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Music is the life blood of the school. Dedicated music house accommodates ensembles galore from samba to string and four choirs; majority of girls learn an instrument or two. Results place the school comfortably as the highest performing in the Harrogate area for both GCSE and A level. Traditional curriculum offer but with an ever stronger focus on…


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What the school says...

Harrogate Ladies’ College is a vibrant, stimulating and diverse school community. We are a day and boarding school for girls aged 11-18 located in the heart of the beautiful spa town of Harrogate – voted the 'happiest place to live' in the UK for the last 3 years.
Outstanding teaching, strong pastoral support and a secure, friendly community allow girls to excel academically and become confident, amazing young women who strive to be the very best they can be.
The size of our school means that we know all of our pupils as individuals, the way their parents know them, each with their own strengths, weaknesses, hopes and fears. This enables us to work with them and challenge them to achieve more both inside and outside of the classroom.
We’re proud of our excellent academic results which belie our largely non-selective status. Studying with us typically adds one whole grade per subject and the majority of our girls go on to study at top Russell Group universities.
Boarding is at the heart of our school ethos and around forty percent of our students are boarders. Both day and boarding pupils benefit greatly from the extended facilities, services and support available through our boarding provision.

Harrogate has excellent transport links. Trains run directly between Harrogate and London Kings Cross several times a day and we have easy access to Leeds Bradford airport (20 minutes), Manchester airport (90 minutes) and London Heathrow (30 minute shuttle flight).
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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2013, Sylvia Brett BA MA (50s). Exudes a calm and engaging sense of purpose and confidence. Read theology at Durham, followed by masters in philosophy and religion at University of London. Lay chaplain and head of RS at Caldicott followed by head of lower school, RS teacher and year 7 housemistress at Downe House, before being appointed as sole deputy at Roedean. She knows her school, has a clear ethos of inclusivity and a determination that HLC will stick to its guns by insisting that an all-round balanced education is as important as academic outcomes. ‘Those who want an academic hothouse will be disappointed, but those who want a school where the progress of every child in every sphere, academic, sporting, artistic and being a decent human being is important will find a home at HLC.’ If the school isn’t right for a particular child, she ‘will say so.’ She is proud of the strong family feel of the school.

Parents like the genuine personal knowledge and interest she has in pupils. ‘Mrs Bret tis calm and statesmanlike which gives you a real sense of order and certainty,’ one added. The school has an unashamedly traditional curriculum but it is driven by the values of inclusivity and celebration of individuality espoused by the principal (and all the staff we spoke to). The girls know that they have a voice.

Her approach to Covid was determined, compassionate and pragmatic, we heard. With online learning immediately established as the new normal she was also quick to recognise the need for ‘no Zoom’ days, and in winter longer lunch breaks so girls had time to get outside and exercise in daylight. This mirrors her wider commitment to mental health and wellbeing for all.

Married to Justin, a classics teacher, and has one daughter in the sixth form. When time permits her interests include music (singing and piano), art, swimming, family and friends.


Main entry points are 11, 13 and 16 but school flexible. For year 7 (upper three) entry, taster day in autumn term, school entrance test (maths, English, VR) and interview with the principal together with reports from previous school. Highfield is the linked co-ed prep school - about half the girls from here carry on to HLC, with the rest taking advantage of the very strong state provision in the area.

Sixth form entry is on a case by case basis but minimum of five 5s at GCSEs plus an assessment in English and maths. International pupils (who make up around half of the 90-strong sixth form) sit the school’s own English and maths tests under independently supervised conditions and are then interviewed by the principal. EAL support available but the school will say no it they feel that poorer English would be a barrier to the student being successful here. There are academic, music, drama, art, textiles and sporting scholarship programmes.


Usually 20 per cent leaves after GCSEs because of the appeal of very strong state sixth form provision in the area. Well over 90 per cent of sixth formers leave for a wide selection of universities, the majority to Russell Group. No Oxbridge students in the last few years but UCL, King’s College London, Bristol, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Keele, Lancaster, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Warwick and York have all featured recently. One medic in 2021, and four overseas to Amsterdam, Osaka, Debrechen and the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Wide range of courses: economics and business feature strongly but includes international relations and politics, 3D design and architecture, medicine, PPE, engineering, mathematics and law.

Latest results

In 2021, 62 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 69 per cent A*/A at A level (83 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 55 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 24 per cent A*/A at A level (61 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Results place the school comfortably as the highest performing in the Harrogate area for both GCSE and A level. Traditional curriculum offer but with an ever stronger focus on cross curricular links and developing independent learning skills to follow on from the curriculum developments already underway at Highfield. Interestingly, this work is being led by input from sixth form students as well as staff.

Sciences are a strength, lots of good (if a bit dated) labs and the option for double or triple science at GCSE. On the day we visited there was a mock CSI investigation taking place with students in hazmat suits undertaking analysis of crime scene samples – lots of fun with a learning purpose. Good range of subjects on offer and the majority of pupils we spoke to were able to get the choices they wanted (school builds the GCSE and A level curriculum around students’ choices wherever possible which they appreciate). All students take Latin, French and German from year 7 (upper three) with the option to introduce Spanish by year 8 (lower four). Study of a modern language is preferred at GCSE but not compulsory. GCSE top set maths do further maths as standard and further maths is an option at A level. In the sixth form the EPQ has 30 per cent take up.

A strong tracking and monitoring system kicks off with testing for all from the off, followed by ‘learning conversations’ with teachers to help make sure every girl is on track and gets support if needed. Huge praise among girls for subject clinics. A parent commented these clinics ‘really helped my daughter, who started GCSEs half way through year 10 (lower fifth), to catch up very easily.’ Pupils said they could email any teacher at any time if they have a problem. Quite heavy on homework but with adjustments made if necessary. Immediately after school there is 90 minutes of prep for the boarders with day girls also welcome to join. There is a real sense throughout the school that learning really is a two way process ‘done with’ rather than ‘done to’. In a world where so many schools are obsessed with the use of targets and data as a means of improving performance the HLC approach seems both much more civilised, sensible and to really involve the girls in their own learning journey.

Maximum class size of 24, with many much smaller. It was clear from all we spoke to that the girls are very well known by their teachers. Classrooms are a mixture of old and new but all are well maintained. There is a super library, the corridors are red carpet throughout.

Learning support and SEN

Around 10 per cent SEN, mainly dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia and dyspraxia. Specialist trained SENCo leads a small additional needs team and seems to just ‘get’ what learning support is about, according to parents. The school uses primary data and its own screening to identify any specific needs. In class teacher support is free, and parents also commented on the support for dyslexia in boarders’ prep. There is a scale of charges for a more individual programmes including communication and interaction skills, emotional and mental health, and sensory and physical support. Although the school would accommodate physical disabilities the age and layout of the buildings could be a limiting factor. Overseas students encouraged to sit exams in their native language; EAL tuition available.

The arts and extracurricular

Music is the life blood of the school. Dedicated music house accommodates ensembles galore from samba to string and four choirs; majority of girls learn an instrument or two. Musicians regularly take prizes at the Harrogate Festival. The chapel choir is a real strength with tours in both the UK and overseas including singing in Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, Prague and Venice. Recent success includes a second in the Barnado’s National Championships.The Wizard of Oz, The Crucible and Oliver! are among recent productions. School has a drama studio and assembly hall with retractable seating. A level theatre studies on offer and the girls spoke with great pride about their peers who had moved on to prestigious dramas schools. Many girls take LAMDA (honours and distinctions the norm). Art, photography and textiles are all on offer at A level with a superb art studio and photography room. Good facilities and the results of talented artists on show around the school. Although the school has a fully functioning DT area, this isn’t currently offered at exam level, to the disappointment of some of the girls.

An extensive extracurricular menu includes over 20 clubs ranging from Apprentice to Babel Fish, Eco Leaders, Dumbledore’s Army and two fascinating (if a little scary sounding) English extension clubs, the Order of Athena and the Sisterhood of Freedom Writers. Plenty for the science sort with ‘Ingeneurs’, Chemistry Olympiad and Maths Club. Strong DofE and masses of charity and community work. School runs own business programme, Duchy Enterprise, which is an enterprise opportunity for all pupils from year 10 through to year 13. Pupils work in teams to create a business venture and sell their products for charity. Trips are extensive including music and sports tours, classics, battlefields and Normandy D Day landing trips as well as French, German and Spanish exchanges and cultural visits. Plus a popular ski trip.

Careers education taken seriously. A new careers programme launched in 2019 under the title of ‘Inspire – preparing today for tomorrow’s workplace'. Activities throughout the year for all pupils including weekly careers talks, careers fairs and a work experience programme for year 11.


Sport is a major part of school life with lacrosse at the heart of the school's sporting success. Current U18s Scottish Schools Lacrosse champions and there is also good representation at county and regional level. Good range of other competitive team sports with recent successes in tennis, netball and rounders, athletics and cross country.

Good facilities include plenty of tennis and badminton courts, multi-gym, newly re-developed 25-metre pool (with spa vibe) and a sports hall which doubles up as a venue for social events, speech day etc. There is no all-weather pitch yet, though, and some girls commented that a greater focus on hockey and netball would be welcomed. Girls in year 11 (upper five) and above can opt to go horse riding at a local riding school or to David Lloyd Leisure Centre during their timetabled games lessons.


The four boarding houses offer a real sense of home from home. Housed in late Victorian villas they are a short walk from the main campus with a definite sense of going home. Think shabby chic meets country house with plenty of cosy sitting rooms, comfy settees, games equipment and so forth. Meals are all taken in the school dining rooms but each house has a well equipped kitchen where girls can also prepare their own food and share house dinners. Laundry is all done but there is the option for girls to do their own if they want. Rooms are comfortable, doubles triples and a few singles and fours. No en suite bathrooms and while not the most modern we have seen the houses are very comfortable, decorated with a real sense of flair and design. Possibly the warmest boarding atmosphere we have come across.

Two resident house mistresses (some with dogs) in each house provide what one parent described as ‘outstanding care not just in normal times but particularly in the pandemic. I’ve never felt more part of the school than during the pandemic, the communication has been first class and even though the girls couldn’t get home for so long I knew they were safe and cared for as well as I could’. The boarding staff certainly go the extra mile here and parents described the head of boarding as ‘absolutely incredible, she’s super approachable and the girls are her number one priority’.

Upper sixth only in Tower with room for 40 and a much greater sense of independence and preparation for university life. Parents and students also like the fact that the town location allows the girls to have a degree of (carefully monitored) independence as the get older.

Weekly and flexi boarding is on offer as is the option to have breakfast and dinner at the college. Full boarding offers weekends full of trips and activities, off and on site, with over 90 boarders remaining in school most weekends. Day students are able to join their boarding friends on these trips and we saw no sense of a division between day and boarding here. As part of bringing day and boarding pupils together day pupils receive one night free boarding per term and breakfast and dinner is also included in the standard day fees

Ethos and heritage

HLC was founded in 1893 before moving to its purpose built home on the current site within walking distance of the busy town centre. The comfortable, not overly grand, Victorian buildings combine with modern additions such as the sports Hall and swimming pool on a leafy site with immaculate grounds. There is a beautiful chapel (home to the chapel choirs) with services three times a week. While these are broadly Christian in ethos they are led by staff and students and reflect the multicultural nature of the pupils. The separate sixth form centre in main school gives girls their own (shared) studies as well as a study centre, kitchens, AV room and its own stylish coffee shop.

Uniform is blazer and tartan skirt for the main school and a smart business suit for the sixth form. Food has seen a marked improvement in the choice and quality of meals available in the recently refurbished dining room, we heard. The food we ate was first class, and did we mention the cake? Staff and girls dine together in main dining room, self-service with occasional formal dining. All meals here for boarders during the week except when they cook their own house meals.

Strong OG network, including Coki Van der Velde, 2015 Barclays Woman of the Year; Julie Mulligan, chair of the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales; Juliet Bremner, TV news reporter; Laura Winwood, former president of the Oxford Union; Phillipa Martin, producer of Contemporary Music Festivals at the Sydney Opera House and Polly Lane, legal advisor on national security to the Home Office. There’s a vibrant community for alumni with strong engagement with the school. As well as reunions (virtual during the pandemic) there’s a business network group for alumni to support each other and current pupils.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Committed to supporting mental health and wellbeing. Indeed, the attractive and calming Wellness Centre does much more than support medical needs. With a therapist and classes in mindfulness and pilates there is a real sense of looking after the whole person. Undoubtedly a happy school, with a real sense of girls being able to be themselves which translates into a well behaved and polite community where individuality and difference are clearly respected. The principal and girls spoke separately, clearly and without any sense of political correctness about the support that was given to, for instance, LGBTQ pupils. Girls were clear that any (rare) bullying was dealt with in a calm and compassionate way, the emphasis being on resolution and developing the skills to manage relationships

Pupils and parents

Lots of girls from the Harrogate area; day girls also come from other parts of West and North Yorkshire. About 30 per cent are boarders, with around 24 nationalities represented although Hong Kong and South East Asia predominate. Covid meant that many were unable to go home for many months and there appeared to be strong links established with their UK based peers during this time.

Money matters

A range of scholarships worth five per cent of day fees. Fee reductions of 15 per cent for UK armed forces, ten per cent for offspring of former pupils and five per cent for siblings. Means-tested bursaries up to 110 per cent of day fees to include transport, uniform, books etc.

The last word

A focused, warm, lively and independent minded school. Its emphasis is on girls' individuality and a genuine commitment to making them partners in the learning process. This produces articulate, well rounded young women clearly ready to take their place in the world. It offers a very good range of opportunities for the sporty, musical and arty on top of a rigorous academic education. The setting couldn’t be more conducive to helping it achieve all of this.

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

Support for Learning is provided by a specialist teacher who also offers leadership in meeting the educational needs of more able pupils. 10-09

Who came from where

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