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Few teach academia better and it’s done via thrilling, not drilling. Much praise for the pastoral care system, which the head describes as ‘the golden thread that runs through their entire time at school’. Bumps in the road are inevitable but the school is focused on building girls’ resilience and giving them the tools they’ll need to cope. Music exceptional. Sport legendary. Lively debating society, Model UN and lots of charity and community work, including going into...

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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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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 management consultancy in the City, then as a corporate fundraiser – ‘real world’ experience that both pupils and parents value. Eventually had a change of heart and took a PGCE with the express ambition of becoming a head (though we hear she was a brilliant teacher in the meantime). Arrived ‘just at the right time when LEH needed to modernise’, says one parent, ‘and the school is now top notch’.

Began her teaching career at Blackheath High School in 1996. Rose through the ranks to head of sixth form before heading to Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls, thence deputy head of Latymer Upper School. Teaches all year 7s geography for half a term each, an experience the girls love. The only school, in fact, where we’ve heard pupils describe their headteacher as ‘very sweet’, they gush over her assemblies and say she is ‘involved’, ‘interested’ and ‘approachable’ – attending every event imaginable, even wearing sports kit to matches.

Easily likeable with an infectious sense of fun and a twinkle in her eye, we were quickly laughing along with her. An excellent interviewee – ‘I’m always happy to talk’, she says, ‘especially about my school, which is one of my favourite subjects’. 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). Her office is among the nicest, largest and swankiest we’ve seen – 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,’ – that modesty again), cooking and theatre.

Entrance

A third of entrants come up from the junior school. Girls come from around 40 different schools in total, a mixture of state and private. Around five applicants per place. Tests in maths, English, non-verbal and verbal reasoning and a problem-solving paper. Expect the unexpected in the interview and don’t tutor for it – school can spot girls who are too polished and would much rather they were just being themselves.

Papers in proposed A level subjects for year 12 applicants, who also need 9-7s in pretty much all their GCSEs. Reports from current schools also count, along with an interview.

Exit

Around 10 per cent leaves after GCSEs, almost exclusively to other high-level, often co-ed, sixth forms. Around 80 per cent to Russell Group universities. Destinations include Oxbridge (13 in 2020), Durham, Bristol, London, Exeter, Edinburgh, St Andrews and usually a few to Europe and USA. Mainly traditional degree subjects, with biggest single group studying medicine, dentistry and veterinary science. Two overseas in 2020, both to study liberal arts in the USA. Parents feel UCAS advice is balanced and tailored to the girl – the school is ‘interested in everybody, Oxbridge or not’, they told us, and ‘absolutely not dyed-in-the-wool about the Russell Group’.

Latest results

In 2020, 95 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 85 per cent A*/A at A level. In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 90 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 77 per cent A*/A at A level.

Teaching and learning

Few teach academia better and it’s done via thrilling, not drilling. Run-of-the-mill GCSE content is covered swiftly to allow plenty of time for the more exciting stuff. Parents praise the ‘intellectual sparkle’ of teaching staff, who ‘give the impression that they really do live and breathe their specialisms’; all teach their own degree subject. Teachers always available to help and are busy running clinics or answering pupil queries at every opportunity. A great academic energy about the place. Meticulous record keeping for monitoring and targeting means that reporting is meaningful and personalised. ‘Comment only’ policy encourages pupils to engage with feedback rather than getting hung up on a grade.

Many girls add an EPQ to their A levels to create breadth; sixth form enrichment programme across every subject. Staff ‘softer, kinder, more inclusive’ than they used to be – ‘a lot of the tougher old-guard have gone,’ say parents. Curriculum recently reviewed, adding product design (DT) and computer science to the A level options. Unsurprisingly, a strong take-up in both: STEM is very popular here and the introduction of the new subjects coincided with the opening of very whizzy new facilities, in particular the awe-inspiring product design lab. One parent felt the school was ‘very very strongly pushing STEM subjects and putting a lot of resources into their STEM teaching’. Head wary of that perception and has appointed a HALE (Humanities, Arts, Languages, English) coordinator to maintain the balance. Besides, she says, STEM subjects require investment in physical facilities and are more visible as a result. Lots of collaboration between the two (year 7s recently designed and built motorised works of art) and, as the head points out, girls will often choose a cross-section, keeping up a language or humanity alongside science A levels. One-to-one iPads introduced with new curriculum – ‘part of the school uniform’.

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. Inspiring alumnae across different industries come back for popular careers evenings – Balfour Beatty, Johnson & Johnson, Public Health England etc.

Setting in maths during year 7, with groups reviewed annually. PE, textiles, art, drama and music all options at GCSE. Languages include Spanish, Latin, German and French from year 7, and classical Greek added at GCSE. Mandarin now also available from year 9. The school has one of the biggest German A level cohorts in the country; Spanish growing. Lots of A levels to choose from including drama, philosophy, politics, psychology, history of art.

Learning support and SEN

Praise for the SEN department. Cohesive support for whoever needs it. Few with more than mild learning difficulties here and most SEN support embedded into classes. Those that need more feel well looked-after – ‘there’s no stigma; everyone’s got their different thing,’ said one parent. We were very cheered by another, who told us that ‘my daughter has never been asked to leave – Mrs Hanbury has made it clear that there’s always a place here for her’. Seem to really commit to every girl that they’ve taken on – once you’re in, you’re in, for better for worse. A good school to consider if you have mobility problems or are wheelchair-bound – flattish site, lifts and wide corridors.

The arts and extracurricular

Artistic talent evident throughout. Beautiful ceramics displayed in a glass cabinet. Lively textiles and photography. Genuinely brilliant pieces, the kind we’d happily have on our walls at home.

Music exceptional – Holles Singers regularly reach the finals of Choir of the Year Competition. Girls enjoyed producing material for recent online Cabaret Night. Very confident, cool performances and some spectacular voices that sounded professional (to our untrained ear). 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. Sixty per cent of girls learn an instrument with a peripatetic teacher. Brass popular, with many budding saxophonists. Shiny purpose-built arts block includes wow-factor purpose-built theatre. Drama ‘very slick’ – ‘save yourself a trip to the west end’, parents urged. Annual performance from each year group – Upper Sixth had fun staging an all-female ‘Posh’ last year, channelling the ‘rambunctious rage of the Riot club’ with a full cast food fight. Two joint annual productions with Hampton School (years 11 up) and a summer musical (years 7 and 8). Th head herself was directing some year 7s in a production of Fantastic Mr Fox when we spoke.

Lively debating society, Model UN and lots of charity and community work, including going into local schools. DofE 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. Greece and Italy (classics), Berlin (history) and Iceland (geography) are other examples.

Sport

Legendary and a big draw of the school. The facilities in this 23-acre plot are outstanding for a girls’ day school, including four lacrosse pitches, seven outdoor courts, huge modern sports hall and indoor swimming pool. At the front of the school are grass tennis courts and croquet lawn (open to parents at weekends). Early Saturday starts for team players, shipped off to girls’ boarding schools for fixtures. Lacrosse is the main winter game and they play to win. Netball also strong. Lots of silverware for the rowers, who are often at the boathouse (shared with Hampton) at 6am. Some girls disappointed that there’s no recreational rowing – you’re either in the boat or you’re not – but the whole approach to sport is becoming much more inclusive. New director of sport is working to get more girls active – A team used to get a lot of the glory but this is now spread more evenly. Last year they even fielded an ‘H’ team in one year group – ‘if you’re not in a team, they’ll make one for you’, said the grateful parent of an enthusiastic, rather than talented, athlete. Badminton having a moment, enjoying a good take-up among those not in the traditional sporty crowd. Other sports include gymnastics, swimming, basketball, rounders, athletics and tennis – recently played Real Tennis at Hampton Court. Lots of opportunities to compete, from inter-house tournaments to international championships. We were amused that even in lockdown the girls were competing with their Wycombe Abbey counterparts to see how many times they could bounce a ball over the course of a week. Sports tours to eg Barbados and America.

Ethos and heritage

Established in 1710 under the will of Lady Eleanor Holles, daughter of John Holles, 2nd Earl of Clare – makes it one of the oldest girls’ schools in the country. Began life in the City of London, 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. A palpable pride in its long history underpins the place.

Distinguished former staff include Pauline Cox, former head of Tiffin Girls' and Cynthia Hall, former head of Wycombe Abbey. Single sex education at its best here – unselfconscious and confident, feminist with a small ‘f’. International Women’s Day celebrated loudly and proudly but the sentiment runs year-round.

The year 2020 was a big moment in the school’s history – the opening of Lady Eleanor Holles International School Foshan, a co-educational day and boarding school in southern China that will share with LEH its values and ‘general tenor’. Mrs Hanbury describes the relationship between the two schools as ‘remarkably close’. Foshan will promote the same breadth of learning and commitment to extra-curricular activity as the school here and will provide girls in London with opportunities to connect with youngsters in China. Plans are afoot for annual pupil and staff visits in both directions.

Back home, the long, featureless main building doesn’t delight the eye but nobody could argue with its functionality. Inside, corridors are wide, rooms are light and everywhere is well-kept. Some areas are somewhat hospital-like, with lengthy corridors and polished wood floors. Refurbed sports facilities, with new activity studio and ergo room as well as state of the art product design and computing suites ensure that equipment is the best of the best. Big main library is well stocked; sixth form library, overlooking the pitches, includes 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.

Girls are well turned out, and the sixth formers look fresh and tidy in casual dress. High expectations in all aspects of school life, but girls seem purposeful, not fraught. They’re ‘self-starters, self-motivated, self-driven’, according to parents. It’s cool to be clever and cool to be sporty. Strong links with Hampton School – just across the playing fields – including in careers and university preparation and increasingly for extracurricular clubs. Parents grateful for this balance – a single sex school where girls interact regularly and naturally with boys, too.

Notable alumnae in interesting and diverse fields include Melanie Ivarsson, Chief Development Officer at Moderna Inc., Dame Lesley Regan, President of Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Vanessa Kirby, actor, Jay Hunt, creative director at Apple, Annie Nightingale, Radio 1 presenter, Caroline Bird, poet and playwright and Gail Trimble, renowned University Challenge brainbox .

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Much praise for the pastoral care system, which the head describes as ‘the golden thread that runs through their entire time at school’. Bumps in the road are inevitable but the school is focused on building girls’ resilience and giving them the tools they’ll need to cope. Everyone knows who to go to and ‘the door is open if you need help’, according to parents. ‘The first thing they hear when they arrive in year 7 is the importance of being kind’, we were told. A culture of openness means that it’s alright to tell someone if you’re not happy. House system is a big deal here and encourages inter-year friendships – there are even inter-house jigsaw competitions. This, and travelling in on the school coaches, allows older girls to become informal mentors to the younger ones.

Good buddying system, plus a great cyber mentor system – sixth formers trained to go into classes without teachers to discuss any online problems. E-safety overall taken very seriously, with a dedicated e-safety officer. Two school counsellors available throughout the week. Wellbeing Wednesday lectures during lockdown included talks from a child psychologist and an expert on teenage sleeping patterns. Parents praise ‘practical, hands-on advice’.

Despite the school’s reputation for being highly pressurised, the girls seem to be the ones putting pressure on themselves. Competitive? Definitely, but quietly so. The hunger for victory that other schools witness on the lacrosse pitch when facing LEH does not necessarily translate to the classroom, where ‘the competition is against yourself’. Lots of patting on backs and high fives when friends have done well. Of course, as at any school of this calibre, there are girls who struggle with the pressure, but we got the impression that it’s a bit less intense here than elsewhere.

Absolutely no LEH ‘type’ – community very tolerant of difference. One mother told us that ‘everybody finds their own specialness – a uniqueness that they feel comfortable to explore’. The girls are empowered, strong, spirited. Not much drinking and no drug problems that we hear about (‘normal teenage girl behaviour’, we were told by more than one parent); a relatively clean-living culture in which they don’t grow up quite as fast as their central London peers. 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. ‘If your little treasure is a bit of a maverick you will find yourself being called in’, said one parent who’s been there. 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. Speaking of which, the food is good: '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 try new things (this matters more than whether you’re good at it) or who aren’t willing to work hard. Parents who were concerned that their daughters wouldn’t keep up academically were very encouraged by the amount of extra support on offer and the kindness they’ve seen. You need to be a go-getter, but you don’t need to be someone who finds it all a breeze.

Pupils and parents

Parents much like the pupils – academically brilliant, with a go-getting attitude. By no means super-rich, and many parents are working hard to pay the fees, something that the school values as enriching the school community. Lawyers, medics, accountants – largely professional or academic backgrounds. Lively parents’ association, called the Friends, organises varied get-togethers. Not much competition amongst parents over how well so-and-so did in the physics test – ‘we find we have lots of other things to talk about’. Increasingly ethnically diverse. Excellent bursary provision has added to unpretentious, real-life feel – not a bubble of privilege. Girls arrive from every direction – Ealing to Esher, Windsor to Wimbledon, Chiswick to Chertsey (we could go on) – with 50 per cent of girls arriving on coaches that cater for a multitude of routes. Others walk, cycle or dropped off. Public transport links aren’t great but after school activities finish on time to make sure that girls never miss the coach. Lots have brothers at Hampton.

Money matters

Number and value of bursaries has increased and the word is out – ‘we have a lot of applications for that support’. 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. Hardship fund for existing families who are struggling.

The last word

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 fainthearted, 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.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

The school caters particularly well for gifted and talented children for whom our normal school curriculum is designed. Additional provision is made for the exceptionally gifted or talented child. The selective nature of the school entrance test means that all pupils are able to follow the same curriculum, but the school does provide short one-to-one courses of learning support, when needed, for those with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and dyspraxia, the cost of which is additional to the normal school fee. Pupils with physical disabilities can be accommodated depending on the severity of their condition: there is wheel-chair access to most parts of the school. Special educational needs are always dealt with on an individual basis and enquiries about the level of provision that can be offered are welcome. 09-09

Who came from where


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