The Good Schools Guide Review of Alderley Edge School for Girls, Alderley Edge, SK9 7QE
Charming girls’ school just beyond the very southernmost outstretched fingertip of Manchester’s conurbation. A new vigour of academic purpose mingles with the strong Christian ethos that so celebrates and values each girl here, urging her on to be all that she can be.
Since 2009, Mrs Sue Goff MA (mid-fifties). Passionate, forthright and fast talking, the sort of thoroughly good egg any girls’ school would want on their team. Russian and French degree from Durham, where she rowed for the university, PGCE from Oxford, where she rowed for St Hilda’s College. Came from deputy headship of Woldingham (qv, RC, boarding), and before that head of languages at Sevenoaks School (qv), to what she describes as ‘the ideal school for me, all girls with a church foundation’.
Catholic herself, ‘It’s hugely important to me - I don’t ram it down people’s throats, but it’s what made me who I am’, and talks of developing the good in each girl, thinking of each as ‘God’s creation’. Parents say, ‘She exudes a warmth, yet she’s quite a toughie.’ Has three grown daughters (and a grand-daughter) and, as part of school’s ‘joint partnership with home’, encourages parents to keep in touch, email and drop in. Tissues on the side in her study bear witness to her listening ear, but she’s also not afraid to nudge parents ‘with the greatest respect’ towards strong parenting themselves. Anti, for example, girls spending hours on Facebook, ‘What they do at home does have a knock on effect’. Passionate about enabling each girl to ‘go for it; whatever their area of expertise we’re about helping the girls really believe in themselves and aim high, about them becoming confident but not arrogant, not to bring glory to the school but so they get what they themselves deserve’.
Started at the same time as prep head Mr Groves, who she describes as a kindred spirit. Still teaches some French and believes in being ‘out there, getting to know the girls - after all, it’s all about them’. Plays piano, loves music, opera, ballet and dog, Meggy.
No longer just embracing arms under those who slip through other nets at 11+. In 2012 66 per cent A*-B with 37 per cent A*/A at A level; 60 per cent A*/A at GCSE. Cambridge Pre-U can be taken alongside A levels. The ability profile is above average, but the ISI inspection in 2009 also described the educational experience here as outstanding and the curriculum as excellent.
Three classes to each year with a maximum promise of 25, and when year 9 classes overfilled they were divided to form additional group. Some sixth form teaching sets are tiny. From year 7, girls conduct self-evaluation and review their own progress. No shortage of computers or study areas, with four ICT suites, a library and designated sixth form computer and study rooms under an apex roof with girders and skylights. Setting for maths from year 7, science from year 9, ‘with plenty of chances to change groups if you do well’. Maths clinic every lunchtime, other subjects on various days and girls say, ‘The teachers here teach because it’s their passion and not just their job’. Pupils are helped with learning difficulties and the head has re-launched gifted and talented scheme.
Games, Options, the Arts
Three all-weather pitches, two large gyms, a verdant sports field and a modern drama and dance studio with mirrored wall. On sports corridor walls motivational quotes undergird photos of the girls playing sport and a photo-wall of fame celebrates diverse individual successes, some at national level, from horse riding and ice skating to dance, squash and tae kwon do. Teams play in Cheshire leagues with netball particularly strong, regularly reaching NW finals, and a keen football team includes a Manchester City youth player.
Girls say, ‘Music here is massive,’ with several bands, orchestra and choirs. Keyboard suite, lots of girls take singing lessons. Music exams, success at renowned Alderley Edge Music Festival, celebrated at prizegiving in Manchester’s Bridgewater Hall. Art displayed everywhere with particularly exciting 3D models outside main artrooms. The head of art, here 28 years, clearly loves the place, ‘and the girls we turn out are so well rounded’. Separate sixth form artroom where each girl has own space. Lots of after school clubs, ‘best thing about school,’ say some girls, trips and exchanges, Comenius European links, D of E, Mock Trial, charity fundraising and links with Kenyan school and women’s project.
Background and Atmosphere
Founded in 1999 from the merging of Mount Carmel RC convent school on the present site and the Anglican St Hilary’s run by the Woodard Corporation from the south end of the village. Now describes itself as an ecumenical unified Christian school with the motto line, ‘Aspire not to have more, but to be more’. Prep school on same site and shares some facilities. Compulsory monthly Eucharist is ‘boring’ in some girls’ books, and they’re not afraid to say so, but most accept it happily. Four houses named after saints Emilie, Francis, Joan and Hilary, three chaplains, visiting clergy and rallying assemblies; ‘We’re not turning them all into nuns, but it sets a moral framework and builds positive self-image, esteem and worth,’ says head.
Fabulous poster-sized professional photos of the girls at work, rest and play lining every corridor do much the same thing and detract from the uninspiring hotchpotch of red brick buildings once you pass the modern front façade. Girls seem happy and relaxed, corridor manners more hurly burly than stuffy. Breakfast available free from 8am and the dining room is a sociable place where younger girls dine first and staff cluster chatting too. Bread and pastries at break for a nominal charge. Sixth form privileges include not queuing for lunch, ‘handy on Friday chip day’, a wider range of muffins and buns from their own all day coffee bar and a new ‘chill out’ commonroom in which to enjoy them and a natter. An annual highlight for pupils and staff is the house entertainment afternoon, organised by the captains, where everyone performs or contributes backstage.
Pastoral Care and Discipline
Much emphasis on rewarding good behaviour and effort with certificates, letters home and even chocolate. Merit system includes personal and house points; in 2011, 22 girls with the most were taken to the theatre in Manchester by the head. Referral cards for work related and behavioural lapses - ‘We have high expectations and don’t stand any nonsense’. Big sister scheme teams sixth formers with year 7s while they settle in. Girls describe friendship and ‘knowing everyone’ as the best thing about AESG - as one sixth former said, ‘We genuinely don’t want to leave; this is a school where everybody knows your name’. They’re not quickly forgotten as a leavers' destination board carries large photos of smiling girls (no pouting here) and inspiriting news of where they are now. Parents agree: ‘The pastoral care is great - you can ring them at any time’; ‘My daughter’s extremely happy there - all the girls are so nice’.
Pupils and Parents
Overwhelmingly white and middle class, although 21 with English as second language. Not all regular church goers, even small minority from other faiths - ‘I’ve not noticed the Christian stuff,’ one parent told us. Neat navy uniforms introduced as a new colour when the two schools merged and girls don’t seem to push the boundaries - instead they look unspoilt and innocently young, with minimal makeup and jewellery. Girls come from as far as central Manchester and Stoke on Trent. Most, however, hail from rural local areas, so Cheshire set strongly represented, though as one mum put it, ‘There are lots of fat cars in the car park, but I’m not the only one who sacrifices to send my daughter here’. Good bus network and near train station; traffic congestion at pick up time.
Open to any who are sympathetic to school’s ecumenical ethos. By maths, English and verbal reasoning exams, interview and reference, looking for a broad band of ability, girls who’ll fit in. Has catch-all reputation of not setting bar over dauntingly high, although head says school regularly turns away girls ‘due to their academic profile not being sufficiently high to cope with our academic curriculum'. Entry higher up school includes science and language papers. Half year 7 straight from prep, at home here from the off. Taster day for prospective year six girls to really see what it’s like.
Forty five per cent left post GCSE in 2012. Over 90 per cent straight to university with Leeds, Manchester Metropolitan University and Sheffield, closely followed by Durham and Exeter, as top choices. Occasional Oxbridge success. Mix of courses from medicine, psychology and economics to history, theatre, business and politics. The others leave for gap years, which includes a welcome back at school for post A level university applications.
Some reduction for siblings. Some automatic academic scholarships, others by application for music, sport and art; a few means-tested bursaries and academic 13+ and sixth form scholarships.