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Based around two courtyards; you walk in a full circle. ‘You don’t get lost because if you keep walking you end up back where you started,’ said our guide. One courtyard used for seating, the other for experiments along with a greenhouse. Excellent artwork on show with lots of choice from sculpting to drawing to photography.  Mention must go to the textiles work.  It’s not ordinary run of the mill stuff but high fashion and high standards.  Younger girls were making make up bags, having designed their own fabric first...

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What the school says...

Northampton High School 11+ entrance examinations consist of: maths, English and verbal reasoning (VR). No past papers given but practice papers can be bought from high street retailers and via the internet.

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Additional Science at an English Independent School (GCSE)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Statistics at an English Independent School (GCSE)
  • Excellent performance by Girls taking Science (Core) at an English Independent School (GCSE)

Other features

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

Headmistress

Since September 2015, Dr Helen Stringer (50s). History at Bristol followed by doctorate from Sussex and PGCE in London. Vast years experience of teaching girls - ‘they are able and competent’ - most recently at Stephen Perse Foundation in Cambridge; this is her first headship. Loved her subject so quickly knew she wanted to teach. Took six years to get her doctorate teaching in Brighton in the private sector at the same time. Quickly realised she loved teaching girls: ‘I’m passionate about opportunities for women and education opens doors for them.’ Likens education to gardening, ‘sow the seed and nurture.’

Small, softly spoken and quietly unassuming, but a true leader. Look behind the eyes and you see a deep passion and conviction. Parents ooze enthusiasm: ‘My daughters would follow her through fire’; ‘She’s enthusiastic and generous; the school was lucky to find her.’ Parents talked about how she has made changes, subtle ones, and ‘she looks outwards, has got more involved with the community and raised the profile of the school.’ ‘She’s a great leader and a fabulous head.’ All parents describe her as ‘friendly, approachable and inspirational.’ We could see that. She’s not only passionate about educating girls but sees the broader picture, the empowerment of women and life after education. Holds tea parties: every girl will be invited to attend at least once a year, about six at a time, when they set their own agenda and chat about anything, be it dreams, politics or life. Still teaching year 9, ‘I like to keep my hand in.’ Very aware of the power of social media, and the downfalls, but embracing it.

Junior head since 2012 Ross Urquhart (40s). From the Highlands of Scotland, wanted to be a professional basketball player but didn’t make the grade despite playing for Scotland. Left Scotland for PE college in London where he could also pursue his sport. Started teaching in the state sector but quickly joined private as ‘didn’t like the way sport was taught.’ Forced into the classroom by a perceptive prep school head and quickly rose through the ranks. Previously head at mixed prep in Milton Keynes. Proud that he was a parent first before joining as head; two daughters in the senior school. The only male member of teaching staff in junior school. Still teaching games and covers for absent staff. Parents supportive and like him and talked about his high profile around the school. ‘I have no complaints’; ‘I like him and he’s offered good advice as a parent and head’; ‘I like his philosophy on sport and learning.’ All parents spoke about the excellent team he has below him. A couple of parents felt he placed ‘too much emphasis on the sporting stars and not the quiet academic achievers.’ He has a difficult job pleasing all. Definitely pro girls’ education, ‘I am the father of two girls and have a vested interest.’ Has steadied the ship and numbers now growing. A self-confessed ‘sports nut,’ he hosts a running club every Friday morning when the girls join him before school to run a mile.

Academic matters

In 2016, 65 per cent A*/A at GCSE, 77 per cent A*-B at A level, 53 per cent A*/A. Girls usually take 10 GCSEs. Plenty of languages on offer at GCSE and A level including French, German, Spanish, Latin and Greek. Virtually all girls take one language, many two and the odd one three. One bright spark took French a year early as timetabling did not allow her to take three in the same year. All extra tuition offered free; they are keen to accommodate girls. Girls set from year 7. Parents kept up to date with academic progress and all speak highly of ‘inspirational teachers.’ Lots of revision and drop in clubs and huge support for girls. Pupils happy to approach staff for extra help. Parents get quick response to emails; all said staff ‘went the extra mile,’ in both schools and all parents said how well staff knew their daughters.

Lots of excellent facilities including libraries and IT areas. All lessons showed good interaction between girls and teachers. A very relaxed air, but focused, and importantly, happy. As the school is relatively modern lay out is good with separate blocks for subjects. Parents appreciate the small class sizes, up to 20 in junior, 24 in lower senior, 20 in upper years and 15 in sixth form. But most groups are smaller.

Junior school follows same ethos. Happy, perky girls. Our guides were an inspiration, full of fun and confidence but knew what they were about. Girls taught in class with subject teachers dipping in and out. They get a good start here ideally setting them up for the more academic teaching at the senior school.

Sixth form girls drift serenely around the school. Not overly smart in faux business suits but dressed fit for purpose. A separate block houses them including a smart common room and dining area. Lots of quiet areas to study, being made good use of. Interesting to note that humanities and sciences equally distributed at A level – good to see. In fact, geography and psychology were the most popular subjects recently. Low take up of languages, disappointing, but sadly the norm these days. Lots of support for girls for UCAS; teachers obviously know girls very well and vice versa. University interview practice sessions on offer.

Not a huge number of SEN students, but those that are, well supported with individual education plans and parents very happy with outcome. One-to-one tuition if necessary, group tuition for most with all staff aware of needs. Some 59 pupils with EAL status but only 15 have extra support. Gifted and talented spotted young and nurtured.

Games, options, the arts

Huge sports complex offers something for everyone along with lots of pitches, Astroturf, running tracks as well as huge indoor gym, dance studios and well-equipped gym that the girls use before and after lessons. Impressive, recently updated pavilion offers fabulous viewing area and communal meeting place. Swimming pool well used. Senior girls offered the usual, hockey netball et al but also boxercise, yoga and spinning popular. Girls play football and if they ask for a sport they are given a chance to try it. Rugby was mooted so the local premiership team, Northampton Saints, was coerced to offer a masterclass. Oh, how we wish we could have observed this. Rounders and volleyball teams as well. Plenty of silverware in the cupboard. They have a Paralympian swimmer and a county champion shooter. Sport encouraged in whatever form. All this competitiveness perhaps rubs off from the junior school - remember who the head is - and sport actively encouraged there, particularly ball team sports including cricket. Pity they don’t have a basketball team. Lots of clubs and practices and plenty of teams.

Excellent artwork on show with lots of choice from sculpting to drawing to photography. Mention must go to the textiles work. It’s not ordinary run of the mill stuff but high fashion and high standards. Younger girls were making make up bags, having designed their own fabric first. Clever use of Photoshop and computing skills integrated here.

Music popular throughout the schools. Large music area with lots of practice rooms being well used whilst we were there. Young, patient male music teacher coping well with the screeching of new, enthusiastic recorder players - rather him than us. Some 177 girls have timetabled music lessons. Bands, choirs, orchestras galore, all popular. Drama also popular with a large studio on site. Girls encouraged to use the lighting and behind scenes as well as act. A through school production annually along with lots of other smaller scale performances throughout the year groups. As well as drama clubs there are others on offer such as knitting, engineering, debating - you name it, they’ve thought of it. ‘There is too much choice,’ said one mother; ‘my girls want to do everything!’

Plenty of school trips including annual skiing. D of E popular and offered up to gold. Before and after school clubs for busy working parents. Many drop off at 7.30am to catch the London train.

Background and atmosphere

Part of the Girls’ Day School Trust of schools, the largest group of independent girls’ schools in the country. Established in 1878, old for a girls’ school, initially based in the middle of Northampton. In 1992 the school moved to the purpose built site in the village of Hardingstone on the outskirts of Northampton. Now being incorporated into the urban sprawl of the town, but not to the school’s detriment. The site is huge and development can only encourage more pupils. Waitrose virtually opposite must be a godsend to some parents. Despite being 25 years old the school site still looks new. Beautifully maintained and sensibly laid out, it flows well with large, bright classrooms and plenty of communal space. Based around two courtyards; you walk in a full circle. ‘You don’t get lost because if you keep walking you end up back where you started,’ said our guide. One courtyard used for seating, the other for experiments along with a greenhouse. The area is large and everything is spacious and spread out. A forest school for the juniors, along with numerous playgrounds and a car park for sixth formers. Not many schools can offer that. The large, airy reception area is very welcoming. Whilst waiting for our guides we were amused to see wooden chairs hanging from the ceiling and the reaction they provoked, certainly a huge talking point. They are chairs from the old site to coincide with the 25 year anniversary at the new. Please also note the spade taking pride of place in the boardroom. The Queen used this when she officially opened the new school and planted a tree. Sadly the tree did not fare as well as the preserved spade.

Central to the school is the dining area, shared by both schools and accessed from both, the senior school to one side, junior to the other. And right outside this is the nursery playground (in a courtyard), which is at the heart of the school, so the youngsters take great delight in waving to the older girls, mutually beneficial to both and creating a real sense of community. ‘Once a High School girl, always a High School girl,’ was said by girls and parents alike, and we can see why. Mention must go to the excellent food. It was curry Thursday, poppadoms were piled high and all girls spoke of high culinary standards. Staff eat with the girls. Food plays a big part in this school. Interesting to note that year groups are still referred to as upper third to upper fifth in the senior school.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

The school is small so teachers know the girls well. This was backed up by all parents, who all spoke of the excellent pastoral care. Girls have the same form tutor from years 7-11, ‘they are super supportive,’ having one-to-one tutorials and turning to them first in times of need. ‘The girls are not aware how closely they are being monitored,’ said the head. All staff across both schools, not just teaching, have teenage mental health training, and are quick to spot any problems. School well aware of pressures and problems that can develop. School has recently upped its game with regards to pastoral care due to parental input and the new head. The girls now have ‘life lessons,’ including money/health/relationships/friendships. So much so that one parent said, ‘My daughter complains about yet another PHSD lesson, but the message is getting across.’ Even parents are involved, invited to ‘living with teenagers’ talks. A counsellor is available; girls can email them direct. School nurse also available.

Discipline not mentioned by parents except by one who said ‘according to my daughters they could be stricter on some girls,’ but they were very much an exception. ‘The girls are encouraged to communicate with each other and work through problems,’ said one parent; ‘there is little interference from the school unless it is absolutely necessary, which is the way it should be. It means the girls feel empowered sorting themselves out, a good lesson for life.’ It was made clear that the school closely monitored these situations.

A strong mentoring system exists. Big Sis, Little Sis. Year 11 girls mentor the year 6s so they have a familiar face to turn to when they join the senior school the following year. Seems to work well and the girls have fun at the same time; pancake races were mentioned. Girls are happy at school: ‘they love being there,’ was said by all parents. And all parents spoke about the girls being empowered - this word pops up a lot. School council powerful. Uniforms were changed at their request, sixth form common room upgraded within a budget and internal messaging rethought.

Interestingly, and laudably, at the instigation of the head, the girls are being taught to embrace and negotiate social media and use it to their advantage. LinkedIn profiles are being built and, by the time they leave, each girl should have her own website. ‘The girls are building their own profiles so when they leave they are well on the way to being successful women,’ said the head. They are also being taught social skills, how to work a room and join and leave conversations, excellent. Girls are encouraged to use their phones within lessons, albeit supervised, but phones are strictly banned at lunch time. ‘We need to talk to each other,’ said one of our guides. One parent not so keen on phone use: ‘I wish they didn’t use their phones at school, they are too much of a distraction.’ But the head realises it’s a sign of the times. As part of the GDST the school embraces this and encourages the girls to network with other schools that are part of the Trust.

Pupils and parents

Girls come from a wide area, from within the town and as far afield as Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Bedfordshire and Oxfordshire. An eclectic mix of parents and girls. Parents reflect the county and town. Hard core of county set, many of which are second and third generation pupils. Town represented by a more diverse mix of medics, professionals, academics and London businesspeople. All mix well together. Parents very supportive and very pro single sex education. Many families making huge sacrifices to educate their daughters. Girls are bright, friendly and welcoming. The tight knit community of the school is very apparent. ‘My daughter loves being there and has a tight group of friends,’ said many parents. ‘The heritage of the school and its reputation spoke for itself,’ said one mother. ‘I was meeting confident, yet humble, academically achieving girls and wanted that for my daughter.’

Entrance

Girls who are at the nursery are offered priority places at the junior school, just over half take a place. Girls from years 1-6 spend a day or morning at the school with their classmates and are assessed; school will say no if they do not feel it is right for a girl, despite it not being full. More-or-less automatic entry to the senior school from year 6. The odd one or two don’t make the grade for the senior school, parents kept in the loop and well aware of decision years before it happens. Large influx of girls, up to 40, into year 7 from local preps and state schools. Up to 20 girls join in the sixth form, mainly from state but interestingly some from mixed independents. Five GCSEs at grade B or above (or numerical equivalent) to include maths and English with subject-specific grades for more academic subjects. Numbers have struggled in the junior school but are now growing, numbers stable in senior and increasing in sixth form.

Exit

Vast majority, 90 per cent, move up to the senior school, the other 10 per cent to grammar schools out of county and the occasional boarder. Around 70 per cent retention at year 11, the 30 per cent leave for mixed state sixth forms or to board, the odd one kindly guided in a more vocational direction.

Virtually all girls go to university but apprenticeships being actively embraced with the GDST sourcing internships and work experience to help. Subjects studied show eclectic mix, mainly at Russell Groups. The odd medic and one Oxbridge in 2016, the norm for most years. Gap years falling in numbers.

Money matters

Scholarships and bursaries offered through the GDST from year 7. Means-tested bursaries available as well as two HSBC scholarships offering full fees to girls from the state sector.

Our view

A small school becoming stronger thanks to the new head. Girls can spend the whole of their school year on one site, and many do. Offering much more than just an education, these girls are being set up for life. Empowered, well rounded young women who will be smashing glass ceilings as they make their way through life.

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Special Education Needs

SEN is a whole school issue. The school's aims are to provide equal opportunities to develop all students' talents and abilities to their full potential, ensuring that students with special educational needs have full access to the curriculum. With this in mind, these aims are met through a whole-school approach to Special Needs provision with all teaching staff taking responsibility for meeting individual needs. Additional support is available from the Learning Support Department who provide support in class, individual and group sessions.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
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
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
Not Applicable
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

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