Skip to main content

What says..

Results are truly impressive year on year (as reflected by the school’s high ranking in national league tables). The broad-based curriculum kicks off from the word go with modern and classical languages, humanities, sciences, art and tech subjects (alongside the staples of English and maths). Parents repeatedly describe the academics as ‘amazing’ and lessons as ‘fast paced and at a very high level’. Yet the girls we spoke to didn’t seem fazed and parents insist it is no pressure cooker. A huge amount of school sport goes on at inter-house, inter-school, county and sometimes national levels. Not a wealthy area - the school buildings have a no-nonsense…

Read review »

What the school says...

Exceptional A-Level and GCSE results see Withington consistently ranked as one of the top independent schools in the north of England, with a proud record as a gateway for entry to Britain’s best universities. Withington’s pupils also benefit from superb facilities, an extensive co-curricular programme and they thrive in the School’s nurturing and supportive environment. ...Read more

Do you know this school?

The schools we choose, and what we say about them, are founded on parents’ views. If you know this school, please share your views with us.

Please login to post a comment.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2016, Sarah Haslam BA (English, Lancaster) PGCE (Sheffield). Has been at Withington Girls’ School since 1995 in a variety of roles, including head of years 10 and 11 and deputy head in 2007 (pastoral care). She is also an independent schools inspector for the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI).

Exuding poise and calm (we can’t imagine much ruffles her), she weighs her answers with the care of a seasoned diplomat. The school might be renowned for its academic prowess but it is, she says, ‘a love of learning’ which she seeks to inculcate within its pupils, ‘a deep recognition of the value of learning’. She wants them all to fulfil their potential and place in the world – to work out what’s right for them as individuals. ‘It’s a privilege to be part of the community,’ she adds. Parents are full of praise, many commenting on how fairly she engages with the girls and how hard she works at ensuring ‘everyone was being respected’ in school.

Naturally warm and friendly, her chat is peppered with humour, yet her serenity also has a tincture of steel about it which is perhaps a vital pre-requisite to keep a school like Withington Girls (Sunday Times North West Independent secondary school of the year 2020) on top of its game. She runs a ‘tight faculty leadership’, voiced one parent impressed by her efficiency.

She has also introduced a number of important pastoral initiatives to underpin the school’s academic success. Sixth form pupils eagerly told us that one week in every half term is now ‘no homework’ week for all senior school pupils and enthused about the greater promotion of their much-loved enrichment sessions which include all-important mental health lessons.

Outside school, she loves walking and sailing.

Entrance

Around 80-85 year 7 places available. A few hundred (school won’t disclose the precise figure) sit the exam (English, maths, verbal reasoning). But while the bar is set high, they do not, head says, ‘have to do well across everything’.

Subject to results, an interview may follow. Head and a senior member of staff try to interview as many girls as possible to get a feel for her interests and gauge her curiosity for the world, what fires her, looking for individual thinking and originality, how girls develop their ideas. Head says there are usually ‘clear indicators’ where a pupil has been tutored for an interview. Half of those interviewed get offered places.

We spoke to older senior pupils who had come from local primary schools; they said the transition had been made easier because of a ‘residential’ all new pupils went on. They told us that some primary schools had past papers and were geared up to entrance, others less so. One parent suggested that girls who come from other schools might have more of a challenge settling in, though they ‘seemed to do the integration effectively’. Another parent suggested there was ‘scope’ for Withington junior girls to have more contact with senior girls (beyond the buddy systems) to help them navigate changes better during the first couple of senior years.

Exit

No entry bar to sixth form. In 2020, six pupils went to Oxbridge. Others to eg Leeds, Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, King’s College London, Durham, Imperial, Bristol and UCL. Subjects range from archaeology to computer science to modern languages. Nineteen medics in 2020.

Latest results

School won't release 2020 results. In 2019, 90 per cent 9-7 at GCSE: 72 per cent A*/A at A level (93 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Results are truly impressive year on year (as reflected by the school’s high ranking in national league tables). An excellence in STEM subjects, especially at A level, is marked and high numbers of girls opt for those subjects. However, head says she is keen to open families’ eyes (who might favour STEM) to the arts, drama and languages and for girls to fully consider all options. The options at A level are certainly broad, including drama, government and politics, psychology, classics as well as the MFLs and arts. GCSE offerings are diverse too, including food tech and PE. GCSE dazzlers including arts and humanities, as well as maths and sciences.

The broad-based curriculum kicks off from the word go with modern and classical languages, humanities, sciences, art and tech subjects (alongside the staples of English and maths). When it comes to choosing GCSE/IGCSE, all girls study maths, English, English literature, one MFL, sciences – plus options on top. Year groups are around 80-90; class sizes at no more than 28 at key stage 3 (taught in half forms for some practical lessons), 20 at key stage 4 and in sixth form classes range from 2-15 pupils.

Parents repeatedly describe the academics as ‘amazing’ and lessons as ‘fast paced and at a very high level’. Yet the girls we spoke to didn’t seem fazed and parents insist it is no pressure cooker. They push the girls to reach the best of their abilities – but not in a harsh way, is the general consensus. Confidence-building is key with the work, they add. A ‘try: if you fail, try again’, technique prevails – they are not allowed to give up, we heard. Head stresses the school puts in a huge effort to select the right girls - ‘My daughter needs to have her brain working all the time’, confirmed one parent.

No ‘gifted and talented’ stream here; no academic prizes. ‘Scholarship is in the DNA of the building,’ says head. Those who are thinking about applying to Oxbridge, however, have timetabled subject extension work (there are trips to Oxbridge including talks by admissions tutors; alumnae to mentor girls and interview workshops). Head is clear no girls are closed off from any opportunities and sometimes the ‘brightest and best’ had no interest in applying for Oxbridge.

Half-termly assessments gauge progress. Pupils told us teachers notice if you are struggling - ‘they put a programme in place to help you’ (head says that as a consequence there are very few conversations with parents about under-performing). One parent spoke glowingly of her daughter’s lunchtime one-to-one language sessions ‘rather than allowing her to go at her own pace…and her grades went up. It made the difference’. ‘Every day you can get help,’ a student said with a note of relief, referring to the fact that she had ‘100 per cent struggled’ with maths. Parents saw the school as nurturing their daughter’s self-belief ‘in her capacity to keep moving forwards and give her work ‘that extra’.

Pupils told us homework levels at weekends were ‘fine’, though week nights ‘pretty busy’. In year 7 homework is 20 minutes per week in most subjects, two per week in English and maths, with no more than one hour 20 minutes per night and no homework due in the next day. While homework increases further up the school, parents said the ‘huge amount’ they achieved in the day meant homework levels were steady. Girls said if they spent longer than the teacher estimated, they changed pens to show this.

Learning support and SEN

Head of learning support oversees senior and junior schools, working closely with the pastoral head. Pupils with learning differences usually arrive with these already documented; an early meeting with the head of learning support follows to create an individual plan with regular check-in points. Screening is done in year 7 but sometimes teachers observe specific issues, head says, perhaps behavioural, as pupils encounter greater challenges. One parent observed that ‘they really do support the girls who find it challenging’. Head is quick to point out that while there is a narrow ability range, there are very different personalities within the school who need different approaches. Emotional support in academic learning plays a part across the board; one pupil described her teacher as a ‘mother figure’. The parent of a pupil with a health issue, requiring management in the classroom, felt the school had been proactive continuously to ‘get this right’.

The arts and extracurricular

Drama is popular with annual lavish productions and A level music students often writing the accompanying score. Beasts and Beauties had recently been directed by year 12, the cast members pulled from the junior and senior years. One sixth former said that performing with seniors had been the ‘highlight of her junior school life’. Some plays are run jointly with nearby boys’ school, Manchester Grammar. House plays allow pupils to sample drama on a smaller scale. Lamda lessons available.

Musical opportunities cross all styles and formations, including clarinet choirs, brass ensembles, folk groups. In the most recent London College of Music voice exams prior to our visit, the school bagged 22 out of 22 distinctions. There are regular school concerts and recitals providing performance opportunities, as well as participation at local festivals like Alderley Edge.

Not a school that parents generally choose for the art, although facilities are modern, clean and up to date and there are opportunities for the taking if you want them.

A fantastic programme of rolling lectures, many delivered by alumnae, ranging from corporate chief execs to BBC journalists to external speakers like Professor Lord Winston. The girls’ learning, one parent suggested, was related to ‘the real world’. Heaps of diverse inter-school competitions, such as ‘University Challenge’ (against other local independent schools with a similar academic profile). Also local and national challenges - Biology Olympiad, The Cambridge Chemistry Challenge, Young Enterprise, Mock Trial, Model United Nations, the Lego League Competition and various debating competitions. Needless to say, Withington pupils distinguish themselves in whatever they enter. Sixth form teams were national finalists in the UKMT Senior Maths Challenge and the Institute of Economic Affairs Budget Challenge, finishing runners up in the latter. DofE Awards are popular - 41 per cent of the 2019 year group signed up for the gold.

Trips are plenty; local visits might include the International Slavery Museum or Jodrell Bank. Globe-trotting school trips range widely from Germany to Kenya to Houston, US. The school helps girls raise money for trips if there are funding difficulties.

Worth noting is the school’s strong emphasis on outreach work, performing in care homes or working alongside local primary schools on projects ranging from classics and science to Manchester Sings, involving over 200 children performing in a massed choir at Manchester Cathedral.

One glance at Withington’s Twitter feed shows the extra-curricular accomplishments clocked up by Withington girls although we saw a little of this ‘have a go’ spirit in action with the annual charity dance competition. Watching a bunch of girls dancing, not quite in synch, clapping to Hannah Montana in the middle of the school day, wasn’t what we were expecting but the joy on their faces was palpable. In fact, each girl we spoke to seemed to have found their groove, whether running science clubs for junior years, early morning lacrosse shooting practice or playing the harp. A vast list of lunchtime clubs, too numerous to mention, run the gamut from Zumba, chess to classics, eco-society, film and jigsaws. Many are pupil-led.

Everything you could possibly think of is on offer here.

Sport

A huge amount of school sport goes on at inter-house, inter-school, county and sometimes national levels – many trophy successes in netball and lacrosse. In recent netball successes, the U14s were finalists in the National Schools Tournament, U13s were county champions and in the regional schools netball league Withington finished winners or runners up in five out of six age groups. All the key sports available, including netball, hockey, lacrosse, athletics, tennis and some new ones added - since 2019, an equestrian team. Dance and fitness options, including yoga, in the swanky new sports centre which pupils often use for early morning work outs.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1890 by a group of Manchester families who wanted their daughters to have the same educational opportunities as their sons. Not a wealthy area - the school buildings have a no-nonsense outward air of an old-fashioned grammar. No Enid Blyton pastoral idyll, although as one parent observed, ‘there is nothing wrong with exposure to inner city’.

Inside is a different story - a swish corporate-style reception, newspapers laid out, all light, bright and modern. Corridors display large coloured photos of the girls in action, alongside paintings by professional artists and artwork by pupils. The hub, built in 2015, a huge communal area, is all sky lights and art; a ‘space to collaborate’ the girls told us. A ‘wellbeing tree’ on the wall bore statements on the branches like ‘connect with people’ and ‘keep learning’.

As you would expect, there are huge modern labs and vast bright art room with oils and sculptures strewn about. Modestly sized drama studios. Outside, there are playing fields, astroturf and a small outdoor gym, not forgetting the recently built sports centre.

While not being in the least bit brash, the school has everything it needs in the right proportions and in sparkling condition.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Girls see their tutor twice a day who, head says, is tuned into the nuance of pupil behaviour ie tutor will pick up if a girl is withdrawn or if their academic performance dips. One parent told us that when her daughter began working late into the night, her teacher had taken her on one side, advising her to prioritise wellbeing and sleep. When necessary, support strategies are put in place in tandem with the pastoral head. A strong peer support structure also exists with senior girls helping younger girls in subject coaching or confidence mentoring.

All the parents we spoke to repeatedly referred to a personal, family atmosphere. And the girls we met seemed well-adjusted and chatty. Even so, it is a reality that high achieving, driven girls are often prone to self-pressure, with head saying she has ‘regular conversations’ with parents ‘around expectations’. So if a girl did find herself experiencing mental health problems for whatever reason, we are confident a solid infrastructure is there to provide excellent support.

The girls we met certainly had a good awareness of mental health, describing the head of sixth as being ‘passionate about it’. They spoke of the need to ‘empty the bucket of your mind now and again’ - ‘everyone needs to be educated on it…better to learn now’. Parents also say the school is very much ‘on it’ regarding the dangers of social media; many information evenings with ‘outstanding speakers’.

Girls proudly showed us the ‘room of requirement’ classroom, the back wall covered in a huge picture of Hogwarts. A classroom which transforms into a room for year 7s finding their feet, offering fun activities, such as movie Fridays, with sixth form peer supporters present. A nice touch.

Pupils and parents

Pupils come from the Greater Manchester area but also from far and wide, furthest points Liverpool or Glossop. Thank goodness for the many bus services.

A diverse mix of pupils. One parent observed ‘you do not think about colour or race at this school’. Another whose bi-lingual child had arrived from overseas said, ‘they are able to accommodate everybody even if they haven’t had the same experiences as the other girls’.

So who would it not suit? One pupil suggested that those girls who didn’t take the opportunities available or didn’t work so hard might find the school is ‘not for them’. So if you hope to get a much-coveted place here, it might be worth asking yourself, Does your daughter love learning with a passion? Is she intellectually curious about her subjects? Does she thirst for knowledge (as one parent put it)? And does she love spending her time exploring new avenues of enrichment and interests? As one parent put it, it’s a school where ‘being a geek is a fantastic thing that girls aim to reach’. Another, ‘it’s cool to be good; they are challenged by each other…instead of feeling threatened, they congratulate each other’.

Good overall comms with parents. Half termly reports so ‘you can keep a close eye’ a parent said. Another commented ‘they are fantastic at solving whatever issue arises’. Not a school for parents who like to switch off, though - there are a vast number of school events and ‘you need to be able to keep up,’ as one parent put it.

Money matters

Fees standard for the area. One sixth of the pupils receives a bursary.

The last word

A school with dazzling academic results which seeks to empower girls to think independently, cultivate wide-ranging interests and embrace challenge. Girls who have a deep thirst for knowledge and learning will absolutely fly at this impressive high-performing school.

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 has an active Learning Support Department with provision which spans both the Junior and Senior Schools. The members of the Department work collaboratively to support a wide range of learning needs. The Head of Learning Support (SENCO) liaises with pupils, teachers, parents, the pastoral team and, when relevant, external professionals and agencies with the shared aim of meeting individual needs and giving every pupil the opportunity to reach their full potential. Access Arrangements for public examinations are managed in collaboration with the Examinations Office and, wherever possible, replicated for internal assessments.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

Who came from where


Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

☑ 30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
☑ Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
☑ Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools
☑ Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

Buy Now

GSG Blog >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

The Good Schools Guide Newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

The Good Schools Guide manifesto for parents