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When questioned on their strapline ‘education like no other,’ the head commented, ‘Others would say that, but we put it into practice,’ and certainly we saw considerable evidence of this. Philosophy and classics for all in key stage 3 as well as creative use of cross-curricular deep learning enquiry – year 8 worked on designs for headmistress’ office and pop up house bases in new build, with presentation to building contractors in Spanish complete with sample…

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2014, Hilary French MA Oxon MEd PGCE NPQH (early 60s). Head for 10 years of predecessor Central High, which merged with Newcastle upon Tyne Church High in September 2014 to form Newcastle High School for Girls.

A pupil at Sacred Heart Grammar School Newcastle, then a brief sortie south to study history at St Anne’s, Oxford, before returning to the north east for teaching qualification and career which began at Thornhill Comprehensive in Sunderland. Switched to independent sector at Dame Allan’s School, followed by four years as deputy head at Teesside Prep and High School, then five years as head.

Masterminded the £5m revamp of the junior school, Chapman House, in 2013 and £20m+ new build and refurbishment of the former Church High senior school site. The merged senior school relocated in September 2016 from the old Central High site, close to Royal Grammar School at Eskdale Terrace. A mammoth task.

Welcoming and attentive, she believes that what sets the school apart is that ‘they offer a tailored partnership with girls and parents, no set expectation of what each girl can achieve and they are challenged to be the best they can’. When questioned on their strapline ‘education like no other,’ the head commented, ‘Others would say that, but we put it into practice,’ and certainly we saw considerable evidence of this.

Sets the gold standard by going to amazing lengths to show personal appreciation to pupils and staff. Sixth form organisers of a fundraising talent event received handwritten accolade and small gift; small groups of budding year 7s from the junior school have the pleasure of lunch with the head in her office and then receive a note from her saying how much she enjoyed their company, referring to their individual interests and talents.

Agrees league table position declined over last three years. Merged school has a broader spectrum of pupils, but is sure that pupils have still achieved their best outcomes, and there remain many successes to celebrate. Has been overwhelmed by the generosity of spirit shown by staff throughout the merger process and embedding the new school.

Believes in building girls’ self-confidence but aware of their increasingly pressurised lives, and focus on well-being and mindfulness underpins a sound education built on moral values, respect, courtesy and hard work. Loves the buzz of coming to school and meeting the girls, working with them and their parents. Girls and parents like her and her style of leadership. ‘A strong, committed woman, who views the education of girls and their well-being as vitally important. She leads by example and this is reflected through her staff who appear to work as a team,’ said a parent.

Firm advocate of GDST, sees it as kitemark for parents and cites benefits from extensive research into girls’ learning, network of teaching and learning support and significant investment in the site. A raft of board positions: IoD Women on Board; Schools NE; Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, which 'helps me keep a finger on the pulse of education'; previous president of the Girls' Schools Association and current chair of GSA/HMC Universities Committee.

Married to Durham University lecturer with one daughter, a teacher, recently relocated to Thomas Walling in Newcastle from a London inner city academy – following mother’s footsteps?

Leaving in summer 2018. New head has not yet been appointed.

Academic matters

‘An academic school, but you can almost take the academic side for granted,’ say parents, but there has been a downward trend since the merger (now heading upward again). In 2017 43 per cent of A level results A*/A and 67 per cent A*-B (similar to previous Church High results).

Offers huge variety of subjects at A level including classical civilisation, dance and three MFL with biology, chemistry, psychology and mathematics the most popular (half of leavers study STEM courses at university). Excellent extended enrichment programme, which includes the EPQ.

In 2017, an improvement on the previous year or two, 64 per cent of GCSEs were A*/A. Strong classics; outstanding results in the sciences, large numbers take three separate sciences at GCSE though only a handful convert to physics at A level. Philosophy and classics for all in key stage 3 as well as creative use of cross-curricular deep learning enquiry – year 8 worked on designs for headmistress’ office and pop up house bases in new build, with presentation to building contractors in Spanish complete with sample materials and mood boards for interior design.

Choice from art history to entrepreneurship in year 10 complementary studies. Three languages on offer with corresponding exchanges to France, Germany and Spain. Uses engineering centre at local boys' school, St Cuthbert's, some projects shared, annual STEM competition design and make a car that can travel the furthest distance. Great excitement: new build has enabled A level and GCSE food nutrition to be on the curriculum – first time for ex-Central girls.

Restructured staff organisation, now in five faculties, review curriculum every year to meet needs of new intake. Pupils are set in year 7 for mathematics and year 8 in English. Spanish is now taught as a core subject from junior school nursery through to year 9, and moving towards most girls taking the GCSE at the end of year 9. Beyond that, no further streaming - important that non-top set girls prevented from feeling a failure.

Spanking new facilities in completely refurbished accommodation or contemporary designed new build. Good library and, as you might expect, computers all over - though girls able to request to use their own mobile technology in class; digital language lab. Girls' leisure facilities have benefitted from improvements to outside grounds. As one parent put it, ‘I cannot think of any parent who wouldn’t want their daughter spending their formative years in such wonderful surroundings’.

SENCo, whose knowledge is 'encyclopedic', carries out baseline assessment on all, though girls with learning difficulties are often picked up by subject teachers who provide most support in the classroom. A small number, mostly dyslexic and the school recently hosted Dyslexia North East Conference. Formal extra support comes at extra cost, less formal support not charged for. Small number of EAL who have personalised provision maps which include subject teacher and digital support, weekly EAL club and buddying by older girls, both as learning coaches and young language leaders.

Providing girls with skills for changing careers in a global market with strong emphasis on contributing to the improvement to north east prosperity is integral to school. NHSG CareerConnect works with girls to set up three weeks of work experience after GCSEs, and uses a network of OGs, parents and local business to provide talks, internships and opportunities outside the classroom. Building links with big local employers like Siemens and Nissan and headmistress would ‘certainly encourage girls to consider higher level apprenticeships rather than university’.

Happy with single sex success, 'Egos are fragile and the girls need the space to have a go, make mistakes without the pressure of living up to stereotypes. When they go on to university they are streets ahead of their co-educational sisters in confidence and ability to tackle the outside world, not timid, shy girls'. Certainly resonates with all the girls we spoke to.

Games, options, the arts

Very strong in sport; ethos of everyone gets a turn, so lots of teams and fixtures, locally, regionally and nationally. Ranked in top 15 of independent schools for sport by Independent School Sport magazine. County success in hockey and national finalists in recent years for biathlon, netball, cross-country, squash, swimming and badminton; some girls represent GB in their sport. Biannual sports tour, recently to Sri Lanka.

Facilities excellent but dispersed around Jesmond, with superb fitness suite in new building on senior school site, with ex-Central centre incorporating sports hall, music, dance and drama facilities a five minute walk away, all weather surface a little nearer. Girls complain that distance prevents timely trek back to school for next lesson although school does build in walking time into timetable.

Music has good accommodation in the centre, with practice rooms, ‘digital den’ with computers and keyboards, a fine wigwam-shaped recital hall and recording studios. Two orchestras, folk and jazz bands, choirs and string ensemble on offer, plenty of performance opportunity, high spot Mozart’s Requiem at the Northern Chords Festival in Newcastle Cathedral.

Dance now offered throughout the school including at A level and the dance studio is in much demand with clubs, in-house dance events and workshops with visiting professionals. Plenty of competition and performance outside the school gates too.

New drama studio for GCSE and A level work as well as newly established drama club. Drama includes regular full school productions incorporating all the performing arts, played at city centre professional theatre, latterly West Side Story and High School Musical.

Dazzling art curriculum in new light and airy space: ceramics, jewellery making, photography, fine art etc and a lot of fabric work. Girls run their own fashion shows.

D of E very popular, one of the largest participation rates amongst local schools; navy and army CCF with field days and camps. Opportunities for trips to Kenya and Tanzania, the result of links with communities there; USA for politics and arts; Iceland, Berlin, Geneva and even the Galapagos islands among many curriculum and extracurricular opportunities.

School open from 7.00am to 7.00pm for homework and participation in stupefying range of co-curricular activities available before and after school until 6pm and during lunchtimes. Activities range from sports, code club, Shakespeare and Mandarin to colour me happy and learning for learning.

Background and atmosphere

Opened in 2014 from merger of predecessor Central High, founded in 1895, and Church High, founded in 1885, with considerable investment to become northern outpost GDST flagship. Moving from Central High site, senior school now in refurbished converted Victorian Tankerville Terrace villas with attractive new building providing multi-purpose assembly hall, dining room, fitness suite (in much use), science labs with demonstration area and additional classroom spaces. Calm colours, plenty of light, wide corridors with clusters of casual seating, glass walled classrooms providing flexible, airy and very visible spaces.

Landscaped grounds provide a pupil plaza, improved leisure area outside with tennis/netball courts and all weather surface on the horizon. Comfy sixth form common room shared by both years – pretty spick and span compared to others we have seen. Roof terrace fits in with Go Green initiative and designed for gardening club.

Buzz of activity and air of purpose from passing girls in the corridor. Our sixth form guides obviously well known, from acknowledgements received from lower year groups we met. Casual gear sets sixth form apart, a relaxed dress code strongly defended by those we spoke to. Years below smartly turned out in new teal and grey uniform with seahorse school logo. The only display of teenage manners was from girls we passed in the foyer and on the long walk to the sports hall – maybe the haste to avoid the gathering rain clouds.

The many girls we met ranged in age and interests across the gamut of disciplines and were all articulate and socially assured, positive in outlook, reflective, respectful of peer opinions and clearly proud of their school and its facilities; as one parent put it, ‘well rounded and strong young females.’

Chaired by head girl, a very active school forum meets every four weeks with deputy head leading associated staff. Representatives from every form cover five strands – charity, e-learning, social and emotional learning, teaching and learning and Go Green. Annual fundraising for Plan UK with Because I am a Girl campaign resulted in £30,000 being distributed to date. Girls also choose their own school charity and run whole host of events in support. Sixth formers volunteer to be part of the SHINE programme, an autumn term outreach to local primary year 5 and 6 pupils, leading and motivating the children who take part in Saturday sessions.

GDST membership offers competitions and collaboration with other member schools across academic, creative and expressive arts, public speaking and debating.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Parents say that one of the really unique things about the school that sets it apart from others is the pastoral care and guidance throughout the school. The girls are nurtured and encouraged by dedicated staff who demonstrate their care - beyond the classroom too, say the girls. The pastoral team keeps an eye on individual ups and downs and specific problems are dealt with sensitively by heads of year, school nurse and counsellor.

Four dynamic new houses named after ships built on the Tyne, celebrating Tyneside’s maritime tradition, used for charity fundraising, sporting and performing arts competitions.

Clear anti-bullying policy – but it 'isn't a problem', as girls have respect drummed into them from the off. Merits and demerits promote the good and penalise the bad. Girls educated about the risk of drugs.

Social and emotional learning, well-being and mindfulness fundamental to school’s ethos and a real strength. Strong developing PSHE programme in place to help girls know themselves, deal with challenge and failure, organise their time and interact with others. Director of social and emotional learning wants girls to ‘have the resilience to push out of their comfort zone’. A dynamic curriculum; pupils provide feedback on whether the content and delivery is relevant and suitable. Parent information meetings held on teenage mental health and well-being.

Pupils and parents

Predominantly middle class intake from throughout region, professional families and the very wealthy alongside those from more modest backgrounds; lots of siblings and those with a family connection to the two predecessor schools. Rich mixture of regional accents and healthy mix of different cultures, a handful of Chinese girls staying with home guardians.

Girls come from near and far, the majority within a 30 mile radius. School well placed for public bus, metro and train links, gaps filled by private bus service and fleet of school minibuses to strategically placed hubs.

Transition from junior to secondary is sensitively handled with weekly senior school lessons from year 5, an 'experience day' and then 'big sister' sixth formers help them settle in.

Communication with parents much improved and they feel that they can phone or email teachers if any concerns, well before termly parents’ evening. The new Twitter account much appreciated as a ‘lovely window into the girls’ day at school’, and welcome move to include most things on Firefly, the school’s online remote access.

Notable alumnae include Dr Miriam Stoppard, Fiona Sinha, design director at McQ Alexander McQueen and actress Andrea Riseborough.


Natural progression from own junior school, with increasing competition for other places – spectacular new facilities an additional enticement. Entrance exam, interview and current school report to get in at year 7. Sixth form entrants need nine GCSEs with at least six at A*-A/9-7, with interview and previous school report.


Under 10 per cent leave post-GCSE. After A level, a few to Oxbridge (three in 2017); Durham and other Russell Group northern and Scottish universities popular, some venture to London, Bristol or the Midlands.

Eleven dentists, medics and vets in 2017, plus three off to study engineering and a regular stream to art colleges and drama schools.

Money matters

GDST funds bursaries centrally (all means-tested annually) with over 10 per cent of girls currently benefitting from the bursary scheme.

Our view

Two Newcastle girls’ schools successfully merged, the new GDST north eastern flagship now has facilities that live up to its reputation for excellent academics and pastoral care. The transition to a broader intake has resulted in a dip in examination statistics, but the wide range of subjects and activities and teaching staff with the dedication and ability to draw out each girl’s strengths set it apart. A close community where girls feel valued and that their contribution is important - and it shows. A school that really does deliver on its commitment to ‘an education like no other’.

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