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Lives up to its strong academic reputation. Languages are strong and broad with excellent results. Continual assessment ‘takes the pressure off performance based assessment,’ reckon teaching staff, who also say it ‘avoids early grade pegging of students’. In practice, a refreshing avoidance of key stage exams. This is a city school so it doesn’t boast the green pitches of its country cousins. But despite the ‘logistical nightmare’ of transporting pupils to games lessons at Hilsea four miles away, sport is…

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Curricula

International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

Other features

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.

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since September 2018, Dr Anne Cotton (40s), previously deputy head at Magdalen College School, Oxford. A lauded academic, she was awarded a double first in classics from Christ Church, Oxford before completing her DPhil on Plato and publishing a book on his ideologies in 2014. All this while establishing herself at the forefront of a career in education, which has enabled her to marry up these two worlds through ‘combining Socratic commitments to intellectual enquiry and personal development with preparing pupils to thrive when they venture out into the world beyond school.’

Raised in London by medic parents – ‘I was brought up with a profound sense of the importance of involvement in and contribution to our community’ – which is ultimately what drew her out of academia and into teaching. Started her career at The Henry Box School in Witney leading the classics department, then moved to the Magdalen College School as head of lower school, then head of upper school, assistant head and ultimately deputy head, leaving a legacy of community and creative outreach as director of Oxford Festival of Arts.

An intellectual super achiever, fast talking, focussed and engaging, a fitting figurehead for a school that keeps its eyes firmly on academic excellence. It is, however, her drive to deliver a true sense of community which sets this school apart. ‘Academic results matter, they open doors, but a good education is all about discovering purpose, opening your eyes to where and how you can make a difference’.

Married to John, previously house master and assistant director of music at Abingdon School and now teaching music to pupils at PGS. They have two young children at the junior school. The family spends downtime sharing a love of music, visiting museums and galleries, as well as walking and exploring in the great outdoors.

Leaving in summer 2022.

Entrance

Selective. Junior school ability tests in maths, English, NVR, creative writing and an interview. ‘It’s all about attitude and potential not simply ability,’ says head of junior school. At year 7, half of places are internally filled, the rest from a mix of local schools. Papers in maths, English, NVR and an interview. Places (two applications per place) are offered ‘not simply on mechanical results’, confirmed by an observed taster day.

Sixth form conditional offers for external candidates via NVR, comprehension and interview, secured with minimum of six 6s (7s for chosen A levels) at GCSE.

Exit

Usually between three and six pupils leave at the end of year 6, usually due to finances or relocation. A handful leaves after GCSEs, mostly to sixth form colleges. Post A level, 90 per cent to university (70 per cent to Russell Group), 10-15 per cent taking a gap year first. In 2020, nine to Oxbridge (languages accounting for half) and 11 medics. Exeter, Manchester, Bath and Bristol all popular. Degree apprenticeships include Dyson, Rolls Royce and BAE Systems. Two to three students annually into the armed forces.

Latest results

In 2020, 70 per cent 9-7 at GCSE: 60 per cent A*/A at A level (84 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 60 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 45 per cent A*/A at A level (73 A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Lives up to its strong academic reputation. ‘Everyone works hard here, and we all support each other continually in our study – we genuinely thrive off the thrill of learning,’ enthused a sixth former. Parents say it ‘can be pushy but only when they genuinely believe the pupil has more to give. This school is not going to force you to get your results but if you want strong A levels and GCSEs you absolutely can attain them here.’ Pupils were engaged and studious during our visit, quietly discussing answers to teacher questions in small groups, eloquent in their class contributions and supportive of each other’s responses.

Setting in maths (based on speed of learning) and science (depending on whether students are taking double or triple). We were impressed by the bespoke greenhouse built into an external wall of the science block, where one pupil enthused, ‘The climate can be set to any region of the world and the plants of that area are then grown here for us to experience and experiment with, it is such fun!’

Languages are strong and broad with excellent results; all take at least one for GCSE. The department is revered for its trips and we also liked the hi-tech interactive suite where pupils can watch MFL films or chat via gaming style headsets. ‘The teacher can listen in so we can’t chat away in English! It’s great, it takes the embarrassment out of talking face to face when you first start speaking another language,’ said a student.

Continual assessment ‘takes the pressure off performance based assessment,’ reckon teaching staff, who also say it ‘avoids early grade pegging of students’. In practice, a refreshing avoidance of key stage exams. All sit advanced GCSE papers.

According to parents, the ‘hugely committed’ teachers are ‘awesome, utterly engaged, inspirational and spot on’. All are encouraged to constantly re-think and re-evaluate, ‘not simply how we teach but what we teach and why’. Junior school linguistics department recently introduced to ‘start making connections across languages’ and a new sixth form enrichment curriculum is fading out IB in favour of PGS Extend to mirror the IB’s co-curricular and broad subject approach ‘leaving students more rounded academically’. Recent final projects range from a study of ‘our changing perception of death and aging’ to exploring whether we can research space from the back garden. Pupils have the chance to expand these into the full EPQ.

Super-curricular offerings are an important part of PGS under a whole school focus on ‘what do you want to be doing at 25’, expanding the curriculum to offer real world context, inspiring future study and career paths. PGS Ignite also delves beyond the curriculum for senior pupil - from investigating medicinal chemistry to creating sustainability options for a school in Uganda, pupils are inspired to enhance their community, be that the school or the planet. ‘Our pupils leave here grounded, diverse and engaged in a positive way – they really want to make a fundamental difference’.

No setting in junior school, although the three small classes of each year group are mixed up every year to ensure social dexterity and a broad academic mix. Here, termly topics ‘bring learning alive and show what this learning can achieve.’ The approach has seen a space agency visitor drive a Mars Rover across the classroom; a teacher being publicly taught to professionally beat box (to the hilarity of his class) and outcomes such as Horrible Histories style pupil documentaries and the creation of a ‘real’ Titanic museum.

Learning support and SEN

New light and airy SEN unit ‘is a fantastic space to meet and talk if you need a bit of extra help’,’ according to a student. The six staff work across the whole school, with teachers and parents feeding through any minor concerns. The team is quick to help diagnose or work with a clinical diagnosis, we heard. Dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD, ADHD and ASD all catered for through a tiered level of support including one-to-ones, small group classes and short courses. ‘Those with additional needs are supported brilliantly here and teachers are incredibly understanding and supportive,’ praised one parent. Another proudly spoke of his severely dyslexic child who had been taught to embrace and accept their learning difficulties by PGS staff and who is now heading to Oxford.

The arts and extracurricular

Big on co-curricular. ‘The essential off-setting of the academic rigour,’ reckoned one teacher. For some parents, it’s the deciding factor. ‘This is not just a one dimensional, academically excellent, Oxbridge attaining school – the co-curricular offering is so brilliant at PGS and has provided all of my children with the ability to find their passion, be it in music, sport or drama,’ said one.

Lots of singing. PGS is the chorister school for Portsmouth Cathedral and has a close relationship with the cathedral. Choir opportunities abound, including Changing Voices Choir for boys going through puberty to Male Voices Choir for those out the other side. We liked the sound of the Parent Community Choir too. For instrumental lessons, there are 31 instruments to pick from, with ensembles including three brass bands, string scheme, wind band, five jazz bands and four rock bands. The wooden rotunda in the music building is an acoustic heaven for the numerous rehearsals, galas and concerts. School works in collaboration with the London Mozart Players to compose unique performance pieces. Bi-annual tours a highlight - ‘Performing in extraordinary locations is a key source of our musical inspiration’. Musicians from years 3 to 13 have performed in the Czech Republic, Barcelona and Switzerland.

Drama on curriculum, and LAMDA available, from years 7-9. Annual year group productions at the onsite Russell Theatre up to year 8. Whole school autumn term show staged in professional city theatre venues offering technical, musical and performance roles. Auditions are competitive and ‘require perseverance’, says head of drama, but most ‘get there in the end’. During the pandemic, A Chorus Line was performed and filmed in the New Theatre Royal in Portsmouth, the online audience hit 4,000 views. For sixth formers, there is complete ownership of a production - writing, directing and managing rehearsals before touring it at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Drama students have a bi-annual trip to New York to attend theatrical workshops.

Range of mediums on offer in the art department. ‘We have had increasing numbers looking at textiles in their responses to GCSE and A level papers’. Various floors of studios are topped by a white, light filled atrium, where a class was sculpting sporting moments on our visit - impressive rugby players emerging from the lumps of clay. The junior school building holds art studios for the younger pupils. The school hosts the 20-year-old Ports Fest, 10 days of cultural and artistic events, and the whole site is permanently adorned with impressive student creations.

Outdoor pursuits are plentiful. Strong CCF, DofE and John Muir award schemes, entries to the Ten Tors contest and overseas expeditions. Teachers told us they are building on the current beach trips and gardening activities in the junior school.

Sport

This is a city school so it doesn’t boast the green pitches of its country cousins. But despite the ‘logistical nightmare’ of transporting pupils to games lessons at Hilsea four miles away, sport is top notch. Onsite sports hall, and other facilities include HMS Temeraire pitches, athletics facilities at the Mountbatten Centre and tennis in the Portsmouth Tennis Dome.

Key focus is on the traditional six sports of rugby, hockey, netball, tennis, cricket and athletics with A, B and C teams playing regularly in all, team places secured through attending after-school training. ‘All of those who want to get the chance to represent their school’. Average of 30-40 fixtures per week and teams perform well against eg Bryanston, Canford, Millfield and Brighton College. School recently reached third place in the boys’ National Hockey Championship and placement in the last 16 of the NatWest Rugby U18s cup.
Over 50 sports clubs including squash, rounders, badminton, versatility training, climbing (vast onsite climbing wall) and sailing. Tours to South Africa with rugby and netball, Holland with hockey, India with cricket and numerous ski trips.

Sixth form leavers’ events include the infamous netball match between the 1st VII netball girls and the 1st XV rugby boys; to the chorus of music, laughter and huge excitement the girls were thrashing the boys on our visit, a real joy to see.

Ethos and heritage

Austere though the old barrack buildings look from the outside, the vast central quad is softened by archways of welcome shady wisteria with hanging lanterns that light up on winter’s evenings. The quad’s versatility as a play and learning hub was evident throughout our visit as we dodged break-time footballs, remarked on outdoor science experiments and observed quiet tutor meetings at various times. Splendid old buildings mingle with the modern - a fabulous sense of history pervades, with a full-time archivist on the staff. Senior school is a rabbit warren - ‘Even my tutor got lost on my first day here, whilst trying to help me navigate the school,’ laughed a sixth former. The sixth form centre is the glassy jewel in the crown, with sixth formers enjoying their own café and library.

Nursery housed in a separate building onsite. Junior school split across two sites, one off the main quad where two playgrounds provide adventure climbing frames and a ‘hobbit house’ and the other – much to sadness of the year 5 and 6 pupils –across the road. ‘We literally have a concrete square to play in with no fun climbing equipment at all,’ said one pupil, though school assured us that there are storage units full of play equipment available for use. This original building hosts a small swimming pool, food tech labs and a well-equipped science lab. ‘We’re even allowed our own gas taps so we can light Bunsen burners’. Pupils flow between the two sites with teacher chaperones.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

The school is revolutionising and driving change in this area. It feels progressive, with pupils not only well listened and responded to, but also at the heart of driving change. Recent Black Lives Matter campaigns galvanised the pupils to express their engagement to a ‘movement not a moment’ - chalking ‘thoughts’ on the quad. Understanding of and involvement in current affairs are actively encouraged, as is the instilled knowledge that pupils can be the catalysts for change. ‘Everything is discussed, they don’t hide from issues or shy away from exploring them as a school,’ remarked a parent. Mental wellbeing is at the forefront. The new health and wellbeing centre was described by a parent as ‘incredible, a font of impressive knowledge with a great access and attitude to counselling services, such a great support through puberty.’ In the junior school a visual ‘learning tree’ recognises and awards key attributes for good learners, developing into the senior school’s CORE programme, offering ‘adjectival statement-led assessment’; students earn awards for curiosity, compassion, courage, commitment, collaboration and creativity. ‘It’s a big school education delivered on a small school level,’ said one parent; another said, ‘All the staff have an open and utterly approachable attitude and I know that I can speak to any one of them with a concern at any time’. PGS Pride demonstrates ‘how to unambiguously celebrate difference,’ said another parent. The head of pupils’ wellbeing is an award winning consultant on diversity who refuses to shy away from life’s difficult discussions, and as a result the pupils are confident and eloquent campaigners.

Discipline ‘strict but effective’ with ‘a strong line set from day one at the senior school,’ according to a parent, with all appluading the no mobile phone rule introduced by current head.

Pupils and parents

Pupils come from far and wide, some on the Isle of Wight hovercraft, others using the proximity of the train station. Independence of travel encouraged. They are enthusiastic about their school, eloquent in their adult communication and openly warm and supportive of their peers including those different year groups. ‘This is the place to find your tribe, find your passions and thrive,’ said a parent. Parents are a broad mix of local families who want a ‘great education without the boarding’.

Parental gripes about being ‘inundated with confusing information’ have been answered with the launch of a brand-new parent portal, bringing into one place everything from grades to timetables. Tentatively getting to grips with it, parents hope it will ease the information mining.

Money matters

Well-funded and committed approach to means-tested bursaries, awarded to those with outstanding academic potential, up to 100 per cent of fees. Scholarships typically three to six per cent of fees, more significant awards made on a discretionary basis. Scholarships available at 11+, 13+ and 16+ entry in art, drama, music and sport.

The last word

A forward thinking, inspiring and academically successful school where pupils are constantly encouraged to focus on where their education will lead them, their ability to make a difference and the importance of positive contribution and dedication to their local and global communities.

Please note: 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

Parents are asked to inform the school at the time of entry of any additional educational needs. All members of the teaching staff are informed, by means of the school’s information management system, of pupils requiring support, the nature of support and possible strategies to help. Staff take account of this information in the classroom. The school endeavours to identify other pupils who may have a learning difficulty by screening all new entrants to the school in the autumn term or at time of entry. Referral by subject teachers of individual pupils to the Head of Learning Support may occur throughout the year. Pupils will be assessed in school for access arrangements while diagnostic assessments must be sought externally. Access arrangements are granted across the school according to the criteria specified by the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) Pupils may be referred for additional support either via teachers or parents. The Learning Support department has an open door policy and pupils may also self-refer. Pupils may be seen weekly on an individual or small group basis. The Portsmouth Grammar School provides outstanding pastoral support. This includes on-site counselling for pupils who may be experiencing social or emotional difficulties.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic Y
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
Hospital School
Mental health Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability Y
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability Y
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment

Who came from where


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