Is authentic research, where young scientists have complete free rein, really possible at school?

Dr Clare Roper, Director of Science, Technology and Engineering at WHS, looks at how advances in information technology have removed the barriers that often limit the scope for school students to embark on their own innovative authentic scientific research.

I was sitting in a lecture at Oxford University about 18 months ago when it suddenly became clear to me that the factor most often restricting school students from undertaking their own authentic research had evaporated and was no longer an issue.

Classroom science experiments commonly involve replicating known scientific phenomena to backup discoveries that are well documented in the scientific literature. Unfortunately, quite often we cannot even so much as replicate the data from a science textbook in a school laboratory because the data collection is too complex. Instead, we might explore the scientific process taken by a research group as we unpack a beautiful classic experiment and marvel at their discovery and how it has shaped our understanding of scientific concepts . A personal favourite is the magically simple experiment of Meselson and Stahl which elucidated how exact copies of DNA are created each time a new cell is formed [1]. At the end of a lesson exploring their experiment, it is customary to have a look at photographs of the scientists and perhaps consider how they may have come up with their experimental design.

Meselson in lab
Above: Meselson in his lab, 1958

I often ponder whilst looking at a black and white photograph of a scientist with his unrecognisable equipment, how this person might be perceived by the students sitting in front of me in our shiny new STEAM tower. Is this what being a scientist entails? Even after removing the stereotype of the person themselves, there is the barrier of the often sophisticated machinery and the hours of patient work required to collect sufficient data to make meaningful conclusions. I have no doubt that although we can enjoy the simplicity of their experiments in class, it surely reinforces the notion that novel scientific research is something inaccessible and unattractive to many school students.

In sport, there are countless role models of young athletes competing on the world stage, with celebrated successes at their local schools. The same can be said of talented young actors, artists, musicians and even activists and politicians. But try to think of a brilliant young scientist who has gone on to become a world leader having had the opportunity to hone their skills and find their path whilst at school. The fantastic news that two leading female scientists, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, have just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work on genome editing [2] will certainly go a long way to inspiring more female scientists to dream big. However, like most leading scientists, their first taste of authentic research came after entering university and most are often only recognised much later in life.

The good news is that a growing number of passionate science teachers have teamed up with academics and a variety of institutions to provide opportunities for young scientists. Most research projects require access to expensive machinery or software that is beyond the reach of a school science department budget, and even those projects that are possible often tend to focus more on one or two aspects of the scientific process and cannot give the students carte blanche to explore their own curiosities because of time or cost constraints. Nevertheless at WHS we jumped on board and our students have benefitted hugely from projects including ORBYTS, and IRIS.

While I was in that lecture at Oxford that I suddenly realised that the missing ingredient that has recently evaporated was the need for the sophisticated machinery, and along with it, the prohibitive costs, and lengthy time required to collect data. The lecture was given by Prof Stephen Roberts, who specialises in machine learning and data analysis. Talking to him after his presentation about how ‘big data’ has shifted the emphasis in many university research labs from classic experimental design and data collection, towards a notion of data mining confirmed for me that the vast array of publicly available big datasets means that this modern approach to the scientific method makes novel research a feasible venture for all school students.

Scientific research using a data mining approach is exciting in that the data already exists, replacing the need for laborious experimental testing. The phenomenal progress in the field of artificial intelligence has meant that individual lab-bench experimental datasets are being replaced with enormous datasets which bring with them greater authenticity to the results, and also the ability to explore an expansive array of research questions that were never possible before. Data is amassing quicker than tertiary-level scientists can analyse it, and so the potential for school students to pose innovative research questions of these big datasets is not only boundless, but also a welcome and untapped asset in the quest to answer the world’s most pressing scientific questions.

Scientific method graph
Above: The Scientific Method

Novel research already on the go at WHS

We have already embarked on this exciting journey. Our first venture has been a collaboration with AELTC and IBM, who have kindly provided us with access to a huge dataset from the Wimbledon Tennis Championships. Like all great research groups, and in true STEAM+ style, we bring together different skills. The creative powers of the unclouded vision of the young scientists, supported by our Director of Sport Ms Coutts-Wood’s expertise in sport science and my experience of data analysis, has meant than we are in the final stages of publishing our first scientific paper on the impact of serve speed on winning the point. How apt!

Two more groups started during lockdown. One group under the supervision of Ms McGovern (Head of Chemistry) in collaboration with the University of Bristol, has recently received a special award for their research on Air Pollution. The other group are drawing on the expertise at the European Bioinformatics Institute in Heidelberg, Germany and the Wellcome Trust Genome Campus outside Cambridge. Their research questions range from discovering the differences in proteins associated with immune function in red and grey squirrels, to determining which mammalian species do not have attachment sites for the coronavirus (SARS CoV-2) spike protein. These bioinformatics projects will be launched on the EBI website soon to allow other schools to join in as well. Watch this space!

Just as the new STEAM tower is about to open, so too are new exciting possibilities for our young imaginative scientists at WHS.

Racket Research Club
Above: Discussing exciting new findings in the STEAM tower





What does learning at Oxbridge entail?

Mrs Hattie Franklin, Head of Year 12 and Oxbridge Coordinator (Arts and Humanities), explores what learning at Oxbridge entails and how the Oxbridge and Academic Scholarship programmes can help WHS students with their applications and developing their attitude to their own intellectual curiosity and passions.

Oxford and Cambridge are two of the oldest and most famous universities in the world, ranked at the top of the league tables and justifiably revered for nurturing academia across all disciplines. The undergraduate offering is a world class education and students from all over the globe vie for places in the hope of gaining a well-respected degree which unlocks opportunities in life after university. The myths surrounding the interview process are legendary, the pace of the teaching is fast, demanding and rewarding, the co-curricular offering is rich, and some of the traditions are just a little quirky. But, with competition for places more intense than ever and no guarantee of a successful application, it can be an intimidating challenge to take on. So, I would like to talk through an overview of an Oxbridge education in this article and explain why it is perhaps a little more accessible than you might think.

What kind of thinker are you?

Are you naturally curious, question what you learn in lessons and enjoy debating hot topics with your peers and your teachers? Do you live by the Socratic maxim that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living for mankind’? If so, the Oxbridge teaching model might well suit you. The core teaching for each subject is based around conversations, normally between two or three students and their tutor, who is an expert on that topic. These are called tutorials (Oxford) or supervisions (Cambridge), and they offer a chance to talk in-depth about a topic and to receive individual feedback on your work. To prepare for each meeting with their tutor, students will have read the books on the reading list and prepared an essay a week, or sometimes, two. There is also a requirement to attend lectures, seminars and classes on a weekly basis to supplement learning. Terms are shorter than other universities’ and are only 8 weeks long which means that preparatory work for each term is set for the preceding holiday and examined in the week before term officially begins. So, in addition to strong academic ability, you need to have mastered those important study skills of organisation and time management and be motivated to study independently.

How do I know if it’s the right thing for me?

There is no typical Oxbridge student and no single experience. Students who are passionate about their subject, diligent, driven and, most of all, have a love of academic exploration are already embodying many of the qualities necessary to apply and to succeed. It is never too early to embrace academic excellence and WHS has a varied and exciting Academic Scholarship programme to inspire pupils at every Key Stage, including Rosewell and Explore lectures, subject societies and academic extension clubs, WimTalks and Symposia, masterclasses and more informal discussion groups such as the hugely popular Tea and T’inking. In our new STEAM tower, and through our STEAM+ initiative, we have a brilliant new space specifically designed to help ingenuity to flourish and allow creative experimentation in inter-disciplinary learning. The scholarship programme is a warmly inclusive one: a desire to challenge oneself and venture into new areas of interest are the only criteria for involvement. More on our WHS offering across the school can be found in Mr Addis’s blog here

Above: Sixth Formers studying in the Common Room

I’ve decided to apply: now what?

Every student who decides to apply for Oxbridge will have access to individual and group support as part of the Oxbridge preparation programme. The programme is officially launched in the Spring Term of Year 12 and we assign students a mentor in their subject, with whom they will meet regularly to discuss and develop their areas of interest. The best candidates drive their own mentoring sessions, bringing ideas to the table and challenging themselves to think around their subject. Importantly, it should not feel like ‘extra’ work but an opportunity to explore areas that have particularly piqued your interest in lessons. A favourite author, a specific and niche period of History, a passion for Greek tragedy or a love of linguistics: there are no set boundaries and the world of academia really is your metaphorical oyster!

The application process

Oxbridge applications need to be submitted earlier than other universities, and students will need to finalise their Personal Statements in the summer holiday of Year 12, ready to review and send to UCAS before October half term. You will focus also in the Autumn term of Year 13 on preparing for any aptitude test and, if invited for one, your interview.

Urban myths abound about the ‘dreaded’ Oxbridge interview: as I prepared for my own, I was horrified to be told stories of the naïve student who was asked to throw a brick through a (closed) window or the hopeful who, when asked by the interviewing don to ‘surprise me!’, set fire to his interviewer’s newspaper with unfortunate consequences. The reality for me was a very accessible and interesting conversation about Medea and other Euripides plays, which I had nominated in the interview as my specialist subject, a few difficult questions to prompt lateral and dynamic thinking, and absolutely no requests to destroy any element of my tutor’s study.

Interviews can be unnerving: they are, by and large, a new experience in an unfamiliar place but your interviewer is on your side and will not expect you to be a global expert on your A level subject. At interview, the best candidates present their ability, interest and potential, and are encouraged to apply their knowledge to new problems.

You will be expected to engage in an intense academic conversation to allow you show what you know but also to demonstrate that you would flourish in a tutorial-style learning environment. There will be a few unexpected questions; primarily to stop you reciting your carefully learned, heftily rhetorical speech on why Homer is the best poet that the world has ever seen (He is. But your interviewer also knows that). Thinking hard, pausing to collect yourself, being measured, coherent and eloquent in your responses are all components of a good interview which will hopefully be enjoyed by both sides. With regards to preparation, practice is key to help you acclimatise to nerves and think quickly and logically, so do take advantage of any opportunities organized by the school and independently if you can.

Above: Year 12 Science

Fortes fortuna adiuvat

The highly competitive nature of the application process and the extra effort involved proves to be too much of a gamble for some. In addition, on review of the courses available, other students conclude that their dream university course is not to be found at Oxford or Cambridge. However, pupils who are confident, highly academic and have an intrinsic love of learning should certainly seek advice about Oxbridge application from the teacher of their favourite subject or the WHS Sixth Form Team. Whatever the outcome, the experience of an application will be an intellectually enriching and stimulating one, and it could result in three or four years of an unforgettable undergraduate educational experience.

Moreover, in addition to the academic experience, Oxford and Cambridge also both offer a vast range of activities to be enjoyed outside of tutorials, from debating in the Oxford Union to the Cambridge Footlights; from college choirs to becoming a sporting Blue; plus many of the usual student societies. Do contact me or Mrs Nicolas (for STEM subjects) or myself if you would like to find out more.

And one final word of advice about that interview: do have something in your arsenal which does not involve arson itself, on the off-chance that a world expert actually does ask you to ‘surprise them’…

SLT Aims for 2020 – Part 4

In this week’s edition of WimLearn, Jess, Vera and Lili discuss their aims for this year as our head girl team of the Student Leadership Team 2021.

Coming back in 2020 is already different to any other year. For us in the Head Girl Team, part of that entails the humble yet vital aim to keep our school full of safe and healthy students: taking measures against the spread of the pandemic, while also trying to support mental health by  reconnecting students as well as possible. We also wish for a continued push for environmental change, both in and outside of school as we don’t want to give COVID the chance to side-track us from this important issue. Part of doing this will involve encouraging out-of-the-box thinking both in extracurriculars and in academics (and we hope this will be facilitated by our wonderful new STEAM tower!). The world needs bold, creative, and brave thinkers to tackle the problems we face today. We believe that those thinkers are at WHS.

This year there is no shying away from our need to partake in conversations surrounding race. We aim to diversify the academic curriculum and the pastoral system at WHS. This encapsulates areas of PSHE, the peer counselling program, and extracurricular life. We want discussion groups and committees to create a dialogue surrounding racial inequality since awareness and discussion are key to making a change. We aim to foster the courage ready to stand up for what is right and decent when injustice is in the way. Some of these conversations may be uncomfortable or unpleasant, but the consequences of not having these discussions are far worse. We hope the student body is on board with our mission to bring ourselves together – even when we are apart – to build the foundations for a better post-COVID world.

SLT Aims for 2020 Part 1

In this week’s edition of WimLearn, Malin, Ariana, Alice and Hannah discuss their aims for the year in their roles on the 2020 Student Leadership Team.

Malin (Sports Captain):

As sports captain for this coming academic year, I am absolutely thrilled to be back as a sporting community. In terms of the aims that I (and the P.E department) have, we really want to place an emphasis on instilling a strong sense of camaraderie between everyone. Excitingly, despite the tightened rules and regulations, we will be back into teams and squads (e.g. netball, hockey, rowing, swimming etc…) which I’m sure will be very fun for everyone involved (albeit that no external fixtures will be taking place).

The only bad aspect of playing sports at school is- I’m sure you can agree- having to wear the smelly and unpleasant sports bibs. This will no longer be an issue! Not only will bibs we washed frequently, but equipment will also be thoroughly disinfected. I hope that everyone is as excited as I am to be back playing sports with friends, and if anyone has any questions feel free to reach out to either the PE department, me, or any of the new sport specific captains!

Ariana (Admissions Ambassador):

As Admissions Ambassador my aims for this year include: improving the buddy system by getting the new girls and the girls present in the school to write interests and pair the girls using similar interests, have more conversations with girls about to go into year 12 to help them prepare for the jump from GCSE to A Levels and set up a society for girls joining the school to help them feel more comfortable in their first few weeks at WHS.

Following on from this I want to improve the inter-year bond between Year 11s going into Year 12 and the year above them by having more meetings (either online or in person due to COVID-19) when they know which form they are going to be with in order to help them adjust quicker.

Lastly, I would like to try set up a virtual tour for Wimbledon High School so that we can accommodate the COVID-19 situation allowing new parents to tour the school online as well as hopefully encouraging more prospective international pupils.

Alice (Editor in Chief of Unconquered Peaks):

As Editor in Chief of Unconquered Peaks, it is my aim for this year to publish articles that both inform and challenge readers. In the age of the Instagram infographic, which has become particularly ubiquitous in the wake of the growth of the Black Lives Matter movement, nuance is more important than ever. It is important to be up to date with current affairs, but equally vital to understand issues and question things instead of taking things at face value.

My wonderful team of writers and I will endeavour to inspire critical thinking and a desire to explore. As well as offering interesting perspectives on the issues of the day, we will also be writing about things that we’re passionate about, from exciting areas of academia to our favourite books and films. I hope that Unconquered Peaks will keep everyone inspired and amused during this strange time!

Hannah (Charities & Partnerships rep):

The world as we know it has been turned upside down, in unimaginable ways over the past 6 months. Major charitable events (including the London Marathon and Glastonbury!) were cancelled, causing thousands of charities around the country to lose millions of pounds.

However, despite this adversity there is always hope. This year we will continue to support our partner charities, particularly Faith in Action, following the catastrophic increase in homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an unimaginable situation not having a roof over your head, or not knowing where your next meal will come from, and our alliance with London homeless charities is something I am keen to strengthen.

My primary aim for the coming academic year is to achieve this ongoing support; by raising awareness of individual causes both within school and our wider communities, encouraging everyone to get involved and take time out of their week to help others, and increasing our fundraising output by working towards the new charity targets.

This year, more than ever following the global pandemic, there will be more and more people in need, and we will strive to make this the best year yet for both fundraising and strengthening our partnerships here at WHS.

Why should WHS connect more with the community?

Janvi, (Year 13) explains what her role as Charities and Partnerships Rep involves and explores her plans for the year. In our busy daily lives, why is it important to make connections to the wider world?

What does the role of Charities and Partnerships Rep involve?

I think it is reasonable to say that the average WHS girl leads a fairly busy life. With countless deadlines and extra-curricular commitments, sometimes it seems impossible to find time for yourself, let alone for others! As Charities and Partnerships Rep, one of my main duties is to remind students of the importance of giving time to charity and helping those in need. I truly believe the core characteristics lying at the heart of every WHS girl are empathy and kindness, and my aim is to motivate pupils throughout the school to use these values to help make a significant impact on the lives of people around us.

Another important aspect of my role is organising and running various charity events such as the Autumn Charity Fair which took place last week. It was heart-warming to see students of all ages working together to raise money for various causes, led by our newly elected year-group charity reps.

Aims for the year

My aims for this academic year fall under three categories:

  1. Raising awareness

Bringing awareness to the work which a charity does is very important as it encourages more people to get involved and fundraise as well as bringing to light different issues faced by people across the world. For this reason, I plan to start a termly newsletter detailing the work done by our chosen year-group charities and the charity events that have been taking place.


  1. Giving time and getting involved

As I have mentioned, giving time to charity is often neglected due to our busy lives, so with the help of our year-group charity reps, I would like to encourage people to take time out of their week to help others.


  1. Increasing our fundraising output

Fundraising is crucial as charities need money to provide the people they help with specific resources and services. Therefore, the goal for each year group this year is to raise £300 per term towards their chosen charity.

Why is making connections to the wider world so important?

Our pastoral theme for this year is “Connections”, which is an idea that links very closely to charity and partnerships. When it comes to charity work, there is often a heavy focus on fundraising. Whilst giving money to charity is undoubtedly important, the power of connecting with individuals on a personal level is astounding and often underestimated. Every week during our Enrichment session at Kew House Care Home, I find myself astonished at the impact our visit has on the elderly residents. Seeing their faces light up as we chat to them and play games with them is a powerful reminder of the difference that can be made to a person’s life by simply giving your time and energy without expecting anything in return. To us, it is simply an hour out of our day every week, whilst to them we are making a significant improvement to their day.

Spending time with people in our community and making connections with them is also incredibly rewarding. Not only does it bring happiness and a sense of fulfilment and purpose, but it constantly challenges us to see the world from somebody else’s perspective and reminds us to be grateful for what we have. In our day-to-day life it is very easy to forget how lucky we are and the privilege we hold, but charity work enables us to put our problems into perspective which is crucial to living a fulfilling life.

For these reasons, my main goal this year is to encourage students to make connections, whether it be locally or globally, because giving a tiny fraction of your time to support a person who is in desperate need of help can truly make a significant improvement to their life.

WHS and the environment: where next?

Flora (Year 13), Environment Rep, expands on the responsibilities she has at WHS, and what we as a school community are trying to do in the fight against climate change.

The role of Environment Rep

Now, more than ever, the climate emergency has been brought to our attention, mainly thanks to the incredible Greta Thunberg. The 16-year-old activist has brought on climate strikes all over the world, and recently talked at the UN Environmental Summit, speaking passionately and emotionally about the lack of action regarding climate change. When hearing her speak in this way it is always a wakeup call which helps us to evaluate what we can do to help the environment.

Above: Greta Thunberg at the Parliament by the European Parliament 2019, Flickr.

As Environment Rep I have been working with different people, all of whom are passionate about the environment, investigating what WHS can do in our collective fight against climate change. We have identified several areas which we can focus on, including the reducing the amount of single-use plastic in the canteen (in the form of take-away boxes) and reducing the amount of paper we use every day – something which is increasingly happening as we move to digital working practices. It is easy in our everyday lives to forget about such simple and seemingly minor things, but we must be far more aware that our actions do have consequences. When we say, “It’s only one toothbrush” it is almost too easy to forget that almost 7 billion people across the planet will be saying that exact same thing.

Where next for WHS and the environment?

When the Student Leadership Team sat down together in the first term after Easter, one thing we thought was important was to emphasise to all our peers that being conscious of the environment is something that we should be doing all throughout the year. It is for this reason that we have decided not to have a week or day celebrating just this, but to make this a regular feature throughout this academic year. It was great to have a Friday Jammin’ a few weeks back focused on raising our voices to help make a change, with the school community singing songs about climate change to help raise awareness and make a change.

Regarding more specific objectives we have for this year, there are a number of areas that I hope we can focus on. These will help us to make small changes to have a big impact on the environment as a whole community

1.      Single-use Plastic

Above: Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

We are all guilty of using single-use plastics in our busy, day-to-day lives. Single-use plastics have detrimental effects on the planet, with a significant amount of it being made from fossil fuels. Two-thirds of all plastic ever made (8.2 billion metric tonnes in 2015) has been disposed of into the environment and is still there; it takes hundreds of years to decompose. Knowing this, we have been trying to reduce the single-use plastic in our canteen, which comes in the form of plastic bottles and other packaged goods, and our end goal is for it to be eliminated completely. While this would be a big step for the school’s fight to reduce its impact, it is also important for individual habits to change. If everyone brought in reusable water bottles, and single-use bottles were to become taboo, that would be a huge step in the right direction. You can also help by using a reusable container for your lunch if you wish to take your lunch away from the canteen.

2.      Environment Summit

We have some exciting news coming up! We will be holding a school-wide environment summit for all students, staff and parents. Before this, all the environment reps will be meeting to discuss the agenda for this summit, coming up with a list of points to discuss with the school. At the summit, we shall hopefully draw up a list of criteria that we, as a school, want to implement and stick to. If this all goes to plan, something that we would love to do would be to host a GDST wide summit, so we can share these criteria with many other schools.

The future

We clearly have a very busy year ahead of us, and I hope everyone is as excited about it as I am. I am very honoured to be your environment rep this year, especially in such an important time in regards to environmental awareness. All of these ideas I have mentioned will hopefully have a big impact to our community this year; however, the most significant way to make a change is to be aware of your personal responsibility for the environment, and what you can do to make small changes in your normal routines. If we all did this, the impact would be significant.

What makes a successful A Level student (with a little help from Disney and friends)?


Dr John Parsons, Director of Sixth at WHS, looks at the character traits needed to have success at A Level, using famous Disney moments to illustrate his argument.

Anybody who has ever watched a successful A Level student nervously open her results envelope, fingers crossed for A*s, recognises that wonderful moment of realisation when at last she sees what she has achieved. All that hard work, effort and struggle was worth it in the end. But success doesn’t happen by accident. Contrary to Jiminy Cricket’s philosophy, merely wishing on a star just isn’t enough. For those that doubt I have Disney magic (and there are a few), then, some Disney (and other) wisdom to explore what makes a successful A Level student.

Goal setting & going the distance


Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs photo above by

Without a goal, all the hard work counts for nothing. The Seven Dwarfs are happy to put in the hours: We dig dig dig dig dig dig dig in our mine the whole day through. Nobody doubts the Dwarfs’ capacity for hard work, but they themselves freely admit to missing the point entirely: we don’t know what we dig ‘em for, we dig dig digga dig dig. They have no intrinsic motivation. Without a goal in mind, it is hard to stay determined and to develop the self-belief to go the distance.


Whistling while you work

Snow White whistles while she works and Mary Poppins (another great Disney woman we first meet cleaning) tells us that in every job that must be done there is an element of fun; modern-day positive mindsets from both.

For A Levels, the daily plod through tests, homework and revision is always most effective and productive when it is done with a smile. Top students tend to make a game of learning and are creative and varied in how they learn new things before they test themselves on it.


Keep on swimming

Top A Level students don’t fear setbacks and mistakes. Rather, they know that therein lies the deepest sort of learning. Indeed, what we see from the most successful students is a wilful desire to actively seek out challenge and difficulty, embracing potential misunderstanding. We meet Dorothy in the 1939 film Wizard of Oz not wishing on a star but vividly imagining what life will be like somewhere beyond the rainbow, and crucially acknowledging that the journey will likely be a hopeless jumble. Her key (very Wimbledonian) character traits of braininess, compassion and courage (exemplified in the quests of her companions Tinman, Lion and Scarecrow) allow her to negotiate the unexpected deviations from her path. Dorothy decides that her mission is more important than the noise in her head when doubts creep in, instead choosing to walk on through those lions and tigers and bears. At every turn, Dorothy stands up and makes a choice and gets on with it despite the difficult bits – one ruby-slippered foot after the other.

"The Wizard of Oz (1939)" by twm1340 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
“The Wizard of Oz (1939)” by twm1340 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Finding Nemo’s Dory makes the same point to demotivated Nemo; just keep swimming. In other words, only move forward. It’s the only way to respond.


Don’t just fly. Soar.

And of course, top students remain confidently ambitious in all of this. That advice to Dumbo, an elephant seemingly unlikely ever to fly, eventually becomes his reality – Don’t just fly. Soar.

In summary, successful A Level students always have a goal, they try to stay cheerful whilst putting in the hours, they find the fun in learning new things and embrace mistakes and learn from them, and they keep on going. They leave wishing on stars to Pinocchio.

Being Head Girl at WHS

Front of WHS

Jasmine, Year 13, describes what her role as Head Girl entails and gives a brief overview of the initiatives for the year ahead

I’m delighted to be Head Girl for Wimbledon High School this academic year! My role as Head Girl entails a lot of different things, most of it being meetings, talking and organising things so I’ll give you a quick rundown of what goes on behind the scenes and our aims for this year.

Head Girl Team
Saskia, Jasmine and Ella – the Head Girl Team at WHS for 2019-20

I work with Saskia and Ella, the Deputy Head Girls, to lead the Student Leadership Team, coming up with new ideas for whole-school events such as the annual WHS Pride Week (taking place just before half term to celebrate our recent Stonewall Bronze Award!), the school birthday (taking place after half term) and a range of new initiatives that we feel would make the school a better place for all of us. One of our main initiatives this year is PAWHS, standing for Pause at WHS, where we want to recognise the different ways in which students just relax and wind down, without forcing any specific methods on them because we understand the same exercises and activities don’t work for everyone.

We also run school council and have worked closely with Mr Turner, Assistant Head Pastoral, this year to “re-invent” our school council. It now has Year-reps and specific committees with representatives from each year so younger girls can really be involved in leading the school and getting their ideas heard. We also chair student parliament and feedback all the students’ comments and suggestions to the Senior Management Team.

Last year we came up with our overall pastoral theme of Connections, as we felt we wanted our focus to be on how we connect with the wider world, our school and the people in it, and of course how we connect to ourselves. We pitched this to the Senior Management Team and Head of Years and they liked the idea; it is now our pastoral theme for the year. Our aim for this year is to create an environment where students feel connected to each other but also the world around us. Our other aim is to connect to our school, looking at its history, present and future in light of our 140th school birthday, and we are organising a massive school celebration day called “Year-to-Year” to focus on this (linking to the opening line of our school song), which will hopefully be great fun and a memorable day not just for all of us but also for the school in years to come.

Our pastoral theme for 2019-20 – connections. This theme was chosen by our Student Leadership Team.

Being part of the Student Leadership Team is a large responsibility but it is a great opportunity to make even the smallest difference to our amazing school. It is the responsibility of a leader to serve the people around them, to include everyone and their ideas, to set an example and stand up for what is right. I may not have Priyanka’s poise and teacher-like authority, Jessie’s seemingly effortless organisation skills or Ava’s fierce intellect and extensive vocabulary,  but I’m learning that’s the beauty of being a Head girl, or any leader, is that you make it your own; for me I think it’s all about being a friendly, approachable face in the corridor, welcoming every girl as she steps in to Wimbledon High.

The life of a WHS Sports Captain

Emily (Y13) elaborates on her responsibilities as Sports Captain and discusses upcoming sports events

What is my role within the school?

As Sports Captain, I aspire to be a role model that girls can look up to. I myself have looked up to many previous Sports Captains and finally having the chance to represent my school is such an amazing opportunity. I think a Sports Captain should be able to connect with the younger years, work well with the PE department, and spread enthusiasm and a passion to all.

Sports is a huge part of my life and I want to show people that with hard work and determination results will follow. Sport is an amazing thing to be a part of; it teaches you so many life lessons that cannot be readily taught in classrooms. After doing my Extended Project Qualification researching about the impact of sport on teenagers, it has made me even more aware of the importance of being involved and “getting stuck in”.

In such a highly achieving academic school it is sometimes hard to step away from work. I have found, along with many other students here at WHS, that sport is an amazing way to have fun away from screens and books. It is hard to balance work, sport, music, drama and still manage to have a life, but I think that if I can set an example to younger years, it will enable them to see that being an all-rounder is possible.


What do I want to achieve in this role?

I have 4 aims whilst in my role that I hope to achieve:

  1. Launch the sports blog

  2. Work with the PE Department to find a strong Sports Leadership Team that will be able to lead with enthusiasm for all years across the school
  3. Improve the high-performance sports programme with the Head of Sport. It is hard to balance high level sports and academics because much of your free time is spent at trainings and matches. I aim to produce a space where our girls can go for help. In addition to this, I want the programme to give interesting and relevance talks which inspire and inform our high-performance students.
  4. Improve the cricket involvement. Cricket was introduced 2 years ago, and as we go into our 3rd year, the PE Department and I aim to improve the standard of training and frequency throughout the year which will allow us to fulfil our potential.

The future is exciting!

There are so many exciting events coming up which are still in the process of being organised, such as Staff vs Sixth Form netball and basketball. For those not familiar to this, they are charity events where enthusiastic teachers play against our Sixth Form’s first team and ‘battle it out’ to see who wins. Stay tuned for further information regarding this! Until then training and matches will be commencing and all I can say is get stuck in and try new things, you never know where it could take you.


A few words from me

I am hugely honoured to be Sports Captain for 2019-2020 and I hope that with hard work from me and our PE Department we can achieve higher and have even more fun than before. Good luck for the season, work hard and the wins will follow.

Can the Harkness approach to delivering Maths lead to a deeper understanding?

Mrs Clare Duncan, Director of Studies at WHS @MATHS_WHS, describes the Harkness approach she observed at Wellington College and the impact that this collaborative approach has in the understanding of A Level Maths.

Named after its founder, Edward Harkness, Harkness it is a pedagogical approach that promotes collaborative thinking. Edward Harkness’ view was that learning should not be a solitary activity instead it would benefit from groups of minds joining forces to take on a challenging question or issue. What Harkness wanted was a method of schooling that would train young people not only to confer with one another to solve problems but that would give them the necessary skills for effective discussion. Harkness teaching is a philosophy that began at Philips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire in the 1930s.

Edward Harkness stated:

“What I have in mind is [a classroom] where [students] could sit around a table with a teacher who would talk with them and instruct them by a sort of tutorial or conference method, where [each student] would feel encouraged to speak up. This would be a real revolution in methods.”

This was very much what the classroom looked like when I was lucky enough to observe Maths teaching at Wellington College last term. Their newly refurbished Maths rooms had floor to ceiling whiteboards on all the walls. On entering the classroom, the students were already writing their solutions to problems that were set at preparatory work for the lesson. Whether the solution was correct or not was irrelevant, it was a focal point which allowed students to engage in discussion and offer their own views, problems and suggestions. The discussion was student led with the teacher only interjecting to reinforce a significant Maths principle or concept.  The key learning point is giving the students their own time before the lesson to get to grips with something before listening to the views of others.

The Maths teachers at Wellington College have developed their own sets of worksheets which the students complete prior to the lesson. Unlike conventional schemes of work, the worksheets follow an ‘interleaving’ approach whereby multiple topics are studied at once. Time is set aside at the start of the lesson for students to put their solutions on whiteboards, they then walk around the room comparing their solutions to those of others. Discussion follows in which students would discuss how they got to their answers and why they selected the approach they are trying to use. In convincing others that their method was correct, there was a need for them to justify mathematical concepts in a clear and articulate manner. The students sit at tables in an oval formation, they can see one another and no-one is left out of the discussion. The teacher would develop the idea further by asking questions such as ‘why did this work?’ or ‘where else could this come up?’.

The aim of Harkness teaching is to cultivate independence and allows student individual time to consume a new idea before being expected to understand it in a high-pressured classroom environment. This approach can help students of all abilities. Students who find topics hard have more time than they would have in class to think about and engage with new material and students who can move on and progress are allowed to do so too. In class, the teacher can direct questioning in such a way that all students feel valued and all are progressing towards the end objectives.  It involves interaction throughout the whole class instead of the teacher simply delivering a lecture with students listening. It was clear that the quality of the teachers questioning and ability to lead the discussion was key to the success of the lesson.

Figure 1: WHS pupils in a Maths lesson solving problems using the Harkness approach

This was certainly confirmed by my observations. The level of Maths discussed was impressive, students could not only articulate why a concept worked but suggested how it could be developed further. I was also struck by how students were openly discussing where they went wrong and what they couldn’t understand; a clear case of learning from your mistakes. Whenever possible the teaching was student led. Even when teachers were writing up the ‘exemplar’ solutions, one teacher was saying ‘Talk me through what you want me to do next’. Technology was used to support the learning with it all captured on OneNote for students to refer to later. In one lesson, a student was selected as a scribe for notes. He typed them up directly to OneNote; a great way of the majority focusing on learning yet still having notes as an aide memoir.

Although new to me, at Wimbledon we have been teaching using the Harkness approach to the Sixth Form Further Maths students for the past couple of years. Having used this approach since September it has been a delight to see how much the Year 12 Further Maths pupils have progressed. Being able to their articulate mathematical thinking in a clear and concise way is an invaluable skill and, although hesitant at first, is now demonstrated ably by all the students. The questions posed and the discussions that ensue take the students beyond the confinements of the specifications.