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The first stop on our tour was a classroom full of excitable year 10s writing all over the table, so it was with some relief that we spotted a teacher and, for that matter, a tablecloth on said table. ‘A great way of learning German tenses,’ winked the teacher. ‘As is this!’ she declared eagerly before leading the girls into a recital of a catchy German rhyme, complete with actions. By the time we left, she’d moved onto a punchy quiz using bells for game-show-like sound effects. It’s a measure not only of…

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What the school says...

Shrewsbury High School has been educating girls in the heart of Shrewsbury since 1885, our school is literally built into the historic Town Walls. We welcome girls aged 4 into our junior school and they move seamlessly through our Senior School and Sixth Form for an all-through education. We were created to put girls first, always. As leaders in educating girls, we offer exceptional teaching, tailored to the way girls learn, we encourage them to experiment, have a go, be brave. This is aided by small class sizes, expert pastoral care, collaboration and teamwork.



Our wonderful location, in the heart of Shrewsbury, a creative and forward-thinking town, gives our pupils unique opportunities to learn from, and contribute to, their local community. Being the town school offers our family of big sisters and little sisters a stimulating environment in which to grow and learn.

Shrewsbury High School is part of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), the UK’s leading family of independent girls’ schools. We are the only GDST school in the local area and as such we are able to bring all the advantages of this powerful network to our girls, including an alumnae network in excess of 70,000 members ready to support and mentor our students.
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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

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

Rowing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2018, Jo Sharrock (40s), previously deputy head pastoral at Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital School in Bristol. Raised in southeast London. Her history degree (Leeds) only ever seemed to attract one question – ‘Are you going into teaching, then?’ to which she would laugh and roll her eyes as fervently as she does now at the irony of it all. To be fair, she did try her hand in the finance industry including for HSBC, ABN AMRO, NatWest Stockbrokers and Goldman Sachs but upon realising it really wasn’t her bag she did a TEFL course ‘because I fancied to go overseas’ which led to her ‘epiphany moment’. Spent 14 years at QEH, teaching history and politics and climbing the leadership ladder, including becoming the school's first female deputy head.

Positive affirmation quotes roll off the tongue – you could imagine much of what she says on distressed wooden signs with swirly writing: ‘Every day is different!’, ‘Everything is still possible for the young!’ ‘I learn something new every day!’ etc. The sunniness is infectious, with parents saying it filters down the school, ‘as does her compassion.’ ‘The girls think she’s really cool and the parents think she’s a fantastic role model.’ ‘She’s in touch with teenage girls and the wider issues they face – she understands them.’ ‘Soft and gentle but with a core of steel – perfect for the school.’ One parent was struck by the way she was chatting to three different girls at an open day, ‘I noticed how she treated each one differently – she knew them individually and how best to respond accordingly, and it really stayed with me.’ Girls agree – ‘it always amazes me how she knows every one of our names!’ Among the most stylish, modern headteacher’s offices we’ve seen – a good reflection of its inhabitant. Teaches a little – says she’d do more if only she had the time.

Commutes from a rural spot half-an-hour’s drive away, where she lives with her husband, the ideal location for her favoured outdoor pursuits of hiking and climbing (she is a qualified mountain leader). Also enjoys swimming and skiing. Her travel bug has taken her far and wide including to Africa, Australasia, Europe and the Americas.

Entrance

Gently selective. Most join at 11+ via exam in VR, NVR and quantitative skills. ‘Some girls ace one area but not another – perhaps the maths, creative writing or verbal reasoning – and we can work with that,’ says head. Around eight to 10 girls join at 13+ and one or two in other year groups, often mid academic year – same exams to get in. Around 10 join in sixth form – applicants at this stage need six 6s at GCSE with at least a 6 in the subjects (or related subjects) they want to study at A level.

Exit

Loses around a quarter after GCSEs – mostly for boarding, co-ed or just a change. Growing numbers stay put. After sixth form, vast majority to university - Cardiff, Newcastle, Exeter and Durham all popular. Occasional students to Oxbridge (none in 2021) and medics (two in 2021). Degree subjects wide ranging – everything from classics to anthropology to management – though STEM is top of the pops. Art foundations and degree apprenticeships valued and encouraged. ‘There’s no narrow path,’ says school.

Latest results

In 2021, 65 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 72 per cent A*/A at A level (91 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 55 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 48 per cent A*/A at A level (75 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

The first stop on our tour was a classroom full of excitable year 10s writing all over the table, so it was with some relief that we spotted a teacher and, for that matter, a tablecloth on said table. ‘A great way of learning German tenses,’ winked the teacher. ‘As is this!’ she declared eagerly before leading the girls into a recital of a catchy German rhyme, complete with actions. By the time we left, she’d moved onto a punchy quiz using bells for game-show-like sound effects. It’s a measure not only of the teaching here (imaginative, witty, interactive, fast paced) but also of the girls’ approach to learning (plucky, spirited, immersive - a shrinking violet free zone).

As we twisted and turned through the corridors and sprung in and out of classrooms – one with English lit students giving their all to narrating parts in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; another giving showbiz-style presentations on German You Tubers; a hall full of drama students absorbed in acting out feelings only via body language – we started to get it: A Shrewsbury High education is about so much more than listening, assessing and getting through the syllabus (though they do all that too), it’s about bringing the learning alive. ‘They’ve lit little fires in my daughter’s brain and she’s absolutely blossoming,’ enthused a parent, with others similarly delighted at the ‘encouraging and inspiring teaching’. Teachers are tasked with kicking off every lesson with an enticing hook and the thought-provoking questions keep everyone on their toes – What are the Christian and Buddhist views of divorce? What are the most important causes of a civil war? What women changed the world? Girls can expect to re-enact the Battle of Hastings in the school field or be handed a bowl of beads in chemistry to help visualise the concepts of how electrons are arranged in atoms. Plenty of experiments in science, say girls – the squeaky pop test (testing for hydrogen) a perennial favourite.

Smorgasbord of languages from the off - French, German, Spanish and Latin (with Greek as optional), with girls choosing two plus Latin from year 8. Light touch setting in maths and English from year 8. Nine GCSEs are the norm – most take a language and triple science, though neither is compulsory. RS, business and art all popular; DT and food tech now also available. Latin and music are the shining stars on results day – often a full pack of 9s. At A level, some take four, others three. Maths, biology and psychology (for which there was a lecture series on the day of our visit – the teenage brain, happiness and social justice all featured) all popular, art and design becoming more so. All start the EPQ; 60 per cent complete it – the rest have the option of either the school’s mini-MBA leadership project (presentation, leadership and team skills) or the GDST enterprise qualification (business and entrepreneurial skills) in partnership with LSE.

For many of the girls, getting a B will be a significant achievement, though there’s suitable stretch for those at the top end too. ‘One girl’s best will be different to another’s and they constantly make that clear,’ a parent told us. ‘Small class sizes means nobody gets left,’ said one girl – 22 max, though far smaller for A levels, with just one girl in the Latin class (head assures us GDST links help any lone students feel part of something bigger). All teachers take clubs or run sports teams too – helps build rapport. ‘What struck me most when I first looked round the school were the incredibly close relationships between teachers and pupils – they know and like each other,’ says head – the very reason, according to parents, that the school managed Covid so well: ‘The girls don’t mind their teachers being in their living rooms.’ Perhaps not the most digitally advanced school pre-pandemic but, say girls, ‘they’re starting to make up for it now, with laptops regularly used in lessons’ and we heard no complaints (far from it) regarding online lessons during lockdowns – ‘they learned quickly and were well ahead of the curve locally,’ reckoned a parent. Some niggles around homework (‘can be on the heavy side after a long day’), revision techniques (‘we’re often told to revise, but what’s the best way to do that?’) and subject choices (‘could do with more support in picking the right ones, although they’re completely all over UCAS’).

Learning support and SEN

Not averse to taking girls with EHCPs and they also cater for eg the profoundly deaf, though most have milder end needs. All praise to the SENCo and team of TAs that take the ‘would you teach a fish to climb a tree?’ model of thinking (for those that aren’t familiar with the book, it’s about looking at youngsters with ADHD, ASD, OCD etc as learning in a different way, not a deficient way). Support mainly classroom based but (free) one-to-ones available too. We wouldn’t fancy our chances of trying to get around the site’s tall buildings and some of the ancient pathways in a wheelchair.

The arts and extracurricular

Drama is the jewel in the crown, with new-ish head of drama having really shaken things up. Good numbers for both GCSE and A level, plus rich opportunities to use drama to explore thorny issues. ‘Drama is one of the first things prospective girls ask about, if not their parents,’ says head. There’s a small onsite theatre, while for bigger performances – including the annual razzle-dazzle musical (Oliver! Up next) - the girls use the local Theatre Severn. The winter dance show brings in the crowds.

Music department has its own onsite house and is well-staffed. Over half of girls learn an instrument from harp to drums. We walked past an impressive string quartet in the old hall at lunchtime – one of many ensembles, along with choirs and orchestras. One of our guides was keen on singing and said she had regular chances to belt out a tune – staff also run an outreach choir in the local community. Everything from traditional choral numbers to popup opera through to open mic nights to cater for all tastes. The nearby St Chad’s church provides a popular performance area in the round, not to mention the abbey with its fabulous acoustics.

Beautiful student art provides good reasons to stop and stare in some of the corridors. We were about to ask our guides if they are recent pieces (so many schools leave the same paintings on the walls for years on end), then noticed a stunner of a painting of a man with a face mask – so, yes, then. Our tour guide gave us a sneak preview of her GCSE workbook, every page meticulous and ambitious. Her focus on textiles means she’s set up for the long haul here, with textiles, fine art and photography all available at A level. Almost worth it just to use the sixth form art studio up in the attic – you could almost imagine yourself in Paris with all the oil paints, coffee cups and rooftop terrace. But what really caught our eye in this cosy space was a vast, exceptionally talented oil canvas depicting the ‘hear no evil; speak no evil; see no evil’ theme. Visiting artists come in to do talks and workshops, the annual exhibition at Shrewsbury art gallery attracts not just parents but the general public.

Rare is the student that doesn’t do clubs – the hour-and-a-half lunchtime break handily allows for squeezing them in the school day. Debating, Model UN and eco-club has been doing lots of worthy work lately, while more creative options include craft and cookery clubs. Lively DofE, starting in year 9. One girl told us she’d set up her own – Friday ball games. Period X on Wednesday afternoons provides further enrichment - all centres around wellbeing and creativity, with options including yoga, interview skills and mindfulness. One of our tour guides was investigating personal safety for her latest project (though when we also heard about girls having self-defence classes and our tour guides telling us they’d never heard of Everyone’s Invited, we wondered if the school’s messaging was a bit outdated, putting the onus on girls to protect themselves – head says absolutely not).

Stalwart trips include New York for sixth formers and battlefields for year 9s. Alternate years for sports tour and adventure trip somewhere far flung eg Borneo, India. Plus all the usual day trips linked to the curriculum – geography students had just got back from a field trip when we visited.

Sport

Not known for being the school’s forte but it’s not half bad at netball, and hockey does increasingly well. Gymnastics and tennis also get regular wins at county level and occasionally national. Girls we met enthused about the rowing and tennis is also available, while football and cricket are emerging. Cross-country and athletics get their moment in the summer, with optional activities including dance, basketball, table tennis, rugby and even equestrian. Inclusivity – the holy grail for most schools – gets thumbs up from students. ‘My daughter plays football and you get the impression that even if they were the worst team ever, they’d carry it on as long as they love it – it’s about team building and making it fun,’ agreed a parent. Astro, field and sports centre on site, with additional courts down the lane – a three-minute stroll along the river. A couple of girls said they’d like more swimming.

Ethos and heritage

A GDST school which, since its foundation in 1885, has been a distinguished feature of Shropshire education. Located on the river front, the school is literally built into the fabric of the town walls – they even have their own tower. There’s an energy and sense of fun about the place and wandering around the warren of buildings – some old, others plate glassed and contemporary – you can’t help but notice the laidback laughter. It was this easiness about the girls that many told us was the deciding factor when they first visited: ‘It was just a gut feeling – I knew instantly I’d feel at home,’ said one. Visitors – us included - are often surprised by the sheer amount of space, both inside and out – even with the junior school back on site since 2021. And for every area that could do with a bit of a face-lift, there’s a swanky new one to make up for it, no more so than the dazzling restaurant-like dining room (with restaurant standard lamb curry on day of our visit) with extra lecture space that wouldn’t look out of a place in a hip Soho private members club.

We were hoping for a few quirks – old school hymns or unusual customs. Closest they get are the much-loved carols round the tree at Christmas: ‘sung in rounds, different languages and to obscure ancient bits of music that girls from 40 years ago would also have sung,’ says head.

Alumnae include Mary Beard (classicist), Dr Alice Bunn (international director, UK space agency), Emma Jones (founder Enterprise Nation), Kate Phillips (BBC entertainment controller) and Amy Williams (founder of ethical marketing company Good-Loop).

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Small and close-knit, with a focus on wellbeing. ‘You do better if you feel better,’ says head (another distressed wooden sign opportunity). All staff are trained in mental health first aid. Heads of year come in for particular praise – ‘they always know what to do,’ said a student. Pastoral team includes form tutors, (part-time) counsellor and school nurse, with girls also saying they’re not averse to approaching the head directly. Eating disorders, bullying and self-harm discussed openly and students are feel safe to raise concerns about others, not just themselves. Whereas pastoral care took a beating in many schools during the pandemic, parents told us that was not the case here – ‘school gave girls time off their computers, keeping things fun, making sure everyone knew they had someone to talk to, and so on.’ ‘Not a cliquey school,’ say girls, though a parent told us ‘I’ve known of girls leaving because they don’t get on with other girls but some of them wind up coming back.’ Revamped sixth form widely appreciated – ‘it’s quite a different experience these days, with a trendy space, nice location and greater sense of being older and independent,’ said a parent.

New tiered discipline system introduced to ensure clarity and consistency - comprises first warning, second warning and after school detention. Rewards can be anything from house points to postcards home, certificates, badges and hot chocolate with the head. Strict-ish on uniform (‘I don’t want the girls to become overly self conscious’) but woe betide any girl chewing gum – ‘they are very, very hot on that,’ said a student. Only one temporary exclusion in the current head’s time; no permanent ones.

Pupils and parents

Girls are articulate beyond their years and very smiley. Loyal to their school too. Parents mainly middle-class professionals (especially medics), along with lots of entrepreneurs and farmers – a good Shropshire mix. Very big catchment area – a few girls told us of friends traveling up to an hour to get to school, with bus service from Church Stretton, Ludlow, Oswestry, Bridgnorth, Ellesmere, Welshpool – though most still hail from Shrewsbury itself, with these parents appreciating the opportunity for their daughters to walk home with friends after school (as with so many town centre schools, you want to avoid a school run like the plague). Increasingly, families move out of London for the creative curriculum. ‘Not as socially elite as the other local independents,’ said a parent – ‘and all the nicer for it.’ Parents a sociable bunch - ‘I’ve got a lot of friends through the school, which has been lovely,’ said one. Mainly white British, reflective of the area.

Money matters

Academic, sport, music, art and drama scholarships at 11+, 13+, with additional sixth form scholarships. These cover between five and 15 per cent of fees. GDST bursary scheme available, covering up to 100 per cent of fees.

The last word

A small, friendly and happy school that parents tell us has given their daughters wings to fly. Fresh, exciting and buzzy yet steeped in history. We loved it.

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

Nov 09.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
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
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

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