Friday, 3 October 2014

A student writes ... UN International Day of the Girl

The capacity of young people never ceases to amaze and inspire me and I thought it would be interesting to post the following address to the school made by one of our Sixth Form pupils.  An excellent message and wonderful opportunity for her to be working with the United Nations.

"Over the summer, I was picked to be part of an advisory team for the UN on their International Day of the Girl celebrations. Some of you may know about the International Day of the Girl on the 11th October every year. It’s a day intended to encourage global discussion of the issues young women face every single day. The number one cause of death to women is gender based violence. The number one cause of death amongst men is heart disease.

In countries across the world, simply being a girl puts a person at a disadvantage. Girls face greater risk of malnutrition, hunger, and disease compared to boys; many do not receive an education, and in some developing countries approximately one in seven girls will be forced into child marriages. You may be familiar with the story of Malala Yousafzai, a young woman so passionate about education in her birth country of Pakistan as to have blogged about it for the BBC. When, on the 9th October 2012, Malala was shot in the head and shoulder by members of the Taliban on a school bus, her school friends risked their lives to cover her body. Malala, now living in the UK, is a prominent activist for education rights and the rights of women and girls. But her friends back in the Swat Valley still have to board that bus every single day, still have to fear for their lives every single minute, as long as they continue to demand the right to an education they unquestionably deserve.

When I was asked to apply to work with the UN on the project I am about to relay to you, I was overjoyed. We are at an exciting time in our history, ladies and gentlemen. We are watching BeyoncĂ© discuss feminism in interviews, we are seeing race and gender politics presented in television programmes with cult followings, like Girls or The Mindy Project, and we’re hearing Emma Watson address the world about the role we have to play in the strides we are taking towards equality. I have a feeling 2014’s International Day of the Girl could be very special.

So what is it exactly that this UN project entails? Well, firstly, on the tenth of October there will be an event at the UN headquarters showcasing pieces of writing from girls around the world on what it means to be a girl in their country. One of these pieces being performed by a young female drama group will be mine. Sadly, I can’t attend the event, but I’m happy to hear that girls and boys from across New York will be. But the project doesn’t end there.

Our mission is to create a book, an anthology of essays and poems from girls scattered all over the world on what it is to be a girl. On what friendship is, what love means, what unites our experiences and what difficulties we face. These difficulties will range from those problems we can only imagine – child marriage, being banned from receiving an education – to those more familiar to us – street harassment, being called bossy for using our voices - and yet none of these problems are less valid because they all contribute to and are part of this very real, very alive picture of sexism and misogyny. The aim is to have this book published by next year, so we are working to a rather tight deadline.

For that reason, I implore you to come speak to me. To send over any ideas or queries you may have about a piece you want to write or a poem you are composing. If you want to submit something, Facebook or email me and I will pass on your piece. Don’t worry about “not being a writer”. Don’t forgo the opportunity to be part of something amazing and to leave your mark on this movement simply because you’re too self-conscious. Each and every one of us has a story to tell, and a voice with which to express it.

If you are a boy – and therefore can’t submit to this project – your input is also valuable. With social media tools at your disposal, you can share news about this project, discuss it with your family, think about the discrimination you may not directly experience but are witness to every single day. Watch Emma Watson’s speech on YouTube. Be more aware of the way in which you interact with the women in your life.

The official theme of this year’s International Day of the Girl is “Empowering Adolescent Girls: Ending the Cycle of Violence”. I wonder, when you look back on your life, if you’ll truly feel proud to have fought against the physical, and mental harm that women and girls face throughout the course of their lives. I wonder if your name will be part of history. I wonder if you’ll be a Gloria Steinem or an Emmeline Pankhurst or a Chimamanda Adichie. Or I wonder if you’ll have sat back. Watched the world change. And realised you had done nothing to help."

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Outstanding careers advice

Our Upper Sixth are busily preparing their university applications at present and one of my favourite activities is being a mentor to a dozen of our pupils.  Advising them on how to make the best application and which courses and universities to apply to is a very rewarding process, not least because you see how their experiences to date have shaped their plans for the future.

At King's we put a lot of focus on careers advice and university applications and provide lots of opportunities for our pupils to engage with people from a variety of career paths and receive training on areas such as CV writing, interview techniques and networking skills.  We have established a website called The Jobs Network to act as a hub for current and former pupils at King's and it has transformed the level of support available, especially for former pupils who may be embarking on their careers or looking for change or development,

As part of this, it is always good to welcome Old Roffensians (as our alumni are called) back to King's and yesterday we had a visit from Joanna Odeyiran OR who spoke to the Sixth Form about her career and most importantly about the mindset and key decisions which have shaped her fascinating and successful life to date.

Joanna is currently a programme manager for South Sudan and Sudan at the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA). She previously worked as a Senior Human Rights Officer with the United Nations in Darfur, Sudan and Gaza. She has also worked as a researcher for Amnesty International, where she researched and wrote reports on human rights Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Iraq and so had plenty of interesting insights into global politics.

Joanna's top tips for our Sixth Form pupils provides an excellent summary of the key attributes needed for a successful and fulfilling career and life.

  • Keep questioning who you are and what you want out of life.
  • Expect a portfolio career not a linear one.
  • Networks are vital - especially professional.  Make sure you maintain your reputation within them,
  • Don't worry if you find you have come to a dead-end in a particular job.  There is nothing so liberating as resigning from a job you hate - it's more enjoyable than getting a job you want.
  • Do things that feel scary.  Always challenge yourself to play at the top of your game.
  • In a competitive jobs market, work out what skills others lack and work on developing them.  It's amazing how few people can really write well and put together a concise, analytical report.
  • The world is full of diabolical managers.  Develop your skills of managing people.
  • A good education means nothing unless you use it.  Too many people walk past opportunities.
  • Be ambitious, be willing to work hard and anything can be achieved. 

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Exam reforms - concern deepens over Gove's plans

A letter appears in The Times newspaper today from the Chairs of HMC, GSA and the Society of Heads raising deep concern about proposed new GCSEs and A Levels.  The letter is reproduced below but the headline issue for me is the question of whether students should still be able to take AS exams halfway through their Sixth Form. Universities want to keep them as do the various Heads associations but still there is no reply from Michael Gove.  To not even respond in the face of such concerns could be seen as deeply worrying.  However, given Gove's tendency to come out fighting when he is challenged this might be an indication that he is reflecting seriously on whether it is such a good idea.

To reiterate the main concerns:

  • New courses were meant to be taught in some A Level subjects starting in September 2015.  These have been delayed by a year.
  • If AS exams are scrapped at the end of the Lower Sixth there has been no discussion or indication as to whether students would study three A Levels on their own or perhaps take an AS exam at the end of two years.  The latter option would be an enormous headache for those responsible for timetabling in schools.
  • New courses at GCSE and A Level are apparently still on their way but schools have not been given any information about them.

This current situation is not helping anyone - students, parents, teachers or universities. Nor is it doing any favours for the reputation of Michael Gove or UK education in the eyes of the world. I am going to a conference in London on March 20th being run by Ofqual (the government ombudsman for education and examinations), it will be very interesting to see what they have to say.  At the very least, Michael Gove needs to engage with school leaders so that this situation can be put right.


Sir, We should like to repeat our concern about the nature of public exam reform, and the speed proposed for it. With regard to content, it is a retrograde step to abandon AS level which has many advantages, as our leading universities all maintain.
With regard to timetable, the introduction of some new exams has been delayed a year: others have not been delayed. Many specifications, even for the earlier tranche of new exams, remain unclear. At GCSE, for example, the new “Big Maths” is said to involve anything up to double the content of the current exam. Teaching for it will therefore need to begin in year 9: starting this September. The syllabus is not yet written.
Other subjects will presumably be downgraded in terms of curricular time to allow for this change. This will involve potential redundancies in schools; and additionally it is estimated that up to 2,000 new maths teachers will need to be recruited. We are not confident that such a pool of talent exists. That there are to be no pilots of any of these new examinations and grading structures raises further concern for the pupils whose futures will be affected by the qualifications they gain.
We call upon the Secretary of State to listen to the concerns of teaching professionals. All new exams should be delayed until the same start date, enabling simplicity and clarity, and preventing the errors which will undoubtedly ensue if regard is not paid to due diligence.
Timothy Hands, Chairman, the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference; Alice Phillips, President, the Girls’ Schools Association; Richard Palmer, Chairman, the Society of Heads

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The impact of A Level reform - Cambridge University flags concerns

There is an article in the Daily Telegraph outlining the opposition of Cambridge University to the planned scrapping of AS exams and their claim that this will lead to UK pupils being less likely to be offered a place.  For the full piece, click here.

This raises an interesting debate which is getting very little public discussion so it is worth raising it here.  The current plan from the Department for Education is to scrap the current system whereby pupils take AS Levels at the end of the Lower Sixth which form 50% of their A Levels and are completed with the taking of A2 exams at the end of the Upper Sixth.  Instead, pupils will sit exams at the end of a two year course.  The teaching of these new courses is scheduled to start in September 2015 with the first of the 'new' A Levels being sat in the summer of 2017.

Michael Gove's rationale is that this will increase rigour in sixth form education and end the opportunity for pupils to re-take exams.  Already the January sitting of exams has been scrapped so that AS Levels can only be re-taken at the end of the Upper Sixth along with A2 exams.  While I have no difficulty with the idea of a rigorous examination system this means that pupils currently in the Upper Sixth are being placed under great pressure next summer with exams both before and after half term.  The perceived wisdom is that this will see a drop in results across the country which would fit in with another of Michael Gove's plans.  

However, it is difficult to anticipate the extent of this impact and it is interesting to see that the universities have not made any alterations to their offers as they 'wait and see'.  Indeed, the biggest surprise this year has been the re-appearance of unconditional offers which have been made to several of our pupils at King's.  This includes highly-rated courses at Russell Group universities which gives some indication of the state of play in higher education at present.

One advantage of a return to exams at the end of two year's of study is that the summer term of the Lower Sixth will no longer be partially lost to exams meaning greater time for teaching as well for the breadth of education.  It would be great to see opportunities taken for personal research projects, such as the Extended Project Qualification, which we already offer, and more extra-curricular activities such as Arts Festivals, music and drama productions and sport.  All of these are vital ingredients of the fully rounded education at King's which prepares our pupils to be happy, successful individuals.

Having said which, before we get to taste the benefits there are issues to be faced.  For over ten years, Cambridge and most other universities have used results attained at AS Level as a good guide for making university offers.  With an increase in overseas pupils applying, Cambridge is being clear in stating that this may lead to pupils in the UK being disadvantaged in the race for places.

More fundamentally, the first teaching of these exams is now only 18 months away and still there is no firm information from the Department of Education about the structure and content of the new qualifications.  I am confident that King's is agile enough to give our pupils the best opportunities whatever might be proposed but our young men and women deserve a lot better.  It is one thing for Michael Gove to have grand plans and easy headlines but an Education Secretary worth his salt should have made better progress in the planning and communication of the most radical overhaul of exams in this country since the introduction of AS Levels in the year 2000.