St Swithun's School

Logo of St Swithun's School

Pupils Info

Gender – Girls' School
Age range – Age 11-18
Number of pupils on roll – 525 Pupils

Characteristics

Average Class Size: 20
Day and Boarding School
Oxbridge Entrance Percentage: 18%
Day: £19,005 – Boarding: £30,453
A* to B at A-Level Percentage: 94%

A cluster of impressive red-brick Queen Anne-style buildings in a pretty 45-acre spot on the edge of Winchester, St Swithun’s is an all-girls boarding and day school for 11-18 year-olds, which serves the local area – the vast majority of pupils come from Hampshire and neighbouring West Sussex – nicely. The unofficial ‘sister school’ to Winchester College, St Swithun’s – which is just a 15-minute walk (or a 5-minute shuttle bus ride) from the centre of the city of Winchester – benefits hugely – and increasingly as the girls get older – from the co-ed atmosphere that having a boys’ school so close by brings, not to mention from being so close to a beautiful cathedral city. The Christmas carol concert in Winchester Cathedral is a highlight of the school calendar.

Background and Reputation

The school, founded in 1884 by the Dean of Winchester, has a reputation for being an academic ‘hothouse’ and ‘blue-stocking’ breeding ground. With only 30 % of the girls hailing from London – as mentioned, most are the daughters of local middle-class professionals – “fashion and nightclubs are not discussed so much,” says one former student. There is a giggly schoolgirl feeling of Saint Trinian’s-style naughtiness, rather than real outright rebellion, hanging in the air here.

Academic and Exit Results

St Swithun’s girls are expected to work exceptionally hard – this most definitely is not a place to come for those in search of mischief and hi-jinks alone. They work as hard here, in fact, as at schools like Wycombe Abbey and St Paul’s Girls’, yet the numbers into Oxbridge are nowhere near as good, nor is the school’s reputation quite as mighty. In fact, some girls report that they were discouraged from even applying to Oxbridge by the school because they were not at the very top of their class. Laments Girl A, “The school lives up to its ‘pressure cooker’ reputation in ambience, but, sadly not in its results.” She compares its place of 22 in the recent league tables with that of Wycombe Abbey, which came first. And while Wycombe, in the same year, got 25 pupils into Oxbridge, ‘Swithun’s’ got between 10-15 pupils in. The school has recently adopted the mantra “appropriately academic” – with academics taking their rightful place amongst other pursuits, but not completely taking over girls’ lives. And Girl B felt that the lack of emphasis on Oxbridge was a positive. “I never felt pressured to apply there by the school, or like a failure for not doing so, and nor did I feel that the Oxbridge candidates were given any more attention than anyone else. People went to all sorts of unis and no one was judged,” she says, adding that the careers department were very helpful, especially when it came to personal statement-writing. The results here are impressive by most standards, though, with 2012 a particularly good year, where 91% of GCSE results were marked A*/A. This is all the more impressive given that the school’s selection process at Common Entrance is not competitive (CE must be passed along with a very simple school test), and is a testament to the high quality of the teaching. Girl B felt some of the teachers were “a bit old-fashioned”, but most were “really wonderful”. The maths and science results here are particularly outstanding. Foreign languages are also hot – with all girls required to do French and German through the end of year 9, at which point Spanish is introduced as an option. All girls take a whopping 9 GCSEs. Classics are also a strong area and a high proportion go on to study this at university level.

Social and Pastoral

St Swithun’s – which also has a co-ed junior (day only) school for 3-11-year- olds – started out as purely a day school, and added boarding in later on. And still today, of the school’s 525 students, daygirls outnumber boarders (285 to 240, or thereabouts). The two factions integrate well, though, as a result of neither being a real minority. Weekly and full boarding are both offered, but with the student body being so local, the full boarding option is rarely taken up, and some students mention that the campus is quite deserted on those weekends when they do choose to stay in – with most of those hanging around on weekends hailing from abroad “or one or two from Scotland”. But many, including Girl A, appreciated being able to go home on Friday evenings, enabling them to maintain ties with family and friends from home and to get a break from the intensity of the school environment, while still enjoying the “boarding experience”. Saint Swithun’s is now considered one of the few proper “true weekly boarding schools” and it is this that attracts many parents who are not quite ready to sacrifice their daughters to full boarding. Girl B says that, as girls approached the Sixth Form, more and more would stay in on weekends and this provided an ideal opportunity to socialise with the boys from Winchester College. “Sometimes we would drink in our dorms and then head into town,” she says, “but if we were caught it would mean automatic suspension, so we had to be careful.” Drinking does happen at St Swithun’s – and not just amongst Sixth Formers – but it tends to be fairly tame, along these lines, and “some smoking does go on behind the hedges” as well. But drugs, I am told, “are not very prevalent here”. This is not a school of rebels. Girl A says that she felt it was a shame that lower form girls were not given more access to the Winchester boys, with trips into town limited, initially, to an hour a week, always on the mini bus, and with a “disapproving inspection” (by a teacher) to ensure “appropriate clothing” was being worn. But Girl B says the links between the two schools in the Sixth Form more than makes up for the earlier restrictions – and is appreciated all the more because of them – with joint musicals taking place annually and the Winchester College musical band choosing a female singer from St Swithun’s each year. There were also other jollies like fashion shows, girls versus boys lacrosse matches and impromptu concerts between the two schools, but “never anything academic, like shared classes”. Girl B also says that the Winchester boys would often sneak up to meet St Swithun’s girls in the swimming pool car park, “but this was risky”. Girl A cites the “excellent” school food, by the standards of most boarding schools, as a positive – with the extensive breakfast buffet and salad bar with jacket potatoes particularly popular. On a more positive note, there is great praise for the system of putting all the first year boarders together in one boarding house, Le Roy, which Girl B referred to as “probably the best year of my life”. She adds: “We used to have ‘raves’ in the dorms after lights out and wind the house mistresses up as much as we could; we once organized a sleepover in the common room. It was good that all the first years went into one house, as we all got to know each other, and didn’t have to deal with that scary thing of having the older years around!” After the first year, the girls are then divided up, and mixed in with other year groups, in four separate boarding houses, but then they come back together into one house for the Upper Sixth. “It’s a great system,” says Girl B, “as you get to be with all of your friends from your year group in the first and last years, and you get to know girls from the other years in the time in between.” Though many leave for Sixth Form – with a good number heading to co-ed boarding schools, particularly Marlborough, Charterhouse and Canford, as well as to Sixth Form colleges – there is much praise for the Sixth Form experience at St Swithun’s. As well as the increased access to Winchester – and the Wykhamist boys – Sixth Form girls are allowed to keep a car at school and “just generally given more freedom and treated more like grown-ups, a great preparation for university!”

Sport, Music and Drama

Sport is taken very seriously at St Swithun’s, but mostly if you are a lacrosse player. The school’s team is consistently one of the best in the country – their arch rivals being Downe House – and the school is justifiably proud of its lacrosse record. All girls are encouraged to play, even if they are not “A team” material. Plans are in the offing to expand facilities for other sports, so there is hope that the emphasis on lacrosse may be somewhat diffused going forward. Other sports on offer include athletics, badminton, cricket, basketball, netball, tennis and swimming. There is an impressive 25m ‘Olympic’ swimming pool and a recently expanded state-of-the-art sports hall. Certain games are obligatory until GCSE years, when an element of choice is introduced. Music is another great strength of the school – with all sorts of choirs, orchestras and bands and over 70% of pupils learning an instrument. The annual school musical is a highlight of the year. All music and drama takes place in the very spiffy performing arts centre and all performances are to a very high standard, as would be expected.

Extracurricular

Under new headmistress Jane Gandee, the school has adopted the phrase “co- curricular”, to sum up its attitude that the extra-curriculum is highly important and should sit right alongside academics in occupying girls’ time. The school’s extra-curriculum is praised by Girl B – and the word on the street is that this side of St Swithun’s life has only been improving since Mrs Gandee took over. Zumba, meditation and film appreciation have apparently now been introduced into the “co-curriculum”. The performing arts centre, drama studio and cookery room are all highly impressive and students cite the learning of “food technology” – compulsory through the first three years – from day one as a positive aspect to their education here.

Contact

Get in touch via email, phone or visit us.

St Swithun's School

Headmaster: Jane Gandee

Telephone: 01962 835 700

www.stswithuns.com

Address: Alresford Road Winchester Hampshire SO21 1HA

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