Q&A: Ruth Irvine-Capel

Portsmouth High Prep School’s assistant head pastoral talks about supporting girls as individuals, and encouraging a love of reading

Having joined Portsmouth High Prep School in April, what has the experience been like so far?

I’ve had such a warm welcome from the girls, parents and staff. It has been lovely to join at the point when the school is readjusting to life post-lockdowns and preparing to return to our normal rounded offer.

What is the best and most challenging thing about being assistant head pastoral?

The best thing has definitely been the opportunity to build relationships across all areas of the school. Every day is different and varied, which is both exciting and challenging. Probably the thing which I’m working on the hardest is considering how best to support each girl in the best way for her as a unique individual.

What was it about Portsmouth High School that made you accept the job?

I’m an alumna of Oxford High School so returning to the GDST was appealing. I love the fact that we are so focused on girls learning without limits. It is exciting being in a school that is so clearly going places and growing every day.

What were your favourite subjects at school?

History and English, which was partly because I naturally lean towards the humanities, and partly because we had some inspirational teachers who were so passionate about their subjects.

What are you currently reading?

Summerwater by Sarah Moss, which, despite the impending sense of doom that the book revolves around, has renewed my desire to spend a holiday in Scotland. I’ve got a combination of Scottish and Viking genes which I think are drawing me back north! I’m just finishing a re-read of Why the Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo, which I am excited to be focusing our year 4 English lessons on during the coming months.

What issue in education are you most passionate about?

Teachers doing our own planning is so important. We need to know what works for our children (and indeed for our own styles of teaching) for learning to be truly gripping. There is no magic fix pedagogy or curriculum that works for everyone, and what works one year with one class will probably need changing for the following cohort. Trying out new ideas is much more exciting for us as professionals as well.

If you weren’t in education, what would you do instead?

You would struggle to get me out of the garden – I find there is always something new to learn, and being outside is the perfect place to reconnect with the world. Having just adopted two argumentative rescue hens, I think that could become addictive as well, and would certainly make use of my pastoral skills!

What is your best piece of leadership advice?

When my sister and I were growing up, my dad’s go-to advice was, “You can only do your best.” It is very true – we are human and there are limits to how much we can do alone, which is why we need to remember to make good use of the amazing resource that is our team.


After graduating in history at the University of Cambridge, Ruth went on to study for a PGCE and has taught in a wide range of schools in both the state and independent sectors, focusing on the younger primary years.

Follow Portsmouth High School on Twitter: @Portsmouthhigh

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