Founded in 1850, this all-girls day school for students aged four through to 18 years is consistently ranked in the top five UK schools for both GCSE and IB results (and it’s top of the pile for A Levels too). Unashamedly ambitious for its students, NLCS prides itself on its academic ability and has a reputation for bringing STEAM subjects to the fore in a high achieving all-female environment.
The first-ever day girls’ schools, NLCS is now one of around 230 in the UK. Divided into the Junior School (Reception to Year 6) and the Senior School and Sixth Form (Years 7-13), NLCS teaches around 1,000 students on a single campus. There are no boarding facilities.
NLCS is led by headmistress Sarah Clark, who has worked almost exclusively in all-girls’ schools. She talks about schools being a “people business” and wanting to “enthuse girls’ love of learning and teach them to take responsibility of their thoughts and actions”. One of her aims is to raise the profile of STEAM subjects amongst girls – and since joining NLCS in 2017, Clark has seen its STEAM programme go from strength to strength.
The school was rated excellent in its 2019 ISI inspection; students were found to have “extremely positive attitudes to learning” and “achieve exceptional results in external examinations”.
An education at NLCS is based on features of the National Curriculum for England and the IB programme up to 16 years; students then take their GCSEs followed by a choice of A Levels or the IB Diploma Programme in Years 12 - 13. With its highly ambitious academic ethos, parents may feel that their child will needs extra tuition to ‘keep up’ or simply to pass the tough admissions process – but NLCS seeks to dispel this.
“We are looking for potential. It is not necessary to tutor your child either to secure a place at the school, or to keep up once they are here.”
Instead, the school offers students academic support throughout the years; in the Lower School for example, girls have one-to-one PAT (personal appointment time) with their teachers to discuss their strengths and challenges, and you’ll often see senior students mentoring the younger girls.
It’s a rigorous curriculum though that covers English and maths alongside the three sciences up to GCSE, history, geography, social studies, art and design, music, drama, PE, and computer science (from Year 7). Specialist subject teaching is introduced in Year 5, which includes four modern languages (including French, Spanish, German and Mandarin), and Latin as well as chess. There could be two reasons for the school making this compulsory; a US study found that learning chess improves reading test scores and reading performance in primary schools, and teaching more girls the game may help to overcome the gender gap that exists.
NLCS’ language department is extensive; girls here have the opportunity to learn six modern languages during their time at the school including French, Spanish, German, Russian, Mandarin and Italian. Latin is studied by all girls in Years 7 - 9, and is then offered at GCSE, and Italian, Russian, and Classical Greek are all available as GCSE courses from Year 10. There’s a long list of linguistic achievements and highlights ranging from the annual Greek-themed dinner for Classics students to success in national Latin reading competitions.
The school delivers a progressive curriculum, which is constantly adapting to the times. From 2020, NLCS students who take history GCSE will study a groundbreaking unit about black history in Britain, particularly the history of immigration, which only a small percentage of schools currently offer. And one of NLCS’ standout features in its curriculum is its teaching of STEAM subjects.
As mentioned before, the school is actively motivating young women to pursue STEAM careers. In 2020, the school introduced engineering and technology as a subject, and there are some exciting plans for an IDEAS Hub, due for completion in 2023, which will include engineering, design & technology and extended art facilities. STEAM has taken centre stage at NLCS for quite some time; there is a dedicated STEAM website featuring student work and podcasts; regular entries into international competitions such as F1 in Schools to build the fastest car (which they won in 2020); and lessons in developing computer games or building and programming robots.
As NLCS says, it has come “a long way from a department of bookends, CD covers and chair making”. Instead, its design and technology department is a hub for projects such as Mars landers, wind turbines, pneumatic grabs and robotic programming. And with facilities including 3D printers, a laser cutter, workshop equipment and a computer suite, as well as a new head of engineering and technology, the school’s commitment to closing the gap when it comes to women in STEAM-related degrees and careers is outstanding.
In the senior school students work towards their GCSE exams, and in sixth form NLCS offers girls the choice of A Levels or the IB Diploma Programme (IBDP). There’s a list of around 24 A Level subjects, with maths, sciences, English and economics being the most popular; in 2016 – 17, almost 60% of students in the Sixth Form were studying at least one science subject. Around 25% of the sixth form take the IB.
Although NLCS may capture headlines for its academic rather than its sporting achievements, there is an emphasis on sporting life for all here. There are A to E squads in sports as varied as netball, lacrosse, swimming, cross country, badminton, gymnastics, dance, athletics, tennis and fencing. For those who prefer non-competitive sport, there are classes such as Zumba, Pilates, kickboxing, self-defence, and lifeguarding on offer.
While PE is not a GCSE or A Level option here, there is plenty of encouragement for the school’s top athletes. The school recently introduced an Elite Athlete Mentoring Programme (EAMP) to support the school’s top athletes, which includes coaching from the Saracens and Wray Foundation. And there are on-site facilities including four lacrosse pitches, an Astroturf pitch and netball courts; students also have the use of the privately-run Canons Sports Centre, which is located within the grounds of the campus and has an indoor swimming pool, climbing wall, dance studios, fitness gym and tennis courts.
There are also plenty of opportunities for the arts to take centre stage, either in the school’s 35-seat Performing Arts Centre, in its two art galleries or off campus at events such as the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. In an effort to celebrate the girls’ “creative spirit”, the school makes it compulsory for all junior school students to take part in at least one production annually. They also have twice weekly music lessons, as well as a weekly choral lesson in the lower years.
Chamber music is particularly strong here, and the school was one of the founding members of the South East Schools’ Chamber Music Festival; other musical successes include singing in the National Youth Choirs and winning the National Chamber Music competition.
For artists, there is a dedicated 'Drawing School' with facilities for photography, computer aided design, printmaking, textile design and construction, welding, and ceramics as well as most two-dimensional media. Also, the school has proven it can make bold choices in drama; last year, for example, it became the first school in the UK to perform Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s feminist play Emilia.
The school’s academic focus is not at the expense of extra-curricular activities and, according to ISI inspectors, students are “encouraged to pursue their interests to the highest level”. There are more than 40 different after-school clubs, with an opportunity to try a different activity every day of the week; they include those with a sport or arts focus, as well as clubs such as debating and Lego robotics.
NLCS appears to have a very positive school spirit that results in a sense of wellbeing within its all-female community – and this largely stems from its strong pastoral programme. The ‘Big Six’ Year 12 head girl team welcome all Year 7 students to the Senior School; girls in the Senior School develop ‘big sister’ relationships with lower classes; girls from Year 5 upward are ‘coach pals’ to First School students on the same bus route; Year 6 can nominate to be a First School Playground Leaders, which is always very popular; and even girls as young as Year 2 girls act as ‘buddies’ for the new Reception girls.
These leadership roles are supported by annual events such as Kindness Week and a Mental Health and Wellbeing Conference (organised by students). There’s also a huge tradition of giving back to the school community here, whether that’s singing at a local home for the elderly or fundraising.
NLCS outperforms schools nationally and globally.
In 2020, 55% of A Level students achieved A* and Pre-U represents the strongest performance of a cohort of students at this level in the School’s history; in 2019, this result was 30% and over 70% achieved A* - A.
In the same year, 96% of all grades awarded at GCSE were at A* or equivalent (Grades 9/8); in 2019, 66% were awarded Grade 9 and 89% received Grades 9/8.
NLCS is ranked number one in the UK for its IB Diploma Programme results, and its average score has never fallen below 40 points. In the 2020 IB, the school’s average score was over 41 points; in 2019, it was 41.
In 2020, 30 students took up places at Oxford and Cambridge universities, and Ivy League universities or equivalents (University of Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Stanford and UCLA). The majority of girls go onto a UK university, with the most popular subjects studied being medicine, followed by English, liberal arts and geography. Every student is allocated an individual Academic Subject Mentor during the university admissions process.
NLCS has a beautiful site with leafy green, 30-acre campus. It has the atmosphere of a more rural boarding school in the Home Counties, but with all the benefits of being just minutes away from the London Underground. There’s an 18th Century country house at the heart of the campus surrounded by more modern buildings and sporting facilities; it’s certainly impressive.
The Junior School shares the same campus and some facilities of the main school but has its own dedicated teaching space including science labs, ICT suite, playground and a library. Students in the Sixth Form have their own facilities including common room, library and study areas.
NLCS is a selective school, and all students are tested prior to being offered a place. Girls at 11+ will take an Entrance Exam consisting of written papers in English and Maths and may be invited for an interview. The school hopes to attract girls not just with ”academic potential,” but who will “contribute positively to school life through their motivation, intellectual curiosity and willingness to try new things”.
Music scholarships are awarded at 11+ and at 16+. Bursaries worth up to 100% of fees are available, and there are currently 77 NLCS students receiving financial support in the form of a bursary.
Annual tuition fees are £17,262 in the Junior School, and £20,340 in the Senior School.
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