From the Headmaster's Study | Portsmouth High School

From the Headmaster’s Study

News from the Headmaster's Study
Mr Paul Marshallsay BA Education

Another fantastic year at Portsmouth High Junior School

Another academic year is complete at Portsmouth High Junior School. In a few short months our Year 6 girls will have moved on to Senior School and our Pre-School girls will be taking their fledgling steps into Reception.

I have now been at Portsmouth High Junior School for six years and am delighted that the family atmosphere of welcome and happiness continues unabated. There have been facets of the school that have particularly impressed me this year and I will comment on these in this non-exhaustive list below.

Resilience in learning
I have talked about this much this year but I do feel that the girls have embraced positivity and grit in their approach. They are more willing to take risks and not so afraid of failure.

Sport and activities
Opportunities for sport have been plentiful. From netball to gymnastics, cross–country to swimming there has been a host of chances for the girls to perform. This large range of activities allows both individual and team players to test themselves.

Music and drama
The two have intermingled this year with our productions including some stellar musical performances.

We have seen our girls performing on stages all around the area, individually and en masse.

Academic excellence
Outstanding results in the transfer test and summer exams were the culmination of the hard work that our girls engaged in this year. The sheer amount of effort that the girls put into their work is a joy for their teachers. It is not all about those headline performers though, I am just as impressed by those that have made progress and improved using their own intrinsic motivation.

Art, DT and science
The creativity shown this year by our girls across many subjects has been phenomenal. Some of the art work, DT and science projects I have seen are well worthy of the rewards they have been granted. This is a real strength of the school and one that is always being developed.

There are many more such examples I could use and several that should really grace the words of this column. Suffice it to say that it has been a fantastic year at Dovercourt. Good luck to our Year 6 girls whom I look forward to seeing on my travels to the Senior School.

I also look forward to bright smiles as we begin our new year in September.

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‘We try to win but losing well is just as important’

As we approach the end of term some of the girls receive awards for their achievements during the course of this year. They have also been taking part in competitions such as sports day, selected for teams or asked to speak at events. During this time only some girls can achieve victory or be selected to participate.

My assembly on Monday was linked to this as I discussed winning and losing with the girls. The inevitable phrase ‘it is not the winning but the taking part that counts’ was raised. I countered this by suggesting that winning is important, if the competitors do not strive to win then the contest is hollow.

We decided between us that a better phrase might be ‘we try to win but losing well is just as important’. By this I mean that you are trying your level best.You may not win, but you will be happy with your performance and congratulatory towards everyone else, including the winner.

The girls at Dovercourt are particularly good at this. They put their best efforts into competition or presentation of any type but will be magnanimous towards others. They show confidence in their actions and demeanour but do not display arrogance at any stage. It is one of the many reasons that I value working with such amazing children.

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Girls show an aptitude for both leading groups and being good members of those teams

I have been reflecting on the leadership and teamwork of the staff and girls at Portsmouth High Junior School. 

Our girls show an aptitude for both leading groups and being good members of those teams; skills that are regularly reinforced, reviewed and encouraged by teachers and support staff. Academic performance is essential, but schools should be about much more than that. I believe that the girls who enter Year 7 from Dovercourt are rounded, grounded and able to tackle the challenges that lay ahead.

Year 5 girls have been preparing and submitting letters of application to me this week as they seek out the opportunity to become the next head girl of the Junior School. They have clearly spent much time and effort in putting these letters together

and the standard is extremely high. As always it will be a very difficult decision to choose for this important position. Fortunately we have a robust system that is tried and trusted. The girls will perform a short presentation to their class and members of the Junior leadership team. After that the year group will cast their vote with regards to who they believe will do the best job, as will the staff. This process is valuable for all the girls who go through it regardless of the result, letting them experience an application and selection process in a non-threatening environment. I am always extremely impressed with the approach that they bring to this procedure and know that we will appoint the right candidate at the end of it.

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Positivity Week inspires new positive approaches and outcomes

The week before half term was one of conflicting emotions here at the Junior School. Our positivity week proved to be incredibly successful with the girls and staff embracing it wholeheartedly.

We were all rocked by the tragic events in Manchester on Monday evening and then uplifted by the stories of human kindness that were on show during the immediate aftermath. As parents and educational professionals everyone here has been deeply affected by the fact that so many children were injured or worse during the disaster.

Perhaps it was fitting that we are focussing on positive approaches and outcomes in a world where there is such sadness and violence. Be it raising money for charity, spreading happiness around the community through smile stones, or using yoga to bring calmness and energy; the girls have inspired me in my own life outlook.

A big part of the week was discussion on resilience and grit. The fact that failure is something that needs to be encountered in life. Strategies on how to deal with it have been debated and expanded upon by the children themselves. They have absorbed tales of adversity from Andy Williams and his experiences during the Marathon Des Sables and shared their own determination to succeed. Artist Sonia Shomalzadeh gave them similar pause for thought as she amazed us with her talk on her work and travels. The questions that the girls asked both visitors were insightful and showed a genuine interest.

There are so many things that have made me pause to think. I feel privileged to work in such an inspiring environment.

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What does a positive mindset look like and how do we go about achieving it?

As we approach our Positivity Week at the junior school I have been asking myself some questions about the meaning of what we are trying to achieve. What does a positive mindset look like and how do we go about achieving it? The project is trying to promote resilience and grit, but what does this actually mean?

In his presentation earlier this term Brian Marian talked about the difference between being positive and happy. Happiness is something that is transient and feeling that we should always be in this state can put us under undue pressure. It is easy to feel stressed because we are unhappy and then this leads to further ill feeling because we believe we should be. Nobody can be happy all of the time and it is how we deal with it that allows us to bounce back from adversity quickly or slowly. A positive person can pick out the rays of light that will lead back to a situation where we are thriving rather than surviving.

I asked myself some searching questions about how this can apply to young people. How often have we said to them I just want you to be happy? Or simply are you happy? This

can be reframed into questions about the positive things happening in their lives and some strategies on how to deal with adversity. This brings us onto resilience and the realisation that it ties in directly to positivity.

It is a well-documented phenomenon that we all learn faster through having to struggle. Carol Dweck’s growth mindset suggests that we need to descend into a pit where we struggle to understand before climbing out of it through grit and determination. This leads us to gain much stronger comprehension of the problem than if something comes to us easily. Appreciating this is happening and using it to inspire us gives a positive approach, completing the connection between my original questions.

There is an old saying that everyone will have heard before. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try and try again. By following this mantra not only will all of us learn and develop, we will be more positive as a result. Perhaps my father did know what he was talking about when I was fourteen after all.

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Opportunities for showcasing talents

As I made the final arrangements for the GDST ski trip just before the end of term, I looked at the range of activities and events at the Junior School recently. There are so many opportunities for the girls to show what they can do.

On a recent Saturday we held our first Early Years Open Day based around Forest School. It was exceptionally well attended by our own girls and visitors. The range of activities in Pre-Prep and around the grounds led to lots of investigation and enquiry from the young children involved. It was great to see their smiling faces and the speed with which the visitors settled into the environment. 

The end of term saw an extremely competitive house hockey competition which was eventually won by Warrior followed by a busy netball tournament for local schools hosted at the Junior School. The under nine girls played netball and

our swimmers put on a fantastic show during the Portsmouth Schools Swimming Gala at the Mountbatten Centre.

I had the pleasure of watching three of our girls performing in a professional performance of Annie in Fareham on Friday evening. This was followed by the Years 3 and 4 play Pirates and Mermaids in our own hall. The quality of acting and singing was phenomenal. Year 6 also gave us a sneak peek at their own play in Friday’s assembly which will be performed towards the end of next term. Rehearsals are already well under way.

I could mention many more events that have happened recently at the school. It has been an exceptionally busy half term and I am looking forward to seeing what can be achieved in the summer.

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