Stowe

Logo of Stowe

Pupils Info

Gender – Co-Ed School
Age range – Age 13-18
Number of pupils on roll – 779 Pupils

Characteristics

Average Class Size: 19
Day and Boarding School
Oxbridge Entrance Percentage: 4%
Day: £22,500 – Boarding: £30,975
A* to B at A-Level Percentage: 70%

If beautiful surroundings are top of your school checklist, then Stowe is without a doubt the place for you. Set in 750 magnificent acres of parkland, landscaped gardens and 40 listed monuments and temples, the grounds are maintained by the National Trust. The 17th century Stowe House itself is no less stunning, though it’s said that Queen Victoria wasn’t that impressed when she came on a three-day visit with Prince Albert in 1845, no doubt leaving the 2nd Duke understandably peeved. The school makes the most of this, ensuring the pupils appreciate this extraordinary backdrop with compulsory ‘Visual Education’ lessons in their first year. Stowe is a happy school, which seems to dance on the tightrope between encouraging independence and maturity with providing a solid and cosy atmosphere in which the boys and girls develop alongside each other and become into truly engaging young adults.

Background and Reputation

A school founded very much in the modern era (1923), Stowe avoids the stuffy feel and nasty connotations (fagging and the like) of older boarding schools. There is a fresh, modern feel to the place that juxtaposes nicely with its historic buildings and manicured grounds. The boys and girls mingle around in an air of activity. Sports provide the central plank of life at Stowe and on a Saturday afternoon, with so many sports games going on at once, in such idyllic surroundings, with everyone rushing to and fro grinning at passing strangers, there is almost a ‘film set’ feel to the place – as though an American director has visualised what he believes to be the archetypal English boarding school and choreographed the entire thing. But there is nothing synthetic about this place; this is genuine. Current head (of 10 years) Dr Anthony Wallersteiner is set on maintaining this; his focus rests on the individual as opposed to abstract Oxbridge statistics. He really does seem to know every boy and girl, some better than others (and it’s no bad thing if your child sips under his radar as that is synonymous with good behaviour). We think this is one of the best coeducational options. Far from the influence of London, (most of) the young girls aren’t covered in orange foundation; the boys are chivalrous and strong; and the teachers are relaxed and family- orientated.

Academic and Exit Results

It is not unfair to say that Stowe is not an academic hothouse in the business of producing Oxbridge clones. There are those who accuse the school of being academically lacking, however Stowe justifies this through its commitment to drawing out the individual talents of each pupil. This is reflected in the ratio of pupils to teachers which, at approximately 8:1, is among the lowest of all major independent schools. “In more recent years it has become actually good – if not cool.at least respected – to study hard, with the necessary emphasis placed on Oxbridge for those recognised as clever enough” (Boy A). As it stands 98% of Stoics go on to higher education, 4% of these are to Oxbridge. Academically, the school certainly has its weak areas, and the teaching is described as “very mixed, even within departments”, by Boy B, who cites the History department as an example that was full of inspiring teachers, and the Politics department as quite the opposite. In fairness, this discrepancy exists in most schools. On top of the usual reporting system and weekly one-to-one tutor sessions typically found at most schools, tutors at Stowe have access to a central database with a wealth of information concerning their students. Furthermore, pupils are given a personalised curriculum through the Stoic Individual Programmes (SIPs) and parents are invited to contact their son/daughter’s personal tutor whenever they wish. ‘Academic Clinics’ are open to pupils most weekday evenings, at which a member of each Department is made available for any pupil who needs a second chance at understanding a particular subject. These are all very encouraging signs. Another encouraging sign is Stowe’s school library, which occupies the house’s original ‘state Library’ (check out the ceiling). How could pupils fail to be won over by their studies in such a setting? Meanwhile the Careers Centre prides itself on offering top quality advice right from the word go.

Social and Pastoral

Families are encouraged to choose their child’s house for themselves. Each house provides a home for around 60 pupils, and former Stoics talk fondly of the family atmosphere (although comments such as these can often be followed by the caveat “obviously if you are in the right house”. Whichever the right house is fluctuates, apparently, but Chatham, Grafton, Walpole and Nugent are listed as favourites). Bedrooms and bathrooms are all “perfectly decent”, and day pupils are given their own desks and lockers in the houses. Boys and girls live in separate houses, and according to Boy A, there is no real pressure put on the girls to ‘look good’ (“although”, he adds, “there is a lot of fake tan”), and eating disorders are few and far between. One past boy talked so fondly of his old matron (Miss B), who obviously had a brilliant rapport with the house boys, and said that in university holidays he organises group trips back to Stowe so they can take her out to lunch. This seems to be indicative of not only of the remarkable relationship between pupils and staff, but also of the kind-nature of the past pupils. Stoics eat in the original 1740s State Gallery – lucky them – and the food is pretty good by all accounts, described as “standard school food” by Boy A, who added jokily “…when it’s not poisoned.” This refers to a slightly embarrassing but well-handled 2010 incident of attempted carrot and coriander soup poisoning by one of school’s canteen staff. Former pupils concur that there is no real drugs scene in school, but the grounds (in particular the numerous temples) are “perfect” for concealing stealthy smokers, as well as the occasional late night boy/girl rendezvous. Just as at most boarding schools, drinking does occur but only very rarely gets out of hand – strict rules on alcohol consumption imposed by the school at the Sixth Form bar are somewhat futile as “We all just drink in the houses before anyway” (Boy A). However, reassures Boy B, “I never felt any particular pressure to get involved.”

Sport, Art, Music and Drama

Every pupil is expected to represent the school at sport, whether their talents lie in this area or not; as a result, there is a wonderfully inclusive atmosphere. Meanwhile, the exceptionally gifted are made members of the Stowe Elite Sports Squad, through which they gain access to mentoring, lectures on sports science and individual training programmes. This clever system makes room for all levels of sporting aptitude, allowing everyone to give it a go. Clearly, sport is taken seriously at Stowe and the fantastic facilities back this up: the school has its own golf course, pack of beagles, and polo team, as well as a floodlit Astroturf pitch and a brand new equestrian centre. Rugby, hockey and cricket are the main sports, and thus considered the “coolest” (Boy B). A new art school and DT block are a welcome addition to the school’s already impressive list of facilities. Plus there’s a new music school in the offing: an ambitious project that includes replacing each of Stowe’s 23 existing pianos with brand new Steinways.

Extracurricular

In their early years, Stoics are encouraged to take part in a new activity each term. This intrepid approach allows pupils to broaden their horizons and discover talents they didn’t even know existed – another example of the all- inclusive and open-minded ethos at Stowe. However, with so much time dedicated to extra-curricular, Boy B complains of perhaps too little downtime – could be positive or negative, depending on a child’s nature.

Exeats come around every 3 to 4 weeks, which, says Boy B, “was just about enough.” There is plenty to do at weekends; pupils – especially the more bumpkin among them – are unlikely to get bored with 750 acres to explore. And for the more townie types, there’s always ‘Stowebucks’ – a coffee bar cum weekend (Sixth Form) nightclub described as “epic” by Boy A, and kitted out with the remnants of Chelsea nightclub Crazy Larry’s. Says Boy A of life in general at Stowe, “I imagine if you lived in London you could find it really dull. But then again,” he adds after a little thought, “you don’t really hear bad reviews – everyone says they had a great time.”

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