themselves together into a thick rope that were wrapped around the poor creature’s neck and legs and causing it to bleed. There was no way for it to escape and no way to join the rest of the flock.

We could have just left it there. We could have carried on walking. But we couldn’t just abandon it.

Mrs Ridley came to the rescue; she pulled out a small pen-knife, while I put on my thick leather gloves to hold back the thorny thicket. Mrs Ridley began to saw at the branches which were wrapped around its neck. The blade was small and the branches were thick so it was slow going and initially the sheep squirmed to try to get away. Gradually as the sheep realised that we were trying to help it, it became calm as Mrs Ridley keep cutting. On and on she cut until she was through the first branch, which whipped up and hit me on the nose, cutting the tip and causing blood to start to drip from the end. But I didn’t flinch and kept holding back the thorns as Mrs Ridley kept cutting. Soon, we were down to the last few woody fibres, then, hooray!, the sheep was freed and ran back to join its ovine friends.

Why did we help? This sheep, in reality, was not our concern, not our problem. Like a Greek chorus, we could have stayed back watching the tragedy without intervening. We could have moved on, complaining and blaming the person who had let the sheep out of their field in the first place. But we didn’t, we did what we could.

So often, though, we sit back and don’t intervene and don’t do anything. We might bemoan the injustices of the world, the threats to our planet and the problems in society. But how often do we actually do anything about them. ‘How can I do anything about it?’ ‘I don’t have money, I’m not in a position of power, I have no influence’. These are lies we tell ourselves to give us the license to complain, but not to do anything about it. There is always something that we can do. You may think it is small, but it is something. It takes a drop of water to begin to fill an ocean, a grain of sand to start to form a beach, a snowflake to begin an avalanche. Don’t ever think that you are too insignificant or too small to make a positive difference.

Just as Mrs Ridley and I worked together to free the sheep, change always comes about when people collaborate. Look around, there are 500 people in this room who want a better world just like you. If only we would stop thinking that creating change in our world is someone else’s job and realised it is something that we can do ourselves.

I know that so many of you are already taking the risk to look out beyond the school gates to see what you yourselves can do make a positive impact on the world: whether it is volunteering in a charity shop as part of Bronze Duke of Edinburgh, inviting our neighbours into school for IT lessons and a cup of tea as part of Community Kinza or going to Cambodia to build gardens for the locals so that they can feed themselves and their families better.

We want to be an outward-facing school. We don’t want to be a person or school that only focuses on our own issues, our own problems and our own complaints. It is only through looking outwards and reaching out that we can grow as people and as a school. Focusing too much on ourselves, can make our hearts small, weak and shrivelled up, but if we open our hearts to the world, then we not only benefit the community but also ourselves. Love is not finite, we don’t have a limited supply of love, which runs down as we give it out. What we find is that, the more love we give, the more we seem to have and the more love we receive in return.

For too long our school has not been as outward facing towards our community and to the needs of our world as it could be. This has been symbolised by our main entrance and reception, hidden away around the side of our building, making it difficult for people to come in. However, now we have a beautiful new reception facing out proudly onto Abbotswood Road. It curves round as if it is two arms reaching out and embracing our local community or curving round as if in a smile to everyone who walks past, welcoming them in.

So, let’s be inspired by our new building. When we see an opportunity to help, let’s not remain on the side-lines looking for others to take action, but let’s do whatever we can to make a positive difference. Let’s be outward-facing, let’s embrace our world and let’s give a smile to everyone we meet.

 

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Breaking down barriers in STEM

Whole-school assembly delivered on 16th March, 2018 at Streatham & Clapham High School during British Science Week.

30 years ago, a cartoon appeared in ‘Punch’ magazine showing a committee sitting in a boardroom.  The cartoon had the caption: ‘That’s an excellent suggestion, Miss Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it’.

I am a white, able-bodied, male.  I don’t routinely have my opinions ignored, I haven’t been excluded from receiving an excellent education nor have I been overlooked in my career.  I am what is known as ‘privileged’. In the race that is my life, the barriers were removed and the hurdles knocked down before I even reached the starting-blocks.

I am privileged to be in the position that my voice has not been constantly stifled, snubbed nor silenced, but there are many in society who have constant challenges to face and barriers to break down to make their voice heard.

With our celebration of 100 years since some women received the vote and our events on International Women’s Day, hopefully, you will know by now that women are not so privileged and constantly have obstacles put in their way by the very fact that they are a woman. This is evident in all areas of life, but especially in the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), which it is appropriate for us to consider during Science Week.

Firstly, it has been shocking the number of times that women in science have been overlooked and their achievements not recognised.  Hopefully, you are now all aware of the story of Rosalind Frankin, who gives her name to one of our houses.   Franklin did pioneering work in the area of DNA and it was Franklin’s image of the DNA molecule that was key to deciphering its structure. But was this recognised when the 1962 Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery of the DNA double helix? No. Franklin’s significant contribution was ignored and the prize was awarded to three male scientists.

This is not a unique story. Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered pulsars in 1967 while still a graduate student in radio astronomy at Cambridge University: a discovery that has been described as “one of the most significant scientific achievements of the 20th Century”.

Despite Bell Burnell analysing data printed out on three miles of paperfrom a radio telescope which she herself helped assemble, the Nobel Prize for this discovery went to her male supervisor.

The scientist Chien-Shiung Wu was approached in the 1950s by two male theoretical physicists, Lee and Yang, to help disprove the law of parity. Wu’s experiments upended this law, which had been accepted for 30 years.  Did Wu receive the Nobel Prize? No, it went to her male colleagues, Lee and Yang.

Over the centuries, despite few resources and uphill battles to achieve what they did, female scientists have seen credit for significant discoveries they’ve made assigned to male colleagues, they have been written out of textbooks and they have been overlooked for awards.

One of the films I have enjoyed watching recently is ‘Hidden Figures’, which is based on a true story. The film tells the story of three African-American women who work at NASA in the 1960s at the height of the space race.

Despite their phenomenal brains which enable them to work as ‘computers’, human calculators who checked mathematical calculations before the technological development of what we now call computers, they are overlooked and must fight to break down the barriers standing in their way. However, gender is not their only barrier. These women are African-American in a time of segregation, where laws prevented black and white people from mixing in society and restricted the rights of black people.  In the film, one of the characters, Katherine Johnson has to walk a mile just so that she can use the bathroom designated for the black workers and is not allowed to drink from the same coffee pot as her white colleagues. Both their gender and race are barriers to them fulfilling their ambitions and aspirations.

In a powerful scene, another of the characters Mary Jackson has a conversation with one of NASA’s engineers, Karl Zielinski. Zielinski says: ‘Mary, a person with an engineer’s mind should be an engineer. You can’t be a computer the rest of your life.’

Mr. Zielinski, I’m a negro woman. I’m not gonna entertain the impossible.’

Let me ask you, if you were a white male, would you wish to be an engineer?’

To this Mary forcefully responds, ‘I wouldn’t have to. I’d already be one.’

What is so wonderful in this film is that these women stand up to the obstacles put in their way to pursue their careers. Katherine Johnson pushes to attend the male-only briefings to enable her to produce accurate space flight calculations which were critical to the success of space missions including the Apollo moon landings, Mary Jackson petitions a judge in a segregated courtroom for the ability to attend extension courses at an all-white high school in order to become NASA’s first black female engineer, and Deborah Vaughan learns how to operate IBM computers in her free time using a library book thus preparing for the first introduction of machine computers and becoming the first African-American woman to supervise a group of staff at the NASA Langley  Research Centre.

These women do not allow these barriers to get in their way and work hard to overcome them to achieve their dreams. However, the sad truth is that these barriers are not necessary, and they still prevent people from pursuing STEM careers today. Currently just one in five people working in core STEM areas in the UK is a female. This means there is a huge pool of undiscovered STEM talent.

How do we help to break down barriers and expand this number? Firstly, schools like this really help. Girls at a single-sex school are about 70% more likely to take a STEM subject at A-Level. We have Science, Maths, Computing and DT departments that really work hard to challenge gender stereotypes, provide visible role models in STEM careers and encourage us to follow your ambitions and exceed our expectations.

What can we do to encourage others in STEM? Firstly, we should praise and acknowledge the successes of other young women in STEM, for example later we are about to congratulate those amongst us who were successful in the 700 STEM challenge.

Secondly, we should all be curious and investigate the world around us, never giving up in our endeavours.

Lastly, we must work to change society, for example by rejecting the gender conditioning of the younger generation, such as through the labelling of dolls for girls and lego for boys, which plant seeds about what  should be considered appropriate activities for boys and for girls.  As Stephen Hawking said: “It is not scientific proof of gender equality that is required, but general acceptance that women are at least the equals of men, or better’.

You may know that Professor Hawking died this week at the age of 76. He himself faced his own challenges, but despite being diagnosed with motor neurone disease at the age of 21, only being expected to live for two more years and being confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak, except through a voice synthesiser, he never gave up and became more determined, producing ground-breaking work on black holes and relativity and selling over 10 million copies of his book ‘A brief history of time’.

He once gave this advice:

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

Finally, I want to leave you with the words of the scientist Marie Curie, who broke down barriers to be the first woman to win a Nobel Prize,  the first person and only woman to win twice and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences.

“We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”

Listen to the Silence

Whole-school assembly delivered on Friday, 2nd February

Good morning!

(Silence for 30 seconds)

For many of us the last few seconds were awkward, uncomfortable even. We don’t like quiet and we find it difficult to hold back the urge to break the silence by whispering to our neighbour, or coughing, or attempting to fill the silence by taking out our phone so that we become less aware of it.

In the past silence was normal, but now it has become almost non-existent. Noise pollution is a companion to modern life, with traffic, ringtones and other people’s conversations providing the soundtrack to our daily routines. Block out these sounds and our minds are still noisy with our attention constantly  pulled in all directions: continuous feeds from social media, ever changing fashions, news stories from every part of the world, multiple conversations happening all at once on text, phone, whatsapp…. We are constantly on the go; multitasking in a multimedia world.

Those moments when we are immersed in quietness are all too rare in today’s world. One of the best moments in my day is when I actually get that calm and stillness as I walk across Tooting Common in the morning and enjoy the world as it is waking up. It is chance to admire the beauty of the sun rising, listen to the cacophony of birdsong, watch the swans as they glide across the pond, notice the first spring flowers starting to push up through the sodden earth.

On my walks across the Common, I was particularly taken with the super blue moon the other night when the moon appeared about 7% larger and 15% brighter than usual. It was such a clear night that I was able to make out even some of the craters on its pock-marked surface. I wouldn’t have achieved the same wonder at the awesomeness of the universe if I was texting my wife about what I should make for dinner.

Holly, who left us last year to read Music at Oxford, gave a very interesting musical performance at a Socratic Society where she played us some of John Cage’s most famous work, entitled 4’33.

She picked up the bow of her cello and then nothing, no notes, just silence. In fact, 4’33 is made up of three movements where the musicians are instructed not to play their instruments at all.

Obviously Cage wasn’t just being lazy by not producing a score, but indeed composed the piece as a stark contrast to the noise of modern urban life.

However, in the piece what we are listening to isn’t silence, it’s the everyday noise around us and Cage is asking us to focus on it rather than ignoring it as unimportant. He understood that moments of quiet are important for us to allow us to pay attention to the smallest of details whether it is your breath, the scrape of a chair or the fold of the curtain on the stage.

Keeping silence is not about creating an absence of noise, but providing us with the chance to be reflective, thoughtful, curious. When I looked up at the super blue moon the other night, I thought about the relation of the moon to the earth, the length of time it had been in existence, how it would have changed its appearance as it was struck by successive meteorites, the universe beyond the moon and the place of us in it.

The importance of silence as an opportunity for deep reflection has long been recognised by a number of religious orders and indeed certain orders of monks, such as the Trappists, only speak when it is deemed necessary.

However, psychologists now know that these monks were onto a good thing as self-reflection is important to human development and learning. Giving us a time to reflect allows us to weave meaning from the threads of our various experiences. The function of self-reflection is to make meaning, and the creation of meaning is at the heart of what it means to be human.

But, how are we going to give ourselves more time for reflection?

One answer is simply to ‘get away from it all’: leave behind the noises and stresses of London life. The Cambodia expedition team will be doing exactly that as they travel to South-East Asia this summer. They will have plenty of opportunity for stillness and quiet as they wander among the evocative ruins of the Angkor Wat temple-complex, trek through the peace and serenity of the Cambodian countryside and sleep in hammocks in the jungle.

However, this is a once in a lifetime experience, so how can we build in time for reflection every day as we go about our daily lives?

The easiest thing is walking. Next time, you are tempted to take the bus one stop, try walking it instead. However, avoid having your headphones in your ears so that you can actually take stock of the world around you. Going for a walk is particularly useful when you are revising for a test or exam as going for a walk causes brain growth in the hippocampus region, resulting in better memory. Taking a walk gives the brain uninterrupted focus and helps with memory consolidation.

In our Learning 2 Learn lessons, we have talked about using learning logs to aid reflection. Reflecting and writing down what we have been experiencing and learning is a good way to pull together the threads of what we have been doing. Even keeping a diary of our thoughts and feelings can be helpful.

Thinking about how and when we use digital technology is also very important. Wimbledon High School, part of our GDST family, has come up with digital rules to help create some much needed space in our digital lives, for example putting our phones away at meals and leaving our phone downstairs at bedtime. You have all heard of FOMO (fear of missing out)  and FOMO often means that it is difficult to switch off social media. Well, pupils at Wimbledon want us to reject FOMO and replace it with JOMO (the joy of missing out) and revel in not being invited to parties or tagged in photos online. If we embraced JOMO, we would find it easier to take time off from social media. Let’s all have some ‘JOMO time’.

We could also just sit in silence, not talking. The brain is the most complex and powerful organ, and like muscles, benefits from rest. Research shows that regular times set aside to disengage, sit in silence and mentally rest boosts our ability to process information.

By shutting off speech, it heightens awareness in other areas and we become much more aware of the sights, sounds, sensations, thoughts, and emotions. In particular, immersing ourselves in music is another good way to enable us to focus and concentrate on the here and now. In a moment, Joely is going to play for us Debussy’s Arabesque No. 1. As you sit in silence, I want you to concentrate on the present and avoid thinking about what is to come in the day ahead whether it is the anxieties of a test or your plans for the weekend. I want you to focus on the music, how it makes you feel,  what emotions you notice, the sensations that arise. If your mind wanders, then bring it back to the music and enjoy this moment of peace, quiet and serenity.  Remember, silence has an immense power, if we only stopped to listen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s in a name?

Delivered at a whole-school assembly at Streatham and Clapham High School on 15th September, 2017

Eloise, Josie, Rosie, Emily, Milana, Bella, Emma, Elodie, Keira, Leila, Maddy, Marlo, Ashali, Jemima, Thisbe, Elif, Lucy, Lily and Olivia.

These are the names of the Upper Third girls in the first class I taught this year, and from the start I was trying to learn their names. Remember, you only need to learn the name of one teacher whereas the teacher has to learn the name of the whole class! In fact, I am privileged to be teaching all of the Upper Third this year, but that is 82 names! A lot of names for me to try to remember!

Why do I bother? Why shouldn’t I just say ‘Girl, what does the accusative singular end in? Or ‘You picking your nose, what date was the Battle of Hastings?

Why not?

Because names matter to us.

But ‘What’s in a name?’

This is the famous question asked by Juliet in Act II Scene II of Shakespeare’s play ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Juliet, who is a Capulet, and Romeo, who is a Montague, belong to rival families and so their names are keeping them apart.

Juliet goes onto say, ‘What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet’.

Juliet seems to argue that it does not matter that Romeo is from the rival house of Montague: his family name shouldn’t matter, it doesn’t affect who Romeo is and that any relationship should not be banned.

However, names do matter and the fact that Juliet is a Capulet and Romeo is a Montague ultimately leads to tragedy.

Names were particularly important in the ancient world.

Odysseus is the hero of the Greek epic poem, the Odyssey. He is very clever and knows that when he is trapped by the monstrous Cyclops, he must not give his name. Instead he says that his name is ‘No-one’.

When Odysseus and his men manage to poke out the Cyclops’ one and only eye, the Cyclops is not able to get anyone to come to his rescue because when he calls out to his fellow Cyclopes, he shouts ‘No-one is causing me harm!’ and so they don’t come.

However, when Odysseus is free and sailing away from the Cyclops, who is standing on the shore, he doesn’t want to leave without the Cyclops knowing who managed to get one over on him. Odysseus wants the glory and does not want his name to be forgotten: He says “Cyclops, if any man asks how you came by your blindness, say that Odysseus, sacker of cities, son of Laertes, a native of Ithaca, blinded you.”

He wants to be remembered and so he boastfully declares his name, and we often hear people talking about how they want their ‘name to go down in History’

However, Odysseus was actually very foolish. In the ancient world, there was a belief that knowing someone’s name gives you a certain hold or power over them and now that the Cyclops knew Odysseus’ name, he was able to put a curse on which caused Odysseus to suffer many trials on his journey home.

Therefore, it is clear that names have always been important throughout history.

Names often tell us something about the person. In Medieval times, people were often known by the job that that they did and these names come down to us today, for example, one of Mrs Baker’s ancestors was probably a baker and one of Mrs Cooper and Mrs Cowper’s ancestors was probably a barrel-maker as a ‘kup’ was a barrel.

Children are sometimes named after a quality that the parents want their child to possess such as ‘Faith’ or ‘Hope’ or they might be named after an inspirational figure from the Bible, history or literature. The name of someone that we should look up to and emulate throughout our lives.

Our new Houses have all been named after inspirational women. I am enjoying learning about the amazing things that Philippa Fawcett, Angela Carter, Winifred Knights, Beryl Paston Brown and Rosalind Franklin achieved. These women are certainly examples that we should all want to follow.

However, there is one name that we all share here in this room. One name that unites us. We all belong to the family of Streatham and Clapham High School and just like all great families, we have a crest and a motto. Our motto ‘ad sapientiam sine metu’ (Towards wisdom unafraid) summarises who we are as school and what our identity is. The motto actually condenses down one of our primary aims: ‘to empower pupils to pursue ideals and knowledge unafraid’. The word ‘sapientia’ (wisdom) is designed to encompass both the sense of ideals and knowledge.

Ideals are very important and at our school, we want everyone to pursue ideals such as justice, equality and fairness. We want people to be kind, caring and to be thinking of others. Therefore, the name of Streatham and Clapham should be synonymous with generous, thoughtful and compassionate people. Are we living up to our name?

At Streatham and Clapham, we should also be pursuing knowledge. We should be intellectually curious, avid readers, seekers of the truth. Are we living up to our name?

At Streatham and Clapham, we should seek every opportunity to pursue ideals and knowledge without fear. Are we bold, do we take risks, are we resilient? Are we living up to our name?

Always remember that we are part of one family with one name. Our name is Streatham and Clapham High School. Let us live up to our name.

TeachMeet Streatham 2017

This year’s TeachMeet Streatham took ‘creativity’ as its theme. At the end of tiring half-term where exam classes are finally sent off to face their fate , most teachers are feeling anything but creative.  However, the chance to meet colleagues from a variety of schools and hear some inspirational speakers is exactly what was required to energise us for the final push to the summer holidays.

After Dr. Millan Sachania (@millansachania) opened the evening with an anecdote about the importance of creativity, James Mannion (@rethinking_ed)   took the floor. He helpfully looked at the difference between understanding and creativity and discussed how we can be creative in a fixed system. He believes one of the answers lies in schools running ‘Learning to Learn’ courses to give the pupils the freedom to think creatively as they complete a number of project-based tasks.

The enthusiasm of Nikki Snelgrove (@NikkiSnelgrove)  encouraged everyone in the room to take risks in their teaching which might mean letting go of the traditional teaching model. She extolled the power of flipped learning and shared some of the practicalities of how to make it work.

Having moved into a senior leadership role this year, I was particularly interested to hear Dr Jill Berry (@jillberry102) on ‘creative leadership’.  Although her recent research has been about making the move from deputy to head, she was adamant that we are all leaders as every teacher is a leader in their classroom. She encouraged us to think about the best and worst leaders we have experienced to help us understand where we are aiming and what  pitfalls to avoid.

As leaders we need to not only value our teams, but understand them and get the balance right between supporting them and challenging them.  Using an analogy of animals, we must  think about the foxes, owls, lambs and donkeys in our schools and how to get the best from each one of them.

Jonnie Noakes (@JonnieNoakes) then took us through some of the latest research into creativity in education before Toby Cooper and Emily Mundy gave us some practical examples of the creative approaches in dramatherapy.

The penultimate speaker Debra Kidd (@debrakidd) talked about the complexities all teachers face thrown up by the intellectual, physical, emotional and socio-cultural needs of our pupils.  While there is much that is not in the teacher’s control, if complexity is planned for, then it is amazing the impact that we can make.

Jaz Ampaw-Farr (@jazampawfarr) had no doubt about the impact that teachers had made in her life. She breathed fresh air into the room with her powerful personal account of how teachers can make a difference. Using the tragicomedy of her own life, she implored us to see failure as an opportunity. At the end , she gave us an ‘I am a mistak artist’ badge.  Let us not be afraid of failure, but see it as an opportunity to get creative.

What can we do differently? What risks can we take? How can we be creative?

Roll on #TMStreatham 2018!

 

Classics for everyone

Independent schools are constantly under scrutiny to demonstrate their ‘public benefit’ to maintain their charitable status. While my school is proud of what it already does, there has been more and more pressure to prove the impact that the school is making and to ensure that every contribution is measurable and quantifiable. This is starting to obscure the worthy motivations that schools have to improve the educational landscape of this country.

I want my school to do more to benefit the local community, but I have been left scratching my head about how to make a start. How do I make links to local state schools? What can we offer them and what do they actually need? How do I involve already busy staff in new outreach initiatives?

A real turning-point came when attending a GDST ‘Outreach Hub Day’ where representatives from a number of GDST schools came together to share what they have been doing. I quickly realised that there was not a ‘one size fits all’ approach to outreach and ultimately the motivation should be raising aspirations and providing opportunities, not having data to include in a yearly audit.

As I sat on the train back to London with another assistant head and we were chatting about how I could take outreach forward in my school, she gave me the best advice: ‘just go with what you know’ and so I did.

A number of years ago, I was involved in teaching Latin at a local state primary school. Every week, I would teach Latin from ‘Minimus’ the excellent primary Latin course.  Why could I not set up a similar partnership between my current school and a local primary school?

I have been following closely the work of the ‘Classics in Communities’ project which is currently undertaking an educational research study on the impact of learning Latin in primary school on children’s cognitive development.  Their initial data shows how Latin can help to develop literacy skills and has a positive impact on children’s development of critical skills and global awareness.  I was also aware that in the Key Stage 2 Languages curriculum policy, for the first time, Latin can be chosen for study by pupils aged 6-11 in place of a modern language.

Armed with this knowledge, I thought that primary schools would jump at the chance of secondary Latin teachers coming into their school and working pro bono. I was wrong. I sent out about 20 e-mails to the Heads of local primary schools and I only received one reply. Yet, one was a start and now I am teaching Latin to a Year 5 class.

I am part of a thriving Classics department which still has the capacity to share further its expertise of Latin, Greek and Classical Civilisation. In September, the government published its green paper ‘Schools that work for everyone’ specifically saying that independent schools should,  ‘support teaching in minority subjects which state schools struggle to make viable, such as further maths, coding, languages such as Mandarin and Russian, and Classics’.

We want to share our love of Latin, Greek and Classical Civilisation and we work in the independent sector because it allows us to do this daily. However, we want every child to be able to access a Classical education, no matter their background. We are distraught by news of Classics departments closing down because of lack of funding or exam boards discontinuing Classical Civilisation qualifications.  Independent schools are willing and able to support the teaching of Classics, but we just need help to identify the needs and opportunities of state schools. We want to keep Classics alive and accessible to all. We want to make an impact.

PS If you want to support the teaching of  Classical-subject qualifications in all secondary schools, join the new campaign ‘Advocating Classics Education’ on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/groups/1403604912993457/

Trump and Feminism

My school assembly on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States of America:

Today is the inauguration of Donald J. Trump. Today, Barack Obama will stand down and Donald Trump will take over America’s highest office. Today Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America.

How should we feel about this? This presidential race has certainly left America divided and left us all with an opinion. In particular, it has left many angry.

Why angry? Firstly, there was the hope of the election of the first female President of the United States. Hillary Clinton received the Democratic nomination and, against Trump as the Republican nominee, many thought that Hillary would be the clear winner. The symbolism of a woman reaching one of the greatest political offices in the world would have inspired people across the globe, but this was not to be.

Whatever you may think about Trump’s politics, people are particularly angry about his attitude to women and women’s issues. In fact, women across the world are marching in protest. 200,000 people are expected to take part in the Washington Women’s March tomorrow and thousands are expected to march in London in a show of solidarity.

Trump has been widely called out for his objectification of women and his sexist remarks. One of the most publicised moments of the campaign was when a tape came out in which Donald Trump was heard to brag about sexually assaulting women. There was much anger.

In response to this, Michelle Obama made clear her disgust and delivered a masterly rebuke of Trump’s sexist behaviour and comments.

In her speech, Michelle Obama made this point:

‘If all of this is painful to us as grown women, what do you think this is doing to our children?  What message are our little girls hearing about who they should look like, how they should act?  What lessons are they learning about their value as professionals, as human beings, about their dreams and aspirations?  And how is this affecting men and boys in this country?  Because I can tell you that the men in my life do not talk about women like this.  And I know that my family is not unusual.  And to dismiss this as everyday locker-room talk is an insult to decent men everywhere.’

In the eyes of many, Trump is not decent and is not the role-model you would expect the President of the United States to be. When Trump won the election, some said that they would emigrate to Canada because at least there they could find a leader that they could look up to. The Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, has won much praise for his progressive stances and polices. In particular, he openly calls himself a feminist.

To be honest, I have struggled with the word ‘feminist’ because it has had overtones of ‘man-hating’ and why would I want to be hated as a man? However, for a long time, I didn’t realise what feminism is really all about: it’s about equality. Feminism is the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of political, economic and social equality of the sexes. When I realised this, then I questioned why I wouldn’t be a feminist. If you want a more equal society for women and men, then you are a feminist.  Justin Trudeau believes that we shouldn’t be afraid of the word ‘feminist’ and he has had a lot of reaction for calling himself one. However, he will keep on saying it until there is no more reaction. He says ‘That’s where we need to get to. If you are progressive, you really should be a feminist because it is about equality. It’s about respect. It’s about making the best of the world that we have’

However, more worrying is that some people don’t recognise that feminism is still an issue whether they are a girl or boy, man or woman. They don’t see that In the UK, the gender pay gap stands at 15%, with women on average earning £5,000 less a year than their male colleagues. Globally only 24 per cent of senior management roles are now filled by women.  About 44% of all UK women have experienced either physical or sexual violence since they were 15-years-old. We may have a female Prime Minister, but only 29% of MPs are women.

If you think women should be given the same respect as men, if you think women should be involved equally in making decisions about our country, if you think women should be able to make decisions about their own body, then you are feminist.

Let’s hope that Donald Trump leads America protecting fundamental rights, safeguarding freedoms and standing up for the dignity and equality of all peoples. However, if the inauguration of Trump as the 45th President of the United States of America is getting you down, remember that there are some decent men out there who are proud to call themselves feminists and are engaged in fighting gender inequality.

 

 

 

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