Category: Senior

Bewitching visit by author Katy Birchall

There was an early Hallowe’en treat for year 7s today as author Katy Birchall teleported in to talk about her new book Morgan Charmley: Teen Witch, about a 13-year-old witch who is finally allowed to attend a normal school after proving she can control her powers and is keen to make friends but struggling to keep her spells a secret. In a fun interactive session Katy talked about her love of reading as a child and how she has achieved her dream job as a published writer.

Originally from Essex, Katy talked about how the county’s fascinating dark history of 17th century witch hunting along with a childhood obsession with the television series Sabrina the Teenage Witch and a love of Jill Murphy’s The Worst Witch books inspired her to write her Morgan Charmley: Teen Witch.

We took a look at the variety of witches in books and films, their different powers, their familiars and how they became witches before pupils gave wildly imaginative suggestions for creating their own witch character, complete with familiar and villainous counterpart, skilfully drawn by Alice at the front of the hall.

During the Q&A session, pupils found out about who illustrates books, the need to find a literary agent before an editor, how authors get paid, that Katy also loves funny books and thinks there should be more female comedy writers, has a rescue dog called Bono and her favourite ice cream is mint choc chip.

Thank you so much Katy for visiting us and Scholastic UK for providing the opportunity.

– Mrs Pett, Librarian & Careers Leader

Alumnae and parents join other Medical & Allied Health Professionals for Careers Event at Sydenham High

Sydenham High welcomed professionals from all fields to school on the evening of Monday 14 October for the Medical and Allied Health Professionals Careers Event, the latest in the ongoing careers programme series held on AHPs Day 2019.

Even the rain could not dampen the enthusiasm of the 136 visitors from 75 families who attended, from Sydenham High as well as other neighbouring schools; Sydenham Girls, Dulwich College, JAGS and Old Palace. Pupils from years 9-13 had the opportunity to speak one-to-one with representatives from a range of professions – dentists, therapists, doctors, paramedics, nurses, physiotherapists, radiologists to name but a few – and relevant course providers such as the University of Leeds and the University of Surrey, alongside Guy’s and St Thomas’, South West London and St George’s, South London and Maudsley NHS Trusts and other professional bodies.

In addition there were talks from NHS Health Education England (HEE) on Nursing and Midwifery and I See the Difference – a three-year funded initiative to help raise awareness of the range of Allied Health Professions among young people.

We would like to extend our gratitude to all visiting professionals who generously gave up their time to attend and who included many from the Sydenham High community. It was particularly wonderful to welcome back two alumnae – Dr Aysha Waheed from King’s College Hospital, and Consultant Dermatologist, Dr Gayathri Perera – as well as GDST alumna and midwife Sophie Carr, and Women of the Future Ambassador and Speech and Language therapist, Shermeena Rabbi.

One visiting professional said:

Sincere gratitude to Sydenham High for giving us this wonderful opportunity to speak passionately about our profession. I was impressed by the confidence and keenness of the girls.

Could you help?

We always love to hear from alumnae and parents who are willing to share their professional expertise and career experiences with current pupils and recent leavers. There are a number of opportunities throughout the year as part of our careers events, mentoring and enrichment programmes. Please contact us to find out more: .

Dean Atta’s poetry strikes a chord at Black History Month event

On Monday 14 October pupils were treated to a lunchtime poetry and verse recital by Dean Atta, a British poet of Greek Cypriot and Caribbean descent. He has been listed by The Independent newspaper as one of the 100 most influential LGBT people in the United Kingdom and writes poetry on topics such as questions of identity and social justice.

Dean read several poems (one of which is below) and extracts from his new book, The Black Flamingo, before answering some excellent questions from sixth formers, Junova and Ophelie, including his process for writing poetry and his experience of the intersectionality of being black and gay. They asked about what Black History Month means to him and listened with interest as he explained his perspective of being able to highlight the progress that has been made in society but to remember that it is not only about figures in the past, that we are making history. He noted some icons of the civil rights movement and how we can trace history through politics, music, education and other areas through to the present day when we must carry the torch. His advice to young black people growing up in today’s climate is to be yourself and not hide parts of who you are. Be proud and be a good role model, especially to those younger than you. Part of this can be to challenge those around you who say things that you find uncomfortable – they may not realise and those who bother to take the time to look into what you have flagged are the ones who are worth spending time with.

Truly inspiring insight into the life of Dean. His performance truly brought the book life and I will definitely be purchasing.


It was an enlightening experience and linked well to sociology as he spoke of his experiences with racism, homophobia and other personal struggles that he has faced.


Dean Atta’s performance of his poetry was mesmerising and really bought his book ‘The Black Flamingo’ to life. It was extremely interesting to hear him touch on topics such as identity and family.

– Kaliyah

It was a very interesting lunchtime session and we would like to thank Dean for joining us and Sydenham Arts for making his visit possible.

Sydenham Arts is a registered charity providing arts activities and events all year round from its permanent home and performance space at the Sydenham Centre. It is committed to providing a platform for emerging, local artists as well as bring in high quality, established artists to the area. Sydenham Arts relies on support to deliver an innovative array of artistic activities for the whole community and to achieve its charitable aims ‘to provide, promote and advance the Arts for the benefit of the public, in particular people who live, work and are educated in Sydenham and surrounding areas’. Times are tough – sadly its core funding from Lewisham Borough Council has been cut. To donate and support Sydenham Arts click here.

The Beckenham Festival of Speech and Drama 2019

The Beckenham Festival of Speech and Drama was held at the Westwood Theatre on Saturday 12 October. Prep and Senior Sydenham High School pupils performed at the competition alongside pupils from neighbouring schools. The visiting Adjudicator, Marcia Carr, who is Deputy Head of Examinations at LAMDA, was delighted with the high standard of work on display and the confident performances of LAMDA pupils! The delighted audience was treated to scenes from Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Jane Eyre, Goodnight Mr Tom, Hansel and Gretel, as well as extracts from Shakespeare and a variety of poems.


Ruby Hogwood

Freya Harris

Orla Hogwood

Miller Buckley



Jess Scott

Alba Buckley

Christine Wilkinson



Allegra Carver – SOLO ACTING

Maia Bonney and Isabelle Harris – DUO ACTING



Daisy Morrissey – SOLO ACTING


Many other pupils were competing for the first time, gaining valuable performance experience as well as a sense of pride in their involvement.

Stewards helping out on the day were Nyama Swaray, Ayla Goldsmith and Lucy Johnson, each an excellent ambassador for the school.

Well done everyone!


– Miss Borge, LAMDA Teacher/Coordinator and Festival Organiser

Sydenham High is spellbound by Dr Shola

As part of our Lecture Series, and to kick off Black History Month, Sydenham High was treated to an exhilarating afternoon with Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, lawyer and women’s rights activist, as she fired up staff and students to believe in themselves and to be themselves, to be excited about their ethnicity, culture, background, as there is nothing to be ashamed of. She began by talking about finding a cause to fight for and how important it is to be passionate about things – whatever they may be. She reminded us all that there is no one definition to you and others cannot define you. It is so important to open your mind and embrace the opportunities as there is no full stop after your name, only commas: lawyer, mother, activist.

Dr Shola had an insightful message about comparing yourself to others, as when you see a successful person you only see the end package and not the journey to that point – everyone has moments of self doubt but they pick themselves up and it’s the journey that makes you stronger. Being vocal doesn’t always mean being loud, but making a stand for what you believe in. She also touched on the women’s rights movement, noting that is not just about yesterday but today, to create the way for future generations and how important it is to be cheerleaders for your friends and colleagues.

She had the audience chanting back positive statements, such as “I am worth fighting for”, “I am a girl with a dream! I am fire!” and inspired the girls to think about the dream in them as the world is waiting for them as the next generation of agents for change. The atmosphere was electric and it was clear that the girls are ready to show the world who they are and initiate the change that they want to see. The session was expertly opened and closed by our Head Girls, Saffron and Sophika and were joined by a Sixth Form Panel in the second half of the session, who asked some excellent questions, submitted by pupils over the past week:

What made you become a women’s rights activist?

I experienced inequality and was angry, but in truth, I have always been an activist. When something needs to change you need to do something, not just complain but bring a solution. Not everything will get your blood boiling but once you realise what does, then get up and do something about it.

Should 16 year olds have the right to vote if there is a second referendum on Brexit?

The youth should have more input as they are the ones who will be affected. There is so much that 16 year olds are able to do so why not vote? You definitely should campaign to get your voices heard even if you can’t vote.

What are the qualities I need to be leader?

Be you. Be able to identify issues you care about and why. It is important as a leader to listen and get different perspectives so that you have a balanced view. You may still end up with the same opinion but other perspectives help shape your thinking. When you make a decision, actively participate and learn from any mistakes. Lead from heart and the head and as a woman, embrace the power your gender brings. Be proud of what you bring and don’t conform – sometimes what stands out about you is your strength. Finally – you are always growing and learning as a leader.

What has been your biggest challenge in the world of work?

You have to prepare yourself with the skill set required for your profession – it is hard work and it is competitive. Stepping into a space where statistics are seemingly limiting you can be daunting so attitude is important. Even if it doesn’t go your way at first, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed. Be vocal about what you’re worth, build resilience and decision making and be authentic. Take every opportunity to learn and grow and bring others with you. To overcome challenges, you must support the next person – male or female. Together we can bring about change.

What was the largest battle you faced when giving a public talk?

On the March for Women, whilst trying to rally people around global legislation for violence against women, the teleprompter stopped working! Luckily I had read brief so I reverted to just being myself, got them up and engaged and then told them how to sign up to the petition. I also experienced heckling at the anti-Brexit protest from some vocal Boris fans…

Do you feel women are still perceived as less than men?

Yes, sadly, in some circles, but women’s voices are now amplified through so many platforms that we are changing the narrative and the conversation. It’s all about positively disrupting the status quo and being change makers. We cannot allow the voices from the dark ages to drown out our voices – you are all going to be agents of, and for, change.

Dr Shola spoke with real passion, authenticity and very much from the heart, connecting fully with her audience and inspiring us all. We were all very much spellbound by her presentation in the Longton Hall and I hope that her calls for the girls to believe in themselves and to be themselves will stick.

– Mrs Woodcock, Headmistress

GDST Summit drives change with New Rules

Educators from GDST and feeder schools gathered on 19 September 2019 to hear from experts, students and GDST alumnae on how to prepare young women for a world of radical change, as part of the GDST’s striking conference: New Rules, chaired by Journalist & Broadcaster, Samira Ahmed. The Summit was opened by Chief Executive, Cheryl Giovannoni, who spoke about the need to reshape and rewrite the rules as the old ones simply aren’t working. It’s time for men and women to work together to design the future and tear up the outdated ideas of leadership and closed doors. She talked about her mantra when she began her career of being confident, capable and credible and how we should be working as a squad to drive change together in a collegiate way, inspiring and encouraging other women. The overarching message was that it is time to believe in ourselves and be agents of change in education in order to equip our girls for the future so that they are bold, brave and brilliant, financially independent and aware of their own worth. We have purpose and purchase and we can change the world for the better.

Dame Cilla Snowball followed this up  by discussing the importance of girls not just learning how to navigate the system but how they can change it, so that there are no limits except your own ability, and how this systemic change would bring about gender equality faster than the predicted 127 years to close the gender pay gap. She gave the audience eight accelerators for change:

  1. Equip girls to change the system.
  2. Smash stereotypes: remove limiting attitudes by taking all opportunities to try new things – it’s only crazy until you do it! We need to redraw the balance in terms of gendered skills or jobs and remove the imposter syndrome felt by many women.
  3. Wellbeing is central.
  4. Speak up: find your voice against injustice as well as talking about ‘taboo’ subjects such as periods, but also ask for help, it isn’t a weakness.
  5. Plenty of relatable role models: you are never too old to need  a role model, or too young to be one. Great Thunberg is a fabulous example of what can done to galvanise a generation into action.
  6. Bring businesses into schools: access to business leaders so that girls can see what is possible.
  7. Embrace diversity.
  8. Do all these with kindness: a hugely underrated leadership quality.

Dame Snowball also talked about the important role of advertisers in removing stereotyping, showing three excellent advertising campaigns that broke gender stereotypes in a really powerful way:

This Girl Can
Redraw the balance
Take them all on

She also spoke of the importance of integrity, speaking truthfully and heroing those with integrity, as well as keeping men as allies, showing them there is nothing to fear and much to gain from diversity.

Next came a fascinating panel discussion on the future of education with Yomi Adegoke (author of Slay in Your Lane), Vicky Bingham (Head of South Hampstead High), Anna Lapwood (alumna and Director of Music, Pembroke College Cambridge), Justine Roberts CBE (founder of Mumsnet) and Dr Joseph Spence (Master of Dulwich College). They discussed education from a range of angles: black excellence and the importance of not sheltering pupils from sexism and racism but equipping them to speak out against them, how important gendered spaces are for learning, how to empower women and remove gender stereotyping. There was a focus on encouraging girls to take the lead but also to learn how to network and socialise to build up their confidence and share some of the entitlement that is found in their male counterparts. There was also an interesting discussion about being proud of yourself as a human rather than by gender, and a focus on philosophy and ethics to maintain humanity as well as learning the technological requirements in a world where AI is becoming more prevalent. Career preparation was a hot topic, with the realisation that we are providing pupils with a set of skills to deploy in the workplace rather than necessarily for one specific role, and how important it is to support changes of heart, allowing young people the freedom to explore new things as passion is just as key as gaining qualifications.

As part of the Summit the audience was asked to submit their suggestions for new rules. Three were selected via public vote:

  1. Be yourself, without regrets or limitations, be authentic and challenge conformity.
  2. Get rid of the stigma about having a family as well as being career driven.
  3. Success is subjective. Own your achievements and accept them without comparing.

The afternoon key note speaker was Dr Daniel Susskind, who made us all think about the future of the professions, whether that be a more efficient version of the system we have now or discovering creative ways to solve the problems we are using the professions for, through new technologies. He described the professions as ‘creaking’ and in our internet society, with exponential growth in AI it would appear that we are moving towards digitisation of various tasks rather than maintaining the traditional gatekeepers of knowledge. The rate of development in software is not necessarily going to result in being replaced by machines but there might be a change in how jobs are completed in terms of splitting tasks between humans and machines for greater efficiency – redeployment rather than unemployment. He linked this back to education in terms of two strategies: teaching interpersonal skills and problem solving that would allow humans to compete with machines, as well as teaching the skills to build the machines in the first place. There were some testing questions about social care and whether the value of the human factor for such roles will increase once technology replaces other aspects of medical roles for example. Dr Susskind summarised by saying that it is more important to develop a lifelong love of learning and to consider the problems that the professions are there to solve and how they might be solved in alternatives ways, such as through the use of AI.

It was a fascinating day and everyone felt their passions reinvigorated. Now comes the challenge of applying what we have learnt back in our schools! Watch this space…

Another record breaker as Sydenham girls fly high with top GCSE results

On a gloriously sunny August morning we welcomed in our year 11s and parents to the Orangery to open their eagerly anticipated GCSE results. It was a delight to see so many happy faces as we saw another increase in results since last year, making this year our best set of results for year 11!

40.5% A* / 9-8 grades

70.2% A*-A / 9-7 grades

99.1% A*-C / 9-4 grades

We are proud of all our pupils and everything they have achieved despite the more rigorous GCSE assessments, and the co-curricular commitments of the year group which, though an excellent respite from revision, required the development of time management and focus. We hope that all our pupils now have the chance to relax fully before term begins again – we are looking forward to hearing all about Reading Festival and other experiences!

This year we have withdrawn from league tables as we believe that the added pressure of this fuels a frenzy which is not conducive to the best outcomes for pupils. We are delighted that our pupils can combine a growing social consciousness alongside the academic rigour required to achieve top grades that reflect their potential. We look forward to seeing them develop into sixth formers and valued members of society beyond Sydenham High.

– Mrs Woodcock, Headmistress

We would also like to say a special best wishes to Frances who, as well as collecting her GCSE results today, is celebrating her 16th birthday AND becoming British Champion in 400m individual medley! Balancing swimming training and revision requires grit and determination – a true GDST girl. Watch from 1:42:21 to see her triumph, coming back from 5/6th position!

Sydenham High pupil wins Magnolia Cup at Goodwood Races after completing A Levels


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