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The school acquired the lease to a boathouse close to Putney bridge and now more than 125 rowers, backed by enthusiastic parents (and a pretty keen head), power up and down the Thames. This is a 'busy' school - girls, parents and head repeatedly stress this. So much on offer and very little time to do it all in a day school day. Much enthusiasm for the teachers and their teaching 'style'. 'They discuss rather than teach so you want to join in,' we were told...

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What the school says...

'A spirit of innovation, openness and creativity' pervades Putney High School, according to the Independent Schools Inspectorate which awarded the school the highest possible grading in every category.

The school’s ethos is one of putting girls first, with academic excellence, wellbeing and opportunity at its heart. It achieves this by:

· Developing a culture of intellectual agility, with girls stretched, challenged and supported by staff keen to nurture the same sense of academic curiosity that they themselves enjoy.

· Creating a warm community, where girls have fun and can take risks, secure in the knowledge they are in a safe environment.

· Offering outstanding opportunity in Art, Design, Drama, Music and Sport. Girls can get involved, try new things and develop confidence, building leadership and other key skills.


· Inspiring a sense of ambition and adventure.

· Leading in digital innovation – all girls have their own iPads, for example.

· Championing the value of student voice. Girls are encouraged to take ownership in all aspects of their school life.

Entry is as follows: 4+ by friendly, informal assessment. 7+ by friendly, informal assessment, during which girls complete papers in English, Maths and Non Verbal Reasoning. 11+ by interview and entrance examination in English (essay and comprehension) and Maths. Jan for September. Interview in Autumn term. Sixth Form – At least three A* grades at GCSE and at least three A grades plus A* or A grades in A-level subjects. Maths and English must have been awarded at least a B if these are not chosen for A level or AS study.
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What the parents say...

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Curricula

Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.

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

Rowing

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2015, Mrs Suzie Longstaff BA MA PGCE, following a year as acting head and a previous six years as head of sixth (late 40s). Mrs Longstaff read economics at Durham, did her PGCE at Homerton and gained an MA in education from Bath in 2015. She started her career at Shiplake teaching maths and ICT, then to Kingston Grammar as head of ICT and asst head of sixth. She joined Putney in 2009. It may be dawning on you that both her universities and all three schools are on - or virtually on - rivers and rivers all need rowers. Mrs Longstaff was Olympic cox for Team GB's women's VIII at Atlanta 1996 (her steering being described by one commentator as 'aggressive') and she has been captain of the Thames Rowing Club.

We found her warm, sparkly (on a very hot day), utterly charming, full of zest and fun and not remotely aggressive in her current role. Parents concur: 'She's brilliant.' 'She makes very good connections with both parents and girls.' 'A breath of fresh air.' 'Everyone likes her - she's open to change and very positive - and she comes to everything.' The girls echo this, describing her repeatedly as, above all, 'open' - and pay tribute to how she has made the school more relaxed. 'She walks around all the time, asking girls how they are.' We heard no dissenting voice. Mrs Longstaff is the mother of young twins who attend the school.

Internal appointments to headships are rare, can make waves and lead to choppy waters but Putney now has a keen eye on the course ahead and a steady hand on the tiller, steering with the lightest of touches.

Academic matters

Most popular and successful A level subjects are maths, biology and English Lit. A wide range of options given this is not a huge school - economics and psychology are popular. In 2016, 64 per cent A*/A grades and 94 per cent A*-B. GCSE results are terrific - as you'd expect: 86 per cent A*/A in 2016.

Innovative bilingual programme offered to native speakers of Mandarin, Spanish, French and German ie the languages taught in school. Greek on the timetable from 2018. Few takers of languages at A level in recent years but this now set to change as head is sticking her oar in to the somewhat becalmed waters and stirring them up with energy and commitment. 'I'd like to offer Arabic and Russian too,' she says. There are now three German teachers - surely unique in a school of this size - and some truly exciting trips eg the Spanish-takers to Costa Rica - to promote these vital subjects. A school making a specialism of modern foreign languages has long been needed and Putney is set to assume the role.

Much enthusiasm for the teachers and their teaching 'style'. 'They discuss rather than teach so you want to join in,' we were told. Also for the school's flexibility when it comes to options at GCSE and A level. 'People are doing the weirdest combinations - you're allowed to do whatever you like.' 'Our daughters were not at all keen on homework but they have been inspired and now they really want to do it,' we heard, 'and even in the subjects they're not keen on!' Much praise for the very new head of careers - 'I talk to her every day,' one sixth former told us -
and school has a strong offering in this area, organising a careers fair and making links with useful alumnae.

Lots of extracurricular stimulation in the form of high calibre outside speakers (Henry Marsh, AC Grayling for a start), inspirational trips and PIE - the Putney Ideas Exchange. We always like anything which celebrates ideas and this is genuinely exploratory, open-minded and, to some extent, pupil-led. Brilliant new interactive installation on the periodic table got even this science-phobe excited.

Average of 24 girls in years 7-9 classes, down to 15 for the GCSE years and around 7 in the sixth form. Under three per cent have EAL needs -supported where needed. One sixth have some kind of SEN and the school has an unusually open approach. They will move classes to suit able girls with major physical disabilities if that enables them to attend and they welcome those who may need a full time LSA if that opens the curriculum to them. Mrs Longstaff's approach is, 'Great! How can we help?' and this is not just talk but borne out by the girls they have in school. Well staffed Learning Enrichment dept encompasses SEN.

Games, options, the arts

Rowing. Within a year of Mrs Longstaff's appointment, the school acquired the lease to a boathouse close to Putney bridge and now more than 125 rowers from years 8 to 13, backed by enthusiastic parents (and a pretty keen head), power up and down the Thames. But you don't have to do it, though everyone's eyes widen at the thrust given to sports since Mrs Longstaff took her seat. Unlike at many schools, here everyone gets a chance - lots of teams and a deliberate policy to delay team selection to ensure fairness for all. Some 85 per cent of them, we are told, represent the school in something that involves moving. Almost too much for some people. Some feeling that the sports staff now have too much power and girls' involvement elsewhere can suffer in a school where so much is on offer and there is so much eagerness to involve oneself in everything. Astro on site and smallish tarmacs but a few coach moments away are the main pitches and playing fields used by the school. Dance is big. Netball and lacrosse thrive and many other games and sports are on offer - acrobatics to zumba. And they win - masses. Top team GDST athletics in 2017.

Exceptional music, led inspirationally and with great success and financial investment - £30,000 just spent on upgrading nine pianos, acquiring a baby harp and a new mobile recording studio when we visited. The head - prior to her rowing days - was herself a music scholar and, therefore is in sympathy with the needs of school music, as remarkably few are. Chamber groups win major competitions, girls leave with eg Oxbridge organ scholarships, and, 'for several, Grade 8 is a distant memory'. But lots of groups, choirs, ensembles of all kinds and our visit to the music centre with its many practice rooms was a not-particularly-well-sound-proofed joy. Drama similarly popular. Nice little studio theatre with battery of new lanterns and a good hall for shows. Also a delightful outdoor stage on the 'staff lawn' on which a junior production of Alice in Wonderland had just taken place - teacups lining the rim of the stage. 'We have theatre productions and concerts every two seconds,' one girl told us, quite seriously.

Impressive DT - 'someone made a really cool woven hedgehog home!' - and art: the catalogue of the sixth form art display which we just missed bore witness to genuinely original and skilful work in many media. Textiles - compulsory for half of each of the first three years - also big, popular and, at best, producing professional quality and highly desirable artefacts. 'There was this wonderful ball gown and someone made a leather jacket - very Alexander McQueen.' Not too much on display when we visited - not a lot of space for it - but also 'people do like to take things home'. Of course! School has all the mod cons - eg laser and 3D printers - as you'd expect - and use them with imagination and subtlety.

Background and atmosphere

A Girls' Day School Trust (GDST) school. This one began life in 1893 - one of the latest of the many schools belonging to this venerable and highly respected organisation and, thus, relatively young. The Trust itself celebrated its 140th anniversary in 2012 and, although each school is largely autonomous and free-standing, the features and advantages of belonging to this unique family of schools should not be overlooked - not least the attention now paid to attracting the right girls for its bursarial provision and the many opportunities now to compete against girls from sister schools in many activities.

Putney is on a compact site but clever use of space and imaginative building produces many surprises - among them the excellent sixth form centre opened by Jenny Beaven (one of its most celebrated old girls) in 2012. Study area, sixth form diner (open all day), internet cafe, outdoor balconies, huge sitting room, fitness room - few boarding schools offer more. This is an excellent resource and must be playing a major part in the school's growing success in retaining post-GCSE pupils.

Despite its relative smallness, nowhere feels cramped. Refurbished classrooms are light, pleasant spaces. All is orderly and well-maintained. Good, air-conditioned modern library with small stock in key subjects but a fast system of ordering books. Two small lawns, an excellent canteen with food everyone likes. 'I'm a vegetarian and I love it.' 'I'm seriously picky and it's great for me.' We would have been happy to stay to lunch.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Parents and pupils enthuse about the new relaxed feel and the easier relationships developing both between staff and girls but also between girls in different years - fostered, in part, by a new house system. Parents tell us of their daughters' growth in confidence and the great care and attention to detail taken by the teaching staff. 'They are very good at dealing with pupils as individuals,' we heard from several and this concurs with Mrs Longstaff's emphasis on 'individualised care'. Some sense among a few that not all staff have yet adapted to this change in culture - also, that some girls shy away from the school's 'open' take on matters to do with mental health and 'mindfulness' - but the structure and the understanding is there, if not yet fully embraced by all. 'What we need,' agrees Mrs Longstaff, 'is people opening up and engaging in a conversation.'

The staff structure is supported by a counsellor and a new buddy system - year 10 girls pairing with newbies and backed up by year 11 Big Sisters - will add yet a further layer of help if needed. Discipline itself is rarely an issue - a real sense of friendliness, looking out for each other and kindness is palpable.

This is a 'busy' school - girls, parents and head repeatedly stress this. So much on offer and very little time to do it all in a day school day. But this has to be ambitious and right though it may not be easy for everyone to go with the flow. But the sense is that swimming against the tide won't work. Haul yourself onto the bank and look for the lifeguard. She'll be there.

Pupils and parents

Around 40 different home languages spoken as befits this diverse and cosmopolitan area. Most girls are white and middle class but this disguises a wider range of backgrounds and home cultures than is immediately apparent. 'Not as flashy and full of girls hopping out of 4x4s as some schools,' we were told and we agree. A down-to-earth, real world school. Parent-home connections very much fostered by Mrs Longstaff, who regularly meets representatives from the Parents' Support Association which works to pick up parental concerns or suggestions and act on them. Parents an appreciative, sensible bunch - most families living within half an hour or so, though some rather further. As one admitted, 'It's a schlep to get here but it's worth it.'

Entrance

Vastly oversubscribed in the junior school (see separate entry.) Almost all junior school pupils move into the senior school. Some 650 external applicants for the 64 places at 11+ - the number of applicants at this level has doubled in the three years prior to our visit. They come from a vast number of preps and primaries. Exams in English and maths. Around 15 new girls come in at sixth form. They will need at least three at 8/9 (A*) at GCSE, three more at 7 (A) and at least six at 6 (B) including English and maths. Higher requirements for subjects to be taken at A level in some cases.

Exit

Some 90 per cent and rising now stay into the sixth form. Some go after GCSEs to eg boarding, mixed or IB schools but the number of leavers is falling - rightly. 'Quite a few left in my year and several came back, we heard.' The head doesn't bully the girls about this but 'I know ours is the best sixth form in London,' she says, endearingly. Thence to an impressive range of courses and places. Seven Oxbridge entrants from the 2016 leavers. Bristol, Edinburgh, Exeter and KCL also consistently popular and a good spread of subjects taken. A few now each year to US colleges, often to take courses in liberal arts. Several OG notables including Jenny Beavan - Oscar winning costume designer and 2016 GDST alumna of the year, Camilla Cavendish, Olly Grender, Nicola Hicks, Sandie Okoro, Ursula Owen, Olivia Poulet, Edina Ronay, Elizabeth Symons, Melanie Phillips, Sophie Raworth, Pippa Greenwood, Jemima Rooper, Madeleine Wickham (novelist Sophie Kinsella). And mostly a thoroughly worthwhile, sensible and unpretentious bunch of women.

Money matters

GDST scholarships in academic, music and sports at 11+. Academic worth up to 50 per cent of fees. Sixth form scholarships in art, academics, sports, music, drama and design. Unique travel and science scholarship open only to internal candidates. The GDST now has a substantial bursary pot and this money is not always used up each year. If your daughter is bright or talented but the full fees are beyond your means it's well worth looking into it. NB Bursaries are means-tested annually.

Our view

A good all-round school with an enthusiastic staff and a top quality head. 'Openness' now palpable in the faces and relationships and working its way through the school. Putney is no longer the also-ran of the London GDST schools. Under Mrs Longstaff, we feel, this school has caught the tide and is beginning to set the pace.

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