Head’s Blog

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

Why not become a pupil again and learn something new?

You may have seen some reports in the press about school staff taking examinations alongside their pupils. At Rugby School for example four teachers sat GCSE drama this year and there was no hiding this fact as they sat in the same examination room with their current GCSE cohort.

This is not new and I have worked with a number of colleagues over the years who have taken examinations in subjects they are interested in and for whatever reason did not study at school. A few years ago I decided to take an Open University module in plate tectonics as “company” for my sixth formers who had decided to extend their knowledge and give breadth to their A level study. Moreover, I provided competition and an incentive to my son who was undertaking a chemistry Open University module at the same time.

It does adults good to take on a new challenge from time to time. For teachers becoming a pupil again feeds back into the classroom as they once again know and empathise with what it is like to be a student and are excited by learning something new.

The GDST has developed their own MOOC (massive open online course) with FutureLearn on girls’ education and learning. The course lasts four weeks and having almost completed week one I am already energised by the programme. Anyone may take part and there are thousands of participants signed up already from all over the world. It is free (except for the certificate if you choose to buy it). If you should like to register then follow this link: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/girls-education/1

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Teachers rate girls less good than boys at mathematics in the US…

Research in the US has found that teachers rate girls less good than boys at mathematics despite having similar levels of performance. Apparently this underrating of girls gets worse as they get older and is attributed to the fact that staff in general have lower expectations of girls.

Another factor for this bias is credited to the behaviour of boys which is characterised as being noisier and they are much more likely to shout out the answer.  Higher maturity levels of girls means that they realise that shouting out the answer is unacceptable and loud.  Girls recognise this behaviour as immature – they know, for example, that people do not shout out in meetings.  Girls naturally tend to think about their response first and are less instantaneous giving a much more measured answer.  This can be to the detriment of girls in that they stop taking risks which inhibits their learning.

All the more reason to educate girls in a single sex environment where such gender judgement is not a feature.  Girls are not overpowered by immature boys wanting to be the class clown and show off.  By the time they reach university both girls and boys have grown up and university style teaching is either in a large lecture (where the audience listens) or small tutorial and our girls are prepared well for both at PHS. The style of teaching in our Sixth Form leads to group discussion which is possible in the size of set. Teachers act as facilitators steering the debate and most importantly allowing questions to be asked.

Teachers rate girls less than boys in mathematics in the US


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The school house system brings many benefits…

Last week a school reported that it was bringing back the house system to their school.  The school in question felt that this would re-establish a former tradition and bring with it innumerable benefits to their community as well as develop their competitive spirit.

Since Harry Potter introduced readers to houses at Hogwarts called Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Slytherin and Gryffindor there has been an increased awareness of the house system and the benefit it brings to schools. Amongst other advantages it gives opportunity for pupils to mix with students in younger and older years and it gives rise to many more chances for leadership and cooperation. Friendly competition is also good for collegiality and this system develops a better sense of belonging by dividing the school into smaller groups. I have never been particularly fond of the names of our senior houses which have been revived within the last fifteen years – Bronte, Austen, Eliot and Gaskell but when they

were re-established the decision was taken not to use the original names of Clough, Gurney, Somerville and Grey; however, they are now aligned with the junior houses – Dolphin, Warrior, Nelson and Vernon – through the same colour association and they create a strong sense of unity and responsibility.

There has been great excitement and a little tension in the senior school this week. On Thursday the houses competed against each other in the annual House Plays competition. These events are taken seriously but everyone enters into the sense of fun that goes alongside the spirited rivalry. The house system is alive and thriving at PHS.

Best wishes for a happy half term holiday.

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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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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