Why being a great linguist means broadening your horizons beyond the exam

WHS Linguistica Club

WHS Head of French and Mandarin, Claire Baty, extols the crucial, intrinsic importance for linguists of broadening their cultural and imaginative horizons, and discusses two school initiatives to support this – Linguistica magazine and its associated club, Linguistica and Friends

My MFL colleagues and I are currently busy proof-reading articles for the summer edition of the department’s Linguistica magazine. Each term, as the deadline for submissions comes and goes, I feel a sense of curiosity tinged with apprehension. I am excited to read the fruits of students’ efforts beyond the language classroom but I can’t escape the underlying worry that they may not feel sufficiently impassioned to actually submit articles for publication. Why is that?

Linguistica was created to be more than just a magazine – it is a space to explore language learning and the myriad opportunities this affords. Fortunately, post-covid, our classrooms have once again become inspiring, collaborative spaces where students can assimilate new language through role plays, and can put their heads together, literally, to work out the rules of a new grammatical structure. Whilst rote learning of vocabulary and grammar rules is important, language learning is and should be much more than this. An understanding of the music, film, fashion, food, history, politics, literature, geography of the country is just as significant as being able to use the words correctly.

It is this cultural understanding, coupled with strong syntactical awareness, that ultimately creates an expert communicator. In a world that is increasingly driven by technology, it is our ability as human beings to empathise and communicate with each other that will become the most important 21st century skill. Linguistica is a platform for our students to engage with the cultural, social and political world of the country they are studying.

Students learning about the Hanfu

This term our ‘Linguistica and Friends’ club has whole-heartedly embraced the STEAM+ ethos by inviting other departments to deliver workshops, seminars and lectures exploring the interplay between their subject and MFL. Our aim, to enrich our students’ understanding of the world around them. We have encouraged them to ask big questions which force them to make connections between their subjects such as:

  • How does Maths help me with translation in a foreign language? 
  • Does learning Latin mean I am better at French?
  • If we all spoke the same language would there be less conflict in the world? 
  • What helps me understand people better – learning their language or learning their history?
  • Science has nothing to do with languages: discuss.
  • Is computer code a language? 

We have enticed them to see things through a different lens. Ultimately no discipline can exist in isolation and learning a language really does entail learning a whole other perspective on the world.

Why does this matter?

The WHS Civil Discourse programme has as its core aim for our students “to be truly flexible, robust and open in their thinking, and for the world to re-awaken itself to the notion of real debate and discussion, based on authentic encounters between enquiring hearts and minds”. Exploring topics we thought we understood from a new perspective allows for nuanced thinking and offers access to opinions which differ from our own.

We all start out with a ‘blik’ or worldview, informed by our upbringing, circumstances and personal experiences. Our ‘blik’ tells us how to interpret the world, and we then choose to embrace the facts that support our ‘blik’ whilst selectively ignoring or explaining away those that go against it (R.M Hare in his response to Anthony Flew’s 1971 Symposium). Our job as teachers is to challenge a student’s ‘blik’ by offering them diverse ways to engage with subject material outside of the classroom. To stride out into the world, our students need to be able to see that world and how concepts connect with in it. This was exactly the aim of ‘Linguistica and Friends’ this term when we offered sessions designed to show the connections between subjects that the students in KS3 at least, often see as disparate.

But why do I worry our students won’t engage? Why am I concerned they won’t be as excited as I am about the opportunity to spend my lunchtime time considering the flaws of a translation of the New Testament? As teachers we can see the value of inter-connected thinking, we are excited by this opportunity to engage with the big picture, and we are frustrated by how exam specifications can thwart and potentially diminish a student’s desire to explore. For the students, however, “c’est l’arbre qui cache la forêt” and the demands of exams can hinder true scholarship, taking away the passion, the willingness to engage and explore just for the fun of it.

An Introduction to Semitic Languages

And this is precisely why Linguistica matters. It is in this co-curricular space that we can open our students’ minds to new concepts, encourage them to challenge their pre-existing ideas without the judgement of an exam. Here they can discover their passions, find out who they are and what inspires them.

So look out for this term’s edition of Linguistica, which will be published in hard copy before the summer holidays. It will showcase the creative and eloquent writing of our fantastic MFL students, who have had success in all manner of competitions. You can find out more about how our students engaged with the inspiring ‘Linguistica and Friends’ workshops, as well as the big questions considered by Years 8 and 9. Here is a flavour of what they explored.

  • The interplay between Maths and language exemplified by the deciphering work done at Bletchley Park during WW2
  • How textiles and fashion are inextricably linked to culture and history, as demonstrated by traditional Chinese Hanfu
  • The use of Greek in the New Testament: symbolism and translation. How the meaning of a text is not separate from the language in which it is written.
  • Furthering our understanding of scientific concepts by exploring the derivation of scientific words and their language of origin.
  • The role of cognates, body language and demonstration when making sense of a language you don’t speak. (Loom weaving in Italian.)
  • How Semitic languages fit into the European languages we commonly learn in school.
  • How the use of language in popular film could be used as a way of raising awareness of languages at risk of dying out. With a focus on Polynesian languages and the Disney film Moana.
  • The recent presidential elections in France and how language can be used to persuade, convince and influence.

Why WHS students value the Model United Nations

Wimbledon High School’s six Haileybury delegates reflect on their experiences of taking part in Model United Nations (MUN), and what they learned from the weekend-long conference in March 2022.

I have been doing MUN for a year now and have thoroughly enjoyed it. We get to debate and discuss multilateral issues from different perspectives. I have learnt so many valuable skills, such as how to formulate arguments on the spot and how to address controversial ideas diplomatically. The highlight of the year for me was the national Haileybury MUN conference. Not only was the debating really fun, it was also great to meet so many students from over a hundred different schools, including US schools. In my committee, Special Political (SPECPOL), we debated numerous issues such as the question of foreign aid to war torn countries, which is especially relevant given the ongoing Ukraine crisis. A favourite debate of mine was the question of offsetting the legacy of colonisation and slavery, a subject which I am already very passionate about. I enjoyed working as a team in the General Assembly, and the fact that our WHS delegation won one of only three ‘Distinguished Delegation’ awards was amazing!

Sharanya (Year 10)

It was my sister who initially piqued my interest in MUN by persuading me to attend my first session at the club when I was in Year 10. Once I had learnt the formalities of MUN debates, I became increasingly engrossed and ended up signing up for my first conference at Alleyn’s School. Fast forward a few years and I was lucky enough to be attending one of the biggest MUN conferences in the UK, held at Haileybury. I was representing South Sudan in the Human Rights Council, which for those of you familiar with their political situation, will recognise this to be quite a challenge! In MUN you are required to uphold the values and policies of the country you are representing which meant I was tasked with preventing members of the LGBTQ+ community from being allowed to serve in the military, denying sex workers protective rights, ensuring whistle-blowers were not granted protection by international law and encouraging other countries to absorb around 2.3 million displaced South Sudanese people (whilst conveniently leaving out that they were fleeing genocide). The weekend did not come without its challenges but it was an invaluable experience that not only gave me greater insight into the inner workings of the UN but also encouraged me to see things through an opposing lens – although I must clarify that I do not and will not hold any of the views I had to represent over the weekend.

Chloe (Year 13)

Although the real UN can seem somewhat powerless with its inefficiencies and bureaucracy, the values it promotes – of peace, development, and human rights – are indispensable. Through the medium of MUN, we learn hands-on about these values and the actions needed to achieve them. Of course, MUN is great fun as well (I volunteered to give up my weekend for a conference). Memorable moments from the Haileybury conference included: everyone referring to themselves as “the delegate” – even when not in debate; disputes over the etymology of “cryptocurrency”; and my desperate attempts to argue that South Sudan, often deemed the most corrupt country in the world, is in fact, not at all corrupt. Additionally, my committee’s topics, including terrorism and outer space, were fascinating to debate. I was lucky enough to have my illicit arms resolution debated and passed in the General Assembly – a moment I will never forget!

Lara (Year 10)

I applied for this Model United Nations conference because I enjoy a challenge, although in the moment, when I feel under pressure, I do regret embarking on such an adventure. But afterwards, unscathed and evolved, I thank myself for it. This conference taught me that my trait of searching for intellectual stimulation is a gift. I now fervently recommend Jordan Peterson’s advice that “If you are not willing to be a fool, you cannot become a master”. Putting myself in the hot seat to be grilled by delegates who were more experienced than me developed my public-speaking skills and, most interestingly, taught me about myself. I was in the Special Committee which had the theme of ‘Health & Youth’. The four topics we discussed were: the right to healthcare for migrants, addressing mental health disorders in young people, equitable vaccine distribution and sexual education for all teenagers in school. These topics are all extremely complex and relevant to our lives today. Responding to points of order was exhilarating because I was encouraged to think quickly whilst remaining eloquent about the arguments I had. It is also something I value greatly because, when you listen to points of order, you are putting yourself in a new position by trying to understand other delegates’ perspectives to help you present your own.

Tawana (Year 13)

Having only done one MUN conference before, I was surprised to be invited to Haileybury – a very prestigious event. Despite being worried initially, I was very glad I went; it was the most incredible experience. My committee was Environment and Ecology and we discussed many topics including multinational corporations, desertification, sustainable fishing and GMOs. After COP26, these subjects felt particularly important to discuss and we had lots of fruitful debate as a committee. I feel like I learnt so much over the weekend – about the inner workings of the UN, resolutions, and procedure. Fun fact: resolutions from the UN are not legally binding. Overall, I had a wonderful time and made lots of friends!

Elspie (Year 10)

I developed an interest MUN when I was in Year 7, as the idea of discussing world issues and learning more about diplomacy appealed to me. At Haileybury MUN, my council touched on the issues of world hunger and discrimination against marginalised groups. Speaking from the perspective of South Sudan, reaching a compromise on these issues proved difficult as more developed countries failed to recognise the complexity of the problems faced by developing countries, or the religious barriers causing discrimination. Such experiences in Model UN always remind me of the great challenges faced by diplomats: MUN only really begins to skim the surface of the difficulties and complexities of compromise between countries. The experience imbued me with greater appreciation of the workings of the UN and has encouraged me to consider taking on the challenge of different careers within the field of international relations.

Nooriya (Year 12)

Training for peace with the Model United Nations

Ms Lucinda Gilchrist (Head of English) and Ms Judith Parker (Head of Spanish), Model United Nations Advisors at Wimbledon High School, explore the value for students in taking part in MUN conferences, and the important collaborative and peacemaking skills they build

What is Model United Nations about?

Image from Pixabay

At Haileybury Model United Nations conference in March 2022, delegates and advisors heard about this passage of the Bible from Isaiah Chapter 2, during a chapel service:

He will judge between the nations

    and will settle disputes for many peoples.

They will beat their swords into ploughshares

    and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

    nor will they train for war anymore.

Established in the aftermath of the Second World War, the United Nations aims to ‘save succeeding generations from the scourge of war’ and ‘promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom’[1]. The image of taking instruments of death and destruction and transforming them into tools for productivity and growth inspired the statue pictured here[2], which stands in the UN garden in New York, and was a gift from the USSR in 1956.

The UN’s focus on finding solutions to conflict or global issues without recourse to military means makes the style of debating which Model United Nations (MUN) fosters quite different from parliamentary debating or other forms of school debating. Rather than being combative, MUN debates are collaborative, with delegates working together to draft and ideally pass resolutions which represent a commonly-agreed plan for future action.

What do pupils learn from Model United Nations?

The formality of the language used in MUN debates, and the typical forms of address (‘esteemed delegate’ or ‘the delegate of France’), avoiding the use of direct personal pronouns, takes personal elements out of debates. Delegates never represent themselves, but rather the views or policies of the country they are representing. The purpose is to engender debate that is civil, polite, and impersonal – although, admittedly, sometimes the heat of the moment can get too much for some delegates. They may well have to express views and ideologies which are entirely different from their own.

The removal of the personal does not preclude opportunities for individuals to shine: at Haileybury MUN, several WHS delegates were awarded for impressive contributions within their committees.  As with any form of debating, crafting one’s language and artfully applying knowledge to create impact are key, and our articulate, energetic pupils put their skills to the test, presenting powerfully on a range of issues. MUN is also distinctive in that those who speak most often, or most loudly, are not necessarily the most successful or admired delegates. Instead, it is powerful to witness younger or more reticent pupils quietly and calmly making their points in a fluent, cogent way. In our mini-MUN conference with Kings College School (KCS), we were delighted to see Year 9 pupils holding their own against Sixth Formers.

Some pupils can be intimidated by the formalised and highly-structured language required in MUN debate, but this is actually one of the benefits of taking part. Listening to a few debates in a relaxed context such as our weekly co-curricular club helps students acclimatise. This style is particularly effective for those who are nervous about public speaking. Formalised language provides participants with a script and a safe formula to speak from; it is striking how pupils who find social interactions more challenging open up when it comes to MUN debates.

The collaborative element of MUN goes far beyond the debating. We were particularly impressed by how our Haileybury delegates actively engaged with peers from other schools, persuading them to add signatures to their draft resolutions during lobbying sessions, or collaborating with them to submit co-authored resolutions. The most skilful chairs supportively encourage the less experienced delegates to contribute and coach them in the language of the debate, something our chairs at the KCS mini-conference exemplified.

Final thoughts

Ms Parker participated in MUN conferences as a school and university student, which led her to a human rights internship at the UN in Geneva where she witnessed diplomacy first-hand. And while Ms Gilchrist was new to MUN on joining Wimbledon High, she has always been intrigued by the relationship between language and power. The increasingly divisive nature of public discourse, not only on social media but also in the political sphere – often characterised by one-upmanship more akin to the swords than the ploughshares of Isaiah – is well-documented. Given current political contexts, with war in Ukraine, the rise of the far right in Europe and beyond, and the combative, highly performative format of UK parliamentary debates, the collaborative style of MUN debating is more valuable than ever. Diplomatic skills should be prized as part of a twenty-first century education.

[1] https://www.un.org/en/about-us/un-charter/full-text

[2] https://www.un.org/ungifts/content/let-us-beat-swords-ploughshares#:~:text=Bronze%20statue%20representing%20the%20figure,the%20benefit%20of%20all%20mankind.

Teaching and learning Gem #44 – post-it collaboration

This week, we have a post-it note activity that is all about collaboration between students. Morven’s Year 9 DT students considered the impact of physical disability on individuals’ lives using post-it notes to share ideas. Using post-it notes is quick in terms of teacher preparation time, but can be really impactful. Plus, the physical (rather than digital) nature of this makes the most of being back in the classroom together.

This is how Morven’s post-it collaboration worked:

  • Students were on their feet in groups of 4.
  • On different tables there were disability fact files.
  • Each group had 2 mins to read the disability fact file on their table. They then had to jot down ideas on post-it notes of activities that their user might struggle with.
  • At the end of the allocated time, they then moved onto the next table and repeated the activity.
  • Each group had a different colour of post-it note.
  • After groups had rotated round all tables, Morven chose one student from each team to give a brief overview of their fact file. Then as a group they evaluated all the post-it notes from across the groups and chose the three post-it notes which jumped out at them to share back to the class
  • Morven took photos of the post-it notes and put them on Teams.
  • Next lesson they will begin to design potential solutions for these scenarios.


  • Peer evaluation is built into the feedback process – students need to review other groups’ ideas and weigh them up.
  • The pace kept students focussed and on task.
  • The physical nature of the activity capitalises on being back in the physical classroom.
  • Students were thinking for themselves using stimulus information.

Neurodiversity considerations for this activity from Isabelle and Catherine

Be aware of sensory sensitivities:

  • Touch: Some students might find the close proximity of collaborating on the same sheet of paper difficult.
  • Noise: Some students might find the group talking section of this too loud.
  • Be aware that the time allocation may not suit students with different processing speeds, so ensure that thinking time is built in to make the pace manageable.
  • Please be aware that it is important to set boundaries for some students who might have hyper-activity tendencies.

21st Century Design for Life

Rachel Evans, Director of Digital Learning & Innovation, considers the impact of this year’s CPD on 21st Century Learning Design, evaluates the Social Robots project against the rubric and reflects on the value of this approach for teachers and students.

During the last term of this unprecedented school year, groups of teachers have been lifting their gaze beyond the challenge of the pandemic to reflect on the way we teach and learn. Since April, colleagues from the Junior and Senior Schools have been considering 21st Century Learning Design.(1) An academic research programme funded by Microsoft in 2010, the Innovative Teaching & Learning Research Project described and defined this pedagogical approach. Collaborative research was carried out across ten countries, with the Institute of Education in London as one of the partners. The outcome formed the basis of a framework for evaluating and designing schemes of work, and subsequently a programme of study for teachers.(2)

The six components of 21st Century Learning Design (21CLD)

21CLD is a lens through which we can view the planning and delivery of the curriculum – as broadly as across a whole topic, or down to the level of an activity within an individual lesson. The rubric-based approach across the six topic areas prompts teachers to think about how to effectively build skills which are not necessarily well understood or embedded by other pedagogical approaches. Whilst we may not accept the popular discourse about the necessity of ‘21st century skills’, the framework addresses the need for students to beopen to new ideas and voices, direct and be accountable for their own work, and conduct effective and meaningful collaboration: all skills which are valuable in a swiftly changing world.

A collaborative professional development opportunity

Teachers were assigned a module of the course to work through independently, and then came together in study groups to discuss the concepts and teach each other the module they had studied. This has proved an exciting way to learn about 21CLD and apply it to our own classroom practice. Mixed group discussions outside the silos of departments and key stages revealed how this pedagogy is applicable across different subject areas and age groups, and identified where there are connections with existing approaches, such as Kagan structures or Harkness method for communication and cooperation, and our STEAM+ interdisciplinary work.

The discursive approach allowed teachers to be candid about their experience. Delving into the detail of the rubrics brought self-reflection: one teacher saying “I thought we’d be brilliant at collaboration, but actually we often co-work rather than collaborate.” Teachers evaluated existing activities against the rubrics and considered how they could adjust their lesson plans and projects to create deeper engagement and more agency for their pupils, and substantive and meaningful work as a result. New plans for a science project about pollution and the revision of a history research topic are among the outcomes of this period of study. Junior School teachers investigated how different levels of the rubric might appropriate at different Key Stages: they plan to create examples of suitable activities to inform the planning of lessons which will develop skills over the pupil’s time in the infant and junior years.

The process was not uncritical, with much debate in both parts of the school around the knowledge construction module: balancing innovative approaches with the needs of the examination system and our own belief in the value of scholarship made for interesting conversations.

A real-life example of real-world problem-solving

As I studied the course myself and designed the programme for teachers, I evaluated one of my own projects.

The Social Robots Club, which the Head of Computer Science and I began two years ago, is an excellent example of real-world problem solving and collaboration within the 21CLD framework, which has arisen organically through the interests of a group of Year 10 students. You can read about their work in this week’s WimTeach[link], where the girls have written about their project and experiences.

The purpose of the club was to experiment with our Miro-E robots (3), in order to plan their inclusion in the curriculum. It is the students who have driven the project forward. From our early brainstorming about uses for the robots, they chose a goal, defined their project and set to work. How does this activity measure up as an example of 21st century learning?


Students work as a team, assigning roles for each task, and making their own decisions about the process and product. The work is interdependent – for instance, dividing up the writing of code into segments which will be later combined.

Skilled communication

Students have produced presentations for Junior school staff, a lesson plan for Year 5 pupils, surveys and a leaflet for parents and an assembly for the school community. They carried out academic research including writing to the authors of papers with further queries.

Knowledge construction

We had never used such sophisticated robotics at school previously, but the group are already competent coders, so are applying their knowledge. Research for the project has covered psychology, pedagogy and computer science – certainly interdisciplinary.


This group of students have worked on this project for a year and are clear about their aims, and what success will look like. They plan their own work – in fact, Mr Richardson and I joke that we are superfluous! – but we are there, of course, to offer feedback and guidance to help the team make progress when the project stalls.

Real-world problem-solving and innovation

The project is problem solving on a macro and micro level. The real-world problem is about improving reading progress for primary age children, but every week is micro problem-solving as we navigate a new and unfamiliar coding interface and sophisticated but temperamental robots. The project will have a real-world implementation when the robots are used by Year 1 next year.

Use of ICT for Learning

Technology is crucial to the project, obviously, but most significantly, we will create a product for authentic users – a robot creature who will respond with encouragement to a child reading – a great deal of code will lie behind those simulated behaviours!

The benefits of 21st Century Learning Design

On a practical level, 21CLD offers teachers tools for creating learning activities which promote skills that we would all agree are essential for study, work and life – to communicate clearly, collaborate well and solve problems. When combined with our emphasis on scholarship and our interdisciplinary STEAM+ philosophy, I find three further important outcomes:

Building knowledge and appreciating complexity

In a fast-paced world, the experience of going deeply into a topic or project for a sustained period will develop sound knowledge and critical thinking skills. Grappling with complexity brings an appreciation that not all problems are solved or ideas best expressed with a sound-bite response. All fields of study are rich with nuance once we go beyond the superficial.

Identifying unknowns, living with uncertainty and resilience

The deeper students go into complexity, detail and a wealth of knowledge, the more aware they become of what is unknown, either to themselves or to others. In a year which has been filled with uncertainty, an awareness that what we understand of the world is not fixed or fully known is, at first, unsettling. Sitting with that uncertainty – whether academic or otherwise – can build resilience. As the students write in WimLearn this week, persevering through difficulty brings its own joys.

Curiosity and exploration

Having appreciated complexity and experienced uncertainty, where do we go next? We have the answer enshrined within our school aims: Nurturing curiosity, scholarship and a sense of wonder. To achieve sufficient mastery of an area of study that we can begin to push at the boundaries is where exploration and innovation happens; or, as we wrote at the start of this year (4), in the spaces and connections between traditional subject areas with our STEAM+ philosophy. Depth of study, knowledge and skill is a firm foundation for exploration.

In conclusion, the exploration of this course on 21st century learning design has been incredibly valuable. At a time when we have been caught in the weeds of logistics and change, the programme of study and our collaborative approach has opened up big ideas and new conversations between teachers, which we will continue to explore next year. This feels like the start of a new conversation about the way we use technology in the classroom.


(1) 21st Century Learning Design, Microsoft Educator Center, https://education.microsoft.com/en-us/learningPath/e9a3beec

(2) You can read the original research papers and other references here, within the Microsoft CPD course. https://onedrive.live.com/redir?resid=91F4E618548FC604%21300&authkey=%21AOE-MnST_ZCMc1Q&page=View&wd=target%28Embedding%2021CLD%20in%20practice.one%7C2989f197-22e1-42a9-b2d5-2a71628825c1%2F21CLD%20Readings%7Ce58d3c47-38fa-47da-9077-18571f525580%2F%29

(3) Miro-E are programmable social robots designed for us in schools. http://consequentialrobotics.com/miroe

(4) Bristow & Pett, STEAM+, http://whs-blogs.co.uk/teaching/steam-2/, September 2020

Friday Gem #10 – student collaboration using Miro

Teaching and Learning Gem #10 – student collaboration using Miro

We know how important it is to find ways for students to connect and collaborate during GHL. Clare Roper shared with me some videos of her Year 10s working together in real time using Miro – an online collaborative platform. She put students in groups using Teams channels so that they could speak with each other as they completed the collaborative task online. She could see exactly what was going on, to support and give encouragement live.

  • Fast and furious team competition about pollination

Teams competed to order the stages of the pollination process. This video is so fun…I think Clare has a future as a sports commentator!

  • Multiflow thinking maps about human influences on the environment

Clare was able to watch the different groups of students collaborating on their thinking maps and give immediate feedback. Watch here.

Miro has lots of different ways for students to collaborate. Click here to watch a short promotional video about Miro.

Guided home learning reflections

Rachel Evans, Director of Digital Learning & Innovation, writes a personal reflection on the past two months as WHS planned and implemented our Guided Home Learning programme, and considers what lies ahead.

It’s 16th March and I’m getting ready to leave school, knowing that I’m unlikely to be back at my desk with its view of the cherry blossom for a good while. My husband has called to say he has a temperature and cough, meaning self-isolation for my household. I gather some freebie cloth bags from BETT and cram them with everything I think I might need, leaving behind a stack of library books – I come to regret this later! Within a week I’m being video-called by a colleague who holds his phone aloft so that I can see and hear the whole school singing our school song as we close the site, and Mrs Lunnon says “Whatever happens, however long this is, be brilliant.” It all seems rather unreal.

As the Covid-19 crisis mounted in late February and early March, along with other schools across the world we began to plan how we could continue teaching and learning as our staff and students scattered to their homes. We have been committed for the past 5 years to integrating technology for teaching and learning – both in terms of hardware, with our BYOD scheme and Junior iPads, and software, as a Microsoft Showcase School. Nevertheless, the challenges of this unprecedented situation are significant, and like all use of technology in education, go far beyond simply having the right tech in place.

Back in January, Suzy Pett (Assistant Head Teaching & Learning) and I had been privileged to speak at the BETT educational technology show and share our WHS digital philosophy with a wider audience. What has struck me as we have rolled out our Guided Home Learning programme is how those values have been tried and tested in this unprecedented situation. Edtech should be an excellent tool, seamless and most importantly authentic. How did these principles guide us in practice?

An excellent tool

We’re always clear that we have a ‘pedagogy first’ approach to using technology and we’re careful to select software and systems that deliver value, rather than being gimmicky or distracting. This was helpful as we considered what ‘home learning’ would look like in practice. Teams allows video-conferencing, something we had only tentatively explored before between colleagues. Now we made the decision to offer at least some ‘live’ lessons remotely, and added in the practical details – the way we’d use Teams announcements to start lessons, our protocols for video conference lessons, and how our existing use of OneNote would fit into this model.

In the Junior years, we began with simple Firefly pages, then worked over Easter to move to a more interactive offering. Choosing Firefly Tasks was straightforward, while Flipgrid would offer some interaction between the girls and chances for personalised video feedback for every pupil from her teachers.

What skills did teachers need to feel confident and secure with these new features of familiar systems, and with some entirely new apps? We created a common approach to ‘lessons’ so that staff and students alike would have clear expectations and a consistent experience with a clear framework of skills to learn. We ran in-person training sessions for all staff, and then, after the site closed, online training in Teams (sometimes about Teams, which can be surreal!). We all became inexpert videographers, finding ad-hoc ways to make, edit and share videos of tips, and training sessions. We were grateful for Microsoft’s extensive support materials, and our GDST sister schools and other professional networks of colleagues, to share ideas and pool materials.

Above: Year 11 English Annotations


As the weeks have gone by there have of course been peaks and troughs in the experiences of all concerned – both technical and human. On the first Monday as pupils across the world stayed at home, both Teams and Firefly faltered. We are all at the mercy of our home wi-fi connections with most providers having outages at times. No software or system is perfect, and we are often pushing at the edges of the original design and use cases which are mostly based on being together in physical school.  Teachers and parents alike feel the pressure of combining childcare, home learning and full-time jobs. But we do believe that alongside a plethora of subject-specific online resources, these systems have enabled us to continue with teaching and learning that has been effective, productive and not too impossible to manage for students, staff or parents.

Above: Year11-13 elective video call on Teams

Feedback and listening to the community in the first week led us to deliver new advice for teachers – we began to move away from trying to replicate an offline experience in an online environment. (There was much discussion of synchronous and asynchronous learning – terms bandied about which were unknown to non-experts the week before!) A video call in Teams can’t feel like a lesson – you can’t see everyone at once and interactions quickly feel stilted and frustrating. But making use of the chat, the thumbs-up emoji, limiting the time on the call and following up with text-based chat or collaborative work in OneNote makes all the difference. We started working differently: taking the pedagogical aim – for instance, the benefit of small group discussions in a lesson – and working out how to deliver that effectively in Teams – by having group channels with the teacher dropping in to listen and give feedback. We encouraged teachers to break away from the screen as well, for everyone’s wellbeing and to bring the variety of types of work they would to a ‘real life’ lesson.

Our wonderful teaching staff have a high confidence level with the technology because we use it every day, and that has allowed them to experiment and explore. This week, the Head of German and I have figured out how to add subtitles or voiceover in a foreign language to an existing film clip with the software we have or free apps. We’ve got some ideas and learnt some new stuff, and we know the girls will come up with even more. Everyone is rising to the challenge of exploring and integrating new tools and new ideas – whether that’s a deeper knowledge of systems we used already, or brand new work.


Early in our planning, Fionnuala Kennedy, our Senior Deputy Head, came up with the three words to sum up our approach – clarity, consistency and connection.

Connection – use the technology at our disposal to stay connected with each other in as human a way as possible.

Whenever I speak about our digital strategy, I always put authentic first in the list. Our vision for digital technology embedded in our school life is a holistic and human-centred one. I talk about the need for the use of technology in schools to respect teachers’ professional judgements and their personal approaches. More technology is not necessarily better: teachers must choose their own path and my role is to encourage, guide, facilitate. Now we were all going off to our own homes to interact with one another entirely via screen, and one size did have to fit all in order to allow us a safe, consistent and calm remote learning experience. My peers on Twitter were jubilant that for digital specialists, our time had come! I wasn’t so sure it was that simple.

Above: Year 8 Spanish

I shouldn’t have worried. Our Wimbledonian spirit has meant that although we are all working in an unfamiliar and more standardised way, individuality has triumphed. Ms Phillips taught a remote sewing class, by voice and whiteboard from Teams; Dr Neumann encouraged her class to go outside, get a flower, dissect and photograph it; Spanish classes made board games; English classes acted out their text with soft toys; music groups made amusing remote ensemble videos; Junior girls in STEAM club explained their wacky home science experiments on Flipgrid. In among the functional necessity of online learning our authenticity and creativity has shone through.

Back in January at BETT, I quoted Georgia, a Year 13 student, talking about collaborating with her peers online:

“you’re helping others, they are helping you… It adds a new dimension to learning that doesn’t make it seem so stifled.”

This has turned out to be as true as ever. It’s been superb to see even the Year 5 and 6 girls who are new to using Teams and OneNote not only collaborating, but problem-solving and encouraging one another and their teachers in a warm and kind community.

Above: Year 10 Biology

What have we learned? And what comes next?

Although it feels a great deal longer, we have been away from our much-loved school building for 26 school days, as I write this. In a period characterised by fast-paced and ever-changing decision making, it’s salutary to pause and listen before we start thinking about the lessons we may have learned. We still have the challenge ahead of returning to our school site with social distancing in place. It’s clearer than ever that this is a marathon not a sprint, and that we’re all learning as we go.  Nevertheless, I’d like to share a few themes that seem to me to have emerged already.

Humility & Openness

Hardly anyone responsible for planning or delivering the remote learning taking place in schools throughout the world is an expert in the pedagogy and science of online or distance learning. It’s not part of our usual skill set. Remote learning is not like learning in a classroom and the two are not interchangeable. What those of us in education have achieved in the past eight weeks is our very best effort to ensure that learning is sustained for our students during a global crisis and unprecedented social lockdown. We’ve used our pedagogical expertise, and our deep knowledge of and care for our students and teachers to create a programme that works in our own context.

What we should do as we plan for the next academic year is make sure that we draw on expertise in the fields of online learning, instructional design and distance learning. We can then design new timetables, develop and modify our schemes of work, and put in place appropriate technology and courses to ensure that we can move to even more pedagogically robust guided home learning should we need to do so again. We can learn lessons from this experience and open up to new ideas for the future. A flexible, creative and exciting way of thinking about ‘school’ may lie ahead.

Above: Example of a Year 7 DT Class

Wellbeing & Community

We must remember that for all the cheerful social media sharing of birdsong and baking bread, for many people in our society this period may have been incredibly difficult – for reasons of economic disadvantage, personal risk of illness, mental health challenges and bereavement. Supporting the wellbeing of our own community and looking outwards to help others wherever we can – as our staff and girls have done wonderfully – has been paramount.

Within the school, finding ways to keep us connected digitally, both serious and fun, has been a privilege. Seeing staff and students create video assemblies, online quizzes, and share music and art have all been a joy. One of our students wrote:

“when watching the assembly this morning from Mrs Lunnon, I saw the views of the video rising. It was so satisfying and empowering to watch all the WHS seniors watching the same video as me at the same time.”

We may not want to abandon these entirely when we return to our school site, for the sense of connection they can offer.

International & National Collaboration

In this most global of crises, seeing the education community come together across the world has been inspiring. Through the Microsoft network, schools have shared their experiences and ideas. The value of online interaction and our new ease with video call technology has opened our eyes to new possibilities  – with friends in our international and local partner schools, and closer to home in our GDST family. This, as Jane Lunnon noted in The Telegraph this week, is a real opportunity to arise from this challenge. Sharing experiences, ideas and resources, working collaboratively, and learning with and from one another may be a positive outcome from this crisis.


International collaborative work to plan for home learning: https://iscdigital.co.uk/coronavirus-continuing-learning/

Academic resources for remote and online learning: https://my.chartered.college/2020/03/online-distance-and-home-learning-selected-reading/

Our stories: @wimbledonhigh on Twitter for examples of our Guided Home Learning programme and volunteering stories from our community





What role does the House system play in a modern school?

Miss Hannah Johnston, Head of Houses at WHS, examines why the House system is as important in the modern world as it was in the famous tales of Mr Chips and Harry Potter.


Mention ‘Houses’ in the context of a school and for a certain generation it is hard not to be instantly transported to ‘Hogwarts’ and all the connotations of the sorting hat. Originating from boarding schools where students lived in a ‘house’ the inclusion of a House system is popular among schools, and, thanks to J.K Rowling and those 4 most famous of Houses there is more awareness than ever of the advantages the House system brings.

While we do not rely on a sentient hat, each year we have the ‘Stepping In’ ceremony where our new girls are warmly received into their House, a pivotal moment in their entry to senior school. As girls and staff cheer from the side-lines, the initial ties of camaraderie and identity are being formed.

The Specialist School and Academies Trust (SSAT) found that in 2008 16% of Year 6 students did not feel ready to begin senior school. They advocated the House system as a way of ensuring students felt supported by their peers from the beginning; “Ensuring students feel comfortable in their new surroundings and making them feel part of their new environment as quickly as possible” (Garner, 2008). By dividing the school into 4 smaller groups (Arnold, Hastings, Meredith and Scott) we allow students to develop their sense of belonging quickly and help to remove the fear of ‘small fish big pond’ that can often follow, particularly if a girl has joined from a smaller primary school environment.

Above: Year 7 Stepping In; 2019


One of the main strengths of the House system is giving students of all ages the opportunity to work together, creating a truly cohesive environment and ensuring that age is not a barrier to friendship and collaboration. This reflects the life that we are preparing our girls for outside of WHS, nowhere beyond the confines of a classroom will they be required to work / interact with those only of their own age.

As David Tongue (Head, Brighton College Bangkok) said of the value of the House system; “camaraderie and solidarity is second to none and the benefits of this vertical interaction, where the young look up to the elder and where the elder look out for and support the younger, are profound”. We see this throughout the year in WHS but perhaps nowhere is it as evident as during House Drama. Watching the Year 7 and Year 12 students plan, rehearse and perform is one of the highlights of the Winter term. The dedication shown by all involved and the support given by fellow House members at each performance is wonderful.

Of course it is not only students who are allocated a House, staff are also involved. The sense of community that pervades throughout the school would, arguably, be incomplete if students were not given the opportunity to interact with teachers beyond those they see in the classroom, thereby encouraging stronger relationships between adults and students” (Green, 2006). Our recent ‘Connections Fortnight’ highlighted the importance of celebrating the relationships formed in school. Where better than to see this than through our Houses, small communities within the larger whole formed on shared interests and challenges.

Above: House Drama 2019


To talk about the House system and neglect to mention competition would be foolish. Potentially it is the competitive element of the Houses that people think of first. The all-important termly round up where the current leader is announced to great fanfare, the selection of mini competitions each term and, of course, Sports Day. Competition is good, it drives our students to improve, improves collegiality and teaches how to fail.

The House system is first and foremost inclusive of all learning types and interests. We have sporting (swimming, netball, hockey and sports day), artistic (Big Draw, House Music and House Drama) and cross-curricular (Robot Wars and the upcoming Spelling Bee and House Escape) events.

As was seen in a study between engagement and performance the sense of belonging provided by House membership, and the opportunity to enter into competitions with your peers can have numerous academic benefits as well as the social-emotional (Lee, 2014). Those who feel comfortable and supported enough to participate in House events are more likely to feel able to commit themselves fully to academia.


Above: Current House Captains

The House system allows for the promotion of student’s responsibility, “giving pupils the chance to learn and develop leadership skills is an outstanding benefit” (Tongue, 2016). The House Captains hone their leadership skills in the role, managing not only their peers but also learning how to ‘manage up’ among the staff body.

In another case of preparation for life beyond school, our House Captains rise to each challenge set, developing impressive time management and delegation skills.

In the upcoming House Robot Wars, the Captains have delegated the training sessions to those in KS4 that they have identified as having leadership qualities and the necessary Computer skills. Events such as House Music promote team work and communication. It takes a small army of girls to form the small group, organise whole House rehearsals and teach the choreography, yet everyone throws themselves in with dedication.

While we have our 4 House Captains there are opportunities throughout the year groups to take on smaller leadership roles, recent House Jigsaw saw students in Year 9 take charge and each inter-house sports team has a captain.

Above: House Masterchef

The House system searches for ways that students and staff can feel more connected to and involved with the community around them. It facilitates discussions between the most junior and most senior of school and fostering friendly competitive spirit along the way.


Garner, R., 2008. State secondaries urged to bring back the house system. [Online]  Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/state-secondaries-urged-to-bring-back-the-house-system-913930.html

Green, D. G., 2006. Welcome to the House System. Educational leadership: journal of the Department of Supervision and Curriculum Development, N.E.A, p. 63.

Lee, J.-S., 2014. The Relationship between Student Engagement and Academic Performance: Is It a Myth or Reality?. Journal of Educational Research, pp. 177-185.

Tongue, D., 2016. The House System: a typically British educational institution. [Online]
Available at: https://www.relocatemagazine.com/articles/education-the-house-system-a-typically-british-educational-institution

Friday Gem #5 – Hexagon Links Revision


John Parsons saw Nicola use this revision activity in a Year 11 Geography lesson last term. She borrowed the idea from Hannah. John said it was an “absolutely brilliant activity to help girls explore and remember links between concepts as they returned to a topic studied a year ago.” I love this activity – it feels like a more purposeful version of the quiz show game ‘Only Connect’ and it can be used across many subjects.

What is it?

  • There are key terms in each hexagon which are joined using a letter from the alphabet.
  • Students work by themselves or in pairs to suggest a link between the two key terms based on knowledge acquired previously in the course.
  • The key differentiator is to push students to really justify the link, perhaps using named examples etc.
  • The teacher then uses Q&A to further extend their ideas when sharing as a class at the end.

This is effective because…

  • By connecting ideas, students are building schema in their long term memory. Schema are like networks which organise interrelated concepts in an efficient and powerful way. When we need to use ideas from our long term memory, recalling schema allows us to be more flexible with the limited space in our working memory.
  • This task encourages pupils to understand a concept in multiple ways. Mentally tying together information/ideas is called ‘elaboration’. This is proven to enhance transfer into long term memory.
  • It requires pupils to pithily articulate their thoughts and to justify themselves, building confidence in their knowledge and understanding.
  • It’s fun and game-like!
  • For more information on building long term memory, click here: http://theelearningcoach.com/learning/long-term-memory-and-learning/

How do Independent-State School Partnerships (ISSPs) improve education for all?

ISSPS partnership

Nicola Kersley, co-ordinator of Charities and Partnerships at WHS, celebrates the government’s recent push for more ISSPs and looks at their value to all of the schools involved, and looks at how Wimbledon High is embracing partnerships.

ISSPs on the political agenda

Hard to remember though it may be, there was a time that the government talked about things other than Brexit; back in those halcyon days, Theresa May had her focus well and truly on education [1]. Her plans were intended to provide the backbone for her social mobility agenda, and included: the expansion of selective education in the form of grammar schools, the removal of barriers to good schools (for example selection based on faith), and universities and schools in the private sector giving more back to the state sector [2]. Acting swiftly on her ‘education, education, education’ moment, it took May’s government only two months to publish a green paper outlining its plans for the last of these, the partnerships strand to the strategy [3].

Partnerships between state and private schools were first formally given government backing in 1998 [4] when there was funding provided, and they have gone in and out of vogue ever since. May’s new initiative is in the process of renewing their position in the political limelight, and more power to her. Partnerships between schools should be a key feature of our education system, benefiting not only schools as institutions, but also the children they have a duty of care to, and even the wider community as a whole. This article addresses the arguments in favour of these partnerships and cites examples from Wimbledon High to demonstrate the successes that our reasonably young Teach Together partnership program is already having.

Benefits to Schools

The benefits of general collaboration have been explored in depth by Alex Farrer in November 2018’s WimTeach article [5] so I will avoid rehashing the details and rather stick to the more niche scenario of inter-school collaboration. Most obviously, collaboration provides opportunities for economies of scale [6]; if Wimbledon High hosts an Explore lecture and opens it up to attendees from its partner schools the cost per capita is reduced. The same applies for training days for staff and trips to visit universities.

Schools benefit from partnerships because staff benefit from partnerships [4]. It is through the breadth of experience that teaching practice flourishes, and working with pupils and staff from different schools, and indeed different socio-economic backgrounds, epitomises this. Working in ISSPs ensures that we do not become complacent in our own bubbles and that we are aware of other educational landscapes, often to mutual benefit [7]. For example, an ISSP can enable significant sharing of experiences and strategies regarding pastoral policies. Whilst independent schools are more susceptible to some issues pastorally and state schools are more susceptible to others, neither are immune to anything; the larger the knowledge base the better [6].

Figure 1: Local Primary teachers come together to test out new Science resources in our STEAM space

Partnerships also allow for resource sharing; it is undeniable that we in the independent sector are able to access resources and facilities closed off to many state schools. One prong of our partnership work at Wimbledon High is in the provision of access to facilities like our swimming pool, our music facilities (including the secondment of staff), and our Latin teachers allowing for immeasurable benefit to state school pupils, staff and departments. In the Physics department, our highly experienced lab technician is providing support to non-specialist technicians at some of our partner schools, the impact of which is hugely beneficial to those Physics departments and their ability to provide experience in practical work for pupils.

Figure 2: Physics teachers from WHS’s state school secondary partners share CPD and teaching ideas

Benefits to students

At Wimbledon High, one of our most wide-reaching expressions of partnership work is in our Teach Together program. This sees our pupils deliver well-prepared lessons and support to younger partner school pupils, supported by experienced teachers to ensure that benefit is maximised. The WHS girls involved are knowledgeable and respectable sixth formers and year 11s who the younger state school pupils can look up to, not only as ambassadors for their subject but also as aspirational role models. An excellent example of this is the work that WHS girls do every week mentoring Year 8s at Tolworth Girls’ School, a hugely successful project that sees our girls use their peer-counselling training to help Tolworth pupils think through their problems logically and level-headedly. For the state schoolchildren involved there can be only good done by attending extra sessions in a subject in which they need more support, be that academic or pastoral.

Figure 3: WHS sixth formers help Ricards Lodge KS3 students with Maths extension activities in an after school club

The benefits to the independent school participants are less obvious but certainly no less meaningful. Teachers know better than most that you do not really understand something until you have taught it, and it is in this assertion that the greatest benefit to the pupils lies. By preparing and delivering sessions for younger learners, the pupils are not only reinforcing their understanding of a topic [8] but also enhancing their ability to express their knowledge clearly, an undeniably important skill not least for university and job interviews. At Wimbledon High, we have a vast range of projects that allow our girls to inspire younger pupils with their chosen subjects, such as teaching Science to local primary schools at St Boniface and St Matthews. The girls are able to really develop their academic rigour when preparing the sessions, then hone their communication skills as they deliver them. When we work with other cohorts more similar in age, the abilities to collaborate and compromise are necessities. These skills are essential in projects like our science scheme with Ark Putney Academy (APA) in which our Year 11s, 12s and 13s are working with Year 10s from APA to collect real data about melting ice caps for scientists at the centre for polar observation and modelling [9]. Work like this is an invaluable practice in confidence building and teamwork.

Figure 4: APA and WHS students work together to collect data for the Institute of Research in the School’s MELT initiative

Measuring impact

The question for us working in partnerships is not whether or not there is a mutual benefit provided by partnership work because we know it to be fact. Rather, the question is how to demonstrate quantifiably this benefit. As an independent school, not only are we interested in measuring the value of each of our projects for the sake of growth and improvement, we are also required to report to the Independent Schools Council about the impact that they are having [10]. Evidence gathered is often qualitative and anecdotal making the impact difficult to quantify [11], but by using questionnaires issued to both staff and pupils, we have been able to track certain success measures such as interest in the subject and confidence. We are also able to look at tracking data of those pupils that we are working with and hope to see progress by using baseline data and tracing attainment over the course of the year, albeit a method made problematic due to significant external variables.


The government’s renewed push for ISSPs is a truly welcome initiative that we are embracing at Wimbledon High. By sharing resources and widening our circles of communication, staff and schools are already benefitting. Partnerships allow cohesion between the two sectors, and a breaking down of barriers and negative preconceptions. They enable teachers and support staff to benefit from high-quality professional development and the sharing of expertise [4].

Partnerships are also great for pupils involved, providing opportunities for learners from widely differing backgrounds to interact with each other in a positive and often innovative learning context. Those activities relating to academics are beneficial to all parties involved, providing support to the younger pupil being taught, and a revision opportunity and confidence builder for the pupil delivering the lesson. They foster imaginative, creative and exciting classroom and extracurricular provision. Mentoring projects give our girls excellent experience in peer counselling and provide positive role models for the state schoolchildren.

The challenge that we face moving forward is how to measure the impact that we instinctively know that we are having. We will be working over the next year on formulating meaningful measurement tools to provide quantifiable data, whilst we continue to expand the program to ensure that it is as wide-reaching and impactful as possible.


[1] T. May, “Why I’m giving education a huge boost,” The Telegraph, 7 March 2017.
[2] Lexington Communications, “Theresa May’s education education education moment,” 19 January 2019. [Online]. Available: http://lexcomm.co.uk/theresa-mays-education-education-education-moment.
[3] Department for Education, “Schools that work for everyone,” Department for Education, London, 2016.
[4] Ofsted, “Independent/State School Partnerships,” Ofsted, London, 2005.
[5] A. Farrer, “The Importance of Collaborative Learning,” Wimbledon High School, London, 2018.
[6] D. P. Armstrong, “Effective school partnerships and collaboration for school improvement: a review of the evidence,” Department for Education, London, 2015.
[7] J. Turner, “Building bridges: A study of independent-state school parterships,” National College for School Leadership, Nottingham, 2004.
[8] K. Kobayashi, “Interactivity: A Potential Determinant of Learning by Preparing to Teach and Teaching,” Frontiers in Psychology, Shizuoka, 2019.
[9] P. B. Parker, “IRIS MELT – Introducing the Challenge,” IRIS, [Online]. Available: http://www.researchinschools.org/projects/melt.html. [Accessed 02 03 2019].
[10] Department for Education, “Schools that Work for Everyone, Government consulation response,” Department for Education, London, 2018.
[11] M. Bourne, “Independent State School Partnerships – impact of and lessons learnt,” Department for Education, London, 2017.