St Mary's Calne Review

St Mary's Calne is a small boarding and day school of around 360 girls between the ages of 11 and 18 with a high proportion of boarders, an innovative approach to teaching science, and a strong tennis academy.
At a glance
School type
Private
School phase
Secondary
Inspection rating
Excellent
Availability 2020/21
No data
Availability 2021/22
No data
Annual fee average
GBP 31,000
Annual fees
GBP 30,795 - 30,795
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Gender
Opening year
1873
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Dr Felicia Kirk
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St Mary's Calne
School type
Private
School phase
Secondary
Inspection rating
Excellent
Availability 2020/21
No data
Availability 2021/22
No data
Annual fee average
GBP 31,000
Annual fees
GBP 30,795 - 30,795
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Gender
Opening year
1873
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Dr Felicia Kirk
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St Mary's Calne is a small boarding and day school of around 360 girls between the ages of 11 and 18 with a high proportion of boarders, an innovative approach to teaching science, and a strong tennis academy.

St Mary's Calne is an independent Church of England boarding and day school for girls aged 11 to 18 years. It has a small community of just over 350 students, and an 80-20% boarding to day ratio. Spread across 26 acres, St Mary’s offers students all the benefits of a country school with the added advantages of being able to walk into Calne, the local market town.

Dr Felicia Kirk, BA (University of Maryland), MA (Brown University), PhD (Brown University) has been Headmistress since 2013. She is described as ‘inspiring and promotes female empowerment’ by students. Previously she was at Ipswich High School for Girls, where she was Head of Sixth Form, Director of Higher Education at Wycombe Abbey and Head of Modern Languages at Royal Hospital School, Suffolk.

St Mary’s has strong links with St Margaret’s co-ed prep school, which is owned by the same Trust; many girls from St Margaret’s go on to attend St Mary’s, aged either 11 or 13 years.

St Mary’s has roughly 20% international students coming from 15 or so countries, and it has an established global outlook on education. In 2015, St Mary’s Calne was awarded the Foundation level of the British Council's International School Award. Taking part in the award links the school with others around the world and teaches students about other countries and cultures. It provides an internationally recognised accreditation for the school’s work and “enhances teaching standards through sharing best practice from other countries”.

The curriculum

St Mary’s continues to develop its balanced but challenging curriculum, which sets several girls every year on the pathway to Oxbridge and Russell Group universities. The classes are relatively small with about 15 students in each, and this number reduces further in the Sixth Form.

In Junior Curriculum (Years 7-9), girls follow courses in: Art, Computing, Music, Drama, Latin (or Classical Civilisation), English, Mathematics, Religious Studies, Geography, Modern Languages, Science, History, Critical Thinking, Personal Development and Physical Education/Games. Girls are taught mainly in their form groups, but there is setting for Mathematics.

St Mary’s offers a strong modern foreign language programme. Mandarin is compulsory in Year 7 and students can also choose to study Spanish and French (and later on German and Classical Greek). Students are encouraged to continue their language studies up to GCSE level, but they can opt to study Global Dimensions instead.

Most girls at St Mary’s study 11 GCSEs, and there is a broad choice of mostly traditional options with a strong slant towards languages: Geography, History, French, German, Spanish, Mandarin, Classical Greek, Latin, Art, Drama, Music, Religious Studies and Computer Science. Subjects including history and maths follow the IGCSE curriculum.

In the Sixth Form, girls study A Levels, typically choosing three subjects from the following: Art, Biology, Chemistry, Classical Civilisation, Classical Greek, Computer Science, Economics, English, French, Geography, German, Government and Politics, History, History of Art, Latin, Mathematics, Further Mathematics, Music, Physical Education (Sports Science), Physics, Religious Studies, Spanish and Theatre Studies.

St Mary’s is not confined by the limits of A Level qualifications. Instead, it encourages its students to enrich their CV for the future. Many girls complete the EPQ (Extended Qualification Project), thus developing their independent learning skills; they can take part in a unique RADA Advanced Communication Skills course; and they can take Italian IGCSE in the Sixth Form as “an extra for the CV”.

In 2017, St Mary’s became the first independent school to be awarded the Platinum Science Mark, which recognises inspiring practice in the science departments of schools across the UK. It’s recognition of the school’s focus on STEM subjects, and there many examples of its innovative approach to teaching science. Opportunities include running air quality research in partnership with Dyson, building a Westfield car with Springfields school, and taking part in an Orchard Biodiversity Project focusing on lichens and moths.

There is also a bespoke science curriculum for students in the first two years were the aim “is to stretch, inspire and to introduce the girls to the endless possibilities of science”.

Sport and the arts

The sports facilities include a 25m, six-lane swimming pool, a gymnasium, a dance studio, 24 tennis courts (comprising 16 Astro courts for the Summer term and eight hard courts), grass pitches and a well-equipped fitness suite. It is enjoying an “improving reputation in sport”.

This year the school won an LTA award for tennis, recognition of just how strong the sport is here. St Mary’s Calne Tennis Academy (SMCTA) provides professional coaching to all students who request lessons, no matter what their ability. There is an excellent local riding school which the girls make good use of, and St Mary's Calne Horse Show is an annual event that takes place in the Summer Term at West Wilts Equestrian Centre.

The Art School is housed in purpose-built studios, which are being developed over a 10-year period. It considers its art to be an area of excellence. It has specialist facilities for painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, textiles, digital and darkroom photography, digital media, printmaking and Life Drawing (Sixth Form only). Sixth Formers have a dedicated studio space of their own.

As well as several theatre productions all year round, the school has developed an exciting association with RADA which involves weekend workshops.

The music department is very busy and offers a large choice of activities such as Big Band, Opera Ensemble, several vocal ensembles and studio recording sessions. The music department is housed in a purpose built four-storey music school with a recital room and practice rooms, and its state-of-the art studio is equipped with the latest technology for recording and composition.

The World Premiere of David Bednall's Requiem was given by Schola Cantorum, the Chamber Choir of St Mary’s, who tour regularly and record their music. Morning Chapel every day is compulsory. The school says this is “not because we are unusually devout” but because “this is our chance to be together, to think, to pray, to celebrate, and to share in the joys and sorrows of our shared life”.

Beyond the classroom

On entering the school, each girl becomes a member of one of the five School Companies named after local bishops. These are like houses, and there are inter-Company competitions in sport, drama, music, debating and more.

St Mary’s runs a strong wellbeing programme. It believes that the first skill, Awareness, has to be learnt, and that it arises from stillness and patience. If the girls are constantly bombarded by sensory noise or have no time to stop because they might be rushing from one thing to the next, they will not notice things about themselves or others.

Personal Development, Mindfulness and Talks and Workshops are also included in this programme. Examples of these are a seminar by Dr Aric Sigman on Screen Time and Screen Dependency, a Workshop on the 2012 Equality Act by Gendered Intelligence and a Workshop on Resilience by Dr Nihara Krause, a clinical Psychologist.

The school’s holistic approach also teaches students the “key strands” of Emotional Health, Healthy Living, Positive Relationships, Gratitude and Altruism and Positive Thinking. St Mary’s achieved accreditation status this year for Affective Social Tracking. This is a tool whereby students complete a short online assessment twice a year to help the school provide proactive pastoral care. The information gained helps to build a “more rounded picture of each pupil’s individual, social and emotional development”.

Socials with boys are important for a single sex school. From MIV Form, the girls enjoy socials with a variety of boys' schools and have very good relationships with Eton, Radley, Winchester and Horris Hill. Socials and events have included: an MIV dinner; dance and quiz with Horris Hill; U15 tennis tournaments with Eton College; the Chamber Choir singing a joint Evensong with Eton College; Caledonian Balls at Radley College; fundraising evenings at Eton College; and dinners and dancing with boys from Winchester College and Abingdon School.

Academic results

St Mary’s Calne consistently produces good results. Like many schools, St Mary's did not publish its 2020 results (the first year that exams were cancelled); in 2019, 82% of GCSEs were grades 9– 7 while 64% of A Levels were A*–A.

About 10% of girls secure places to Oxbridge every year. In 2020, three girls were awarded choral scholarships to Oxbridge.

Boarding

At St Mary’s, there are seven houses, and the girls live within their own age group in a horizontal boarding system; they move houses every year but stay within their year group. The school says that this maximises the opportunity to establish firm friendships across the year group.

Junior boarders have three houses, and they sleep in medium-sized dormitories. From the age of 14, the girls have single rooms with shared bathroom facilities.

Admissions and fees

St Mary’s is a selective school, and girls must sit the Common Entrance or its own 11+ entrance examinations if entering at this age. Students joining from other schools at Sixth Form are required to have a minimum of six Grade 7s at GCSE level.

Scholarships and bursaries are available on request.

Annual fees are £41,280 for boarders and £30,795 for day students.

Best for

Single sex education
Not a ‘hot house’

Not for

No IB
Day girls (only 20% here)
City-based education

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