Godolphin School, Salisbury
An inspiring day and boarding school in Salisbury for girls aged 3-18, hitting its marks in everything from academics to art and sport in a supportive family atmosphere.
A day and boarding school for girls aged 3-18, Godolphin‘s is on a pleasant hilltop site on the outskirts of the cathedral city of Salisbury. Awarded Southwest Independent Secondary School of The Year 2019 by Sunday Times School Guide, it’s a genuine all-rounder, and as much about developing the whole person and as it is ticking off exam results (impressive though they may be).
One of the oldest girls’ boarding school in the UK, it was established in 1726 from a bequest made by Elizabeth Godolphin, visionary educationalist who envisioned her girls having as much opportunity as their brothers. It moved to its present 16 acre site in Milford Hill in 1891, and has strong religious and musical links with Salisbury Cathedral, with the bishop and chapter still represented on the governing body. There are currently around 450 pupils, of which 100 are sixth form, 300 seniors and 50 in the prep. Most girls come from within an hour’s radius, many from Winchester and Southampton. Around 50% board – from military families, from London or further afield in the UK, with 4% international students.
Notable alumnae include writers: Jilly Cooper, Minette Walters and Dorothy Sayers amongst others, some of whom have houses named after them.
The main school building sits in prime position in the middle of the campus, with the prep school, sixth form block, art block, science block, performing arts centre, boarding houses and playing fields surrounding. While the original red brick building is the main looker on site, skilful use of space makes for a calm, spacious feel, with stunning views over grass pitches to the downs beyond. Inside is an atmospheric neo-gothic school hall used for assemblies, concerts and events, with galleries and stained glass windows depicting each school house.
We’ll go straight to the cherry on the cake – the oh-so-impressive PAC (performing arts centre) featuring an in-the-round theatre, ample lobby and practice rooms. Drama and music classes, community events, whole-school assemblies and services make the most of this special space, plus the school’s many orchestras, music groups and choirs of all abilities. They have previously bagged the title of Barnardo’s School Choir of the Year and sung in BBC Songs of Praise’s School Choir of the Year. School plays, LAMDA exams and smaller performances take place throughout the year.
Art really stands out here, with its own light-filled stand alone building. Pupils and staff are clearly both passionate and highly talented – we saw extraordinary designs by fashion students, and the DT projects were some of the most original we’ve seen. The department is keen to develop all-round creatives, at home with 3-D modelling, photography and textiles as well as painting and drawing. It’s not surprising that loads of girls go on to art related courses at university level. It’s obviously a part of the school close to many hearts.
A fitness centre, impressive 25 metre indoor pool, gym and hall fill the sports centre, with plenty of outdoor pitches. The school fields A, B, C and often D teams (everyone who wants to play in a team can and does) across all major girls’ sports, although lacrosse dominates – the school has previously been National Lacrosse Champion (and is currently revelling in their recent victory against Queen Anne’s School, Caversham). Sport is excellent for a small school, and netball, hockey and tennis are also played at a high level. Cricket is popular, as is one-to-one tennis coaching.
No lack of outdoor activities – girls enthusiastically take part in the Dartmoor Ten Tors expedition after thorough training through CCF. Indeed, the Combined Cadet Force is 80 strong and the largest girls’ force in the country. It’s a large part of Godolphin life and is treated as such.
There are houses for day girls as well as boarders, which even include beds for those down-time naps. A large library is refreshingly full of books (surprisingly, this isn’t always the case).
While there is no assessment at all for girls moving up from the prep into the senior school, the school is ‘softly selective’ to girls applying from outside (girls come from a mixture of local primaries and independent prep schools). Prospective pupils are invited to supper the week before a workshop day that involves team building exercises, lunch, and, slipped somewhere into the fun, a couple of academic papers. Godolphin is a pastorally-minded school and they don’t like to call this an 11+ exam – indeed girls’ previous head’s report and an interview with Emma Hattersley are just as important as academic potential. If a girl has a talent for sport, music, art or drama this ranks equally with academic ability.
Results are impressive, as is added-value (GSCEs are one grade above predicted, A-Level a half-grade above). As a snapshot of GCSEs, in 2019 (most recent actual exams) 96% passed, with 27% of results at level 8 or 9. In 2021 100% passed with 39% at 8 or 9. A levels are even better, with those achieving A or above 53% in 2018, 29% in 2019, 52% in 2020 and 56% in 2021. Those achieving C or above in those respective years was 95%, 88%, 93%, 95%.
The curriculum is unusually well-rounded and broad-based with real strength in arts subjects as well as sciences. That said, it really isn’t all about the academics here.
While Godolphin is more of a day school than it was in previous years, still an overall 50% of girls board. The school has the feel of a boarding school, with all the extracurricular clubs and activities that offers. Girls can sign up for midweek boarding (3 nights), weekly boarding (5 nights) or full boarding (7 nights). Ad hoc b&b nights are on offer subject to availability, and while there is no Saturday school there are Saturday fixtures and plenty of weekend activities and evening socials. Think Harry Potter night, Chinese New Year, Zumba marathons, Park Runs and you’ve got the idea…Just Dance is also a popular down-time activity.
There are three boarding houses – one for prep girls, one for the senior school and one for the sixth form – all modern and purpose built, light and bright. No quirky dorms-in-the-eves here. There is a homely, informal feel to all three, with tea-and-toast to punctuate the day. Want to know more? Ah, handily we have a film on Boarding Life at Godolphin.
Emma Hattersley has been the main woman at Godolphin for eight years, and was previously deputy head, pastoral at Sherborne Girls. She’s an accessible kind of head, and while she doesn’t teach classes, has lunch and supper with the girls as much as possible, as well as hot chocolate with the boarders. She also throws tea parties for first years, runs Mrs Hattersley’s Orchestra and makes the most of her musical abilities (she trained as an opera singer at the Royal Academy of Music) playing piano in assembly.
The talk of well-rounded girls is not just lip service here: The Elizabeth Godolphin Award for sixth formers is Hattersley’s brainchild, a programme of self-development running alongside A-Levels and covering areas such as digital literacy, car maintenance, communication skills and managing finances. It also runs in the final year of the prep school.
The role of Head has, like everything, had to adapt over the last couple of years. On arrival, Hattersley’s focus was on improving academic standards and restructuring the academic team. She sees the Sunday Times award, together with improved exam results, as evidence and recognition that this has been achieved. However since covid her priority has also been to steady the ship, to provide empathetic support through the crisis and to ensure students’ emotional wellbeing is supported more than ever. The pandemic has hugely accelerated the school’s digital strategy, with the issue of tablets (Microsoft Surface Pros) to all seniors ensuring education continued uninterrupted.
Hattersley is keen to emphasise the school’s links with the wider community, with a scheme in place to clean-up and distribute used computers to those in need. They are also proud of the DT department’s production of PPE visors during the crisis.
Her plans for the future include one to slightly grow the school (it’s already recently increased from 330 to 450). Early moves are underway to replace the old drama studio, and a new multi-surface hockey-training pitch is in the pipeline
Godolphin Prep shares the same campus with its big sister and takes girls from 3-11 (although more usually from 4). Most girls move up to the Senior School, with the added bonus of not having to be assessed for entry. It’s a small school, currently of just 50, and offers wrap-around care with arrivals from 8am and plenty of after school activities. Girls can board from Year 3, and day pupils can stay until 6pm.
Julia Miller, the warm and engaged Head of Prep, has been in the position since 2014, and also teaches history in the senior school. A massive plus in prep is the specialist subject teachers for every subject from the word go. Girls are very much part of the larger school, and join for assemblies and events, and are mentored and helped by older students. The art on the walls is of a staggeringly high quality (helped along by that talented senior school department), and the whole place is noticeably calm, quiet and diligent. However when called upon these girls are lively and spirited. No shrinking violets here.
The outside play area has recently been revamped (with fundraising from parents) with a climbing wall/slide up a steep bank. The idea grew out of the fact that the grass bank was always the girls’ fave place to play – a great example of child-led design at its best. The small class sizes mean it’s easy for teachers to take take classes outdoors when weather permits.
Prep girls benefit from the whole school facilities of the 25m swimming pool, full-sized pitches and performing arts centre. To prepare them for the senior school tea-and-toast culture, after school “bun time” is sacrosanct here. You won’t find a Godolphin girl doing anything else at 4pm.
The Sixth Form have their own block, with study centre, seminar room and conference room and cafe, plus their own boarding house. They get to wear their own clothes, as long as it’s work-appropriate “business wear” to prepare them for the world. They finally get to perform in the beloved Ents show with its tradition of impersonating the teachers, to the delight of the rest of the school.
New Head of sixth form, Julian Leang, only arrived in September and has already established himself as a force of nature. His weekly “Call Over” gatherings update the whole sixth form on news, achievements and issues and serve as useful bonding time. He’s keen to get events up-and-running post covid (they’ve just held their Winter Ball). We reckon Leang will have some interesting plans up his sleeve, so watch this space…
The careers department, Bright Futures, deserves a special mention, offering ongoing mentoring schemes, engaging alumni in talking to the girls, helping above and beyond with university choices, college opportunities and gap years. The Old Girls network is as strong as any I’ve seen, and alumni are frequently called upon to offer (and are very willing to help with) internships, advice and interview practise.
The school goes to great lengths to tailor the girls’ options to what they want, introducing a Level 3 in Food and Nutrition, Cambridge Pre-U in Art History and BTEC in Performing Arts. The two-year Leith’s Food & Wine diploma is offered as a popular extra. Science is strong – an extraordinary 70% of girls choose a science at A-Level, and the Scholar’s programme is, unusually, open to everyone. Around 21 subjects are offered at A level, and over and above the usual suspects include psychology, geology, computer science and business.
Top university destinations over the last couple of years have been Cardiff, Durham, Newcastle and Oxford Brookes, with sciences, arts and business all popular choices.
WRAP AROUND CARE
All day girls can stay from 8am (with breakfast option) to 6pm, with the choice of staying for supper and part-time/occasional boarding.
The school is proud of their pastoral care. Students meet daily with their tutor, and are encouraged to share concerns. Also on hand to help are the Chaplain (not just for Christians), Matron, Nurses, Counsellors and House Staff.
The co-curricular scene is active, with a vast and imaginative selection that includes Young Silversmiths, Lego league, Self Defence, Young Architects, Current Affairs, and Ceramics, as well as the more obvious sport, drama, cooking etc. There are also orchestras, musical groups and choirs, with over 350 instrument lessons taking place every week.
Godolphin has the best of both worlds – on the edge of town with the space (and views) that this allows, while enjoying a strong bond with the city, its cathedral and community. The girls are involved in a growing number of charity events and will think nothing of donning a green wig and darting in and out of Salisbury’s cloisters in the name of raising dosh. Tea for local Alzheimer’s patients and sleeping out in Salisbury cathedral just for starters…
Most obviously the unashamedly old-fashioned uniform pinnies: red for prep, blue for seniors, pink for birthdays and even occasionally camo for CCF. A move to change the uniform a decade ago was met with resistance from students; indeed the sixth formers we spoke to were positively nostalgic for it. They are certainly useful for covering up any un-tucked waistbands and differing hemlines. The vintage look is topped off with straw boaters for special occasions, like Christmas cathedral visits.
Senior School Day Fees are £6,965 (1st and 2nd year), £7,740 (3rd year to Upper Sixth). Senior boarding starts from £9,375 for 3-day boarding, up to £11,760 for full boarding for UK-based students.
For the Prep School, Day Fees are £2,630 for reception, rising to £5,100 for years 4-6, and boarding for UK students from £6,875 (3 day) – £9270 (full time).
See the full schedule of fees here.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents are really impressed with the pastoral care. An appreciation of flexibility also comes up: from reacting to girls’ needs, to the changing requirements of the pandemic, to occasional boarding & suppers.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good For: Parents looking for an all-round quality education for their girls, where equal emphasis on arts and sport doesn’t compromise top academic achievement. Godolphin graduates are confident, spirited young women with a solid network. Those after part-time or flexible boarding.
Not for: Those who might thrive in a larger cohort. Those after swanky polo fields, rambling tree-lined driveways, and boys: you’ll find none of those here. Those really serious about dance or riding – you’ll have to go off-site for lessons, stables and sprung floors.
Dare to disagree? They prefer Snapshot Fridays to full-on open days, where parents can have more attention in smaller groups. The next ones are 18 March & 6 May for the Senior School; and 11 March & 13 May for Prep. Sign up here, or contact Head of Admissions, Corinna Florence email@example.com. In the meantime, have a look at their school film.
Godolphin School, Milford Hill, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP1 2RA. Tel: 01722 430509. www.godolphin.org.