What role can schools play in tackling violence against women and girls?

Deputy Head Pastoral, Ben Turner, questions what role can schools play in tackling violence against women.

The killing of Sabina Nessa, a 28-year-old primary school teacher, has again brought the media spotlight onto how the government, and wider society, is protecting women and girls against violence. Six months on from Sarah Everard’s murder, questions are rightly being asked about whether women are any safer.

As we acknowledge the grief caused by the loss of another young woman, we must also look at our continued work to help safeguard young women in our own school community. While the spotlight has focussed on other areas, Wimbledon High has been busy outlining the pillars of the Wimbledon Charter. A set of principles around protecting young girls from sexual assault and harassment, as well as taking a proactive, preventative approach with both sexes in meaningful partnership with Kings College School, Wimbledon, and other prospective partners. 

The Charter seeks to outline the key role every member of our and other school communities can play in safeguarding young people, as we seek lasting change in the way that girls and women are seen, recognising our role in wider society to protect and inform.

A safeguarding culture where voices are heard and protected

The Everyone’s Invited movement caused seismic shifts in the way that some institutions acted around reports of sexual assault and harassment. In our own school we have asked hard questions of how and when students are able to disclose what may have happened but also how those voices have been protected. Fundamental to the Charter is the acknowledgement that this is not solely a boys’ school issue. The importance of specialist training for staff, but also an acknowledgement and protection of peers, is essential in single and mixed sex institutions.  

As a school we have taken some definitive steps to ensure we continue to reflect an open and overt safeguarding culture. The appointment of a Lead Counsellor, with a specialism in sexual trauma, has been an important step. Making that role clear to students and staff is equally important however and adding another ‘space’ that girls can go has been vital. Building on the safeguarding update that all staff receive, we will also seek to train at least four key pastoral staff as specialists in sexual violence and harassment in partnership with Lime Culture, which will be mirrored by KCS.

We must always ensure that we are working in partnership with those agencies that can affect change beyond the school gates. We are working closely with our Police Liaison, and other partners in Merton, to ensure that the sharing of information around risk and vulnerable students is always our first priority.

Photo by Anete Lusina from Pexels

A proactive and synchronised programme of Relationship & Sex Education

The time for tea is over, was a line I wrote at the time of EI and the murder of Sarah Everard. I wrote it out of frustration with the manner in which PSHE can often be forgotten or diminished by teachers, and therefore schools, who are more focussed on the scholastic integrity of their subject than paying credence to a curriculum outside of their own department. Instead, schools have often deferred to experts, experts who come in for thirty or forty minutes, finishing with the notorious ‘cup of tea’ consent video, and ‘job done!’. The Charter is a call to arms for all teachers, to recommit to the knowledge that discussion of these topics, uncomfortable as they might be, is just as important, if not more so, than the discussion of an historical text or Maths equation. Moreover, it is so important that we have a candid conversation with ourselves, and our Year Teams, as to what topics we are comfortable teaching, and how we need to be supported in order to deliver the best RSE provision that our students deserve, and require.

Even more important is the knowledge that, through contextual safeguarding, we know that teens need to learn about relationships and sex earlier. It is too late to be addressing these issues at GCSE, when wider society and peer group are much more influential to teens than their parents or their school. ‘Age appropriate’ needs to be rethought, and our long-term partners in the RAP Project, and It Happens Education, are at the forefront of changing the landscape of conversations within schools. Together we want to tackle such topics as dating, partying, sexting, lad-culture & revenge porn. Teenagers are vulnerable to any number of these issues, and we seek to empower them with the law, the power of practicing discretion, mutual respect, and mutual consent.

This, however, is all very well if we are not ensuring that the same conversations are happing with boys of the same age. We are working with KCS, and other prospective partner schools, to ensure that we are following a programme that is synchronised across year groups, across schools, to ensure that teens are given the same information, earlier.

Meaningful and diverse partnership

There are two crucial partnerships that the Charter hopes to formalise. The first, recognises the vital role that parents play, individually and collectively, in supporting what is happening within schools. Parents face any number of individual challenges with their teenagers, and as they age, we know that school and home are far less influential than peers and wider society. Through parent consultation we know that there is a great deal that can be done by giving all parents a set of guidelines around parties, social time and curfews. We are believers in ‘elastic parenting’ and empowering teens to make decisions within clear boundaries. Parents, however, need the support of schools, and most importantly, each other, to ensure that they can put those boundaries in place, consistently.

The second partnership, and what I believe is the long-term key to our education’s role in preventing violence against women, is diverse and meaningful partnership between boys and girls. It is essential that men see women as more than mothers and potential girlfriends. Intellectual and social interaction, formalised across year groups is vital if we are to change endemic attitudes. That is why the Charter is committed to links like debating competitions for Year 10, leadership conferences for Sixth Formers, and transition activities with Year 7.

So, what next?

We hope to launch the Charter before Christmas and ensure that all steps have been taken, by both schools before launch. We hope that when the media spotlight once again leaves this issue, we will continue to be at the forefront of advocating for the safety and protection of women and girls, and the Charter seems like a meaningful platform to widen our fight.

What has COVID taught us about our relationships with others?

Mr Keith Cawsey, Head of Religious Studies at Wimbledon High, looks at the impact that COVID has had on our local community and the impact that small acts of kindness have in helping those in need.

Last December, as I was sitting having a cup of tea with a colleague in the Humanities office, our conversation moved on to this ‘mysterious virus’ that was emerging from China. It was spreading through a city called Wuhan and no-one knew what it was or the impact it had on health. It seemed a million miles away, far, far away from SW19. We discussed what would happen if it travelled over to London, but we both agreed that this seemed highly unlikely. We all know what happened next. Case after case, COVID 19 crept closer and closer and took over our lives in a very short space of time and in a way that we would never have imagined.

I believe that COVID has taught us a great deal about ourselves and the community that we live in.

The first thing to happen was sheer panic. I remember visiting my local supermarket at 0700 when it opened. What I saw was nothing short of apocalyptic – people running through the supermarket (and over each other) to grab the last remaining packets of toilet roll. Quite a few had five / ten packets in their trolley and they then selfishly guarded their ‘booty’ as they waited at the checkouts. Others snatched bread, milk, eggs, teabags, meat, butter – whatever they could find and piled their trollies sky high with food so that their families would not be without. What followed in the news? Pictures of bins piled high with out of date food and meat. It seemed that the whole country had become increasingly selfish and the only people who mattered were the people in their families. What had happened to us?

Every religion is unique, but what is particularly interesting is the similarities between them. One thing that stands out as a ‘golden thread’ from all worldviews is charity and caring for others.

Indeed, every religion encourages its followers to care for others, particularly the poor and vulnerable.

  • Hinduism teaches about ‘atman’ – the aspect of God that is in each and every one of us. As equals on this planet, we need to protect every living thing, including animals.
  • The Buddha taught about compassion and how to alleviate suffering, ‘dukkha’.
  • Guru Nanak taught about the importance of providing for others, physically and spiritually.
  • Jesus Christ taught us to ‘love your neighbour’.
  • At the heart of the Jewish faith is ‘Tzedakah’ – a religious duty to provide for anyone in need.
  • One of the Five Pillars of Islam is ‘Zakah’ – 2.5% of all income is shared amongst those in society who need it most.

As we all know, you don’t have to be religious to feel a moral duty to help others. Humanists believe that by helping others, we make society fairer and it is an obligation of us all to provide for those in need.

So while some where piling their trollies sky high with food that would go to waste, what happened next was nothing short of a miracle. As most of us sat safe at home, we started to think about those in our community who carried on regardless: our refuse collectors, our post people, policemen and women, our firefighters, our nurses and doctors. I am sure that no-one will ever forget standing on our doorsteps clapping for our NHS workers who went to work each day putting themselves in the eye of the storm, quietly, diligently and without any fuss.

It became clear to me that in the middle of such a national catastrophe, there were two types of people – those that cared only about themselves and those who put themselves out to help others in whatever way they could – a phone call / a doorstep conversation / a text to people who lived alone. Streets became connected like never before. People were knocking on their neighbours’ doors. Shopping lists were exchanged and those who were shielding were cared for – food deliveries were made. We realised that even though we were scared about the pandemic, it was our moral duty to care for those who needed us.

In Merton, the following charities helped those in need:

  • The Faith in Action Merton Homeless Project
  • Merton Giving Coronavirus Fund
  • Merton Mutual Aid
  • MVSC Covid-19 Community Response Hub
  • Stem4 (Teenage Mental Health Charity)
  • The Dons Local Action Group
  • Wimbledon Food Bank
  • Wimbledon Guild

Some volunteered, others gave tinned food outside supermarkets and others were able to give a financial contribution.

We realised that even though we live our separate lives, the one thing that unites us is our community.

We will be talking about the pandemic for years to come but I hope that the one thing we will reflect on is the power of community. We will never ever again take for granted the tireless work of our NHS staff and our key workers and we should all aim to keep the conversations going with our neighbours.

We are stronger together and we should always aim to be kind. These are the connections and relationships that really matter. Happiness is sometimes a cup of tea, a meal cooked by someone else or a text from someone who you haven’t heard from for a while. These acts of kindness can often cost very little but are invaluable to the recipient and really matter.

Let’s hope that we are turning a corner with COVID and can get back to a ‘normal’ life soon. But when we do, we should always remember the connections we have made and the power that our community has when we truly work together and show kindness and love for one another.

‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in.’

Matthew 25:35

If you would like to support Wimbledon High’s Christmas 2020 Project please do visit our Christmas Firefly Page where you can find out all about our Access to Learning Project, where we are raising funds to support the purchase of computers for pupils in two of our local primary partner schools, enabling their pupils to access learning when they are at home owing to self-isolation requirements. If every pupil in Wimbledon High raised just £10 each, we would have raised over £10000 in total, enabling the purchase of 40 iPads or laptops!

The positive geographies of Covid-19

Dr. Stephanie Harel, Acting Head of Geography, explores the positive geographies of our current global pandemic, including a stronger local sense of place and a greater environmental consciousness.

As an educator, I concern myself every day with demonstrating how and why “Geography matters”. Central to our discipline, and indeed my own academic interests, is the often-contested concept of ‘place’. At its heart, lies the notion of a meaningful segment of geographical space, although what is also important to understand, is that places are dynamic and multifaceted[1]. Recently, I introduced our Year 12 students to these ideas, as part of the Changing Spaces, Making Places unit in our OCR specification. Over the past three weeks, we have explored the difference between ‘place’ and ‘space’, the characteristics that constitute a place profile and how perception of place can vary depending on factors such as age, gender and personal experience. Lively class debates have discussed how people can see, experience and understand place in different ways and, perhaps most importantly, how our relationships with places can change over time.

I love teaching this unit, because it aligns with my own research interests and allows me to delve into what was the focus of my doctoral thesis. My PhD explored the complexities of people’s emotional response to disasters. Acknowledging that people negotiate their emotions in different ways, my thesis demonstrated the complex ways that emotions influence how the disaster displaced relate to ‘home’ in the aftermath of disaster. As a practitioner, I see much value in using this research to develop students’ understanding of how the concept of place works in practice. During Guided Home Learning, for example, I relished the opportunity to teach a two-week segment as part of the Geography elective for Years 11-13, which explored the ‘Emotional Geographies of Home’. In our sessions, I shared stories from real people who had lost their homes as a result of the 2011 flood event in Brisbane, Australia, and 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. As I explained to my students, the aim of my PhD research was to extend geographic knowledge on the emotional dynamics of natural disasters. However, I also aimed to contribute to debates within our discipline about how places can be disrupted and altered in a myriad of ways and as a consequence of both physical and human processes. Again, these sessions promoted incredibly rich discussions. The level of independent thought and active enquiry shown in students’ post-course reflections showed deep engagement with course content, on both an academic and a personal level; as a teacher, it was richly rewarding to read these reflections.

While my doctoral research was carried out within the context of natural disasters, I believe there is huge potential to explore these ideas further, within our current global climate. Media outlets across the country are presenting the endless disruption caused to places as a result of the COVID-19 global pandemic. This is important, of course; the economic and social consequences of COVID-19 will undoubtedly be severe and long lasting. Still, I would like to intervene amidst what sometimes feels like a barrage of negativity. I want to suggest that there are many positive ways in which the pandemic has altered places around the world, at a variety of different scales. The following, therefore, is what I deem to be ‘The positive geographies of COVID-19’:

A stronger ‘sense of place’

When I was researching in Brisbane and Christchurch, and indeed for my Masters research in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina[2], one of the positive outcomes of the experience of a natural disaster was the way in which communities came together in the face of crisis. My research exemplified how emotions play a key role in the construction of place and many of my interview narratives demonstrated the value of social capital in the aftermath of catastrophe. Narratives of those who were displaced and subsequently returned to post-earthquake Christchurch, for example, discussed the importance of community support networks and the strengthening of their local neighbourhoods in the aftermath of the earthquake. From what I’ve seen in 2020, the same concepts ring true during a global pandemic.

Above: Hurricane Katrina Flooding, Pixabay

In Geography, a ‘sense of place’ refers to a feeling of belonging; a strong identity that is deeply felt by inhabitants and visitors. It is often a term used by humanistic geographers to describe our attachment to specific locations[3]. I would argue that with communities coming together to clap for NHS carers and networks of volunteers supporting vulnerable members of their communities, lockdown deeply enhanced our local sense of place. It also, I believe, caused us all to redefine our relationship with ‘home’, purely because we spent such an unusually large amount of time there. Socially distanced neighbourhood street parties and road WhatsApp groups where neighbours could check in on each other became the new norm. The 75th anniversary of VE day saw us all aptly enjoying the sound of ‘We will meet again’, celebrating with our local communities, from the comfort of our own driveways. In a personal capacity, lockdown resulted in a significant increase in the amount of time I was able to spend with my husband and young daughter; time I will cherish. I was able to witness my daughter’s first wobbly steps, knowing this was only possible because I was working from home. I then watched her grow confidence as she navigated the potholes along our road, cheered on (from a distance) by our kind neighbours.

Although I have long explored the concept of ‘place’ and acknowledged the way in which places are constructed by humans and human interactions, COVID-19 illuminated this reality in a way I never expected. Places truly are defined by the people within them; it is the experiences we have, and the relationships and memories we create that make geographical locations meaningful. The stronger sense of local place I feel towards my local community is evidence of this, but I am also struck by heightened sense of place created here at school as a result of the pandemic. Despite lockdown, our community remained united – Together Apart – and I think this unwavering sense of place experienced at Wimbledon High School during a time of national crisis is worthy of celebration.

Environmental consciousness

As well as teaching the core Human Geography Unit in Year 12, I also teach our Year 13 Geographers the core Physical systems unit, ‘Earth’s Life Support Systems’. Content within ELSS incorporates an understanding of our global water and carbon cycles, the consequences of human activity on these natural systems and the importance of management strategies which protect our vulnerable planet. Carbon emissions remain one of the world’s most significant environmental concerns. Emerging and developing countries, such as China and India have long been at the top of the contributor list for global greenhouse gas emissions. Interestingly, however, the pandemic has shut down industrial activity and temporarily slashed air pollution levels all around the world.

Above: Pollution levels in China in 2019, left, and 2020. Photograph: Guardian Visuals / ESA satellite data

I find myself wondering: Inadvertently, is this the largest scale pollution experiment the world has ever seen? Could this be the outcome of moving towards a low-carbon, green, economy in the future? And it is not just our dominant developing countries that have seen the positive effects of lower carbon emissions as a result of COVID-induced lockdowns. Italy’s usually heavily congested roads substantially reduced levels of traffic, resulting in drastically lower nitrogen oxide levels in the country[4]. The positive environmental consequences of this are unprecedented and offer an opportunity to think more critically about the implications of our everyday practices.

In addition to the global decline in factory pollution, it is also worthy to acknowledge the positive implications associated with a reduction in air travel as a result of national lockdowns around world. Today’s society is a society (normally) on the move. With the development of mass automobility and aeromobility, the scale of our travel has grown immense, and social life and social organisation are increasingly dependent on mobility[5]. COVID-19, however, has restricted our international mobility in a way that feels almost unnaturally authoritarian. While of course I acknowledge the challenges associated with being bound within our national territories, I’d also like to highlight the positives. The outcome of an inability to travel abroad is an increase in local and national ‘staycations’. I admit that I am someone who has lived in Australia and the USA, but never been to the Peak District. I’ve travelled to Singapore but haven’t explored many of the islands from my Scottish homeland. What COVID-19 has allowed for is an appreciation of the natural beauty that surrounds us not only in locally in London and the South-East, but all over the British Isles. As a nation, our inability to holiday overseas has increased an awareness of our local geographies, prompting an enjoyment of these local landscapes and the wonders that surround us, and sparking a renewed environmental awareness that aims to preserve them.

So then, it is pertinent to remember that 2020 is not a year to write off; perhaps it is, instead, a year full of opportunities. A time to connect and reconnect. A chance to acknowledge the beauty of our local surroundings and reconsider the impact our patterns of consumption so that we can rectify our environmental impact. As a geographer, I have long been fascinated by the relationship between people and places. I hope this post has demonstrated how geographers can offer some very useful ideas for making sense of our current situation; what has happened, what we might be feeling, and how we might go forward – stronger than before.


[1] Cresswell, T. (2004) Place: A short introduction. Blackwell Publishing

[2] Morrice, S. (2012) Heartache and Hurricane Katrina: Recognising the influence of emotion in post-disaster return decisions. Area 45(1), 1-7.

[3] Massey, D. (2005). For Space. London: Sage.

[4] Watts, J. & Kommenda, N. (2020) Coronavirus pandemic leading to huge drop in air pollution. Accessed at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/mar/23/coronavirus-pandemic-leading-to-huge-drop-in-air-pollution

[5] Gustafan, P. (2014) Place attachment in an age of mobility. In Manzo and Devine-Wright Place (eds.) attachement: Advances in Theory, Methods and Application. Routledge, 2014.

Friday Gem #14 – YOUR ideas bout return to the classroom

Teaching and Learning Gem #14 –  Return to the classroom. Building Community; Finding Gaps; Knowing your students and giving voice to all

This is an ‘uber’ Friday Gem which collates and shares all your ideas from your breakout discussions. The level of thought and the deep exploration of our priorities for the classroom was humbling.

Please open and peruse the attached booklet of YOUR ideas.


Training: If you would like training on any of the digital tools discussed yesterday, please complete this form and we will set up some twilight.

A big thank you to our group facilitators: James Courtenay Clack, Dan Addis, Helen Sinclair, Alys Lloyd, Steph Harel, Lucinda Gilchrist and Claire Baty

A big thank you to the scribes: Holly Beckwith, Rebecca Brown and Jane Fawcett

Community: the crux of the post lockdown classroom

Amidst national concerns about students’ academic progress during lockdown, Suzy Pett, Director of Studies at Wimbledon High, thinks about the far more essential point: that the return to the classroom – and the very act of learning itself – is intrinsically about human connection and communion.

As Director of Studies at Wimbledon High School, now more than ever I am thinking about what our classrooms will look and feel like in September. As a teacher of 10 years, I’m familiar with the end-of-summer surge of excitement and apprehension about school return. Despite the nerves, there is something ritualistic and reassuring about it. In the words of Philip Larkin, we can ‘begin afresh, afresh, afresh’.

But, with Covid-19 having forced us from our physical classrooms for so long, this time it feels different. There is, of course, the fact that classrooms will now look unfamiliar. In a throwback to times gone by, students will all be facing forward, with the teacher pinned to their white board or laptop at the front. However, the changes run deeper. I’ve been thinking through the implications of them on the very way we teach.

Concern about the lack of learning during lockdown is understandably high in the national consciousness. Exasperated parents took to Twitter, wryly pleading for “Alexa [to] please home school my child.” A study by the National Foundation for Educational Research reported that most students did fewer than 3 hours study per day. Educators worked harder than ever to engage and motivate students, with innovative online programs. Fortunately, there were many success stories, and at Wimbledon High our Guided Home Learning allowed students to maintain pace and progress in their education.

However, teachers across the country will be returning acutely aware of the curriculum content they need to cover. They will be detecting where students’ understanding might be shaky from home learning. They will employ their most winning combination of quizzing, questioning and testing to unearth – and then fill – any knowledge or skills gaps. They will be helping students to self-reflect and be ready to proffer feedback. In pursuit of maximum academic progress, classrooms will be aglow with teachers’ voices enthusing, encouraging, cajoling and reassuring their students. There will be – I am certain – no lack of ambition for what this generation of young people will achieve this year.

Though, what is uppermost in my mind as I prepare for school return in September, is the fundamental nature of the classroom as a community. With reports of students feeling increasingly isolated and disconnected in lockdown, it’s even clearer to me that learning is an act that unites. Whilst I am ardent about academic progress, I am far more attuned at the start of this school year to how my methods of teaching can forge those much-needed meaningful, human bonds.

It goes without saying that the soul of the classroom is far more than the acquisition of knowledge. Intrinsic to the very process of learning is human connection and communion. With the flimsy and chimeric relationships on social media, our classroom spaces – and the way we teach – can be a salve for young people needing to feel part of a more stable community. Lesson rules become shared customs. Rigorous class discussion allows every student to have a voice that is heard. Opinions and ideas are shared and probed so that conversation is far more nuanced and rich than social media sound bites. Judging the right challenge and pace of learning creates trust as students rely on each other and their teacher to problem-solve and move forward.

In lessons, we metaphorically go through the woods and come out the other side. Together. Connected. No one is left behind. And, it is teachers’ careful planning and pedagogy that enable this. Online learning went some way to recreate this, but nothing will beat the power of in-person learning to rekindle that sense of togetherness for young people.

Here at Wimbledon High we’ve always believed in the intertwining of pastoral and academic care. They are not separate. As I start this school year and think about my teaching practice for the months ahead, I am convinced of this more than ever.


Can outdoor learning create thinkers, risk takers and environmental pioneers?

Mrs Sarah Brierley, Miss Tiffany McIntyre and Miss Jade Mayes explore the impacts of learning beyond the classroom on pupils’ social, emotional, physical development and academic progress.

We are the Wild Girls

Outdoor Education is an umbrella term for any educational session which takes place outside the classroom; from Maths lessons in the playground, to visits to the Tower of London. For us, Wild Girls provides our pupils with the opportunity to jump in puddles, build shelters, write poetry in the woods, fly kites and learn to love nature. As we like to say, there is no Wi-Fi in the woods, but you’ll find a better connection! Children are also given permission to play freely, to explore their natural environment and take controlled risks.

Meet the facilitators with a vision

Participants are destined to achieve. The Wild Girls’ facilitators aim to make observations based on each individual girl, in order to scaffold their learning and allow them to take controlled risks.

Sarah Brierley:
I moved to the centre of Wimbledon 4 years ago, from the beauty of The Lake District, which offers a different outdoor classroom for each day of the year. As a mountain leader and RYA dingy sailing instructor, when I shared my vision with my fellow outdoor instructors from the Lakes, they were bewildered at how I could possibly suggest delivering outdoor education in central London- but we’ve done it!

Jade Mayes:
As a Year 1 teacher, I fully understand the importance of hands on, child-led learning. I have a background in Forest School Education, and bring this knowledge to our new initiative. My vision is to foster a community of individuals, who have just as much love for the natural world as I do, and in return will take care of it for future generations.

Tiffany McIntyre:
As a Reception teacher, I aspire to make this project more than just taking learning from indoors into an outside area, but to go further and provide opportunities that cannot be achieved within the confines of a classroom. Once the walls are removed, children have a sense of space and freedom that allows their young minds to investigate, explore and create on a larger scale. They move freely, building confidence through shared enterprise and hands-on experiences. Whether this involves building a pirate ship or investigating the best consistency of sand to build a sand castle, it all supports the children in the acquisition of skills and encourages them to develop independent thought, where the possibilities are endless.

The importance of learning beyond the classroom

We can learn so much from nature. The trees in a forest care for each other, communicating through their roots. They warn each other about dangers and use this network to decide when to seed. We can learn so much from this ‘wood wide web’ (Flannary, 2016.)  The lessons trees provide us about team work are endless. Isolated trees have much shorter lifespans than those living connected together in the woods (Wohlleben, 2016.) Surely, this is a lesson that will support our pupils as they progress through life.

Our KS1 sessions include the use of a range of activities and resources to encourage our pupils to participate. Nature provides a therapeutic environment for pupils to truly be themselves and grow as individuals. This point of view is supported by Carl Roger in his book A Way of Being – ‘I love to create such an environment, in which persons, groups, and even plants can grow…real relationships with persons, hands dirtied in  the soil, observing the budding flower, or viewing a sunset, are necessary to my life’ (Rogers, 1995). This concept is at the heart of our practice and has already been successfully implemented within our Junior School.

Holistic pedagogy

The holistic approach is naturally engrained in the structures of a Wild Girls’ session, as emotions, fears, conflicts and friendships form an intrinsic part of each session. This offers children the opportunity to grapple with challenging processes, as they play freely within the woodland setting.

In an urban environment, it is essential for children to have access to nature. For us to be able to extend these opportunities as part of our Wild Girls programme is invaluable.

In addition to this, children need nature for the healthy development of their senses and consequently their learning and creativity. Asking children to use their senses to interpret the world around them can be challenging for those who have not had the opportunity to develop these faculties.

These classrooms come cheap too. London provides the world’s largest urban forest, ‘8.4 million trees for 8.6 million people’ (Wood, 2019.) In London, most areas of outdoor space are free to access and close to transport networks making it easy and free for schools to use them.

Wild Girls in Action

At Wimbledon High Junior School, we have created different activities for our girls to explore whilst outdoors.

In Year 6, our pupils study navigational skills in a woodland setting, in order to learn how to use compasses and read maps. These are skills that could be potentially get lost in the high-tech world our children are being brought up in. When learning about directions on a compass, one misconception emerged when a pupil suggested that North is always dictated by the direction of the wind! Even if she never uses a compass again in her life, she has been afforded a valuable learning opportunity.

In Reception, these experiences are focused on inviting the pupils to be a part of their environment, to observe and respect what they can see, hear and feel. Using stories as a starting point, we connect with nature and encourage the girls to lead the learning experience. However, the most fun our girls have had was splashing in the puddles on their way into the forest! These opportunities provide the foundation for these young learners to grow and to develop as they move through the Junior School.

Year 1 pupils have used free play to explore the woods, making wind chimes and mud cakes, whilst coming across many mini beasts to identify. In the outdoors, nature is in control. Although you can predict what the weather is going to do, you can’t predict what children will learn the most from in the natural classroom you’ve created. This is the beauty of outdoor education.

Final thoughts

This opportunity to roam unchecked and learn life skills in the outdoors is arguably the most important education any child can have. It is enriching for the soul and brings out character traits that may be hidden whilst learning indoors. In the short space of time that we have been delivering ‘Wild Girls’, we have observed social connections becoming stronger and more universal, and an even more cohesive sense of community emerging. Personality types who may be naturally more reserved, have been given the space to show the qualities of leadership and collaboration. In an ever-changing, evolving world, giving children the space and freedom to be a child, has never been more important.


Wohlleben P, The Hidden Life of Trees, London, William Collins, 2017

Wood P, London is a Forest, London, Quadrille, 2019

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.