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Parents like the way the school has kept its traditions (pupils celebrate the school’s birthday every year) while being innovative and forward-thinking too. A father told us his daughter had ‘come on leaps and bounds confidence-wise’ at the school’ while a sixth former said: ‘I was very shy when I got here but they find something you’re good at and help you flourish...’ 

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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.

What The Good Schools Guide says


Since September 2023, Tracy Harris, previously head of Parkstone Grammar School and senior deputy head of South Wilts Grammar School.

She grew up in Christchurch and read history at the University of Exeter, where she also studied for her PGCE. She’s currently completing a master’s in psychology, exploring cognition and learning, along with child development. Her subject specialisms are history and politics and she has been an Ofsted inspector for eight years. She has worked as a school improvement adviser for two secondary schools, including a selective school. A keen amateur musician, she plays in a brass band in her spare time.


Pupils starting in years 7 to 10 take the school’s own entrance exam, with six papers in English, maths and verbal reasoning. Around 10 arrive in the sixth form.


Up to a third leave after GCSEs although some return having discovered the grass isn’t greener on the other side. ‘I missed it so I came back,’ a girl told us. At 18, most to higher education, with Royal Holloway currently the most popular university. One to Oxbridge and one dentist in 2023. Two to study overseas, one with a swimming scholarship. Degree apprenticeships are growing in popularity.

Latest results

In 2023, 41 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 52 per cent A*/A at A level (80 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 52 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 44 per cent A*/A at A level (76 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

‘A first-class education for girls,’ say parents. Most girls take nine GCSEs, including English, maths, a language (French and/or Spanish), a humanity subject and either double or triple science. Latin taught from year 8. Three forms per year group. Small class sizes (maximum of 20) and school is small enough to offer tailor-made timetables. Flexible teaching accommodates those with training and competing commitments or musical talent. For instance, those on the tennis academy programme may have a reduced timetable.

When the governors asked the head to devise a vision for education she consulted widely and decided that in order to keep pace with technological change all pupils should have a thorough grounding in subjects like design thinking, material science, engineering and ethics. ‘Our pupils need to be creative, adaptable, resilient and able to problem-solve so we have completely reworked the curriculum for everyone from three to 18,’ she says. ‘My educational vision is an integrated one, where schools, higher education and business work together and we now have a resource bank of companies and universities who support us. We’ve devised a curriculum and we are identifying where we want them to come in and co-deliver.’ The school’s new £7.6 million STEAM Hub, with a 600-seat auditorium, art studios, design workshops and interactive wall and floor, is integral to the new curriculum. ‘There is a real sense of excitement about it,’ says the head. ‘I’m a passionate advocate of excellence in education – but always forward thinking. I set great store by intellectual curiosity and rigour but value every aspect of the curriculum.’

The STEAM Hub is a vision of beauty, with a sculpture at the entrance signifying wave dynamics and the girls’ names engraved on the base. Inside, it gives pupils the chance to experience virtual reality, immersive projection, holographic studios, computer aided design (CAD), animation tools and green screen facilities. ‘It inspires us to be creative,’ one girl told us.

The head likes the idea of ‘interdisciplinary learning’ and science and technology are woven throughout the curriculum. For example, when pupils learn about the Normandy Landings during the Second World War they get the chance to design and build pontoon bridges and test them in the school swimming pool. Sixth form chemistry students can plot and point the structure of molecules digitally, see them transformed into a 3D hologram and walk inside them.

Plans are underway for an interdisciplinary day on gunpowder, where chemistry teachers will make gunpowder in front of the students and explain the chemical compounds while the history and English staff look at the history of gunpowder and set creative writing assignments. ‘When the Dorset police explosives team came in they said that no other school had ever asked for a licence to make gunpowder,’ says the head. Every pupil is issued with an iPad (parents don’t pay for this; the girls hand them back when they leave). Girls are allowed to stay at school till 5pm and do their prep.

Learning support and SEN

Learning support department offers individual support to girls with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia (no additional charge for this).

The arts and extracurricular

Two modern art rooms, a textiles room (pupils knit scarves, hats and gloves for the homeless) and a DT department kitted out with laser cutters, lathes, saws, drills, 3D printers and CAD suite. Music is taught in the music school in the woods, complete with concert hall, teaching rooms, electronic music studio and practice rooms.

Drama and theatre studies offered at GCSE and A level and there are lots of extracurricular opportunities, including a whole school production every year (rehearsals for The Wizard of Oz in full swing when we visited). ‘If you have a talent they encourage you to build on it,’ a keen thespian told us.


Swimming, tennis and netball are exceptionally strong here. New indoor pool within the STEAM Hub and the school has opened an elite swimming academy, enabling pupils from across the UK and beyond to train at the highest level while getting a great education. Tennis academy too – a girl reached the second round at Junior Wimbledon in 2019 for the second year running and the school recently reached the final of the national school championships.


One boarding house – St Mary’s – with weekly and full boarders. Some international boarders from mainland China, Hong Kong and Europe. Other boarders are tennis whizz kids or elite swimmers who combine top-flight training with their academic work. Wholesome shared dorms for year 7s and 8s while older girls get their own rooms. Year 9s can share if they prefer but it's optional. Boarders have lunch in the main school but eat in the boarding house dining room the rest of the time. Youngest girls have to hand in their phones at night. Boarding staff run loads of activities, including yoga, baking, movie nights, a Christmas fancy dress party and theatre trips to London. Facilities include a ‘hygge’ space, music room, craft room and a visitors’ lounge.

Ethos and heritage

School was founded in 1886 by Mary Broad to provide a first-class liberal education for girls. Originally known as Bournemouth High School, it moved to its current woodland site in Talbot Woods, a mile from Bournemouth beach, in 1936 and was renamed Talbot Heath. The original red-brick school buildings remain at the heart of the school, complete with cloisters, quads and an oak-panelled library. Four Second World War air raid shelters in the grounds and one, known as ‘the bunker’, has been restored for ‘living history’ lessons.

School motto is ‘honour before honours’ (definitely has a Malory Towers feel to it). Smart uniform of navy blazers and tartan skirts for years 7 to 11. Sixth formers can wear their own clothes (they must look smart; no denim and no midriffs on show). Two head girls, two deputies, prefects for each subject department and two form leaders for every class. House system – the four houses are named after inspirational women (Lovelace, Franklin, Shelley and Earhart). When we asked a group of girls if there was anything they’d change about the school, the only complaint was ‘Stop putting raisins in the salads.’ Apart from the raisins, they give school food the thumbs-up and approve of meat-free Mondays.

Former pupils include Dame Shirley Williams, Judge Cosgrave, Lady Faithful (social worker and reformer), showjumper Pat Smythe, internationally renowned cellist Natalie Clein, opera singer Kate Royal, actresses Louise Clein and Nicole Faraday, engineer Caroline Gledhill and geneticist Frances Ashcroft.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Parents praise the school’s ‘nurturing environment’ and say it’s a friendly place where everyone knows each other. ‘It’s very close-knit,’ a sixth former told us. Older girls train as peer mentors and recently started a club called There for You to support year 7s. Every year group gets a block of lessons about e-safety.

Parents like the way the school has kept its traditions (pupils celebrate the school’s birthday every year) while being innovative and forward-thinking too. A father told us his daughter had ‘come on leaps and bounds confidence-wise’ at the school, while a sixth former said, ‘I was very shy when I got here but they find something you’re good at and help you flourish.’ Usual system of sanctions for unsatisfactory work or behaviour but girls’ behaviour is generally excellent.

Pupils and parents

Many day girls live in Bournemouth and Poole but some come from as far afield as Wimborne, Ringwood, the New Forest and Swanage, either by bus, train or one of the school’s minibuses.

Money matters

Academic, music, sport and all-rounder scholarships offered, as well as tennis academy scholarships and swimming academy scholarships. Means-tested bursaries available, as well as bursaries for daughters of CofE clergy and discounted boarding fees for pupils whose parents are in the Forces.

The last word

A gem of a school that is making waves in the education world thanks to its inspiring head and exciting approach to learning. Girls get a first-class education in a safe, caring and encouraging environment – and the school excels at supporting talented sport and music specialists too.

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

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Special Education Needs

As well as meeting the needs of Gifted and Talented pupils, we aim to identify and assess a child's Special Educational Needs as early as possible, so that the individual can be helped to overcome difficulties and attain her full potential. Where possible, this is done before entry to the school. Once identified, appropriate support strategies are implemented to enable the pupil to integrate fully into the school. Children requiring additional support will have a weekly lesson with the SENCO, either in a small group or individually, according to need. These lessons can be used to boost weaknesses in reading/comprehension/grammar/spelling/written and speaking skills/study skills and revision techniques. The EAL teacher tutors girls individually after school in the boarding house. Progress of all children on the SEN register is monitored termly by means of a meeting with the SENCO and a representative from each faculty. Parents and pupils are kept informed of progress.

Who came from where

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