Head's Blog | Portsmouth High School

Head’s Blog

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

Should social media sites be targeted at young children?

The lower age limit for holding a Facebook account is 13 years old  but because there is little control over signing up some users are under age. Considering that the social media website was originally aimed at university students it is concerning that it is used by much younger teenagers.

For some years Facebook has been toying with the idea of a site for younger children. This week Facebook launched in the US Messenger Kids which is aimed at 6-11 year olds.  I wonder how many teenagers have Facebook now anyway as it has become the social media platform for older generations – their parents and grandparents.  Most teenagers use snapchat and Instagram to name just two alternative options. Messenger Kids does not allow advertisements and friend requests have to be verified by an adult. I am sure they have strict privacy controls which help allay the fears of some about online safety.

I have my reservations about these sites being targeted at quite young children. It encourages them to view the world through rose-tinted glasses. Everyone is having a fun time according to the images and real life is not like

that. Furthermore at a time when we should be balancing screen time with other activity it seems that we are creating another draw to spend more time online.

At school we do much to point out the pitfalls of using social media – this advice is in several formats from assemblies to PSHEE lessons and I am not sure we could do much more. Although I am a great believer in using digital technology I do think excessive use of social media is giving us all a warped view of how everyone else is living their life.  There are reports that the younger generations are revolting against posting online and are giving up their accounts. This is good news and I am generally against the introduction of a new platform that allow younger and younger children to interact over the internet. It is hard enough for older children to avoid making hurtful public comments or posting inappropriate material. Our advice is always if you do not like what you are reading or seeing and you are finding it upsetting then delete your account.

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Is the attainment gap between girls and boys narrowing?

An article in last week’s Sunday Times Parent Power claimed that girls’ schools were not achieving so well in the reformed GCSEs and A Levels.

The article put this down to the change to controlled assessments which have more or less disappeared. Girls have traditionally been better at securing higher grades in coursework than boys which has been attributed to girls’ diligent attitude to continual assessment. I think it is much too early to tell whether these reforms are narrowing the attainment gap between the sexes especially as it is only a marginal percentage change seen so far.


What I do know is that judging by the league tables published in the same section we were the top performing school locally whichever measure you choose to use and it was pleasing to see our position. However, it is worth noting that we prepare the girls for beyond higher education and we are even more delighted by the number who contact us after graduating to say how settled they are in their career.

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Life for children outside a formal education

Over the holidays I watched the Channel 4 documentary Feral Families. In this first episode three families decide to opt out of formal education and their children lead a free life away from the restrictions of bedtimes, school and it appeared any form of boundary and structure.

Not all members of the family supported the parents’ decision and in at least one case a grandparent paid for tutors to ensure his grandchild was learning the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic. The children came across on the programme as happy, carefree and living an idyllic existence. They were polite and respectful and I began to question the value that society places on attending formal school and living within boundaries. Music to some people’s ears would be that the majority of the youngsters didn’t seem to have mobile phones.

However, thirteen year old Archie had one and when he wanted to spell a word he spoke into his phone for it to spell it for him only something got lost in translation and he paints the word cub instead of club on the side of his caravan den. Having discovered his mistake he artistically covers up his error with big bubble writing – he isn’t fazed or set-back by his blunder. The children living next door to one Feral Family said they would watch television all day if they were left to entertain themselves.

The children featured were happy – who wouldn’t be if you could help yourself to ice cream at 10.40pm as one child did on camera? They lived life without the usual constraints that expect them to conform. One small girl dyed her hair purple.

I question the motives of those parents featured in the programme; a parent cited how unhappy their child was when they had attended school which is why the parent had removed them. They wanted to eliminate all forms of upset. Schools should be places where children acquire knowledge and learn to think and that can be achieved in a home education setting too. What the children in the programme missed out on was learning how to socialise away from the family and deal with everyday problems and challenges – perhaps this is what is meant by “upset”. These families were not making this choice for an easy life – I have to say that it looked like jolly hard work to me home educating your brood. However, I did wonder if their rationale had more to do with removing all conflict from their children’s lives and I will be interested to see how these children cope with adult life following their carefree existence as children and teenagers.

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Academic achievement is enhanced through taking part in sport

The British Mountaineering Council (BMC) claim that having a climbing wall in a school leads to enormous benefits beyond the obvious in terms of health, social skills and academic performance.

A sceptic would say that the BMC have a vested interest in promoting the advantages of climbing but the basis for their comment comes from a study conducted by NatCen Social Research, Newcastle University and ASK research.

Participation in sport is linked to positive social and emotional and behavioural outcomes and quite specifically taking part in sports clubs between the age of five and eleven was associated with a greater likelihood of achieving level 5 in mathematics. Children appreciate being busy and at PHS the pupils have really liked using our climbing wall.

Our girls enjoy playing sport whatever the activity. I watched our A and B U13 netball team play against a visiting team – Princethorpe – on Saturday. One team were victorious and the other was narrowly defeated but both were intense fast games.  Many of our girls excel in sport outside of school playing for local teams or competing individually in sports such as taekwondo.

During this half term break I shall find time to play a little golf. It is not just the pupils who benefit from physical activity and I know many of the staff, parents and older girls will compete in the Great South Run including some of my own family at the weekend.

Whatever you have planned for the half term holiday I hope you have an enjoyable break from the usual routine.

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The controversy over an all-male University Challenge team shows female equality is still some way off

There was much reported in the media about the absence of women team members in a recent episode of University Challenge – even though St Hugh’s, one of the competing teams, had been established as an all girls’ college in 1886.

It was around this time in 1882 that the school of which I am headmistress, Portsmouth High School, was founded as part of what is now the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST) during the rise of the feminist movement sweeping through education.

Our scholars’ board from those early days records the number of bright young women who went on to attend prestigious institutions for their higher education although at that time they were not allowed to matriculate. Women graduates were not recognised by Oxford University until 1920 and by Cambridge University much later in 1947.

We have in our archives a photograph of a young woman dated 1898 who, according to school records, attained top marks, beating all of the men studying alongside her in her mathematics tripos.

But her attainment passed almost unrecognised. Today, Cambridge University retains three all-women colleges whereas the last single-sex college at Oxford University, St Hilda’s, started to admit men in 2008.

Just like the pioneering women who founded the GDST, the women who established those early colleges were revolutionary reformers who were determined that education would bring about the emancipation of women. On the announcement of the establishment of my school, one founding alderman remarked that it was good that a school for girls was to be built as women needed to do more than drape prettily around the drawing room.

In the social media backlash that followed this particular episode of University Challenge, it was men that screamed “GET OVER IT” – written quite literally in capital letters – presumably to indicate they were shouting their dismay.

The “confidence gap” is likely to be at the root of the gender imbalance in University Challenge teams. Women are far less willing to put themselves forward for this type of situation, and I do not think it helpful that Jeremy Paxman dismisses the issues on the grounds that men like quizzing more than women in a way that men like football.

Whilst I’m delighted to see the recent focus on women’s football, if girls grow up in an environment that promotes soccer as something boys do, then it isn’t surprising women don’t always have an interest in the game.

Lack of confidence in women explains the old adage that women won’t put themselves forward for a job if they don’t match exactly the criteria whereas men will consider themselves the ideal candidate if they have accomplished only half of the job description.

One of my extremely capable young alumna said she was often asked, when at a leading university, how she had the courage to ask a question of an eminent professor in a packed lecture theatre. Her reply was simply that, as she attended a girls’ school, she never thought she couldn’t.

While women are in greater number at Oxford University, they are still less likely to receive first class degrees, with the greatest gender disparity in STEM subjects. There is much evidence to show that girls educated in an all-female environment never view subjects or co-curricular activities as male or female.

In a single-sex school we never suffer a gender imbalance in anything we undertake: girls play football and study science and they also enjoy cooking, netball and the arts. They are not put off any area of study and they have recognisable role models amongst the staff.

Our female physics teacher entertained the older girls on Monday with a lecture, as part of our academic lecture series, on space weather and no one thought it unusual that her doctorate specialism is in astrophysics.

Beyond the classroom, society does not help women gain the confidence they need to be on equal terms with men. In some industries, the pay differential between female and male colleagues employed in similar roles is shocking. This is generally not a problem faced in teaching. However, many former all-boys schools which turned co-educational decades ago still have woefully poor numbers of females occupying management positions. Even if they have a token woman on their senior leadership team, that woman is often the pastoral deputy or holds an administrative role such as director of marketing.

In my single-sex school there are almost equal numbers of men and women holding key senior roles. Teaching is a profession that attracts more women than men and therefore proportionally it is even more depressing that fewer women hold senior positions. As a married mother of three young adults, I understand that childcare and part time work may still fall to the majority of women and therefore it is argued that women are not in a position to aspire to leadership positions. This is a poor excuse. The workplace should accommodate parents, whatever their gender, and look to encourage ambition in female and male employees in equal measure.

I attended a single-sex grammar school and I do believe my schooling helped me to become a confident woman. My role models in school were strong independent women who gave their students the intellectual freedom to think they could achieve endless possibilities. My sister, who is now a medical doctor, was quiet and studious and despite our different personalities and character, our school encouraged us to have ambition and develop our curiosity for learning.

My children, two sons and one daughter, attended single-sex institutions and school was as supportive and academically challenging an environment for my sons as it was for my daughter. I do not hold with the belief that boys need girls to civilise them at school because I am not sure what that says about the boys or the behavioural policy in those institutions. What must be the experience for the girls if their prime role is to quieten the boys? My sons were able to develop their very different personalities – one is an army doctor and the other a reception class teacher – in an environment that understood their individual learning needs.

This week at Portsmouth High School, we hold our senior school annual parents’ association quiz and there will be no shortage of female members in the teams. Indeed as I set the questions, the quiz master is a woman; but I don’t think Jeremy Paxman need fear for his presenting job just yet. However, having attended an all girls’ school I know never to rule anything out.

This article, written by Jane Prescott, was published in The Daily Telegraph on Tuesday 17 October 2017

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The heart of the school remains strong after 135 years

I am the twelfth headmistress of Portsmouth High School in its 135 years. I feel proud to be added to the list of my predecessors as headmistress of this school with its long history and tradition.

I have met three of the most recent Heads and Miss Plowman, now Mrs Scofield, invites the sixth form to her home every year. She entertains them with stories of her experience teaching in a school in India and her days in Portsmouth. I sometimes wish it was possible to meet those who were the school’s early founders and whilst buildings have modified to keep up with modern education I am sure we would find much that is still the heart of the school such as its ethos and character. As we approach open day it gives me an opportunity to reflect on “our journey” and to check that the values we have held close in the past are still

relevant today. As I walk around the site I am struck by the pleasant environment and how well the space is used. In the classrooms the displays are vibrant and a showcase for the girls’ work.There is a warmth and community feel and a sense of purpose and enjoyment.  We have revived an old website cataloguing the history of the school – the link to view the page is here http://www.portsmouthhighhistory.co.uk/  I hope you find it of interest.  There are some errors inherited – for example the GPDST was established in 1872 not 1972. May I take this opportunity to thank all the girls, parents and staff for supporting our annual open day and helping us make it a success.  On Wednesday the first meeting of the PHS golf society took place at Goodwood. Thanks to Mr Roger Brett for organising the competition and good weather. We are pleased to report that £275 was raised for PSA funds.

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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