From the Headmaster's Study | Portsmouth High School

From the Headmaster’s Study

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

Looking after our environment starts at school

The girls at Portsmouth High Junior School have been fascinated by Sir David Attenborough and his new series Blue Planet 2. 

During the most recent programme I was staggered to hear that in the near future the level of plastic in our oceans will outweigh that of fish. In the news recently it was reported that glitter, used extensively in junior schools, releases tiny particles of plastic into the sea which is slowly poisoning our marine life.

We have decided at the junior school that from next term the school will only use non-toxic, biodegradable glitter in our projects and art works and the girls are learning all about what they can do to reduce our overall use of plastic and harmful substances. We will be using biodegradable wipes in

Pre-School and recyclable paper straws in our science experiments. These are just a few simple examples of the difference that we would like to make.Mrs Joan West will be working with eco prefects to ensure that the girls are involved fully in being proactive in tackling these issues. She will meet with them regularly and I am looking forward to hearing what their propositions are for the school. I am sure they would value any useful ideas from home that you can share with us.

We are so close to the sea here in Portsmouth and our girls sail on it, swim in it and eat fish from it. It is only right we educate them and ourselves to look after our local environment.

Read Close

A focus on teaching English at Portsmouth High Junior School

I often write about the rounded educational offer that we have here at Portsmouth High Junior School, with computing and sport being particular themes in recent weeks.

But what about the core curriculum and those subjects that are at the heart of a Junior School education? This week I will focus on English and the progression of skills within the language as the girls advance through the school.

The building blocks are developed in early years through our phased phonics programme. This is a fluid approach where girls work specifically on progressively more advanced stages, concentrating on areas of weakness and consolidating strengths. They are taught seamlessly across Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 as they take steps to grow their reading and writing knowledge. Assessment of progress is continued throughout so that staff are fully aware of how each child is performing. This is one element of learning alongside other skills such as handwriting.

The enhancement of these areas is continued into Year 3 and beyond with an emphasis on writing and developing

creativity. Reading has already been established but continues to be the core around which all the other elements of English revolve.

As the girls progress through the years they have specialised spelling and grammar programmes to help them advance as individuals within larger groups. By Year 6 they will be writing extensively and have bespoke homework and targets which help them to focus on areas that need to be improved. Firefly is used extensively as a tool to offer specific platforms for different girls. Once again, regular assessment informs teaching at all levels.

The speaking aspect is addressed through drama and public speaking. The girls regularly display their prowess in this area through celebration assemblies and our many performances.

The development of English across the junior school is an important part of our day-to-day existence and one which the girls tackle with enthusiasm.

Read Close

My story to share in assembly…

I found a story to share with the girls for my assembly on Monday morning. It was on the theme of trustworthiness and was all about two siblings, one honest and the other dishonest.

When I delved further into the details I began to see another theme emerging. The siblings were brothers, the mischievous characters they met in their travels were male and it involved a king who locked up his daughter for wanting to marry his biggest rival. Of course, she had been tricked into doing this being so young, naïve and pretty.

I could easily have told the story as it was in order to make my main points about being honest and admitting your mistakes. But I found it impossible to ignore the undercurrent of misogyny that was inherent in the tale. With this in mind I used the main premises of the story and rewrote it to be more inclusive for everyone involved.

The process made me consider how much casual sexism I have witnessed in print and on screen throughout my life. I do believe that things are changing as was considered at the GDST conference last year. It is wonderful to see that leading female heroes are finally becoming part of the landscape in high budget movies like Wonderwoman and Star Wars. In the past they would only have been part of the supporting cast.

It is vital that in school and at home we do not reinforce lazy stereotypes and empower everyone to make their own way in life. This is one reason that there are a much bigger variety of costumes in our pre-school dressing-up corner. It is not a case of always being a princess, but finding costumes across a whole range of different professions and settings.

Read Close

The benefits of being bored

It hardly seems possible that half term has arrived and we are firmly established into the academic year.

Looking back through my diary I can see that the girls have had a huge variety of experiences alongside their normal lessons. It was only on Wednesday that we were visited by Anna Bunney from Orca Whale Conservation. She gave a fascinating insight into the world beneath the waves and the girls from year 1 to 4 were spellbound throughout. They also asked customarily thoughtful questions which left our visitor suitably impressed.

This is just one of the many additions to the core curriculum that bring life at Dovercourt alive. From mathematics conferences to sports rallies and musical events the girls gain a wide range of different opportunities. Alongside this they have made an excellent start to the year and teachers have been reporting back to me how pleased they are with progress in their classes.

With half term approaching I read an interesting article in the Times’ educational supplement that considered the role of boredom. It argued that children’s lives are so much busier and more involved than they were that they have little time to think for themselves. Much of that time is then filled with the instant gratification brought by our digital world. Being bored is something that is not experienced as often but there is much that can be gained by having to find ways to allay it.

How often do we allow our children time away from screens and without organising things for them? If left to their own devices it would be intriguing to hear what types of activities they came up with and how they cope. I will certainly be trying this at home this half term.

Read Close

Cyber sea monsters help reveal dangers on the internet

As a follow up to one of my earlier Updates I thought it would be useful to report back on the Cyber Ambassadors training that I attended on Tuesday. Four girls from year 5 and 6 joined me on a day that was run by the Police Commissioner’s team. The programme is a pilot that will be rolled out to more schools in the future, with the senior school day hosted at PHS the previous week.

Rather than focus on the considerable content it will be more useful to share the strategies advised to the children during the day. The course is based around cyber sea monsters who represent different dangers on the internet. What is particularly powerful is that the girls have been trained to give the messages to their peers. Below are the ways they have been advised to combat the monsters.

Angler – phishing for clicks:
Ask your parents to set up controls on the internet to filter content.
Use a child friendly search engine such as swiggle, kindle or kidsearch.
Sit with an adult when you search the internet.
Never click on a pop-up box or strange links without checking with an adult first.

Bi-Diphorous – stranger trying to make contact:
Remember not everyone is who they say they are.
Never make friends with someone online that you don’t know in real life.

If you want to talk to someone online check with an adult first.
If you are chatting online and the other person starts asking personal questions tell an adult.

Info-Eater – wants your information:
Don’t share personal information online.
Social media sites and games will have privacy settings, set them as high as possible.
Set strong passwords and never share them.

Selphire – wants your unsafe selphies:
Think carefully before you post or send any pictures online.
What could that picture tell someone about you?
Is it rude, embarrassing or hurtful?
Set your privacy settings high.
Don’t post or send pictures or videos of yourself that you wouldn’t be happy for the world (or your gran) to see.

Meantaur – the cyber bully:
Ask yourself before you post or share something online. How would I feel if this was said about me? Would I say this to someone’s face?

If you are upset by something someone says online or think someone else is being bullied tell an adult.
Use the Internet to say and share nice things.

The overall message is: If in doubt give an adult a shout.

Read Close

A good Junior School experience should enable girls to ‘hit the ground running’ when they start Senior School

I have been listening to podcasts increasingly over the last few months. I find the vast range of different topics available intriguing and it feeds my interest in history, geography and science. 

On a typical evening I may be listening to History Hit, followed by Lost Origins, Ted Talks, or even Myths and Legends. If I tire of one particular genre then there are many more for me to choose from and I often find that there is surprising crossover between seemingly unrelated areas.

This made me consider the everyday curriculum at the junior school. Much like the podcasts the girls have a rich diet of subjects which give them variety and a range of different skills. When the curriculum was redesigned skills were put at the forefront. However, I do feel it is important to label our subjects in what some might consider a traditional way as the girls are able to relate to them as they move on to the senior school.

At Portsmouth High Junior School we believe that links between subjects are important and that enquiry should be key to all areas which means the very best aspects of the creative curriculum are still included. Mathematics has a strong problem-solving element, science is very practical, investigation is a large part of geography and English has a full range of methods from drama to comprehension.  These are just a few examples.

Subject specialisms increase as the girls move through the junior school and, by the time they have completed year 6, they are ready for the senior school. This was brought home to me on Tuesday when I saw a parent of a year 7 child. He said that he felt that the junior school experience had very much prepared his daughter and that she had ‘hit the ground running’. I can think of no better endorsement.

Read Close


Early Years’ Education Newsletter

Sign-up for our half-termly newsletter focussing on early learning for children as they start Nursery School and Reception Class with tips on how to help your child at home.

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