Outstanding facilities, inspiring leadership make and a spirit of fun that makes this school that stands out. It's also excellent for sport (particularly girls’ cricket).
The school is separated into a Junior School (Nursery to Year 6) and Senior School (Year 7-13) both sharing the same campus in Guildford. There are around 280 girls in the Junior school (two classes per year group) so it feels very much like a small school within a school, something contributing to the school's nurturing ethos.
All girls follow the ‘The GHS 8’, a set of values that are key to creating the very positive classroom culture that is felt across the school. It starts with Be Happy and ends with Becoming Responsible Citizens, and is embraced by a community of confident, hard-working girls. The message is that it’s cool to be clever and, as a school that celebrates talents across all parts of the curriculum, it is “the norm to be different”.
Founded in 1887, the school celebrates its heritage but is very much focused on the future, and there has been huge investment in modern facilities in recent years.
The school has a reputation for outstanding pastoral care. There’s a House Hub where students come together for various house activities and competitions, our favourite being the human Hungry Hippos game! There are popular wellbeing-boosting activities including walks, yoga, hot chocolate, silent discos, circus skills (and plenty of ice cream, we’re told). It’s easy to understand why the school has a culture of “laughter, learning and friendship”.
Headmistress Fiona Boulton describes the atmosphere at GHS as one of “relaxed excellence”, where fun is balanced with the more serious academic side. Unlike many UK independent schools where there’s timetabled Prep or homework time, GHS has a more relaxed approach to homework – certainly don’t expect to receive any homework in the holidays! (At least, not until Year 10...)
Mrs Boulton was appointed in 2002, having previously been the Deputy Head at GHS for five years, so she knows the school incredibly well, and is both very well-established and popular throughout the community.
Students are offered an excellent start to their education when joining the Junior school, which follows a broad curriculum largely taught by specialist teachers. Subject teachers deliver topics such as maths, science, art and music, and the girls are taught by senior schoolteachers for PE, religious studies, classics and languages; girls study at least four different languages throughout Junior school, including Mandarin, Spanish, French and German.
There’s an emphasis on practical learning with many timetabled workshops and school trips bringing learning to life; a recent biology lesson saw students handling a tarantula and hedgehog, for example. It means that girls are well-prepared to enjoy life next door in the Senior School (or another senior school) when they reach the end of Year 6.
In the Senior school, students study new subjects – current affairs, oracy and philosophy among them – that you won’t find on every secondary curriculum in the UK. Like other independent schools, GHS is free from the constraints of the national curriculum, and it does not let this opportunity go to waste. There’s also the addition of Greek at GCSE and psychology, politics and economics at A Level.
Students take nine or 10 GCSEs, and there’s the freedom to take any combination of subjects in addition to the core subjects, a language and at least one humanity. Girls who stay on for the Sixth Form (and most do) take three, sometimes four, A Levels as well as the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). What sets GHS apart from the rest here is its choice of subjects taken alongside A Levels; most girls will take an AS Level over two years, the Thinking Skills AS Level in one year, or a GCSE in ancient history, astronomy or Portuguese.
As well as focusing on academic excellence, girls are encouraged to be creative and collaborative in the Senior curriculum, whether entering an app-building competition or take part in competitions run by Dragons Den’s Peter Jones. It means that girls leave GHA not just with A-B grades (as many do) but with an entrepreneurial spirit and negotiating skills – increasingly being seen as necessary for the jobs of the future.
The school’s ethos of “excellence combined with full participation” is seen within its sports programme, which is both inclusive and high achieving. GHS was named Cricketer Magazine’s top girls’ school for cricket in 2021, the school has success at both county and national levels, and it has more than 20 students currently representing the UK for various sports including lacrosse, swimming and netball.
Sport and a healthy attitude towards fitness is seen as important; even in the Senior school girls continue to have four weekly PE lessons. They’re taught by specialist teachers and coaches who play their chosen sport outside of school
The main sports are netball, gym, dance, cricket, athletics, tag rugby, football and cross-country; swimming is taught from Year 2. There’s also a chance to try sports such as trampolining, triathlon and pop lacrosse.
Music is a huge part of GHS life. Weekly LAMDA lessons are popular, an incredible 95% of girls in the Junior school and 78% in the Senior school learn to play an instrument, and there are over 30 ensembles rehearsing and performing every week. The academic calendar is filled with Shakespeare plays, musicals and pantomimes (which is written and directed by Sixth Formers), and the school regularly performs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Students in different year groups and with shared interests are brought together through various extra-curricular and community activities. There’s a huge choice in both the Junior and Senior schools so that girls make progress in all areas – sport, music, drama, leadership and life skills. With over 90 different weekly clubs including fencing, yoga, classics, art and percussion, life is busy, interesting and never, ever boring.
Sixth Formers sign up for classes as varied as Western philosophy, ballroom dancing, car maintenance and fantasy share dealing in a General Studies programme that’s run with the Royal Grammar School for boys – a great initiative that brings together two single-sex schools. Many students also complete the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme.
GHS is an academically outstanding day school with some of the highest grades in the UK for both GCSE and A Level; it’s rated among the best schools in the UK by The Sunday Times.
In 2020, A level students achieved a 100% overall pass rate; 55% of grades were A* and 90% of grades were A*-A. In 2019, 43% of grades were A* and 80% of grades were A*-A.
In GCSEs, 71% of grades were 9 and 90% were 9-8; in 2019, 69% of grades were 9 and 88% were 9-8.
Every years, GHS students are offered places at many of the UK's top universities, and there are several Oxbridge offers. In 2020, 18 girls went onto Oxford or Cambridge and there are high numbers with places at Durham, Exeter and Warwick.
Facilities include a library with a current affairs and philosophy room, a performance hall with practice rooms, and a separate sixth form centre with a large common room and seminar-style classrooms. The school’s sports centre has a swimming-pool, indoor netball courts, lacrosse pitches, tennis courts and fitness suite.
GHS describes its admissions process as “relaxed, low-key and friendly”, much like its culture and ethos. Applicants sit an assessment in English and maths for the Junior School and an entrance exam for the Senior years. Junior students are offered a Senior school place without an additional entrance exam.
Annual fees range from £12,780 to £19,215.
Good for: This high achieving single sex school is ideal for those looking for an all-rounder school that puts kindness and pastoral care first. It's a caring and friendly school where girls can feel it's socially acceptable to be clever and work hard. There's not an exam factory environment here, and girls tend to leave with plenty of essential life skills as well as top grades. As a smaller school, there are many opportunities for girls to get all involved in all aspects of school life, without always have to be in the 'A team' for sport or the most musically talented in auditions.
Not for: As a single-sex school, parents who prefer a co-ed education may want to rule this school out but should consider that there are opportunities for the girls to mix with boys at RGS once they reach Sixth Form. Its town centre location will not appeal to families looking for a country school with acres of green grass, although they shouldn't dismiss the benefits of being so close to all the facilities within Guildford - and its proximity to London too.
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