Category: Senior

Black History Month at Sydenham High

To start the final week of our Black History Month celebrations, Mr Catton gave an inspirational assembly centred on Peter Norman, Tommie Smith and John Carlos and the 1968 salute at the medal giving ceremony of the Olympics which, rather than being a black power salute – as commonly quoted, was a global protest for human rights.

Fifty years ago on 16 October in Mexico City, Tommie Smith won the 200m final in a world-record time of 19.83 seconds. Norman came second in 20.06 seconds (his time means that he still holds the Oceanian 200 metres record), followed by Carlos. After the race, the three athletes went to the medal podium for their medals to be presented. On the podium, during the playing of the American national anthem, Smith and Carlos famously joined in a salute while Norman wore a badge in support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR). After the final, Carlos and Smith had told Norman what they were planning to do during the ceremony. They asked Norman if he believed in human rights. He said he did. They knew that what they were going to do was far greater than any athletic feat. Peter Norman said, ‘I’ll stand with you’. It was Norman who suggested that Smith and Carlos share the black gloves used in their salute, after Carlos left his pair in the Olympic Village. This is the reason for Smith raising his right fist, while Carlos raised his left.

Despite Norman facing backlash in Australia for his part in the protest, not being selected for the following 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich despite qualifying, and not being invited back in 2000 as a former medal holder, he did not regret his actions as he stood up for what he believed in.

In August 2012, the Australian Parliament gave a posthumous apology and Order of Merit to Norman. A statue is being built in Melbourne to honour him. In a 2012 interview, Carlos said: “There’s no-one in the nation of Australia that should be honoured, recognised, appreciated more than Peter Norman for his humanitarian concerns, his character, his strength and his willingness to be a sacrificial lamb for justice”.

It was a wonderful start to the day, reminding us all to stand up for our beliefs and stand by those who face prejudice and injustice.

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.

Pupils celebrate Ada Lovelace Day 2018

Today year 7 pupils celebrated women in STEM for Ada Lovelace Day 2018. Lovelace is the founder of computing theory – a quite remarkable woman whose mathematical theories laid the basis for all modern computers.

In Maths the girls discussed the following women’s contributions and compared how the achievements might have been lauded had they been achieved by men at the time:

  • Katherine Johnson: led the NASA computing team that worked out the trajectory calculations for the first NASA space flights (as show in the film Hidden Figures)
  • Hedy Lamarr: a Hollywood actress and inventor who holds the patent for “frequency-hopping spread spectrum for use in torpedo guidance systems.” We know that now as… WiFi
  • Florence Nightingale: a superb nurse… but an even better statistician. Her statistical presentations to the British military completely changed the ways that injured soldiers were cared for, and radically changed survival rates. She was elected as the first female Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society.

The group discovered that ‘computers’ used to refer to a pool of female mathematicians who would test complex equations for viability, long before a machine was invented to do so. We also found out that Darcey in year 7 is the great, great, great, great niece of Florence Nightingale! An afternoon of discoveries for all.

Model United Nations 2018

Last weekend nine students from year 9, 10 and 13 attended the Model United Nations (MUN) conference at Cheadle Hulme School, known as MUNCH, near Manchester. This was Sydenham High’s first residential MUN conference and our delegates were representing Italy and Afghanistan in committees discussing a wide range of current issues, such as human rights, international security, youth and the problem of refugees.

MUN is one of the few opportunities for truly independent study, and for students to gain vital skills for their future. The students learn about countries around the world, and acquire the ability to clearly state an idea, and build consensus to achieve solutions to the global problems that will affect the students in later life.

Throughout the conference, there was a very high standard of debate with which all of our students managed to engage. The different committees all convened in the General Assembly at the end of the conference to discuss any resolutions that have been passed. If the resolution makes it through a committee (which requires a majority vote) and is then also is voted in favour of by the General Assembly then it is passed, but no resolutions achieved this on this occasion. The event was an excellent opportunity for our delegates to better familiarise themselves all the intricacies of UN procedure and language. As our first two day conference, attending MUNCH allowed for our delegates to hone their skills and learn from other more experienced students.

Our Sydenham High School delegates gave a good account of themselves and enjoyed their time together over the course of the weekend. To throw themselves in to such an event was an excellent example of the fearlessness of a SHS student and they are looking forward to taking the chance to put their newfound knowledge to good use at another conference in the near future.

Skye makes top 5 in UK for BMX

Skye, year 7, has been doing incredibly well in her recent BMX competitions. Two weeks ago – not content with competing against girls – she competed in the boys race at the South Regionals and the South Championships, coming 5th in the final.

Last weekend Skye had a great competition at the BMX National race in Leicester, which was the last of 12 rounds and marked the end of the season. She raced 2 bikes – 20” and 24” – for the first time at that level. She was one of only 2 girls in the cruiser (24”) category and won the B final.

In the National Series, she came 5th in the 12 girls age group, improving her UK ranking from No 15 to No 5. This means that she has qualified for the World Championships in 2019.

What a fantastic achievement – we can’t wait to see what happens next…

Author Julia Gray inspires young writers

On Thursday 4 October years 9-13 were treated to a special assembly by author Julia Gray about her books and experiences as she navigated the route to becoming a published author. Julia wanted to be an author since she was three years old and used to sit at her father’s Amstrad computer thinking of new stories. Her love of creative writing permeated her time at school but her first foray into publicly sharing a story only landed her second place in a creative writing competition and, as a teenager, she saw this an an unmitigated disaster. Her self-consciousness worsened and embarrassment hindered her progression. She didn’t write again until years later, almost giving up again on several occasions. She ended up focusing on topics that were important to her as a teenager and advised the girls to write what they know. She described in detail the process from initial idea to writing a draft to the multitude of re-writes required before a book is finally on the shelves.

It was fascinating to hear about her time at an isolated artists’ retreat in Scotland, when she had just finished The Otherlife and didn’t have a plan for Little Liar. She had a month with the bare necessities and pouring rain allowing her the space to simply focus on her writing. She then showed us the photo she took of her book on the shelf at Daunts in Holland Park, four years after she had started writing. It was interesting to hear about the process of writing and that, though each book was very differently composed, they have similar themes of loss and grief and friendship. Julia spoke of her attraction to unreliable, amoral narrators and asked the audience for suggestions of characters who do things wrong but somehow we are still on their side and why that might be.

There was plenty of opportunity to ask questions and she was certainly impressed by the level of questioning from our students. Her next books will be historical fiction, children’s literature and a ghost story and she highly recommended Margaret Atwood, Diana Wynne Jones, Stephen King, Penelope Lively and Agatha Christie for some inspiring reads. As it was National Poetry Day she was also asked about her favourite poem, which is My Last Duchess by Robert Browning. She had a strong message about the importance of resilience and wished that she had been told as a child that it is ok to make mistakes, as you learn from them and they drive you forward.

Thank you to Mrs Pett, our Librarian, for organising the visit.

Find out more about Julia here.

National Poetry Day celebrated at Sydenham High

Prep School

We marked National Poetry Day with a lunchtime poetry recital in the Outdoor Classroom. Members of our fabulous Poetry Slam Club took to the Festival Stage to recite the poems they have been working on over the past few weeks. It was wonderful to hear their words fill the playground and inspire girls from across the school. Keep a look out for the poems which are going to be displayed in the Outdoor Classroom for the rest of term.

In Library Club girls from across the school also came together to find their favourite poems from our anthology collections. Thank you to Mrs Spence and Miss Blagu for organising these celebrations.

Senior School

National Poetry Day saw teachers and students sharing poems they love. There were old favourites that every generation knows and holds dear, including  Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” and Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” . We were introduced to many poems and poets new to us all. Of these, the very best was Year 10 Emily Coulson’s powerful poem:


“Star Gazing”


Billions of years I’ve been stood here watching.


The changes are all too clear,

But the humans are too wound up in their fear

To admit that their world is being destroyed

Due to their actions

It’s dying

And so are they.

Ignorance is bliss,

they say.


If only they could open their eyes

And see.

Sea levels are rising.

Climate change prising

Their life out of their hands.


But no.

They continue burning fossil fuels,

Riding in cars and buses and planes.

It’s almost as if they are trying to destroy their own world.

It’s all so painful to see.

I see.

I know.


I wish I could show


But I am just a star

Gazing upon them and their world.

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.

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