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What says..

The broad curriculum runs along pretty traditional lines with clear subject demarcations - lessons in science, history, geography, music, drama and so forth. They are taught well above the national level - in maths, where this is easier to gauge, head says they are a year ahead. ‘It’s pretty pacey teaching’, she says, ‘with a degree of differentiation because even with the pool of this high ability group, we need to challenge the really high flying’. One parent, though, did…

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What the school says...

There are few things more important than choosing the right school for your child. The special atmosphere at Withington Junior School encourages creative and independent thinking and extends each girl not just academically but in every area of her life.

Our Junior School has the advantage of being able to retain its small size and its individual character whilst benefiting from its close links with the Senior School. Our excellent team of Junior Staff teach their subject specialisms in the Senior School and Senior Staff teach juniors. Each form has a trained 6th form peer supporter, which strengthens the links across the age range. Junior girls are offered a great variety of cultural experiences, visiting galleries, museums, concerts and theatres. The school also welcomes an exciting range of visiting speakers, and plays host to authors, poets and drama workshops.

In this lively environment, well structured but warm and friendly, Withington girls flourish and grow into balanced, happy, confident young people. We invite you to come and visit us and see for yourself all that Withington has to offer.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since September 2019, Bridget Howard BEd (Exeter). Previously head of Alderley Edge Junior School for Girls. Prior to that, teacher in the Junior School at Bolton School for Girls’ Division. Her purposeful walk and manner are all efficiency but it’s balanced with her friendly manner which comes entwined with a wry sense of humour, which suggests that while she has her hand firmly on the tiller, she also relishes the fun which comes from leading a flock of young, clever, inquiring female minds. They are, she says with a smile, ‘feisty girls who love coming to school’. Quietly spoken, carefully diplomatic, she has a determined glint in her eye which we imagine makes her a fine match for the many expectant parents in this high-achieving school, many of whom keep a careful daily watch on their daughters’ work levels and progress.

Has made more tweaks than changes - why fiddle with an outstanding formula which sees almost all the girls go on to the senior school, the holy grail for WGS Junior parents? Even so, since arriving, she has adapted weekly staff meetings to ensure they cover every single concern for every single pupil – whether academic or pastoral - and introduced house points based on 4 Rs (responsibility, resilience, resourcefulness and respect). Believes good qualities matter, ‘like being good members of the community’. Keen on the girls applying a particular well-known song lyric, asking themselves: ‘what have you done today to make yourself feel proud?’ Links each half term with a value, such as unity – the idea being that everyone is better and stronger together. Also has her sights on expanding the current two houses to strengthen the pastoral side.

Following in the footsteps of her much-loved predecessor (never easy), it is a testament to her impact thus far that parents were quick to praise her extremely good knowledge of the girls – both their strengths and weaknesses. One parent declared this to be her biggest ‘benchmark’. Another alluded to her ‘superb’ interaction with the girls, describing her as very approachable and hands on. Parents always notice the details - one expressed delight the head had stooped down to help her young daughter with her shoe laces.

In her spare time, she loves cooking and long distance trail walking.

Entrance

Around 44 pupils sit the January exam for 28 places in year 3 (two class entry) – covers both maths and English. For entry in years 3 and 5, they are taught a lesson in a ‘lovely, warm environment’, says head. ‘It is easy to see who is engaged, involved, who works independently’ (so beware anyone who invests in a spot of tutor-led bluffing). Places available further up the school reduce - in year 5, there are only five places and around 30 try for them (and for those 30, like heat seeking missiles, the senior school will be their target).

The process genuinely does seem to be a friendly one. One girl, who had recently gone through the application process, described her morning as very ‘normal’; not nerve-inducing at all, her mum said.

Exit

All take the entrance exam for the senior school, the parental end game. Some years one or two pupils may not be offered a place. It’s a fact of life that early promise ‘doesn’t always hold,’ says head. In these instances, the staff keep in touch ‘constantly’ with parents regarding any concerns.

Our view

The broad curriculum runs along pretty traditional lines with clear subject demarcations - lessons in science, history, geography, music, drama and so forth. They are taught well above the national level - in maths, where this is easier to gauge, head says they are a year ahead. ‘It’s pretty pacey teaching’, she says, ‘with a degree of differentiation because even with the pool of this high ability group, we need to challenge the really high flying’. (Parents mentioned some attend the North West gifted and talented group). One parent, though, did suggest she would prefer her daughter to be stretched laterally in areas like maths, not upwards by doing work from the year ahead. Another parent felt that although the bar was high - ‘the academic achievement outstanding’ - the girls were nevertheless ‘allowed to thrive in their own way’. Head acknowledges that ‘some might need some reinforcement and a steadier pace’ and so there is a facility for group work if needed from year 3. The teachers certainly had much parental praise lavished upon them - ‘every single teacher is fantastic’, one said.
Any learning differences are most likely to be picked up by form teachers who will share all concerns with other teachers and the learning support department. Support is tailored to the child so this ranges from teaching in parallel to a small group in the class (which may be in short term bursts) to ongoing longer term support. The head of learning support comes to all staff meetings and dyslexia screening on entry is being introduced.
The overall key to the school is perhaps to be found in one parent’s statement that ‘academically, they push them hard’, but that they are ‘really challenged, never bored’. The notable factor being that WGS girls like to be challenged because they are naturally self-motivated to learn. In one classroom we visited, pupils were visibly relishing the prospect of their mental maths test. Head feels girls who thrive at Withington have a real thirst for information, are curious and totally engaged. Parents felt this too. Worth bearing in mind if you are considering the school for your daughter.
Homework not too onerous. One parent said ‘they do work hard,’ but if a piece of work took longer than anticipated, she had only to speak to the teachers who would factor it in going forwards - ’they are very responsive’. Then again, other parents feel homework levels are not high enough.
As one would expect, there is a vast array of lunchtime and after-schools clubs (morning break is for - and possibly the only time of for some children - unstructured free play) and some lovely options are on offer. Pet club, the lure of cuddling small animals, was a big draw for one girl choosing the school. Clubs range widely from debating, chess, coding to outdoor club.
Slick whole school productions span the Lion King to The Withy Express (the choice of production so much more imaginative than other places), often performed to different audiences, sometimes to vast rooms of senior citizens, as well as parents.
Lots of competitions both internal like the mock election and Dragons’ Den, and external, like the UKMT Junior Maths challenge, a competition aimed at Year 7 and 8 mathematicians in which Withington year 6 entrants recently all achieved certificate thresholds, including a silver and two bronzes. Junior Enterprise was taking place at the time of our visit (lip balms and jewellery on sale).
The girls do PE every day. ‘They really harness their potential in sport’ a parent said (her daughter had gone on to play for a regional team). All the usual sport options are available including netball, hockey, swimming, tennis, rounders and the recently-added lacrosse. Lots of house events and interschool tournaments in which Withington tends to shine - the U11 pop lacrosse team (always the only all-girl team in the competition) have been County Champions or semi-finalists on several occasions, including 2020, earning them the right to compete in the national tournament. In netball, A, B, C and D teams regularly compete against other local schools and won 41 of their 48 matches in 2020. Despite all this glory, head is quick to assert that resilience is in fact the key prize - it is not about ‘having to be brilliant’ on the sports field but learning from mistakes.
An annual gym and dance display (top three are selected for whole-school performance) came out as ‘absolute highlight’ for one pupil. Music lessons are popular – ‘there’s an excellent musical support framework’, said one parent, ‘musically, they really develop them well’. There are certainly many performance opportunities - the Strawberry serenade summer concert seemed to be a stand-out evening in the school calendar, many parents commenting they were ‘in awe’ at the children’s professionalism.
For girls who love art there are the usual outlets, with an hour’s lesson per week across various skills from print-making to cover drawing. Many of the projects explore the work of particular artist. Girls may also enter the Discover and Explore Arts Award programmes which offers a broad spectrum of arts activities, including examining the work of arts and crafts people.
Frequent visiting speakers, eg author Kate Pankhurst and gymnast Beth Tweddle, spice up the school week. So too events organised around the curriculum, such as Space Week or a visit from a Shakespeare group. Lots of local trips to places like Tudor Ordsall Hall or Stockport Air Raid Shelter, as well as residential trips for each year to places like Robinwood or Winmarleigh (all campfires and zip wires).
Beyond all this academic and extra-curricular high achievement activity, though, all parents are keen to reinforce the school’s nurturing, family environment, describing the vibe as ‘warm’ which ‘you feel the moment you go in’. One parent told us she had chosen the school purely because it was right for her daughter academically (a common theme from all parents to whom we spoke), hadn’t at all considered the pastoral side but had been ‘blown away by it as they are just so well looked after’. Indeed, while it might sound as though these young clever girls arrive their tank-full of confidence to Withington, head says there are many quieter girls who, though self-assured, may take a while to come out of their shell. Nurturing self-belief seems to be key to academic success at both here and the senior school – girls being encouraged to feel ‘I can do it’. One pupil (due to domestic reasons) had gone through a tough patch and her parent was full of praise about the level of support her daughter had received. All kept saying that their daughter went in and came out happy each day.
Worth also noting that school keeps a wary eye on social dangers; lots of educating goes on in school around cyber bullying, which recently involved a visit from a ‘cyberbullying bus’ and from Childnet.
Don’t expect fancy historical buildings or posh weighty heritage (Withington had junior classes as far back as 1924 but the Junior School's dedicated building opened in 2015). It is relatively new and modern and integrated with the senior so you pass seamlessly from one to the other. The atmosphere is cheerful - the entrance area an open, light, bright space with art displays (some rather good milkshake models at the time of our visit). School displays seem geared at stimulating thought and engaging with the world. In the small hall, a copy of the children’s newspaper, First News, was pinned up next to a World map, highlighting the latest global stories of the day. A large quote on one wall read: ‘A person’s view is not important, what is important is your own view of yourself’ which we suspect sums up what the school is all about: fostering girls with a strong sense of identity and self-responsibility. Or as one parent nimbly put it, the school ‘encourages, in every area in life, creativity and independent thinking.’ Outside there is a decent-sized outdoor play area with play equipment. Junior girls can also access the sparkling sports and fitness centre of the senior girls and pitches. Nothing flash but smart and to purpose.
The school has recently made a move to broaden pupils’ palates in the café with an emphasis on healthy options which pupils were not so sure about but parents liked. Good communication channels with parents: newsletters and bulletins, including a family breakfast every half term with the head and staff. Twice yearly written reports. Head operates an open door policy.
Parents come from all backgrounds, many understandably driven and ambitious for their daughter. They come from a large radius, many relying on the school bus using a buddy system with senior girls. One parent wished there was an adult present ‘just someone to contact if they are held up on the roads (school tells us parents are kept up to date via SMS or a tracker). The huge cultural diversity of the school was frequently mentioned by parents and welcomed.

The last word

This is a warm and happy junior school where girls who love academic learning thrive and reach their potential while immersing themselves in enriching interests and challenges across arts, music and sports.

Special Education Needs

Support in the Junior School is a collaborative effort. Form teachers are the first point of contact for both the pupils and their parents, and they coordinate and monitor each individual child’s progress. Where there are concerns, this information is shared with all Junior teachers and with the Learning Support Department. Where warranted, plans are then made for specific support. Support is tailored to the child and there are a range of options available. These vary from group support, where class teaching is delivered in parallel to a small group with a specialist teacher to help overcome short-term issues and help build an individual’s skills and confidence, to a longer-term arrangement where ongoing help is needed to adjust for a diagnosed need.


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