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The prep school has its own separate identity from the senior school and is still known locally as Dovercourt; almost all go on to the senior school. ‘We concentrate on the traditional subjects,’ says the headmaster, but girls are encouraged to ask questions and the aim is to develop their independence, resilience, collaboration and grit. Everyone knows everyone and all make time to listen. ‘You can talk to anyone you want to if you are worried,’ said a pupil...

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What the school says...

This is a school where intellectual curiosity is developed and where girls enjoy learning through range of opportunities both inside and outside the classroom. There is a strong element of phonics and numeracy in the Early Years daily routine and an emphasis on outdoor learning enhanced by a new Outdoor Learning Classroom. Mathematics is taught daily and dedicated and well-qualified staff are supported by specialist teachers including in languages. The sense of belonging and familiarity with the whole school helps prepare the girls for what lies ahead ensuring a smooth transition as they leave the Prep School and progress to the Senior School. ...Read more

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All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2014 Paul Marshallsay BA Ed. He studied PE at St Luke’s, now part of Exeter University, and started his career as a PE teacher at Victoria College in Jersey. He then moved to Burgoyne Middle School in Bedfordshire as head of PE, and then on to become deputy head of Yorston Lodge in Cheshire, followed by head of geography at Shrewsbury High Prep. Has taught all age groups and many subjects including maths, geography and computing. He joined Portsmouth High Prep as deputy head in 2011, became acting head in 2013 and head in 2014.

He is married to Felicity, who runs the Duke of Edinburgh Award at the senior school, and they have one daughter who is an academic scholar at the senior school. He is a keen sportsman and likes to keep himself fit; he played hockey in the national league and still plays, but at a lower level, and takes part in triathlons whenever he can. He loves skiing, and leads the school trip which is one of the highlights of the year. He says he plays the cello to unwind. ‘He is a very strong head,’ said a parent, 'and it is good for the girls to have a male influence. The girls are pushed to take risks.’ He publishes a weekly blog called news from the headmaster’s study on topics from ‘Why is it that our girls stand out’ to ‘Appreciating the good things and dwelling less on the negatives.’ He is approachable and easy to talk to, and his study is filled with brightly coloured teddies.

He is a devotee of all girls education and says ‘girls can express themselves increasingly confidently, both academically and socially, when there are no boys around, and they don’t have to endure the negative competitiveness of co-ed schools.’ ‘They don’t need to know about gender stereotyping until much later.’

Entrance

Most girls join in reception and move on to the senior school at 11+. The school doesn’t look for a particular type of child and prides itself on being able to work with almost all girls – it looks for potential and whether a child is likely to flourish. Pre-school, reception and year 1 have a one-to-one informal assessment. Older girls come for a taster day and are assessed in maths and English. The school is increasingly popular and numbers have grown by 20 per cent recently.

Exit

Almost all go on to the senior school. Girls have to sit entrance exams in English and maths, but this is really for setting purposes and the transition is almost automatic. The move is managed carefully as year 6 girls go over to the main school to use the science labs, sports equipment and hall, so that by the time they arrive they know their way round and say, ‘we won’t get lost'. The headmaster talks to parents early on if he feels that a girl might not thrive at the senior school.

Our view

The prep school, opened in 1927, has its own separate identity from the senior school and is still known locally as Dovercourt. Like the senior school, it is part of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GSDT). It was designed by the architect Thomas Ellis Owen as his own house and is a monument to Victorian self-confidence, complete with towers and turrets. Behind it lies an enormous garden with a separate wood-clad building for the pre-prep and pre-school and another one for the older girls, an outside classroom, netball courts and the new Astroturf, which is the pride and joy of the school. Girls can also use the senior school facilities and play rounders on the common. There is a dell area with ornamental gardens and a small temple, plus the famous sliding stone, which is the first thing the old girls head for when they come back. There is also space for the guinea pig house and a garden for the girls to grow vegetables. As much learning as possible takes place outside and all girls take part in forest school and learn how to assess risks – anything from building and lighting a campfire with a flint and steel and toasting marshmallows to learning about the seasons. The beach school, where children learn about the tides and the moon, runs alongside the forest school. The large multi-purpose hall is used for sports and assemblies and doubles up as the dining room where girls eat lunch cooked on site. It runs on a cafeteria system with a wide choice of food.

‘We concentrate on the traditional subjects,’ says the headmaster, but girls are encouraged to ask questions and the aim is to develop their independence, resilience, collaboration and grit. ‘We work with the girls to create curious explorers; they are taught to think imaginatively and work through problems.' Girls start learning French in pre-school and are introduced to Latin and Mandarin in year 6. Younger girls concentrate on phonics and work at their own level between year groups, with some specialist teaching from year 3. Fluid sets for maths in year 6. Emphasis on IT, with a well-equipped computer suite – programming is introduced in reception and girls from the senior school run a coding club. The classrooms are light and airy and the school makes clever use of the restricted space, with up to date science labs and the DT room housed in the cellar. The girls were making sock monkeys on the day we visited. There is a popular and well stocked library and pupils can take part in the ‘awesome’ book awards, in which everyone has to read and rate five books. Most of the teachers, a good proportion of whom are male, are in their 30s and 40s and have been at the school for at least five years.

About 10 children need some sort of SEN support, mainly for mild dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and processing difficulties. Some girls are taken out of class for one-to-one help, but most are supported in lessons. The SENCo works across both the senior and prep school and the prep also has its own dedicated SEN teacher. The children are screened for dyslexia at certain points but teachers know the girls well, so problems are usually flagged up before testing.

A handful of international children, whose parents work locally, need EAL help – they start with cards to hold up but learn very quickly at this age says the headmaster.

All do PE and girls play organised sport from year 3. Girls are encouraged to aim high but the emphasis is on participation and enjoyment and all have the opportunity to play in matches against other schools as well as GDST and house competitions. The houses are named after ships and admirals to reflect the maritime history of the area and are linked to the senior school by colour.

Music is part of the curriculum and the school has a chamber choir, orchestra and string ensemble. Over 85 per cent of girls learn an instrument and they can choose from a wide range including piano, cello and clarinet. Drama is also part of the curriculum and is taught by a specialist teacher from year 3. Each class, including pre-school, puts on a performance every term during their celebration assembly and there are musicals every year.

There is a good range of lunchtime and after-school clubs from reception upwards include coding, cookery, trampolining, ceramics and various music clubs. ‘We like to give the girls as many opportunities as possible so that they can make informed decisions,’ says the headmaster.

New girls are teamed up with a buddy on arrival and a resilience programme is integrated into the curriculum. Everyone knows everyone and all make time to listen. ‘You can talk to anyone you want to if you are worried,’ said a pupil, ‘maybe your form teacher, the headmaster, or the reception staff – everyone looks out for us’. ‘It is very nurturing,’ said a mother, and no-one is forced to do anything they don’t want to do’. ‘I fell in love with the atmosphere at the prep school and just knew it was right for my girls’, said another.

Free wrap-around care from breakfast club at 7.30am to aftercare club with activities and homework until 6pm. Most families are dual income and a very supportive of the school. Many live in Portsmouth and Southsea and a fleet of minibuses bring girls from further afield.

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