Wycombe Abbey Review

One of the UK’s premier all-girl boarding schools, Wycombe Abbey, founded in 1896, occupies an imposing James Wyatt designed Grade 2 Gothic mansion set within 160 acres of beautiful conservation listed grounds.
At a glance
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Outstanding
Availability 2018/19
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Availability 2019/20
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Annual fee average
GBP 38,000
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Gender
Opening year
1896
School year
Sep to Jun
Principal
Rhiannon J. Wilkinson MA MEd
Main teacher nationality
British
Main student nationality
British
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Wycombe Abbey
School phase
All through
Inspection rating
Outstanding
Availability 2018/19
radio_button_unchecked No data
Availability 2019/20
radio_button_unchecked No data
Annual fee average
GBP 38,000
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Gender
Opening year
1896
School year
Sep to Jun
Principal
Rhiannon J. Wilkinson MA MEd
Main teacher nationality
British
Main student nationality
British
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First Published:
Sunday 13 August, 2017

Updated:
Monday 14 August, 2017

One of the UK’s premier all-girl boarding schools, Wycombe Abbey, founded in 1896, occupies an imposing James Wyatt designed Grade 2 Gothic mansion set within 160 acres of beautiful conservation listed grounds.

One of the UK’s premier all-girl boarding schools, Wycombe Abbey, founded in 1896, occupies an imposing James Wyatt designed Grade 2 Gothic mansion set within 160 acres of beautiful conservation listed grounds.

The School is accessible being just 30 miles from the centre of London, 20 miles from Heathrow airport and 56 miles from Gatwick airport.

In terms of pure league table performance, Wycombe Abbey is, unarguably, the best all-girl boarding school in the UK.

In 2014, based on its pupils achieving 99.3% A* – B at A-Level, and 98.7% A/A* at GCSE, Wycombe Abbey was ranked first in the Sunday Times Top 200 of all Independent Secondary Schools in the UK, including co-educational and all-boys schools. The school is recognised as a highly selective ‘hot-house’ in which strong, outgoing girls who can hold their own thrive. Alumni include Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, Penelope Fitzgerald and India Knight.

Wycombe Abbey offers a significant choice of 26 subjects at GCSE and 24 subjects at A level. There is a high international pupil attendance and, although one-to-one English as an Additional Language is available (£36.10 per 35 minute lesson), those not highly proficient in English are unlikely to secure a place on application. Wycombe has a “Learning Enhancement Department” with a single full-time member of staff who teaches elsewhere in the school. A significant number of fully qualified, but part-time specialists can be called upon to support pupils with gaps in their learning (this focused on international students) and those with learning difficulties in the areas of, inter alia, dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia.

The curriculum is highly traditional and Latin and Ancient Greek are compulsory (along with two further modern languages in Year 7).

Outside the academic syllabus, Wycombe Abbey offers a stunning purpose built Sports Centre encompassing a 25 metre indoor heated swimming pool, sports hall and dance studio, fitness studio, climbing walls and four glass backed squash courts; a Performing Arts Centre with a theatre and a recital hall.

Pupils have represented England in Lacrosse and football.

Non sporty pupils have an extensive range of activities to choose from including ballet, riding, music drama and art.

Wycombe has social/academic links with a number of boys’ schools including Abingdon, Eton, Harrow, Papplewick, Radley, Royal Grammar School (High Wycombe) and Winchester.

Entrance to the school is over-subscribed by at least 3:1. Candidates must be registered at least 18 months prior to entry by submission of a registration form and (non-returnable) registration fee.

It is a specific requirement that “all candidates should have a good command of written and spoken English.”

Registered candidates attend an Assessment Day at Wycombe Abbey in the autumn term prior to the year of entry. Decisions on whether to award a conditional place are based on online verbal, non-verbal and mathematical reasoning tests, individual interview, group activities and current Head Teacher’s reference. Pupils must then pass Common Entrance at 11+ or 13+, although there is not an insistence that pupil’s take CE papers in Latin and/or Greek. Entry to the Sixth Form entry is equally competitive and subject to ‘Sixth Form Entrance’ examinations, a report from the current school – and the equivalent of nine GCSE/IGCSE/GCE passes at grade A or above by the time they join Wycombe Abbey.

Candidates should be registered at least 15 months prior to entry and have an “excellent” command of written and spoken English. Scholarships are minimal (£600) and there is no detailed information on bursaries except a call for donations and the statement that they “would like to be able to offer (more?) bursaries “in the future” because “unlike other well-known older schools Wycombe has no significant endowment.”

The verdict is out on the impact of these sorts of school on children who are more introverted. Given the competition and selective entrance requirements, the less than academically excellent will never gain a place, but there are also outstanding concerns on the impact of such a highly selective intake on those talented pupils who are not quite as talented as their super-brainy peers. Mumsnet discussions highlight at least one case of bullying, although the 2014 ISI report claims pastoral care is beyond reproach and discussion predates current Head Rhiannon Wilkinson. Pre ISI questionnaires reflected a minority of students highlighting concern over the academic workload.

The school has an exemplary Oxbridge slipstream with 1 in 3 girls being offered places at Oxford or Cambridge. 90.4% of children score A or A* at A Level (2014). Wycombe Abbey compares better as an all-girl equivalent to a male-counterpart Winchester, rather than Eton; many parents view the more liberal Cheltenham Ladies College as a better choice for gifted children unsuited to a traditional and archetypal selective hothouse, academics-focused education.

The school is squarely and significantly Church of England and Chapel plays a significant daily part of the life of the school. There is some Roman Catholic and Jewish provision and “the Chaplain is keen to facilitate those of other religious traditions who also wish to nurture their faith.”

 

Exam results
A’ Level grades secured at A*/A/B 99.3% (2014)
A’ Level grades A*/A 90.4% (2014)
A’ Level grades A* 48.3% (2014)
GCSE Grades A* 88.3%
GCSE Grades A*C 100% (2014)

 

Our view
Wycombe Abbey, for some children, offers the finest education available anywhere in the world. This is a given. In sheer league table performance it outclasses every other school in the UK including Winchester, St Paul’s and Eton. However, Wycombe Abbey is certainly not a school that will suit the vast majority of children. It is a selective school and all parents should recognise that outstanding performance in league tables with a selective intake is always to be expected. The most interesting measure for most parents will be the ability of a school to get the best from the less academically gifted – this is not relevant here. In the case of international students too, only those who are exceptionally academic and outgoing – and for whom English language skills are already excellent need think about applying. And such parents must also be seeking an all-girl, very traditional, “hothouse” education within a Church of England focused school and value system. Pupils and parents with this particular constellation of needs and ability will thrive at Wycombe Abbey and, for these students, there is, without qualification, no better education available.

 

Strengths
• League table performance
• Traditional all-girl boarding school education
• Environment

Weaknesses
• Elitist environment (community engagement recent)
• Limited bursary and scholarship provision
• Hothouse pressure

Best for
• Nurturing the most gifted and outgoing
• Prestige
• Oxbridge slipstream

Not for
• A co-educational education
• Less than the most resilient academic high-flyers
• Those of limited means

 

Fast Facts
• Boarding number: 520 pupils
• Day number: 33
• Sixth Form: 170 pupils
• Average class size: 16
• Number of full time teaching staff: 105 (significant number of part time staff not included)
• ISI Rating Boarding (2014): Excellent
• ISI Rating Academics (2014): Exceptional
• ISI Rating Personal Development (2014): Excellent
• ISI Rating Leadership (2014): Excellent

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