St Paul’s Girls’ School was founded by the Worshipful Company of Mercers in 1904, using part of the endowment of the foundation set up by John Colet, to create a girls’ school to complement the boys' school he had founded in the sixteenth century. The governors hold proprietorial responsibility, and some are representatives of the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London.
The buildings for the school were designed by the architect Gerald Horsley, the son of the painter John Callcott Horsley and one of the founder members of the Art Workers Guild.
The school has had several distinguished directors of music, most notably Gustav Holst (1905–34) and Herbert Howells (1936–62). Holst composed his St Paul's and Brook Green suites for the pupils at the school. Holst also composed what is arguably his most well known work, "The Planets", while teaching at St Paul's.
St Paul's girls have regularly performed extremely well in the GCSEs and A Levels. Over half of girls at the school get all A*s in their GCSEs and many take extra languages or maths GCSEs. In 2014, 99.3% of GCSEs were graded at A*s or As with 93.6% graded at A* alone. This was the highest ever A* percentage achieved by the school and in the country. In 2016, the school achieved the highest A Level results in its history with 60.0% of entries achieving an A* grade and 93.8% of entries achieving A* or A grades.
GCSE summary: last five years
A level summary: last five years
Gustav Holst was Director of Music at the school during the period he composed his orchestral suites, including St Paul's Suite and The Planets; he was succeeded by Herbert Howells before John Gardner followed in the 1960s. Gardner wrote many memorable pieces for the school, including his popular Christmas carols Tomorrow Shall be My Dancing Day and The Holly and the Ivy.
The school's main theatre, where most school productions are staged, is named after alumna Celia Johnson. Other productions are staged in the drama studio is a smaller space.
The school awards up to twenty means-tested bursaries to students who join in Y7 (two of which are funded by HSBC), and up to five more bursaries for students arriving in Y12. For candidates who join in Y12, there is also the Ogden Trust science award for a UK citizen currently at a non-independent school who wants to study both physics and maths at A level. Bursaries fund up to 100% of tuition fees on a sliding scale depending on family income and assets, plus exam entry fees and a grant towards textbooks. Holders of 100% bursaries entering in Y12 also receive an extra package to cover additional expenses, such as the cost of sports equipment and music tuition.
Year 7: The school awards up to four academic scholarships and two music scholarships to 11+ entrants (worth £100 a year; the music scholarship also includes free tuition in one instrument).
Year 12: The school may also award two music scholarships to current students and two more to new joiners (worth £250 a year plus free tuition in two instruments), and two art scholarships (worth £250 a year) to internal and external candidates. The Nora Day music scholarship (worth up to 50% of school fees plus free tuition in two instruments) is awarded every other year to a new joiner who shows exceptional musical potential. The school also awards scholarships worth £250 a year for academic distinction in the "Senior Scholarship", a dissertation written by students in Y12 during the Summer holiday following their AS exams.
The school logo is a Grecian laurel wreath, representing the school’s competitive spirit. In 2007, this logo was replaced by High Mistress Clarissa Farr with a blossoming rose, chosen to suggest potential. The change provoked much opposition from students within the school, and an article in the Daily Mail. The traditional wreath was retained as the symbol of the Old Paulina Alumnae Association. In 2013 it was announced that the old logo would be reinstated.
The headmistress of St Paul's Girls School is known as the High Mistress.Frances Ralph Grey OBE (d.1935), High Mistress 1903–1927
Ethel Strudwick CBE (1880–1954), High Mistress 1927–1948, daughter of the Pre-Raphaelite painter John Melhuish Strudwick
Margaret Osborn (1906–1985), High Mistress 1948–1963
Dame Alison Munro DBE (1914–9 September 2008), High Mistress 1964–1974
Lady Brigstocke CBE (Heather Renwick Brigstocke, created Baroness Brigstocke 1990) (1929–2004), High Mistress 1974–1989
Helen Elizabeth Webber Williams (born 1938), High Mistress 1989–1992
Janet Gough (born 1940), High Mistress 1993–1998
Elizabeth Mary Diggory (1945–2007), High Mistress 1998–2006
Clarissa Mary Farr (born 1958), High Mistress 2006–2017
Alumnae of the school, known as "Old Paulinas", include:Thomasina Miers – Chef and founder of Wahaca restaurant chain
Sheila Forbes – Principal, St Hilda's College, Oxford
Jessica Rawson – Warden, Merton College, Oxford
Barbara Reynolds – scholar
Joan Robinson – economist
Myrtle Solomon – pacifist and former Chair War Resisters' International
Dame Sonia Proudman QC – High Court Judge
Rosalind Wright CB QC – Director Serious Fraud Office (1997–2003)
Anne-Marie Trevelyan, Conservative MP
Jane Bonham Carter – Liberal Democrat peer
Harriet Harman – Labour MP, Acting Leader of the Labour Party, Leader of the Opposition and former Cabinet minister
Susan Kramer – former Liberal Democrat MP
Jo Valentine, Baroness Valentine – member of the British House of Lords
Mavis Tate – Conservative MP and women's rights campaigner
Vicky Ford, Conservative MEP
Shirley Williams – former Labour Education Secretary and co-founder of the Social Democratic Party
Eirene White, Baroness White – Labour Minister of State then life peer
Rosalind Franklin – scientist, research led to discovery of the structure of DNA
Christine Hamill – mathematician
Kathleen Kenyon – archaeologist
Irene Manton, FRS – botanist
Sidnie Manton, FRS – entomologist
Onora O'Neill – philosopher
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin – astronomer
Catherine Peckham – doctor and scientist
Joan Beauchamp Procter – zoologist, herpetologist
Kitty Godfree – tennis player
Victoria Coren Mitchell – poker player
Lara Prior-Palmer – equestrian
Margaret Cole – socialist politician, former Classics teacher
Gustav Holst – composer, pioneer of music education for girls
Nicola LeFanu – Director of Music during the 1970s
St Paul's does not have a formal preparatory school, but many girls from Bute House Preparatory School for Girls join St Paul's owing to the two schools' proximity.