Heads Blog Archive | Portsmouth High School

Heads Blog

Sleep soundly to perform at your best

Often if I am grumpy and irrational it is because I have not rested well enough. Problems that are relatively minor seem huge hurdles when tired and for children this is especially true.

Getting a good night’s sleep is important because it rests bodies and minds to leave them feeling energetic and refreshed in the morning.  It can be difficult to know how much sleep each person needs as that differs depending on age and character.  Bedtime battles start with children over the time they have to go to sleep and for some children their body clock does not fit with school hours and left to their own routine they would stay up late and wake late.  However, whatever their sleep pattern children aged four to six need 10.5-11.5 hours; six to twelve years olds need 10 hours; and teenagers need around eight to nine hours.

I read over the half term break that your bedroom has to have the correct atmosphere for sleep and an untidy space leads to a disturbed night.  I am not sure I believe that as my untidy children have the capacity to sleep for hours and hours and seem to not notice the debris around them.

However, I do get the point that the bedroom should be a pleasant relaxing environment.  Essentially the bedroom should be a tech free space and with a regular routine and a chance to wind down before going to sleep a good night’s rest should be the norm.

We know how important sleep is in regulating moods and emotions and therefore we have arranged for Evelyn Stewart, a sleep expert from Sleep Soundly (http://www.sleep-soundly.co.uk/) to talk to Year 5 to Year 13 on Tuesday 17th April. This will be followed by a talk for parents from 4-5pm.

Evelyn Stewart is a sleep practitioner until recently working for the Children’s Sleep Disorder Service at The Children’s Hospital in Southampton, UK. She is also a member of The British Sleep Society and the International Pediatric Sleep Association. Evelyn has worked with families and will share the importance of sleep for the brain and strategies for improvement as she is fully aware of the impact that sleep disturbance has on a household and rarely is it ever just the child who is affected.

Read Close

‘Knowledge no more a fountain sealed’

Portsmouth High School was founded in 1882 by the enlightened gentlemen of the city looking for a suitable education for their daughters. 

There were at that time plenty of establishments that educated the daughters of the wealthier classes but they did not offer academic rigour in the same way as the newly established High School. Lily Flowers, listed on our old honour boards which are hung in the back stairs to the hall, was the first woman from Portsmouth to go to university – she attended Newnham College, Cambridge to read mathematics. Another pioneer and also named on our honour boards, Kate Edmonds was the first female councillor in Portsmouth. A later Headmistress wrote of her “Her keen mind was to the end eager for fresh knowledge and ideas and she had a rooted distaste for slipshod thinking and half-hearted action”.

I think it is fair to assume that these women were likely supporters of the suffragette movement or at least championed the emancipation of women. They must have rejoiced when women over thirty years of age, who fulfilled certain criteria, were given the right to vote one hundred years ago this week. Those that invested their time and money in PHS believed in the empowerment of women which still holds true today.

Our girls have always been ambitious with a thirst for knowledge and a curiosity for learning. Furthermore they enjoy activities which develop a holistic approach to their education. Much has changed in education since the school was founded but the ethos that forms the core and heart of PHS remains the same. The motto of the Girls’Day School Trust is “Knowledge now no more a fountain sealed” which embodies perfectly the founding principles of our School.

Read Close

Great team problem solving skills give girls a headstart in the workplace

Last week as mock examinations ended Years 11 and 10 were treated to a team building day hosted by the company Eyes Wide Opened who specialise in coaching and developing young people.

The mixed teams of both years had to develop a new juice drink complete with packaging and advertising strap lines and present it to the Dragon Den style panel of judges which included the CEO and marketing director of Cawston Press, the juice people. Mr PT and myself were very much the inexperienced members and a little in awe of the people from the juice company.

If Mr PT and I were unnerved by the weight of experience of our fellow panel judges the girls did not show any nervousness at all. Not only did they produce a delicious product they presented and sold their drink to us in a way that impressed the judges. Some even set in motion the chance of gaining valuable work experience.

I was therefore not surprised when I read in the media last week of a report that said women work better at problem solving in teams which gives them a head start at work as most employment is collaborative.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) – which carries out PISA tests that evaluate students’ academic abilities – assessed 125,000 15-year-olds to see how well they solved problems

collaboratively. In all 52 countries girls outperformed boys.OECD Secretary-General José Angel Gurría said more emphasis should be placed on improving team problem-solving skills among children.

“In a world that places a growing premium on social skills, education systems need to do much better at fostering those skills systematically across the school curriculum,” he said. Girls were at least half a year ahead of their male counterparts.

Last week’s problem solving exercise demonstrated this so clearly. It came as no surprise to me that the girls were so impressive. One of the Cawston Press directors who had been looking for a school for her daughters in London said that whilst she had visited girls’ schools in her search and heard all the pros of a single-sex education she hadn’t truly accepted the argument until she spent a day with our girls. To say she and her colleagues were impressed is an under-statement.

At PHS the girls are exposed to a whole host of opportunities such as this type of day and these increase in number through the sixth form. We prepare the girls well and furthermore they rise to the challenges offered and gain much through the experience.

Read Close

Are unconditional offers for places at university a good thing?

There has been much talked about the benefits or not of unconditional offers for places at university. For what it is worth I agree with Dr Bernard Trafford writing in the Times Educational Supplement when he says that taking the pressure off is surely a good thing.

Let’s be clear unconditional offers do in most cases come with a string attached and that is the applicant must put that university as their firm choice. What unconditional offers do is take the uncertainty out of going to university. Once the offer is made choosing for that particular institution means that students can truly plan knowing where they will go come September. I have no evidence to suggest that students take their foot off the pedal once one of these offers is in the bag. In my experience, having got this far, pupils still want to achieve of their best.

However, university with its associated student debt and uncertainty of a graduate job having borrowed money for tuition fees and living expenses is not for everyone. If studying to degree level is still something that a student

wants to do but at the same time they wish to earn while studying then the Degree Apprenticeship route is an option. Currently offered in twenty plus areas they are a choice worth considering.  There are about another two hundred courses going through validation. The term apprenticeship doesn’t do this route any favours because the perception is outdated but through this course the outcome is a degree which has the value and respectability of similar courses.What could be seen as a down side is that a degree apprenticeship is a job with the regular routine of work, no long holidays, it may take longer to acquire your degree, you have to work and study at the same time and no student life. However, you have a job, you don’t rack up debt from student loans and like unconditional offers they take away the uncertainty of the future.

Routes into university are changing and for the better and I applaud any scheme that helps take some of the strain off teenagers applying for the next step.

Read Close

What is the real purpose of mock examinations?

As we enter this period of mock examinations for the upper sixth and Year 11 I am often asked the purpose of these tests.

Are they designed to shock students into realising how much work they need to do to attain the grades that reflect their ability best? Are they to give a rehearsal for the real thing – a chance to get the timing right? Are they an opportunity to find out what a student does know and what they don’t? They are a mixture of all of these and different for each pupil.

I am also asked about scheduling them just after the Christmas holidays. Should the examinations be in November or should they be later in the spring term nearer the actual examinations when most of the syllabus has been covered? PHS chooses to hold them straight after the

festive season because the break does give students an opportunity to prepare. It seems to be the right timing in terms of being able to still have space to put in more effort if required.

Carol Dweck writing as long ago as 1998 identified the impact of praise. With regard to the mock examinations feedback is important and it must reflect what the student needs to do to improve their result. Praising students’ intelligence and/or effort may have a negative impact and not lead to an improvement overall in the next set of assessments. Pupils will have worked hard but if we really want to help them progress then teachers’ feedback needs to convey clearly what action a pupil needs to put in place to better their chances of the best grade possible.

Read Close

Nine revision tips for mock examinations

When school returns after the Christmas break the older girls are plunged straight into mock examinations and learning how to learn has been a part of the preparation for their GCSEs and A levels.

An article in the magazine Schools Week reports that a leading cognitive neuropsychologist at Goldsmiths University, Dr Ashok Jansari urges teachers to abandon rote learning as this does not lead to long term memory retention. In a study of students in East Asia those who learned by memorising rather than using strategies where information is attached to facts performed worse across the core skills of reading, maths and science.

I know from my own experience as a teacher that children get better at remembering information the more times they are tested on it.  Repetition over a period of time is a good way to ensure facts and details are retained but Dr Jansari says this is not sufficient and students need to attach that information to meaning which helps them recall information for longer.  There are many strategies to help with this such as creating rhymes or mnemonics.  Furthermore it is crucial to understand the work studied so that information in an exam is applied to answers.

My advice to any student studying over this Christmas break is as follows:

  1. You need some rest so plan to give yourself a few days away from revision.
  2. Don’t revise for too long in any one session – the absolute maximum is two hours.
  3. There are three sessions in a day – morning, afternoon and evening – only plan to revise in two out of the three.
  4. Keep yourself hydrated and eat healthily.
  5. Take breaks in the form of exercise – take the dog for a walk.
  6. Use practice papers to test yourself.
  7. Don’t create anxiety by listening to friends and how much revision they have done.
  8. Keep off social media – it is an unwanted time wasting distraction.
  9. Try not to be too much of an angry bear around family and friends – they are only trying to help.


Read Close
prospectus prospectus
Portsmouth High School is part of the Girls Day School Trust

The Girls’ Day School Trust, 100 Rochester Row, London SW1P 1JP
Tel 020 7393 6666