Muddy says: This all-girls day school located in Farnborough is packed with quirky heritage buildings, excellent academics and is all about building strong independent women for the future.
Farnborough Hill is a Catholic girls’ senior school located in Farnborough, in the north of Hampshire. The school has 555 pupils in classes that range from 24 in Years 7 and 8, to as small as 2 in the Sixth Form, and caters from ages 11 – 18.
As far as buildings go, they really don’t get any grander than this. The school was once home to Empress Eugénie, widow of Emperor Napoleon III of France, and the Grade I listed building – along with the 65 acres of surrounding parkland – feels a little bit like being in a period drama.
There are more modern additions to the campus, but the buildings have been created to slot in nicely with the historic surroundings as well as being fully functioning.
The school is just a mere 25-minute train journey from Clapham Junction and the excellent transport links (Farnborough and Farnborough North station are walking distance away), means that the catchment area is extremely broad for students.
The school is big considering its proximity to London and location in a built-up area, but that means there’s plenty of room for some really decent facilities.
Most recently the science labs have been refurbished and fully kitted out with some of the latest tech for budding scientists. The school is also home to an excellent all-weather hockey floodlit pitch (named for alum’, England hockey captain and Olympic Medal winner, Alex Danson) as well as an indoor swimming pool, a huge sports hall, an excellent music block and, on the horizon, are plans for a brand new purpose-built Sixth Form Centre.
Another more recent addition to the facilities is the St Raphael Well-being Centre. This section of the school houses the School Nurse, a School Counsellor and the Head of Learning Support, and also has plenty of “safe” spaces and opportunities to exercise self-care and mindfulness.
The school has a very solid pedigree when it comes to academics, and while the school is extremely forward-thinking, they haven’t mucked about adding too many weird and wonderful subjects onto the curriculum.
Classics are a very popular choice here with Latin and Ancient Greek both options for the cohort, and there’s a strong emphasis on the “core” subjects such as modern languages, maths, humanities, sciences and English. However, this is definitely not a hot-house environment and the pupils are bolstered by proficient teaching and a spirit of wanting to do their best, rather than intense cramming and pressure.
In 2019 the A-Level students achieved a 100% pass rate with over half receiving A*/A grades and the GCSE results again saw 57% of the results at 9-7 and a total pass rate of 98%.
The majority of students head off to Russell Group universities and a few students opt for the Oxbridge/Medical route. The school prepared for an upswing in students opting for apprenticeships but has found that the majority of the students are sticking on the “traditional” university track following their time at the school.
With a “Sport for All” ethos, physical education is big here and hockey, netball, cross-country, dance and gymnastics are the most popular disciplines. As well as having the captain of the England Women’s Hockey team and a number of Olympians and Paralympians in their alumnae, there’s a lot of strong regional and national level sportswomen in the school’s current ranks as well.
P.E. is part of the curriculum right up until the end of lower sixth and the school has a real emphasis on finding the “right” sport for each pupil – be it as a team or individually. The school also has its own gym with cardio and strength equipment which students can use (supervised for the younger year groups) during different times of the day.
MUSIC & DRAMA
Music is particularly strong here, especially when it comes to singing and instrumental ensembles. The Senior Choir is a popular extra-curricular activity with the pupils and, as well as regularly singing in the school’s chapel, the choir recently returned from performing in Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia.
The music block is shiny, new and home to one of the most beautiful choir rooms I’ve ever seen with HUGE windows that open up completely in the summer months.
The school also has excellent drama facilities, with the school theatre having just received a range of state of the art lighting and sound technology (the Sixth Formers can learn to use this as part of the school’s enrichment programme).
The girls love a chance to perform and so there’s a junior and senior production each year, as well as a Year 7 musical.
ART & DESIGN
The Art department is split into three very specific disciplines at Farnborough Hill – Fine Art, Ceramics and Textiles and the level of work created here is high.
In Textiles the girls won’t be making silly old calico bags but physical, wearable art that wouldn’t be out of place on stage or in a museum. The calibre of the Fine Art artwork I saw on my visit was excellent and was easily university level in both subject matter and execution. The Art department also offers a New York Trip for pupils in Year 10 and above, offering a real-world introduction of how they could take their interest in the creative to career level.
Alexandra Neil has been the Head of Farnborough Hill since 2016, having previously held the role of Deputy Head at Rye St Antony School, Oxfordshire.
One thing Alex was keen to stress is that we shouldn’t push kids for “perfection”. While we should always encourage children to be the best they can be, we have to be conscious about the impact of chasing unattainable dreams in this modern age – particularly with the rise of social media – on a child’s emotional wellbeing and self-worth. There will always be someone smarter, better, more confident but by encouraging the girls to focus on themselves and what they are doing – with a strong undercurrent of mindfulness and self-belief – they can achieve anything. She is also very engaged with the student body, continuing to teach history and politics and encouraging the pupils to come to her with ideas for change.
While this is a Catholic setting, this is certainly not a prerequisite for pupils who wish to attend (in fact, 70% of pupils are either another faith or no faith). While religion is present in daily life at the school, it’s more about the ethos of compassion and sense of community than full-on ceremony and incense. The school is extremely diverse with over 40 languages spoken both by the pupils and teachers and with girls joining from a mix of both independent and state schools it gives the student body a real kaleidoscope of experience, lifestyle and background.
The school was inspected in by the ISI in January 2014. Read the report here.
How much time do you have? There’s the fact that the school has its very own radio station, F’Hill, which is run by the Year 11 pupils or how about that the Sixth Formers can take an enrichment course of a PADI open water scuba diving qualification in the school pool? There’s a nuns’ graveyard in the grounds and one particularly wonderful room in “St Raph’s” that is literally just full of beanbags and nothing more.
Each of the Sixth Formers has their own “flat”, which are little rooms shared between two or three girls where they can focus on their work and have a little bit of headspace away from the hustle and bustle of school life – each decorated with their very own stamp and personality.
Also “Girl Power” is very much a thing here, and not the twee manufactured kind but the proper world-changing feminism type. Up until recently the school’s house system was named after various Reformation Saints. As part of the Social Justice Club, a group of Year 7s questioned why, in a school for girls with plenty of notable females in its history, were they named after men? They approached the Head and now the school’s house system is named after women from the school’s history. If that’s not a huge indicator of how much this school listens to its students and encourages them to take charge, then I don’t know what is!
A very reasonable £15,375 per annum (£5,125 per term), which considering the level of facilities and opportunities – plus the EXTREMELY close location to London – is a bit of a bargain.
WORD ON THE GROUND
There’s been a real push forward at Farnborough Hill to show the outside world that this girls school is forward-thinking and modern. The old green stripey uniform has gone and a sleek new sage and lavender ensemble is in. The Sixth Form LOVE the fact they don’t have to wear super-smart clothes every day and were consulted directly on having “colours” for specific events (and also were VERY happy it was an excuse to shop for new clothes). This is a school that raises tough but grounded, thoughtful but driven women to push forward the next generation.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those who really want to give their daughters a good across the board start – academically and developmentally. Any girl who knows what she wants – as well as those who maybe need a little bit more focus and inspiration – will thrive in this environment as there are plenty of opportunities to be had. Also if you live in London but want to throw some countryside greenery into a girl’s education without boarding or too much distance from home, this is going to tick a lot of boxes.
Not for: If you want an all through-school, boarding requirements or a co-ed environment this isn’t going to fit the bill.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! There’s an Open Afternoon Friday 7 February and Friday 1 May.
Farnborough Hill, Farnborough, Hampshire, GU14 8AT. Tel: 01252 545197