Category: Sixth Form

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.

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.

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.

SIX the musical is a hit with our drama students

On Wednesday 18th September the A Level theatre studies students and Drama Scholars took a trip to the Arts Theatre West End to see ‘Six: The Musical’.

From Tudor queens to pop princesses, the six wives of Henry VIII take the mic to tell their tale, remixing five hundred years of her-storical heartbreak into a 75-minute celebration of sisterly sass-itude.

It was a highly enjoyable, inspirational and humorous musical. Not only did we get to Dance the night away to this fantastic show we also got a Q&A with the cast. This was a truly inspiring and fantastic evening for all involved!  It is on at the Arts Theatre and is absolutely a ‘must see’ if you get the chance.

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