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Because they expect a lot from the girls from an early stage, there’s a big push on them taking responsibility for themselves from the off. ‘If you don’t turn up for a practice, you don’t stay on the team.’ We found girls have quite a competitive attitude to learning, although they are also quick to support and praise others’ achievements, with lots of patting on backs and high fives. Seriously good school to consider if you have mobility problems or are wheelchair-bound – flattish site, lifts and wide corridors, plus can-do approach...

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What the school says...

The Lady Eleanor Holles School is one of the country's most distinguished girls' schools. Located in Hampton, Middlesex, on the outskirts of south-west London, we balance opportunities for outstanding scholarship with impressive achievements in sport and exciting creativity in arts.

With superb facilities, we offer bright girls a well-rounded and challenging education in a very happy, purposeful environment, preparing them for higher education and their future lives. The school stands on a wonderful 23 acre site, the building surrounded by gardens and playing fields. This spacious environment allows a great range of outdoor sporting activities and has also enabled us to build numerous extensions to enhance our facilities.

Pastoral care has a high priority at the school, and staff are committed to promoting the welfare and happiness of each girl. Up to 20% of each year group may proceed to university at Oxford or Cambridge; the majority go on to universities which belong to the prestigious Russell Group.
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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Logic / Philosophy at an English Independent School (GCE A level)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Latin at an English Independent School (GCE A level)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Logic / Philosophy at an English Independent School (GCE AS level)
  • Best performance by Girls taking German at an English Independent School (GCSE)

Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Sports

Rowing

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2014, Heather Hanbury, previously head of Wimbledon High. MA Edinburgh, MSc Cambridge in geography then land economy. Prior to teaching, she spent nine years working in various management consultancy roles in the City, then as a corporate fundraiser – ‘real world’ experience that both pupils and parents value. Moved into teaching because she was so frequently told she ‘should’ – ‘but I initially resisted it because I don't like to do the expected,’ she laughs. Eventually had a change of heart and took a PGCE with the express ambition of becoming a head. ‘I always wanted to run things. I like making organisations efficient, effective and happy’ – something that everyone agrees she’s achieved, with bells on.

Began her teaching career at Blackheath High School in 1996, quickly rising through the ranks to head of sixth form, before moving on to Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls, thence deputy head of Latymer Upper School. Teaches all year 7s for half a term each (‘I get to know them, but more importantly, they get to know me – far better than helicoptering my way into sixth form teaching,’ she insists). And although she does herself down when it comes to her teaching abilities (‘I do the least damage,’ she laughs), girls say she’s actually very good. The only school where we’ve heard pupils describe their headteacher as ‘very sweet,’ they gush over her assemblies (‘She recently did a fantastic one on friendship and talked all about the movie Mean Girls,’ enthused one) and say she is ‘involved,’ ‘interested’ and ‘approachable’ – attending every event imaginable, even wearing sports kits to matches.

In school, she adorns glamorous suits (no staff member we met would have looked out of place at a wedding), hums with energy, has just the right amount of modesty (as is the LEH way), is quick to smile and laugh and is intent on injecting some fun into school life. Her office is among the nicest, largest and swankiest we’ve seen – in fact, if you replaced her desk with a bed, it could pass as a luxury boutique hotel room.

Lives with her husband in Hammersmith. Interests include bridge (‘I’m not very good,’ – there’s that modesty again), cooking and theatre.

Head of junior school since September 2016, Mrs Paula Mortimer BEd (40s), previously head of St Christina's school in St John's Wood. A science specialist with a degree from Oxford, she has taught in preps and all-through schools, latterly as deputy and acting head of Channing Junior School. Also has experience as SEN coordinator. Still loves teaching. ‘I have no plans whatsoever to stop spending time working with children in the classroom,’ she says. A hands-on head, she is known for fostering honest, open relationships not only with staff, but with pupils and parents. Very committed to pastoral care. ‘For me, a role as head is all about ensuring children are secure and happy first and foremost, as that’s what makes them successful learners. They’re two sides of the same coin.’ Particularly keen to see children take risks in the classroom. ‘That’s how they learn.’

Academic matters

Few teach academia better and it’s done via thrilling, not drilling. ‘What’s the point in boring them into submission?’ says head – although she admits it’s not always easy, particularly around GCSE learning, ‘which can be very routine especially for bright, lively minds.’ ‘I really admire the school’s ability to go sideways in any subject, bringing in current affairs or going cross-curricular, for instance,’ said one parent. Results outstanding - 95 per cent A*/A at GCSE in 2017. It helps that staff clearly delight in what they do and all teach their own degree subject. Pupils told us teachers are always available, with the staff room practically empty at lunchtimes, as teachers run clinics or answer pupil queries from their departments. Sixth formers increasingly help the younger ones (‘It's easy for them to remember the bits people find tricky in years 8 and 9,’ explains the head. ‘And it’s good for them too – there’s nothing like teaching to help you learn yourself.’) Traditional subjects taken at GCSE, with computer science being offered since 2017.

Committed to A levels, rather than the IB or Pre-U, with the academic offering upped via EPQ, plus an enrichment programme across every subject. 2017 saw 80 per cent A*-A grades (97 per cent A*/B). Good range of subjects, including classical civilization, psychology and economics, although maths and sciences remain the most popular. Sixth form feels quite a separate entity here – these older girls are revered and there are lots of sixth form only areas, including their smaller classrooms which cater for more tutorial style learning, in which there are no more than 12 girls in any one class.

Setting in maths during year 7, with groups reviewed annually. Languages include Latin, German and French from year 7, with the option of Spanish and ancient Greek added at GCSE (although French remains the most popular language at GCSE). The school has one of the biggest German A level cohorts in the country, and Spanish is growing. ICT embedded into learning, with increasing use of iPads in lessons. A culture of enquiry and exploration fostered throughout.

Meticulous record keeping for monitoring and targeting, although they don’t make a big show of it to pupils or parents. We found girls have quite a competitive attitude to learning, although they are also quick to support and praise others’ achievements, with lots of patting on backs and high fives. Some criticism from pupils around the timetable, which includes nine 35-minute lessons. ‘By the time you’ve settled into a lesson, that only leaves half-an-hour – and you’ve got four of those before break,’ said one.

Few with more than mild learning difficulties here, for whom SEN support is embedded into classes, with some one-to-ones where required – and it must work as they get the same results as everyone else. Seriously good school to consider if you have mobility problems or are wheelchair-bound – flattish site, lifts and wide corridors, plus can-do approach – although we were surprised no girls in this situation when we visited.

Games, options, the arts

Legendary for sports and the facilities in this 23 acre plot are outstanding for a girls’ day school, including three spectacular and very green lacrosse pitches (which many of the classrooms overlook – lovely, especially in summer); six outdoor courts; a massive modern sports hall; and rather elderly indoor swimming pool (currently being refurbished). At the front of the school are grass tennis courts and croquet lawn (‘embarrassing, really, but rather fun!’ laughs the head). Some parents choose the school on the strength of the sports alone. Lacrosse, not surprisingly, is the main winter game and played to win – which they do. Rowing also a speciality - a welcome rarity in a girls’ school, for which boathouse facilities are shared with neighbouring Hampton School, and they also collect lots of silverware. ‘It’s great because if you don’t like running around after a ball, you can sit in a boat instead – although many do both,’ says the head.

Other sports include gymnastics, netball, swimming, basketball, fencing, rounders, athletics, tennis and badminton. Don’t like sport? Head told us there’s plenty of girls in this situation and that’s fine too, although one girl we spoke to felt sport can be a bit elitist. ‘You start out with A-E teams in year 7, but now we’ve got an A team and half a B team – if you’re not in those, you don’t get anywhere near as much attention,’ one of the older girls complained, although others disagreed with her, which led to an interesting debate. Sports tours to eg Barbados and America.

Artistic talent was being exhibited in the fabulous new art rooms and corridors in all its splendour when we visited – much of it so good that you’d hang them in your own home. Beautiful ceramics displayed in a glass cabinet. Lively textiles and photography.

Music exceptional – the Holles Singers reach the finals of the BBC Youth Choir annually. We lost count of how many other choirs there were – some for which girls audition, others open to all. Orchestras and ensembles galore, with bands ranging from rock and pop to jazz. ‘Unbelievably, we even have a symphony orchestra!’ smiles the head, wide-eyed. Sixty per cent of girls learn an instrument with a peripatetic teacher. Brass particularly popular, with many budding saxophonists. Plenty of space for all this in the shiny purpose-built arts block (where the arts studios are also based).

Purpose-built theatre (again, in the same block) has the wow factor even when empty, but what a treat to hear a girl practising a solo song for the annual musical when we visited – she was amazing. Drama here is outstanding, with each year group performing something annually. The two big set pieces are joint musicals with Hampton School (years 11 up) and the summer musical (for years 7 and 8). ‘They are something else – so professional,’ said one girl.

Extracurricular life here is thriving. Particularly lively debating society, model UN and lots of charity and community work, including going into local schools. D of E and CCF take-up good. Masses of day trips to museums, theatres etc, plus residential trips from year 7 upwards - language exchanges, ski trips and battlefields, among them. Other recent examples include Greece and Italy (classics), Berlin (history), Iceland (geography) and Geneva (with Global Challenge).

Background and atmosphere

The school was established in 1710 under the will of Lady Eleanor Holles, daughter of John Holles, 2nd Earl of Clare. This makes it one of the oldest girls’ schools in the country. It began life in the Cripplegate Ward of the City of London, then moved to other premises in the City till 1878, thence to Mare Street in Hackney (that building now houses the London College of Fashion). The current school, purpose-built and designed in the shape of an E, opened in 1937. Such a long history is scarcely uncommon in many of our great public schools but rare in girls’ schools. A palpable pride underpins the place. The staffroom has seen many distinguished names. They include Pauline Cox, former head of Tiffin Girls', Margaret Hustler, former head of Harrogate Ladies' College, Cynthia Hall, former head of Wycombe Abbey, and Frances King, former head of Roedean, who all taught here.

Very long, horizontal, featureless and functional, the two-storey main building doesn’t delight the eye but then again, it doesn’t offend it either. Inside, the corridors are wide, the rooms are light and everywhere is well-kept. Some areas are somewhat hospital-like, with lengthy corridors and polished wood floors. The pupils insist, though, that ‘the thing that brings it alive is the girls.’ Latest add-on – the arts, music and drama block – was finished in 2013 and provides the stand-out facilities mentioned earlier, as well as a jazzy new refectory. Big main library is well-stocked. Fabulous DT room, with much pride around the 3D printer (‘I can’t believe one exists, let alone being in our school!’ said one girl). Lots of innovation in the cookery room – the girls were making their own versions of Bakewell tart when we visited. Excellent sixth form centre features small teaching rooms – ideal for a history seminar or session on poetic form. The sixth form library is notable – light and overlooking the pitches – as well as being well-stocked (including more mature books and careers and university materials), with neat tables for study and rows of PCs. Nice sixth-form café and common room too.

Focused and purposeful atmosphere. Girls are well turned out in grey uniforms and the sixth formers look fresh and neat in casual dress. A sense of order pervades throughout. It’s cool to be clever and cool to be good at sport. And because they expect a lot from the girls from an early stage, there’s a big push on them taking responsibility for themselves from the off. ‘If you don’t turn up for a practice, you don’t stay on the team.’ Strong links with Hampton School – just across the playing fields – not just in drama, music, rowing and coach trips as we’ve mentioned, but also in careers and university preparation and increasingly for the younger years too eg extracurricular clubs. ‘It almost feels co-ed without having the distraction of boys in the actual classroom – what could be better?’ delighted one parent.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

House system is a big deal here - there are even inter-house jigsaw competitions. ‘It’s about so much more than an annual sports day,’ says the head, and girls love the leadership responsibilities and opportunity to make new friends that come with it. Much praise for the pastoral care system – a clear structure and everyone knows who to go to. Teachers described as ‘supportive mentors’. One parent told us her daughter needed to take significant time off and that the ongoing support from afar was ‘incredible.’ Good system of buddying, and a feeling that no transgressors would get away with it for long. No noteworthy sins of the drink/drugs/fags kind and minor bullying problems are dealt with swiftly. A culture of openness means that it’s all right to tell someone if you’re not happy. We were particularly impressed with the cyber mentor system, which involves sixth formers being trained to go into classes without teachers to discuss any online problems. ‘The training means they know when a line is crossed and they report it to us to intervene,’ says the head. In fact, e-safety overall is taken very seriously here, with a dedicated e-safety officer. School counsellor available three days a week. School wants to increase its offering around specific mental health issues. ‘I think we’re at the point we were with bullying 10 years ago – in that it’s time to bring it out of the closet and admit it’s ok to have issues and deal with them. It’s about de-stigmatising,’ says the head.

Despite the school’s reputation of being highly pressurised and hothousing the pupils, it’s the girls who seem to be the ones putting pressure on themselves, rather than it being imposed from above. ‘It’s just the culture of the school,’ one girl told us. All are therefore grateful for the talks on how to cope, especially at exam time, and pupils told us they know where to go if they feel it gets too much. ‘And we support each other too,’ they say. One parent told us, ‘I get especially fed up of hearing about the hothouse reputation as it’s my experience that the school actually works very hard to take pressure off the girls, persuading them to rest in the holidays and to balance their work with fun stuff in term-time too.'

Low-level misbehaviour, such as forgetting homework, leads to a ‘pink slip.’ Three of those in a half-term and you get a strongly worded letter. But it’s more carrot than stick here, with rewards of sweets if you don’t get any pink slips and a class pizza lunch if your class does particularly well in something eg charity work.

Girls praise the mixing of year groups, which they say leads to friendships they might not otherwise have had – ‘due to houses, extracurricular clubs and the buddy system’ – but it didn’t stop some girls complaining to us that there are cliques that can be hard to penetrate. Food much better than it used to be, girls told us. ‘There’s loads of choice too - you can grab a sandwich or have a full-on hot meal.’

Who wouldn’t this school suit? Girls who aren’t prepared to work hard, try new things (no matter if you’re no good at it – it’s the trying it in the first place that matters here) or who are set in a certain mindset, said the girls we met. ‘You find yourself becoming someone completely different than when you started – it’s really quite incredible,’ said one girl.

Pupils and parents

Parents tend to be much like the pupils here – academically brilliant, with a go-getting attitude. Not all super-rich, with many parents holding down a couple of jobs to pay the fees, something that the school values as enriching the school community. ‘There aren’t as many very wealthy families as I thought there’d be when I joined,’ says head. Lively PA, called The Friends, is open to both senior and junior school parents. Mainly white British, although younger years are more ethnically mixed, with the second biggest ethnic group being Asian. From a wide area – Ealing, Windsor, Woking, Wimbledon and Chiswick, and all points in between. Public transport links aren’t great, but an impressive coach map shows the multitude of routes they cater for (joint with Hampton boys’ school) at the beginning and end of the school day (some later to cater for girls who do clubs) and which 50 per cent of the girls utilise. The rest walk, cycle or dropped off. Lots of parents have boys at Hampton.

Entrance

Around a third of entrants come up from junior department. Of the remaining two-thirds, there’s a 33/66 mix of girls from state/private sector – around 40 different schools in total. Private ones include Newland House, Twickenham Prep, The Study, Bute House, Holy Cross Prep, Kew College. Four to five applicants for each place. Tests in maths, English, non-verbal and verbal reasoning and a problem solving paper. Expect the unexpected in the interview. ‘We can tell a mile off if we are hearing not the girl themselves, but their parent or tutor. I’m absolutely allergic to that,’ says the head, wincing. ‘I don’t even care if they do something silly in the interview – at least it shows they’re being themselves.’

School sets its own exams for sixth form applicants, who need an A in subjects they want to study – and, in fact, As and A*s in pretty much everything. ‘The odd B here and there is ok, but we want girls who can leap in with the rest and move fast,’ says the head. Reports from current schools also count, along with an interview.

Exit

The school loses around 10 per cent of girls at sixth form – most to other high-level, but (crucially) co-ed, sixth forms. A few leave for financial reasons. Around 80 per cent to Russell Group universities. Destinations include Oxbridge (five in 2017), Durham, Bristol, London, Exeter, Edinburgh, St Andrews and a few to Europe and USA (two in 2017). Mainly traditional degree subjects, with lots studying medicine (only one in 2017) English, history, sciences. Notable old girls include Lynn Barber, Charlotte Attenborough, Carola Hicks, Annie Nightingale, Saskia Reeves, Jay Hunt and Gail (University Challenge) Trimble.

Money matters

Drive under way to increase the number and value of bursaries. Means-tested and reviewed annually. Academic scholarships worth up to 10 per cent of fees at 11+ and sixth form level. Music scholarships up to 10 per cent. At A level, academic, music, art, drama and sport scholarships available – each worth up to 10 per cent of fees. Music exhibitions worth up to 7.5 per cent – and that’s at 11+ and A level.

Our view

This is a school that bangs the drum very loudly about empowerment, constantly reminding girls they can do anything if they put their minds to it – and they excel in giving them the tools to achieve that. Not for the faint-hearted, the girls work hard – and we mean hard – but they play hard too. If your daughter has the potential to be a determined, committed learner with a can-do attitude, this could be her ticket to a highly successful future.

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