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The Science Laboratory

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Every child, no matter race, sex or creed should be allowed access to an exciting and dynamic science education. Let’s make it our mission to support our science educators, at all levels of education to do so.    

THREE CHEERS FOR MEGHAN’S FIGHT AGAINST THE PHOTO-SHOPPERS

IT SEEMS like the tide might be finally turning with a new generation of female celebrities who say no to being manipulated by the music industry.

I was delighted to hear in today’s news that the Grammy Award winning singer Meghan Trainor had ordered video companies to pull her latest video ‘Me Too’ down for an urgent re-edit after realising it had been photo-shopped.

American pop star Meghan – who is still only 22 – famously celebrated accepting your body size in her debut hit ‘All About That Bass’ a couple of years ago.

In the lyrics of the song, she talked about loving your body shape and spoke out against photo-shopping, where images are digitally manipulated either in a photograph or video to make someone look different or enhance their looks for effect. The techniques are routinely used to make women look thinner or to iron out what might be seen as imperfections such as wrinkles, spots, freckles and moles.

The seemingly ‘perfect’ images that result have often been linked with young women’s drive to search for what they perceive to be the perfect look and size. I believe that such images have played a role in some young women’s descent into eating disorders.

Meghan became an instant star with her debut single and successful first album and was happy to be associated with young women accepting who they were and their body shape.

She was allegedly furious when she saw her new video had been doctored ahead of its release by making her waist look slimmer to give her a more slender silhouette.

Despite her relatively tender age, she took to social media to rant about what had happened and behind the scenes successfully ordered that the video be taken down.

In a series of Snapchat posts she said: ‘My waist is not that teeny, I had a ‘bomb’ waist that night. I don’t know why they didn’t like my waist.

‘I didn’t approve that video and it went out to the world so I’m embarrassed. I’m so sick of it, I’m over it. So I took it down until they fix it.’

Meghan’s refreshing attitude certainly heartens me as an educator and a parent in a time when young women and young girls have been bombarded with images of so-called perfection 24 hours a day in today’s media age.

It is all in stark contrast to the behaviour of so many young female stars over the past couple of decades who have – whether willingly or otherwise – allowed the music industry to exploit their sexuality to sell records.

A couple of years ago, I spoke out about what I believed was the awful example of stars like Miley Cyrus who particularly confused young girls with her dramatic change of image from the wholesome Hannah Montana Disney character she was so associated with to her new highly sexualised persona.

Our own home-grown Charlotte Church also bravely spoke out about the pressures on young female stars by the music industry just a few years ago, accusing it of having a ‘culture of demeaning women’ that forces stars to sell themselves as sex objects.  Church said she was ‘pressurised’ into wearing revealing outfits in videos by male executives when she was 19 or 20.  The star said young female artists were routinely ‘coerced into sexually demonstrative behaviour in order to hold on to their careers’.

This makes it all the more admirable that a young star like Meghan Trainor is prepared to fly in the face of that pressure to stand up for herself – and by doing so to stand up for all the legions of young women who look up to her – by standing up and being counted.

I hope it heralds in a new era of change when the young women we have been educating and bringing up feel they can say ‘no’ to the pressures which have been besetting them and do beset them. Let us hope the dinosaur music industry bosses who have bullied women into using their sexuality slink back into extinction – we can but hope.

One wonders whether they would be so keen to exploit women – and photo-shopping is the thin end of the wedge – if they had ever had any experience of eating disorders or teenage anxiety in their own families?

Why that School Trip Can Enrich your Child’s Life Forever

EXAM season is approaching us fast and for many parents and children, the Easter Holidays will be an anxious time of revision. I will say what I always say – time spent filling the brain as early as possible with those useful facts will pay dividends later when the facts pass from your short-term memory to your long-term memory where they are committed to memory ready for exam day!

But it is also a time when the days are getting longer and, hopefully, warmer and we start to think of the Summer Term ahead and long sunny days which will bring out the day dreamer in all of us.

Many children will be embarking on school trips – international, national, regional or just local – in the Summer Term and long holidays ahead. These can be a stretch financially for parents but they are so vital for their child’s development.

Remember what it was like if you have children – or even when you were a young child – when they or you went on a school trip for the first time: the anticipation and the excitement and the memories.

If you grew up in the 1970s and 1980s like I did, that first school trip may have been a day out at the zoo. Close your eyes and remember just how exhilarating it was to see wild animals in the flesh – to watch them, hear them and even to smell them.

These days, primary school children might be off to a farm or a city farm to see animals leap from the storybook and their imaginations into reality.

I think it is hard to underestimate just how important that experience is for them. I am sure we can all remember a similar experience and such experiences stand out in the landscape of our childhoods.

As our children grow older, it is important not to let them lose that sense of wonder that is so precious when they experience things in the world around them for the first time.

Some of you will have children for whom a trip to a historic site induces that awe and amazement as it brings their work to life – perhaps a visit to a castle or even to a monument like Stonehenge will be imprinted on their memories for life; all the more so because they have learnt about it first from a book or in a school lesson.

A visit to an art gallery can switch on a lifetime’s love of art and culture which can enrich a child’s life forever.

This experiential learning is absolutely vital to a child’s development – even if that trip was or is a relatively simple one. Who hasn’t seen the wonder of a young child playing in a park or even digging in a garden and seen how much they get out of such experiences?

Experiences out of the classroom can help older children to have an overview of an event they might have read about a thousand times at school but never really had a chance to think about what it might have been like to experience themselves.

Children of all ages from my own school will be visiting the World War I battlefields this summer. For those of you who have been there, you will know how seeing the existing trenches and the rows of graves in the World War I cemeteries tell the story of the bloodshed, horror and loss more than words on a page can do.

School trips support and invigorate children’s learning throughout their education so whether you are wishing farewell to your young child on the way to a city farm or a safari park, or your teenager on a visit to France, remember that the experiences they gain in the field will enlighten their learning and build memories which will shape their lives for ever.

GENDER NEUTRAL – IT IS REALLY JUST A RETURN TO A PROPER CHILDHOOD!

LAST week, I spoke to the Sunday Times Education Editor about a story she was planning on ‘gender neutral parenting’. The phrase itself – which I think we can all agree sounds rather PC – is enough to strike fear into anyone’s hearts and has become something of a buzzword for those seeking to explain – at the most basic level – why girls should not automatically be put in pink and boys in blue from babyhood!

Not surprising then that the accompanying headline ‘Let boys wear dresses, Head tells parents’ received some attention. I hope that anyone who read the headline actually read the story to understand the full gist of what I was saying! As Head of a girls’ school, I clearly would not have been telling my own school’s parents to let their sons – if they have them – wear dresses or in fact telling anyone to actually do anything rather I was suggesting to all parents that they should let their children – boy or girl – express themselves freely!

The story had arisen because British pop superstar Adele had started a debate by taking her three year old son to Disneyland dressed as his favourite Frozen character Anna: a little boy dressed as a girl shock horror!

In the same week, a survey revealed that more and more mums, particularly in the under 30 age group – so-called ‘millennial mums’ were bringing up their children in a ‘gender neutral’ way. The survey of more than 2,000 mothers for the parenting website Channelmum.com revealed two out of five under the age of 30 parent in a gender neutral manner compared with just one in four older mothers.

Another survey revealed that three out of five parents back the removal of gender labels from clothes and toys by retailers and a quarter want gender neutral school uniforms.

As for Adele, despite receiving criticism in some quarters, she was widely praised for ‘smashing gender norms’ by allowing her young son to wear what he wanted.

Personally, I believe that all young children should be allowed to play with whatever they want from the dressing-up box and with whatever toys they want – whether that means a little boy pushing a stroller or a little girl dressing up as Superman. So what? They are little kids having fun.

This is not a question of sexuality. It is laughable to suggest that by saying that little boys should be able to wear dresses from the dressing up box, I am paving the way for them to be confused about their own gender!

The issue of transgender and body dysphoric children is a totally different and very serious issue which has to be addressed sensitively. Recently, for example, Brighton College became the first school to scrap its uniform code to accommodate boys who identify as girls outside school and vice versa.

As a child of the 70s and 80s, what really bemuses me is that by saying what I said – effectively that children should be allowed to play as they wish – I am saying anything at all revolutionary.

When I was growing up, the norms were that girls and boys played together – usually in their messy dungarees, one indistinguishable from the other, with whatever came to hand. The ‘pinkification’ of toys had barely started, thank goodness. We all played with proper Lego – none of your Lego Friends patronising nonsense – and it wasn’t considered odd for a girl to ask Father Christmas for a Meccano set or a chemistry set and get one. We were free to play.

Fast forward a couple of decades and the boom in marketing meant that greedy marketeers spotted the opportunity to split genders from cradle to the grave and start to market ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ options to parents and then to their children when they were old enough. Men daring to wear a pink shirt or any kind of pastel colour these days might be told they are ‘in touch with their feminine side’!

It has been suggested that I have asked for a ‘revolution in parenting’ by suggesting that children are allowed to play freely and forget whether they are a boy or girl when they are doing that.

Hardly! I am just calling for parents to reclaim their children from the marketeers who have tried to make it normal for girls only to want to play with their Baby Annabels or Chou Chous and for boys to need to show their machismo virtually from birth by playing with a train set or blue truck.

Whether so-called ‘gender-neutral parenting’ gives parents the freedom to think it’s OK to do something simple like paint their nursery pink, yellow or blue or rainbow coloured – whatever the gender of their child – or being careful of not imposing gender stereotypes and roles in their language – ‘be a man’, ‘don’t be a girly’ etc – or, ultimately, the freedom to encourage their daughter to pursue a career as an engineer without being put off by the stereotype that it is a ‘male’ career – then it is to be applauded surely.

Imposing restrictions on children and stereotyped gender behaviours from birth is just the sort of behaviour that does confuse children because they are not free to explore and create.

Gender neutral parenting means giving children this freedom – the freedom, ironically, not to be neutral!

While many will hate the label, any parent who wants to give their child the opportunity to be who they are, fulfil their potential and not be held back by stereotypes will be surprised to hear that they too, in the 21st Century, are a gender neutral parent – like the term or loathe it!