Category: General

International Day of the Girl 2018

Even though we treat every day as a day for all of our girls, International Day of the Girl is special. We marked the event across all subjects, as part of our Sense of Self programme, and in accordance with this year’s theme: ‘With Her: A Skilled GirlForce’ 

The day began with a whole school assembly at Senior School, where Mr Guest spoke about how astonishing the power of girls really is – that it can save lives and transform futures, releasing the real potential of girls and their communities. He expressed that all of society – women, men, boys, girls, parents, families, schools, laws, policy makers – have a role to play in challenging and changing traditional and harmful gender stereotypes in order to end the poverty and lack of opportunity faced by girls.

Heads of Department designed some amazing and inspiring lessons based around the theme to mark such a significant day, including:


Year 8 thought about why it is often women in developing countries that are exploited.

Year 9 discussed the impacts of climate change and why in developing countries the least mobile (women and children) are often the most heavily impacted.

Year 11 reviewed the importance of girls’ education in stimulating economic growth (link to Rostow model) and compared the number of women in further education and employment in Mumbai and London.


Year 7 discussed gender stereotypes through the medium of advertising as well as thinking about stereotypes across the world of work. They listed the changes that have been implemented this century to bring more equality but decided there was still some way to go!

Year 11 debated the justification for protesting and the use of violence in order to enact change. This was then linked to the question of how to enact change for girls in the workplace and education in the future.


During all languages lessons students and staff started the lesson with a discussion on opportunities with  Languages in the world of work.


All year groups looked at women writers, linked to the visiting authors we have met through this term and encouraged the girls to continue their journey as writers through entry to the GDST Creative Writing Competition.


Students built on the Ava Lovelace Day theme and looked at the diverse careers and impacts that women have had – and can further have – in STEM subjects. This happened via discussion in lessons, with examples of women who’ve done incredible things, and through asking students to ‘dream big’ about where they might take their career ideas involving maths.

The Student Council came together in the Lecture Theatre – with girls from Prep through to Senior, to devise a strategy on how to help one another speak up and speak out about the things that matter to them.

It was a great way to celebrate the girl – and a great way to celebrate how we at Sydenham educate the girl. To read more about the theme click here.

Black History Month launched by Lolita Chakrabarti

Wednesday morning saw the official launch of Black History Month at Sydenham High, with a fascinating assembly by Lolita Chakrabarti on the subject of Ira Aldridge.

As a RADA-qualified stage and screen actress and writer Lolita developed a passion for this previously forgotten actor and set about researching him for over 20 years. She produced a play about his life entitled Red Velvet, which premiered in 2012, and she explained that he should be considered one of the most important actors in British theatre’s history. The play won her the Charles Wintour Award for Most Promising Playwright at the 2012 Evening Standard Awards, Most Promising Playwright at the Critics Circle Awards and the AWA Award for Arts and Culture in 2013. Red Velvet was also nominated for an Olivier Award in 2013 and Adrian Lester was nominated for an Olivier in 2016 for his portrayal of Ira Aldridge. He said of the actor:

For Ira to have achieved so much at a time when society thought so little, is a testament to his tenacity and hard work.


As the UK’s first black Shakespearean actor he was honoured in 2017 with the unveiling of a blue plaque in Coventry, the city where he had been manager at Coventry Theatre after impressing the people of the city with his acting during a tour in 1828 aged just 21. The impression he made during his time there is credited with inspiring Coventry’s petition to Parliament for the abolition of slavery.

Lolita told us about his life story, from his humble beginnings in America in 1807 to his travels to the UK given the difficulties for him being a black actor during the time of slavery, and on to his many travels throughout Europe. She described his profound impact on reviewers as a phenomenal actor but explained that he was written out of history because of the hostile environment that he was performing in.

Outside of London, he played to crowded houses, but was boycotted by the West End stage. Undeterred by the hostility he faced, he became the first black actor to perform at Covent Garden, playing the role of Othello for two nights. Sadly he was hounded by a racist campaign and it is thought that the theatre reviewers were bribed to tarnish his reputation. He never performed at Covent Garden again and, in 1852, Aldridge and his family sailed for Europe.

After his death in Poland in 1867, he was given a state funeral – such was his standing in the community across Europe. Lolita also told us that he lived on Hamlet Road in Crystal Palace with his wife and children and that his youngest daughter, Amanda, gave elocution lessons to Paul Robeson in 1930 when he was preparing for his first appearance as Othello in London.

To find out more about this fascinating man please visit the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s online exhibition.

Netball update

The U15 netballers travelled up to Northampton on Tuesday 2 October for a GDST Netball Tournament and played some awesome netball. The team’s best games included beating Blackheath and Royal Bath. We used defending strategies from training and their commitment has really paid off. It’s good to see players being really versatile and developing as a team.

We finished 7th in our pool but missed our first two games because we got a puncture on the journey, so I was really pleased with that result!

– Mrs Calvert

Ellie Reeves MP discusses women in politics

Our Political Awareness Club, led by year 13 Maddy Gowers, was delighted to host Ellie Reeves MP for Lewisham West and Penge at their first meeting of the year on Wednesday 3 October.

Ms Reeves described her journey to becoming elected in 2017, after a whirlwind campaign during the snap election, when her local seat became available after 25 years. Prior to becoming an MP, she qualified as an employment law barrister and had started a business from home offering employment rights advice to women and families, but had always been an active member of the Labour party. She explained that usually it is not so quick a route to becoming an MP and takes years of campaigning but now that she has her seat she is very keen to talk about women in politics and ensure that the profession is not off-putting.

The group heard about her observations from the last 18 months and her ideas for reform towards a more modern, family friendly parliament, from the old fashioned language and processes (such as the system for registering in voting lobbies, which she feels ought to be available electronically as an alternative) to the time that MPs are expected to sit, she explained that she is campaigning for change. Despite the leaps that have been made so far, she feels that much more can be done. An interesting topic was that of MPs who have children whilst in post and the fact that, currently, there is no formal arrangement for women who take time off when they have a baby, but merely an informal arrangement where MPs ‘pair’ with another member from the opposition who will abstain from voting in order to cancel each other out. Of course, this is not transparent and can break down but she feels that there will imminently be an official arrangement for ‘baby leave’ such as a proxy vote. The more women elected, the more likely change will happen.

Ms Reeves explained that she is currently on conference recess and is therefore able to meet with constituents from pensioners to school pupils to local businesses and how much she enjoys her job as it is so varied and rewarding, despite its challenges – especially in the current Brexit climate!

As an aspiring politician, it was amazing to be able to hear from a real life MP about what it’s like to work in the House of Commons and be able to participate in and handle the responsibility that comes with the representative democracy that we are a part of.

– Maddy Gowers, year 13

Young leaders addressed by record-holding polar guide Ann Daniels at mentoring event for change-makers

Sixth Form students from across the GDST network were challenged by change-makers and mentors from the British Army and Chartered Management Institute as well as a world record holder at this weekend’s annual Girls’ Day School Trust Young Leaders’ Conference, designed to inspire the next generation of future leaders. The Young Leaders’ Conference took place at the Royal High School Bath this weekend and was attended by more than 130 Head Girls and Senior Prefects.

Ann Daniels, one of the first women in history to reach the North and South Poles as part of an all women team, was one of several impressive role models who took part in this year’s event, which aimed to inspire students, while giving them a real experience of challenging leadership situations. Described by The Daily Telegraph as one of the top 20 Great British Adventurers of all time, Ann is a polar guide and the leader of four major scientific Arctic surveys.

Alongside a number of impressive female leaders, including Chartered Management Institute (CMI) CEO Ann Francke, Daniels drew on her own experience participating in a tough Dartmoor selection weekend as a mother of 18 month old triplets with no previous experience, and spoke with students about the importance of living life to the full, taking opportunities as they appear, and not letting a fear of failure stop you in your tracks.

British Army officers then led a series of team-building exercises before students were split into groups and tasked with developing their own digital fundraising campaigns to support the specific needs of four charities: United World Schools, FRANK Water, Rainbow Trust, and SOS Children’s Villages UK. In previous years, ideas proposed by students have inspired award-winning charity initiatives. Team Five were crowned the winners with their idea ‘Shades of Change’ to raise money for the Rainbow Trust by selling colouring books in family restaurants. Their campaign was based on encouraging families to spend quality time together. Read all about the event on the GDST website, see the highlights on twitter #GDSTyoungleaders and watch the finals on Youtube.

Cheryl Giovannoni, CEO of the GDST, said:

One of the problems we seek to address at the Young Leaders Conference is the distinct lack of great leadership in the world today. We want to help create the global leaders of tomorrow; leaders who look outward, not inward, who listen and learn and go on to create a better future for all. The best way to tackle the prejudice of today is to help develop the leaders of tomorrow, and this programme is designed to do exactly that.

Ann Francke, CEO, Chartered Management Institute, said:

It’s vital we give young women the leadership skills they need early on to fulfil their own potential and unlock the potential in others. The reality of today’s workplace is that young women are faced with a ‘glass pyramid’ where men dominate the majority of senior roles. Equipping young women with confidence, resilience, and the skills to lead will help give the next generation of female leaders the chance to thrive and benefit from a more gender inclusive environment.


Now in its eighth year, the GDST Young Leaders’ Conference, which takes place at The Royal High School Bath GDST, aims to help students develop tangible life and leadership skills, including teamwork, communication, negotiation, problem solving and financial management that will benefit them when they embark on their chosen careers.

Sporting updates

Our pupils are involved in so many different sports – inside and outside of school. There are so many sports out there for girls, don’t stop until you find yours!

A brief update from the first three weeks of term:

Congratulations to Isabel in year 7 who came third (in the 11-12 year olds category) in the Brighton & Hove Triathlon! The sea was incredibly rough for their 200m swim and she managed the 4km cycle and 1.5km run in 19.49 minutes.

Another year 7 pupil Skye is certainly one to watch when it comes to BMXing. She came 4th in her age group at the British BMX Championships. The future is bright for Skye as she was the youngest competitor in her age group.

We had the first netball game of the season for any of our teams and we started as we mean to go with a 16 – 2 victory against local rivals. Well done to our combined Year 11 & 13 team.

Sydenham alumna Ally Housley has been invited to the England Netball English Roses U19s Academy. Seems like yesterday when she was playing school netball.

Well done to our talented year 9 pupil, Millie, who won silver in the London Youth Games with her squash team.

Senior School Prize Giving

On Wednesday 4 July, the Senior School gathered with friends, families and staff to celebrate the achievements of our pupils this year. There were some amazing music, dance and drama performances and every year group was represented in the prizes across subjects and disciplines. The afternoon was a wonderful showcase of all the talent and dedication at Sydenham High School and we were delighted to have GB Gold medallist and conservationist, Crista Cullen MBE, with us as our key note speaker.

She spoke about her journey to her career in hockey and her life in Africa, as well as her passion for conservation through her charitable foundation Tofauti. She told us about the setbacks she had along the way to achieving her gold medal and how important it is to have a positive attitude in life:

If you have a good attitude, you can be taught. Whether that is in the classroom or on a sports field, it’s no different. If you feel that you want to excel at something it’s up to you to seek that guidance. You have two choices: you can either sit in a corner and think your dream is over or you can take the bull by the horns and ask what do I need to practice.

– Crista Cullen MBE

After the ceremony we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon tea in the sunshine, where Crista was kind enough to allow people to hold her gold medal! We very much hope to see our girls bringing back their own medals in the future.


Year 10 enjoy Sydenham Arts poetry workshop

Year 10 poets channelled their muses in a workshop led by Isabel White and Sydenham Arts today as an end of term treat. The workshop required our young writers to consider the term ‘hero’. They then began to reflect on the word’s different meanings in their own creative work. Some students celebrated superhuman strength in their writing; others considered the quietly heroic deeds of the everyday; some (tongue-in-cheek) even paid homage to the well-loved chocolate brand! A fun time was had by all and have a strong set of entries for this year’s Sydenham Arts Poetry Competition, which we are proud to have won last year.

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