Located in Surrey, this traditional and selective school offers a very solid all-girls education; it has become a popular alternative to London day schools thanks to its proximity to the capital, weekly boarding options, and well-rounded curriculum.
St Catherine’s is divided between a senior school for ages 11 to 18 and a prep school for girls aged four to 11.This is a large school with 900 students in total, including 120 boarders. It offers full, weekly and occasional boarding. It was founded in 1885 as a Church of England school, and all girls participate in a weekly Chapel service with an additional Wednesday evening service for boarders.
Headmistress Alice Phillips was educated at Kendal High School for Girls and went on to read English at Newnham College, Cambridge. After 10 years as an English teacher, and then Head of English at the Royal Masonic School, Rickmansworth, she moved on to Deputy Headship at Tormead School, Guildford in 1993 and has been Headmistress of St Catherine’s, Bramley, since 2000.
Mrs Philips was President of the Girls’ Schools’ Association (GSA) in 2014 and Vice-Chairman of the Independent Schools’ Council from 2015-18. She has also chaired GSA committees for South Central Region and Professional Development and been Acting Treasurer. Staff Development and training are particular interests. She is a member of the Institute of Directors and a governor of the Yehudi Menuhin School, Chairing its Education and Wellbeing Committee.
Years 7-8 take the core subjects consisting of art, biology, careers (weekly lectures), chemistry, design technology, drama, English, French, geography, german, history, home economics, Latin, mathematics, music, PE, physics, RS, Spanish, textiles, life matters (pshe), ICT and computing. In Year 9, the girls have to select two from art, DT, home economics and textiles. IGCSEs are offered in double award science, English and mathematics.
There's a wide choice of 27 A Level subjects including photography, theatre studies, psychology, classics, government and politics, further mathematics, economics, history of art and business.
The Speech Hall Library is a dedicated Sixth Form space and, on top of this, the Senior School Library has a school membership to the Surrey University Library for all Sixth Form students. Many Sixth Formers take part in Young Enterprise as well as their Gold Duke of Edinburgh's Award.
Every year there is a Sixth Form musical which is directed, produced and choreographed by the students. St Catherine’s also offers a Culinary Arts course for Sixth Formers to teach the girls elegant, classic and contemporary cooking, so that she will be able to create “impressive dinner party dishes”.
Sports offered here are lacrosse, netball, gymnastics, trampolining, swimming, athletics, cross country, rounders, cricket, tennis and squash. Golf, sailing and horse riding are offered off site. It has a five lane, 25-metre swimming pool and a sports hall with a sprung wooded floor.
The art department is excellent here and St Catherine’s strongly believes that in order for the girls to explore and find their own personal style and way of working, formal elements and traditional skills should first be taught; every course is started with a focus on drawing, observational skills and use of colour. The John Palmer Centre is a purpose-built building with its own gallery space.
Drama is popular here and the Anniversary Halls Auditorium boasts a 300-seat acoustically designed theatre including an orchestra pit; it has fully integrated sound and lighting facilities. There are a variety of rehearsal rooms, a recital room, a dressing room and two foyers. It also has two black box drama studios with projection, AV and lighting.
Music is strong here with nine choirs, a symphony orchestra, brass, harp and string ensembles, a string orchestra, concert, jazz, fife and drum, rock and wind bands, flute choir, and several chamber groups. Regular overseas tours take place. Organ is also strong here and there is a residential Organ Academy taught by a team of specialists. Several former students have been awarded organ scholarships to cathedrals and to Oxbridge.
There are a few clubs and activities on offer, mostly for sport, including dance, or music. One week per summer term, classes are suspended and all girls take part in activities for a week with the theme being “Challenge”. The younger years go on activity trips; Upper Fifth and Lower Sixth stay locally and use the time for the Duke of Edinburgh scheme, voluntary service or visiting universities.
Chapel is central to the life of the school which has a rich Christian heritage and for extra support, if needed, there is a resident psychologist and two counsellors on hand. On top of this, there is a schoolhouse system, separate to the boarding houses, which is the “heartbeat” of St Catherine’s.
There are six houses, and each house is made up of about 100 girls of all ages. There are house competitions galore which the girls enjoy. Pastoral care is taken very seriously here. Although it is a Church of England school, students from all faiths and none are very welcome here.
Boarding at St Catherine’s is in age-specific houses consisting of Bronte (ages 11-13), Symes (ages 13-14), and Keller (ages 14-16); the 6, opened in March 2021, for Sixth Formers. In addition, there are two-day houses.
Bronte introduces boarding to the youngest girls and is situated on the first floor of the main school. The rooms are themed and are for between two and five girls; they are allowed to change rooms every half term, in order to make new friends. The house is equipped with table tennis, air hockey and a piano, and prep takes place in a school classroom under close supervision to “ensure that the boarding house remains a place of relaxation and fun”. This is the house with the most structure and offers a “highly supportive introduction to living away from home”. It is a thoughtful touch.
Symes is a short walk away from the main school and has a kitchen that is equipped to make snacks. Each girl has an allocated workstation within the house for prep and the girls share bedrooms with two or three others. Keller occupies the original boarding site in main school and the girls share mixed sized study bedrooms accommodating up to four pupils. The common room has a kitchen with a breakfast bar, a piano, and of course a large television!
Admission is by assessment usually at 11+ although spaces at 13+ and Sixth Form are available. The exams are in mathematics, English, science and verbal reasoning – and are set by the school. At Sixth Form, assessment is by examinations and interview. The examinations consist of three subject specific tests plus an online general paper, which provides the school with an indication of IQ and academic potential. There is a minimum requirement of six GCSEs, grade 6 or above including mathematics and English and grade 7 is preferred for subjects chosen for A Level study.
Boarding fees per term are £10,585; occasional boarding is £65 per night; and day fees are £6,425 per term.
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