Star quality at top of the class

The school architect was yesterday preparing designs for a new dining area at Withington Girls, but a decorous hall of fame might be more appropriate, writes Jonathan Foster.

The independent school in Manchester has achieved for the second successive year the best GCSE examination results in England and Wales. The girls in blue and burgundy scored an 87 per cent success rate at grade A, and more than half won the extra "star" distinction, compared with the national average of 3 per cent.

It cost pounds 3,585 in fees to put a girl through the 1994/95 academic year at Withington, and the price will rise next term by nearly 5 per cent; 15 girls a year are admitted on the assisted places scheme.

The fortunate 600 receive what Margaret Kenyon, the headteacher, described as "outstanding academic education and a lot of intimate care". Mrs Kenyon interviews most girls successful in Withington's entrance examination. "We know we are looking for girls of high ability, but also signs of being interested, of responding to stimulation," Mrs Kenyon said. "I am a great believer in the future power of imagination.

"They will go on to get a lot of attention, a lot of stimulation ... To use a gardening term, you need a good mulch of factors to help children reach their full potential."

Most of Withington's pupils are daughters of the Mancunian professional middle-classes, from homes in suburban Altrincham, Bowdon, Hale and Knutsford. One parent, a lawyer, said: "It is very much a school that cares about its pupils as well as academic results. The head seems to know every single girl and her parents. They take great interest in the children's pastoral welfare."

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