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Where does school’s heartbeat lie, we asked, sport, drama, music or academia? None of the above, according to girls – but all are drawn together by a common thread of enthusiasm and a ‘can-do’ attitude. Sport high on the agenda right from early prep days with ‘very broad’ offering not just of netball, lacrosse, athletics, dance and gym, but also karate, fencing and ballet, giving girls a competitive edge when they...

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St Albans High School for Girls is an independent day school which is affiliated to the Church of England. Our vision is to provide an exciting and challenging education that fosters independence, creativity and risk-taking within a caring community. We encourage girls to set themselves ambitious goals, both intellectually and personally. We promote critical and creative thinking,and place a strong emphasis on independent research and investigation. Our commitment to the creative arts is evident in our new performing arts, design and technology centre. When your daughter comes to us, she will be nurtured by expert house mistresses and tutors who will take an overview of her academic and personal development. The High School is a vibrant and supportive community where girls thrive. ...Read more

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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.

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Since September 2019, Amber Waite, previously deputy head pastoral at St Dunstan's College. She was educated in Texas and, after a maths degree, spent 10 years as a biogeochemical oceanographer, before discovering a passion for teaching. After teaching in the US for some years, she moved to the UK and worked in the civil service as director of schools and universities learning programmes. She then taught at Headington, Abington and Ashford Schools, before joining St Dunstan's.

Head of prep since 2015, Judy Rowe. Educated at North London Collegiate School and Durham University. Formerly head of lower school at Belmont, Mill Hill Prep. Businesslike, chatty and in the running for sportiest prep head of the year – running, canoeing and cycling are just a few of her weekend pursuits. Parents say she has opened formerly firmly closed doors to them (‘we are actually invited into the classroom now – before, there was a line in the playground that we weren’t allowed to cross’) and changed prep beyond recognition –all for the better.


Oversubscribed (applications on the increase and a very high acceptance rate) and highly academically selective with main entry points 4+, 8+ and 11+. For entry into reception, girls assessed in an informal multi-task session. Head adamant that they are ‘not looking for girls who are pushed, prepped or tutored’. Additional class added at 8+, with online assessments in maths, English and creative writing task and school looking for girls who will thrive in the academic environment and contribute to the life of the school. Thirty-five per cent of joiners at 11+ come in ones and twos from state primaries and independent feeders include Beechwood Park, Manor Lodge, Radlett Prep, St Hilda’s Harpenden, Stormont, Lyonsdown, and Edge Grove to name a few. Pupils now sit the ISEB Common Pre-Test, complete a creative writing task, experience a taster lesson and take part in educational team activities.

Senior school unashamedly a place for ‘very able girls who can engage intellectually’. There are 130 year 7 places up for grabs with about 50 moving up from prep and around three applicants for each remaining place. Prep pupils sit the same exam as external applicants for the purposes of scholarship selection. Candidates sit the online ISEB Common Pre-Tests in English, maths verbal and non-verbal reasoning. No special preparation is required for the tests. Results are age-standardised to adjust for the age of the child taking the test. Around two-thirds are interviewed before final offers made. Around 15 places up for grabs in sixth form, with with minimum of grades set at 7 or 8 for GCSEs in chosen subjects. Applicants are also asked to attend a sixth form assessment day in November.


Almost all from prep to secondary, with just a small handful each year to boarding or state. Early heads up if staff feel pupil unlikely to thrive in fast paced senior school (usually very few are advised to look for pastures new – but parents say it’s rarely a surprise). Most stay after GCSEs, with up to 20 per cent leaving, mainly for co-ed, boarding or just a change of scene. At 18 all progress to higher education, with six to Oxbridge in 2021, plus five medics. Other popular destinations are Leeds, Bristol, Durham, Exeter and Nottingham.

Latest results

In 2021, 94 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 87 per cent A*/A at A level (97 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 90 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 68 per cent A*/A (90 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

With girls selected from 4+ and places fiercely fought over at 8+ and 11+, school is firing on all academic cylinders from the get-go and is certainly not for the faint of heart. Even the youngest pupils buzz with intellectual curiosity and are stretched accordingly. And STAHS girls don’t all wait until they get into the senior school to start notching up achievements: 2016 saw them win the Creativity in Science prize at the eastern region Big Bang Science Fair; in recent years school has been placed second and third out of 600 entries in the GSK Science Competition and every girl for the past three years has successfully gained the Bronze Crest Award from the British Science Association, generally for students in years 7 to 9. All that and they still manage to squeeze in an impressive number of music and LAMDA exams.

French from reception and Mandarin on curriculum from year 4. Specialist teaching for science, ICT, languages, music and PE from the start sees girls moving independently around the junior school from a young age. Parents, ‘blown away’ by science teaching, say staff can get even the most reluctant scientist ‘totally absorbed’. Class sizes slowly expand from a maximum of 20 in reception to 24 in years 3 to 6.

Sensible approach to homework in junior school, with between 20 and 40 minutes of ‘research based’ homework most evenings. Head takes dim view of tutoring and holiday hothousing, instead encouraging parents to lighten up by providing list of suggested activities – making scrambled egg or writing a thank you letter as arduous as it gets. Senior girls report homework to be ‘reasonable’, as are staff when it comes to endorsing the occasional extension.

Ambitious is the first of school’s three key values and can be found in spades in senior school. Despite (or perhaps due to) school’s determination for girls to ‘keep it real’ and focus on things other than just academic studies (as if to prove this point one of our guides had just got her busking licence, with plans afoot to hit the lucrative South Bank on weekends), results are stellar. Twenty five subjects on offer at A level. History, English and maths most popular subjects followed closely by biology and chemistry. GCSEs no less impressive. All take core of English language, English literature, maths and science (most triple) plus at least one MFL (French, German, Mandarin or Spanish) and most also choose a creative option. Most take nine or 10 GCSEs with average class sizes at this stage between 15 and 18, becoming much smaller at A level.

Director of higher education and careers ensures girls are pushed ‘out of their comfort zone’, with all departments teaching ‘university stretch’ at A level and ‘second to none’ Oxbridge preparation according to head. Girls declare support during the university application process ‘amazing’, with each being allocated to a specialist in their chosen subject for bespoke guidance throughout: ‘invaluable’, said one grateful sixth former. Actively engaged alumni and parent body boost the careers offering.

Learning support and SEN

Unsurprisingly, ‘very low’ numbers on the SEN register but school able to support mild dyslexia, dyspraxia or dyscalculia through mix of one-to-one and class based work. ‘ACE’ (additional curricular education) groups not only support girls in need of extra help but also push the top half dozen or so girls in each year group with a focus on additional problem solving and advanced reading. All girls also screened upon entry to year 7, with general approach to SEN mirrored in senior school.

The arts and extracurricular

Where does school’s heartbeat lie, we asked, sport, drama, music or academia? None of the above, according to girls – but all are drawn together by a common thread of enthusiasm and a ‘can-do’ attitude.

Drama extremely popular at all levels. Major school productions – which tend to err on the side of mainstream – draw girls to participate with great gusto in all elements, from costume, make-up and tech to performing in the orchestra pit (‘always amazing’). Annual house drama competition follows a theme, recently children’s literature, and is scripted by year 12s, with all year 7 girls in the cast. Senior performances take place in Jubilee Hall which can seat up to 350, with prep pupils strutting their stuff in the beautifully adapted Lodge building developed from a former caretaker’s house, now home to many junior concerts and year group plays where, we are assured, ‘everyone gets a good innings – nobody’s stuck in the chorus’. At time of writing, school boasted two members of National Youth Theatre. Super serious music in very smart senior music block, with girls streamed according to musical aptitude from year 7 and top set taking early GCSE in year 10. Around 50 per cent of senior girls take peripatetic instrumental lessons each week, with plethora of choirs (chamber, gospel and everything in between), bands and orchestras in which to showcase their talents.

Superb art displayed in bright, inspiring studios – with A level artists benefiting from their own serene space, akin to a London art college. Is art allowed as a third A level? We are assured this is not frowned upon. Similarly high standard on display in prep school, where every spare inch of space is adorned with a delightful junior masterpiece. Outside of the classroom, co-curricular programme doesn’t disappoint, with girls able to spread their creative, sporting and intellectual wings to their hearts’ content plus CV boosters like DofE, EPQ, medvet society, school magazine, debating society, and Model United Nations. Prep boasts impressive range of options, with outstanding forest school provision (on and off curriculum) the jewel in its crown, thanks to its stunning wooded grounds and dedicated outdoorsy staff.


Sport high on the agenda right from early prep days with ‘very broad’ offering not just of netball, lacrosse, athletics, dance and gym, but also karate, fencing and dance, giving girls a competitive edge when they move through to the senior school. Despite the fact that games pitches are a 10-minute walk from senior school, girls manage to participate in every sport imaginable, with the focus ‘heavily competitive’ when it comes to lacrosse and netball. Unusually, compulsory games all the way through to sixth form. Whilst not nestled amongst vast playing fields, impressive facilities for an urban school include new sports pavilion, dance studio, fitness suite, large, traditionally equipped sports hall, netball courts, lacrosse pitches and 25m swimming pool, also used by prep pupils. Prep has own cross country course – with pre-lesson runs three mornings a week (run on Tuesdays if you want to try to beat head). Competitive fixtures for all produce all manner of silverware year on year.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1889, school moved to current site in the centre of this popular commuter town in 1908. Close links maintained with both the diocese and St Albans School (boys). Quirky mish-mash of buildings from trad Victorian to uber modern, plus one or two less appealing 1970s additions, straddles a quiet residential road, with girls moving seamlessly and sensibly between the various sites. A tour of the school takes in an impressive mix of facilities from the separate sports complex to stunning rotunda building – all floor to ceiling glass – where pupils can work, socialise and treat themselves to something from the on-site coffee shop. Super library for years 7 to 11 has studious feel and is extremely well resourced. A new university style sixth form centre, along with a new suite of class rooms and dining room opened in 2020. Smart, navy uniform worn by girls up to sixth form, when pupils are allowed to dress ‘appropriately’ down.

Atmosphere described as ‘relaxed formality’. Less rarefied than expected given lofty league table position – possibly because of urban location: girls ‘live with in-built risk all the time’. In fact, were it not for the glittering facilities one could almost mistake it for a top state grammar, and indeed it collaborates with local high achieving state schools such as STAGS, QE Boys and Loretto College: ‘we are perceived in community as a pillar’.

Prep occupies spectacular rural site in village of Wheathampstead, a four mile drive down country lanes from its big sister. Stunning country house setting nestled amongst 18 acres of lawns, woodlands, adventure playgrounds and a meadow. The only school we have visited where head keeps spare pair of (spotty) wellies for visitors.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Much focus placed on ensuring mental well-being and happiness and girls show strong understanding of the balance between ‘competitive edge’ and being more relaxed. Relationships between pupils and staff highlighted as ‘exemplary’ and a key factor in school’s positive atmosphere. House system integral to pastoral structure – starting in the prep and travelling all the way up – with housemistresses key points of contact on all matters pastoral. Pupils assure us that they are in no respect of the ‘cookie cutter’ variety, in fact that they are ‘positively encouraged to be quirky’ and that ‘school accepts differences both inside and out of the classroom'. ‘Supportive’ used time and time again to describe overall ethos of school with all differences of race, religion (assemblies are multi-faith) and sexuality (LGBT Society present and correct) seemingly taken in its stride. In addition to staff, there are external counsellors and pupil mentors aplenty from the raft of school and house officers, plus head girl and deputies, voted by a combination of pupils and staff to trained and signposted youth health champions.

Likewise in prep, environment strikes balance between high achieving and nurturing, with buddy systems and buddy families, a playground squad to ensure everyone’s joining in and a school committee which meets fortnightly. And better food than the senior school (apparently).

Pupils and parents

Majority of pupils from hard working, often dual income families from across the demographic range (lots of professions and City) but ‘certainly not oligarchs.’ With disproportionate number of only children amongst the cohort, prep parents can be somewhat ‘tigerish’ according to one parent – and as for the prolific class WhatsApp group? You have been warned. Localish contingent still in majority but around one third of applications now from families living in London boroughs eg Finchley and Totteridge plus as far afield as Luton, Hitchin and Potters Bar. These pupils arrive on one of a fleet of 10 buses. Those we met showed a delightful mix of intellect, empathy and groundedness – and not a jolly hockey stick amongst them.

Money matters

Means-tested bursaries up to 100 per cent available. Scholarships for academia, drama, sports and music (choral and instrumental) from year 7, academia, art, design and technology, drama, music and sport in year 10 and academia art, design and technology, drama, sport and music in sixth form. Prep parents delighted that majority of after-school clubs now free of charge and speak highly of good value before and after-school care offering (7.15am to 6pm). Many grumbles though about high pricing of school coaches and recent hefty annual fee increases (particularly painful for those with multiple daughters), and although senior school fees now in line with other comparable schools, prep fees comparatively on the high side – perhaps the price of (hopefully) avoiding the 11+ mayhem.

The last word

STAHS has become a genuine competitor in the London day school scene with results and Oxbridge success on the up. Send your daughter here and watch her soar, but keep fingers firmly crossed that school’s new highly competitive agenda doesn’t override the ‘nurture factor’ that makes it currently stand apart from the hothousing rest.

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

We have a qualified specialist teacher who undertakes diagnostic assessments. Girls are given individual and group tuition tailored to suit and accommodate particular needs. Nov 09.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
English as an additional language (EAL)
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

Who came from where

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