Category: Sixth Form

Westminster’s Central Hall hosts UK Politics students

On the 3rd December, hundreds of politics students from across the United Kingdom watched and engaged with MPs from across the political spectrum. The MPs reflected on issues and concerns in the current political system. From the likes of Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg to Chuka Umunna, the conference was full of passion, confrontation and realpolitik.

Due to the political situation our present government finds itself in, this conference seemed to express the frustrations of young, ardent politics students on the issue of the day – Brexit. The event left students feeling fascinated with the current climate of politics.

Jessica Rose Phillips gave an inspired speech on feminism and UK politics today. The Speaker John Bercow addressed his impact on parliamentary reform and the left leaning Chuka Umunna’s speech was exhilarating; it engaged the crowd and really encouraged me to be more active on issues like racism and sexism in our society. It was encouraging to see someone who looks like me represent our hopes and aspirations for a more equitable society.

The conference illustrated to me the reason why I chose to study Politics and how this is the most exciting time to participate in the subject.
– Laila Kyambadde, year 12

It was a very stimulating day and it really brought Politics to life. It was good for the A Level students from Sydenham to see that they are part of a wider learning community. There cannot be a better time to be studying A Level Politics in such interesting, if not turbulent times!

– Mr van der Spiegel, Teacher of Government & Politics

Parliament Week 2018

The theme for this week was Parliament Week. In the week of Prime Minister Theresa May unveiling the proposed deal for Brexit, it was very timely indeed! It was an opportunity for our students to engage with the UK parliament and how they can actively involve themselves in promoting and supporting the Fundamental British Value of the Rule of Law.

Friday’s assembly heard Mr Guest talk about the history of the UK parliament, and the remaining four laws set up in the Magna Carta, which set out the powers of the monarchy. He also spoke about making our votes count and being part of making a difference for our country.

In addition to the Senior School Assembly on Friday, throughout the week tutors discussed with their tutees aspects of the Rule of Law and the British Parliament itself and the impact Parliament has on our daily lives. Year 7-9 discussed Vote 100 as 2018 marks 100 years since Parliament passed a law which allowed some women, and all men, to vote for the first time: the 1918 Representation of the People Act. As part of Vote 100, women shared their personal stories of how laws passed by Parliament have changed their lives for the better. Pupils watched three films from #YourStoryOurHistory, focusing on laws that have contributed to women’s rights and continued to empower them. Pupils created a list of reasons why it is important to vote, what voting allows us to do and why it is a privilege, as well as how Suffragettes won women the vote. Throughout the year we are celebrating this important milestone in the UK’s democratic history.

Following on from Black History Month, Year 10 and 11 discussed diversity and parliament, exploring the changing nature of representation in the UK. Pupils were shown clips to find out more about Parliamentarians’ experience of changing diversity and to consider what diversity means to them. They discussed the reasons why a greater diversity is important for Parliament, what can be done to encourage greater diversity in politics, how they could encourage diversity and heard about role models from Members of Parliament, including both personal and famous people.

For any further information – or if this is an area that interests you – please visit

Inspiring Q&A session with ‘Slay in your lane’ authors

Wednesday 17 October saw a fascinating lunchtime question and answer session with Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, authors of ‘Slay In Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible‘, led by a panel of our sixth form students. It brought together pupils from across the school, of many different backgrounds, to discuss not only the process of producing the book but also the topic of prejudice and discrimination faced by black women, as told by the two south London born authors and the thirty nine trailblazing women interviewed for the book.

The book contains a rich mix of voices and is the first of its kind, which added a layer of pressure to ensure that it was not merely stereotypical anecdotes but filled with statistics and historical facts to validate the experiences of black women. They are passionate in their conviction that the book is for everyone, even though it is written about, and by, black women – it is key for other members of society to read about their experiences in an attempt to understand more than simply their own lived experience, especially decision-makers in positions of power.

Yomi and Elizabeth state that their book is designed to educate and empower rather than to depress with the sometimes startling statistics listed. They were adamant that it should start the conversation, rather than be a full stop, and allow other BAME voices to be able to share their experiences – especially as these are often different, sometimes opposite, to their own. They explained how hard it was to produce the book, whilst working full time, versus the high of being interviewed on television and in magazines once the book was finally published. They spoke about the challenges of initiating conversations with their list of inspirational women and how they took every opportunity to approach the women with whom they wanted to collaborate – from direct messaging on instagram to finding Diane Abbott MP in Parliament and June Sarpong at Afro Hair & Beauty Live. It was important to them to be authentic and tell their own story and they feel very fortunate that they were able to select a publisher who allowed this, without compromising their vision, and let them be hands-on even down to the cover and internal photoshoot.

The discussions over representations of black women in the media and how to respond to racism or microaggressions could have continued all afternoon but the session had to draw to a close. The authors signed dozens of books and we are sure that every girl will enjoy reading this powerful book of rare insights and destigmatisation.

Slay In Your Lane is available from all good bookstores.


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.

Get in touch

Contact us