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As one year 11 pupil said, ‘The school pushes us to work hard but teachers also encourage us to take a step back before launching ourselves completely into revision. A lot of the pressure comes from ourselves because we want to do well. Our teachers are so passionate about their subjects and that rubs off on us so that we become passionate too.’ On the walls hang pictures and short profiles of inspiring alumnae including Sarah Outen, the first woman to row solo across the Indian Ocean, and international Emmy award-winning actress Lucy Cohu...

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What the school says...

All sixth form classes are taught in mixed classes with the boys from Stamford School. Lessons are taught on both sites. Stamford Junior School, a 2-11 co-educational junior school, together with Stamford High School and Stamford School form part of the Stamford Endowed Schools. The schools provide high quality day and boarding education for girls and boys in a family atmosphere. ...Read more

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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.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2015, Mrs Vicky Buckman, 50s. The daughter and sister of heads, she grew up in the schoolhouse of a large urban grammar school in Cheshire which she later attended. Never planned to follow in their footsteps, but in her final year at Leeds University (BSc agricultural and animal sciences) she decided teaching was for her. Her first post was at Christ’s Hospital in West Sussex where, at the age of 25, she became the youngest ever housemistress. ‘It was a way of life and was great fun,’ she says. ‘I get how girls work. I got used to championing them.’ In 2006 she moved to become deputy head of City of London Freeman’s School. Has always worked in the independent sector.

Comes across as friendly, approachable and positive. One of her first jobs was to move her office ‘from the back of beyond’ to the ground floor so she could see what was going on. Teaches biology to year 8. ‘I think it’s important everyone sees the head teaching and writing reports,’ she says. ‘And it keeps my hand in.’

When Mrs Buckman started she asked pupils to give her time to get to grips with the role and explained that, initially, they might not see that much of her. The girls say she’s now out and about – eating with them in the dining hall, attending concerts and supporting sports teams on the touchline. Clearly wants to be visible.

Every Wednesday from 8 to 8.30am she has Open Door when girls can go to her office and talk to her about anything on their mind. They seem to like this.

A trained ISI inspector, she is also a keen musician, gardener and swimmer and a qualified open water scuba diver. She believes in responsible risk-taking, something that particularly resonates with girls, she says.

Married to Stephen, a vicar; they have a son and daughter, both in their 20s, and a family cat called Borodin ‘who is large, fluffy and ginger,’ she says.

Mrs Buckman feels she has been very lucky getting the headship and we get the impression she is there for the long haul.The ISI inspected the school in the third week of the 2017 autumn term. At the time of writing she had seen a copy of the draft report. ‘It was good and fair,’ is all she will say at this stage.

Academic matters

The head believes if girls work hard, listen to advice and take advantage of all the opportunities anything is possible. ‘I want them to be the best they can,’ she says. It is certainly no academic pressure cooker. There is pressure and competition but girls we spoke to said this comes from each other rather than teachers. As one year 11 pupil said, ‘The school pushes us to work hard but teachers also encourage us to take a step back before launching ourselves completely into revision. A lot of the pressure comes from ourselves because we want to do well. Our teachers are so passionate about their subjects and that rubs off on us so that we become passionate too.’

One pupil went as far as saying, ‘They inspire me. I thought I wanted to become a lawyer but I’m now thinking of becoming a teacher.’

There’s mutual respect here and you get the impression that although expectations are high the school has a friendly, caring environment where girls can ask for help and support if they need it. Class sizes around 20 with no more than 14 pupils for A level subjects. Teaching staff ratio of women to men is 50:50. The head’s senior leadership team comprises mostly women.

Stamford High School forms part of Stamford Endowed Schools (SES,) which also includes Stamford Nursery and Junior Schools and Stamford School (boys). SES uses the diamond model which involves girls and boys being taught together in the junior school, separately in their senior schools then together again in the sixth form.

The girls seem to like this approach. As one younger pupil pointed out, 'It’s nice having boys close by but good you don’t have to see them all the time.’ And a sixth former added, ‘It’s been the perfect mix for me. Having just girls around in senior school allowed me to grow up freely. In the sixth form it’s felt like starting a new school and I’ve enjoyed mixing with the boys.’

The head believes more and more schools will follow Stamford’s example: ‘We became a diamond school in 2000 but we will always be true to the founding principle that we are a single sex school with a mixed sixth form. Girls thrive in lessons here in a way that they don’t in a co-ed school. They ask questions, they are supportive of each other. Classes are more productive and teachers are teaching in one style to meet the needs of girls. Inevitably, in a co-ed school you tend to teach to the boys rather than the girls. The model works well because it offers the best of both worlds.’

Automatic entry from the junior school. Everyone else sits an entrance exam (non-verbal reasoning, maths and English). This means the ability range is quite broad. Most take 10 GCSEs including three sciences and a language; in 2018, 55 per cent of grades were A*-A/9-7. Rich choice of languages on offer: French or Spanish in year 7 then can add German or Russian in year 8. The brightest currently take French a year early then complete a short course in Spanish, although this is under review.

The five GCSEs at grade 6 boundary for progressing to the sixth form doesn’t seem to be set in stone, according to some parents. We checked with the head who says each case is treated individually and there is flexibility. ‘Ultimately we want our girls to achieve something for their efforts over two years,’ she says. ‘For some, a coursework approach may be better.’

Some 26 subjects offered at A level plus BTecs in sports science and business. Most study three A levels. Most popular and strongest performing subjects, with girls as well as boys, are biology, chemistry and maths. The joint sixth formers achieved 62 per cent A*-B, 35 per cent A*/A grades in 2018.

The school currently has no statemented pupils but has a watching brief on 195 girls who are on a learning needs list. These are pupils who have a below average score on a test that measures skills such as verbal reasoning, working speed and memory, mostly pupils with dyslexia. All teachers are aware of those pupils on the list and make adjustments in the classroom to meet learning needs. Extra lessons also available for those with English as an alternative language. No charge for special support although a nominal fee is added if a pupil gets extra help over lunchtime.

Many go on to Russell Group universities, but the head accepts that university isn’t for everyone and says an increasing number are applying for apprenticeships, which she supports.

Games, options, the arts

Plenty of sport on offer including hockey, netball, cross-country, gymnastics, tennis, athletics, badminton and sailing (at nearby Rutland Water) with success at county, regional and national level. The U14 hockey team is currently county champions. We counted some 18 hockey teams and 24 netball teams so there seems lots of opportunity to have a go whatever your level, particularly lower down the school. For hockey, some age groups field three or four teams and at U12 there are five. Girls in the top teams are expected to commit to several training sessions a week and a match at the weekend, not unusual in the independent sector. As one parent pointed out, ‘If you are sporty, a lot is expected of you.’

Fantastic facilities available - a £6.1m SES sports centre complete with all mod cons including fitness suite and 25m indoor pool. These are a 20-minute walk away at the boys’ school - not ideal, but part and parcel of being a town centre school. Swimming available at the junior school’s pool. Stamford High School does have its own on site sports hall, which has recently been updated to house a fitness suite.

Some 176 music lessons every week with plenty of concerts (string and band), choirs and ensembles. Dance productions too. A state-of-the-art performing arts centre at Stamford School is the venue for large scale productions, such as Grease, Les Misérables, and Hairspray. The High School has its own hall which has recently been refurbished with a portable stage and retractable seating so it can seat 600. More than 280 pupils take speech and drama and many are prepared for the LAMDA (London Academy) exams.

Regular visits to art galleries and exhibitions and recent overseas trips to Italy and Paris. No Saturday morning school but more than 80 voluntary activities offered such as bridge, golf and driving lessons for 16 year olds. Thriving CCF – this year’s new recruits in the army section numbered 12 boys and 31 girls. Around 40 gold D of E awards each year. Girls encouraged to volunteer and get involved in the local community through charity work.

Boarders

This is a day school with about 10 per cent boarders. Around a quarter of these are from overseas and the school is actively recruiting with recent trips to mainland China, Russia, Ukraine, Thailand, the US and Nigeria. The rest are mostly local girls with parents in the Forces; Lincolnshire is home to several airbases.

Three boarding houses. We looked at Welland (11 to 16 years) - just around the corner from the school’s main site and a 10-minute walk into town. It has a homely feel with two big TV rooms complete with large sofas and beanbags. Four or five students to a dorm with sixth formers sharing two to a room. Pupils also get the use of a fully fitted kitchen where they can make toast, bake cakes and even do their own laundry if they want to. There is a lovely large garden at the back. This is also home to two rabbits, which the girls help to look after.

Girls seem to enjoy a fair amount of freedom here. They are allowed to walk into town from year 7 at different times provided they are with another pupil. The houseparent is keen to encourage independence: girls can attend sleepovers or parties at the weekend with day girls provided parents give permission. The girls we spoke to loved boarding. One said if she didn’t board she wouldn’t do her prep – compulsory every night in the school library.

Boarders can opt for a three, four, five or seven night package. Around 22 girls stay on a Friday evening with 16 or fewer on site on a Saturday. A new service, aimed at busy London families, offers accompanied travel to and from King's Cross on Friday evenings and Monday mornings.

Background and atmosphere

Beautiful mellow limestone buildings, quirky narrow passages and stunning riverside views. What’s not to like about Stamford? The SES schools sit at the heart of this picture postcard town with its 600 listed buildings (the TV adaptation of Middlemarch was filmed here). Stamford High School was founded in 1877 as part of the legacy left the schools in the Browne’s Hospital Trust. It still occupies its original site on the south side of the River Welland.

The school entrance is not very obvious. We were so busy gazing up at the town’s beautiful architecture that we missed it. But then we spotted a group of pupils who were obviously from SHS. The uniform is distinctive - navy blazer, long pleated below-the-knee navy skirt, white open shirt and black shoes (no heels). It sounds old fashioned but we liked it and, more importantly, the girls we saw love it. If they do have a gripe it’s to do with tying their hair back, a rule the new head introduced. Parents support the head on this one, we believe.

Once inside the atmosphere is calm and orderly. Girls move about the corridors with a sense of purpose. No rushing around or shouting. On the walls hang pictures and short profiles of inspiring alumnae including Sarah Outen, the first woman to row solo across the Indian Ocean, and international Emmy award-winning actress Lucy Cohu.

Girls are friendly and come across as confident, cheerful and relaxed around their teachers. The ones we spoke to were certainly not snooty. A couple of spirited sixth formers were keen to take us on a tour, pointing out the newly-refurbished dining hall and home economics centre recently opened by former Bake Off judge Mary Berry.

They then showed us the new ideal classrooms, an initiative being rolled out as part of the head’s drive to use the latest ideas and approaches in class. Interconnecting desks are covered in interactive whiteboards enabling pupils to write on their desks, save information and use digital technology to share it with the rest of the class.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

All girls have a form tutor who is a main point of contact for both pupils and parents. One pupil said, ‘Everyone is so friendly and the teachers are so nice. If you have a problem you can go to anyone.’ And a parent added, ‘Pastoral care is very good. I contacted the school about an eating issue and the school was fantastic.’

Strict rules around the use of mobile phones. Years 7 to 9 must keep them in their lockers during the school day. Boarders have to hand in all devices 15 minutes before they go to bed. Some girls have tried to get round this by having several devices but the houseparent is one step ahead of them. Main sanction is being gated.

Pupils and parents

Mostly local families from a large catchment area and from all walks of life, thanks to range of bursaries available, with lots of military families who like a modern boarding option. For day girls an extensive network of bus routes from as far afield as Newark in the north to Peterborough in the south.

Some parents looked at the grammar school option but chose SES because they like the diamond model - particularly those with sons and daughters. One parent with a daughter in year 11 and a son at Stamford School said she loved the feel of the place when she looked round. ‘It has a warmth about it. My daughter was very unhappy at her junior school. It was as though I had lost her, then when she started at Stamford High School I got her back. When my son and daughter come home after the first day of term they are so excited they can’t stop talking. The schools are like one big happy family.’

One parent who had two daughters at the school said it suited both girls despite them having different strengths. ‘My oldest is into science while my younger daughter is more into the arts and drama. But there are opportunities for both. The school is good all round.’

Another acknowledged her daughters had been very happy and had formed incredibly strong friendships. All said that given their time again they would still choose Stamford High School.

Entrance

Automatic entry from the junior school at 11. Entrance exam for outsiders and those after a scholarship.

Sixth form entrants (internal and external) schould have at least five GCSEs at grade 6.

Exit

Around 20-40 per cent leave after GCSEs. Nearly all sixth formers into higher education (many to Russell Group universities; two to Oxbridge and one medic in 2018) with a few to apprenticeships.

Money matters

Bursaries means-tested and up to full fees, scholarships worth between £500-£1,000 pa. Academic, music and sports scholarships available at 11+ and art, drama and all-rounder scholarships added at 13+. Similar number in the sixth form.

Our view

Traditional atmosphere but with modern teaching methods turning out spirited, well-rounded, confident girls keen to get out there and test themselves. Former pupil Flight Lt Kirsty Moore, the first woman pilot in the Red Arrows, says, ‘I arrived a shy, 11-year old and seven years later I felt ready to step out into the world and make it my own.’ We think plenty more will feel inspired to do the same.

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