Royal High School Bath, GDST
Muddy says: Inclusive, girl-centered education, strong on science, maths and languages, with chic facilities – and the only school in Bath offering the International Baccalaureate
Independent day and boarding school for around 500 girls aged from 11 to 18 years in the city of Bath. Situated in 11 acres on the hills of the Lansdown Road, just to the north of the city centre, the school’s imposing neo-Gothic exterior belies the warm, contemporary interiors – and education – you’ll find inside.
The school started out as two separate schools: The Royal School and Bath High School. The Royal School was founded by Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale (amongst others) in 1864 on the site of the current school, and was originally for the daughters of army officers. You can still see military shields in the stained glass of the Memorial Hall. Bath High School, set up by the Girls’ Day School Trust in 1875 for girls of all social classes, was further down the Lansdown Road. The two schools merged in 1998 to become the Royal High School and both are celebrated with mementos on a wall in the main building.
The school is still part of Girls’ Day School Trust, the leading network of independent girl’s schools in the UK, and its only boarding school.
Non-denominational. About a fifth of the school are international, with an impressive 31 nationalities.
There’s a prep school and nursery on another Bath hill nearby.
The school’s undergoing a major refurbishment with essential stuff like a new roof just completed, lots of rather brilliant interior redecoration throughout, a brand new music block and recording studio opening in 2020 and a sports development project in the pipeline.
Most of the classrooms for Years 7 to 11 and the library are in the main building. The Sixth Form have a separate building with their own classrooms (and cafe!) but share some facilities.
Did your school canteen look like this? Didn’t think so. This is the annex to the main dining room. Wow.
Food to match.
STEM is strong here. The old science block was merged with with a former gym to create inspiring labs and classrooms from stone, wood and glass. Always with an eye to the future, the girls have worked out what grades they’ll need to get into medical, dentistry, veterinary and pharmacy courses at top universities around the UK.
The art block is an inspirational workspace for budding artists and contains four bright, white studios with minimalist interiors. We popped our heads into one studio where students were working away to soothing chill out music – very Zen.
Well-equipped DT workshop with state-of-the-art 3D printer, four-axis router and the like.
Professional looking Sophie Cameron Performing Arts Centre, a former chapel (see the roof) with properly sprung floor, enormous black curtains to create smaller spaces. All sorts of drama and dance groups and an after school Dance GCSE take place here. The Memorial Hall is another performance space (gig night sounds cool).
Across the playing fields, the new standalone music school – currently mid way through the build – looks huge and when it opens in 2020 it will include that state-of-the-art recording studio I mentioned. Loads of girls play instruments, and there are numerous choirs, orchestras, bands and ensembles.
Dreamy outdoor heated swimming pool built in the 1930s and girls walk from the main building over to the pool in their bathers. Lovely.
Peaceful contemplation garden Evie’s Garden for quiet moments, built in remembrance of a former pupil.
It’s selective but not highly (about 100 apply for 80 places); academic but not hothouse and gets impressive results.
Over half of all 2018 GCSE/iGCSE were A*–A /9 & 8 grades and overall 96% students achieved A*– C. English around 70%. Strong on STEM and, going against the national trend, modern languages. Most girls studying French, German, Spanish or Italian got A*/A in 2018. Other languages available here: Mandarin, Japanese and Arabic.
Sixth Formers can choose between A levels or the International Baccalaureate (the only school in Bath offering the IB). Results: A* in almost a fifth of all A level exams and around 92% A*-C, with Maths the most popular A level subject. In the IB, students scored an average of 39/40 points (global average is 30), with 75% achieving top 6 and 7 points.
Pretty much everyone goes to their first choice university, mainly Russell Group, with some every year to Oxbridge.
Facilities: astro turf, multiple tennis and (brand new) netball courts, sports hall. International representation in a myriad of sports including rowing, fencing, swimming badminton – as well as in the Horse of the Year show. Team sports do well too, with national achievements and successes, particularly in netball which benefits from strong links to Bath University and a Team Bath Super League netball coach. Girls travel around the country to other GDST schools and take part in sports competitions. The school’s co-curricular ‘Active’ programme encourages everyone to take part in some physical activity (and the girls here do). The gym’s housed in a rather uninspiring building at the moment but has all the equipment you need and it’s on the list for a re-furb in 2020.
Dynamic, vibrant head Jo Duncan MA PGCE has been in post since 2015. Unsurprisingly, she’s passionate about all girls’ education (her own daughter is in Year 7 at the school) as the best way to prepare them for the future. All girls allows them to participate fully, to take the lead and become less risk averse, become resilient but not aggressive – she talks about ‘grit and grace’ – and ambitious but not at the expense of others. She’s about breaking down stereotypes – there are no ‘girls’ or boys’ subjects’ here. Girls are encouraged to be critical thinkers, committed, creative, courageous, communicative and compassionate (the 6 Cs). She’s overseen the refurbishment (the girls couldn’t believe the transformation). She meets regularly with pupils, over breakfast or supper, and when they receive commendations in her rather swanky office.
Four IT suites and a Mac suite for music. The school is BYOD (bring your own device). Dotted around the place, there are little wifi’d corners where pupils can sit and chat or catch up with a tutor.
Meet Merlin and Spitfire, the school wellbeing dogs, who are always up for a run around the grounds with the girls and make appearances at all school events.
There are four houses: Austen, Bronte, Du Pre and Wollstonecraft (all from the arts though – do they need a new house named after a scientist or mathematician?).
Huge sense of pride in the school –’ you’re ‘Royal High until you die’ – and when they were redesigning the uniforms, the girls got together and campaigned for the school logo to be included. Very strong sense of community amongst the staff of all levels from the ground up.
There’s a focus on leadership and going out into the world. The school hosts the GDST Young Leaders Conference, for prefects and head girls, with inspirational speakers. Networking events with the Bath Business Association are popular. As part of the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the school, former students – a fashion stylist, GP and scientist – are offering day in the life experiences to younger girls.
Links with schools in Kenya, Hewitt School in New York, and newly established United World School in Cambodia, as well as nearby boys schools.
Being part of the GDST means tapping into a huge network of students around the UK, with shared events like a massive skiing trip and a trip to NASA, and a chance to form lifelong friendships. There are about 75k GDST alumnae worldwide (one of the largest careers networks of its kind). Sixth Formers can chat and seek advice from alumnae though the Rungway Mentoring App. Clever idea.
About a quarter of girls board, some 140 girls. The newly re-furbed School House for Years 7 – 11 at the top of the main building has two huge common rooms with fab furniture (check out those bar stools and zingy sofas), lighting and a modern kitchen.
There’s even a baby grand.
The shared bedrooms for three to six girls are awesome, cleverly designed on different levels with mezzanine floors and funky headboards. School House Angels help new girls settle in and ‘the housemistresses are great’.
Sixth Formers board in the separate Gloucester House, with communal areas, kitchen and cafe. Study bedrooms are doubles in Year 12; singles in Year 13.
Rated ‘excellent’ in the recent ISI report (2016).
There’s a hidden stone spiral staircase that leads up to the top of the tower with spectacular views over the city and has its own Twitter account.
School commandeered by the Admiralty in WWII – the air raid shelters are still in the basement. The girls were invited to the Marquis of Bath’s home at Longleat.
Mary Berry was a pupil at Bath High.
School caretaker Perry Harris is a well-established artist and illustrator.
Network of buses down to the rail station, around the outskirts of Bath and beyond. Lessons finish at 4pm but there’s free after school club with a big pot of tea and a big platter of treaty food until 6pm. Day girls can come for breakfast, pay as you go supper and occasional/flexi boarding. Lots and lots of clubs. Biology dissection anyone?
Economies of scale associated with being part of the GDST mean that fees are lower than other schools of the same standard – £3,315 per term in the nursery up to £4, 700 per term in the Sixth Form; boarding from £9,797 per term. Many of the ‘extras’ are included as standard.
WORD ON THE GROUND
One parent described the school as kind, gentle and caring; supportive but not pushy with help when needed and excellent learning support. Chemistry and Geography were singled out for special praise. Another highlighted academic success for all, and innovative resources for everyone, as well as the priority the school gives to pastoral care, especially the Sixth Form mentoring and buddy system. A third’s daughter ‘couldn’t be happier…she absolutely loves her learning experience and all the opportunities she encounters’.
Good for: Pretty much any girl who’s down to earth, friendly and wants to make the most of the opportunities on offer; they work hard to make sure there isn’t a stereotypical Royal High girl.
Not for: Er, boys. That’s it. We think most girls would love it here.
Dare to disagree? The next Open Day is Weds 6 March 9.30am – 12 noon.
The Royal High School Bath GDST, Lansdown Road, Bath BA1 5SZ. Tel 01225 313877. royalhighbath.gdst.net