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Teachers are ‘phenomenally enthused and engaged’, say parents and girls agree, telling us, ‘They are really proactive in providing help’ and ‘take their excitement about their subject outside the classroom’ into clubs and trips. Girls relish being ‘given the opportunity to explore and make mistakes’ through very open assignments (a year 8 biology task stipulated only that it must include a cheese sandwich) and teachers are ‘generally very open-minded about finding your own way to present your work’. They ‘don’t micro-manage the girls’, observed one parent, ‘it’s not a school for the faint-hearted’...

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What the school says...

11+ entrance examination begins with online cognitive testing (November) to provide smaller cohort to sit the maths, English and comprehension papers in January. Girls are interviewed after taking exams. 16+ applicants are examined in the subjects they want to take at A level or Pre-U and those shortlisted are then invited for interview in those subjects alongside a general interview. ...Read more

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Curricula

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

Sports

Unusual sports

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

Rowing

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

High mistress

Since 2017, Sarah Fletcher, sparky and full of intellectual energy. Previously the first female head of City of London School, and she has also been deputy head at Rugby School and head at Kingston Grammar. A passionate historian, she read history at Oxford followed by a PGCE at Exeter in history with a subsidiary in special needs, and still teaches all year 7s history.

Relishes scholarship and her credentials for promoting independent learning are impressive - she was involved with the development of the EPQ. Her educational vision remains dynamic - parents love that the school ‘is constantly challenging itself on how to prepare girls for the future’, such as developing an EPQ-style qualification in sustainability - ‘it’s refreshing and exciting,’ enthused one. Her enthusiasm for the new creative technology building (to be opened in 2024) is contagious - its ‘glorious agglomeration’ will ‘ensure all students are truly digitally literate in everything they do; just teaching computing and IT isn’t enough’. The new facility will offer a wide range of digital tools including VR, with ‘maker spaces’ and ‘gathering steps’ to stimulate exchange of ideas - an innovative cross-disciplinary blend of STEM, arts and humanities which is also accessible to the local community – something Mrs Fletcher sees as imperative.

Very committed to increasing school’s reach and impact, both through enhanced bursary provision but also as founding member and driving force behind the West London Partnership. ‘It’s really important our students don’t grow up in a bubble,’ she says, and there is certainly plenty to counter that risk. Wednesday evenings, for example, see local primary schoolchildren coming in with year 10s helping them with homework and playing games.

Married with two grown-up sons, her interests include music - she plays clarinet in the school’s concert band - and theatre. Her office reflects both her love of the arts and SPGS’ creative spirit, with gorgeous velvet turquoise sofas and stunning artworks including a dramatic piece by alumna Gillian Ayres.

Leaving in summer 2025.

Entrance

At 11+, up to 115 places in five classes. Pre-test taken in the autumn term of year 6 weeds out those who’ll never make it. Those who pass sit a further test in January, designed to reveal how much girls really think - includes maths, English and a paper on problem-solving. Those who do well are invited for interview. School is looking for girls who can ‘reason, articulate and show quality of thought’. Largest single cohort is from Bute House, which regularly sends up to 20 girls here; the rest from a wide range of preps and primaries across London and beyond. Applicants for occasional places further up the school are subject to the same stringent assessment procedures and should already be studying at least two modern languages.

At 16+, about 15 join each year. Applicants are tested on their A level subjects and invited to interview if they do well.

Not a particularly local intake (we heard of girls travelling from as far as Windsor). Parents have to declare on the application form how their daughter will travel to school, and for years 7-11 the journey shouldn’t be longer than 50 minutes.

Exit

A handful leave after GCSEs to try co-ed or boarding, but the great majority stay on and gain places at top-flight universities both at home and abroad. ‘HE and careers advice is excellent,’ say students and the Old Paulina network is also ‘really helpful’. Careers department runs weekly working lunches for sixth form, covering everything from engineering to advertising, informing a wide range of degree choices. More than a third go to Oxbridge (44 in 2023) – ‘they really know how to prepare girls for entrance’. The rest mostly to UCL, Imperial, Durham, Bristol and Edinburgh. Increasing numbers to leading US universities - 13 in 2023, including Harvard, Yale, Brown and Georgetown. Canadian and European universities are also becoming popular. Ten medics in 2023.

Latest results

In 2023, 99 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 87 per cent A*/A at A level (97 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 99 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 85 per cent A*/A at A level and Pre-U.

Teaching and learning

‘It’s a very bespoke education with a genuinely imaginative approach,’ approved one parent. Some arrive in year 7 having done GCSE maths, others already Tolstoy enthusiasts and SPGS calmly adapts accordingly while encouraging new discoveries. SPGS does not follow the herd - with such an able intake, it’s free to forge its own academic path and does so with joy and creativity, underpinned by serious academic rigour.

There’s no grading or setting. Instead, the curriculum is designed to help each girl develop their intellectual passions and learning moves at quite a lick. No exams in the first year, though regular topic tests – the idea is to let students catch their breath after the rigours of the 11+, and find out where their interests lie, building confidence and plugging any gaps for those coming from state schools - ‘a sensible, thoughtful transition,’ laud parents. Nor is there a bias towards either arts or sciences -‘You’re respected for what you’re good at here, rather than judged for what you’re not so good at’, said one pupil – there’s no fuss about doing double science GCSE because you’d rather be focussing on languages, for example. STEM provision is nonetheless ‘just brilliant’ and imaginatively inter-disciplinary in its approach - head is very clear on how tech reaches into everything and the importance of engaging students with AI’s ethical implications. She’s equally clear that ‘creativity overarches everything’ and that the arts have a vital role in stimulating a rigorous creative mindset. We loved hearing sixth form scientists enthuse about history society and poetry workshops with the writer-in-residence.

Shaking off the shackles of GCSEs completely would be academically liberating (head regularly champions system-wide reform in this regard) but the school sensibly adopts a half-way house -alongside GCSEs in most subjects, there are six SPGS-directed courses (including art history, creative tech and music) which are externally validated. Similarly, although all start with four A levels, they also follow SPGS’ own version of the EPQ. Increasing push on computing and sciences – the new creative tech course is very focussed towards engineering and almost half the year 12s at the time of our visit were taking physics and further maths, with maths take-up usually at least 75 per cent. Arts and humanities thrive here, however - half the cohort take art at GCSE level and English A level is almost as popular as maths.

Teachers are ‘phenomenally enthused and engaged’, say parents and girls agree, telling us, ‘They are really proactive in providing help’ and ‘take their excitement about their subject outside the classroom’ into clubs and trips. Girls relish being ‘given the opportunity to explore and make mistakes’ through very open assignments (a year 8 biology task stipulated only that it must include a cheese sandwich) and teachers are ‘generally very open-minded about finding your own way to present your work’. We observed chatty, confident questioning in a dynamic year 10 physics lesson and insightful reflection in a year 11 poetry class. They ‘don’t micro-manage the girls’, observed one parent, ‘it’s not a school for the faint-hearted’.

Language teaching garners particular praise. Year 7s start with 6 weeks of studying linguistics and how the brain learns language, before undertaking taster courses in Russian, Mandarin and German (alongside Latin). The majority take at least two languages at GCSE.

Learning support and SEN

Learning support team of four works primarily on a one-to-one basis and liaises closely with external provision locally. Team includes a specialist in transition from state primaries and also a recent school-leaver who acts as a learning mentor. Just over 50 on SEN register when we visited. Increased focus on supporting neurodiverse pupils, including autism and ADHD, as well as dyslexia and anxiety, helping teachers adapt their teaching approaches. Team is keen to ‘listen and promote different voices’. That said, the demanding nature of SPGS life means that it’s unlikely to suit those with complex learning support needs: ‘The girls have to be able to cope with the pace, they need to be able to manage three hours of homework a night,’ says SENCo.

The arts and extracurricular

Music is simply stellar here. Gustav Holst set a high bar when he was director of music (there’s a beautiful stained-glass panel of the planets next to the wood-panelled singing hall). About 70 per cent play at least one instrument and many students are exceptional musicians, often members of the junior branch of the Royal College of Music. Plenty of performance opportunities, from tea-time concerts to ‘song fest’ and music tours annually, most recently to Belgium and Lisbon. Some murmurs that there is less room for keen but less accomplished musicians in ensembles after the first year, when competition for places increases, although there is always an open choir. Students also form their own bands and girls from all years take part in the Jupiter Project which entails giving instrumental lessons in local primary schools, culminating in a concert in SPGS’ great hall.

Drama is ‘really fantastic’, with ‘extremely high-quality productions’, some in partnership with St Paul’s School. All the tech is run by students, who love working with the professional-quality sound and lighting kit in the 200-seat theatre. LAMDA thrives here, with over 200 girls a year taking part. Recent whole-school production of ‘Tristan and Yseult’ featured two casts and a student-led band. Each year a group of departing year 13s take a play to the Edinburgh Fringe.

Fantastic high-ceilinged art rooms including clay studio and darkroom flank the main hall, with gorgeous ceramics and artworks on display at every turn. We loved the near-professional linoprints (the head of art’s passion according to our guide). Art department has good links with architectural firms including plenty of internships and art history has long been a popular subject here.

Long lunch break ensures that girls can get their fill of the very upmarket food in the stylish, black-and-white tiled cafeteria as well as participating in the plethora of clubs on offer, from dissection society to retro sci-fi to pinball, plus a phenomenally successful debating team. We heard reports of squeals of delight emanating from science club setting fire to jelly babies. Sixth formers lead clubs for their peers and at partner schools - including a weekly art club and year 2 reading club at a local primary school (very popular) as well as supporting debating, chess and languages. We stopped in at a fascinating debate between members of the sixth form philosophy society on whether morals and ethics should be taught in the classroom.

Each year group has a rep on environmental action committee, SPEAC, promoting initiatives such as food waste recycling (lunch plates scraped into the delightfully named ‘Miss Piggy’) and gardening club growing veggies. Students also run a second hand clothing business, Restore, for which teachers recently put on a fashion show, modelling not taking oneself too seriously along with the clothes.

Trips flourish here, including overseas exchanges, now a rare beast in many schools. Fewer lavishly expensive jollies and more UK excursions than might be expected at a top school - ‘We want to keep things affordable and minimise our environmental impact.’ Our sixth form guides lit up talking about their summer internship at social impact organisation Project Rousseau in New York through the school’s exciting partnership programme.

Varied programme of joint activities with the boys’ school, including socials and a full day off timetable together each year. Debating, print workshops, the annual ‘battle of the bands’ and cookery all aim at normalising relationships. Generally, parents feel balance is right. Some suggest there could be more academic collaboration but girls are perhaps keener on mixing up the social side.

Sport

Sport is embraced enthusiastically, with an emphasis on fun and fitness but also (parents note positively) increasingly successful in fixtures, primarily lacrosse and netball in the winter, with football in years 7-9 and cricket in the summer — the first XI recently took part in a tournament at Lords. Plenty of other curriculum options such as badminton, trampolining and swimming. Sixth formers can choose activities such as Pilates and spin classes at a local gym. Clubs include dance, fencing and kickboxing, as well as a successful basketball team.

Girls love the sports ground and ‘pavilion’, a striking modern wood and glass two storey-building (which includes a fitness studio) tucked away on a quiet residential street a short walk from the main school building. They often go and hang out there at lunchtimes. There’s also a swimming pool next door and a first-rate rowing facility down on the river.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1904 to complement the boys’ school after the latter had been around some 400 years, SPGS is now widely regarded as the Parthenon of girls’ selective independent education in England. A handsome but imposing red-brick building in Queen Anne Revival style, its huge wooden doors feel rather forbidding and its somewhat austere entrance hall exudes an air of serious study, adorned with gilded honours boards. Affectionately known as the Marble, it nevertheless transforms into a lively hubbub at break times. ‘The atmosphere is one of considerable fun and freedom,’ observed a grateful parent.

Inside, it’s much bigger than it looks, with two large halls and two gorgeous libraries with book-lined walls. A range of more modern blocks stretch back behind the original building. Overlooking an expansive lawn and delightful gardens is the lovely airy sixth form centre, with inviting lounge areas, workstations, quiet study areas and seminar rooms.

Strong culture of social impact, with a very active charities committee, sustainability as a strategic priority and an ever-increasing partnership programme. Girls are very conscious of their privilege and ‘no-one really cares much about money’, observed one bursary student who felt right at home.

No uniform, supporting the ethos of embracing individuality (‘very freeing for staff too’) though lower years pretty much live in their PE kit.

Recent years have seen the establishment of a sister school in Chengdu, China, with another due to open in Guangzhou in 2024. Head sees these very much as ‘part of an intellectual conversation’, providing both staff and pupils opportunities for exchange visits.

The impressive roll of alumnae includes Celia Johnson, Rosalind Franklin, Victoria Coren Mitchell, Imogen Stubbs, Clemency Burton-Hill and Harriet Harman.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

School ‘does an exceptional job’ of wrapping its arms round the girls pastorally, say parents. ‘It’s very much front-line care, they don’t just delegate to the counselling team’. The pastoral team ‘really really knows the girls’ is the parental consensus. They are ‘incredibly genuine and compassionate,’ apparently, and aren’t afraid to tackle difficult subjects - ‘they’re really on it with what’s going on academically as well as emotionally’. Despite the hectic pace of SPGS life, parents are ‘pleasantly surprised that it doesn’t feel too high pressure an environment’, testament to the ‘significant’ pastoral focus, which sees it as an equal partner to academic provision. PSHE lessons are shared with parents weekly to encourage discussion at home.

The new smart new wellness centre (‘almost spa-like’ said our guides) incorporates both medical and counselling provision and offers a welcoming, safe drop-in space. Girls also welcome the move towards more joint PSHE thinking and planning with the boys’ school, including the sixth form CAR committee (consent and respect) which has ‘helped put things into perspective’, acknowledging that it’s ‘still work in progress’ and more regular interaction would help ‘really change attitudes’.

Big focus on inclusion, with a student-led inclusion committee ensuring discussion of diversity in the broadest sense, woven into both pastoral and academic. Sixth form mentors ‘help mediate between younger girls and teachers’. Increasing support for staff and parents in countering perfectionism and destigmatising neurodiversity has been well-received. Good number of student-led affinity groups including a joint Afro-Caribbean society. RAISE bursary committee also working with boys’ school to support wider recruitment.

Pupils and parents

Exceptionally able girls across the board, typically independent self-starters though ‘there is no identikit SPGS pupil’. They appreciate that student voice counts, assuring us, ‘We can make change in our community, it’s easy to talk to teachers’. Sixth formers (admittedly the head girl and prefects but we strongly suspect they were not atypical) were genuine enthusiasts for their subjects and thoughtful about their privilege, even if their impressive achievements by 18 did leave us wondering slightly what we’d done with our lives. Levels of accomplishment across the board are breathtaking, which (some say) means ‘you need to be a pretty resilient child who’s confident in trying new things’ - many mid-rankers here would be superstars elsewhere. Head keen to emphasise to students, however, that all-consuming perfectionism is not healthy and certainly those we met seemed pretty grounded and self-possessed.

‘It’s a very international school’, say parents, which means friends can be far flung across London and there are plenty who are only around in term time. Parent body ‘quite diverse and welcoming, a lovely warm bunch of highly-educated, high-achieving individuals’ who are ‘very focussed on their daughters’ education and well-being’. Plenty of scope for involvement as class reps and via the parents’ guild, organising quiz nights, picnics and drinks for new parents – ‘You can do as much or as little as you want, no judgement’, explained one, noting that ‘a large proportion of parents are both very high-powered so can’t commit the time’.

Money matters

One of the nation’s most expensive day schools, but about 11 per cent of girls are on bursaries of between 85 and 100 per cent. School is working hard to increase this to 20 per cent.

The last word

A culture of high expectations and excellence in all aspects of school life produces a fast-paced but joyful learning environment. Sporty or arty, science geek or creative spirit, the ‘open-minded teachers who encourage self-expression and such a breadth of opportunities means any child can thrive here so long as they enjoy academic challenge’, affirmed one happy parent, who adds that ‘if girls come with an idea, they will listen and see how they can make it happen’. In the words of one satisfied pupil, ‘It’s a fun place to go to school’.

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

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

Who came from where


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