Interview: Jane Prescott, headmistress of Portsmouth High School

Portsmouth High School’s headmistress Jane Prescott embarks upon a new challenge this year with the Girls’ Schools Association

Jane Prescott is headmistress of Portsmouth High School and president 2020 of the Girls’ Schools Association (GSA).


Q. Congratulations on becoming the GSA’s president for 2020. What do you hope to achieve?

I’m keen to highlight and encourage schools to talk about how we can best prepare young people for an increasingly globally connected and globally aware world, whether that’s through drawing attention to some of the great environmental projects some schools are running in their local communities, by sharing best practice in international collaborations, exploring global connectivity in the classroom and in careers, or indeed by developing the work many GSA schools have already begun in partnership with state schools to train more modern language teachers.

Q. What inspired you to work in education?

My father was a teacher and other family members were in the profession. I cannot remember a time when I didn’t want to be a teacher. 

Q. What are the best things about being a headmistress and the biggest challenges?

The variety of each day and the chance to meet pupils outside of a classroom environment are amongst the best aspects of being a headmistress. The biggest challenge is having enough time to do everything that I want to achieve. I still teach a little bit but it becomes increasingly difficult as there are demands on my time which makes it unfair on the class if I am absent.

portsmouth high school
Outdoor learning at Portsmouth High School

Q. What issue in education are you most passionate about?

I am passionate about education as a whole and believe it is not just about passing examinations or preparing students to do well in assessments. School should offer an environment that is truly holistic, where pupils are given a chance to excel in an area that interests them. Furthermore, to enable pupils to achieve of their best and enjoy school should be the driver.

Q. Which myth about independent schools do you most want put right?

‘All independent schools are full of children from affluent backgrounds with no sense of the real world’ – this could not be further from the truth.

Q. What was your favourite subject at school?

Geography, although I enjoyed all subjects except art, where my lack of talent was cruelly obvious. I always veered towards the sciences and mathematics. Geography is an ‘umbrella’ subject that covers many topics and it’s that multi-faceted nature that makes it a subject that so many students enjoy.

Portsmouth High School
Sixth form science at Portsmouth High School

Q. What is your favourite book?

I have so many books that I would call favourites although their significance does change with time. I remember, from school, enjoying King Solomon’s Mines by Rider Haggard and I like anything with mystery and intrigue. Currently I am reading Educated by Tara Westover which is a page-turner, and I enjoyed Tim Marshall’s Divided. My favourite fiction author is Harlan Coben. 

Q. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I play golf but find it the most frustrating sport; as a former hockey player, I attack the ball which means it often goes a long way but in totally the wrong direction. I spend too much time looking for lost balls. I am fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the country and I enjoy walking and exploring the south coast.

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

After leaving university, I served a short service commission in the army, so I’d possibly be in a uniformed service of some sort if I wasn’t in education. I didn’t consider anything other than being a teacher and so I’ve never seriously considered anything else. As a teacher you get to spend time helping develop young people into interested and interesting adults – it’s a fabulous career.


You might also like: Interview with Emma Russo, South Hampstead High School’s director of STEM

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