This might be one of the oldest girls’ boarding schools in the country, but there’s nothing stuck-in-the-past about this Salisbury senior where pupils are instantly recognisable by their signature blue pinny uniforms. It’s refreshingly down-to-earth, parents work hard to send their daughters here and greatly value the opportunities that Godolphin has to offer.
Emma Hattersley has been head here since 2014, arriving from a role as pastoral deputy head at Sherborne Girls. She is stylish, confident, likeable, and a relaxed and articulate public speaker. Her leadership has already seen the school grow in size and academic prowess and although she has plans and ambitions for the school, her focus very much seems to be the here and now and making sure that the girls have everything they need in place to make the best of today. As a mother and school inspector as well as a headmistress, she has a very broad understanding of both the functional and emotional aspects of education, using it to ensure that her charges end up right at the forefront (as well as an equal part) of the job market, and leave school as flexible, adaptable, open-minded, self-critical and collaborative learners in a rapidly changing world. When asked what makes her most proud, she replied ‘the students’ without hesitation – and judging by the girls we met, we can see why.
The main joining points at this proudly all-girls senior are at 11+, 13+ and 16+. Traditional open days have been ditched in favour of Snapshot Mornings (involving a tour with Year 8 or 9 girls and a Q&A with the head) for a more informal and personal experience. Prospective pupils can then come along for a taster day – and although the head suggests that most parents will ‘trust their gut’, there’s absolutely no hard and fast rules about how many times you can come and take a look. Around 75 per cent of pupils at Godolphin Prep will make their way up the hill to the senior, and there’s no need to sit any tests if they have been in the Godolphin fold for at least two years. Mrs Hattersley fittingly describes Godolphin as ‘softly selective’; children from other schools will need to take formal tests in maths and English, have an interview with the head and provide a reference from their current school. Bursaries are available and there are scholarships for academics, sport, drama, art and music.
Academic & University Destinations
There are three classes in Year 7, rising to four or five forms in Year 9 with roughly 18 pupils per class but often with much smaller teaching groups for GCSE and A-level. The 65-minute lessons are interspersed with regular breaks and lunchtime is a generous 70 minutes, meaning that girls have plenty of time to take part in a club or activity or catch up on any admin. Years 7 to 10 work on school-leased Surface Pro laptops. We were blown away by the science department, which was alive with display boards and colour – and is famous for its annual science week and the ever-popular all-school inter-house quiz. Career guidance is excellent, with a range of initiatives such as ‘Find Your Future Friday’ and the Bright Futures programme, which brings in inspirational speakers – from a vet to a fashion stylist, a psychologist to a financier – to encourage the children to think about a very wide variety of careers. There’s also a buddy system linking current pupils with career-relevant old girls for a more personal viewpoint. Results are solid, but it’s the value-added scores that are seriously noteworthy here. There is a huge amount of flexibility, both in study choices and destinations – one of our pupil guides was leaving to study classics at Cambridge and the other to nursing college and then Sandhurst, both fabulously bright, articulate, self-confident and self-aware. In short, Godolphin doesn’t have a standard exit – because there's no such thing as a standard pupil.
A new director of sport and a flurry of recent wins (U16 district netball champions, U14 netball county champions and Bath Eight’s lacrosse winners) have put Godolphin back on the sporting map. The small suburban campus doesn’t afford a huge amount of pitch space but the soon-to-be resurfaced tennis courts will provide a useful multi-sports pitch and the indoor pool is a superb bonus. Participation is key, but the balance is struck accurately enough for those girls with sporting talents to be able to play for their county or club outside of school hours. The head sees art as ‘the flagship department’ and the standard really is knock-your-socks-off brilliant. Mr Egg (Nick Eggleton) is the art dynamo behind this success and his three-stage art rotation gives pupils an opportunity to try their hand at a variety of techniques, as well as being wowed and inspired by the school’s own artist-in-residence. Drama too is top drawer, and the purpose-built theatre has retractable tiered seating to offer maximum flexibility. Annual performances alternate between a whole-school production and an upper and a lower school play, but all are extremely impressive – Schools will Rock You being a recent highlight. Pupils told us that there is a culture of getting involved and just giving things a try. For extracurricular enrichment, there’s a whole host of clubs and activities that take place either at lunchtime or after school, including CCF, young architects, young silversmiths and a fantastic club set up by sixth-formers called ‘Include’, which aims to provide a safe and welcoming space to meet, chat and ensure that absolutely everyone feels part of a group. The on-site Leiths cookery school is a massive bonus for girls wanting practical skills to supplement their academic studies (BTEC Level 3 in Food Science and Nutrition).
There are three boarding houses: Walters for the junior boarders (ages eight to 13), Cooper for Years 9,10 and 11 and School House for the sixth-formers. We hung out in Cooper, home to 60 boarders and a spacious and buzzy environment with girls happily beetling in and out to sign in for lunchtime registration, attend the Friday talk (our visit coincided with ‘careers in the wine trade’) or change for activities and games. All unobtrusively supervised by the Cooper house staff (affectionately known as ‘The Dream Team’) strategically positioned to just keep an eye on everyone or, as we saw, ready to whisk anyone looking worried off for a cup of tea and a reassuring chat. Pupils can full board, flexi board or day board, and numbers increase as you go higher up the school with around 60 per cent of girls boarding at some point during their time here. Sixth-form boarding takes on a more university-like vibe, with more independence and facilities for pupils to do their own laundry – although amusingly the girls themselves seemed unaware that this was an option. Weekends offer a change of pace – there’s no Saturday school and so boarders will take part in activities, go into town or catch up on prep before the afternoon sports matches. Despite the flexibility, there remains a significant cohort of boarders here at the weekend – and the recent increase in military families will continue to boost these numbers further.
Godolphin has between 35 and 40 staff with mental-health training, and Mrs Hattersley tells us Godolphin is all about ‘support, strength and love’. She’s a big believer in family time and making sure that girls have enough flex in their schedule to take advantage of it, whether that’s with their boarding families or at home. The school is aware that children might sometimes lose confidence in how to speak to their parents (and vice versa) and so teaching pupils the art of conversation is important, with an annual ‘GO Parent’ conference which includes talks and workshops educating parents on education, social pressures, self-esteem, nutrition and mental health.
This school doesn’t attract the kind of parents who want bling – instead, it invests in substance and puts the needs of the children up front. The staff and pupils we met were all absolutely the kind of people you’d want to be stuck in a lift with – fun, friendly, honest, polite and purposeful.