Head’s Blog

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

What makes a great teacher?

Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman, includes the maxim, “He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.” Woody Allen added another line “he who can’t teach, teaches gym”.  As you can imagine over a career that has spanned decades I have had this quoted to me many times.

Aristotle, Galileo, and Mozart were great teachers. Marie Curie, known for her discoveries about radioactivity, was the first woman to be a professor at the Sorbonne. Stephen Hawking retired not that long ago from teaching mathematics at Cambridge University, where he held the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics chair, once held by Sir Isaac Newton. So I say “those who can do, certainly teach”.

The GDST carried out a survey amongst all current pupils from Year 3 upwards about what makes a great teacher. I have only just received the results for PHS but glancing through a positive picture is painted of dedicated and committed teachers who go to endless lengths for the sake of their pupils. This could be camping out with them to facilitate the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, taking them for their first visit to a public library or seeing yet another

production of a Shakespearian play watched many times before by the staff. It could be meeting a pupil during a lunchtime to help them catch up or keeping students’ interest and developing their understanding of a difficult topic. PHS teachers always encourage their tutees to develop their intellectual curiosity for the unknown.

Albert Einstein is often credited with a quote that underpins the importance of teaching on the teacher: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

PHS teachers were praised by the girls at being able to make the most complex concepts easy to comprehend and they said their teachers were fun and approachable. I know the girls going to South Africa this summer are looking forward to passing on their knowledge to local children and the accompanying staff are helping train the teachers in a country where many in rural areas are untrained.

The results of the survey are a wonderful highlight on which to end this academic year.

I wish you all a very enjoyable summer break.

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Developing grit and resilience through rising to the challenge…

University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth says, “I don’t think people can become truly gritty and great at things they don’t love, so when we try to develop grit in kids, we also need to find and help them cultivate their passions.” Just recently I have had much opportunity to witness first hand some of our girls developing grit and resilience participating in activities they enjoy.

A number of our sailors competed in the schools’ sailing challenge at Itchenor. With over 100 boats at the start line and fairly windy conditions our girls competed against older and more experienced yachtsmen and flew the PHS flag very well indeed. I watched girls as their boat capsized hold onto their vessel (no easy task) and climb back in to continue in the race. One team of two had got their spinnaker caught round the pole and whilst still cutting through the waves at a fair speed they managed to untangle the sail by one girl acting as ballast whilst her crew mate hung off the front of the dingy. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to see firsthand the girls’ talent and passion for sailing.  Alice, Katie, Izzy, Flo and Blythe achieved particularly good overall positions but all who participated did so well. Thank you to Mr and Mrs Graham for inviting me to join them on their rib.

Then at the GDST golf championships Nancy Fenton finished third.  Again she showed style, talent, skill and determination to continue to play in miserable weather. She has a steady hand, calmness and nerve despite the pressure. Nancy really did do well against competitors that played for national teams.

Year 6 put on a tremendous play and they acted and sang with wonderful comedy timing and wit. This talent was also a feature of the plays for the senior school drama clubs. Whilst the subject matter may not have been amusing the girls still managed to deliver laughs at an appropriate moment which is not easy.

It is around this time of the year I literally run out of time cramming in all our events, performances, displays and shows and I notice especially how talented and passionate the girls are about every aspect of school life. The pupils develop grit and resilience because they are prepared to rise to the challenge of almost any opportunity and they develop a strength of character as a result.

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Skills every 18 year old should have…

Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of “How to Raise an Adult” and a Dean at Stanford University lists the skills that every 18 year old should have by the time they reach adulthood and I thought you would find the list interesting.

An 18 year old should be able to talk to strangers – we spend much of a young person’s life telling them not to do this but in truth this is exactly what they have to do once they have left home for university or work. They need to approach landlords, health advisers, university lecturers respectfully and with eye contact.

An 18 year old should be able to find their way around. Most young people before they leave home are taken to where they need to go especially if their home is in a rural location. However, they must know how to navigate a campus and weigh up different options for travel.

An 18 year old should be able to manage deadlines and work schedules. Too often as parents and schools we manage that for them by issuing reminders and even doing whatever it is for them. University essay deadlines are not a moveable feature and miss the hand-in time and you have failed that module.

An 18 year old should know about managing money and running a house. Their flat mates will soon tire of their messy approach to the

general clearing up or the fact that they never have enough money to cover the joint expenses associated with shared accommodation.

An 18 year old should be able to manage the ups and downs of life and interpersonal relationships. They should be able to talk to an employer, lecturer, classmate with confidence. If parents/school are too quick to step in when those relationships are not going well it does not help a young person develop their own skills at dealing with and more importantly coping with a difficult situation.

An 18 year old must be able to take risks. If they don’t then they never develop enough resilience and grit to achieve the point above. If they resort immediately to phoning home to ask how then we haven’t given them enough life skills.

Our sixth form enrichment programme does cover much of the skills needed for a young person to move successfully from school to the next stage of their education. However, there is much they can do for themselves to ensure they are equipped fully with life skills that will help them cope with the next stage of their education. Fathoming out solutions to problems rather than expecting parents and school to always take on their difficulties is a good place to start.

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Academic results are only part of a much bigger picture

Donald Trump has challenged Sadiq Khan to an IQ test in response to Khan’s accusation that Trump is ignorant after comments made by Trump about Muslims. Furthermore the newly elected mayor’s predecessor, Boris Johnson, upset a few people when he remarked that a person’s IQ was a major determinant in life.

The grammar school education system in the UK did and still does select pupils on academic ability and critics of this system say that children should be judged on a variety of attributes and not just their intelligence. As a product of a girls’ grammar school I benefitted from being chosen at age 11 years to attend a selective school partly because it meant I could study for O levels whereas my peers in the secondary modern system studied for the less academic qualification – the CSE.  There were undoubtedly faults with this system of education – glaringly that there was limited chance of movement between the schools and a child’s academic fate determined at a relatively young age for the next few years.

I know adults, still bitter about “failing” the 11+, who have spent their working life proving the test wrong by becoming respected academics and intellectuals. Isn’t it about time we stopped judging children by their IQ score? It is much more important that their EQ – emotional intelligence – and stickability is considered. People need common sense, resilience and an ability to communicate all of which an IQ score does not measure.

As the girls file past my office into our public examination hall I hope that they do well in their tests and that the questions asked show off what they know, understand and can do. However, at this stressful, anxious time it is important to keep in perspective the view that academic results are only part of a much bigger picture. The girls I visited over the weekend undergoing their bronze Duke of Edinburgh’s Award in teeming rain and less than ideal conditions were developing within themselves grit which will carry them far – possibly further – than top examinations results alone.

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Challenges are individual…

Recently I was honoured and privileged to accompany girls, along with Mr Field and Mrs Marshallsay, to a variety of events that celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. Prince Phillip first announced the scheme in 1956 and back then it was just for boys aged 15-18 but girls were shortly included and last year nearly 112,000 young people received their award at one of the levels of bronze, silver or gold.

The programme requires participants to spend time acquiring new skills, testing their physical ability, giving something back by volunteering and to undertake a camping expedition. At gold level a residential activity is added to the other sections. It is worth attempting and completing; last year only 0.03% of young people of that age category who could achieve the gold award were actually presented with this standard. All levels of the scheme show resilience, commitment, dedication and a willingness to put yourself out of your comfort zone and try something new and this is what makes, especially the gold award, something truly special to have achieved.

A couple of weeks ago I travelled by hovercraft to the Isle of Wight with a group of young D of E participants and HRH the Earl of  Wessex. Our three sixth formers actually sat with Prince Edward for the journey and had the opportunity to talk about how the award works in our school.  Then last

Friday evening we all attended a special service at Winchester Cathedral followed by on Monday a gold award ceremony in the gardens of Buckingham Palace where we witnessed Victoria Thurlby and Zarina Robson from last year’s sixth form receive their award from HRH the Countess of Wessex.

If your daughter is currently undertaking any aspect of the award please be aware that there is some administration to be done of uploading evidence online for her to complete the process and then receive her award. If you feel that you have missed out on being able to participate when younger then this year for the 60th anniversary there is the D of E Diamond Challenge which asks everyone from any age to take on their own adventure, personal and skill challenge. After a registration fee you are asked to raise at least £60 to help provide funds for young people who are living in financially poor circumstances and would not otherwise be able to take part. The Countess of Wessex, for example, is to cycle from Holyroodhouse to Buckingham Palace. When we met her on Monday many of us were asked what we were doing for our challenge and I was surrounded by people running, walking and cycling impressive distances and canoeing even further. My challenge is to de-clutter my life and raise funds by using eBay to sell some of the “stuff” I really don’t need. Challenges are individual.

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Etiquette and the use of mobile phones…

Last week Jeremy Hunt, the Government Health Secretary, was chastised along with the Deputy Leader of the house Therese Coffey for using their mobile phones during a debate in Parliament about NHS bursaries. John Bercow the Speaker of the House was quite rightly appalled that his colleagues continued to look at their phones in blatant breach of the convention of the house.

I suspect all of us at some point – but hopefully not so publicly – have looked at our phones when we should have been listening to something else. I remember one PHS parent commenting that I had been texting during a play when actually I had been tweeting about the performance but that comment taught me a lesson and made me think about how tweeting can look like “fiddling” on my phone and I have not done it since. There is a phone etiquette we must all learn and phone manners are still evolving. It is for that reason, along with others, that I feel it is counter productive to ban phones in schools. Where school policy is to hand in the phone on arrival then crafty pupils have two phones and hand in an old one. Other headteachers tell me parents are complicit in the deceit preferring their child to have access to a phone for emergencies and happily supply two devices.

The Daily Telegraph reported this week “Banning mobile phones and other technology in the classroom is “moving in

the wrong direction”, an academic has said, as he warns children will keep using technology anyway”. The article went on to say “I share concerns of parents about the effects of leisure technology on sleep and homework and exercise but it’s important that we don’t demonise it completely.” said Professor Paul Howard-Jones. Instead, according to the Professor, teachers and parents should look at how pupils are interacting with the technology.

Keeping up to date with methods of controlling and monitoring use is important and PHS regularly sends out the latest information about keeping safe online. It is often not possible for school to wholly police poor phone use as more often than not the misuse happens out of school hours. However, most social media sites are blocked on our wifi and therefore can only be accessed through 3 or 4G. Furthermore, our girls do not stand in the lunch queue using their phones and when this week a prospective pupil’s parent on a tour expressed surprise that the pupils were not on their phones all of the time our tour guide replied “We are far too busy to waste time doing that”. At PHS we do much to teach the manners associated with phone use and embrace technology so that it is used to the best advantage.

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