Head’s Blog

News from the Head's Desk.
Mrs Jane Prescott BSc NPQH

Protecting the mental wellbeing of your daughter

An article in the Guardian at the weekend entitled “how do we protect our daughters’ mental wellbeing?” was interesting. It suggested that parents should not add to the pressure school places upon a child to do well academically.

In school we don’t have expectations that they achieve beyond that of which they are capable. Pupils work hard at PHS and do better than their predicted outcome using the base-line test they sit on entry to school but that is due to their efforts and desire to do well. I am sure as parents you want the same result but not at the expense of their happiness.

Another point argued for a joint parental and child decision on the use of digital devices and one of my sister school heads said that as adults we do not mirror good practice by going through emails whilst at the same time trying to listen to our child. Phone etiquette is needed and a laying down of ground rules for use by everyone. We all under estimate just how much time is spent replying to messages, looking at social media apps and following friends and their activities.

Another point included letting your daughter experience failure and not to always expect to be first or win at everything. This includes friendships which change with

maturity and there is a need to accept that interests develop sometimes in a different direction with age.

Sit down together for meals. This helps children eat properly and healthily without rushing their food and it is when chatting around the table parents find out about how things are going with school work, friends and life in general. It gives opportunity for family discussions about current affairs and news beyond celebrity gossip as well as time for family catch-up.

There were many other good points about raising your daughters and most if not all the points are applicable to boys too. Furthermore they are not rocket science and yet parenting can be hard. This is because children are individuals and what suits one does not always work with another. However, if we all reassure children that it is perfectly normal to at times be worried, afraid, fail at something, experience disappointment, and at the same time be excited, ambitious, risk taking within safe boundaries and most of all have fun I am sure the girls will keep their mental wellbeing strong. Lots of good literature is suggested at the end of the article too for raising healthy girls.

To read the original article in The Guardian click here

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School open days – make sure you ask the right questions to help you decide…

school open days

The season of open days starts in earnest in the autumn term and whether you are looking for a place in a junior school, senior school or sixth form college the advice is practically the same. 

An open day enables a school or college to show themselves off in the best possible light to visiting prospective pupils, students and their family.  The first rule is to expect a display of greatness. From this you will be able to judge whether what the educational institution does best is right for you or your son or daughter.

Speak to as many current pupils and students as possible. Don’t take the view of one or judge the place on one encounter. Have your key questions ready to ask them too. Remember not everyone will know every detail and sometimes pupil and student guides guess the answer so query the response with a member of staff if in doubt.

If you are able to speak to others connected to the school or college from the teaching staff to the person manning the car park then do so. From them you will gain an understanding about the ethos and what is valued and important.

Attend the talk given by the headteacher or principal and listen carefully as to how they present their school. There may be an opportunity to ask questions and have some ready.

school open days

Accept that this is an open day so there will be areas that are not on display. It doesn’t necessarily mean the school is trying to hide something sinister. Do not, therefore, be put off by rooms that are not obviously open.

If you are looking for an older student do ask about examination results but be wise to institutions that are academically selective. Ask questions about excess pressure and what is done to enable students and pupils to make the most of their time at school or college. Ask about former students and pupils – what are the recent leavers doing now?

Flashy facilities may instantly impress but look beyond this to ensure that the institution has substance and will provide the right environment. In an independent school most of those “nice to have” features are funded out of fee income and therefore ask questions about fee rises and what is considered an extra especially if affording a place leaves the budget tight.

And lastly if you like what you see return for a visit on a working day and witness first hand how staff, students and pupils interact. An open day is an opportunity for a school to invite everyone to their open house but the day is often busy and there may not be time for you to ask important questions or be entertained individually.

Open Morning at Portsmouth High School – Saturday 8 October 9.00 to 12.30 – find out more and book online via our Open Morning page

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Girls-only schools give girls a head start…

girls-only schools

This week I attended the farewell reception for our former Chief Executive, Helen Fraser, in London and I can report that she received a fitting tribute to mark her seven years with the Trust.

On the same day I read an article, written by Helen, entitled Channelling your Inner Cheerleader. She writes that the world is designed for men and uses as evidence the fact that if you count the extras in a crowd scene in a film only a maximum of 17% will be women. She remarks on the 20% barrier and the fact that most top professions have only 20% women. Apparently this male bias extends to video games and even emojis where female characters are stereotypically ballerinas, brides and princesses whereas the male characters may be police officers, builders and swimmers.

Fortunately for your daughters they already have a head start. As Helen says “being at a girls-only school really helps. It’s the way in which we coax girls away from perfect good girl behaviours enabling them to take risks in the classroom with their thinking”.  Our girls have the values promoted by

girls-only schools

the GDST of confidence, courage, commitment and composure. Our pupils are encouraged to develop grit by being their own cheerleader and coping with whatever life deals them. When I attended the Girls’ School Global Forum in New York last February I heard Tara Christie Kinsey, former Associate Dean of Princeton, say that the confidence of women students in her college dropped steadily over the four years they attended with the noticeable exception of students who had attended girls’ schools and those who played on sports teams.

I have been invited to speak at a military dinner on the topic of what motivates women to choose a career.  The armed forces battle an under-recruitment of women which is something they would like to address and wisely turned to the GDST to provide an insight as to how they may improve their appeal to females. Therefore, if you are female and reading this with an opinion on what attracted you to a particular career choice I would welcome hearing from you. Please email me at j.prescott@por.gdst.net.

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Will the creation of more grammar schools benefit our children?

grammar schools

In September 1973 I started my secondary schooling at a selective girls’ high school. I am the product of a grammar school education which you think would make me welcome the announcement that the Government may allow the creation of more of these types of schools.

Rather surprisingly I am not a great believer in the premise that a return to selective education will lead to more social mobility. Education, as recognised in many poor countries, maybe a route out of poverty. It perhaps enables educated people to find regular employment. However, turning back the education clock fifty years will not create a generation of aspirational pupils necessarily. Too much has changed in society and especially the rise and expansion of the middle classes. If children are selected at 11 years old to attend a particular school what happens to the rest and in particular the late developers?

I fear it would mean that parents with the funds to afford private tutors would pay for extra lessons to give their offspring an advantage. House prices in the catchment of grammar schools would be so expensive that only those with comfortable incomes would live in the area. For these reasons I am not convinced that a return to a selective system would increase opportunity for pupils from poorer homes.

grammar schools

In my opinion schools need to be small enough for pupils to be known and supported well. However, they need to be large enough to offer choice. It is out of fashion to academically set pupils in all subjects but in truth that system does work. In order for our publicly funded schools to ensure they have enough groups to support all their students they need more money. Through the “building schools for the future” programme many schools have excellent facilities but they are severely under-funded to provide enough teaching and support services to serve their pupils well.

Furthermore the creation of more grammar schools is not a panacea for solving behavioural issues in schools. Parents need to be interested in their child’s education and ensure their offspring attend regularly, whilst giving them encouragement to achieve of their best and to support rather than oppose the school staff.

When I attended school I very much valued and enjoyed the type of environment my school embodied. I admit that at times I had to be resilient to criticism and the unpleasantness of others. School toughened me to the roughness of life whilst educating me to a standard that helped me on my way to realising my ambition to be a teacher. Too often schools are compromised by poor funding, unsupportive parents and pupils who do not value education.

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Back to school made easier…

Back to school made easierDuring the school summer holiday children get the chance to relax and have a break from the routines that exist during the term time. However, at some point the vacation has to end and there is a return to the orderliness of school life.

Even if your child is not changing schools there is much that is new at the start of the school year. Unfamiliar teachers, classrooms and even schoolmates may mean that adjusting to the regularity of school takes time. To give your child the best start, preparation before the big return day is needed.

Getting back into a sleep routine is essential to cope with a whole day in school. Whatever your age having enough quality slumber hours is important but also so is going to bed at a time which gives sufficient hours of rest. Getting up in the morning with time for breakfast and time for gathering all equipment needed for school saves rushing too much and arriving at school tired and unprepared.

Making sure ahead of the first morning that shoes still fit and uniform purchased also ensures for a smooth first morning. Children seem to go through a growth spurt over the holidays and it is surprising that what fitted them in July no longer is the right size in September. As children move through school their needs vary as to what is required so check if there are any new additional items.

Depending on the age of your child talking about what may be new and unfamiliar helps prepare them for the unknown.

Back to school made easierSmall children in particular respond well if they are talked through adjusting to a new part of the school or teacher. Older children perhaps need guidance on preparing for higher level study and how they are going to organise their work.

Throughout the holidays try to encourage regular reading and some writing to keep skills learned in school active. Using summer blogs is one way to develop this interest. Whilst some children are avid readers some are less keen and taking them to the library and allowing them a choice of book which very well may not be fiction may entice them to read more. Whilst writing postcards may be old fashioned sending an email or helping children use social media to communicate with relatives such as grandparents is a fun way of practising writing. There are many writing and creative competitions available to a whole range of ages which provides a focus for activity.

Whatever the preparation before the return to school some children find it hard to adjust to the new routine. In those early days, as a parent, it is best to provide a listening ear to their worries as they get used to an unfamiliar setting. However, if the child sees you becoming upset then this will not help them settle. Do mention your concerns to the school who will have a strong pastoral system to help with the minor niggles that go with a new academic year.

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How will the new GCSE grading system affect students?

This is the last GCSE results day when grades awarded will all be in the form of letters. From next year in English and Maths the new numerical system will be applied and the year following will see most other subjects fall in line.

It will be confusing for a while. What worries me, however, is that the highest grade – a nine – will be awarded to fewer candidates than currently achieve an A*. It concerns me because I fear students who currently see an A* as the holy grail of achievement will view anything less than a nine as a failure. This is not going to help young adolescents’ mental health and almost certainly adds pressure to achieve to already anxious young people.

My message is that they should not worry too much. Some of the brightest and most intelligent students I have taught have failed to achieve an A* at GCSE but still gained places at top universities. The GCSE examination system, depending on subject, requires candidates at times to “hoop jump” and does not always allow for longer answers or true brilliance.

Future employers or university admissions will not discriminates against those who do not have a clutch of grade nines and perhaps will see the value in slightly lower grades combined with other achievements.

I have to confess that I see no benefit in adding this extra layer to highlight the very most able in any examination cohort. GCSEs show a level of attainment with a “one size fits all” as its fundamental flaw. There is no easy solution to the creation of an examination system that allows the most intelligent to show their academic worth whilst enabling others to show a level of ability to pursue the next stage of their education without feeling undervalued. Perhaps it is time we stopped putting so much emphasis on pure academic achievement and recognised and respected other talents and skills that lead to employment and fulfilment.

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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