Muddy says: An inspiring day and boarding school on the outskirts of Salisbury, perfect for girls aged 3-18 with a serious ‘can-do’ attitude
GODOLPHIN SCHOOL, SALISBURY
An inspiring day and boarding school for girls aged 3-18, Godophin‘s balance of academics with strong pastoral care and extra curricular brilliance makes for well-developed, visionary girls who stand out from the crowd. Awarded Southwest Independent Secondary School of The Year 2019 by Sunday Times School Guide, it is as much about developing the whole person and encouraging critical thinking as it is ticking off exam results (fabulous though they may be).
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. 385 girls populate the senior school, with 80 in the prep. Year 7 has three classes of 15-20 girls, plus there is an intake of 25 in Year 9, expanding the year to 4-5 sets. A few girls arrive in the sixth form, taking the places of the handful who depart for sixth form college or co-ed heaven. Girls come from within an hour’s radius, many from Winchester and Southampton. Around 55% board – from military families, from London or further afield in the UK, and just over 10% of international students from a broad mix of countries including Hong Kong, Thailand, Spain and Nigeria.
Notable alumnae include the full spectrum of women 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, theatre department, boarding houses and playing fields surrounding. While the original red brick building is really the only looker on site, skilful use of space makes for a calm, gracious feel, and stunning views over grass pitches offer the downs beyond. Inside is a gothic school hall used for assemblies, concerts and events, with stained glass windows depicting each school house. On our visit the girls’ Winter Ball was being cleared up, and I hear the room was dressed from top to toe in strings of tiny fairy lights.
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 classes, 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 – this year’s largest production was Made in Dagenham with a cast of over 70.
A fitness centre, 25 metre indoor pool, gym and conditioning suite 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. Sport is excellent for a small school, and netball, hockey and tennis are also played at a high level. The equestrian team are high flyers, and polo has been recently introduced and proving popular.
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.
Art stands out too, with its own 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. It is not surprising that a record number of girls go on to art related courses at university level.
The girls’ common room looks more like a modern networking space than grungy common room from our era; the dining room is small and quirky; clubs and activities range from astronomy, calligraphy and combat fit, to kick boxing, mandarin and sugar craft.
Success without stress is the mantra here, and it starts from the very beginning. 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 very much 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, especially at A-Level, and added value puts the school in the top 7% in the country (GSCEs are one grade above predicted, A-Level a half-grade above). What is even more impressive, however, are the lengths the school goes to 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 an extra to sixth formers. Science is strong – an extraordinary 70% of girls choose a science at A-Level, and the Scholar’s programme is, unusually, open to everyone.
Saying that, creatives are strong, especially art and performing art. Girls are encouraged to strive in whatever arena they show ability in, and parents subscribe to this ethos and know that it is not all about academics. No overly pushy parents here! In this environment the girls clearly thrive, moving on to a wide variety of higher education including Oxbridge and Russell Group universities, as well as art foundation courses (one girl recently went to Parsons School of Design in New York City), and even agricultural college.
While Godolphin is more of a day school than it was in previous years, still an overall 55% of girls board. We noticed no divide between day and boarding students, and the school has the feeling 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 or matches, there are plenty of weekend activities and evening socials, and on a typical weekend at least 70 girls will stay in. Think Harry Potter night, Chinese New Year, Zumba marathons, Junior Park Runs and you’ve got the idea…
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. Want to know more? Ah, handily we have a film on Boarding Life at Godolphin!
Emma Hattersley is the main woman at Godolphin, currently in her 7th year as captain of this impressive ship, and previously deputy head, pastoral at Sherborne Girls. She knows the names of all the girls (not bad for a senior school, no matter how small), and while she doesn’t teach classes, she 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.
She is clearly key in supporting the ethos of the school – she shows great commitment to developing women of substance and character, encouraging them to think meaningfully about the world they are part of, and raising happy, aspirational girls. She understands that while academics are important they should not be at the expense of well-being. Godolphin is not a hothouse – far from it – but girls try to be the best they possibly can be, and diverse talent is celebrated. Emma encourages the quirky, eccentric individuality of the girls, and welcomes all different types of pupils and abilities. There is no one-size-fits-all here. She is also very much of the mind that prospective parents and students ought to see the school warts and all before deciding, and so has done away with traditional termly open days and now runs bespoke tours for only ten families in regular snapshot mornings. A behind the scenes boarding film gives a great insight into the school, too!
The Elizabeth Godolphin Award for sixth formers is Emma’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.
Godolphin Prep shares the same campus with its big sister and takes girls from 3-11. Most girls move up to the Senior School, with the massive added bonus of not having to be assessed for entry. For working parents the school 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.
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…
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.
We were impressed by the school’s move to reduce the monetary value of scholarships, while by no means lessening the prestige that such an award deserves, in order to grow the bursary pot and offer more financial help for more girls. Wider access and diversity is encouraged here, making for a rich community.
The Sixth Form have their own block, with study centre, seminar room and conference room, plus their own boarding house. We loved the Sixth Form cafe, a fab place to relax, chat and study in. Might almost tempt us back to school…
A big tick goes to the school’s personal approach. Yes, it’s easier with a small school like Godolphin but from the moment we arrived on our visit, it was clear that the ‘whole’ child is at the forefront here. Academically, on the sports field and in the design studio, the school and its staff go the extra mile for their pupils.
A final word goes to the school pinnies – red for prep, blue for senior, pink for birthday girls and a camo pinny for CCF special occasions. No need for hoiking up skirts or fashioning skinny-ties, it’s all covered up. ‘Nuff said.
Senior School Day Fees are £6,570 (1st and 2nd year), £7,300 (3rd year to Upper Sixth). Boarding starts from £8,840 for 3-day boarding, up to £11,090 for full boarding for UK-based students.
For the Prep School, Day Fees are £2,470 for reception, rising to £4,815 for years 4-6.
See the full schedule of fees here.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The parents I spoke to were all, without exception, in love with the school. The school’s communication and partnership with parents is faultless, with future plans for Go Parent – an entire day of workshops, speakers and talks for parents, covering all areas from managing technology to self harming. Parents appreciate the level of support offered to girls, and feel the school breeds genuine, go-getting girls, healthy in every way.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents looking for an all-round education for their girls. The small number of pupils means that staff get to know all the children well. It offers the very best of single sex education, tip top academically but firmly embracing the whole child. Art and drama are unbeatable and sport is excellent. Girls can truly be themselves.
Not for: Children (or parents) who need rambling tree-lined driveways, polo fields, and boys. You’ll find none of them here. Godolphin is for down-to-earth, aspirational, hard-working, fun-loving, well-rounded girls.
Dare to disagree? Ditching more conventional open days, Godolphin offer Snapshot Mornings on 22 May and 11 June 2020, Prep School Open Mornings 12 June – book via their website.
Godolphin School, Milford Hill, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP1 2RA. Tel: 01722 430500. www.godolphin.org