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The deputy head pastoral and her team drove round the Surrey countryside making a James Corden-style Carpool Karaoke film to introduce themselves and then played it at assembly. She even organised a live nativity scene at Christmas, complete with real donkeys. We visited during the annual Well-being Week, which featured yoga sessions, mindfulness, dancing, a magician’s show and a juggling display. The head was totally unfazed...

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What the school says...

Creative thinking and creative learning are paramount at Guildford High School. Girls learn how to learn, how to take responsibility for their work and are encouraged to develop their individual abilities. Inspiring teaching by the supportive staff creates a vibrant learning environment in which girls achieve outstanding results. From sports and music to drama and debating, GHS girls embrace new challenges enthusiastically. Excellent facilities, an exceptional range of extra-curricular activities and exciting opportunities help to create the happy, lively community in which girls thrive. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2002, Fiona Boulton BSc PGCE MA NPQH (early 50s). Read biology at Cardiff University, followed by a PGCE at Oxford. First teaching post was at Stowe, where she taught biology and chemistry and became housemistress of a sixth form girls’ boarding house. Spent five years at Marlborough, where she was a teacher and housemistress. She then moved to Surrey, teaching part-time at Guildford High while studying for her MA. Appointed as deputy head in 1996 and became head six years later. She is also a National Leader of Education, a role that involves helping other schools to raise standards and develop a self-improving and sustainable school system.

Guildford High is oversubscribed (three applicants for every year 7 place) so while she is in no way complacent about pupil numbers she has been able to concentrate on ‘the teaching and learning, the extracurricular and everything else’ – the areas she considers most important in a school. ‘By doing that I can make sure we are excellent at what we do,’ she says. She still teaches five lessons a week, including year 9 biology and year 7 current affairs. ‘I enjoy teaching and I’m good at it,’ she says. ‘It means you’ve got your finger on the pulse. I’m currently teaching 90 pupils so I’m writing reports and meeting parents too. It means that as you walk round you know your school. I try and know every pupil.’ She invites every pupil to a form leaders’ lunch (every girl gets the chance to be a form leader between year 7 and year 9). She meets every year 9 one-to-one to discuss their GCSE choices and sees every sixth former individually when they’re writing their UCAS personal statements.

She insists there isn’t a typical Guildford High pupil. ‘They’re an eclectic mix of personalities,’ she says. ‘They’re all bright and busy in different ways. It’s the culture of the school.’ Parents are very impressed by her approach. ‘She is fantastic, very involved in everything,’ one told us. Of all the school’s myriad achievements the head is most proud of the school’s pastoral care. A parent said that when problems arise the school is outstanding in its support. We visited during the annual Well-being Week, which featured yoga sessions, mindfulness, dancing, a magician’s show and a juggling display. The head was totally unfazed at the sight of ‘a guy juggling on a unicycle outside my office’ as she arrived for work.

Interestingly, she doesn’t believe that girls learn best in single sex schools – or vice versa. Interviewed by the Daily Telegraph in 2014, she said: ‘I think if you create a really great environment then pupils do well. I don’t sell a school on it being single-sex. I sell it on the fact that we set out to be excellent in all that we do and that’s why you should choose us – not because it is an all-girls school.’ Her views haven’t changed in the intervening years. ‘I think we are a really good school because we set out to be outstanding in everything we do,’ she says.

Married to a QC, with three children (the youngest is a pupil at Guildford High). In her spare time she enjoys reading, playing the piano and walking in the Lake District.

Academic matters

Academically outstanding. In 2018 83 per cent A*/A grades at A level and 97 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE. In years 7 to 9, pupils study two languages from a choice of French, German and Spanish, plus Latin. Separate sciences from the start, taught in 12 labs, one of them painted a dazzling purple. Lots of STEM trips to inspiring places like NASA and CERN. Girls also take DT (resistant materials, textiles and food and nutrition). Philosophy, psychology and digital arts are covered on a carousel basis and girls have weekly current affairs lessons, where they are encouraged ‘to think on their feet and voice their opinions’. As the school says: ‘From the outset, girls are taught to think for themselves, to analyse and question and we instil a genuine love for learning.’ Parents bear this out. One mother told us: ‘I’ll never forget my 15-year-old daughter coming home and saying “I’ve had the most amazing chemistry lesson”. She was literally on fire with enthusiasm.’

Parents like the fact that no homework is set in the holidays, allowing everyone a complete break from school. The mother of a year 7 said: ‘I’m blown away by the school. I was slightly nervous that it would be all about the academic side but my daughter skips into school each day and skips home. It has been the making of her.’ Another told us: ‘The teaching is outstanding, stimulating and the girls don’t feel pressurised. I don’t know how they do it. You don’t have to be a superstar to fit in. Everyone finds their niche.’ The pupils reiterated this view. ‘People say it must be pressurised here because the school gets really good results but it really isn’t,’ said one.

Eighty per cent of pupils take 10 GCSEs, 10 per cent take 11 subjects and 10 per cent take nine. All the usual subjects on offer at A level, plus economics, PE and psychology. Relatively small number of pupils with SEN needs. Girls are rarely taken out of lessons for learning support; teachers support them in class instead. Girls are enthusiastic in their praise for teachers. ‘We can email them and they are very willing to help if you have any questions,’ a sixth former told us. She particularly appreciated teachers’ lunchtime lectures – on everything from Victorian graveyards to Einstein.

Games, options, the arts

Sport is truly exceptional. At the time of our visit 27 girls were representing the country. The school’s executive director of sport was recently awarded the MBE for services to education and former pupil Emily Appleton, who left in 2017, is now a professional tennis player, Sky Sports Scholar and rising star. Unwavering in its support for her, the school even allowed her to take one of her A levels in Paris, where she was competing in the French Open. ‘Everything is bespoke,’ says the head. ‘We like to do everything we can to support our pupils. I say “yes” to everything. When you have opportunities like this you have to grasp them.’ In the same vein, a year 7 girl is currently appearing in School of Rock in London’s West End and a girl in the junior school is about to appear in Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.

Sports facilities are fantastic. Newish sports centre houses a 25m swimming pool with touch-pad timing, sports hall, fitness suite and vast social area for match teas, lessons and meetings. It overlooks five netball courts, a lacrosse pitch and neighbouring Stoke Park, which the school uses for cross-country. Youngest girls do curriculum sport – main sports are lacrosse, netball, gym and swimming – but year 9s and above can choose from a vast list, including rowing, volleyball, badminton, synchronised swimming, Zumba and yoga. Sixth formers have options like ice skating, squash and golf too. The go-ahead director of sport (who played lacrosse for England herself) is keen for girls to ‘have a sport for life’. As she says: ‘If the girls want to do something, we’ll put it on. The key thing is not to restrict them. It’s for them to choose what they want to do.’ Some girls arrive at 7.15am for first team lacrosse practice, then have breakfast before lessons start. More games practices at lunchtime and after school.

Eighty per cent of girls in the senior and junior schools have individual music lessons. Music is a big part of school life, with opportunities to join choirs (there’s even a parents’ choir), orchestras, ensembles and bands. Joint chamber choir with boys from the Royal Grammar School has sung evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Chichester Cathedral and St Mark’s Basilica in Venice. New recital hall can seat 200 people and there’s also a recording studio and teaching studios. Up to 25 girls a year take GCSE music and up to eight do A level. Art is stunning, showcased in sleek display cabinets (the head of art spotted them at the V&A and ordered some for the school). When we visited, an A level student was busy photographing the head of politics – clad in a jacket painted with famous logos to illustrate the theme of ‘limitations and freedom’. Drama is huge. Every year lower sixth form girls write and produce a panto for year 7 girls to perform and there’s a plethora of other performances, including a Shakespeare Festival for years 8 and 9 and drama productions and musicals for all.

As the head says, this is a busy school, with a vast range of activities from dawn to dusk (including European Youth Parliament, Young Enterprise, DofE, inter-house cupcake baking, Monopoly and football). Close proximity to London means that it attracts the most inspiring speakers around. On the day of our visit girls were looking forward to hearing a lecture by historian Suzannah Lipscomb. Girls are encouraged to take part in extracurricular pursuits. They fill in feedback forms at the end of each half term about what they’re involved in, how happy they feel and how lessons are going.

Background and atmosphere

Guildford High School is the jewel in the crown of United Learning, which owns 13 independent schools and more than 30 academies across the country. The school is run by the head and her team, but with the advantage of a wide group of other United Learning heads to consult over best practice as well as a central budget to draw from for major projects.

The school opened at Haydon Place in the centre of Guildford in 1887 and moved to its current site in 1893. By the mid 1920s there were around 200 pupils and expansion was rapid after the Second World War. The school is located on the north-east side of Guildford, where the town centre meets leafy Victorian suburbia. Buildings are a mix of old and new – all very wholesome and well maintained. Sixth formers have their own sixth form centre in the heart of the school. Sixth form class sizes are smaller, teaching is more informal and they are allowed to walk into the high street during their free time. There are plenty of opportunities for pupils of all ages to air their views, including a school council. Head girl and prefect candidates write a letter of application and those who are shortlisted give a three-minute presentation in front of the head and teaching staff. Girls belong to one of six houses, Amethyst, Emerald, Opal, Ruby, Sapphire and Topaz – the names were chosen by the girls and are ‘very bling’, jokes the head.

Plenty of opportunities to mix with boys from the Royal Grammar School. Many travel in by train together and there are joint music and drama activities. The two schools also share general studies lessons and mock Oxbridge interviews in the sixth form.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Pastoral care is second to none. Girls’ first port of call for help and advice is their form tutor, then their head of year and then the dynamic deputy head pastoral (‘the most vibrant person you’ll ever meet,’ says the head), who has introduced a host of innovative, original and creative ideas to highlight pastoral care at the school. The deputy head pastoral and her team drove round the Surrey countryside making a James Corden-style Carpool Karaoke film to introduce themselves and then played it at assembly. She even organised a live nativity scene at Christmas, complete with real donkeys. Parents approve wholeheartedly, one describing her as ‘cheerful, positive and kind’. A trained nurse is always on site and the school doctor and school counsellor are available every week.

Year 7 to 11 girls wear smart navy uniform (striped shirts and no ties, which they approve of) while sixth formers can wear their own clothes, plus a jacket. Rules are clearly laid out but girls say they don’t think anyone breaks them. If pupils have a problem with organisation they are assigned a teacher mentor to help them.

Pupils and parents

Around 80 per cent of senior school pupils get the train to school, from places like Weybridge, Woking, Farnham and Wimbledon. London Road station is a handy 40 metres from the school – ‘if I could hug the head who had the foresight to move the school here in 1893 I would,’ smiles the present head. New year 7 pupils are allocated to the same forms as girls from the same area so they all travel in together.

Notable old girls include playwrights Ella Hickson and Lucy Prebble, actresses Celia Imrie and Julia Ormond and Mumsnet founder and chief executive Justine Roberts.

Entrance

Girls from the junior school take up 40 per cent of senior school places at 11 (they don’t sit an entrance exam for the senior school). The others (from around 90 different feeder preps and state primaries) sit written papers in English and maths. They also have a one-to-one interview – the head describes it as ‘a friendly chat about yourself’. The process is transparent, aiming to create a level playing field for applicants of all backgrounds. Parents we spoke to said their daughters had been daunted at the thought of it but the school quickly put them at their ease.

Up to 10 new girls join the school in the lower sixth. Candidates sit three papers in subjects of their choice, plus a general paper and an interview. Entrants are expected to have a minimum of six 7+ grades at GCSE, including their A level subjects, and passes in English language and maths.

Exit

A handful of girls leave after GCSEs. At 18 virtually all go to top universities (one or two do art foundation courses and the aforementioned Emily Appleton became a professional tennis player). In 2018, 14 girls headed to Oxbridge, with others going to the likes of Durham, Bristol, Birmingham and Exeter, plus one off to Vermont. A considerable number study medicine (eight in 2018) but there’s a 50:50 split between the arts and sciences. Lots of support when it comes to UCAS forms and the careers room is always open. Alumnae who return to speak to pupils comment on how well the school prepared them for university.

Money matters

Academic and music scholarships are available at 11+ and 16+ and can be up to a third of the fees. Assisted places are available at 11+ and assessed on financial need, as well as bursaries for daughters of the clergy. Sibling discounts of five per cent for second daughters from the same family and 10 per cent for third and subsequent daughters.

Our view

An outstanding and nurturing school that provides a superb education across the board – academically, on the sports field and in the performing arts. This is a place where bright, hard-working girls develop a positive and enquiring approach to life and learning and set off for university full of confidence and enthusiasm.

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.

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Special Education Needs

Extra time is allowed in our entrance examination for SEN girls, along with an educational psychologist report. Girls are admitted to the school on their academic ability. We have an SEN co-ordinator who works with the girls' educational psychologists to ensure that staff are taking into account their specific learning needs.

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