At this warm-hearted all-girls school in the South East academic excellence is paired with sporting, creative, leadership and community activities – all with a good sense of humour.
There are three words above the front door to St Swithun’s – Caritas, Humilitas and Sinceritas (charity, humility and sincerity) – and it’s these values that help to produce such well-rounded, confident independent women. As Headmistress Jane Gandee, who has been leading the school for the past decade, says:
“By the time a girl leaves she will be courageous, compassionate, committed and self-confident with a love of learning, a moral compass and a sense of humour.”
St Swithun’s has a co-ed pre-school, educates girls aged from 4-11 in its Prep school, and offers day, weekly and full boarding options for girls aged 11-18 in the Senior school. There are approximately 200 girls in the prep school and 520 in the senior school across 27 nationalities. The schools are located on one single campus, located in beautiful countryside covering over 45 acres, and they share some fantastic facilities for learning, sport and the arts.
It describes itself as “‘appropriately academic”, which means that while it has extremely high standards, it is not academic to the exclusion of everything else. It doesn’t take a hothouse approach to academics – “We absolutely do not believe in pressure” – and is best suited to those students who are ready to “have fun, take risks and get stuck in to all that we have on offer”. It’s learning ethos is working, and students achieve outstanding results in a low-pressure environment.
The school doesn’t take itself too seriously (it takes the education and wellbeing of its girls very seriously) – and there are many examples of its creative, fun and friendly spirit. For example, you’ll find a Harry Potter room in the English department filled with the ephemera you might find in the Gryffindor Common Room including trophies and oddities, comfortable sofas, hundreds of books – and even a sorting hat! It’s become a hugely popular place for reading clubs, playing literary board games, and eating cake!
In the Prep school, the curriculum balances core academic subjects (English, mathematics, science and computing) with plenty of sports, humanities, arts, languages and extra-curricular activities. Designed to educate “the leaders of tomorrow”, the curriculum has the academic rigour required to prepare students for 11+ entrance exams, including Common Entrance, to leading independent schools including its own senior school.
It’s not unusual for most, if not all, girls to be offered a place at the Senior school; a very small number choose places at other leading schools including Wycombe Abbey, St Mary's Ascot, and Oxford High School. The vast majority of families sign their daughter up at St Swithun’s for an all-through education – and the feedback from parents is hugely positive.
There’s specialist teaching in the Prep for Spanish, drama, music, sport and art; drama is a very popular subject at St Swithun’s. Students get plenty of individual attention needed thanks to small class sizes of approximately 18 students.
As girls move into Senior school there’s an emphasis on flexibility and individual choice. Students choose from a broad list of GCSE subjects, including French, German, Spanish, Classical Civilisation, Geography, History, Religious Studies, Art & Design, Design & Technology: Resistant Materials, Computer Science, Food Preparation & Nutrition, Fashion & Textiles, Drama, Greek, Latin and Music.
In the Sixth Form, girls typically take three or four A Levels, as well as the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). At St Swithun’s the sciences and maths are some of the most popular A Level subjects; around 70% of students taking one or more STEM subject at A Level.
As part of the curriculum students learn how to Thrive in the school’s own PSHE programme, and to Stretch in an enrichment programme that covers an excellent range of life skills including astronomy, thinking skills, experimental art, discovering the news, ethics and science, Socratic discussion and UK political issues.
Sports is an integral part of the curriculum at St Swithun’s. Lacrosse and netball are both really strong here, and all girls encouraged to play with teams from A-E. Less traditional sports offered after school include polo club, diving, karate and fencing, and there’s an opportunity for girls to train with the Winchester and District Athletics Club.
Music is also thriving here. There are over 30 ensembles rehearsing each week and over 65% of girls have instrumental or singing lessons from a choice of 25 instruments; the bassoon ensemble is the most recent addition. There are also some excellent facilities for drama and art including an auditorium, studio theatre and small performing space in Harvey Hall (the school’s performing arts centre), art studio, dark room, ceramics studio and history of art classroom.
As the school that aims to be “appropriately” academic, there’s a strong focus on the journey through school rather than the grades at the end of it. It’s a journey that’s designed to be filled with sporting, creative, leadership and community activities, as well as academic enrichment. The choice of extra-curricular activities is hugely varied in the both the Prep and Senior schools, and it’s great to see some unusual options including astronomy, experimental art and scuba diving.
As a ‘gently selective’ school, St Swithun’s is doing exceedingly well. Girls achieve almost one grade higher at GCSE than expected, and their value-added score at A Level is approximately half a grade higher (a quarter of all results are a grade higher).
Approximately 80% of students go on to Russell Group universities, with 10% gaining places at Oxford or Cambridge. 4% pursue their further education overseas.
A Level 2021 results: 59% of grades were A*; 90% were A*-A; and 97% were A*-C.
GCSE 2021 results: 72% of grades were A*/9-8; 90% were A*-A/9-7; and 100% were A*-C/9-4.
St Swithun’s has six boarding houses, and separate houses for first year and Upper Sixth Formers. Facilities include science laboratories, performing arts centre with a 600-seat auditorium, music school, art and technology block, sports hall and indoor swimming pool, sports fields, athletics track, tennis courts and gardens.
The Prep school has dedicated purpose-built facilities, opened in 2015, including science, art, technology and music rooms, a teaching classroom, sports hall, library and outdoor classroom.
The application process includes an assessment from Year 4 and above (CAT4 tests for Years 4 and 5); entry to 11+ (Year 7) includes an ISEB Common Pre-test. Girls who joined the Prep school before Year 5 are eligible for internal transfer into the senior school.
Annual fees range from £11,904 for Reception to Year 2, up to £22,794 in the Senior School; annual boarding fees for Years 7-13 are £38,340.
Good for: It's hard not to like St Swithun's which impresses with its beautiful countryside campus, caring and close-knit community of girls, and very well-rounded curriculum. It's a school where your daughter can thrive academically while also being actively encouraged to get involved with a range of sports and other activities. Yes, academic standards are high (and if your daughter is interested in the sciences, there are some great opportunities here), but this is also a school that also stretches its students in many different areas – all under the popular and dynamic leadership of Headmistress Jane Gandee.
Not for: It's an all-girls' school led by a strong advocate for single sex education, so will not suit families looking for a co-ed education. Students will need to work hard and be comfortable studying within a friendly but competitive environment – and its focus on science and maths subjects through to A Level may not appeal to more creative students.
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