Heads Blog Archive | Portsmouth High School

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Polite people ‘are the best company as adults’

The Duchess of Cornwall commented on how her upbringing prepared her well for royal duties. However dull the company, as a child, her mother told her to entertain guests by talking about anything – your pony, your budgie, it doesn’t matter the topic just keep the conversation going. 

We try hard to bring up our children to have good manners and be polite. I was always taught to stand when a person enters a room to greet them. I was not allowed to eat or drink in public in my school uniform and my father-in-law never allowed my husband and his brother to even eat an ice cream in the street. There are extremes.

Polite people, according to Mary Killen, The Spectator’s agony aunt and Gogglebox star, “are the best company as adults; they’re on time; they’re considerate. They end up with the best jobs and the happiest relationships.”

“It doesn’t matter how many A-levels you have, what kind of a degree you have – if you have good manners, people will like you,”

agrees Kate Reardon, editor of Tatler. “And, if they like you, they will help you.”

At PHS the form captains invited to lunch in my study receive an invitation to which they are expected to formally reply and hopefully write a thank you after the event – in this modern world whilst email is accepted it is not encouraged to be chatty in tone. It is one of the ways we try to introduce the girls to formal invitations and the etiquette required to respond appropriately. It is something that has always been a part of PHS. One quite elderly alumna told me of her headmistress at PHS who took her out to tea and lunch to introduce her to formal dining before she experienced it at Cambridge.

Of course many of our girls are already well educated on manners through their family life but it does no harm to reinforce politeness at school.

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Examinations ask candidates to apply their knowledge rather than simply regurgitate learned facts

School examinations for all but Year 12 are now already a memory but public examinations still have to start for Year 13 and GCSEs are off to a slow start.  

I can’t help but feel sorry for the girls taking their examinations especially as the weather has now improved. I remember quite clearly that sinking feeling of having to stay in and revise when the days were warm and sunny.

After the GCSE geography examination recently a Facebook group for teachers was inundated with comments from teachers bewailing the unfairness of the GCSE paper because pupils were asked, for example, about the sustainability of water consumption mapped against an increase in the sale of dishwashers and this was not on the scheme of work. Some of the newspapers reported the story alongside one from a biology examination earlier in the week where Charles Darwin was drawn as a cartoon monkey which it was also claimed was not what they had spent months revising.

What is clear to me is that these type of tests now ask candidates to apply their knowledge rather than simply regurgitate learned facts. Not so long ago a typical geography question would start with the words “using an example you have studied” whereas now it is an expectation rather than a command that pupils will use case studies to illustrate their answer. One teacher even complained about the word illustrate as a command word because it was not one on the examination board list.

It is important that we prepare our students well for this change of emphasis in GCSEs and A levels. Not only has the grading system changed for GCSE making comparisons with previous years difficult, the style of questioning is much more challenging. Some years ago we started our thinking skills lessons to encourage our pupils to think differently and to be able to analyse information. Our girls are well-prepared for these examinations and they have developed ways of critically analysing text and data to offer judgements and opinions based on presented evidence.

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Studying for examinations is good for the long term health of your mind

One good aspect about a bank holiday is I have time to tackle a newspaper crossword. I like to attempt them because I feel it gives my brain a good workout and apparently as your brain behaves like a muscle it needs regular exercise.

There is no doubt that age affects your ability to remember detail and it concerns me that some of the sharpness of youth has definitely dimmed over time. That is one of the reasons why I think studying for examinations helps the long term health of your mind. Young people establish excellent remembering techniques that stay with them for life.

It is all too easy to Google forgotten information and to keep our brains healthy we should keep trying to recall data.

It is probably no consolation to the GCSE students who started their examinations in earnest this week that studying for examinations is good for you.  School is not just about examination results, however, and acquiring knowledge, wisdom and experience is of greater significance compared to the outcome of any one single test. It is important that this is kept in mind as our pupils enter examination season.

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It’s not just women that can multitask…

I laughed this week at the parody video clip of a woman responding to the same situation that the BBC expert on Korea found himself in when interrupted by his two children during a live newscast.

The woman in the clip manages to not only speak about a serious world situation but also iron some shirts, defuse a bomb and cook a roast dinner whilst broadcasting. It is a well-known joke that women can multitask but I would agree with Kevin Stannard, GDST Director of Innovation and Learning writing in the Times Educational Supplement when he says that teachers (regardless of gender) also have to multitask. Erica McWilliam describes the teacher’s roles as “sage on the stage”, “guide on the side” and “meddler in the middle”. And teachers’ work does not end in the classroom as they in their other roles as form teacher and head of year, for example, counsel and cajole pupils and students whilst also rushing off to run a co-curricular club. As Dr Stannard points out “teachers occupy a unique place in the pantheon of professions. If this were not so, we would be reading articles about “My favourite lawyer”; “the accountant that influenced me most”.

I received this week an email from an alumna, who left PHS in the early 1960s, replying to a recent letter I had sent to all

of our alumnae. She told me that she was discouraged by the staff from applying to study at university as shewas deemed not clever enough and yet she went on to have a successful career obtaining a PhD in medical research. She did add that she had fourteen happy years at school but she clearly still felt bitter about the way in which the staff, and in particular the headmistress, did not recognise her academic potential.

Thankfully times have changed and our staff are adept at spotting talent and potential in a whole range of arenas. It is another string to their multitasking bow. They inspire and encourage and within one lesson can be the “sage, meddler and guide” as they seek different ways in which to motivate and enthuse their pupils. Not all teachers will quite fit individual styles of learning but all the staff here at PHS are committed to providing a broad and balanced curriculum and many co-curricular opportunities and I know they are rewarded by being respected and revered by all the girls throughout the school.

I wish you and your families a Happy Easter holiday.

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Encouraging your children to be independent

My 90 year old mother telephoned the other evening in a panic. My husband who was driving to stay with her whilst my sister was on holiday had not arrived and she was worried. He was due at 6pm and even though it was only 5.30pm as a former military man he is always early and therefore she was concerned. Of course he arrived on time and all was well.

I don’t think you ever stop worrying about your children and in this case it was not even my mother’s own child. In the days before mobile phones I always gave mother a much later arrival time to stop her fussing. As a parent one of the hardest aspects of motherhood/fatherhood is learning to let go and encourage your children to be independent.

Clarissa Farr, the retiring High Mistress of St Paul’s, said in an interview in the Sunday Times this week that she gives advice to parents that she received from her mother and that is “teach your children to be independent as early as possible”.

Independence comes in many forms at different ages. Some five year olds are reported as not being “school ready”

because they can’t dress themselves. As children grow older being able to travel unaccompanied on public transport is one example but also ensuring that work deadlines are met without constant reminders and most importantly of all taking responsibility for the times when whatever it is that they are doing doesn’t work out as hoped. In the senior school it is usual for children to stop telling parents the details of their day and when they do use home as a sounding board for minor disagreements they don’t necessarily want parents to sort out their problems but just listen.

Two of our sixth formers are to show their independence by using the money they were awarded from a GDST travel scholarship to visit overseas. Manon is to travel to India to work in forest conservation and Romana intends to improve her language skills by spending six months in a French school followed by six months in a Spanish school. We wish them both well in their adventures and congratulate them on their travel awards.

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Mental toughness aids achievement in life

Much is talked about mental toughness. It is seen as a predictor of success in sport, education and in the workplace.

It is widely recognised that those who possess grit and resilience are likely to be achievers in its broadest sense. Those who work hard at improvement and are not phased by setbacks are the ones most likely to achieve their targets and goals. It is important that we prepare pupils for life which may have its elements of challenge.

We take mental health seriously and recognise the girls need strategies to enable them to cope with the ever changing and demanding world in which they live. This is why

we have embarked upon the “Positive Project”. The founder of this programme, a medical doctor with a speciality of psychological medicine, Dr Brian Marien has agreed to give a talk on 20 April 6-7.30pm in the senior school hall to parents on how to ensure our children (and staff) are able to prepare for life’s challenges and see them as opportunities to be overcome.

Recently parents were sent an email from Mrs Trim which gives details of Dr Marien’s talk for parents from Year 3 to the sixth form. Early indications suggest this is going to be a popular evening and therefore if you intend on attending please do let us know soon.

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Portsmouth High School is part of the Girls Day School Trust

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