For the Love of… How nurturing passion can build Intellectual Resilience at A Level

In this week’s WimLearn Morven Ross and Callista McLaughlin explore how passion can build intellectual resilience at A Level.

We are two Early Career Teachers from very different fields – Design and Technology and Classics. However, in our conversations during our time at Wimbledon High School, we have constantly noticed similarities between our approaches to teaching, and the approaches of our students. Perhaps it is because we both teach subjects that are non-compulsory from the Middle School, and almost always sought for their intrinsic value, with our students’ desire to study them stemming from a particular interest and passion, or niche skillset. Given the same sort of motivation is what has led us to teaching, we seek to magnify that motivation in our students, by creating conducive conditions to instil the intellectual resilience prized in A Level students.

Breadth to match depth

In our A Level teaching, we have noticed that the courses in both Product Design, and Latin or Greek, focus on understanding a particular topic or text in depth, compared to the, albeit more cursory, breadth which characterises many GCSE courses. To build intellectual resilience though, students need to indulge their curiosity and open themselves up to further aspects of the subject at hand, weaving a safety blanket of breadth to match that depth. Furthermore, due to the intrinsically specialist nature of our subjects, our aim is not solely to get pupils through their A Levels, but to create Classicists and Product Designers.

While the A Level Latin candidates this year would only be tested on 124 of the 9883 lines of Virgil’s Aeneid in Latin, and only the twelfth of the twelve books in English, to inject real meaning and fulfilment into this study, the students are encouraged to read the whole of the Aeneid in English. While this kind of breadth would be of some obvious help to A Level, we have found the magic really starts when the breadth goes further. In Product Design, students are encouraged to go beyond the curriculum. The A Level Microsoft Team is used as a platform for inspiration; we post interesting products and articles as well as links to industry talks and external competitions. These posts create meaningful small talk at the start of subsequent lessons, bridging the gap between the outside world and the A Level in a way that can often be a nice segue into the lesson content. Socratic questioning is seen across departments as a method of building intellectual resilience – it’s interesting to note that the Socratic dialogues written by Plato would often start with this kind of small talk.

We would love to know…

In what ways to do you encourage students to go beyond the curriculum and engage with your subject from a purely curious yet scholarly viewpoint?

Modelling and nurturing passion

For students looking to continue to study our subjects in the future, the subject must exist for them outside as well as inside the classroom. We as teachers must model this. A Level Product Design students have come to understand that having a design sketchbook is not an over-ambitious and fanciful suggestion of their teachers, but an achievable must-have for a Product Designer. Students highlight how inspiring it is to see their teacher’s current design work in a raw, unfiltered sketchbook as well as hearing about, and seeing, their prior industry experience via their design portfolios. We like to model everyday subject engagement in Classics too: a small book of Sappho, tried and tested by their teacher as hand-bag size, is a proven realistic acquisition for a Classical Civilisation student with a long reading list.

This is not to suggest a binary between the prescriptiveness of the A Level syllabus and the passion that can be nurtured outside of it. We love finding quick hacks to exploit the joy our subjects can offer even in the most pressed moments of the course. In A Level set text teaching, reading the lines of Classical verse as a class in the metre reminds pupils that they are reading beautiful poetry before settling down to find the main verb for translation. In Product Design, the teacher stopping to scribble a rough napkin sketch in the middle of a lesson is not uncommon. After all we never know when inspiration might strike.

We would love to know…

In what ways to do you model an element of your subject to students in order to nurture their passion?

Care through challenge

We have found that when these attitudes are inculcated and this environment is created, intellectual resilience follows. Because young people in particular push harder when it comes to things they really care about. If you’re sketching all the time, you become comfortable with raw, unfiltered work. In A Level Product Design lessons, work is regularly laid on the table for open and honest critique by the class; this builds a culture of trust. True designers know the process is what’s important. Classicists can learn from this too; giving a pupil a deliberately hard Latin unseen and praising their guesses, or critiquing them from a place of mutual understanding, irrespective of their accuracy, can produce the most fascinating linguistic conversations.

As we look ahead to the vast openness of the summer holidays, Product Design are devising a list of intellectual challenges to stretch the pupils. Classics are always elaborating on their reading lists so that the aim of summer reading is not to get ahead for the A Level, but to warmly challenge their students to be Classicists all year round.  

A final thought…

How would you answer this question, posed by an A Level Product Design student this week, based on entirely independent and whimsical research. The question happens to be of just as much interest to a student of ancient languages. So, in true STEAM+ fashion, how would you use your language and design skills to signpost radioactive material which will outlive us all, and potentially the human race…?

Reflections on Strong Body/Strong Mind: An interdisciplinary approach into Biology and PE

In this week’s WimTeach Laura Murphy and Annabel Smith explore the concept of Strong Body/Strong Mind in their subjects.

Strong Body Strong Mind refers to, as quoted by Mr Turner, ‘challenging the minds, nourishing the bodies, and feeding the souls’ of our community, particularly the students. The school has made this theme pertinent throughout the years as students are guided and provided opportunities to build a mind of happiness, resilience and connectivity with others and themselves, as well as a body that will enable them to take on the challenges, activities and enjoyments of life. As established in the month-long programme in January 2023, the school provides a multitude of opportunities for students to grow their bodies’ physical capabilities, understand the benefits of positive psychology and nurture their overall wellbeing. However, it is not only within extracurriculars that students are learning and developing their mindfulness and skills but also within academic curricula. This post will look at how Biology and Physical Education encompass aspects of the theme, helping students learn how to build a Strong Body Strong Mind from the ground up.

Strong Body Strong Mind is integral throughout Biology across all years. In KS3, we introduce them to the digestive system and look at how all food groups are important to help their bodies grow and function. This could be from carbohydrates providing ‘brain power’ energy for lessons or to take part in their many extracurricular activities to calcium helping their bones and muscle function, producing a ‘strong body’. In KS4 we continue with this theme, but with students covering a range of topics from their GCSE specification. For example, we  delve into the world of hormones, which are vital for both a ‘strong body and a strong mind’. This is a key topic in Year 10 where students learn how hormones work through specific examples. This also provides them with the opportunity to undertake a research project; looking into the hormones that affect their mental and emotional wellbeing and how they can manipulate these to increase their overall wellbeing. For example, one group of students researched and presented on:

How serotonin influences learning and happiness, whilst a lack of serotonin may play a part in experiencing anxiety. They spoke about how, particularly at exam periods, it is important to stimulate the release of serotonin to aid mindfulness. Ways they suggested through their research included spending time in the sun (serotonin tends to be lower after winter and higher in summer and autumn) and eating food that naturally contains tryptophan, the amino acid from which serotonin is made, such as eggs, salmon, tofu and pineapple, which are beneficial within your diet for a strong mind.

We are very excited to welcome the new GCSE specification which looks into the different areas of the brain such as the frontal cortex, responsible for emotions and learning, and linking this to positive psychology complementing GROW and mindfulness in the wider school.

Whilst Biology looks at the internal body through one lens, Physical Education also lends itself to the notion of Strong Body, established both in the curriculum and co-curricular teaching that is done throughout all ages and stages of the school. The undertaking of physical activity, whether it be a Year 7 Games lesson or a Friday afternoon Swim Squad session, all links to positive related health outcomes, such as the decline of chronic diseases and improving lifespan. However, we now look towards the interconnectivity between the body and the mind, the Strong Mind part of the initiative, has never been more relevant or more needed in both the education of our pupils but imbedded as part of the Physical Education curriculum. In the past 30 years, studies have shown a decline in the combined aspects of physical and cognitive health in children from industrialised nations. The advantages of a Strong Body/Strong Mind are shown in more recent studies which have gone beyond the suggestion that time spent in physical activity does not come at a cost to academic goal but suggests in growing evidence that physical active children outperform their less active peers in the classroom. As well as taking part in higher levels of physical activity, it can lower the levels of depressive symptoms and anxiety. As a department, we encourage the challenge sport brings to help shape the young people of our school with hopes that this will lead to pupils that accept competition in any form, and learn that losing is a part of life that helps us grow.

In GCSE PE, we study what a healthy body needs in terms of the right nutrition to fuel itself as well as the different body types and how they each lend itself to certain sports and activities. This helps pupils assess how to maintain a healthy lifestyle from both a physical, mental and social viewpoint. As previously mentioned, this is echoed in Biology from KS3 to KS5. However, instead of looking at a particular activity, we look at how each group is vital for cell function, e.g. proteins for enzymes, and how this overall affects their physical and mental wellbeing. In the PE curriculum pupils from Y7 learn the importance of a warmup, knowing concepts that can help prevent injury as well as getting focused in a game situation. Whilst in Year 13, students will look in depth at how muscles function, once again linking back to the importance of different food groups, particularly calcium. They can then go onto further think about how they can use this knowledge to increase their strong body. GCSE PE students also learn concepts in Sports Psychology such as mental rehearsal and the use of imagery to remain calm and focused, techniques that can be carried into different scenarios such as exam technique and interview preparation. They can link this to thinking about what parts of the brain they are using, developing their learning from their Biology lessons. Furthermore, this is important across all academics and extracurriculars, helping them to train their brain in the best way building a strong mind.

Should Biology and Physical Education be more connected in linking common themes like our Strong Body/Strong Mind initiative? On one hand both subjects evaluate the human body’s strengths and weaknesses, assessing the body as a whole holistic being, working together to create a common goal. Whether that be the hormones within the body or coordinating a gymnastic tumbling routine to perfection. On the other hand, both subjects’ approaches are very different stemming from either scientific or kinesthetic concepts. There are arguments for both pathways. However, the overarching idea remains the same: learning about and implementing a strong body and strong mind strategy into the curriculum is vital for children’s health and wellbeing, helping our pupils to grow and strive and most importantly become well-rounded and strong adults as leave our community.


Booth, F. W., & Lees, S. J. (2006). Physically active subjects should be the control group. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38, 405-406.

Hillman, C. H. (2014). An introduction to the relation of physical activity to cognitive and brain health, and scholastic achievement. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 79(4), 1–6.

Hillman, C. H., Erickson, K. I., & Kramer, A. F. (2008). Be smart, exercise your heart: Exercise effects on brain and cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience.

McDowell, C.P., MacDonncha, C., and Herring, M.P. (2017). Brief Report: Associations of Physical Activity with Anxiety and Depression Symptoms and Status Among Adolescents. Journal of Adolescence, 55, 1–4.

How can we overcome Maths anxiety in schools in order to make the classroom more inclusive?

In this week’s WimTeach, Mathu Abimanju and Harriet Fordy explore the concept of Maths anxiety.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing increase of social media usage, mental health disorders such as anxiety are on the rise. Mental Health UK believes that “1 in 10 of us will be living with an anxiety disorder at any one time,” [1] meaning about 8 million people in the UK currently facing this on a daily basis. With the pressure of excellent exam results, university applications and navigating your way through adolescence, it is no surprise that anxiety disorder is becoming more evident in schools across the country. There are many different types of anxiety disorder but one that often goes under the radar is Maths anxiety. In this blog we are going to look at the cause and consequence of Maths anxiety and what can we do as teachers to provide the correct tools to help students overcome it.

What is Maths Anxiety?

It is very common in our society for people to have strong negative beliefs about their Mathematical ability and the phrase ‘I cannot do Maths’ is commonly used by both adults and children. English and Maths are seen as the two core subjects for students at school and are looked for, to GCSE level, by employers in a large variety of jobs. For this reason, a lot of emphasis is put on these two subjects and there is a lot of pressure on students to achieve. As a result, some students don’t just see Maths as a challenge, but it can cause them high levels of anxiety and stress. It is normal to feel nervous or worried as it is our body’s natural reaction to stressful situation, but anxiety disorder is when these feelings continue for long periods of time and it affects everyday life. Maths anxiety is defined as “a feeling of tension and anxiety that interfere with the manipulation of numbers and the solving of mathematical problems” [2]. Maths anxiety is not linked to intelligence or academic achievement but can have a dramatic effect on a student’s achievement in a high-pressure situation such as an assessment or exam. Not only does it make concentrating a struggle, cause a cloudy mind and nausea, but it can cause students to avoid situations which involve Maths altogether. This further escalates the problem as they become demotivated and avoid revision, leading to worse results and increases levels of anxiety further and the cycle continues. When we spoke to a 6th form student she described the high levels of anxiety she felt not only when sitting a Maths assessment but when faced with a difficult problem in the classroom, she described the panic that lead to her mind going blank, being unable to recall key skills which she had learnt previously and overtime led to results that did not reflect her ability and a lack of self-belief.  

How can we make Maths more inclusive in the classroom?

In order to make the classroom a more inclusive environment it is important that tools are implemented throughout the school which reduce the levels of anxiety so that all students have the same opportunity to make progress. It has been suggested by Ashcraft, (2002 cited in Craig Barton [3]) that timed tests can be a factor causing Maths anxiety. The author mentions, if we take something as simple as a times table calculation, this can take longer for a student who may use a method to calculate it, when compared to a student who remembers it ‘instantly’. From our experience we have seen that ‘open book’ tests have allowed students to solve a problem without being ‘anxious’ about remembering everything they have studied, as they have the chance to look back at their notes. Doing timed practice in lessons also has a positive effect, as students familiarise themselves and this will ‘normalise’ the idea of doing a test.

It can be gratifying when you struggle on a question and then solve it, it’s like a light bulb moment and you feel rewarded. There are many forms of reward in the classroom such as positive praise, giving out stickers or stamps for excellent work and sending post cards home. Praise is particularly significant as it gives specific and immediate feedback to students. It allows students to learn formatively rather than being given a score or a number which tells them nothing. Craig Barton suggests that the praise should be ‘sincere’ and “emphasize process not ability” [3]. Praise and encouragement could therefore lead to a reduction in students’ anxiety around Maths, as they start to have more belief in their ability, starting a positive spiral. 

OneNote has played a key role in making Maths in the classroom more inclusive. Students can refer to specific parts of the lesson when they need to and feel they do not need to copy down every single detail, enabling them to engage fully with the lesson. Getting students to do work on whiteboards is another useful way, as they can rub their work out and start again which can result in gained confidence and encourage the students that it is OK to make mistakes and start again when solving a Maths problem.

Having clubs or drop-in sessions available for students to attend can be reassuring, as they feel supported if they need help outside of lesson time. The Hans Woyda club has been a great way to challenge, stretch and nurture students’ passion for Maths, as it allows time to make mistakes, fail, and most importantly not give up!

Maths till 18?

Studying Maths until the age of 18 posed by Rishi Sunak [4] ties in with this topic quite closely. Whilst this has a lot of benefits such as having more opportunities of higher paid jobs and developing numeracy skills that could be used in real life situations. This also has some disadvantages. When discussing this topic during a training day, one of the risks was the potential demotivation of students when Maths is not their chosen subject, and additionally the increased attention on Maths may shift the attention from other subjects. If Maths becomes compulsory until 18 it prolongs the amount of time that students who experience anxiety around Maths spend studying it, potentially further increasing the problem, especially if the Maths is of a higher level. How could we make Maths more fun and inclusive for those that may find it more challenging?


Different approaches work for different classes, so first we need to know what works best for our class and how we can make the atmosphere more positive with the focus being on the learning rather than ‘how good am I at Maths?’


[1] Mental Health UK. What is Anxiety Disorder.

[2] Ashcraft, M. H. (2002). Math Anxiety: Personal, Educational, and Cognitive Consequences. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11(5), 181-185

[3] Barton, Craig, How I wish I’d Taught Maths, Learning Sciences International, 2018.


WHS AI Position

In this week’s WimTeach, Rachel Evans (Director of Digital Learning and Innovation) sets out the school’s AI position.

Since I last wrote about AI and the advent of ChatGPT in January, we have researched, experimented and discussed the topic with colleagues, students, parents and experts. You may have seen that our Year 12 students, Lauren, Olivia and Rada, were featured in a recent article in the Financial Times (1): the journalist captured their reflections on their experimentation and use of AI so far. I feel the most important comment closed the piece – 

“It’s so vital not to ban the use of it in education, but instead … learn how to use it through proper, critical thinking” […] Olivia adds. “Because it will be a tool in our futures.” 

And, in short, that is what we shall be doing as we head into the next academic year. Suzy Pett (Director of Studies) and I have spent the past weeks researching and writing about our Wimbledon High position on generative AI. This short article summarises our thoughts, our red lines and our intentions. 

Our position on the use of AI 


Our classrooms are intended to be places where dialogue and debate are at a premium, and where knowledge and understanding is constructed contextually and collaboratively among the thinkers in the rooms. – Suzy Pett 

We believe that human connection is central to learning, and that metacognition is vital to students. We want to ensure that our use of AI extends students’ knowledge construction and communication skills, rather than undermining them. 

In evaluating the use of AI we will bear in mind the intersection of the importance of human relationships and carefully constructed activities which benefit learning. A matrix such as the one below is helpful as staff and students experiment and evaluate. 

AI Evaluation Matrix
  • We will evaluate carefully the impact of using AI for teaching and learning, bringing our pedagogical thinking to the process.  
  • We encourage ourselves and our students to critically assess information generated and to be transparent about its source. 
  • We acknowledge the potential of AI to stimulate conversation, enhance learning and decrease administrative workload.  
  • We will critically evaluate the impact of AI tools. We aim to identify AI-driven learning tools or strategies that align with our pedagogical approach. 


Students’ assessment performance could be tested or confirmed using an oral examination; an approach which would also work within the classroom through a focus on oracy and dialogic learning. – Rachel Evans 

We will work within national approaches for the use of AI in public examinations and welcome further clarification and thinking from government and national bodies. Within school, our teachers’ expertise and knowledge of each student, alongside technical solutions, can be used to guard against students using AI inappropriately in assessed work. A culture of honesty around the use of AI will be shared by students and staff alike. Data protection, privacy and cyber-security are significant risks which schools must manage; as we do at present in other areas of e-safety. 

  • We should take a risk-averse approach to the use of AI in the preparation of Non Exam Assessment work, while we await clarity on the Joint Qualifications Council guidelines for use. 
  • We should move to make some changes to our academic and teaching processes to reduce the likelihood of undetected use of AI and deploy technical solutions available to us. 
  • Staff and students should be transparent and honest when AI has been used in the preparation of work or resources. AI could be used to open dialogue, enhance learning or reduce workload. 
  • No member of the school community should enter personal data about staff or students into an AI chatbot or submit material which does not belong to them, or use age-inappropriate AI services.We follow the advice of the National Cyber Security Council on privacy and data protection.  


AI has the potential to level the learning playing field in our classrooms. An increasing range of digital learning tools utilise AI to allow all students to access materials and build confidence. – Suzy Pett 

We know that critical evaluation of edtech tools, wherever possible including the students, is vital if they are to be effective in practice. We are excited by the potential for AI technologies to bring new approaches and opportunities for all students. We also hold in mind the risks of bias and inequality inherent in some technologies. We consider those students in our wider community who may not have access to this technology, and seek through our partnerships work to address this where we can. We hope that our students, educated about these issues, will be equipped to advocate for better governance as they ‘Stride Out’ from school. 

  • We are committed to ensuring that AI tools we use promote inclusivity and equity in the classroom. 
  • We aim to educate our students about the potential for AI tools to perpetuate inequalities or create divisions, in our own school and in the wider world. 


Recent research (2) suggests that many young people feel optimistic about AI and welcome a future where assistive technology will improve their working lives. However, the GDST Futures Report (3) paints a wider picture of concern about the future among young women; we must take care to balance these two viewpoints in our work with our students. – Rachel Evans 

Students need to leave school equipped with resilience, mental agility and creativity to meet whatever lies ahead. Our contention is that we achieve this goal through an extension of our existing strategies to become a Hub for Innovative Teaching & Learning, and a Hub for Wellbeing. The human attributes of empathy, compassion, self-reflection, learning and creativity remain paramount in our practice of education and our hopes for our students. 

  • We are committed to equipping our students with the skills needed to navigate an AI-influenced future. 
  • We will strive to understand the implications of AI technology, both positive and negative, within our chosen fields of study and work, in order to better inform our students. 
  • We aspire to maintain a balanced and informed perspective about AI, promoting civil discourse to help our students develop nuanced opinions.


The research paper which underpins this blog post was written by Suzy Pett and Rachel Evans. In preparing this article I have made use of ChatGPT Plus (GPT4) to assist in summarising and organising key points.

ChatGPT screenshot
  1. The AI revolution already transforming education | Financial Times (
  2. (accessed 22 May 2023)

The Challenge of AI in Education

In WimTeach this week, Rachel Evans, Director of Digital Learning & Innovation explores our initial response to ChatGPT.

Across many sectors of the economy and all across the world people are feverishly discussing ChatGPT. In November 2022, OpenAI launched an open access version of their latest generative AI in the form of a chatbot, with an interface that looks like a messaging app. We hasten to sign up, try it out and speculate about what this means for our collective futures. When the server is busy, as it so often is now, it amuses us with jokes or a poem. Each time I can’t help wondering if a human actually wrote that bit, to entertain and reassure us. Is it the start, or end, of everything?

In conversation with colleagues, students, parents and experts, we have set out three areas for research, discussion and consideration before we take action about ChatGPT.

Wimbledon High students in the classroom

Academic integrity

This is the immediate concern for many educators, and students and parents too. Quite simply, that students will use the AI to cheat, generating answers and essays which they can pass off as their own. This is a (fairly) novel software system, but this problem is certainly not new. In terms of technology, it’s one which MFL teachers have been wrestling with for some years now, since Google Translate first appeared. The challenging conversations we have when a teacher knows, from their knowledge of the pupil, that the work may not be their own will continue.

During my reading for this article, I came across this phrase in a blog by the education leader Conrad Hughes: “Artificial intelligence should be where thinking starts, not where it ends.” This seems to me a good place to start. The value we place on scholarship and curiosity means that we can hold open conversations with students about the importance of doing the intellectual work of developing the foundations of your own knowledge, rather than resorting to an inauthentic response. Our focus on metacognition will stand us in good stead when having conversations about how learning happens. That discussion will lead, in turn, to our next area of research and consideration.

Positive uses for AI in education

If this AI – or others like it – fulfils its early promise, there may be positive and exciting uses in education. For students, there is the opportunity to use the text generated by the AI to test out their own critical thinking skills and analysis, or to find out how accurate their input needs to be to get a good output. For teachers, there is potential to use AI as assistive technology to support the creation of teaching materials, marking or analysis of data. We are already using AI to assist us in small ways – every time we use Word Editor or make a PowerPoint presentation smarter. As always, the goal is to achieve time savings which we can then spend in those important face-to-face interactions with students or giving rich and timely feedback. We would be remiss not to explore those opportunities, but as in all organisations, we will need to carefully select those uses which match our existing aims and values. We will evaluate carefully the cost and benefits, literal and figurative, before proceeding.

New skills & Futures

UCL speaker talks to Wimbledon High Year 13 on the History of Spain

Popular books about AI such as Human Compatible by computer scientist Stuart Russell (2019), and Daniel Susskind’s A World Without Work (2020) both paint convincing portraits of a future where AI has dramatic effects on the economy. Some of the media narrative around ChatGPT draws on these ideas – and we hear from friends and parents in various sectors that uses are already being found for the chatbot in creating content for websites and social media and writing analytical reports involving large amounts of source material – but mediated by a human who will critically assess, improve and extend the text. Microsoft’s further investment in OpenAI seems to signal an intention to find integration for this kind of AI in the apps that we use every day. Other commentators are unconvinced – but whether it is this AI or a later iteration, this is a change that will surely come. It is vital, therefore, that we engage students with this technology. We want to ensure that they learn how to use it to extend and enhance their own productivity and capabilities, and that they can bring their own knowledge, experience and critical capabilities to bear. We will be discussing how we incorporate this technology into our digital and study skills, and Futures programme.

There are so many ideas and approaches to explore within these three areas of concern, but also around pedagogy, the future of examination and assessment. I see the opportunities this term for staff and students to discuss the issue from all angles as the best way to shape our approach in the coming months. We need to encompass not only practical aspects of the impact of this technology, but ask questions too about the nature of ‘Big Tech’ and the cost of such AI tools both in terms of sustainability and ethics and equality. It is the start of the thinking and the start of a conversation.

It seems to me that the only suitable response to a popular narrative of upheaval and radical impact around this technology is to hold steady: to pause, read, research and discuss. To have the humility to recognise that we can’t predict the future. To hold firm to our values and approach to learning. I feel confident that our open, dialogic and human approach to education will ensure that – together – we find the right response to this technology for our school.

La Malédiction du tenant du titre (The Title Holder’s Curse)

With the impending World Cup tournament in Qatar polarising support, Suzanne Stone, French teacher, considers whether a different curse of the title holder might come into play as the French national team tries to defend its crown.

Le compte à rebours est enclenché’ read the headlines across the French media this week, as the countdown to the 22nd World Cup kicks off in Doha this Sunday. This most unusual of World Cup competitions, unusual not only in the fact that this four-yearly summer competition finds itself starting in November, but also because alongside the anticipation of exciting, international football ahead, this World Cup has courted controversy and media scrutiny for some time. With international concerns raised on humanitarian and environmental grounds, this World Cup is indeed ‘un Mondial polémique’.

Since the World Cup was awarded to Qatar in 2010, two opposing camps have emerged – not two opposing footballing nations hoping to edge closer to the final in Doha on 18th December, but rather those who agree with Sepp Blatter’s view that ‘’Attribuer le Mondial au Qatar était tout simplement une erreur’’ and Gianni Infantino’’s view, President of FIFA, that it will be ‘’la meilleure Coupe de tous les temps’’ (1).

Holding the World Cup in Qatar has aroused criticism amongst many well-known French figures and institutions. Widely reported again in the French media lately is the alleged involvement of former President Nicolas Sarkozy in using a lunch at the Élysées Palace with a member of the Qatari royal family to influence the former President of UEFA, Michel Platini, to change his support from backing the US bid to the Qatari one. The influence of two such national figures continues to play out in the French media who still hold dear the memory of Monsieur Platini in particular as one of France’s greatest footballers of all time who not only captained the national side but managed it also.

French politicians have also been using the media to denounce the tournament in recent months. The left alliance political party, la Nupes, have made public their opposition to the World Cup (2). Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the left-wing party la France Insoumise who ran for la Présidentielle earlier this year, has called for a boycott and even called the organisation of the competition ‘shameful’ (3), citing the figure of 6500 migrant workers who have died in the construction of the stadia in Qatar, although official Qatari figures state only 3 deaths (4).

Former French President François Hollande admitted that whilst the position of individual French players not to participate may be untenable, the French public are free to make up their own minds: ‘Quant aux téléspectateurs, heureusement que personne ne se trouve derrière pour lui dire ce qu’il a à faire ou pas’.   (5) Indeed, some players and football associations have made up their minds and aired their views. Éric Cantona, ex-international French footballer, has been vocal in his opposition: ‘Mais le Qatar, ce n’est pas le pays du football…Ce n’est qu’une question d’argent et la façon dont ils ont traité les gens qui ont construit les stades est horrible.’ (6)

In response to FIFA’s directive to all participating nations at the beginning of November to ‘se concentrer sur le football’, ten European football federations, including Belgium, Switzerland and Germany, wrote an open letter saying that they would be openly supporting the issue of increased human rights in Qatar. La Fédération Française de Football however did not choose to sign this letter. Noël le Graël, President of the FFF, has been under continuing media scrutiny, most recently following his response to a French TV documentary highlighting the cramped and squalid living conditions of migrant workers in Doha. Complément d’Enquête, broadcast on FR2 on 10.11.22, focussed on the staff at the hotel in Doha where the French national team will be based during the tournament. ‘This is not unsanitary…If there hadn’t been any football, it would have been worse’ was his reply below:

«s’il n’y avait pas eu le foot, ça aurait été pire».

This brought an immediate reaction from the French Minister for Sport, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra the next day who, when interviewed on the radio station RTL, stated that the FFF must assume some responsibility here: ‘Il faut que la FFF prenne sa part de responsabilité.’

Elsewhere, several towns in France (Lyon, Marseille, Strasbourg, Lille, Bordeaux, Rennes, St Étienne, Limoges amongst others) have announced that they will not be showing matches on giant screens in city centres for this tournament. Many bars and restaurants in France have also united to create the website, encouraging cultural and social spaces to join together in voicing their criticism of the tournament by advertising alternative events during the tournament.

Media scrutiny has not just been limited to mainland France, l’Hexagone, as France’s overseas territories have also voiced their discontent. The national newspaper in la Réunion, Le Quotidien (below) has stated that out of respect of its national values it will not be covering the tournament.

In Qatar itself, the French ambassador, Jean-Baptiste Faivre, has been using the media to try to quell opposition and dispel any preconceptions about Qatar that people in France may have by reassuring the host nation: ‘La réponse est, bien sûr, non. La France ne boycottera pas la Coupe du monde.’  (7)

The debate as to whether football fans should be ‘up for the cup’ is being discussed amongst French supporters too. Around 10,000 fans are expected to make the journey to Doha, although many members of the supporters’ association Irrésistibles Français have voiced concern ranging from freedom of movement and accommodation once there. The co-founder of this association, Fabien Bonnel, stated in a recent French radio interview (8) that because of Qatar’s human rights record, he himself will not be going to the tournament nor watching any of the games. Elsewhere in neighbouring Germany, the site has gathered signatures from thousands of supporters and many sports’ associations calling for people not just to boycott the tournament but also products from its sponsors.

So where does this lead those of us who love watching international competition such as this which showcases the skill and excitement of some of the best footballers in the world? For me, I follow the fortunes of the talented Kylian Mbappé, whose proud father is pictured below. But whether that will involve watching this Coupe du monde? I, like others, am undecided.


  • Libération 10.11.22   
  • Le Monde  23.9.22     
  • RTL  1.4.22     
  • France Info 19.9.22    
  • Maison de la radio conference, Demain le sport, Paris 22.9.22    
  • Libération 21.1.22    
  • Interview on Qatari TV  
  • Libération 2.11.22       

Introduction of a new specification

Mrs Nicola Cooper, Teacher of Biology, looks at how the introduction of a new specification can provide an invaluable opportunity to reassess outcomes

I am a self-confessed Biology geek and my love for the subject knows no bounds. Its breadth, its relevance and the sheer beauty of the complexity that can arise from a few simple components is endlessly fascinating to me. Moreover, I love teaching Biology. Sharing my passion for the living world is energising and is a wonderful way of connecting in new ways with the key ideas and concepts that underpin the living world.

It has therefore been a source of frustration that over the years I have encountered many people whose experience of learning Biology at school is a negative one. A not-uncommon view seems to be that whilst many people have an innate interest in learning about the living world and our place within it, there is a perception that the study of Biology is characterised by mindless rote learning of a seemingly endless body of ‘facts’. If this perception is then reinforced by teaching that is built around imparting knowledge, then no wonder much of the joy, excitement and inspiration is lost.

This is something we are very aware of at Wimbledon High School and as a department we work hard to encourage our students away from rote learning towards a deep understanding of key concepts that they can then apply in a wide range of contexts.

So, what does this look like in practice? Well, this year we have been given the opportunity to think much more deliberately about this question, with the introduction of the new GCSE specification. In devising new schemes of work, we began by challenging ourselves to think expansively (during a wonderfully lively brainstorming session) with the question ‘What outcomes do we want for our year 9 students?’ What emerged from that discussion was not a long list of ‘facts’ that we want our students to be able to recall but rather three key themes;

  • A sense of wonder about the living world
  • A questioning approach
  • An ability to solve their own problems.

These have been our guiding principles when planning lessons for Year 9 (the first cohort following the new course). We have deliberately chosen not to cover topics in a linear way but have (quite literally) cut up the specification and rearranged topics so that central concepts can be explicitly linked with related contexts. The aim being, right from the start of the course, to model how knowing and understanding a few key ideas can allow students to pose and then answer their own questions.

Drawing onion cells from a photo taken down a microscope

In our opening topic of health and disease we start each lesson with a question such as ‘What happens when you get ill?’ and ‘Is being healthy the same as being ill?’. We have looked at medieval views on health and disease and linked our discussions to very recent experiences of the Covid 19 pandemic. We are also using the context of communicable diseases to explore the key concept of cell structure and function. Encouragingly, our students have responded very positively and there has been a definite buzz and the fizz of excitement in my Year 9 lessons.

Zoe in year 9 said, “I found today’s lesson really helpful. I think we all gained an important biological skill that we will use throughout Biology”, while Penelope (year 9) said “I found it very interesting and rewarding, especially because we got to set up the experiment ourselves”.

From a teaching perspective it has been stimulating and refreshing to be reminded of our purpose and as a department we are excited to see how the students continue to develop and flourish as they move through the rest of the year and on to their further studies In Biology.

Project Flip – Embracing difference

Isabelle Alexander, Head of Neurodiversity and Hidden Differences, introduces Project Flip, an initiative created to improve the inclusion of students who are neurodiverse or have hidden differences, and to spread understanding of their experiences

Why Project Flip?
Improved awareness and knowledge of neurodivergent conditions have resulted in an increasing number of students at WHS being identified as being neurodivergent or having hidden differences. This is not surprising as around 18% of the working population consider themselves disabled and the student body at WHS is representative of this.
One of the aims of our school is to build an inclusive community. We promote inclusion and collaboration within our community so that every student can access the teaching approaches and resources they need to achieve their potential. Where all are seen and treated as equals, all have equal opportunities to thrive.
Project Flip set out to increase understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity and hidden differences in the wider community and adapt how we approach teaching, learning and socialisation. By addressing these areas in the school setting, adopting teaching approaches that can reach all students and by making the environment more flexible and adaptable, we would be initiating change in our society as a whole.

The students’ voices had to be at the heart of the project and listening to how our neurodivergent and hidden difference students felt about their educational experience was essential. They are the people with the understanding and knowledge of the difficulties faced daily and equally importantly, they are the people who will be shaping and leading the future. We did not set out with any fixed goals or outcomes in mind, as we hoped that they would develop and emerge organically – and indeed they did.
The project was not, however, without its hurdles. But after a poor start, over a series of weeks, a representative group of hidden difference and neurodivergent students met, agreed some key areas of discussion, and discussed!

Still from Project Flip video

The first thing the students concluded was that for change to happen, people needed to care. A video of them speaking, with some of them appearing in it, was created and presented in an assembly to the senior school. This was extremely powerful and made fellow students and teachers more aware about how they experience school and life.
The next step was for them to present the findings of the project to the Senior Leadership Team. They wanted to discuss their shared thoughts, how they felt and what actions they would like to see as a result. This included practical advice for teachers such as the pacing of lessons, ensuring that instructions were written as well as spoken, not drawing attention to their difference, and explicitly letting them know when we (the teachers) were going off on a tangent! Suggestions were made about signage in the school and furnishings in the classrooms. They also asked for a dedicated space where they could find some peace in the day or go to meet. In addition, there was total consensus that when a PHSE session is planned to deal with neurodiversity and hidden differences that there should be self-advocacy and they wanted to be involved.

The impact of this project has already been seen in several ways; during one of our parent forums, parents started spontaneously talking about the assembly video, even though they had not seen it. It had prompted conversations in homes – change was starting to happen.
Our PHSE sessions have changed; we invited a mother and daughter both with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) to speak about their experiences. They were with us for the entire day, delivering a session to students, a training talk to teachers and finally an ‘in conversation’ information talk to parents that evening. During Autism Awareness Month, two young professional working women visited us and described what their life was like living with autism. Perhaps most effective of all, our Year 9 dyslexic students delivered a talk on dyslexia to the Year 7 students.
We have also held a “Question Time” where a panel of students with hidden differences candidly answered questions that had been sent in advance. The audience of teachers packed the Rutherford theatre. Panellists tackled questions such as: How can teachers make your school experience better? What is the one thing that teachers do that annoys you the most? How can we make the help subtle? How do you feel about going to university or the workplace with a hidden difference?
One of the outcomes that we had not anticipated was the camaraderie that developed within the group. For some, it was the first time, they had not felt alone in their difference. With this in mind, the Neurodiversity and Hidden Differences team will be starting a weekly lunchtime club where students can go informally to chat amongst themselves or for advice. We have also witnessed an increase in confidence our neurodivergent and hidden differences students, as their voices are being heard, awareness is increasing, and perceptions are changing.
This project was only possible because of trust and relationships. It would not have worked had we employed someone externally to run it or if the students had felt that nothing would be done as a result of it.

The future
The findings of the project have already been shared in a number of ways, including presentations at the Global Forum for Girls’ Education in Boston and the GDST Deputy Heads Conference. The Girls’ School Conference have also invited us to present. The momentum behind the idea is growing.
We are only on the start of our journey of increasing awareness, understanding and acceptance and are excited about continuing it from this point.

How can we make expeditions transformational for students?

Ian Richardson, Head of Computer Science, explores the value of leading student expeditions, and identifies how the adults leaders involved can catalyse the often life-changing benefits for students

For many years of my career, Marrakech has held a special place in my heart. I have loved accompanying students as they lead on through the chaotic noise and bustle of the Jemaa el-Fnaa, overcoming initial hesitancy to ‘master’ the art of bartering, and somehow managing to navigate their way around the maze-like multitude of ancient streets and passages. With the prospect of another expedition this October, I have been reflecting on how the adult leadership team maximises the impact of these personal development experiences.

What are the benefits of expeditions?

In order to understand the personal qualities of good expedition leadership, it is important first to consider why we take our students on expedition. In a review of current research into the impact of outdoor education on individuals, Heather Prince lists seven different themes for personal development of individuals on outdoor residential experiences[1]:

  • Confidence
  • Teamwork
  • Life skills
  • Intra-personal skills
  • Independence
  • Aspirations
  • New opportunities/activities

Having accompanied various expeditions in my career, I have seen pupils’ personal development first-hand. Whether I have been on a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award expedition over four days, or an overseas expedition for a week, or a month, as teachers we are granted the privilege of watching our pupils “grow up” in a short space of time.

What personal skills do teachers need?

  1. Flexible thinking and embracing experiences: As teachers, we may have experience of educational visits, whichrun to fairly strict itineraries. However, successful expeditions are conducted more flexibly, with students taking control of parts of the itinerary. Accompanying adults should be comfortable in adapting plans and assessing risk dynamically to ensure safety. Often the most memorable experiences on expedition are those which the students discover by themselves unexpectedly. Accompanying staff are often asked to step outside their comfort zone and to embrace new experiences (memories of discomfort in taking part in traditional dancing in Borneo spring to mind): it is important that staff lead the way and participate in the experiences on offer, making it easier in turn for the students to follow.
  • Control and decision-making: Over the course of an expedition, the role of the accompanying adult changes. At the start, leader input is frequent and directive; by the end, the student team should be functioning with little or no input from leaders. To return to the example of the busy markets of Marrakech, it can feel strange at first to turn to a group of pupils and ask them where they are taking you. Leaders should establish appropriate boundaries to ensure safety and allow the team freedom within those constraints. Empowering participants to make decisions is what makes the expedition such a powerful personal development experience and helps to develop teamwork skills.
  • Cultural understanding: Whilst acknowledging the benefits of expedition for the participants, leaders need to be aware of and sensitive to the culture of the destination. This is true in both the more practical sense of keeping the team safe, acknowledging local customs and allowing team members to communicate, and in the sense of carefully selecting the lens through which our students view the country they are visiting. For example, for expedition in October, I have invited our pupils to learn from a muezzin what it means to give the adhan (call to prayer) and how it is performed. In this way, we can allow young people the chance to understand others with empathy and avoid imposing their own values on another’s culture.
  • Empathy, understanding and authenticity: First and foremost, an expedition environment is one of challenge. Both the participants and leaders are challenged in different ways at different times in the journey. Young people may find the isolation of working in a team in a remote location difficult, whilst others are challenged by busy urban areas. At times, the teacher may be challenged. A good leader will acknowledge discomfort as an opportunity for growth and support all participants by creating safe space for reflection. Valuable opportunities arise to lead through vulnerability and to model resilience.


Following the restrictions imposed on all of us through 2020 and 2021, we once again have the chance to enrich the lives of our students through travel. Although only for a relatively short period, an expedition can have a huge impact on everyone involved and it is a real delight to be able to share a love for travel with students once again. By developing the skills above, an effective leadership team can take the expedition experience to a new level and maximise the opportunities for development.

[1] Prince, H.E., 2020. The lasting impacts of outdoor adventure residential experiences on young people. Journal of Adventure Education and Outdoor Learning, 21 (3). pp. 261-276.

How can abstract art develop students’ visceral feeling and creative thinking across the curriculum?

Art teacher Elin Mbeyela considers the power of abstract art, and discusses how debate and inquiry are central to the Art curriculum at WHS, allowing students to develop an open-minded and experimental approach in their own work

I remember how I felt, as I stood in front of Ai Weiwei’s piece at his unforgettable and ground-breaking exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2015. His commemorative installation piece, titled ‘Straight’, consisted of 90 tonnes of steel-reinforced rods straightened by hand after being mangled in the Sichuan earthquake. The rods were laid out meticulously and created a dense carpet that overwhelmed the space, and on the wall overlooking the rods were the names of over 5,000 children killed due to the poorly constructed buildings.

Adrian Locke, co-curator at the RA commented, “it is a very sombre and sobering work when you see it, it has this kind of power and silence about it…it bears a real sense of loss of life”[1]. I was reduced to tears by this provocative yet poignant piece. I was also reminded of how art can be used as an expression of our thoughts, emotions and intuitions, and that it is even more personal than that: it’s about sharing the way we experience the world. This means it provides a platform for much discussion and debate.

How do we encourage this discussion and debate?

We embed discussion and debate in our curriculum at WHS, right from Year 7. During the students’ first autumn term in Senior School, we explore colour theory and abstract art. We look at a range of artists such as Frank Bowling, Jade Fadojutimi and Gillian Ayres, encouraging students to see with their mind what they don’t see physically – in essence, prompting them to explore how abstract art enables the artist and the viewer to perceive beyond the tangible. Fadojutimi’s large scale gestural paintings explore identity and emotion; she uses colour flamboyantly and applies the oil paint in thin layers, creating depth with expressive mark-making.

WHS Art department

Through group discussions we ask students the following –

  • How do you feel when you look at this piece?
  • How is the work abstract?
  • Does the artist explore any particular subjects / themes / moods / issues / messages?
  • Comment on the visual elements in the piece – line, shape, tone, texture and space. How do they help communicate ideas and reinforce a message?
  • How could this artist inspire your own work?
  • What media, techniques, styles and processes have been used? How do they affect the mood of the artwork and the communication of ideas?

Jennifer Higgie, writer and critic, comments on Fadojumiti’s paintings, “Art is not an explanation: it’s a shot of energy, a flash of colour; a shimmer, a reaction, a line thrown out to see who might pick it up… Jadé tells me that her aim is for “deep emotion, not deep description”.”[2]

To many, the intangible nature of abstract art is uncomfortable, and they desperately want to seek some understanding and meaning in what they see. This can lead some to mock such art, and to think it is not worth their attention. In essence, they want to be able to decipher and understand it.

Meanwhile, our students engage in thoughtful, creative discussions about Fadojutimi’s work. They are curious and fascinated by the possible hidden meanings and messages in her paintings. But ultimately what they are struck by is that there is no universally accepted theme or subject, and that the work allows them to make individual visual connections, thoughts and interpretations.

Following our discussion, students enjoy experimenting with paint techniques such as impasto and sgraffito and explore mixing their own colours by applying their colour theory knowledge. This marks the initial stage of planning for their own abstract painting.

Students’ work WHS Art department

To conclude

We value highly students’ ability to be curious; through encouraging debate and discussion in the classroom, we instil in our learners that engaging with art contributes to the refinement of emotional meaning and improves communication and interaction with others. It allows them to think creatively and expressively, without limits or boundaries. These skills are not just fundamental to studying Art but, with the school’s innovative approach to STEAM, they are crucial to our interdisciplinary curriculum.