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Every lesson we observed involved happy girls and teachers. We were welcomed with open arms and chatted to by all, particularly the year 6 art class who couldn’t wait to show us their work. Girls are a bit of a revelation: genuinely nice with no airs and graces, or pretensions, which is a joy to see.  Happy, confident, chatty, open and friendly.  But all very ambitious for themselves and their peers.  Feminists in the true sense of the word, they will…

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What the school says...

Entrance examinations consist of: 11 - Maths, English & VR including an interview. 16 - Minimum of 5 A-Cs including an interview.

No past papers given.

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2013, Alan Whelpdale (50s). History degree, the first from his family to attend university. From Yorkshire and humble beginnings. ‘I quickly realised that succeeding at school was my ticket out of Barnsley.’ A keen tennis and badminton player. Decided to teach when helping sixth formers at a local school in his final year at uni. Stayed in Bangor to do his PGCE. Taught in the state sector, mixed and boys, before moving to a girls’ grammar in London. ‘I liked teaching the more able children as it was a challenge to really stretch them.’ Left London for Durham High, then to Farnborough Hill before returning to Durham High as deputy head. Was acting head for three terms and they asked him to apply to be head twice. ‘I turned it down as I loved teaching and didn’t think the public role was for me.’ Quickly realised he’d made a ‘massive mistake’ and being a head was the job for him. Leicester High is his first headship.

A practising Catholic who is married to the job. Passionate about teaching and education and puts the hours in because of it. ‘Education can change lives, and I am living proof of it.’ Chatty, intense and open, he is making great inroads at the school. Numbers were falling when he arrived. He’s steadied the ship and intake is rising, as is the profile of the school. Described by parents as ‘lovely,’ ‘brilliant’ and ‘he keeps in touch well.’ All parents said how well he knew their daughters and how he was at every school event. High profile around the school. ‘He genuinely wishes the girls well,’ was one comment. ‘He is open to ideas and doing an amazing job,’ was said by more than one parent. ‘It’s because of him that the school is a success.’ Misses teaching because of head’s duties but planning to timetable himself in next year. Well liked by parents, pupils and staff despite his very obvious high expectations. Very pro single sex education: ‘it works better for girls.’

Head of junior school since September 2016 is Sarah Davies. Exeter joint honours graduate in English and primary education. Longest serving member of staff at over 20 years, and most recently head of year 6. ‘She’s brilliant,’ was said by more than one parent. Previously, in the dim and distant past, worked at a state primary in Rugby. A warm and welcoming character who is happy to be able to keep tabs on her ex-pupils as they move across the playground to the senior school. Her two daughters are currently pupils at the senior school. ‘Because she is a parent she sees things from both sides,’ said one parent.

Academic matters

In 2016, 75 per cent A*/A at GCSE; 72 per cent A*-B at A level, 44 per cent A*/A. Impressive results. Girls take nine or 10 GCSEs with about 20 per cent taking two languages, French and Spanish. Italian taught in year 6, along with Latin and Mandarin offered at junior level as well. Disappointing not to see Latin on the GCSE syllabus, but there is a Latin club for senior girls. French and Spanish introduced in year 7. German was on offer but no takers. Maths is king at this school, with sciences hot on its heels. Further maths offered at GCSE with many takers. IGCSEs in this and five others - French, Spanish and the sciences - ‘to stretch the girls.’ Talk of an inspirational female maths teacher. Maths the only set subject. Interesting approach to setting as pupils move sets regularly. Set for topic rather than whole subject so movement very fluid. Has increased results, and confidence in the subject, dramatically.

Some two-thirds of girls study both maths and chemistry at A level, with biology popular too. Humanities and languages often in classes of one or two at A level because of low uptake. Girls seem happy with this but can mean that there is nowhere to hide. They are flexible with A level subjects: if they can timetable it a girl can take it. Photography A level introduced because of requests from pupils and lots of impressive artwork on display. Modern IT facilities and an excellent library in each school.

Every lesson we observed involved happy girls and teachers. We were welcomed with open arms and chatted to by all, particularly the year 6 art class who couldn’t wait to show us their work. Year 8s happily and enthusiastically dissecting a lung in biology lesson; we were happy to observe from a distance. Newish labs, opened in the last five years. Plenty of cross-curricular work going on; please note the artistic collage of the periodic table on display outside the labs. A very relaxed atmosphere throughout both schools: the girls were working hard and extremely focussed.

Sixth formers wear business suits and look the part, housed in the attics with curved corridors, but not at all cramped. Careers room and head of sixth form nearby. Obviously very much an open door policy here. Small common room that is kept tidy by the girls. They have a roster for cleaning up and loading the dishwasher. A friendly bunch, toward us and each other. Mock interview practice held at Uppingham School gives the girls a ‘good training for interviews,’ said one of our guides.

All parents from both schools spoke about how well their daughters were doing academically and how well supported they were. Girls get a good grounding in the junior school and quickly learn that ‘it’s cool to do well.’ This ethos carries on throughout the school. Lots of contact with teachers. ‘There is a brilliant chemistry between the girls and teachers,’ was one parent’s view. All parents said girls were happy to approach teachers if they felt they were struggling and got instant support and extra help at no extra cost. Strong mentoring with older girls helping younger, across both schools. Sixth formers go across to the junior school to hear younger girls. ‘I have great respect for all the teachers; they are doing a tremendous job with great enthusiasm.’ All parents spoke about the benefits of small class sizes and excellent teaching. Average class size 16, maximum of 24.

Not many girls have SEND but those that do offered extra support with no charge. Parents spoke highly of help offered. Four have English as a foreign language. Again support offered and rapid progress made.

Games, options, the arts

Don’t be deceived by the apparent lack of facilities sports-wise. There is a gym on site that is used for exams and as a hall. Newly varnished floor was giving off a powerful odour when we visited. Other facilities are a short walk away and well used, shared with Leicester university. Sport for all whatever their ability, compulsory up to year 12, but plenty of choices. Lots of silver in the cabinet. Strong gymnastic teams, county champions in badminton. Plenty of extracurricular sports clubs that are well supported including a rugby club for the younger girls – head of sixth form is a keen player, apparently. Ballroom dancing also on offer, so a few budding Strictly starts in the making, possibly? Fun team photos on display throughout the junior school.

An enthusiastic new music teacher is making great inroads. He has big plans to introduce bands and orchestras, which strangely don’t exist currently; girls excited about this, particularly a new pop and rock band that is in the pipeline. Lots of choirs.

Drama and productions enthusiastically supported, aided by a newly opened drama studio. Performances at The Curve theatre. Fabulous drama workshops held by visiting dames including Janet Suzman and Glenda Jackson. Goodness knows how the head managed to persuade them, but he did. ‘I asked,’ he said.

D of E up to gold on offer, school trips galore. Lots of after-school clubs including homework club for later pick up for parents. ‘It’s annoying we have to pay for the homework club in the junior school,’ said one parent. ‘It’s expensive and if you have girls in both schools it makes sense to pick them up at the same time.' Club is free in the senior school as girls work in library.

Background and atmosphere

Known as LHS, the school has been educating girls for 100 years. Senior school housed in a large old Victorian building, amply extended, off a busy road fairly central to the city; it has been on this site for the last 85 years. In 1985 the school changed its name from Portland to Leicester High, with significant building taking place in 2010. Surrounded by trees, the junior and senior schools are rather squeezed onto the site, but not to the detriment of the girls. Junior school is in bright building, bit of a rabbit warren in parts with lots of stairs but nice, airy, well decorated classrooms. Please note the height chart which our guides pointed out fondly.

Parking is at a premium but there is plenty of outside space including a pond, outside seating and vegetable gardens that are tended by the girls. Vegetables are used in food tech lesson and for lunches. Please note the guinea pigs and rabbits; year 7s are in charge of them. The atmosphere is jolly, friendly and welcoming, from the man on the gate letting you in to the very friendly receptionist signing you in. ‘A happy school,’ was said by virtually every parent.

Very much a reflection of Leicester’s ethnic diversity, a third of the girls are Hindu, another third Muslim and the remainder Christians and other beliefs. Immediately apparent that all mix well. ‘Embrace and accept,’ is the ethos of the school. Close ties within the community. All girls wear kilts with light blue blazers in juniors, dark blue in senior. Interesting that year 6 is the start of the senior school rather than year 7. This is historic to Leicestershire, now changed, but the school is carrying on with it. Unashamedly academic but offering a broad education. Girls are encouraged to work hard and play hard so lots of emphasis on sport, music and drama.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

‘Bullying is not a problem,’ said the head emphatically. Backed up by parents. ‘Any problems are quickly flagged up and dealt with quickly before they can escalate,’ was said by many. But girls can be girls. The staff know the girls well and quickly pick up on any niggles and nip them in the bud. Because the school is so small there does seem to be a very tight knit community with the girls openly supporting each other and pleased about each other’s achievements. One parent said, ‘My daughter had friendship issues but the problems were solved very smoothly by the teachers. It was dealt with professionally and kindly.’ Interestingly discipline not mentioned by any parent: they’re obviously an obedient lot. Money available for counsellors if need be. Lots of mentoring between the years and sixth form girls can apply for a paid job looking after the younger girls in after-school clubs. ‘I am confident that my daughter is safe and happy at school,’ was a common theme among parents. Strong school council that appears to be listened to. They got green bins earlier than most, food has been improved and more choice offered. Lots of cake sales for charitable causes.

As well as being academically prepared for the outside world, sixth form girls are taught the practicalities. They have ‘preparing for life’ lessons including how to check your car tyres, change a wheel, first aid and how to change a light bulb – excellent. These girls are going to be invincible.

Pupils and parents

A strong community of parents who all want one thing for their daughters, a good education in a safe environment. All are very pro single sex. City people, medics and academics who are working hard and making sacrifices to pay for their daughter's education. They are all culturally and ethnically outward looking. Girls are a bit of a revelation: genuinely nice with no airs and graces, or pretensions, which is a joy to see. Happy, confident, chatty, open and friendly. But all very ambitious for themselves and their peers. ‘A happy child does well at school,’ was said more than once by parents.

Entrance

Unashamedly looking for bright sparks but they have to fit the ethos of the school. All girls and parents are interviewed and it is made clear to parents that the school has a strong Christian foundation so all girls will be expected to celebrate this, including Christmas, and to attend church services, as well as other religious establishments. They are prepraed to turn pupils away if they ‘will not be happy at the school.’ Verbal assessment for early years, written examinations for older girls. Automatic entry to senior school for girls in year 5. The odd one each year doesn’t make the grade and is kindly guided elsewhere. Some 20 girls join from the state sector in year 7 to make two senior classes which are mixed between old and new girls. Entry to sixth form needs six Bs at GCSE with As in the subjects they wish to study.

Exit

Very unusual to lose a girl from the junior school in transition to senior unless family is moving. Some 10 per cent leave after year 1, mainly into the state sector, the odd one to a private co-ed sixth form.

Every sixth former goes to university; apprenticeships are not on the radar. Most to Russell Groups. Medicine and related subjects very popular: at least 10 per cent each year follow these routes. One Oxbridge this year, the norm for most years. Gap years minimal.

Money matters

Scholarships, hotly contested, and means-tested bursaries available including a full scholarship in year 7 and a sixth form one for a girl from the state sector.

Our view

A small but strong school that is developing a louder voice thanks to the head. Not an academic hothouse despite its results. Girls are independent, free thinkers. Feminists in the true sense of the word, they will tackle anything, be it academic or not, and expect to be equal. Long may this continue.

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