Women in Science

An organisation called WISE inspires girls and women to study and build careers using science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). They have an aim of getting 1 million more women to work in these areas.   At Nottingham High School we have a long tradition of excellence in these STEM subjects and so in planning for our move to co-education we were incredibly keen that the girls we recruited were encouraged to study these subjects. It is often said by those that support single sex education for girls that girls are more likely to study Sciences in single-sex schools. Such figures though have their limitations. In constructing them what is being compared is the number of girls studying science in single-sex independent schools with those girls studying science in all schools, state and maintained. A fairer test would be to compare the numbers of girls studying science in co-educational independent schools with single-sex independent schools. Here I would contend there would be a very different picture.

Last summer we recruited 41 girls into our Sixth Form. 46% of our new female students are studying Maths and at least one other science. This bears favourable comparison with single-sex girls schools across our region. 63% of our girls are studying at least one science; 61% of them are studying Maths and a total of 78% are doing Maths or at least one Science subject. We have 17% of our girls studying Further Maths – again a figure that few single-sex schools can challenge. 22% of girls are studying Physics. We are very proud of these figures and if you are considering where to study in the Sixth Form do look at each school’s published results for previous years so that you can work out the relevant statistics for yourselves. Just take the number studying any one subject and divide by the total number of students to work out your own school’s figures. What is also very interesting is that across almost all of our most popular subjects the percentages of girls and boys opting for each one is very similar – in other words there does not seem to be any great gender bias in how our students are selecting their subjects.

Key to our philosophy of becoming a co-educational school is our desire to become the strongest academic school in the region. For us to do this we have to be strong in all subjects and the Science subjects have always been a key strength here at the High School. We strongly believe that many girls are joining us because we are so strong in many of our subjects including the Sciences. I am already aware that a good number of our girls are hoping to study Medicine at university. Again our success in preparing students to read Medicine is good – 23 have gained places across the past two years, again this is often a figure that can be gleaned from school websites or lists of leavers’ destinations by way of comparison. It is right that at NHS we have a strong record of getting students in to work in the NHS!

We believe passionately like WISE that girls should be encouraged to take up careers in the important areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. The number studying Further Maths in any school can often be seen as a sign of how strong the school is academically – we have 2 sets of students across Year12 doing this subject (24 students in total).

Thus, please do not believe the lazy stereotypes that suggest that girls will be put off studying Science and Maths in co-educational schools. Strong academic schools will work hard to ensure that both boys and girls pursue careers in these areas and the fact that both genders are studying alongside each other will make it so much easier for them both to move into real world situations once they leave school. We have a number of strong female role models teaching Science in our school. We are confident that girls who study Science with us will be well-prepared to embark on scientific careers and that by studying alongside so many others studying such subjects they will be stretched to achieve. Girls who join us will be given the confidence and encouragement to seriously consider these careers areas. Through Futurewise we undertake career profiling with all of our students so that we can guide them towards potential career areas where they will thrive and such guidance is not defined by gender. This focus on each individual allows us to show each student what they might achieve and encourages them to think beyond any lazy stereotyping.

In conclusion, we believe that co-education opens doors rather than closes them, it allows students to confront stereotypes and enables us to both identify potential and then deliver on it. Great schools are defined not by the gender of their students though but by the quality of their teaching and their results. We have a proud record in delivering excellence and it is this we want to build on in the future. We believe in the goals of WISE and are certainly doing our part in supporting girls into scientific careers.

The End of an Era

Next Friday marks the end of an era in that it will be the last day that Nottingham High School has as an all boys’ school. We are proud of our traditions and yet now stand on the threshold of a fantastic new era for the School. I keep being asked what I am feeling as we are about to take this huge step forward and I can honestly say that after all the planning over the past few years it is so rewarding and exciting to be looking forward to September.

On 2nd April 2014 when I stood in front of first the staff and then our current pupils I could never have imagined just how many new Sixth Formers we would attract to join us. In our business plan for the project we had a cautious estimate of 10-15 and an optimistic one of 25-30 so to have signed up 42 girls and 8 new boys to join us in September has been beyond our wildest dreams. All of those who come will have achieved a minimum of 5 Grade As at GCSE but many of them will have achieved far higher than this. What unites them all is that they have been to see what we are offering and are excited by the opportunities which lie ahead.

 

Key to our success has been the seven taster days which we held in the Autumn Term. It became immediately apparent talking to the girls, their parents, our current boys and to the staff just how natural it all felt when the girls joined our lessons. This feeling has remained throughout and was again evident on our recent induction days when it was immediately clear that the new Year 12 will integrate brilliantly together. We have had so much positive feedback through the year and this has done much to reinforce our beliefs that this is an exciting time for all at the High School. Parents and pupils alike have felt welcomed and the attention given to each of them as they have made up their minds has done much to reassure them. At the start of the year we were asked a great deal about integration but the more times the girls have come in to school the clearer it has been to all that the integration has gone well. It is great to see girls already signed up for some of our trips next year and also that a number of them have secured parts in next term’s school plays.

 

Another great part of this project has been the opportunity for us to review so many of our current practices. There is a real sense of energy about the School at present and we have been delighted with the fields for the various teaching roles we have advertised over the last year – I had not anticipated how many staff would be attracted to join us because we are making this move. With our new Deputy Head Academic Dr Nick Dennis joining us in January there will be further opportunities for us to build on the strengths of our teaching and learning and over the past couple of years our Deputy Head Pastoral Paul Spedding has also led a great deal of work to develop our pastoral care. All this is strategic work designed to make us even stronger tomorrow than we already are today. We are not having to react to pressures from outside but can take a good hard look at all of our practices to see what works well and what we can improve. The parental survey we have just sent out will also help to drive further innovation and improvement in the future.

We have been helped along the way in our planning by senior staff in many other schools and this support from fellow HMC schools has been incredibly generous. HMC is the organisation of the heads of almost 300 of the leading independent schools in the country and the collegiality of fellow heads and their deputies in supporting our planning has allowed us to learn from their experience. I hope that we can soon invite them to come and see it all in action and that we can continue to share good practice as we move forwards.

 

So as I head for my summer break at the end of a really busy year I am already looking forward to returning in September. I  lead a great school and I am fortunate to work with so many talented colleagues and yet this next stage of the School’s history promises so much. Above all else education is about preparing students for the real world, about inspiring them and about getting the best from them. I am confident that we will be able to do all of this.   There is no doubt that at present all of our staff are pulling together towards a common and shared vision which we hope will fulfill our aim of being the strongest school in the region. Strong not just in academic results but also in pastoral care, co-curricular opportunities and in turning out students quietly confident but academically fulfilled who will make their mark in the world.

 

There is work still to be done in recruiting girls into all other year groups from September 2016 and I hope that many more will come to hear more about our vision and to meet our first groups of girls who will be able to give their own accounts of how they are finding the School. Whilst next Friday does mark the end of one era we are now ready and prepared for the next chapter. I really do have the best job in the world in trying to pilot Nottingham High School to this bright future and repay the trust that all those joining our school have put in us.

One year on

On 2nd April 2014 I announced to the School community that after 500 years as a boys’ school that Nottingham High School was going co-educational. In this post I reflect on the 12 months since then.

 

We were delighted with the initial reaction to our plans. Whilst there were a small number of people who were not happy with what we announced it quickly became clear that the vast majority who wrote in were pleased to support our plans and my feeling is that this high level of support has remained very solid over the past 12 months.

 

The key test was always going to be how many were going to sign up for the first Sixth Form cohort. In our initial plans we had a conservative estimate of about 10-15 and an optimistic estimate of 25-30. The fact that in the end we have so far recruited 44 girls shows just how successful the plan has proved to be and we are thrilled that this has gone so well. We have also recruited two full classes into our reception year which is in line with our most optimistic plan albeit that there is still further work to be done to promote co-education at infant level.

 

Whilst I expected when we announced it that the staff and students would support this plan, it has become clear in the months that have followed just how much support there is for the plan. All of the staff are fully behind the plan and there is a real sense of excitement as we plan for next September. All staff support our vision for the future of the School and having a positive plan to unite the staff around is proving a powerful incentive to review so many different aspects of our provision. In recent months I have also met with all of the year group that the girls will first join. These meetings have been very positive and it is clear that our current students also fully support the plan. They have had some fantastic questions and I have used the opportunity to consult with them about some of the practicalities.

 

In the Autumn Term we held a series of taster days. These helped us to recruit our first cohort who were impressed by the welcome they received. After each day we spoke to the girls, to the boys, and to the staff involved in the day and all of these groups confirmed just how normal it felt to have girls in the classroom and this reassured all of these groups that the move will be successful.

 

Over the past 12 months we have been busy putting together all of the implementation plans. We have finalized the uniform and been developing some exciting plans for the building of astroturf pitches and a significant extension to our Junior School. We will be soon seeking planning permission for these projects and once this is secured will share the plans more widely. In our forthcoming INSET day we are being addressed by the Deputy Head of another major independent school who have made this move and he is going to concentrate on preparing the staff for the move both in terms of the teaching in the classroom and in terms of the pastoral care of all of our students.

 

There remains a great deal of work to be done. Importantly we now need to start recruiting the cohorts for September 2016 and with spaces available in all years of the School we are looking forward to making a big splash with our marketing led by our new Head of Marketing and Admissions Amy Chambers. We will be updating all of our school signage over the summer to reflect our new co-educational status and there is work to be done on further refurbishment to a number of parts of the School and in the creation of further toilets and changing facilities for the girls.

 

What have I learnt over the past year? Whilst it has been a great deal of hard work, I feel truly privileged to be leading the School through this exciting period of change. I am buoyed by just how many people have bought into this vision, even extending to the fact that we are seeing larger fields for jobs at the school now that we are co-educational. This sense of shared purpose, of working towards a common goal, is very empowering and gives me great optimism for the coming months. We will continue to work incredibly hard to ensure that the transition goes smoothly for all – boys, girls, parents and staff. With just 148 days to go until the start of the Autumn Term 2015 we are nearly there. The vision we have is for our school to be the strongest in the region in every way possible. We believe that education is about preparing students for the world beyond school and that true equality comes from working and playing together in a supportive and nurturing environment. We believe that co-education will strengthen our academic offering and provide superb opportunities to a wider group of children. We believe that our boys and girls will learn from each other and that in doing so they will become confident, well-rounded, grounded students ready to go off to university or the world of work with all the skills that they will need to thrive. We have recruited a cohort of incredibly bright, driven young women who will add a huge amount to our school community but who will also enjoy the fantastic range of opportunities and trips to help to develop their characters and to give them genuine and real leadership opportunities of the sort that we hope that they will go on to fill in the real world beyond school. They are attracted by our academic reputation, the integrity of our pastoral care, by our desire to excel in all that we do. We believe that all of our students, boys and girls alike, will thrive in this environment.