Sydenham High is selective and diverse, welcoming girls with wide-ranging talents and backgrounds into a close community that is large enough to offer choice and flexibility but compact enough to ensure that no girl is overlooked. Our school motto, Nyle ye Drede, (‘Fear nothing’), lies at the heart of all we do. A Sydenham High education is centred upon the girl, where academic excellence and pastoral excellence go hand in hand. We want our pupils to have a ‘can do’ approach and inner strength so that they are enabled to thrive, succeed and be happy.
English Teacher, Sally Macdougal, explains how Crisis changed her life and why she encouraged Sydenham High pupils to get involved.
29th January 2021 — I first volunteered with Crisis at Christmas when I was 18 and in the sixth form. People often ask me what inspired me to get involved, and the fact is that I saw a poster in my common room and thought ‘I could do that’. I had no idea what I was getting myself into! My first year was incredibly difficult, I felt very overwhelmed by all of the personal stories that guests were telling me and, as someone who had led a relatively sheltered life, I was not prepared for the profound impact it would have on my life. One of the stories that still affects me is that of a young man, in his late twenties, who had a Mathematics degree from Cambridge and used to work in Canary Wharf. He had been really successful but developed an inoperable eye condition that led to him, after some more bad luck, sleeping on the streets. It was that moment that really made me realise – homelessness could happen to anyone.
Since volunteering with Crisis for the first time I have volunteered with lots of different organisations, but I keep coming back to Crisis. There’s something incredible about a group of strangers coming together for a week or so over Christmas, creating a homeless shelter out of a disused building, running it for 400 people and then all going their separate ways again at the end. Crisis at Christmas is not a soup kitchen, over the course of the week we provide over fourteen different services to our guests including healthcare, podiatry, a salon, legal advice, a dog kennel, arts and crafts, natural healing, opticians, CV writing, and even karaoke. It’s a bustling, energised, fully resourced world for our guests to immerse themselves in for a week. Our advice teams have an incredible success rate in terms of getting guests into long term housing and Crisis helps all guests to access learning and support year-round through their Skylight centre. I’m trying to put into words what it feels like to come into the world of Crisis at Christmas and feel the positivity, the joy and the camaraderie of volunteering but it’s something best described as ‘Crisis magic’. If you want further proof, this was my seventeenth year volunteering with Crisis and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else over Christmas.
2020 was different though. We couldn’t welcome guests with hugs and intimate chats or offer services like hairdressing and dentistry. What we could do though was give every one of our 135 guests their own hotel room for two weeks, a safe and warm place to stay, with three hot meals a day and regular welfare checks. Christmas day was made extra special by a wonderful three course dinner and the generous presents donated by Sydenham students which surprised and overwhelmed our guests. Although some of the ‘buzz’ of the usual centres was lost I feel incredibly proud that we were able to get people off the streets during the harsh weather, offer them emotional and legal support, activities through a brand new app, and still have a fantastic success rate. Based on the information from the housing team who were with us every day, I think my centre helped approximately thirty people get into long term housing this year. That’s thirty people who would otherwise be returning to the street if it hadn’t been for Crisis.
Volunteering with Crisis has been a personal journey for me. I went from being a typically self-absorbed teenager to someone who wanted to make volunteering a central part of their life. I choose a career in teaching because I wanted to make a difference in the world and Crisis helped me to discover that about myself. I would strongly encourage anyone reading this to find something you care about and volunteer, just give it a go even if you aren’t sure because you never know where it might lead you.
Sydenham High alumna calls for support to help bridge the Digital Divide
With the UK once again in lockdown, the importance of digital inclusion has never been so urgent. Sydenham alumna Liz Williams MBE has been working at the cutting edge of this agenda.
22nd January 2021 — With the UK once again in lockdown, the importance of digital inclusion has never been so urgent. Sydenham alumna Liz Williams MBE has been working at the cutting edge of this agenda.
As Chief Executive of FutureDotNow , Liz is coordinating industry action with some of the biggest companies in the UK to get all working age adults equipped with essential digital skills. Today over 17 million adults don’t have the five digital skills defined by the UK Government as essential for life and work. As Group Chair of Good Things Foundation, a social change charity working across the UK and Australia, Liz is helping people improve their lives through digital. As Social Mobility Commissioner for the UK Government where her portfolio centres around digital and the future of work.
In the last lockdown, with the help of the FutureDotNow coalition of companies, Liz set up DevicesDotNow, an emergency campaign that got over 10,000 connected devices in the hands of the most vulnerable individuals and families across the UK.
Liz is calling for a Great Digital Catch Up. The UK is leading the world as a digital nation yet 9 million adults in the UK are not able to use the internet independently. That means millions of people are not able to access the support they desperately need during lockdown. The call is for an investment of £130 million over 4 years in a Great Digital Catch Up scheme (just 2% of superfast broadband infrastructure budget) that will allow 4.5 million more people to be happier, healthier and better off.
“Frontline organisations are in desperate need of digital devices for the vulnerable people in their communities so they can help them stay connected with the outside world. Although DevicesDotNow has delivered 4,270 devices through 349 community partners to date, we have have also secured funding to support 5,921 further people, meaning we have achieved our first goal of supporting 10,000 people.
But this issue isn’t going away and we will be working tirelessly to achieve our next goal of helping 50,000 people. Receiving a tablet with a sim and the associated support that goes with it can make huge, life-changing differences for people and is an important part of our national response, ensuring they can shield effectively and alleviating strain on the NHS.
There are many things you can do to help: find out more about the campaign via the Good Things Foundation website, equally you can write to your MP or donate to the campaign.”
During the first lockdown in 2020, the GDST, reinforced by the efforts of individual schools such as Sydenham High, launched their own response to the digital divide with the GDST Academy Trust Student Support Fund to buy equipment, and provide internet access and other resources for students and their families at the two GDST Academy schools, and to date just shy of £25,000 has been raised by the GDST community.
Sydenham High questions the balance of the curriculum
On Wednesday 4 November, Sydenham High School hosted a live webinar entitled ‘Building a Balanced Curriculum‘, designed to explore how we can ensure a balanced and representative curriculum. Hosted by Hannah Spence and Rachael Vaughan, staff were treated to talks from four organisations: The Migration Museum, The Black Curriculum, Book Love Multicultural Carnival and Fill in the Blanks UK. It was a passionate discussion on how we can ensure that we are providing the best education possible.
6th November 2020 — On Wednesday 4 November, Sydenham High School hosted a live webinar entitled ‘Building a Balanced Curriculum‘, designed to explore how we can ensure a balanced and representative curriculum. Hosted by Hannah Spence and Rachael Vaughan, staff were treated to talks from four organisations: The Migration Museum, The Black Curriculum, Book Love Multicultural Carnival and Fill in the Blanks UK. It was a passionate discussion on how we can ensure that we are providing the best education possible.
Liberty Melly, Education Manager at The Migration Museum discussed how they bring the topic of migration to life for schools, colleges, universities and community groups by exploring the role of migration in Britain’s story. Founded in 2013, The Migration Museum is the first national migration museum and explores how the movement of people to and from Britain across the ages has made us who we are – as individuals and as a nation.. Despite there being over 2000 museums in the heritage sector, migration was notably missing and given that migration is everywhere, it was very telling that it was mostly only discussed in a negative way. The Migration Museum is designed to be a space to step back from divisive and polarised debate to reflect on what migration means on a national and individual level and to prepare pupils to deal with the headlines they will face. Away from negative rhetoric, the museum looks at people’s stories, recognising and valuing migrants without prejudice and raising awareness of local and national history, and how these personal stories connect to wider British history.
Melody Triumph explained the work that The Black Curriculum is doing with schools to promote black history and a more balanced curriculum. The aim is to understand the important of diversity in the curriculum and ensure that black history is embedded year round and not simply during Black History Month. In order to educate and equip pupils it is important to teach about Britain’s history of colonialism, slavery and migration to understand about the many people of different cultures and races in this country. With a history of diversity how can young people navigate the world if they aren’t taught about it? She emphasised that it is for all subjects, not just history, to consistently involve the experiences and contributions of all people and show that they are valued. It is possible to celebrate the abolitionist movement and social justice leaders whilst recognising and criticising colonialism rather than it being an either or situation, you can celebrate and criticise to fully understand the whole story and analyse historical figures critically. To include all pupils, they need to feel that they identify and connect with what they are being taught. Though it might feel daunting to diversify the curriculum properly and not in a tokenistic way, Melody reassured us that we are all learning all the time and it will be an organic process for staff and pupils. It won’t be perfect straight away and requires research and updates but we should focus on highlighting and embedding notable black Britons – historical and contemporary – to value diversity across all subjects, acknowledging different cultures and ethnicities. She cited examples such as library books written by black British people and not just about being black, having an orchestra playing Handel’s Messiah as well as Calypso music. Not every lesson needs to be centred on race but classrooms should be inclusive environments, using inclusive language so pupils engage with their learning and your subject.
Samantha Williams shared some personal reflections of her journey to creating Book Love – the multicultural carnival, from her frustrations from feeling that there wasn’t a platform on which to express stories of her mixed background and her narrative to seeing that her children weren’t experiencing the richness and diversity in school and deciding to do something about it. She noted that it is important to start with young children and expose them to the diversity of the world so she went into schools to read stories about children from all over the world so they saw and heard about black and brown people not just white characters. She then wrote to publishers to ask why books were not being published and not ending up in classrooms. She felt that this approach, working with primary school teachers directly might bring about faster change than waiting for government to change policies and update the curriculum. There is a lot for teachers to unlearn and relearn to ensure that pupils are prepared for the globalised world we live in, but do remember that independent book sellers have some less predictable, very useful resources! It is time to revolutionise the literature our pupils are exposed to and have awareness of all cultures to be respectful citizens.
Antonia Antrobus-Higgins impressively represented her fellow co-founders of Fill in the Blanks UK and told us all about their challenge to change the KS3 national curriculum to include the study of Empire. Inspired by their social justice fellowship at the Advocacy Academy, a training programme for activism, six sixth formers (two are now in further education) began their journey to fight for the teaching of how Empire shaped the development of Britain, so that there is a critical understanding of Empire in the public consciousness – not just the positives but both sides. She spoke passionately about the lack of understanding about race as a construct designed to subjugate parts of society, not a biological status and therefore the entrenched lack of understanding of systemic racism. As part of their campaign, they organised a radical takeover of free commuter newspapers with 5000 spoofs of the Metro and Evening Standard saying that the UK had mandated the teaching of colonial history and colonial legacy in Britain and rewriting the standard adverts and sports coverage to be more representative. This sparked a meeting invitation from Nick Gibb MP; however, this was postponed and now they have a petition with 260, 000+ signatures as the minister has rescinded his offer. There is a template to contact Nick Gibb MP, as well as other suggestions for activism on their website should you wish to support their campaign. The group is fighting for the teaching of the uncomfortable aspects of Britain’s past and how to talk critically about race and its construction and would like to impact policy through creating and monitoring lesson plans for schools.
The webinar was hugely inspiring and reiterated the importance of the curriculum being reflective, inclusive and just. It came about in part from Sydenham High School Pupil Voice and we are committed to continually learning about unconscious bias, how to be anti-racist, and educating our young people to be positive and empowered global citizens.
October was an even busier month than usual for alumna Sigourney Bell or ‘Siggy’ (Class of 2009). Not only is she a 2nd year PhD student at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge, she is also the co-founder of Black In Cancer, an organisation which aims to strengthen networks and highlight Black excellence in cancer research and medicine. Black in Cancer ran a week of events from 11 – 17 October across social media platforms highlighting the contributions of Black researchers, physicians and patient advocates working in cancer research and medicine.
2nd November 2020 — October was an even busier month than usual for alumna Sigourney Bell or ‘Siggy’ (Class of 2009). Not only is she a 2nd year PhD student at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, University of Cambridge, she is also the co-founder of Black In Cancer, an organisation which aims to strengthen networks and highlight Black excellence in cancer research and medicine. Black in Cancer ran a week of events from 11 – 17 October across social media platforms highlighting the contributions of Black researchers, physicians and patient advocates working in cancer research and medicine.
After completing A Levels in Biology, Chemistry and Physics at Sydenham High School in 2009, Sigourney gained her undergraduate degree from the University of Leeds in Human Physiology, then went on to work for both Pfizer and AstraZeneca in Neuroscience and Oncology respectively. Her PhD research centres on developing novel models and therapeutics for paediatric brain tumours, more specifically supratentorial ependymoma. But outside of her research, Sigourney is equally passionate about scientific outreach and encouraging the next generation of Black students into STEM subjects:
“This period has seen the beginning of critical changes for the Black community and it is so important to continue this momentum. This time is about acknowledging and celebrating the contributions that Black people have made to the UK, which can often go unnoticed.”
So what does Black In Cancer hope to achieve?
“We wanted to create an all inclusive community,” explains Sigourney in a recent interview with Forbes Magazine online
“Research within the lab is not the only way we can work towards more people surviving cancer. Within the Black community, we need more cancer education as well as to build those support networks for those with cancer. Our aim was to create a holistic environment to network, support and educate all Black people that either work in or are affected by cancer,” she added. Black people with cancer often experience huge disparities in survival, provision of care and access to clinical trials for experimental treatments.
She co-founded Black In Cancer along with fellow research scientist; Dr Henry J. Henderson III, a postdoctoral researcher at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Together, they head up an extensive organising committee of researchers and physicians who scheduled several online events during the week. Sponsored by Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Tigerlily Foundation and Cancer Research UK, they covered topics from career advice and networking to cancer advocacy and survival disparities. The week was a huge success with 80.5 million impressions on twitter and a number of sponsors hoping to continue this work moving forward.
What impact do the organizers hope that Black In Cancer Week will have going forward?
“We hope that people will feel more knowledgeable about cancer and more empowered about their health decisions. We hope that researchers are able to find and build their network and that young Black STEM students are able to see what they are able to aspire to,” said Bell, adding that future plans include cancer education initiatives and also mentorship programmes for students both in the US and the UK.
We were delighted to welcome Sigourney back to judge the finalists of the 2020 #700STEMChallenge writing competition at school in March. She had the task of judging the Engineering category and had some inspiring words to say to the finalists from the fourteen schools from across the UK. We hope to see her back at school again soon.
Sydenham High School GDST is spellbound by lawyer and women’s rights activist
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.
4th October 2019 — 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'm a girl with a dream! I'm 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."
Top London prep school shortlisted for the Independent Schools of the Year 2019
A year after its rebrand from Junior to Prep, Sydenham High Prep School is shortlisted for top independent schools award.
2nd October 2019 — Pupils and staff are celebrating after being praised by judges for the outstanding experience we provide to pupils from Reception through to year 6. A year after its rebrand from Junior to Prep, Sydenham High Prep School is one of a number to be shortlisted in the competition, which is run by Independent School Parent magazine and open to independent schools from across the country.
Ms Victoria Goodson, Head of the Prep at Sydenham High School GDST said:
“We are so proud of our school and the experience that we offer to our girls. It is wonderful to have been recognised for the preparation we provide for our pupils, academically, socially and emotionally. I would like to thank our staff for their genuine commitment, hard work and dedication as well as the children, whose enthusiasm and input into the curricular and co-curricular activities of the school makes our community so special."
The awards ask to see evidence of success stories that feature both individuals and innovative practice, for a judging panel that is made up of heads, governors, parents and representatives of membership associations from across the sector and chaired by Dr Helen Wright, former President of the Girls School Association and Vice-Chair of the Independent Schools Commission.
David Moncrieff is Chair of the Editorial Advisory Board at Independent School Parent magazine who run the awards. He said:
“Following the huge success of the inaugural competition last year, which saw more than 250 school nominations entered, we are thrilled to have surpassed that figure for Independent Schools of the Year 2019. The awards have again been designed with the student experience at their heart and to provide schools with a platform to showcase their stories of innovation and success. The judges now have a tough job on their hands picking the winners from the shortlisted entries that were of such a consistently high standard.”
Neil Kirby is Marketing Director of Bupa Global, Sponsor of Independent Schools of the Year 2019.
“We are delighted to be supporting the Independent Schools of the Year 2019 awards, and to see so many schools taking up the opportunity to showcase the exceptional experience they offer their pupils. The entries gave a powerful insight into the choice and flexibility being afforded to students in the independent sector, and we are pleased to be part of such a new and exciting celebration of the hard work and dedication of all those involved in private education in the UK.”
This year saw a record number of entries from a wide range of schools; from tiny rural pre-preps through to large urban secondaries in a broad range of geographical areas. There were twenty different categories, a reflection of the depth and breadth of the independent school experience.
All those who entered have been invited to gather at an awards evening in London on Monday 7th October where winners will be announced and celebrated at a glittering champagne reception sponsored by health insurers Bupa Global.
Finalists will be featured in a widely distributed special winner’s supplement magazine and will be given a rosette to display alongside their brand. In addition, winners will be presented with a trophy.
Details can be found on our website under the Admissions section.