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Girls are taught to think on their feet and to recognise that they don’t have to be perfect. Regular dialogues with parents and pupils about homework stress. They are encouraged to spend time sitting and chatting with friends as well as joining in activities. Portsmouth is the smallest school in the Trust and parents love the combination of the warm family atmosphere but with the benefits and support of the wider GDST. They love the ‘give it a go’ attitude and inclusive approach...

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What the school says...

Our school aims to foster an atmosphere of ambition and enterprise, a devoted advocate for single sex education, Headmistress Mrs Jane Prescott BSc PGCE says there is no subject stereotyping. Girls are encouraged to develop their own voice and views and this inspires a confidence to take risks and tackle new challenges. We recognise pupils as individuals and aim to nurture both intellect and wellbeing, this focus on wellbeing has sent results soaring.

We are one of twenty five GDST schools and therefore have the benefit of belonging to a network hugely experienced in girls learning.
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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

Headmistress

Since 2011, Jane Prescott BSc PGCE NPQH. Educated at a grammar school in Norfolk and with a PGCE in geography from Cardiff, she started her career as a geography teacher and was deputy head of Leicester and Loughborough High Schools before joining Portsmouth High as head. She no longer has much time for teaching, but tutors geography GCSE and A level and teaches food technology to year 7. She is an independent schools inspector - which she says helps her make sure Portsmouth High is up to date, president elect 2020 of the Girls’ School Association and governor of local state and prep schools. She is also a trustee for the King’s Theatre in Southsea. So not someone who sits around.

Outdoorsy, open, friendly and easy to get on with, she is a keen golfer, skier and walker. Her bright corner office has windows overlooking the main thoroughfare so she can watch girls walking by and can spot if someone is looking unhappy or on their own. She is highly regarded by staff, pupils and parents alike. ‘She always replies to emails and is very approachable,’ said a parent. Girls are not afraid to knock on her door and there are ‘far more celebrations than telling offs’. She is a visible presence at both the prep and senior schools and always attends events and knows all girls and their parents by name. She has a meeting with year 7s to ask how they are settling in and how things could be improved. ‘She really does listen,’ says a pupil, and leads ‘mindful meanders’ down to the seafront when girls can practise the art of conversation. She is also very supportive of girls’ outside interests.

She is an advocate of single sex education as she says boys and girls mature at different rates and teachers can tailor their teaching to the girls and how they learn best. ‘Girls are more confident to put their hands up and ask questions if there are no boys around and they don’t need to feel stereotyped or self-conscious about anything.' She wants girls to be the best version of themselves and take up opportunities, be busy and engaged but not be afraid of failing.

She writes a weekly blog on anything from ‘success should not be measured just by academic results’ to ‘resilience is needed for a healthy state of mind’ and ‘preparing students for the unknown employment market’. She says they are hard work to do but are an important line of communication with parents.

She is married to Jeremy, whom she met while serving a short service commission in the army, and they have three adult children – two teachers and an army doctor. She lives locally and loves the fact that she is very much part of the of the community, even if it does mean that she is ‘on parade’ all the time. ‘The younger girls love it when they bump into her in the supermarket,’ said a parent.

Academic matters

There was a dip in results a few years ago but they are on the up again now. In 2018, 69 per cent 9-7 at GCSE (IGCSEs in most subjects) and 30 per cent A*/A at A level. Very good results in geography with all girls getting A*/A in 2018 – girls say that it is particularly well taught and they can go to lectures at Portsmouth university. Twenty-two A level options and all girls are required to embark on the EPQ even if they don’t all finish it. STEM subjects popular and encouraged but they also offer psychology, theatre studies, DT, business studies and sociology. Science taken seriously and is taught in well-equipped labs a short walk from the main school with space for theory and practical work; ‘we have everything we need and don’t have to share equipment,’ say the girls. A science forum helps keen scientists develop their presentation and investigative skills. Most girls take three separate sciences at GCSE but combined award also offered. Girls can usually take the subject combination they want and sometimes share lessons with nearby St John’s College – girls go to St John’s for politics.

All have to take French or Spanish as their first language in year 7 plus Mandarin or Latin. The school teaches Pre-U in Mandarin and one girl taught herself Japanese GCSE for fun. ICT and thinking skills embedded in the curriculum; the Sophia programme encourages critical thinking and cross-curricular links. All years 7-9 learn food technology.

Usually about 25 per class in lower years but fewer in maths and science where girls are setted by ability. About 16 in GCSE classes and up to 12 in A level classes.
Stable staff with a mix of age and experience and a good number of male teachers - about half the senior leadership team are male. ‘They are extraordinarily dedicated,’ said a parent, ‘and go the extra mile for the girls’.

The SENCo oversees the senior and prep schools, with another SEN teacher in the prep school. The small number need help mainly for mild dyslexia and dyspraxia. Girls taken out of second languages lessons (Latin or Mandarin) and school will offer more support as required. EAL available mainly for Chinese girls who come to Portsmouth High for sixth form and stay with local families, but also a number of international families on secondment at the naval base or local businesses. The co-ordinator for the Chinese girls also helps with conversation practice for girls learning Mandarin.

Full time careers adviser. Career profiling starts at the top of the prep school with conversations about work and university, year 9 have a ‘take your daughters to work’ day and all year 11 have to do work experience - the careers department has a good network of contacts both locally and through the GDST. The school holds ‘ask the expert lunches’ and an annual careers fair as well as networking and speaking competitions through the Trust. Girls are well prepared for Oxbridge and parents and alumnae help with interview practice.

The school is very proud that a Portsmouth High School Girl won the GDST Minerva prize for all round achievement in 2019 and is now heading for Oxford.

Games, options, the arts

Sport compulsory all the way through. The school has its own large sports hall with a climbing wall and netball courts on site. They also have access to the sports facilities at HMS Temeraire naval base which include a swimming pool, squash courts and two gyms, part own some of the university facilities and play rounders on the nearby common. Although some girls compete at a high level, ‘the school is not the strongest at sport because of its size, but it is very inclusive and participation is the key,’ said a parent. Lots of lunchtime and after-school clubs and girls can compete in local matches and GDST rallies in a huge range of sports. Trampolining is one of the most popular clubs. Hockey and netball are the main sports and girls also play football and have a rugby team. Biennial overseas sports tours, recently to Barbados and Gibraltar.

About 40 per cent learn at least one musical instrument and half of these achieve grade 6 and above. Busy senior and junior choirs, orchestra, rock group, wind band and ensembles as well as workshops with visiting musicians, and girls audition for roles in the Portsmouth schools music festival. Strong links with the cathedral, which is one of only a few in the country which has a girls’ choir. Music tour every 18 months to eg New York and Amsterdam. Wood-panelled music department with individual practice rooms. Music taught to GCSE and A level.

Vibrant drama department with a studio linked to the main hall. Whole school musical every other year – ‘everyone gets involved either behind the scenes or on the stage,’ said a parent. Annual year 7-9 performance and there are regular house plays. The school takes a play to the Edinburgh Fringe every three years, recently the Penelopiad and Antigone. Drama and theatre studies offered at GCSE and A level.

Art displayed all over the school, with some fine pieces adorning the head’s office. The art department is housed in the light-filled atrium at the top of the school, open to all outside lesson times, and offers textiles, ceramics and painting. Very enthusiastic DT teacher with well-equipped room which includes a laser cutter, 3D printer and a computer controlled cutting machine. Despite the wonderful facilities there is not a huge take up - DT club is popular but only two or three take it at A level and about 12 to GCSE. ‘It offers a nice balance to our more academic subjects,’ said our guide.

Wide range of lunchtime and after-school clubs include film, drama, sports and music - year 7s have to do three and ‘there are almost too many to choose from,’ said a parent. ‘It is a good way of making new friends and learning something new,’ said a pupil and 'the school is brilliant at finding out what the girls are good at,’ said a parent.

Most do bronze DofE, with about 25 doing silver and about 12-15 gold. Trips all over the world include the battlefields and Auschwitz, and a biennial group visit to South Africa to work in a school.

Background and atmosphere

Founded in 1882 by The Girls Public Day School Trust (now the GDST). It moved to its current purpose-built site in a leafy residential area of Southsea in 1885. It is on a fairly compact site but everywhere is immaculate and we were amused by the ceramic sheep grazing in the flower beds.

The GDST is a very supportive club. Year 12s spend a day with girls from other GDST schools learning to network and exchanging ideas. There are GDST-wide sporting competitions, STEM days and resilience projects plus the alumnae network. Portsmouth is the smallest school in the Trust and parents love the combination of the warm family atmosphere but with the benefits and support of the wider GDST. They love the ‘give it a go’ attitude and inclusive approach, which means everyone has to take part even if they are not that good at something.

All have to wear the school uniform of maroon blazer and striped skirts until the sixth form who have to dress as if they were going to the office – including dress down Friday. The school has a governing board made up of local people which roots it in the community, as well as a governor based in Singapore.

Numerous opportunities for leadership including form captains, house captains, head girl and three deputies and sixth form prefects and peer support. Volunteering includes collecting food for local food banks and teaching primary school children on Saturday morning courses.

Sixth formers have to take part in the Athene programme which teaches useful life skills like driver awareness, money matters, cookery and interview and presentations skills. They are encouraged to start societies, which give experience in public speaking skills and managing projects.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

‘The pastoral care is faultless,' said a parent, and teachers know every girl in the school, who their friends are and whether they have problems at home. The SLT 'works together to make sure no-one falls through the cracks’. Full-time welfare officer as well as tutors and peer supporters, and the headmistress meets all year 9s and 11s to make sure they know who to turn to if they are in difficulty. Girls tend to be ambitious, creating a degree of anxiety which is exacerbated by social media. The school has recently won an award for its Cyber Ambassador Scheme, with girls acting as peer advisers on the appropriate use of social media, and has become a centre to train pupils from elsewhere about online security.

Girls are taught to think on their feet and to recognise that they don’t have to be perfect. Regular dialogues with parents and pupils about homework stress. Girls are encouraged to spend time sitting and chatting with friends as well as joining in activities. To stop cliques forming and limit fallings out, teachers organise class seating arrangements and move groups around regularly.

Few school rules. Phones allowed, but not in class.

Pupils and parents

The majority lives in Southsea or Portsmouth but others come from as far afield as Chichester and Petersfield and are ferried to school on a fleet of minibuses emblazoned with the GSDT logo ‘Where girls do better’. Some come over on the hovercraft from the Isle of Wight. A few Chinese pupils join the sixth form, staying with local families.

Many parents are professional businesspeople and there is always a contingent of British and US naval families as well as international families working for BMW and Rolls Royce. Most are dual income - some very wealthy and others on bursaries - but all tend to be very involved with their daughters’ education. The parent forum gives parent reps the chance to exchange ideas and the active PTA has raised £7,000 towards extras for the school including an outdoor classroom. Social events include a drinks evening for all new parents. They organise events for parents to meet each other and the school invites all new parents to a drinks evening. Good communication - parents say they even get a text if a bus is running late.

When we asked what are the typical characteristics of a girl from Portsmouth HIgh, we were told that they are ‘resilient, want to get the most out of life and take and make opportunities for themselves’. ‘All GDST girls share a certain personality – they are good communicators, polite, confident and have a strong team spirit.'
.
Alumnae include: Labour MP, Meg Hillier; chief executive of Marie Curie Cancer Care, Jane Collins; Olympic swimmer, Gemma Spofforth; professor of medieval archaeology, Nancy Edwards and sailor, Samantha Davies.

Entrance

Selective for average ability and above. Most join in year 7, with other entry points into year 9 and the sixth form. Entrance tests in maths and English and an activities afternoon or shadow day plus a reference from the girl’s current school. About 40 per cent come from the prep school and this is an almost seamless transition. Others from local prep schools such as Oakwood School and state primaries.

Up to 10 girls join the sixth form; they must have at least seven GCSEs at 9-7.

Exit

About 25 per cent leave after GCSEs – mainly to Peter Symmonds sixth form college in Winchester. About 70 per cent of those doing A levels go to Russell Group universities. Some go to university in Europe but none so far to the USA. The GDST is working on developing awareness of degree level apprenticeships, especially in the City.

Money matters

Fees lower than for most similar schools and offers means-tested bursaries of up to 100 per cent. Academic, music, drama and sports scholarships. Means-tested 100 per cent scholarships for sixth formers joining from state schools.

Our view

Good value for money and with all the benefits of being part of the GDST family. It produces well balanced, motivated and ambitious girls who feel ready to compete with boys on equal terms.

Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

We have a small number of girls throughout the school who have Special Education Needs (primarily Dyslexia). We have a dedicated Learning Support Teacher who is able to assess pupils' needs and provide the appropriate support.

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