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BrainCanDo Two-Day Conference

Queen Anne’s School, Caversham hosted a two-day BrainCanDo conference on Friday 6 and Saturday 7 March, attended by students, teachers, parents and academics.

The programme commenced with the BrainCanDo Inspiring Women Conference on Friday 6 March, in conjunction with International Women’s Day. Over 450 delegates, including students from years 10 – 13 and teachers, were in attendance at the Berkshire independent boarding and day school. Students heard from inspiring women from the world of enterprise, science and business, each discussing their own journey and promoting a ‘no limits’ approach to life. On Saturday, delegates listened to guest speakers focusing on uncovering the mysteries of the teenage brain and the future for education in the 21st century.

Inspiring Women Conference

Speaking about the two-day conference, Mrs Harrington, Headmistress at Queen Anne’s School, said:

“We have had a fantastic two days! The girls really enjoyed hearing from our visiting speakers in preparation for International Women’s Day on Sunday 8 March. We also enjoyed learning about the mysteries of the teenage brain and celebrated all of the creativity that our young people bring to the world.”

Headmistress, Mrs Julia Harrington, introduced the conference, followed by social entrepreneur, Sejal Hathi, who took to the stage to speak about empowering the future for women and how “being a change maker begins with yourself”. Sejal founded the non-profit organisation Girls Helping Girls, aged 15. Four years later, she founded the social enterprise Girltank, dedicated to socially and economically empowering young women globally.

Anne-Marie Imafidon, a child prodigy who had received degrees from prestigious universities by the time she was 20, delivered a fascinating talk about the STEMettes programme, which she set up in a bid to inspire the next generation of females into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) roles. Anne-Marie used a variety of examples, including robots performing the “Gangnam Style” dance to highlight how STEM can be used in the real world.

Delegates then had the opportunity to listen to Stephanie Butcher, a specialist in European equity income investing at Invesco Perpetual. Stephanie gave an insight into her experiences in the world of portfolio management and shed light on the reality of women working in finance. Stephanie encouraged students to “have confidence and belief in yourselves” and even posed the question “Would the financial crisis have happened if there were more women in finance?”

Nicola Morgan concluded the morning session speaking about her work on adolescence whilst sharing her own experiences of childhood. A former teacher and specialist in dyslexia, Nicola’s 2005 book on the teenage brain, entitled Blame My Brain, was shortlisted for the Aventis prize. Nicola expressed her desire to help teenagers, who are struggling through the adolescence years, by sharing some top tips of wisdom including, “listen to your heart and your head”; “don’t believe everything you are told about yourself” and “everything changes – this is not forever.”

During the morning, students had the opportunity to attend a variety of breakout workshops entitled ‘Money Matters’, ‘Create that Winning CV’ and ‘Career Speed Mentoring’, alongside a ‘Body Image & Confidence’ workshop presented by Body Image Expert Damilola Erinle, a former pupil at Queen Anne’s, and Yoga workshops run by yoga instructors, Jo Hanks and Elise Beechen.

The afternoon session began with award-winning entrepreneur, Zoe Jackson, founder of the Living the Dream Performing Arts Company. Zoe founded the company in 2006, at the age of 16, to inspire young people and to subsidise her own performing arts training and education. Zoe, who recently appeared on Elle Magazine’s list of Top 100 Inspiring Women, spoke about the work of the company, including dancing for the Queen and performing a flashmob at London St Pancras International train station. She highlighted a number of key points, including “women need to stick together and should celebrate each other’s achievements.” After showing a video highlighting the work of the Living the Dream Performing Arts Company, Zoe left delegates with a final message, saying: “Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith; don’t be afraid to fail.”

The final speaker for the afternoon was award-winning editor of Glamour magazine, Jo Elvin. Jo gave an account of her journey, which began as an ambitious young world-traveller, including a walk on part on the popular Australian television series ‘Home and Away’, to becoming one of the most successful magazine editors in the UK. Throughout her talk, Jo shared a number of inspirational messages, including “don’t let the fear of failure stop you” and “the only limits that you face are the ones in your head”. Jo also highlighted that the definition of success varies from person to person and that getting fired from one of her previous positions gave her the opportunity to really learn from the highs and the lows.

Following the Friday conference, Queen Anne’s student, Caitlin Croke, aged 17 from Marlow in Buckinghamshire, said:

“Attending the BrainCanDo Inspiring Women Conference today has given me food for thought. I found the speakers engaging and I particularly enjoyed the Gender Debate as I do feel that male counterparts need to be educated on gender equality and feminism so that change can happen.”

On Saturday 7 March, the second and final day of the two-day BrainCanDo Conference focused on uncovering the mysteries of the teenage brain. Over 100 delegates, including teachers and parents, listened to a variety of speakers from the fields of business, technology and education.

The conference began with a welcome from Mrs Julia Harrington, Headmistress, Queen Anne’s School and founder of BrainCanDo. Julia outlined the unique ‘BrainCanDo: Life and Learning Programme’ at Queen Anne’s, which is based on the principle of ‘brain plasticity’ and the personal development of the individual. Julia challenges pupils and staff to be the best they can by promoting a ‘no limits’ learning culture, which is enhanced by inviting professionals into school to show what can be achieved with hard work and determination.

Delegates then had the opportunity to listen to Andrew Curran, a practising paediatric neurologist at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, who gave an informative overview of the learning brain. Using the extensive research he has undertaken, Andrew explained that children are “born with a clean slate” in terms of their brain capabilities and that “it is the responsibility of parents and teachers to shift the paradigm so that they can connect with teenagers and understand who they really are as a person.”

Professor Sandra McNally, Director of Education at the London School of Economics, gave a presentation discussing the costs and benefits of higher education. The main conclusions taken from research, involving 54 schools in London, stated that “there is a poor knowledge of the Higher Education Finance system” and that “students talk most to family and friends about career-related issues.”

Before breaking for lunch, Professor Sarah-Jane Blakemore, a Royal Society University Research Fellow and Professor in Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL, explained the links between neuroscience and education. Sarah-Jane, who was named in The Times Young Female Power List 2014, described how children have “a sense of worth” and that “risk-taking peaks in adolescence, with peer influence being a critical issue.” Professor Blakemore’s presentation also included key points such as “adolescents are concerned with being excluded or ostracised” and that “the development of the adolescent brain is influenced by the surrounding environment.” To sum up her research, Sarah commented that, “The best learning comes from your emotional brain, so we need to inspire children’s ‘hearts’ to optimise learning.”

The afternoon session began with an engaging talk about teenagers and technology by Emma Mulqueeny, Founder of Rewired State. Emma, who is best known for her campaign: ‘Year 8 Is Too Late’, which aims to encourage girls into technology subjects, dismissed the notion of ‘lazy, layabout teens’ and highlighted that “teenagers have a real voice online.” Emma went on to explain that “teenagers are learning how to influence their community through social media” and that parents and teachers need to learn directly from teenagers themselves about how to stay safe online.

The day ended with a panel discussion, chaired by Ed Dorrell, Deputy Editor of the TES. The panel, consisting of Barnaby Lenon, Chairman of ISC; Julia Harrington, Headmistress, Queen Anne’s School and Peter Dart, Director of WPP, discussed questions raised, including: “Is our subject system fit for purpose for the employers of the 21st century?”; “Is imagination more important than knowledge?” and “What is the relevance of work experience for students?” Following a lively debate, with input from delegates and the panel, a number of key points were discussed, including: “happiness can be influential in building new skills”, “emotional and social intelligence apply to every part of our curriculum” and “teenagers are much more savvy that we give them credit for.”

Looking to the future, Mrs Julia Harrington, Headmistress of Queen Anne’s, said

“Following the success of our two-day conference, we are now looking to drive forward our BrainCanDo: Life and Learning Programme through regular events, talks and learning sessions. We are continuing to work in collaboration with experts in the fields of education, neuroscience and brain development and I believe that our girls are living proof that with hard work, persistence, confidence, resilience and intelligent thinking, they can lead the way into the 21st Century.”