The Portsmouth Grammar School, Portsmouth
A historic through-school in the heart of the city, Portsmouth Grammar School’s individualised approach nurtures high-achievers
The Portsmouth Grammar School (PGS) is an independent co-ed school in the heart of Old Portsmouth, dating back to 1732 when William Smith, a Mayor of Portsmouth and garrison physician, willed his estate to Oxford college Christ Church with instructions to build a school. A true historic Portsmouth institution, PGS moved to its current vast site, the former Cambridge Barracks military building, in 1925, where it’s been for almost 100 years.
Through its iconic archway entrance and separate Upper Junior School building just across the road, 1274 pupils from nursery to Sixth form (2 ½ – 18 years) are educated in a huge campus of courtyards and characterful old buildings blended with bright, ultra-modern new extensions like the Science thing (above) you can’t fail to be impressed by.
Where to start? Standout features include a mindboggling number of libraries – SIX! No wonder PGS has its own archivist. There’s a 300-seater theatre, design technology workshops equipped with six 3D printers and an industrial-standard laser cutter. There’s also a new Learning Support Hub with quiet spaces and bean bag seating. Oh, and a 100-seater lecture theatre used, among other purposes, to host an inter-school science club.
Outdoor sports are played at the 17.5-acre Hilsea Playing Fields four-miles north of the campus, where there are four rugby pitches, an astroturf pitch for hockey and tennis, five netball courts, seven tennis courts, two cricket squares and several rounders pitches. On campus, there’s a large sports hall with climbing wall, three squash courts, a dance and fitness studio and a small gym that’s earmarked for expansion.
PGS is a heavyweight in competitive sports, especially cricket, where it is a County finalist across all age groups. It also has top-flight rugby and hockey teams that compete against similarly high-ranking schools in the South of England and London. Recent achievements including reaching the last 16 of the NatWest Rugby U18s Cup and placing third in the National Hockey Championships. Other sports include badminton, gymnastics and netball and there’s a whole gamut of diverse, extra-curricular activities like tennis, taekwondo, beach running, World Championship sailing and ballet.
A small, tired but functional heated pool on the Upper Junior School site is used to teach the youngest children to swim, while older pupils are taken to the Mountbatten Centre in Hilsea, with an arrangement in place to use Portsmouth University’s brand new neighbouring Ravelin Sports Centre facility when it’s completed in 2021.
Lessons take place in the David Nott Music School, a separate onsite building with its own classrooms and bright, Rotunda performance space, with a lower than average 300 of 1,000 senior-age pupils opting to learn an instrument. The Music Department stages around 60 concerts a year, from lunchtime concerts to choral and orchestral events at Portsmouth Cathedral and other venues in Portsmouth, Winchester and London.
PGS is pretty vocal too: its Chamber Choir sings evensong at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford and there’s an annual musical held in the King’s Theatre. A partnership with the London Mozart Players and support from the Arts Council also helps run musical educational projects involving children and adults from throughout Portsmouth. Take-up for exams in 2020 was low but the results were excellent: 12 out of 16 GCSE pupils received an A* equivalent, and all six A’Level entrants got an A* or A.
ART + DRAMA
Drama is another PGS Department with its own dedicated building. Like the music department, only a relative few opt to take exams (2020 saw 17 A*- B GCSE grades and one A’ Level A* drama pupil) but teaching to professional standards and external input provide a real opportunity for kids that do to shine – and co-curricular opportunities for the rest. Beyond the curriculum, there’s an option for private Speech and Drama lessons leading towards LAMDA qualifications, well-subscribed extra-curricular drama clubs and a Stage Crew Club run by the School’s own Theatre Technician.
Art and Design covers the usual array of creative lessons for the younger years to more structured teaching in the light, airy senior school classrooms covering drawing, painting, printmaking, digital image manipulation, mixed media, sculpture, ceramics and installation. There’s also good selection of kit including the department’s colour LED banner printer, printing presses and ceramics kiln. In 2020, 22 of the 23 pupils that took art at GCSE got an A* or A-equivalent, while five A’Level pupils achieved four A and A* grades and one B.
The School’s ‘life at 25’ ethos encourages students to think about their future life goals and learn the appropriate skills to achieve them. This personalised approach heats up in the Sixth Form, with a programme of tailored coaching, leadership skills and co-curricular drama, music, sport and outdoor activities taught in a bright new Sixth Form block with its own library, study space and café (no, you can’t use it – naughty!). There’s also quite a few niche A’ Level options like Government and Politics, Latin, Electronics and Classical Civilisation. Around 90% of PGS Sixth Formers go on to university and others opt for degree apprenticeship schemes with the likes of Dyson, Rolls Royce and Unilever. In 2019, 4% of students went on to Oxbridge while the majority (67%) secured a place at Russell GroupPlus Universities.
Dr. Anne Cotton became the first female Head of PGS in 2018 and was previously Deputy Head at Magdalen College School, Oxford. She is very focused on academic achievement in combination with co-curricular activities and getting pupils involved in city-wide community projects, both virtual and in-person, all linked to the school’s ‘Life at 25’ personal development and life-skills ethos, which is all about getting pupils to think about themselves and the wider world. Looking forward, Cotton has plans to invest in projects to rejuvenate and develop the site but remains tight-lipped about the details while still in the planning phase.
When I visit, Reception and Juniors are busy taking part in The National Gallery’s Take One Picture art project, building Lego towers to represent New York skyscrapers as well as creating professional-looking art prints. Walking around the site, littlies are happily hula-hooping in the courtyard while an older group head outdoors excitedly wearing Knights bibs, complete with wooden swords. Preschoolers have their own building and there are outdoor play areas and outdoor play facilities like sandpits, outdoor wooden play equipment and tuff tuff trays, with plenty of visits to the beach and green spaces like Hilsea Sports Fields to explore and play games. Also worth noting, French is taught from Reception onwards.
Beyond the Combined Cadet Force (CCF), Duke of Edinburgh Award and usual array of arts and drama clubs, PGS also has a vast range of activities that go well beyond the scope of most schools – French Café cooking and language club, anyone? The historic city location lacks the leafy outdoor grounds found at schools elsewhere the county but likewise has easy access to the coast and 17.5-acre sports site, which PGS makes good use of.
A free breakfast club starts at 7.30am (meals are chargeable) before the playground opens at 8am for drop-off. After school, there are lots of school-run and external clubs including debate, Dragon’s Den, sports, karate, music, drama, cooking and construction. A dedicated after school club run by YMCA Fairthone and rated Outstanding by Ofsted is available for children aged 4-11 years attending PGS from 3.20pm – 6pm, charged at £9.50 per session.
FEES + SCHOLARSHIPS
Good value. Pre-school sessions cost from £20.10 for a three-hour morning or afternoon session up to £67 for an extended day (8am – 5.30pm). In the Junior School, reception up to Year 2 is £3,619 per term; Year 3 and Year 4 is £3,816 and Year 5 and Year 6 is £4,015. The Senior School and Sixth Form (Year 7 to Year 13) is £5,641 per term. Financial assistance is available to families through the PGS bursary programme in the Senior School, alongside scholarships in Art, Drama, Music and Sport.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Its record for high achievement across the board continues to give PGS a strong reputation in the county with fresh interest from a new set of parents arising following the 2020 pandemic. One Year 8 pupil I spoke with said she always had her heart set on joining the school. A year-and-a-half-in, she absolutely loves the huge range of clubs on offer, with business and entrepreneurship and debate firm favourites fuelling her aspiration to become a lawyer. She also said having a friendly form teacher really helped to ease the transition from a different local junior school to Year 7 at PGS.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
A complete through school, PGS is a good choice for parents of siblings in Portsmouth and the surrounding areas and offers a strong Senior School education for those coming from elsewhere.
Good for: Academically-minded kids can excel and develop non-academic skills and interests, with future arts and sports stars also getting their opportunity to shine
Not for: Parents looking for an idyllic leafy setting or, similarly, to drop and go: with no formal provision parking can be tricky, although there are free one-hour slots on the surrounding streets.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Hear from the Head and take a virtual look around PGS via its virtual open event microsite, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a tour or virtual meeting, subject to availability.
The Portsmouth Grammar School, High Street, Portsmouth, Hampshire PO1 2LN. Tel: 023 9236 0036. www.pgs.org.uk.