Stowe School Review

Students have opportunities to thrive in academics, sport, music, or the performing arts while working towards GCSEs and A Levels at this full-boarding school located on a stunning campus in Buckinghamshire.
At a glance
School type
Private
School phase
Secondary
Inspection rating
Excellent
Curricula taught
Availability 2020/21
No data
Availability 2021/22
No data
Annual fee average
GBP 29,500
Annual fees
GBP 27,384 - 38,091
Price band help
Mid-range
Status
Open
Opening year
1923
School year
Sep to Jul
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom
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Stowe School
School type
Private
School phase
Secondary
Inspection rating
Excellent
Curricula taught
Availability 2020/21
No data
Availability 2021/22
No data
Annual fee average
GBP 29,500
Annual fees
GBP 27,384 - 38,091
Price band help
Mid-range
Status
Open
Opening year
1923
School year
Sep to Jul
Main teacher nationality
United Kingdom
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Students have opportunities to thrive in academics, sport, music, or the performing arts while working towards GCSEs and A Levels at this full-boarding school located on a stunning campus in Buckinghamshire.

Stowe School might just have the most stunning campus in the UK. Located in Buckinghamshire, the school holds lessons in classrooms with ornate ceilings, libraries with chandeliers, and it sits on a majestic estate bordering grand National Trust gardens. It’s grand but not pretentious, selective but not an academic hothouse, and rooted in history but very forward-thinking. As head teacher says, Stowe is a school that “celebrates youth rather than stifling it” and it’s where “the aesthete and the athlete learn to respect each other”.

This independent day and boarding school for boys and girls aged from 13 to 18 has a broad appeal, with students coming from across the UK and overseas. Founded in 1923, it was an all-boys school until 2003. Today, it offers 800 girls and boys (90% are boarders) a very well-rounded education through to GCSEs and A Levels. While the school falls far below the top 100 in A Level league tables, 75-80% of its students go on to Russell Group universities, and the curriculum offers students many opportunities to thrive in academics, sport, music, or the performing arts.

It’s a school that says it has “making a difference in its DNA”, and its focus is on finding every student’s potential for excellence rather than focusing on their ability to achieve A grades (although over a third of students do).

Stowe is a school that is constantly striving for improvement, all under the dynamic leadership of Dr Anthony Wallersteiner, who joined the school in 2003. Most recently it launched the Change Maker Award in September 2020. All students complete the programme throughout their time at the school to prepare them for the world of work.

“We teach you how to pass exams, but we also teach you how to collaborate, how to solve problems and how to think critically and creatively,” says Stowe.

Students earn the Award by getting involved in sport, the arts, volunteering and ‘Thinking Differently’ activities such as debating or the Model United Nations.

Additionally, Stowe is committed to bring in more low and middle-income families to the school. In 2020, it launched Change 100, which aims to fund 100 places a year for families who are unable to afford the fees. It hopes to raise £100 million over the next 10 years to fund this ambitious bursary scheme, which runs alongside its existing bursaries of between 40% and 60%. Last year, the school reduced its fees by £7,000 a year for its smaller percentage of day students. During the first Covid-19 school closures in 2020, the school offered up to 53% off fees for day students; for 2021-22, fees for day students joining one of two new houses being built to accommodate more day places will be £21,472, down from £27,384. There’s a scholarship for students coming from state schools, and ongoing support for student from a South African school to spend a year at Stowe, funded by Old Stoic Richard Branson.

There’s more change in 2021 with two prep schools joining the school to form the Stowe Group – Swanbourne House School and Winchester House School; this will mean that the Change 100 project can benefit entry at prep school age, as well as Year 9 and Year 12.

Stowe was rated Excellent in its most recent ISI inspection in 2018; ISI inspectors noted that students make strong contributions to the wider community, and have confident decision-making, outstanding social skills. It also praised the huge range of competitions, sporting and team activities available at the school.

The curriculum

Stowe offers a challenging, broad and unique curriculum that requires students to be committed and enthusiastic. As with many boarding schools, it follows a busy six-day week, with Saturday and Wednesday afternoons dedicated to sport and extra-curricular activities.

Girls and boys use their own learning logs to focus on their own learning goals, and ISI inspectors found that students display “effective study skills for their age”. Students are graded on a 1-4 scale for their attitude to learning in class and on their commitment and attitude to Prep, and they are offered daily support through evening academic clinics, tutorials and academic societies.

The new Vanguard Programme at Stowe, which runs from the Third to the Fifth Form, encourages students to ‘learn how to learn’. Students develop study and thinking skills, work towards a dissertation, artefact, investigation or performance, for example. This leads to a Higher Project Qualification or HPQ, which is equivalent in weighting to a GCSE.

Spanish, French and German (plus Mandarin for those who want it) is taught from Year 9, and all students must take at least one modern language at GCSE.

Moving up the school, there is a wide range of academic subjects on offer at both GCSE and A Level, and the opportunity to take the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) in the Sixth Form. Most students take 10 GCSEs; 50% take four A Levels, and the remaining cohort do three A Levels and an EPQ.

Sport and the arts

Stowe is strong in sport, the facilities are excellent, and Old Stoics have represented their country in cricket, rugby, athletics, hockey and lacrosse. The main sports for boys are rugby, hockey and cricket, and for girls it’s hockey, netball, lacrosse and tennis; there is a total of 26 different sports offered here, though, so even the least sporty child can find something they like. As well as all the traditional sports, Stowe offers country sports including polo, rowing, sailing, clay pigeon shooting and golf.

Sporting opportunities range from house competitions played in all sports through to a Sports Performance Programme for students with great potential; there is a very busy sporting calendar of fixtures throughout the year, with students frequently playing against teams at the likes of Harrow, Eton, Rugby and Magdalen College.

Facilities include playing fields, a cricket ground (used by Northamptonshire County Cricket Club), athletics track, golf course, sports hall, climbing wall, fencing salle, spinning bikes, fives courts, swimming pool, assault course, lacrosse pitches, and an equestrian centre with 20 stables.

The arts are a huge part of life at Stowe, across the curriculum and as extra-curricular activities. The school’s Watson Art School is home to galleries, classrooms, a study centre, Art and History of Art Library and individual studio spaces, and students work in a wide range of mediums up to A Level including fine art drawing, painting, ICT and printmaking. There are numerous productions staged in the newly refurbished Roxburgh Hall, a wide choice of classical ensembles, orchestras, choirs, wind and jazz bands, and well-equipped design and technology labs.

Beyond the classroom

Life extends far beyond the academics at Stowe. There’s a very strong Combined Cadet Force contingent, high numbers completing the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, and a Community Service programme that see students volunteering locally on a termly basis. An ongoing charity project at the school raises funds for Medical Detection Dogs to support people with life-threatening health conditions.

Students are encouraged to try a new activity each term, “something that they would not normally consider” and, with such a varied extra-curricular programme, this does not seem a big ask.

Academic results

In 2020, 51% of grades at GCSE were 9-7; 44% at A Level were A*-A and 75% were A*-B. In 2019 (when exams did take place), 45% of grades at GCSE were 9-7; 33% at A Level were A*-A and 68% were A*-B. Business, maths and geography students perform particularly well at A Level; maths, sciences, languages and humanities are the strongest subjects at GCSE.

Boarding

Stowe is well-equipped for its large boarding community. There are eight boys' and four girls' houses, and a co-educational Sixth Form House; these are located either in the Mansion House or in more recently built buildings close by. There are also two bespoke Day Houses for Stowe’s community of around 100 day students; these have study spaces for every student.

While there’s plenty of activity within each house before and after school, all students come together for meals in the main State Dining Room.

Campus and facilities

Stowe has an enviable location within 750 acres of parkland and landscaped gardens (owned by the National Trust since 1989). It’s just round the corner from the Silverstone Circuit (one of the circuit’s corners is named after the school), and it’s just a 30-minute train ride from London (the nearest station is Milton Keynes).

There is plenty of heritage and historical charm here, with many lessons being held in the grand mansion house. The school has also invested more than £30m to modernise its educational and boarding facilities, including the opening of the Henry Worsley Science Centre, a Music School, refurbished Art School and new Roxburgh Theatre. Most recently, the school has opened a new golf course and two new day houses; a new Design, Technology and Engineering Centre is due to open in 2022.

Admission and fees

Main entry points at Stowe are aged 13 (Third Form, Year 9) or at 16 years (Lower Sixth Form, Year 12). As part of the admissions process, all students sit the Common Entrance exam (an average pass mark of 55% is required) or Stowe’s own Entry Papers (a minimum pass mark of 50% in Maths, English and Science).

The school offers a very wide range of scholarships, awarding up to the 25% off school fees, is awarded annually; these can be supplemented by means-tested bursaries. As well as scholarships for academics, sport, art, design, music, drama, the Stephan Scholarships are awarded to academically bright students from independent or state schools that don’t follow the Common Entrance syllabus. Applications for scholarships for 2022 opened in April 2021.

Annual tuition fees are £38,091 for boarders and £27,384 for day students (fees are discounted for students joining the school in the new day houses in 2021).

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