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Like all schools with history, it looks as if it struggles slightly with a hotch-potch of elderly buildings, but despite the squeeze for space has managed to build an impressive new science block (opened by the world-renowned astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell). ‘Really important that what we offer is an all round education. Girls are good enough at putting themselves under that sort of pressure without us pushing them. We want them to pursue the things that they enjoy and that give them a sense of well-being'...

 

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What the school says...

Founded in 1846, St Margaret's provides an integrated education for girls from nursery to sixth form. Boys are accepted into nursery. It is a school small enough to care about the individual but large enough to provide a varied curriculum together with a wide choice of extra-curricular activities. With a long tradition of academic excellence, St Margaret's is a wonderful place for your daughter to spend her school days. ...Read more

What the parents say...

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Sports

Rowing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2014, Anna Tomlinson MTheol from St Andrews, PGCE from St Martin's College Lancaster. Formerly deputy head at St George’s School for Girls. 'After university I had a scholarship to go to Princeton but had a car accident and didn't go. Took six months to recover and then took job in boarding house at St George’s. It was the beginning of a passion for teaching.' This says it all for us: clearly an extremely bright and committed head who believes firmly in the power of single sex education.

Academic matters

Lovely vibrant little nursery with three little boys as well as girls. Full-time nursery teachers, manager and nurses. They were taking part in nature studies outside at the front of school when we saw them, very well-protected but next to busy Albyn Place. They do a lot of outdoor learning, part of an initiative called Wee Green Spaces. 'They pack a rucksack and put on outdoor clothing and go to Bon Accord gardens.' Impressive mud kitchen in the school courtyard. The nursery children have a ‘letter of the week’ while the junior school works on Jolly Phonics and Jolly Grammar.

Further up the school they follow the Scottish system. Nat 5s taught over two years with the majority of girls doing eight. 'We haven't gone down the road of state schools of only doing five or six Nat 5s because we want to maintain the breadth of learning.' In fifth year most do five Highers, although some do fewer.

All the usual subjects plus German, Latin, drama, business studies, economics, modern studies, philosophy, computer science. Flippin’ heck, we need a lie down after that. All subjects continued onto Advanced Higher, with three maths courses: maths, statistics and mechanics.

In 2016, 59 per cent A grades at Advanced Higher, 64 per cent A at Higher level and 76 per cent A at National 5. 'We’re not a hothouse for girls,' says Miss Tomlinson. ‘It's really important that what we offer is an all round education. Girls are good enough at putting themselves under that sort of pressure without us pushing them. We want them to pursue the things that they enjoy and that give them a sense of well-being.'

And the parents we spoke to totally agreed. 'Our daughter did so well. Incredible really, but it was down to the teachers and how well they knew her. They gave great advice.' 'They really know what they’re doing, and certainly with our daughter the staff really went out of their way to help. Couldn't rate them more highly.'

In the junior school they have specialist teachers for drama, music, French, PE and art and Latin from P7 and RE and science from 7 junior. Haven't gone down one device one child route, but they do make extensive use of technology. They prefer banks of iPads and laptops which are brought into classes. Plans afoot to set up a pupil ITC forum so that pupils can directly feed into this. Another new initiative involves older girls mentoring younger girls in digital literacy.

Class sizes range from 18-24 in the junior school, with an influx into 7 junior, which splits into two classes. Around 15-22 in the senior school.

Support for learning is free to all and regarded as essential to what they do. They have a room where both senior and junior pupils can access support whatever their needs. New head of support for learning who’s brought lots of new ideas. Help with everything from dyslexia and ADHD to geniuses or those going through trauma. Speech therapist, local GP, deaf advisory service and educational psychologists all on hand.

Games, options, the arts

'What do we not offer? Hockey, netball, athletics, tennis, horse riding, yoga, skiing at a nearby dry-ski slope. If there is something that the girls think they would like to do, we go out of our way to provide it. Football is a good example of that.' St Meg’s clearly prides itself in offering an extensive sporting agenda despite being plum in the middle of Aberdeen. PE from nursery onwards; by the time they get to the last two years of senior school they decide themselves what they’d like to try.

There is one major drawback, though. No running out during break onto the pitches as the playing fields are two miles away near King’s Gate. This is a real city centre school, however leafy and well-heeled the nearby surroundings. Rather than having their own Astro pitches, they block book them from Aberdeen Sports Village and swim at the nearby aquatic centre (another bus ride away), where they hold junior and senior swimming galas. They do field a good number of teams, however, and there seems to be an enthusiastic uptake right through the years. Hockey 1st XI recently won the National Aspire cup for the second year running.

Drama very popular. Each year there is a junior show at the Lemon Tree performing space in Aberdeen city centre. The senior school puts on a show every November and one of the charms of the school is that it’s so small, if you want to be in it, you will be. They perform over three nights at the Aberdeen Performing Arts Centre. They also run a drama summer school in the holidays for those who can’t wait for term time.

We saw evidence of some magnificent art and design.

Music seems to hit the high notes. One parent said the tuition and dedication from the teachers was nothing short of 'outstanding'. Around two-thirds of pupils have lessons in school, with specialist music teaching from nursery onwards. Several girls play for local and national youth orchestras, string ensembles and flute choirs. Head says, 'Given the size of the school we have a disproportionate number of musical events.' Concerts on a very regular basis throughout the year. 'At our carol service every year group performs and there is a whole song at the end composed by the music teacher. We do that again at speech day and are quite up for performing a Greig piano concerto with a full orchestra.'

Background and atmosphere

Founded in 1846, St Margaret’s is the only girls’ school in the north of Scotland. Situated bang in the centre of Aberdeen, it occupies a collection of Georgian merchant houses set back from the grand but rather busy Albyn Place. Like all schools with history, it looks as if it struggles slightly with a hotch-potch of elderly buildings, but despite the squeeze for space has managed to build an impressive new science block (opened by the world-renowned astrophysicist Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell) and revamp the art and drama studios. The downside of being bang in the city centre is that there really is no room for their own pitches or sports facilities. The upside is that they are in relatively easy reach of a whole host of sporting venues that can accommodate them with a bit of planning.

The school seems to make a big effort with the parents too. The ones we spoke to described it as a great family atmosphere and felt fully involved. 'Both my husband and I are confident that they know what they’re doing.'

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

'Well-being is absolutely at the heart of the school's ethos. We firmly believe that it’s happy girls who learn best and make the most progress.' And judging by the smiley, confident girls we spoke to, this seems to be working. 'I really feel the teachers know me and are looking out for me.' 'I had a real blip last year when I got really worried about stuff, but they seemed to pick it up without me asking for help.' 'Science and maths are my thing and they’ve given me some great role models to follow.'

They’re currently running an initiative on mental health awareness. Sessions for parents, special workshops for girls from 7 junior upwards. Mental health awareness week. We did wonder about pictures of buckets around the school, but apparently that’s to remind everyone to 'fill other people’s buckets with kindness'.

When Anna Tomlinson first joined there was only one guidance teacher and now there are three, all with special training. Each girl is interviewed every year and then staff are there to support the girls on a ‘need’ basis, with teachers available for day to day guidance. The girls have the same form teacher all the way through the senior school to give continuity.

Pupils and parents

Many live locally although some travel from quite a distance eg Peterhead and just north of Dundee. Significant number whose jobs are related to the oil and gas industry, although this has taken a nosedive in recent years. There is currently a waiting list for the senior school, so it can’t be all bad. Dedicated buses.

Twice termly Find out Fridays at pick up time and weekly Well Done Wednesdays at 8.30am are opportunities for parents to come in and find out about the teaching.

Holiday club for four weeks over summer to meet the needs of working parents. Drama summer school is a new initiative.

Entrance

There is a group assessment for the nursery and for the junior school. Test for senior school and current school reports taken into account.

Exit

Most to Scottish universities including Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot Watt, Robert Gordon University, St Andrews and Strathclyde, but two went to Cambridge to study law in 2016 and another to Durham to do chemistry. University of Queensland and Stanford University also featured. Majority study STEM subjects.

Money matters

They don’t give scholarships but offer means-tested bursaries up to 100 per cent.

Our view

This is, we think, an outstanding school with a committed and inspirational head who quietly and firmly leads from the front. Single sex education doesn’t work for everyone, but the girls we saw were confident, unaffected and engaged. No preening, no hair flicking. Just happy, really.

Special Education Needs

St Margaret’s is fortunate in being able to offer continued assistance for girls from Junior classes right through to Senior school level. Services include: Identifying specific learning difficulties using recognised diagnostic assessments; consulting with staff and parents on the nature of different learning difficulties and liaising with outside agencies where appropriate: advising on strategies both in class and at home to help overcome problems; devising and delivering individual programmes of support for pupils; advising on accelerated learning strategies for more able pupils; advising on examination provision available for pupils with noted learning difficulties and supporting study skills. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
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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