One of the country’s top private all-girls’ schools, this West London day school has a strong track record of sending its students to Oxbridge, teaching self-developed alternatives to some GCSE courses, and offering a broader range of study than A Levels can offer alone.
Nearly half the girls, known affectionately as Paulinas, get Oxbridge offers every year, and the school is a top ranking school for both GCSE and A Level grades. Girls need to be bright and hard-working to thrive here (and to pass the entrance exam in the first place), but its very studious environment is balanced with a fair degree of liberalism. There’s no uniform here, so you’ll find most students wearing jeans and hoodies.
“We believe that true potential can only be unlocked when given the freedom to grow. Our rules are few and relationships are relaxed, yet respectful.”
SPGS has a strong pastoral programme that feeds into its curriculum. There’s a large wellbeing team including a child and adolescent therapist, a qualified clinical supervisor, a wellbeing coach, and an art therapist. The school takes an active interest in current wellbeing issues; most recently it contributed to a study run by King’s College London on mobile phone usage and mental health in 16 to 18-year-olds. And there’s a wide forum for discussing issues ranging from mental health to racism in tutorials, assemblies and PSHE lessons.
Whether coming from one of the many private or state primary schools in the area, students are quickly made to feel ‘at home’ at SPGS; there’s a day of outdoor bonding art an adventure centre in their first term, and every new student has a ‘middle sister’ and ‘big sister’ in the upper school.
Alumni includes Victoria Coren Mitchell, Imogen Stubbs, Rachel Weisz and Harriet Harman.
High Mistress Sarah Fletcher joined the school in 2017. Having graduated from New College, Oxford with a First in History Mrs Fletcher started her teaching career at Wycombe Abbey; her first Headship was at Kingston Grammar School, a co-educational independent day school and, in 2014, she became Head of City of London School, an independent boys’ day school.
Mrs Fletcher is an advocate of changing GCSEs in their current form. Speaking to TES in 2020, Mrs Fletcher said:
“As a fundamental, we should look to something more akin to a baccalaureate-style assessment at KS5 and pst-qualification application (PQA) to study beyond school, to remove the need for high-stakes testing at 16+.
“A new approach could take on much simpler measurements, perhaps pass, merit and distinction, with the opportunity to try again and learn from your mistakes. It suggests a portfolio of achievement across your school career rather than one big bang exam at the end.”
SPGS’ last full inspection by the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) was in 2019; inspectors rated the school Excellent in all areas.
For the first three years, all pupils study a broad range of subjects including English, mathematics, history, geography, Latin, religious studies, art and design, drama, music, the sciences, a Languages Discovery course involving linguistics, and taster courses in German, Mandarin and Russian, followed by choosing two modern foreign languages from a choice of six, and ICT.
There’s a broad range of GCSE options including art and design, classical Greek, French, geography, German, history, Latin, Mandarin, music, religious studies, Russian and Spanish; girls must choose a creative subject (art, drama, engineering or music) as one of their GCSE subjects.
The school has developed several internal courses, which are internally marked and externally moderated, in art, art history, drama and music that students can take instead of or alongside GCSE subjects. For example, the school offers its own visual arts course as an alternative to GCSE art (this is taken by around half of the year group every year), and in this course girls work towards curating art for a large exhibition rather than for a GCSE exam.
In the Sixth Form, all students study four A Level subjects in the first year (VII) from a choice of 24 different options, and most students then narrow this down to three in their second year. In VII, the curriculum is enhanced with the St Paul’s Programme, which offers 39 different non-examined academic electives in topics as varied as anthropology, ‘Truth, Fake News and Objectivity’, fashion and sustainability, first aid, the history of Shogunate Japan, codebreaking and music and nationhood.
Students also spend a term developing creative, practical problem solving skills and another term working on a Senior Scholarship project. It all adds up to a busy but very well-rounded year that can offer excellent preparation for university and the world of work – and is ideal for those who want a broader range of study than A Levels can offer alone.
Other highlights of the Sixth Form include a Friday lecture series designed to get girls to “think about life in a new way”.
All-girls' schools are taking extra steps to close the STEM gender gap – and SPGS is no different. Science Week is a huge event at St Paul’s and features talks from visiting scientists, special science assemblies and even a mobile inflatable planetarium; you can expect to find students making a giant DNA model out of jelly babies, ice cream with dry ice, or dissecting a snake. The school has superb facilities for science, computer science and creative technology. And it is offering elective courses for Sixth Formers in fields such as AI, algo-raves and sound programming, and mechatronics for robotics.
SPGS has a thriving arts department; there are weekly life class sessions and meetings of History of Art Society, Junior Art Club and Gallery Society, competitions in film-making, an annual Artist-in-Residence programme and overseas trips that take students from an artist’s studio in Berlin to a film-making course in New York. It’s one of the few schools in the country to teach art history up to A Level and it offers a course in drama and theatre studies that goes beyond the remit of GCSE drama. There are also multiple opportunities for students of all ages to get involved in shows, whether in the school’s impressive Celia Johnson Theatre or in the drama studio.
It’s a school with a rich history in music – music lessons still take place in the room where Holst composed The Planets for example – and it has invested in modern facilities including a Singing Hall and professional recording studio to continue the tradition.
There’s a sport for all ethos at the school, and the main sports taught here are lacrosse, netball, swimming, athletics and rounders. Facilities include a sports hall equipped for badminton, basketball, gymnastics, football, netball, volleyball, tennis and trampolining; multi-gym and fitness studio; 25m, six-lane indoor competition swimming pool; and athletics centre. Students use nearby boating facilities for rowing.
Extra–curricular activities are an integral part of a SPGS education, and cover all aspects of sport, the arts, service to the community and academic enrichment. There’s also a very varied list of societies ranging from Improv Club to Dissection Society, from Junior Feminist Society to Gardening Club, and the majority of these are run by senor students. The message here seems to be – get involved, follow your passions and learn something new.
Students can also broaden their cultural horizons on several school trips locally and overseas.
In 2020, all exams were cancelled due to Covid-19 but grades were still awarded. For GCSEs, 86% of exams were graded 9 and 98% were an 8 or 9. In A Levels, 64.6% of entries were A*, 92.4% were A*-A grade, and 98.4% were a B grade or higher. In 2019, 99% were graded 9-7 at GCSE and 85% at A*-A at A Level and Pre-U.
The school had 43 Oxbridge offers in 2020 (around half the cohort), and other students went to universities including Durham, Edinburgh, UCL, St Andrews and Imperial; there’s also a significant number going to universities in the US.
SPGS is located in a leafy residential street in Hammersmith, London.
In 2018, the school completed a new sports pavilion and the Garden Building, and there are plans to build a Centre for Design and Innovation. Its impressive, modern facilities include 12 specialist teaching laboratories; a well-equipped makerspace with several 3D printers, one of which prints in clay; specialised studios for sculpture, printmaking, ceramics, painting and drawing, digital art and new media, and a darkroom; two dedicated computer rooms; and a VR studio.
SPGS is a selective school and the admissions process for entry at 11+ and 16+ involves a tough entrance exam and interview.
Annual tuition fees are £27,831.
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