Northampton High School, Northampton
Muddy says: a friendly and vibrant all girls school. Northampton High School is an academic titan that also nurtures the individual and creative interests of each pupil.
Northampton High School is an academically selective school for girls aged 2-18, with a long and illustrious heritage in the town. NHS (The High School), as it is colloquially known, was established in 1878 at the heart of Northampton’s Cultural Quarter, moving to a purpose-built 27-acre site in the village of Hardingstone, a few miles down the road, in 1992.
Part of the Girls’ Day School Trust (GDST), there are currently 563 pupils across the school, allowing class sizes to stay comfortably small. Junior School classes average 13, whilst Senior School classes reach a maximum of 24 and GCSE and A Level classes are smaller still: The Sixth Form is on a more intimate level, with a maximum of 15, although groups of 5-7 are the norm.
Unusual in the area for being a relative ‘new build’ school there are some major advantages in terms of its modern facilities and ethos (the Queen doesn’t bother to open many schools, put it that way). The layout is designed in a figure of eight, with two spacious courtyards at the centre. The airy, bright buildings lend a calm atmosphere and a sense of cohesion and flow, whilst a lively ‘buzz‘ can be felt in the corridors.
Ooooh plenty. Being purpose-built, everything has been considered. The Nursery School has lots of space and a warm and homely atmosphere, having been fully refurbished 18 months ago. There is also a Forest School, with a wooden shelter to facilitate outdoor learning and activities for the younger children in addition to the covered outdoor play areas beside the classrooms.
The Junior School has its own libraries (one for Early Years/Key Stage 1 and another dedicated for Key Stage 2), art studio, music room, IT suite and science lab as well as plenty of outside space accessible from each classroom, a ‘trim trail’ with beams, balances and obstacles and a multi-use games area as well as access to all the sports and performing arts facilities in the Senior School. There are also designated Junior School Breakfast Club and After School Club spaces.
Sports facilities are unparalleled – no question that sport is a strong bow in the High School armoury with a clutch of national and international athletes amongst the pupils. A 25 metre swimming pool, which was completely renovated in 2018, boasts upper floor overhead viewing facilities – Northampton Swimming Club uses the pool to train, as did World Record breaking Paralympian, Ellie Robinson MBE, who trained here whilst a pupil at the school. Unsurprisingly, swimming is part of the school curriculum here from Reception with the children having weekly lessons. There is a floodlit astro, tennis courts, netball courts, extensive sports fields, squash courts, a fully equipped gym with both cardio machines and fixed weights, dance studios (yes, we’re talking plural) and an athletics track along with high jump, long jump and triple jump pits and professional cricket square. What more do you want, a slick sports pavilion? Ah, OK, there’s one of them too.
ARTS & MUSIC
The music and performing arts facilities are impressive to say the least, with fully-equipped recording studios, a band room and individual practice rooms in addition to a theatre space complete with backstage studio that hosts several productions a year. Pupils have the opportunity to perform, choreograph, direct, design and make sets and costumes, do hair and make-up, manage the lighting and sound and perform live music for the production. There are also numerous musical groups in the Junior and Senior Schools, when Covid isn’t interfering, including orchestra, strings, rock band, choirs and a ukulele group.
The school boasts specialist science labs, a textiles studio and food tech rooms with individual kitchen areas, as well as two large art studios with an exhibition space and a well-equipped IT suite. There’s an impressive library, with its own full-time librarian, and for down time – yes, there is some! – there are social places for the girls to relax or study between lessons.
Caroline Petryszak has been with the school since 2018 and was appointed substantive Head in March 2020. She has over 20 years’ experience of working in schools that are solely or predominantly for girls, educated her own daughters under the same system, and maintains a strong belief that single-sex education affords girls the opportunity to grow intellectually and personally and to acquire the skills and resilience that they will need for the modern world. Prior to joining the High School, she worked at the Stephen Perse Foundation (previously The Perse School for Girls) in Cambridge, where she gained experience of pastoral and academic leadership. As a mathematician, she wrote the original Bitesize pages for the BBC and consulted on their digital curriculum. She also has experience of school governership and is a serving ISI (Independent Schools Inspectorate) inspector. I liked her – she seems calm, warm and level-headed and although Covid’s rude interruption so early in her headship means that it is hard to make any great pronouncements on ambitions fulfilled, her passion for curriculum design means that she is already implementing change here, with a whole school review and further enhancement of the already strong extracurricular and co-curricular programmes. She is hopeful that, once the world returns to some semblance of normality, some of these courses may be used as a part of the school’s outreach programme, eye firmly on the horizon to growing the programme of partnerships and connections with the local community.
Perhaps no surprise given it’s academically selective, but the figures are impressive. In 2020, at GCSE 75% of grades were A*/A and 55% of all grades are A*. A Level results are excellent too, with 54% of students averaging A*/A and 98% of grades were A*-C. Each year girls are accepted into Oxbridge and leading universities, including Russell Group universities, in line with students’ huge variety of individual aspirations and tailored pathways. The array of subjects studied is dizzying. The vast majority of students are, each year, successful in securing their university places, which range from Maths, Medicine and Dentistry, to Aerospace Engineering and Mechanical Engineering; from International Relations and Political Science to Philosophy and Psychology; from Fashion Marketing, Textile Design and Illustration to Music at a London Conservatoire, Architecture at Liverpool University and Global Sustainability Development at Warwick.
It’s a basic expectation that all schools are acutely aware of the importance of happy, well-balanced children, and there’s no doubt that The High School has put in place some formidable structures to stop children falling through the cracks. All staff have teenage mental health training and there is a dedicated Wellbeing Team with Nurse, Nurse Assistant, Wellbeing Officer and access to a counsellor. The school has two Deputy Head Teachers – one for pastoral care and one for academics. There is also a designated Pastoral Head in the Junior School, Heads of Year in Senior School and a Pastoral Head of Sixth Form. Though The High School is undoubtedly a high-achieving school academically, the emphasis is very much on ensuring the girls feel nurtured, supported and at home, with an open communication structure between parents and staff.
Plenty to do outside the academic curriculum, with a huge variety of clubs and activities available before and after school and at lunch times during the REC (Radically Enriched Curriculum) period, from sports to board games, debating to Medical Society, Cafe Sci to Polymer Art Club and even an Equestrian Team that competes at a national level
Not so much a quirk as a flippin’ great big benefit – when it comes to choosing GCSE and A Level options, the school will tailor the timetable to your daughter’s choices rather than her having to select from set groups, as is the case in most other schools. If she wants to study 3 languages at GCSE, she can go for it.
Over at the Junior school, there’s a miniature Labradoodle called Betty who plays an important role in the wellbeing of the children – the girls are encouraged to help care for her, and all get their chance for cuddles.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Excellent. Wraparound care is available from 7.30am to 6pm from Nursery to Sixth Form and breakfast is available for all children. In addition to clubs, after school activities can include using the gym facilities, or the girls might choose to attend Late Prep, which is a supervised quiet study time and runs until 5pm, after which the Senior girls can have a bit more freedom to do their own thing (read, listen to music, chat etc), but they are still supervised and safe. In the Junior School, girls can attend Late Prep, engage in structured activities in GAP (Girls at Play) Club, catch up with reading or simply play with others.
There are 10 bus routes to collect girls from across the county (and beyond!) plus late buses available to transport girls home after their clubs, making after school clubs accessible to more pupils.
Very reasonable compared to other local options. Nursery: £29 – £57. per day; Junior School: from £10,668 to £11,925 per annum; Senior School and Sixth Form: £15,474 per annum. Lunches are included.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Locally, the school has a formidable reputation, with its high level of academic expectation, but that reputation belies the nurturing, holistic and culturally expansive experience the school offers its pupils. Parents of The High School girls that I talked to said they feel their daughters are part of a lively, enterprising community.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Girls with a real passion for learning and joining in. There’s an emphasis here on getting involved in extra curricular activities. The academic provision is a big calling card in all disciplines but notably for excellence and uptake in conventionally ‘male’ STEM subjects. Membership to the GDST brings a realm of additional opportunities.
Not for: Girls who don’t have an academic appetite may struggle. Some parents (and girls) may be put off by the lack of regular interaction with the opposite sex – being part of the GDST is hugely beneficial in may ways, but it does mean that inter-school activities tend to be with other all girls schools.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! The next Open Day is for the whole school on Sat 2 October, 10am – 1pm. There’s then a Sixth Form Information Evening on Tues 12 October, and both an Early Years Fun Morning and a Junior School STEM Taster Day on Sat 13 November. See more details here.
Northampton High School, Newport Pagnell Road, Hardingstone, Northampton NN4 6UU, Tel: 01604 765765 www.northamptonhigh.co.uk