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Sherborne Girls and all-boys Sherborne School market themselves as ‘separate, yet together’ and parents reckon pupils get the best of both worlds here – lessons in a single-sex environment and co-curricular activities, music, sport, drama and social events with boys at Sherborne School. The two schools are looking to align even further, with joint CCF, debating, a pastoral pupil forum and a joint school council...

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What the school says...

We are  proud to be one of the leading, full-boarding girls’ schools for all-round personal development and academic fulfilment.  We aim to send out into the world girls of character, commitment and compassion who think creatively, choose wisely and have the courage to make a difference. Our unique collaboration with Sherborne School offers the best of both worlds; single-sex education alongside a wealth of joint opportunities.   ...Read more

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Sports

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2018, Dr Ruth Sullivan BSc PhD PGCE. Educated at City of London School for Girls and then Sherborne Girls for the sixth form (she loved boarding there and says ‘a whole new world opened up’ when she arrived). Studied geography at Edinburgh, followed by a PGCE at Moray House Institute of Education (Edinburgh). Her first teaching job was at St John’s School, Leatherhead, where she became a housemistress and head of outdoor pursuits as well as teaching geography. Moved to Glenalmond as head of geography, then to the Queen’s School, Chester as head of sixth form. In her mid-30s she decided to do a master’s in population and health, followed by a PhD in non-communicable epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

She was appointed as acting head of geography at Haileybury as she was finishing her PhD and was ‘thrilled to be back in teaching’. Soon promoted to deputy master and spent six years in the role before moving to Sherborne Girls as head. ‘I wasn’t actively looking for headship but when this came up I didn’t pause for a second,’ she says. ‘I haven’t stopped smiling since. Am I proud to be head? Absolutely – and even more so because I’m a product of this school.’ She’s a firm advocate of girls’ schools. ‘There are no gendered subjects,’ she says. ‘The girls can be themselves – and be nurtured, stretched and challenged. Some of the girls here might feel less confident and empowered at a co-ed school.’

The demands of headship are intense so she doesn’t teach at present but she’s very visible around school, observing lessons, taking assembly every Monday and having supper with prefects every fortnight. ‘My job is to have oversight of the school, to have a strategy and to lead it,’ she says. Parents describe her as ‘utterly brilliant’ and say she’s very approachable. One told us: ‘She’s everywhere. She’s sparky, bright and she really gets the girls.’ She’s certainly one of the most energetic heads we’ve met. In her spare time she travels extensively, swims, cycles, runs half marathons (often 12 a year) and triathlons and competes in Ironman events. She has led countless DofE gold award expeditions to places like the US, Morocco, Iceland and Norway, has climbed Mount Kenya and Mount Kilimanjaro and volunteers for Crisis, the charity for homeless people, every Christmas. She’s taking a group of pupils to the Everest Base Camp later this year. ‘I work hard and I play hard,’ she says. ‘I took up singing lessons a year ago and I tell the girls: “You’re never too old to do things. Give it a go.”’

Entrance

Around 25 girls join at 11 but the majority – around 65 – join at 13. They come mainly from 20 schools, including Hanford, Farleigh, Sandroyd, Port Regis, Sherborne Prep, Clayesmore Prep, Knighton House, Forres Sandle Manor, Hazlegrove and Twyford. The school advises registering at least two years in advance of entry, particularly for girls joining at 13+. Pre-assessment takes place in year 7 for year 9 entry and most pupils also complete CE (pupils not prepared for CE sit school’s own entrance test). Up to 20 girls a year join the sixth form (they need a minimum of six grade 6s and above at GCSE).

Exit

A few leave after GCSEs, mainly for co-ed sixth forms or to do subjects that aren’t offered here (some of them quickly return). After A levels, the majority head to university, with 80 per cent to Russell Group. Bristol, Exeter, Nottingham, Newcastle, UCL, Durham and Oxford Brookes are popular choices. Five to Oxbridge in 2023, and three medics. A few do art foundation courses at places like Central St Martins, Falmouth and Kingston. Growing interest in degree apprenticeships and the school recently appointed a head of apprenticeships.

Latest results

In 2023, 58 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 45 per cent A*/A at A level (71 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 62 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 46 per cent A*/A at A level (75 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Teachers say the school ‘isn’t a hothouse’ but pupils need to be able to cope with the academic curriculum. The school no longer offers the IB (the last cohort took their exams in 2020) but has widened its enrichment programme to support A levels. A wide range of A level subjects on offer – all the usual, plus classical Greek, economics, history of art, photography and philosophy. Most popular A level subjects are maths, RS, English and chemistry. Many sixth formers take the EPQ, choosing an eclectic range of subjects, from ‘How ethical is cotton farming?’ to ‘How has the etymology of six English swear words developed?’

Most girls take nine IGCSEs/GCSEs, including English, maths, religious studies, either separate sciences or combined science and at least one language (Mandarin, French, Spanish and German on offer, plus Latin). Teaching is lively and engaging. We observed a year 10 English class studying Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and every time the teacher asked a question a sea of hands shot up. We particularly liked a poster of book recommendations from the head of English on the wall outside the classroom. Impressive new science labs – three for each science subject. ‘We do a lot of experiments,’ a keen science student told us. ‘I love knowing how the theory applies to what we’re doing practically.’

Setting and streaming from 13. All girls have personal tutors, moving to a new one every two years.

Learning support and SEN

Learning support team offers support for needs such as dyslexia and ADHD.

The arts and extracurricular

More than half the pupils play an instrument and there’s a host of orchestras (including the Sherborne Schools’ Symphony Orchestra and the Sherborne Schools’ Sinfonia), chamber groups and five choirs to join. We saw an impressive lunchtime strings concert, which featured everything from Bach to Lennon and McCartney. The Candlemas service at Sherborne Abbey is a particular highlight. Recently opened Merritt Centre includes large recital hall, sound-proofed practice rooms and recording studio. New drama school and black box performance space due to open soon too – handy for the joint school productions, small studio-based work and house drama festival. Girls can do drama IGCSE and drama and theatre A level. Art, DT and photography are impressive, with genuinely innovative work.

Girls say the school is ‘really well-rounded’. ‘They provide you with opportunities and encourage you to do as much as possible,’ one said. Another told us she used to be scared of public speaking but found her confidence and recently gave a TEDx talk. The deputy head (co-curricular) says the girls are ‘very purposeful’, constantly coming up with new ideas – from making a podcast about being a woman in the 21st century to launching an equality and diversity society. Lots of lunchtime and after-school activities, including astronomy, cake decorating, coding, DofE, jewellery, life drawing and Young Enterprise. The school has strong links with schools around the world and girls get the chance to do exchanges as far afield as Australia, South Africa, Qatar and Canada.

Interesting speakers invited to give lectures, including RAF pilot Mandy Hickson, the second woman in the UK to fly a Tornado GR4 on the front line. Pupils are keen on environmental projects – the school is the first in the country to sign up to a conservation and rewilding project for schools launched by conservation charity Operation Future Hope and is turning grass areas near the playing fields into wildflower meadows.

Sport

Asked whether Sherborne Girls is ‘a sporty school’, pupils told us: ‘It’s an everything school.’ Nevertheless, there are sporting opportunities galore. Facilities include a 25m pool, squash courts, tennis courts, lacrosse pitches, climbing and bouldering walls, floodlit AstroTurf, fitness suite and gym. Strongest sports are lacrosse, hockey, cross-country and netball but as well as mainstream sports there are opportunities for pursuits like boxercise, Zumba, ballet and Pilates.

Boarders

Sherborne Girls is one of the UK’s few true boarding schools, with 90 per cent boarders. They can choose to be either full boarders or day boarders who ‘stay overnight on the odd occasion’. A total of seven boarding houses – five mixed-age boarding houses for girls in years 9 to 12, a house for year 7 and 8 girls and an upper sixth boarding house for girls in their final year. Some of the younger ones sleep in cubicles – or ‘cubies’ – but most have double or single rooms. Girls are fiercely loyal to their houses, exuberantly decorating them at Christmas and throwing parties. A recent party theme in one house was ‘things you liked when you were 3’, so girls dressed up as characters like Dory in Finding Nemo. Unlike many schools, Sherborne Girls doesn’t empty out at weekends. There’s a lot going on and around 80 per cent stay. Two exeats per term.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1899, when Kenelm Wingfield Digby, MP for North Dorset and owner of Sherborne Castle, decided to open a girls’ school. It moved to its current site on the edge of the pretty market town of Sherborne in 1903. The main building is a rambling Victorian mansion, with six out of the seven boarding houses forming a crescent around the lawns and playing fields. The latest addition to the site is the swish Merritt Centre, named after a former member of staff who left her entire estate to the school. It houses a 500-seat concert hall, practice rooms, recording studio and café.

Sherborne Girls and all-boys Sherborne School market themselves as ‘separate, yet together’ and parents reckon pupils get the best of both worlds – lessons in a single-sex environment and co-curricular activities, music, sport, drama and social events with boys at Sherborne School. The two schools are looking to align even further, with joint CCF, debating, a pastoral pupil forum and a joint school council. In a further development, the two charitable trusts that own Sherborne Girls and Hanford, a girls’ prep school in Child Okeford, near Blandford, announced they were merging in 2023. The new partnership enables the two schools to work more closely together whilst at the same time retaining their independence, character and ethos.

Sherborne Girls pupils eat in their houses, with their own separate kitchens and dining rooms. Sixth formers work out table plans for lunch and serve out pudding but supper is more informal. Girls are back and forth to their houses every two lessons so they don’t have to cart heavy bags around with them. Distinctive green uniform (no ties). Prayers twice a week, led by the chaplain, with Sunday services in Sherborne Abbey or the school hall. A mother who was at Sherborne Girls herself told us: ‘I love the fact that all the stuff I enjoyed at the school is still there – like swimming in the river after GCSEs and picnics in the fields. They don’t all jump on the train to London after their exams.’

Former pupils include soprano Dame Emma Kirkby, violinist Ruth Rogers, historian Margaret MacMillan, writers Sophie Kinsella and Santa Sebag Montefiore, Civil Aviation Authority chairwoman Dame Deirdre Hutton and the late Dame Juliet Wheldon, who was legal adviser to the Bank of England.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Parents say the school is ‘very nurturing’ and that girls are clear who to speak to if anything is troubling them – houseparents, tutors, health centre staff and the school’s two counsellors (they’re in every day). Older girls act as trained peer mentors (known as ‘supporters and listeners’) to the younger ones.

Sixth formers, clad in black suits rather than school uniform, say they get more freedom as they get older. They like the fact that ‘we aren’t in complete isolation’ and can go into town between 4.30 and 6pm each day. Two head girls, two deputies and 16 prefects – applicants have to prepare a CV and successful applicants are interviewed by senior staff. School rules are straightforward and based on ‘keep safe and consider others’. Robust policies on alcohol, drugs and smoking are aligned with Sherborne School. Upper sixth girls are allowed to drink alcohol – maximum of two small glasses of wine – at social events, but only with parental consent and under supervision. After February of their final year the upper sixth are allowed into selected Sherborne pubs. Random breath tests carried out.

Pupils and parents

Quite a few daughters of old girls and many have brothers at Sherborne School. Around 10 per cent from overseas, including the US, Canada, Spain, France, Lebanon, China, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Nigeria, and 10 per cent ex-pat families. ‘I want the girls to have a global perspective,’ says the head. The 40 or so day girls tend to be very local (they can go home at 6pm, although some stay for prep until 8pm). Parents range from old west country families to Forces parents, diplomats and Londoners with south-west connections (Sherborne station is a ten-minute walk away and it takes just over two hours by train to Waterloo). Parents praise the school’s strong sense of community and say it isn’t posh or pretentious. ’When you turn up for events the car park isn’t full of Range Rovers,’ one told us. Asked to think of anything they’d improve, the only (very minor) comment was that the occasional window needed painting.

Money matters

Revised fee structure for day pupils, with two options – day boarders (with the option of overnight stays) and day girls (no overnight stays, but own space for storage and study in a boarding house). A plethora of academic, art, drama, music, sport and all-rounder scholarships and exhibitions available – with a maximum award of £3,000. Means-tested bursaries (up to 100 per cent of fees) awarded in conjunction with scholarships and exhibitions. Military and foreign office families eligible for 10 per cent fee discount.

The last word

A gem of a school, led by an inspiring, go-getting head. Sherborne Girls is better than ever, achieving fine academic standards and, through its partnership with Sherborne School, giving girls the best of both worlds – an all-girls education with a co-ed lifestyle. A sixth former told us ‘it’s a place of opportunity’ and it really is.

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

Roughly 10 per cent of pupils have ESL lessons and 12 per cent have mild SEN. 10-09

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

Who came from where


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