Head's Blog | Portsmouth High School

Head’s Blog

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

Inspirational quotes can drive motivation

Katie Boulter, the young tennis player who gained a wild card to this year’s Wimbledon, was criticised in the press for willing herself to do well by reading inspirational slogan messages such as “trust yourself and trust your game” quietly during breaks in play.

I have an interest in Katie having known her as a pupil at my former school and I was indeed willing her to “Play the match like it’s the last match of your life – show how much you want it.” She was knocked out but not after she had given it her best shot. I was proud that I had the privilege of knowing her and knew that she had trained for years for what I hope will be her first opportunity of many.

Should she be criticised for willing herself to do well in a way that works for her? I too get tired of the slogans – the type on mugs and coasters – that say sickly meaningless mantras such as “live each day as if it is your last” and “dance like no one is watching” but sportsmen have for decades used motivational messages to urge them to do better.

Sports psychologists use these techniques – it is nothing new. I once heard Brian Moore, the rugby player, talk of how the England rugby team passed each other messages about how they played well to spur them on before important games. Equally they gave each other messages about how they could perform better before training.

If I was to give out messages for a successful summer holidays it would be along the lines of “read more; books are there to be enjoyed” and “fresh air smells great when you are enjoying it outside”. There is nothing wrong with inspirational quotes used to motivate and the press should cut some slack to a young woman who is a great role model for aspiring tennis players.

My very best wishes for the summer holidays which I hope are warm and relaxing for all.

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Trashy TV – ‘truly appalling’ or does it have its value?

Caitlin Moran wrote in last Saturday’s Times about watching trashy television with your teenage children. It struck a chord with me as most of my friends seem to be hooked on TOWIE (The Only Way is Essex), Made in Chelsea or recently Love Island and moreover it is family viewing.

Caitlin Moran refers to this genre of TV being described by a retired colonel as “truly appalling” and as my husband is a retired colonel that is pretty accurate as to his view of the likes of Big Brother. I have to say I shared his opinion… until I became hooked too.

When I was a much younger teacher, to relate to the children, I thought I needed to be up to speed with the goings on in EastEnders and Coronation Street – I watched enough to know the characters and be able to join in conversations about the last episode; it made me seem less of a dinosaur to my pupils. The new version of these programmes is reality television and there is much to choose from.

Most of these shows are scripted and as Moran points out when referring to Love Island “all of the people your kids are going to meet are here”.Moran also says that if you don’t watch these shows with your children they slope off to watch it on their own. If they watch it with you then you can provide the wise voiceover and actually it gives rise to an opportunity to discuss with your teenagers some of the topics difficult to raise from a cold start.

There are endless arguments in these programmes about the issues of life and much of it revolves around loyalty, secrets and socialising with the group especially the in-gang. If you can bring yourself to watch with your children you can become the wise guide on the side helping distinguish between the acceptable and the totally unacceptable and there is plenty of the latter to debate. Be warned though this viewing can become addictive.

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Polite people ‘are the best company as adults’

The Duchess of Cornwall commented on how her upbringing prepared her well for royal duties. However dull the company, as a child, her mother told her to entertain guests by talking about anything – your pony, your budgie, it doesn’t matter the topic just keep the conversation going. 

We try hard to bring up our children to have good manners and be polite. I was always taught to stand when a person enters a room to greet them. I was not allowed to eat or drink in public in my school uniform and my father-in-law never allowed my husband and his brother to even eat an ice cream in the street. There are extremes.

Polite people, according to Mary Killen, The Spectator’s agony aunt and Gogglebox star, “are the best company as adults; they’re on time; they’re considerate. They end up with the best jobs and the happiest relationships.”

“It doesn’t matter how many A-levels you have, what kind of a degree you have – if you have good manners, people will like you,”

agrees Kate Reardon, editor of Tatler. “And, if they like you, they will help you.”

At PHS the form captains invited to lunch in my study receive an invitation to which they are expected to formally reply and hopefully write a thank you after the event – in this modern world whilst email is accepted it is not encouraged to be chatty in tone. It is one of the ways we try to introduce the girls to formal invitations and the etiquette required to respond appropriately. It is something that has always been a part of PHS. One quite elderly alumna told me of her headmistress at PHS who took her out to tea and lunch to introduce her to formal dining before she experienced it at Cambridge.

Of course many of our girls are already well educated on manners through their family life but it does no harm to reinforce politeness at school.

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Examinations ask candidates to apply their knowledge rather than simply regurgitate learned facts

School examinations for all but Year 12 are now already a memory but public examinations still have to start for Year 13 and GCSEs are off to a slow start.  

I can’t help but feel sorry for the girls taking their examinations especially as the weather has now improved. I remember quite clearly that sinking feeling of having to stay in and revise when the days were warm and sunny.

After the GCSE geography examination recently a Facebook group for teachers was inundated with comments from teachers bewailing the unfairness of the GCSE paper because pupils were asked, for example, about the sustainability of water consumption mapped against an increase in the sale of dishwashers and this was not on the scheme of work. Some of the newspapers reported the story alongside one from a biology examination earlier in the week where Charles Darwin was drawn as a cartoon monkey which it was also claimed was not what they had spent months revising.

What is clear to me is that these type of tests now ask candidates to apply their knowledge rather than simply regurgitate learned facts. Not so long ago a typical geography question would start with the words “using an example you have studied” whereas now it is an expectation rather than a command that pupils will use case studies to illustrate their answer. One teacher even complained about the word illustrate as a command word because it was not one on the examination board list.

It is important that we prepare our students well for this change of emphasis in GCSEs and A levels. Not only has the grading system changed for GCSE making comparisons with previous years difficult, the style of questioning is much more challenging. Some years ago we started our thinking skills lessons to encourage our pupils to think differently and to be able to analyse information. Our girls are well-prepared for these examinations and they have developed ways of critically analysing text and data to offer judgements and opinions based on presented evidence.

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Studying for examinations is good for the long term health of your mind

One good aspect about a bank holiday is I have time to tackle a newspaper crossword. I like to attempt them because I feel it gives my brain a good workout and apparently as your brain behaves like a muscle it needs regular exercise.

There is no doubt that age affects your ability to remember detail and it concerns me that some of the sharpness of youth has definitely dimmed over time. That is one of the reasons why I think studying for examinations helps the long term health of your mind. Young people establish excellent remembering techniques that stay with them for life.

It is all too easy to Google forgotten information and to keep our brains healthy we should keep trying to recall data.

It is probably no consolation to the GCSE students who started their examinations in earnest this week that studying for examinations is good for you.  School is not just about examination results, however, and acquiring knowledge, wisdom and experience is of greater significance compared to the outcome of any one single test. It is important that this is kept in mind as our pupils enter examination season.

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It’s not just women that can multitask…

I laughed this week at the parody video clip of a woman responding to the same situation that the BBC expert on Korea found himself in when interrupted by his two children during a live newscast.

The woman in the clip manages to not only speak about a serious world situation but also iron some shirts, defuse a bomb and cook a roast dinner whilst broadcasting. It is a well-known joke that women can multitask but I would agree with Kevin Stannard, GDST Director of Innovation and Learning writing in the Times Educational Supplement when he says that teachers (regardless of gender) also have to multitask. Erica McWilliam describes the teacher’s roles as “sage on the stage”, “guide on the side” and “meddler in the middle”. And teachers’ work does not end in the classroom as they in their other roles as form teacher and head of year, for example, counsel and cajole pupils and students whilst also rushing off to run a co-curricular club. As Dr Stannard points out “teachers occupy a unique place in the pantheon of professions. If this were not so, we would be reading articles about “My favourite lawyer”; “the accountant that influenced me most”.

I received this week an email from an alumna, who left PHS in the early 1960s, replying to a recent letter I had sent to all

of our alumnae. She told me that she was discouraged by the staff from applying to study at university as shewas deemed not clever enough and yet she went on to have a successful career obtaining a PhD in medical research. She did add that she had fourteen happy years at school but she clearly still felt bitter about the way in which the staff, and in particular the headmistress, did not recognise her academic potential.

Thankfully times have changed and our staff are adept at spotting talent and potential in a whole range of arenas. It is another string to their multitasking bow. They inspire and encourage and within one lesson can be the “sage, meddler and guide” as they seek different ways in which to motivate and enthuse their pupils. Not all teachers will quite fit individual styles of learning but all the staff here at PHS are committed to providing a broad and balanced curriculum and many co-curricular opportunities and I know they are rewarded by being respected and revered by all the girls throughout the school.

I wish you and your families a Happy Easter holiday.

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