Head’s Blog

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

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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Changes in the GCSE grading system

Many of you are aware that GCSEs will move to a 1-9 numerical scale and away from the current A*-G grading system. At Portsmouth High School this will not affect all our subjects as the majority are IGCSE and some will stay with the current provision at least for the time being.

I thought it worth me explaining why we would hang onto something that at some point will become redundant. There is no guarantee that the new system will stay in its new form without some adjustment and it seems sensible to watch and see what will happen after the first awards are made. It will mean some of our pupils will have a mixed bag of results –some graded numerically and some using the current system.

One of the reasons to stay with the A* grade for as long as we can is quite simply students have a better chance of gaining an A* than a grade 9. Ofqual —the exams regulator—has spelled out what effect the shift will have for those highest-performing pupils at GCSE. For example, in geography currently on average 10.6% of examinees are awarded an A* but it is predicted only 5.9% will gain a grade 9. Similarly in mathematics the slip will be from currently 8.8% obtaining an A* to 3.7% grade 9. Overall all subjects will move from 8.4% currently being awarded an A* to 5.1% a grade 9.

We need to make sure our pupils are aware of this change and to accept that some of those who would have gained an A* will not necessarily gain a grade 9. GCSEs are allegedly going to be harder and certainly specimen specifications indicate greater content with a deeper level of understanding and analysis required. Taking this into account many will not achieve the highest grade. Media reports claim students are under enormous pressure to achieve the top grade and their expectations are at times unrealistic and this stretching of the grades will perhaps induce more anxiety and stress.

Pupils need to work hard but not to the degree that it adversely affects their well-being. It is laudable that they are ambitious and wish to do well but it is also important that teachers and parents emphasise the need to have a healthy lifestyle. Gaining a grade 6 should not be seen as a failure or indeed any grade if it is the best that can be achieved and especially so if studying for examinations is balanced with a range of extra-curricular activities.

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Revision techniques for school and public examinations

If you have children in your household approaching examinations, whether school or public, you may well have the equivalent of a grumpy bear or two living in your home.

It is a miserable time of the year for potential examinees and I remember all too well from my school days warm sunny spring days that were just calling to be enjoyed outside and feeling resentful that I had to remain indoors revising. I did try and convince myself that I could revise outdoors perhaps lying on the lawn whilst listening to Saturday Night Fever on my cassette machine; the truth is experience taught me that I couldn’t and the only way to prepare well for examinations was to put in the time required to make sure I had learned and understood all I needed to know and I could only do that away from distractions and indoors. It is a challenging time and now perhaps more than ever young people are feeling the pressure.

The Guardian this week published ways students can revise more effectively for examinations and thought I would share them with you as they sum up my views gained from years of personal experience:

Start the day with breakfast – 39% of girls skip this meal and they do not get the essential energy boost needed for maximum concentration. It may be the easiest meal to miss but no engine can work well without fuel and your body is no different.

When revising put your phone away out of sight and don’t be tempted to keep looking at it. The Fear of Missing Out (FOMO), which I have written about often, is so overwhelming young people have no idea how much time they  waste just checking social media let alone responding to comments.

It is always best to spread out revision – cramming never really works – and therefore start the day early and ensure there are enough breaks to keep the brain active enough to absorb more material.

Teaching someone else does help understanding and so sharing revision time with a friend may be useful and explaining concepts to others ensures that topics are understood well. Parents may help children by asking them about their studying and not just how much they have done but by asking them to explain what they have learned that day.  Testing yourself is useful and therefore practising questions is one way of doing this effectively.

The use of highlighters is not always as effective as it would appear and making notes look pretty may be just that and not really a useful aid to learning especially if the whole text ends up highlighted as it is difficult to select out sentences. The most effective highlighting is when just key words are identified.

Trying to revise whilst playing music doesn’t work whatever the argument given.  Studies have shown that students who revise in quiet environments learn more.

Get some fresh air and exercise during the day too and most importantly sleep well – go to bed at a reasonable hour, get up early and avoid the temptation from sheer tedium to doze during the day.

If these simple, straightforward rules are followed revision should be efficient and successful.

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Is sexting a form of emotional need?

Much has been written recently about the ever increasing problem of young people sending each other inappropriately revealing images of themselves, often totally undressed, otherwise known as sexting.

Certain celebrities boast about their exchanged nude photographs and it becomes all too easy for teenagers (and others) to be drawn into the belief that everyone is doing it and therefore it somehow is acceptable.

Many of you reading this probably think quite rightly that your daughters would never be so silly as to be tricked into sharing saucy photographs of themselves but it can be so easy to fall into the trap of “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” across a virtual world where you don’t even need to meet. The Daily Telegraph reported that children as young as seven have been caught sexting.

The psychologist Rachel Melville-Thomas observes that young people send sexual photographs to each other in a bid to gain attention and therefore they are attention needing rather than attention seeking. She sees sexting as


a self-esteem issue and I think this goes a long way to explain why anyone would “sext”. Furthermore it is only too easy to do. In the not so distant past it would have been a long-winded faff to take a racy photograph from finding a camera, finishing the film, taking the film to be developed and having the money to pay for expensive film processing and so on during which time without doubt interest is lost or at least there is time to reflect on any proposed action and change your mind. In the instant world of the Internet in which our children socialise that time to think does not exist.

We need to encourage our children to stop and consider the consequences of their actions. If sexting is a form of emotional need then we need to identify those at risk and help them find the pause button. In school the girls are taught about the dangers of the Internet and within this topic sexting is covered. However, we all must keep repeating the anti-sexting message and be vigilant to protect our children. They need to know well the message “don’t post today something you regret tomorrow”.

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Make sure your daughter is not a ‘mean child’…

Over the Easter holidays you may have seen Mrs Jane Lunnon, Headmistress of one of our sister schools Wimbledon High, interviewed on the television programme This Morning about the guidance her school is giving their pupils to help them deal with toxic friendships, friendship breakdowns and ‘mean girls’. 

Most adults – men and women – have at some point experienced being left out either deliberately or accidentally and therefore know how that exclusion makes their child feel.

Nancy Rue, a teacher-turned-author of the Mean Girl Makeover trilogy, has some advice for parents – she says it doesn’t help if you repeatedly tell your child it isn’t the end of the world if they haven’t, for example, been invited on the group shopping trip because to the overlooked child it is quite upsetting to be missed out. It is much better to acknowledge that it is natural to feel sad and to help the child get it in perspective for themselves. Rue also cautions against getting too emotionally involved as a parent and whilst it might be difficult it is better that the parent remains calm and does not make too many judgemental comments about the situation.  Rue also says don’t try to solve the issue either but listen to your child and “follow their story rather than tell them yours.”



However, the best advice Rue gives in my opinion is to make sure your own child is not a ‘mean girl’.  Teaching your daughter to be compassionate and stand up for others makes her a powerful force. Encouraging non-school friends made through interests pursued out of school helps children give perspective to minor fall-outs too and gives them someone else to turn to when they want to talk about situations. In other words the child’s entire socialising world should not be totally school based.

Coming back from a holiday reminds us that children are together at school much of the time during term time. As in any close relationship there are going to be times when pupils do not always get along with each other.  Schools should aim to maintain a close partnership between school and home and each feel free to discuss friendship concerns. Furthermore if both parties encourage the girls to keep things in perspective whilst being caring and kind it will help prepare for the “mean girls” they will undoubtedly come across at some point in their adult life.

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