Guest blog by James Brown, Acting Assistant Head.

To suddenly find out you’re not taking summer exams must have brought mixed emotions for Year 11. First, jubilation. Yay! No need to spend hours revising. Then, frustration. Dismay, even. What now?

Girls at NGHS are committed and dedicated to learning. Not having the goal of exam success and its sense of achievement is bound to be unsettling: frankly, many feel robbed of the chance to prove themselves. But it’s not just that. The exams, as demanding as they are, set a strong foundation for future learning.

Instead of just filling in this gap, at NGHS we’ve been working hard to build exciting courses that don’t just lay the foundations for learning but give it structure and strength.

Utilising Google Classroom, this week we have begun the Beyond GCSE Programme, the exciting opportunity for Year 11 pupils to prepare for their A-level studies, free from the restrictions of exams. As well as the GDST Masterclasses, the NGHS Bridging Courses put the onus on the girls to study and read around their chosen A-level subject areas independently, culminating in a presentation in September, for each of their subject options, to show their findings and share their enthusiasm with their peers. The presentation is to show A-level teachers what they have found and discovered about their chosen topic area. Each of them will complete a ‘live’ presentation including the reasoning that underpins their chosen direction of research, their main findings and a reflection on what they have learnt about independent study.

Essentially, this pupil-led exploration provides the blueprint for the more holistic, synoptic expectations at A-level, drawing on many ideas from research and study. They will conduct wider reading, accessing articles and research as well as documentaries, lectures and talks. Rather like at university, pupils will have regular (virtual) meet-ups with their teachers to ‘check in’ on progress to help stem and steer debate.

Guided by our teachers’ expertise, this is their chance to enrich their learning, with units crafted to enable them to prepare for their Sixth Form studies. A bespoke programme of modules which fit with their A-level subject choices, its aim is to be a creative and engaging programme of independent study, focusing on building the key skills for the academic ‘step up’ to Sixth Form. This is an exciting opportunity to get the most out of learning.

Not simply front-loading Year 12 material, this is the chance to explore topics which are of real interest beyond the specification. Subjects are asking pupils to either concentrate on a particular topic or offer even more choice, whether it’s investigating a theatre practitioner’s impact in Drama, a significant body of data analysis in Maths, the effects of WWII on life in Britain for History, or exploring in Politics if the UK’s General Election system is fit for purpose.

Geography have signposted lots of different resources allowing free choice, subject to tutor approval, and Economics students can either investigate current events such as the implications of rising inequality for an economy or research into prominent economists such as Esther Duflo in the era of neoliberalism. In Business, students are looking at the British coffee shop industry and the market for alternative, plant-based ‘meats’, before exploring consumer boycotts and investigating $1bn+ companies. For English Literature, pupils are exploring a range of female novelists, reading widely and narrowing down to one novel with a specific ‘lens’ to study it under. Like at university, they are assigned a tutor devise their own critical title.  English Language students will explore all sorts of questions such as ‘What is forensic linguistics?’ and ‘Will English always be the global language?’

Our future Biologists are delving into topics such as Gene Technology, Epigenetics, Animal Behaviour, Biodiversity, Conservation and Biomimicry, developing skills such as how to make accurate biological drawings, how to apply mathematical skills in Biology and the importance of microscopy. For Languages, pupils will present part of their talk in the language; for example, in German they select an aspect of everyday life, in Spanish on a series exploring history, culture or cuisine. As well as such topics as the ‘Secrets of the Teenage brain’ in Psychology, other distinct areas of study are the ‘impact of the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics on a chosen athlete’ for PE, designing a scale model of a piece of furniture inspired by the seasons for 3D Design, and studying whether in Music a particular operetta really is outdated.

Guided exploration like this will allow for the independence, deeper thinking and making connections which the girls have enjoyed from the more flexible Guided Home Learning, ‘getting ahead’ in key analytical skills and contextual appreciation.

Rather than being held back, we want NGHS pupils to demonstrate – for themselves – how they can be progressive, creative and different. We want them to go beyond, and start building something new.