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At the time of our visit, Kate Pankhurst, author of Great Women Who Changed the World, was due to arrive. The year 6 girls who showed us round were fully conversant with all these great women, from Marie Curie to Rosa Parks. Pupils, especially sixth formers, said they felt they really had a voice and were listened to. Assemblies end often with the same message: we’re interested in your views, do you agree or disagree?...

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What the school says...

We are a forward-looking school with high aspirations and a commitment to unlocking every pupil’s potential. Our pupils and their teachers aim high in every area - in academic studies, the huge range of extra-curricular activities on offer and in developing personal skills and qualities.

An All-round Education

Pupils leave us as well-rounded, confident and independent young adults with excellent academic qualifications, a positive approach to life and their studies, and a grounding which will undoubtedly help them to succeed in the future. At BGSG we provide our students with a top class education where every student has the opportunity to excel and take part in a range of academic subjects and extra-curricular activities. Our students are encouraged to contribute to the community through voluntary work and also take part in work experience, school trips, opportunities provided by local businesses and national events.

A Grammar School with a Modern Approach

The Bury Grammar Schools have a long and successful history, dating back to 1570. We are both immensely proud of our traditions and happy to be a modern school, keen to embrace new technologies and innovative teaching methods. As part of our history we are proud of our former students who remain part of our Old Girls’ and Old Boys’ Associations, and not only act as role models for our current students but have forged a strong relationship with the school which will continue throughout their lives.

Small Class Sizes

Our pupils benefit from age 3 to 18 from the impressive range of skills and expertise offered by our teaching staff, as well as the considerable advantages presented by small teaching groups which focus carefully on individual support and progress. As a girls’ school with a brother school, Bury Grammar School Boys, we can offer all the benefits of single sex teaching alongside the advantages of being able to participate in extra-curricular activities with BGSB pupils.

Outstanding Facilities

As a strong and successful school, we are fortunate to enjoy 21st century facilities including a modern, well equipped Junior School and purpose built classrooms for our Early Years Foundation Stage pupils. We also have a state of the art Sixth Form Centre with its own cafeteria and an Arts Centre which provides excellent Library facilities and modern light art rooms. Many other parts of the school have been enhanced in recent years including the food and textile rooms, music rooms and laboratories. Our excellent sports facilities include a swimming pool.

Outstanding Pastoral Care

The BGSG approach to pastoral care is a caring and modern one: relationships between pupils and teachers are excellent and we entrust girls with positions of leadership to bring out the best in them and above all we are committed to fostering a happy learning environment where girls can thrive. We are also proud of the strong bonds built with parents through regular communications.
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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.

Sports

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Principal

Since 2016, Jo Anderson BA (modern languages, University of Leeds), PGCE, MEd (secondary curriculum leadership), responsible for the strategic planning for the entire family of Bury Grammar schools (boys, girls, junior and senior). She has also been head of the senior girls’ school since 2015. Previously she worked at Stockport Grammar, Manchester Grammar, Queen's Chester, and latterly as head of the girls’ division of King’s School Macclesfield. It is a trajectory which has seen her teach across the entire age range of 5-18, and across both genders.

Thoughtful and insightful in all her responses, easy to talk to, she exudes a quiet (and indeed elegant) efficiency under which almost certainly lurks much inner tungsten. Since her appointment, she has implemented much change across this family of schools (‘seismic’ was a term used more than once during our visit), having initiated a top-to-bottom curriculum review across senior and junior divisions and overseen a couple of changes in senior positions. Prior to her appointment, though the schools carried the same branding and were only a stone’s throw from each other, the boys’ and girls’ schools pretty much operated as separate entities. Now, in essence, the Bury schools have something similar to an all-through diamond structure. Girls and boys are mixed at infants, single sex from junior through to senior, with both genders joining again at sixth form. The sixth form has, in practice, been mixed for some time but is now ‘officially so’.

As Mrs Anderson puts it, pupils now have twice as many opportunities going for them. On a basic level this means pupils applying for medicine, for example, can talk to heads of science on both sides of the road. And while both genders have the space to learn separately with no distractions, they do all their extracurricular activities together, share clubs and trips and so by the time they hit sixth form, they are ready to mix just as they would at university.

It may have all been ‘seismic’, but the changes seem to be paying dividends; the number of external pupils who joined in 2018 at 11+ is up more than 40 per cent across both schools. No mean feat when you factor in that the pass mark for the entrance exam was raised, making the school more academically selective, and bearing in mind this is not a wealthy area of the north overall.

Head of infants and girls' junior since January 2018 is Chrissy Howard (MCIPS Salford University and PGCE). She has been with Bury since 2005; first with Bury boys’ junior where she became assistant head, then moving to the girls in 2017. She is very approachable and clearly lovely with the girls. One expects heads to have every detail at their fingertips but she really did, all with an understated efficiency. She understands how crucial it is for girls to have an environment where they can question and explore and, as such, has driven the new outdoors aspect to the curriculum, allowing the girls to problem-solve in fresh air while getting down with nature…and perhaps a little bit muddy too.

Academic matters

The co-ed infant school, ages 4-7 (there is also a pre-school from age 3) has a play-based approach to learning, small class sizes and an atmosphere of irrepressible cheeriness. A broad curriculum including science, geography, thinking skills, as well as the core subjects, means a nice balance between learning and enjoyment. The classrooms are beautifully and imaginatively decorated, a huge 3D cardboard tree in reception reflecting changes in the seasons. There is specialist teaching for sports and music (use of the school swimming pool too).

In the junior school, the broad curriculum continues. Following the curriculum review, a new humanities programme is in place and Latin has been added to year 6, alongside the other languages on offer (although the school is currently still debating whether language tasters or a solid grounding in one would be best). IT is integral to teaching and also as a standalone. Outdoor education a new introduction.

Teaching in class is differentiated, Mrs Howard says, and interventions speedy where an extra bit of support is needed across spelling or maths. A SEN teacher will write personal pupil support programmes when required. Booster groups, with positive titles like ‘magical maths’, are another form of support. Lots of assessments and targets to ensure all pupils are up to scratch for the transition to the senior school; Mrs Howard says teachers bridge any gap through personalised learning.

In the senior school, class sizes are around 22. A wide curriculum prevails in year 7 and following the curriculum review, both the girls' and boys' schools offer three languages. Any outdated subject divisions - and there were a few, such as food tech for the girls and CDT for the boys – have, happily, been scrapped. Both schools now offer both. Following the changes in both GCSE and A level exams, the school now steers pupils towards sitting nine GCSEs and three A levels. Students also receive extra teaching time (in year 12, an extra 90 minutes per subject per fortnight). Over the three-year GCSE course, students have an extra 20 minutes a fortnight per subject. 2018 A level results in the joint sixth form were a third A*/A and 70 per cent A*-B and at GCSE, around 33 per cent A*-A/9-7 grades.

EPQ is offered to all sixth formers (90 per cent of girls got A*/A in 2018) and the HPQ, which also counts as a GCSE, has been introduced. Half termly assessment is key to see who needs support to achieve their potential or who could stretch to more. Mrs Anderson says they also look at the pupil holistically, at class feedback and any pastoral issues. There are drop in sessions near exams for anyone needing extra help. Parents attest to girls being encouraged to aim high but never being pressured.

A full time SENCo, who is also able to do assessments, works across both boys’ and girls’ schools. Mrs Anderson stresses all staff are trained to look out for the subtle signs. She feels passionate about this area, says there is no reason why a learning barrier means a pupil can’t achieve great things. All SEN pupils also meet once a week with a SEN assistant to identify any areas of difficulty, such as organisation. There is more value added with SEN students, head says, than with others. The girls’ school still operates mainly to the GCSE syllabuses (the boys take IGCSEs) but this is not in stone, Mrs Anderson says.

It’s also worth adding that as a result of the curriculum review, the school is focussed on strengthening scholarship and raising academic standards. Initiatives like the additional lesson time at A level and a new competitive course preparation programme are, Mrs Anderson says, all about achieving that.

Games, options, the arts

Junior school library displays showed a regular stream of visiting authors. Around the time of our visit, Kate Pankhurst, author of Great Women Who Changed the World, was due to arrive. The year 6 girls who showed us round were fully conversant with all these great women, from Marie Curie to Rosa Parks (Mrs Howard told us the boys had also been studying this).

Clubs are numerous and wide-ranging, from coding to puzzles to the ukulele. Those that used to only be open to boys – fencing and climbing – are now open to girls also. Our guides chatted enthusiastically about the huge engineering club display in the hallway (their entry to a competition run by Manchester University)…and also fizzed about school trips and hosting the local 10 school Association of Junior Independent Schools (AJIS) music festival.

Pupils were also excited about sport, and taking parts in events such as the Manchester Youth athletics and Netball Association matches. Netball, tennis, hockey and swimming are the key pursuits.

Lots of joint activities with the boys, like a disco and annual cinema trip. They do not compete with each other but are invited across to see each other’s art exhibition and verse speaking competitions.

Year 6 girls look after the school council and take it very seriously; at the time of our visit they were lobbying for a different sort of school bag to mark out their senior status.

The senior school has a glossy drama department with big productions like Little Shop of Horrors, Annie, Beauty and the Beast. ‘You forget you are watching children,’ one parent said. Numerous chances to perform in choirs, orchestras and bands and, on a wider stage, in the Ramsbottom Festival.

Great sporting facilities on a huge campus, more usual ones such as netball, hockey, football, tennis, rounders, athletics and now more off-beat sports, like fencing. Many pupils are part of regional and national teams.

CCF is huge (the Bury School CCF is the oldest in the country) and recently extended so that is on offer to girls in years 9, 10 and 11. Duke of Edinburgh from year 9 upwards. There are frequent residential trips, often linked to the curriculum, perhaps to study the Holocaust or a classics trip to Italy.

Clubs are wide ranging– 50 at the last count - running the gamut from ‘apps for good’, Irish Dancing, sign language, conflict simulation, science in focus, to philosophy and film.

The sixth form pupil showing us round indicated a school-wide appetite for debate, enthusing about assemblies where TED-style talks had started up around topics such as space exploration. The responsibility for the talks - marketing, intro, press release and review - has all been handed to the sixth form. It is clearly a vibrant environment; in an assembly around International World Women’s Day, the boys' school headmaster declared himself a feminist, prompting all the staff to come out, spontaneously, as feminists, provoking much chat around what feminism means today. It resulted in some fantastic #pledges to support a more equal society (more boys than girls showed up with pledges).

This school, with the many changes it has undergone, is gearing up for the modern age. Pupils said they felt they really had a voice and were listened to, especially the sixth form. Assemblies end often with the same message: we’re interested in your views, do you agree or disagree? Sixth formers often follow up, says head. There are also mock elections, debate clubs, Rhys Davies Mock Trials, all nurturing that extra spark.

Background and atmosphere

The boy's school was founded in 1570, originally only open to boys from poorer families. Bury High School for girls opened in 1884. In 1906, it joined the boys' school on its current site. The vast Buckley Wells playing fields were acquired in 1924 and the boys moved across the road to a new building in 1966.

The girls' building, as you’d expect, has the look and feel of an old grammar, especially in the beautiful old Roger Kay Hall. The relatively new arts centre (the school won a fundraising award for its ingenuity) is a wonderful space for sixth formers to work, faint strains of music filtering from the music department. Great common room, too, and coffee place with a relaxed grown up vibe.

The girls’ junior opened next door in 1997; pre-school and infants followed in 2008. The junior school is modern and airy with lovely reading areas strewn with cushions. A light octagonal hall and a little gym (they also use the senior school sports hall). Classrooms all with interactive whiteboards. Lots to stimulate, a Secret Garden theme around the library and super corridor displays; we particularly liked one on a fictitious Museum of Fun, a utopia of attractions galore, all for free – and very Panglossian.

The family of schools is now an all-singing, all-dancing 45 acre campus (25 acres of which is a short walk down the road), with swimming pool, sports halls, multi-playing surfaces, courts and playing fields.

An ex-head girl showed us round the school and while there was a faint whiff (in the best possible way) of ‘give me a girl at an impressionable age and she is mine for life’, her enthusiasm about her experiences at school was evident and life-defining. She is not alone; Bury may not be on the global map but its alumnae have their share of razzle dazzle, listing among them Victoria Wood, presenter Victoria Derbyshire, actress Kate O’Flynn and TV producer Nicola Shindler.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

In the junior school, Mrs Howard recognises that young girls are sensitised to what others think of them so there is a lot of education around being considerate. Mobile phones are locked away and online education is considered crucial. There are buddy groups and the playground is full of activities should a girl find herself on her own for five minutes (which Mrs Howard knows feels like hours in child-time). Parents say that if they ever sense problems, a quiet word with the teacher and the problem ‘goes away’. ‘It’s just dealt with’.

At the senior school, a culture of openness is encouraged. After the 2017 Manchester terrorist attack, where some pupils were present, there were open discussions around how society could pull together more, how to combat terrorism and start fundraising.

They are, Mrs Anderson says, ‘really lovely students’. There is a very strong pastoral team and heaps of assemblies on resilience and failure as a learning tool. No mobile phones at school and teachers are alert to well-being issues – there is ‘constant monitoring,’ Mrs Anderson says. One parent whose child needed that extra bit of care said staff were always ‘spot on’ in their judgement, could identify problems and stop them escalating. There is a school health team and counsellor.

Pupils and parents

A wide pull, chiefly from the northern parts of Manchester, Salford, Rochdale and Oldham, with some from Bolton. These areas include very poor parts so parents and pupils tend to be socially aware and religious tolerance is a given.

Junior school parents described as supportive and active. Comms are in the process of being improved (emails and texts). Half term assessments and grades shared with parents. There are parents’ forums and coffee and cake sessions.

In the senior school, Mrs Anderson says parents are a ‘really friendly’ group and fully appreciate what the school is seeking to do. There is a parent forum.

Entrance

Entry into reception is by observation, and into years 1 and 2 by spending half a day in the school. Junior school is a two class entry - 15 to 20 per class - and prospective pupils spend an assessment day (short interview, reading comprehension and maths assessment). It’s not just about testing, though: the school is looking for intellectual curiosity gauged through observation and conversation. Those moving from a previous school will need to provide references.

Any pupil joining the junior school prior to year 5 has automatic entrance to the senior school. Virtually all stay on. It is a very rare that it is felt a pupil will fare better in a different school. The transition is eased via ‘experience days’ blending external and internal candidates together.

External 11+ candidates now sit papers in maths, English and verbal reasoning, with a recently increased pass mark. Some 120 extra pupils enter the school, 70 per cent from primaries, 30 per cent from preps - now more external than internal candidates.

Exit

Virtually all junior school children go on to the senior school; around 60 per cent leaves after GCSEs. Durham, Leeds, Liverpool, UCL, Nottingham, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Newcastle and Warwick currently popular university destinations. Two went on to study medicine in 2018 (including one to Prague), with another off to Texas on a sports scholarship.

Oxbridge candidates have not fared so well over the last year or two (though prior to that, there was a trickle) but this may change; Mrs Anderson says they are introducing Oxbridge lessons, alongside other support.

Money matters

Fees in line with those of other schools in the area. Plenty of means-tested bursaries and a drive towards increasing scholarships across a range of areas.

Our view

A vibrant school, offering a fantastic array of extracurricular and enrichment activities. Currently delivers good, solid academic results, especially around value-added. A school leading from the front in its emphasis on gender equality and nurturing mutual respect. A positive, uplifting environment for girls.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

BGSG has a truly inclusive approach and is keen to support pupils with a range of talents and abilities. The headmistress has a special interest in providing for pupils with different ways of learning and it is an integral part of pupils' education that every classroom teacher caters successfully for different learning styles. The school understands the pressures on parents of children with specific learning needs and supports them as well.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic
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 Y
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
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment Y

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