Donna Holmes, head of Huddersfield Grammar School, on the many different ways they look to develop the individual and build character
Can you offer us a potted history of Huddersfield Grammar School?
Our main school building was built in 1862 and is historically the family home of the Crowther family, who owned textile mills in Huddersfield. Our school first opened under the name of St David’s College in the 1930s and moved into the Royds Mount site in 1947. Starting as an all-boys boarding school, eventually the school merged with two former independent girls’ schools to become Huddersfield Grammar School in 1995. It was a pure meeting of minds, forming the largest independent school in Huddersfield providing both primary and secondary education.
HGS has flourished ever since, joining the Cognita Schools group in 2007 and undertaking £5.25m worth of investment into new facilities.
Today, what does the school offer?
As a thriving non-selective school, Huddersfield Grammar School offers a nurturing learning environment for both boys and girls from age 3 to 16. For all our students it provides a ‘home from home’. As an all through school we pride ourselves on our dedication not just to academic success, but also to understanding the needs of the individual.
What can you tell us about the school’s setting?
The school is within easy reach of Huddersfield centre. Set in ancient woodland, the setting provides a safe haven for students to enjoy their time at school in an environment providing opportunities to fulfil the most inquisitive minds. We have dedicated facilities for art, science, drama and music, as well as access to a variety of sporting facilities. All our students have access to active learning, be it in Forest School, outdoor learning or our interactive play areas.
How would you sum up the teaching approach at the school?
The modern HGS education features four key elements: academic stretch, character development, a rich vein of kindness and a future-facing curriculum. These elements, combined with excellent teaching staff, ensure that our pupils truly excel, no matter what the challenge. Our approach to teaching and learning is premised on the latest educational research, which informs our lesson planning and drives the professional development of our teachers throughout the school.
Are there certain aspects that you believe makes your school stand out?
At Huddersfield Grammar School our motto ‘the whole child is the whole point’ means that our focus on the all-round individual is every bit as important as our strong academic results. We pride ourselves in knowing the individual, exploring their interests, nurturing their passions, overcoming their challenges, and leading the students to become the best version of themselves. We believe children achieve academic success when they are happy, inspired, and excited by their learning.
What are the key challenges facing the younger generation in the 21st century and how do you address them?
Our world is ever changing at the moment, as the last two years have shown us. Developing a student’s character has always been implicitly at the heart of all we do here at the school. Referred to as the ‘HGS identity’, six core values are firmly embedded within our Character Curriculum; we want pupils to be inspiredby everything they do both within and beyond the classroom and be valued and developed as individuals. We guide pupils to adopt a resilient approach to their academic work, which will serve them well on the exciting and life-long journey of learning that lies ahead. We teach pupils to be inclusive, combining daily acts of kindness with the firm belief that – whatever our age – we can make a difference, locally and globally, right now. We encourage pupils to be self-aware, through learning to recognise their strengths and adapt to their weaknesses, both in learning and in life. Finally, we develop genuine self-belief, as those who ‘believe they can’ will be the leaders and game-changers of the future. Equipping students with these life skills helps them now and with any future challenges they may face.
Do you have many pupils who stay with you from Early Years through to the Senior School?
Yes, we do. Having been at the school for 16 years, I am fortunate to have seen these individuals develop, grow, and excel from Kindergarten all the way through to Year 11. Many still return to us for visits and make appearances as guest speakers and are ambassadors for the school.
Outside of the classroom, what kind of opportunities does Huddersfield Grammar offer?
Active learning is a key part of the Character Curriculum, and it has been lovely to have residential trips return for our pupils in Year 3 all the way up to Year 11. Our younger pupils have also experienced many day trips this year. Students have benefitted from opportunities in the Yorkshire Dales, North Wales, London and Bushcraft at Castle Howard, to name but a few. It will, however, be wonderful to see our overseas programme return in the next academic year, as travel restrictions have now lifted, with visits planned to Austria, New York, Dubai, Spain and Ireland.
Has this school year felt like things have returned to ‘normal’?
‘Normal’ is such a subjective term these days, but certainly a more collegiate time is now possible in school. Like so many, our school community has been placed on a difficult journey due to the global pandemic; however, we have adapted, evolved, and personally developed from the challenges we faced. This has not been easy for anyone, and I am proud of the resilience of the children, the outstanding efforts of our staff and the support shown by our parents. The seamless ability of the staff and students to move from in school learning to remote teaching was incredible to oversee and a real success in these times, ensuring the delivery of continuous and uninterrupted education for all our students. It has, however, been wonderful to welcome all our school community back together on site and celebrate the many amazing achievements of our students with their families.
What have been the highlights for you over the past year?
Kindness and inclusivity were celebrated in all their forms during one of our character development days back in December. From food donations and winter warmer packages to Christmas stalls and a Reindeer Dash, this was a wonderful opportunity to work with charities both locally and nationally to make a real difference to others.
Winning national awards with the Independent Schools Association in arts and sport has also been a particular highlight, including a new swim record at the London Aquatics Centre, representing Team North. We are extremely proud of our many talented students in sport, who have shown their resilience during lockdown and now continue to achieve at an elite national level, be this in football, cyclocross, triathlon, open water swimming, cricket or skiing.