Wycombe Abbey

Logo of Wycombe Abbey

Pupils Info

Gender – Girls' School
Age range – Age 11-18
Number of pupils on roll – 560 Pupils

Characteristics

Average Class Size: 16
Boarding School
Oxbridge Entrance Percentage: 33%
Day: £24,975 – Boarding: £33,000
A* to B at A-Level Percentage: 97.6%

SUMMARY

Situated in the outskirts of Buckinghamshire’s High Wycombe, Wycombe Abbey occupies some 250 acres of rather beautiful parkland. Less than 30 miles from central London, Wycombe Abbey was founded by Miss Frances Dove, one of the first graduates of Girton College Cambridge, a keen feminist and girls’ educator. Miss Dove had spent 14 years as the headmistress of St. Leonard’s School in Fife before deciding to head south to found a sister school for 40 bright girls – Wycombe Abbey. The grey stone Abbey, which still serves as the main school building, was bought from Lord Carrington along with 30 acres of parkland in 1896. Over the course of its history, the school has expanded considerably and the grounds now stretch over 250 acres of parkland, playing fields and forest. Wycombe Abbey still enjoys a relationship with the Carrington family; the present Lord Carrington, a past Foreign Secretary and a man hailed by many as the last gentleman in British politics, is president of the school’s Governing Council. A glance at the school aims and values (mutual respect, encouragement and trust) tells you that this is a school built on traditional values and this theme permeates the place. Bright Young Things High Wycombe Tuition Centre Situated nearby in the heart of High Wycombe is our latest tuition centre providing vital support in Maths and English for pupils aged 5 - 14 alongside revision courses for the Bucks CEM 11+. Find out more here.

Background and Reputation

The drab uniform and austere architecture might have you believing that Wycombe was a traditional and stuffy school; and you wouldn’t be far off the mark. Traditional, yes; outdated, no. There is, without doubt, a certain steeliness to the place – shared by the girls and their teachers – that might have you frantically polishing your shoe against the back of your leg from fear that the Miss Trunchball-type figure showing you round might spot your laxity and make an example of you. This air of austerity certainly reaches the classrooms, where it seems like there just aren’t enough front row seats to accommodate all the competitive high-achievers. With excellent state-of-the- art facilities and extremely high ambitions, Wycombe is forward looking in a traditional setting. The girls invariably achieve top marks in all exams – certainly as good as London day schools. It is very different from many of its competitors: an academically-focused pressure-cooker, a country school in a town, and a school which juxtaposes tradition and modernity. If prim girls’ schools give you the heebie-jeebies, then stay well clear of Wycombe; but if you’re the type who doesn’t mind endless talk about ‘lax’ or an academically competitive environment then this could be the place for you (or indeed your daughter). Evidence points to the fact that Wycombe is a school that offers the best of all worlds. It is hoped that new Head (as of September 2013), Rhiannon Wilkinson, will continue on this path.

Academic and Exit Results

Wycombe Abbey girls work very hard, but you don’t hear them complaining. Almost a third of the year takes six AS level exams (the norm is four). This choice to give themselves more work is indicative of the attitude found at Wycombe. Academia is definitely the focus, and Girl A notes that, “If there is any pressure, a lot of it is just competitiveness between girls, or from their parents rather than from above.” “It’s subtly pressurised,” agrees Girl B, “we work hard because everyone else is and it’s cool to do well in exams. Although I think for the new girls arriving in LVI it can be quite a competitive environment.” The School offers IGCSE and Cambridge Pre-U alongside GCSE and A level, and all Sixth Form girls either take Critical Thinking or an Extended Project Qualification – this academic stimulation is to encourage different thinking processes. Furthermore, Sixth Form girls enjoy a varied lecture programme as well as the option to pursue additional enrichment courses offered within the timetable. Classes in Sixth Form are small, “which is great because you get as much help as you need,” says Girl B. The range of subjects offered is fairly typical for a school of this calibre. ‘Wellbeing’ lessons stand out as the only anomaly in what is otherwise a normal collection of courses, the aim being to develop the personal and economic well-being of the School’s pupils. Head to head with real life issues, the girls are given the tools to make “healthy lifestyle choices”. “Teaching is good in pretty much all the departments,” relates Girl A, “although History really stands out as the best.”

Social and Pastoral

At 11+ all girls join a single junior house at the top of the hill, giving them a chance to get to know the whole year group and establish friendship groups. Time spent there is fondly remembered. For the next four years, they are split into one of nine senior houses and then for their final year, they all come together again in Clarence House. The dorms are arranged ‘vertically’ with girls of different ages in each (some full to bursting – “They keep putting more beds in dorms,” says Girl A – so watch out). The thinking behind this is that it builds bridges between year groups; wise since a lack of inter-year bonding is a complaint of similar schools. “Friendships are made in the houses regardless of age,” she says, “and this makes the whole house gel. There is a little superiority from the older girls at times, but you do make genuine friends and I really liked it.” Each pupil has regular meetings throughout the year with the housemistress, who liaises with their tutor, allowing for praise and/or guidance where appropriate. Bullying is not an issue at Wycombe; “In the lower years, girls can tend to have little fights, but they’re pretty unimportant,” notes Girl B. The food is “very good” (Girl B) – with a wide variety and plenty of healthy options. In terms of houses, general consensus is that the Dawes Hill houses, being slightly separate from the rest of the School, are the ones you want to be. While the Abbey houses are “a bit cramped and boring”. Apparently there is a new, very modern, house on its way, too. The most exciting house by far is Clarence; the girls make the greatly anticipated move here in their last year. Wearing their own clothes, catering for themselves and living (mostly) by their own rules, this microcosm of university life is the ideal preparation. Considering the huge excitement that the younger girls feel about eventually moving into this Sixth Form house, it is surprising what a huge exodus (up to a fifth of the year group) there is after GCSEs. Most of these premature leavers go on to mixed boarding or London day schools. You get the feeling that they might have just had enough of the rigid environment and by 16 have a greater say on their schooling. Wycombe takes a mature line on alcohol, handing out severe punishments for the younger years (girls can be suspended for a first offence) but showing lenience by Upper Sixth, when girls are allowed a celebratory drink or two on their birthdays (all within moderation) and CalSoc meetings can get quite raucous. Although according to Girl B, “people rarely drink at school.” Smoking is “a bit of a thing – girls escape into town during the day to accommodate this,” relates Girl A, but drugs really are completely unheard of at Wycombe.

Sport, Art, Music and Drama

Sports facilities are good at Wycombe Abbey, but some (for example Hockey- playing Girl A) slightly resent the emphasis on Lacrosse. Playing Lacrosse at Wycombe is quite an undertaking; it is taken very seriously and to good effect – many of the best players make the national squads. However it seems a shame that in spite of its great facilities and broad range of sports on offer, the School is fairly single-minded in terms of its choice of sport. Girl A tried Hockey for a while but felt that the team was often overlooked, although she was enthusiastic about dance and other such active societies. “The ski team is really good and we have a very modern and quite big gym too,” proffers Girl B. Girls who join at 13+ are often left out of the squads which are firmly established in year 1 and reluctant to change. You get the feeling that there isn’t a huge effort to help others improve. If you’re good, you’re in the team; if you’re not, hard luck.

Extracurricular

Generally, there is a busy weekend schedule, including a “full programme of socials with leading boys’ schools”, proudly advertised on the website. Nevertheless, “these can be a bit forced” (says Girl B), and girls (especially the older ones) often succumb to the pull of nearby London for the weekends. The “full social programme” includes CalSoc (weekly practices held with Eton) and socials with boys from Eton, Harrow and Radley, with whom the school has close links. Interestingly, these socials are not just confined to the Sports Hall disco category, and can take place, for example, in the form of debates. Throughout the week girls can take advantage of a wide-ranging list of clubs and societies on offer. If nothing suits, they are also encouraged to find some like-minded fellow pupils and form their own. This is not always such a great idea though, cautions Girl A, “student-run societies can sometimes mean nothing ever gets organised”. Nevertheless, there are lots of options and pupils can even learn to fly, thanks to the Sir Adrian Swire Flying Scholarship which offers 15 hours of flying lessons with the aim of going solo in a light aircraft. In the LIV (year 8), pupils take part in the School’s own Dove Award scheme. Girls either help in some way in the local community or support a charity of their choice.

When (soon-to-be-ex) Head Cynthia Hall joined in 2008, one of her improvement targets was the Careers Service and it is now a forward-thinking department, offering individually-tailored programmes. For example, a Management Conference is now held for the Lower Sixth in conjunction with LVI boys from The Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe. The aim is to introduce the pupils to the world of work, and this active, entertaining event is a fantastic way to do so. Sixth Form tutors are in charge of the girls’ individual guidance, and those applying to US universities are supported by a specialist US Universities Coordinator. High percentages (around 40%) gain a place at Oxbridge each year, plus quite a few to the Ivy Leagues. Girls are also increasingly encouraged to get some work experience (another Hall target improvement) and, notably, to undertake an internship between school and university (at Accenture, IBM and the like). “The school is very good at emailing us as many work experience opportunities as possible,” says Girl B. Ask any recent graduate: this is a very good idea – characteristic of Wycombe Abbey’s progressive, ambitious approach.

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