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  • Bedford Girls' School
    Cardington Road
    MK42 0BX
  • Head: Gemma Gibson
  • T 01234 361900
  • F 01234 344125
  • E [email protected]
  • W
  • An independent school for girls aged from 7 to 18.
  • Boarding: No
  • Local authority: Bedford
  • Pupils: 978; sixth formers: 185
  • Religion: Christian Inter-denominational
  • Fees: £11,721 - £16,473 pa
  • Open days: Saturday 7th October 2023, 10:00 - 1:00pm
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review

What says..

Female empowerment works its way from the top down. A strong STEM school, as all schools claim to be these days, but equal importance appears to be given to humanities and languages, despite lower take-up, which is good to see. Academically selective with all girls sitting CAT assessments. Junior school entrants also do a piece of creative writing and attend an activities session of creative arts and science; they are definitely cherry picking. Sixth form attracts international students…


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What the school says...

Bedford Girls School is a dynamic, independent school for girls aged 7 to 18. Committed to the education of girls and young women, we recognise a world of possibility in every girl and provide individuals with the tools they need to flourish.

An exceptional community, where enquiring minds are nurtured and everyone learns to be proud of their achievements, Bedford Girls School is an environment where girls excel in every subject and activity.

Academically selective we offer a broad curriculum of academic and extra-curriculum subjects, delivered by first class teachers. In our Sixth Form girls can choose between the International Baccalaureate or the A Level curriculum ensuring our pupils leave us as confident young woman equipped to take on the challenges of the waiting world.

Bedford Girls School holds regular Open House events throughout the year and parents are warmly invited to join us for private visits upon requests.
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International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

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


Since 2020, Gemma Gibson, her first headship and the school’s second head. A baptism of fire joining during the pandemic and school lockdowns but seems to have settled in well. Parents like her, and she has managed to create a high profile for herself around the school despite the slow start of being stuck at home. After school reopened, ‘It was joyous to be back,’ she says, and girls and parents seem to have been delighted to return as well.

An interesting background. Started out as a lawyer, but quite quickly realised ‘it was not nourishing my soul. I am a great example to the girls as it is possible to change your mind several times before you find your niche. I am a great believer of follow your passion, which is what I did.’ Reverted to her history degree and started teaching the subject in the state sector in London. Left state sector to go to the Far East, teaching in South Korea and latterly at Harrow in Hong Kong as deputy head academic, before returning to UK ‘for a bit more family stability’. Two boys at Bedford School, which is part of the same trust. She’s an interesting character, likeable and obviously efficient (talks a lot too), and we suspect quite inspiring for her pupils. Ambitious, with high ambitions for her pupils too; good to see. ‘There’s always a place for girls-only education.’ We imagine the law background can be quite useful at times.

She inhabits a huge office, one of the largest we have yet to see for a head (and we’ve seen a lot). This office, with an enormous floor-to-ceiling bay window, looks out over the front of the school. Quite incongruous as it's not the most inspiring of views, which rather counteracts the fabulous room, but you can see what’s going on. Single-glazed though, so with that huge window we suspect the office is rather draughty in the winter.

A great supporter of all-girls education: ‘I went to a similar school and believe a girls’ school is so important for building confidence. It means the girls are free from gender stereotypes. Quite rightly, it never occurs to them that someone might not listen to them.’ A keen advocate of the IB, which is growing in the sixth form due to her influence.

Head of the junior school is Carolyn Howe, who joined shortly after the merger of the two schools in 2012. She is also its second head. Had previously been in London before the lure of the Bedford schools in the trust brought her north. ‘And their beliefs and ethos fitted my own.’ A daughter here and a son at Bedford School. Starting at a relatively new school – it was only about a year old when she joined – there were challenges. ‘I targeted the curriculum and sorted it out, then we could develop our own ethos.’ Well liked by parents: ‘She’s fantastic and really experienced.’ ‘You can tell she’s been there a long time as everything runs so smoothly.’ A couple of parents observed that ‘she is inclined to treat the older girls as though they were still little ones’. But all parents say ‘she is very approachable and involved with everything’. She’s popular; we liked her.


Entry at year 3 into junior school and a cohort into year 5. Or into year 7 to the senior school. Academically selective with all girls sitting CAT assessments. Junior school entrants also do a piece of creative writing and attend an activities session of creative arts and science; they are definitely cherry picking. Entry into senior school automatic for junior school girls but they still do CAT assessments. External students including sixth form do CAT assessments and interview with headmistress and/or head of sixth form. Entry to sixth form also requires a minimum of five GCSEs at grade 6 or above.

Students come from a large area and 90 different schools within an hour’s radius of Bedford. Good train and bus links from Milton Keynes make this route popular. Most girls come into the senior school from state primaries with a small number from local preps and the trust’s own pre-prep. There is no other local independent girls’ school unless you travel to Cambridge, so Bedford Girls’ has single-sex sewn up locally.

Sixth form attracts international students because of the IB as well as state pupils, but not that many. The odd one from within the trust but numbers vary every year so there is no set pattern. Note that this year is their biggest year 12 to date.


About 25 a year leave in year 11, usually to local co-ed state colleges, the odd one to board following family tradition. Vast majority of sixth form head to university with 91 per cent of them getting either their first or second choice. STEM subjects popular but a pretty broad church of subjects chosen, which is good to see. International universities well represented, reflecting girls’ nationalities and the rising popularity of the IB. Two Oxbridge in 2022, four in 2021. Ten per cent each year medics/vet/pharmacy. ‘There’s lots of support for UCAS and budding medics,’ said one parent. ‘The individualised support for girls in the sixth form works really well.’ One observant parent said, ‘What I really liked is the support that was offered on results day for the girls who didn’t get their grades. That really showed they care.’ School open to degree apprenticeships, actively encouraging them in certain circumstances, so they are steadily growing in popularity.

Latest results

In 2022, 70 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 47 per cent A*/A at A level (80 per cent A*-B combined A level and IB); 15 per cent of sixth form now sitting the IB, with numbers rising. Good solid results for the first cohort to sit public exams since the pandemic.

Teaching and learning

Female empowerment works its way from the top down. A strong STEM school, as all schools claim to be these days, but equal importance appears to be given to humanities and languages, despite lower take-up, which is good to see. IB and A levels taught separately and IB becoming more popular, driven by the head’s enthusiasm; 15 per cent of girls now take it. IB students average 40 points out of a possible 45, with one achieving 44. The variety of degree choices, ranging from medicine to fashion, shows the eclectic choice of A levels.

French, German, Spanish and Latin all on offer; all girls take at least one language at GCSE, a handful take two. iPads for all. ‘I like that the supposedly "boy" subjects are popular with the girls – really encouraged with maths and sciences.’ A techy school which even has a hackers’ club. We were assured that this was for the common good and nothing illegal was going on. The mind did boggle…

Being shown around the school by our two articulate, friendly guides, it was interesting to note the large amount of glass – a reflection maybe of the head’s office? A bit like a goldfish bowl at times, there’s no possibility of hiding in corners in this school. Lots of classrooms with glass walls so you can see in and out; they like glass here but it does make it light and airy.

Lots of support for the girls in every subject with after-school and lunchtime catch-up sessions. Well attended too. Well-equipped art and DT rooms, impressive A level art where we were able to see works in progress and have a chat. Classes showed girls studiously learning or happily joining in debates. All parents said the girls are well supported: ‘Teachers are very enthusiastic and my daughter is known.’ A strong impression was given by all that these girls have a voice and are listened to. ‘The girls are stretched and expectations are high.’

The newly decorated and updated sixth form area, all greys and pinks, has quiet areas as well as communal, including a small refectory. Disappointed to see here the amount of confectionery and cakes available, but maybe that’s just us. Supervised quiet study for all. The Bridge in the sixth form is the stepping stone from school to uni, with lots of career advice and UCAS support. A lot of alumnae are involved here too: ‘women supporting women’. Individual learning plans for all girls throughout the school.

Junior school follows the IB primary years programme (PYP) which is an enquiry-based, subject-centred approach to education. Extra forms added to older year groups to cope with extra intake and to make the transition to senior school easier. From year 6, 20 per cent of lessons are in the senior school, which is just across the road. We enjoyed a Spanish class with year 5. All languages taught by native speakers. Girls learn Spanish from years 3 to 5, with German and French introduced in year 6. Language group offered in year 7 to accommodate new starters unfamiliar with MFLs. Latin and classics also taught from year 6. We enjoyed learning about the digestive system with year 4 who took great delight in discussing ‘waste’…

No setting in year 7, with loose sets introduced in year 8. ‘Girls decide they are not good at maths if they are set so we want to get rid of that perception.’ Staff know the girls well so can accommodate the high fliers and less able in the one class. Parents are not so sure about this approach. ‘The girls aren’t set in anything in year 7 and I’m not convinced. The jury’s out and it’s a completely different approach to what my son experienced. We shall see, but so far so good.’ ‘I love how they support and promote girls. They push them, know how to handle them and inspire their intellectual interest and ability, be it rocket science or fashion.’

Learning support and SEN

Four per cent of girls are on the SEN register and three per cent on the EAL. Lots of help for girls that need it, with a specialist SEN team of support staff managed by the head of learning support. The whole team work with teaching and pastoral staff to support girls. Needs range from high-functioning autism to ADHD and dyslexia. Parents and pupils full of praise for support available and the kindness in the way it is handled. ‘Help is there if it’s needed.’

The arts and extracurricular

Music taught on the curriculum up to year 9 and offered up to A level. A large number of girls have private or group lessons within the school and there are more than 40 ensembles, orchestras, choirs and bands to join. Many musical concerts and bands are amalgamated with Bedford School which is also in the Trust and just around the corner. Arts, drama and music all well supported and popular and there’s a link with the Liverpool performing arts college ‘intellectually and socially’, we were told. And strong links with the boys’ school for all these subjects, including performances. Bugsy Malone is the latest production for year 10 upwards, across both schools. Smaller productions for year groups and a lower school production too. Lots of studios, rehearsal areas and a small theatre to hold productions in.

Lots of clubs and extracurricular, including the aforementioned hackers’ club. Sustainability and the environment big concerns here so plenty of clubs for these. Arts and performances raved about by parents: ‘You won’t believe how good their performances are. I was stunned.’

CCF again run with the boys, as are many school trips.


Bedford Girls’ is renowned for being a sporty school and they pride themselves on offering excellent facilities and teaching. Many parents chose the school for their sporty daughters because of this. Enthusiastic director of sport showed us swimming pool, huge gym, various pitches and Astroturf, some on site with other pitches a short walk away.

A rowing school from year 9 upwards with the river just around the corner. Lacrosse popular, as are hockey and netball, and cricket in the summer. Team sports well supported with plenty of teams for all. There’s even an equine team. ‘I really like that the head of sport spends an equal amount of time watching the C team as she does the A team on match days,’ said one parent. Non-sporty girls encouraged to have a go. ‘There’s a fantastic ethos with the sport, everyone gets to have a go.’ All PE staff are playing sport at a high level and are either current or former internationals. Girls enjoy going to see them compete. Recent achievements from old girls include Kate Axford, an England and GB hockey player and cyclist Sophie Lewis, a bronze medallist at the Commonwealth Games.

Ethos and heritage

The school is relatively new – established in September 2010 with the amalgamation of the two girls’ schools, Bedford High and Dame Alice Harpur School (which were no longer separately financially viable), on one site virtually in the centre of Bedford. Operated by the Harpur Trust, which runs four schools including Bedford School. The newness of the school has allowed it to embrace female empowerment, sustainability, diversity, inclusivity, technology and to look to the future rather than being steeped in old traditions. ‘Future focused,’ according to the head. ‘We are not a traditional girls’ school but are modern and diverse.’ This has allowed the introduction of the IB and its philosophy, skills focus and a global outlook. They are working on reducing their carbon footprint. Interestingly the girls themselves, whilst embracing all this, seem to miss some of the old traditions, with our guides talking about introducing house dinners and the like: ‘We are making our own new traditions.’

The school is very much about the girls ‘having a voice and being listened to’. This goes as far as allowing the girls to bend the rules with regards to uniform. They are quite relaxed about hair colour and jewellery, ‘allowing the girls to express their individuality’. Nonconformists rule here, but there are limits, including skirt length.

The senior and junior schools lie opposite each other. We arrived from the other side of Bedford, coming off the motorway. This makes it very convenient to get to but not very attractive – rather industrialised and busy. At one point we wondered if there was in fact a school on this road at all, but suddenly you reach a quieter spot where the school is. We were assured that the river and the centre of town were just around the corner. The senior school is quite utilitarian – apart from the head’s office and entrance within an old house – and an army barracks rather sprang to mind. A complete contrast with the junior school which is housed, as many prep schools are, in a beautiful Victorian mansion with its fabulous plastered ceilings and lovely surroundings. The aesthetics do rather change when the girls cross the road but they are probably too young to notice or appreciate this.

It must be noted that despite being a girls’ school, it has very strong links with the all-boys Bedford School. Lots of PHSE sessions, socials, trips, joint lessons and music and drama, thus broadening horizons for both girls and the boys next door.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Let’s get discipline over with first; it wasn’t mentioned by pupils or parents. This usually means that all is perceived to be fair and problems dealt with quickly and calmly, as attested by both girls and parents. Don’t be fooled, not every pupil is an angel, but problems are nipped in the bud and shirkers of homework dealt with firmly but fairly. ‘We have not come across any issues about behaviour,’ said parents.

This school prides itself on its inclusivity and diversity and there’s no reason to doubt them. Many parents choose the school for this reason. But we perceived that another reason is the excellent pastoral care. This was alluded to by every parent: ‘They know girls and how to handle them, as well as nurture them.’ Head very sharp on pastoral care and aware of how the pandemic has affected many teenage girls. There’s a strong pastoral team in place including heads of year, pastoral officers, counsellors et al. We very much enjoyed meeting Winnie the therapy dog who helps girls in the junior school. She is the second one, Polo having recently retired. Very few will fall through the net with this strong system in place. The girls feel supported and the vertical house system helps, as well as mentoring of the younger girls by years 12s.

The ethos of women supporting women and female empowerment is reflected in the very strong support network that appears to be in place, including from alumnae, many of whom are on hand for mentoring, advice and support. It’s good to see. ‘I’ve found my tribe’ is what one delighted mother said her daughter felt when starting in the sixth form. Parents talk about daughters ‘feeling safe, being treated as equals… it’s a nurturing environment.’ This is the impression we got: supportive, kind and close-knit.

Pupils and parents

Pupils from a wide area within an hour of Bedford and from equally diverse backgrounds and ethnicity, very much reflecting the local area. Parents we spoke to not particularly bothered by the single-sex education offered but we are sure it’s important to some. It was more the ethos of the school which attracted them: ‘They push the girls and encourage them to give everything a go.’ ‘So much opportunity.’

Parents include first-time buyers from areas such as Luton as well as the country set who have been sending their daughters for many generations; there’s a definite rural–urban mix. It works: culturally diverse and all mixing well. Everyone is welcome and that’s appreciated by all families. Girls were likeable, friendly and culturally literate; a nice bunch.

Money matters

Fees comparatively reasonable and majority of clubs and activities (with the exception of peripatetic music lessons, LAMDA and extra dance) included. Only long-term one-to-one SEN support charged as extra. No scholarships but generous bursary fund for senior school students, with currently around 100 girls receiving some level of financial assistance.

The last word

A school which relishes girl power, and rightly so. The empowerment of women and women supporting women is its mantra. Lots of support for the girls, who are encouraged to find their own passion and follow it. The world really is this lot's oyster and parents buy into it as well. A nice, down-to-earth bunch.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

All girls, whatever their specific learning requirements, can expect support and guidance to enable them to achieve their best both within the classroom and beyond it. The head of learning support works full time in school. He has accumulated extensive experience of supporting children who need learning support across the whole age range. He advises and liaises with staff, sees and supports girls, screens girls for specific learning difficulties when appropriate and contacts representatives of outside agencies as required.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
Hospital School
Mental health Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability Y
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment Y

Who came from where

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