From the Headmaster's Study | Portsmouth High School

From the Headmaster’s Study

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

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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Challenging some commonly held myths

I would like to challenge some commonly held myths.

You have to be fast to be a good mathematician.
If this were the case then I would not qualify as a good mathematician. My skills in this subject have always been based more around problem-solving and an understanding of techniques used. It is true that speed of recall helps to build confidence and improve basic number skills, but in order to become more advanced this needs to be balanced with an analytical consideration of the situation. We do not have to be the fastest in order to become excellent at mathematics. This is why a range of skills and techniques are included in our balanced curriculum.

Children should read challenging texts.
Reading is about far more than being able to decipher the words on the page. Children need to be able to comprehend and relate to what they are decoding. The written word should test their ability but it should be within

their maturity level to understand the overall story and the context therein. Particularly at junior level we aim to foster enthusiasm for reading, rather than just a mechanical process that leads to an end.

My daughter is always well behaved; she will be the same online.
Children can often exhibit a completely different personality via social media, message boards or in chatrooms. The distance that is created by being behind a piece of technology can have implications that we would not recognise in our daughters. They can often be extremely naive in their actions and need to be monitored and helped in this complex digital world. My main pieces of advice for parents is to continually discuss agreed parameters and never allow phones/tablets/laptops in bedrooms overnight.

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Academic rigour in computing at the Junior School

In recent Updates I have written substantively about soft skills and outdoor learning. It should not be forgotten that alongside these essential elements is strong academic rigour and a focus on high level performance.

In computing recently the Prep girls have been working on HTML and CSS coding to develop their website building skills. Having run this programme over successive years it is noticeable how advanced they are becoming as they move into the final junior school year. We are fortunate to have support from the GDST in this area and girls in year 4 work through a course on Discovery Coding. This allows them to use blocks of code to arrange in the correct order and then to gradually input more of the intricacies as they improve. Walking around the class is an interesting experience as every girl is at a different level and it therefore becomes highly individualised. The teacher is there as a trouble-shooter and has to resist the temptation to step in too early when they are struggling.

Year 5 sees the girls begin to code completely from scratch using a basic text editor. They are motivated to find that their sites can be instantly previewed in a browser and very quickly use the skills learnt in year 4 to produce attractive pages. In year 6 this process is developed still further by linking the HTML code to a CSS page so that they can theme their entire websites. The most advanced of the girls will be guided to use the internet to find ways of further enhancing the look and feel of their design.

This is a world away from when I first used to teach ICT and is indicative of the progress being made across the curriculum in a range of subjects. It is a very exciting time to be involved in this area and I am looking forward to seeing what the future brings.

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