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Youngsters adore the place: ‘Once you get here you never want to leave; when it snows, it looks more magical than Narnia.’ Stowe was in the doldrums when head joined. It needed lifeblood and direction and he’s made it his mission to return it to its glory days, but with a 21st century twist. 'Old Stoics have set the world alight; I want that to continue.’ Whether running or reading, beagling or bugling, singing or shooting, there’s something for everyone ...

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What the school says...

Housed in a beautiful ducal palace, surrounded by 750 acres of historically significant landscaped gardens, Stowe provides a unique educational environment in which youth is celebrated rather than stifled, where creativity is prized and academic rigour encouraged. At Stowe we believe in the pursuit of excellence, to identify and develop the individual strengths of each of our pupils, guide their talents and prepare them for the future. All pupils are encouraged to participate fully in a diverse range of extra-curricular activities and to participate in new pursuits that they might not otherwise have considered. Life at Stowe really does stimulate the individual to achieve his or her best. ...Read more

What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Excellent performance by Boys taking Design & Technology Product Design at an English Independent School (GCE AS level)
  • Best performance by Boys taking Speech & Drama at an English Independent School (VRQ Level 1)

Sports

Polo

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2003, Dr Anthony Wallersteiner MA PhD (50s). Cambridge history scholar and art historian, married to Valerie, three children. Previously at the academic powerhouses of St Paul's and Tonbridge but in Stowe he has discovered his nirvana. He certainly seems a perfect fit for this unique school with his erudite and maverick charm and even his lack of a watertight educational track record. Indeed, his prep school report told of a time waster, a lazy boy who would never amount to anything, yet his final school report raved about a cerebral scholar off to Cambridge. ‘Children need to find their passion and drive, to be inspired and to inspire, to appreciate the beauty of life, to be creative, to find their utopia. And that’s what we do at Stowe, awakening pupils’ enthusiasm and excitement and igniting the spark.’

A man with presence but also fun to be with. We found him irrepressibly talkative and have rarely come across such name-dropping (old Stoics and other famous visitors to the school; he even showed us a video on his phone of Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson playing in their recording studio). Many parents enthuse that he has done wonders for the school, improving facilities through fundraising; some feel that he glorifies the benefactors at the expense of ordinary families ‘who struggle to pay the extortionate fees.’ Smiling staff bellow ‘Ah, headmaster!’ as he approaches while students are in awe of his knowledge of their lives.

Stowe was in the doldrums when he joined. It needed lifeblood and direction and he’s made it his mission to return it to its glory days, but with a 21st century twist. ‘We used to stand shoulder to shoulder with Eton, Rugby and Harrow and we were renowned for being idiosyncratic, for looking after the individual, allowing characters to emerge - Leonard Cheshire, David Niven - Stoics with an innate sense of confidence. Branson in the 60s probably typifies what it is to be a Stoic and that's what I wanted to inject into the place. Old Stoics have set the world alight; I want that to continue.’

Academic matters

Tasked with raising academic standards at both the point of entry and departure, Dr Wallersteiner has made the school more selective (‘We lost the bottom 10 per cent’) and moved academic rigour centre stage, with a particular emphasis on value added, with story after story of pupils who were predicted Cs or Ds, but wound up with As. ‘At St Paul's and Tonbridge, pupils both come in and leave as thoroughbreds. But, sticking with the racing analogy, how much more interesting to come in as an outsider and win the race?’

A level results solid - 30 per cent A*/A in 2018; 41 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE. Maths, sciences, languages and history strongest subjects at GCSE; Latin, Greek, English and chemistry at A level (unbroken 25 years of Stoics becoming Oxbridge chemistry graduates). Head insists once flakier departments have strengthened, but pupils told us maths, English and biology are still weaker than others and a couple of parents said year 9 teaching could be more rigorous overall (‘they have a tendency to go over the same things the children learned in their previous school’). Teachers also a mixed bag, say pupils and parents, with excellent pockets of interactive, engaging teaching, ‘but a few old-timers that seem to stamp out fresh ideas that the newer teacher come in with.’ Subject clinics and extra tutorials for those who fall behind, plus a firm mantra that what goes on outside the classroom is just as important, hence encouragement to join and start up clubs, get outside speakers in, visit relevant museums and do a lot of work experience (with £100 prize for the sixth former who does the most work – we met the latest winner who did a whopping seven weeks across five different hospitals). ‘It’s one of the reasons our students do so well at interviews,’ a teacher told us.

Sets (six) in most subjects, ‘but with fluidity.’ Spanish, French and German (plus Mandarin for those who want it) from year 9; one modern language compulsory at GCSE. Most take 10 GCSEs; 50 per cent take four A levels, while the other half do three and an EPQ.

Prominence is given to Carol Dweck’s growth mindset theory, building confidence and marginal gains (‘go to sleep 10 minutes earlier; do five minutes more exercise a day; spend 20 minutes less on social media a day’ etc). SEN provision for mild to moderate cases thorough and ‘second-to-none,’ according to parents, with dyslexics enthusing about help not just from support staff but across the board. ‘If anyone told me they have a child who is dyslexic but who is bright and determined, I’d recommend Stowe any time. They have been exceptional,’ one parent told us.

Games, options, the arts

Whether running or reading, beagling or bugling, singing or shooting, there’s something for everyone – and probably a lot you’ve never even considered. Sport up there with the best of them, with national representation in rowing, running, golf, cricket, rugby, fencing and equestrian events. Teams draped in accolades too – top of the national schools’ league table for cricket and first division lacrosse champions, with similar levels of success for polo, hockey and rugby.

Facilities outstanding, including playing fields, assault course, a new golf course, sports hall, climbing wall, fencing salle, fives courts and pool. Latest offerings include a scrambling track (shiny motor bikes), athletics track (opened by Sebastian Coe – there’s that name dropping again) and new equestrian centre with 20 stables. Bring your own horse or ride one of the rescue ones. Key winter sports of rugby, hockey and lacrosse cede to summer offerings of leather on willow, athletics and tennis, with polo, rowing, sailing, clay pigeon shooting and golf just some of the country club offerings. ‘Gym is pretty poor, though,’ say pupils.

Strong in art – several to art school. Some terrific work on display and in the making, in the now sun-drenched studios (mezzanine level removed to let in more light). Emphasis on cross-curricular, with examples of architectural drawings and geography-based paintings reminding pupils how art isn’t an add-on. Art eclectic too - in a single lesson, you can go from post-conceptual abstract expressionism to figurative to neo-classicism.

Music popular, plentiful, oft polished with weekly summer al-fresco performances - the perfect backdrop for picnicking parents. New music school, with high quality performances coming from every nook and cranny - every year 9 pupil tries out a musical instrument. High number of music diploma students. Everything from bagpipes to violinists – ‘The range is unbelievable,’ said a student. Resident DJ nights in the weekend nightclub (kitted out from the remnants of Crazy Larry's in London).

Drama performances ‘as good as the West End – just extraordinary,’ say parents. Whole school production of 1984 in the making during our visit – ‘but with a modern take to reflect the Trump era.’ Annual arts festival encompasses science, sport, dance, music, art, drama.

All do CCF or DofE with push towards community work, plus endless charity involvement. It would be hard to find a corner of the globe Stowe pupils haven’t had a chance to visit over the years on tours and trips. Some parents felt extracurricular provision could be more plentiful, ‘particularly in the younger years’.

Boarders

Nearly 90 per cent board across 13 boarding houses, eight for boys and four for girls, including a sixth form girls' house, all comfortable with kitchens and communal rooms. Some boys envious of newer, purpose-built accommodation for the girls (one of them opened by the Queen, ‘although I’m not sure she actually approved of the architecture,’ says head), which boasts in-house gym, pool room etc, though a new boys' boarding house opened in 2018. ‘The girls’ accommodation is more like a hotel, whereas ours is really cosy,’ one boy shrugged. Dorms of up to 10 for boys (although most much smaller) and up to four for girls; by sixth form, most in twos or singles. Colourful and comfortable common rooms and study areas throughout.

Care delivered in abundance with everyone from cleaners and caretakers, housemistresses and academic staff on hand to help, plus close liaison with parents, as befits a proper full boarding school. Buddy system (‘which can feel forced’) replaced by a new house family system, in which two pupils from each year group ‘look after each other’. School strict on which weekends are for exeats; pupils would like more floater weekends. Also strict on routines - bedtime at 9.30pm for year 9s, moving up in 15 minute increments.

Each house has its own identity, say pupils - arty, sporty, academic, horsey etc. ‘Although friendships are not confined to your house, there is a great loyalty towards it,’ they told us. Day pupils (some 120, but rising) insist they aren’t left out and are attached to a boarding house (including having their own desk); they are expected to stay for prep until around 6.30pm. Plans afoot to build two day houses.

Background and atmosphere

To say the physical environment is breath-taking feels like the understatement of the century. The 750 acres of parkland and sublime landscape gardens (owned by the National Trust since 1989) are widely regarded as the most significant in Europe and the embodiment of 18th century enlightenment. They include exquisite woods and waters, temples and gardens. Youngsters adore the place: ‘Once you get here you never want to leave; when it snows, it looks more magical than Narnia.’

The school has occupied what was formerly the country seat of the Dukes of Buckingham and Chandos since it opened in 1923 with 99 boys. Girls were first admitted into year 9 in 2007 to expand numbers (previously it was only co-ed in sixth form), now up to 40 per cent and rising. The main building ('the mansion') is a splendid, neo-classical palace, largely modelled by Robert Adam in the mid-18th century and benefiting from the respective geniuses of Sir Johns Vanbrugh and Soane, William Kent and Capability Brown. The stone-flagged, below-stairs administrative centre includes the head's spectacular study – ‘Sir John Soane in gothic fantasy mode’ – a mini replica of Henry VII's chapel in Westminster Abbey with fabulous fan vaulting, lead canopies, brass screens and tracery.

Most recent renovations and additions include the theatre, music school, science block with sixth form study centre and new art school. ‘I make no apology for inviting generous and friendly alumni to invest in our projects,’ says head. He laughs that he’ll probably be remembered as ‘the king of stucco’, such is his desire to ensure all buildings blend in architecturally – even the gardener’s cottage now has columns.

Purposeful atmosphere with boredom-busting teaching injecting a good dose of fun. Practical teaching where possible – ‘The upper sixth told me they were a bit rusty on a particular area, so I thought we’d do a quick demo to sort that out,’ a chemistry teacher told us as we watched them create bubbling pink liquids. Pupils encouraged to be go-getting and they seem to think nothing of writing to the likes of Richard Branson and head of chemistry at Cambridge to help them with their EPQ – and they get answers (usually the ones they want) back. Nice to see a uniform that doesn’t look scratchy. Nice too to spy unusual haircuts that suggest young people are able to express themselves. Self expression is one thing, but head is fanatical about length of girls’ skirts: ‘I’ve introduced a new one that goes to below-the-knee.’ Pupils attend chapel twice a week (three times for boarders), but atheist views are accepted, say pupils.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

House parents and tutors, matron, counsellors and sixth formers who have been trained on the peer support group programme make up the strong pastoral team, which parents say is less strictly regimented than other schools (‘no petty rules’). Head sees every child on their birthday ‘to have a general chat and find out what’s working and what isn’t.’ We quizzed the pupils on vices and sins: drink and drugs? ‘Testing random and compulsory. Second chances may be possible but never a given’. Bar for sixth form but random breathalyser catches those who transgress. Eating disorders? ‘PSHE lessons, external talkers and close monitoring is good at preventing this.’ Cyber bullying? ‘Zero tolerance, discussed openly and frankly in both assemblies.’

In the past, pupil transgressions at Stowe made regular headlines; less so these days. Fewer exclusions too, says head – five suspensions and two permanent exclusions in 12 months previous to our visit, mostly for sexual misconduct. For lesser offences, it’s a sanction (early morning detention) or Saturday night grounding.

Pupils and parents

‘Accepting’ and ‘diverse,’ according to pupils, although we saw little obvious evidence of that diversity. Around 10 per cent from outside the UK (below average for boarding schools). Attracts the solid and traditional types plus oddballs and those who might be overlooked elsewhere. Pupils, formal in approach, are charming, polite, grounded, confident and entertaining. Parents a mix of entrepreneurs, academics, old money (lots), new money (rising numbers), country and creative (plus a few celebrities). ‘Stowe may look posh but most of us aren't,’ say pupils; parents concur. Fascinating and diverse list of former pupils - aristos, artists, actors, academics, journalists, poets - the lot.

Entrance

More selective than in the past; no longer the ‘back up plan’ but a conscious first destination, particularly for girls. Pre-tests in year 6 or 7; looking for 55 per cent plus at CE. But, true to its founding principles, high grades aren’t the be-all-and-end-all. ‘They are welcome, but more important is a spark, something we can ignite – evidence of effort more than natural ability,’ explains head.

Handful from state schools, rest from a range of preps, including Winchester House, The Dragon, Summer Fields, Ashdown House, Papplewick, Sunningdale and Windlesham. Around 50 additional pupils enter at sixth form (100-120 apply), for which entrance criteria (and this goes for existing pupils too) is minimum of six 6s, including 7s in subjects to be studied.

School caught up in a ‘cash for places’ scandal in 2016 when registrar told an undercover journalist that if there was a ‘marginal decision’ over whether to admit an overseas student, a six-figure donation from their family could help secure the place. Needless to say the registrar resigned, although head at pains to point out no money actually passed hands and was seemingly more incensed by the underhand journalist than the registrar ‘whose career has now been unnecessarily ruined’.

Exit

Around 10 leave after GCSE, mostly to day schools, performing arts school or occasionally because they underperform academically. Of those who leave after sixth form, nearly all to university – three-quarters to Russell Group, especially Bristol, Edinburgh, Exeter, Newcastle, Warwick, Manchester, York, Kings and UCL. Usually a few to Oxbridge and one or two to US. Business-related courses popular. A considerable number to good art schools, with some going to highly-acclaimed music or drama schools.

Money matters

Eight per cent of income goes back into scholarships and bursaries - means-tested options for both, with a small number of fully-funded places for exceptional candidates with proven financial need. Additionally, Roxburgh ‘schols’ (named after Stowe's revered founding headmaster) awarded to outstanding all-rounders nominated by the heads of their previous schools. Stephan ‘schols’ available for bright day pupils from the state sector - worth up to 25 per cent of fees, with further support from means-tested bursaries as with other scholarships.

Our view

What makes your child get out of bed in the mornings? What really interests them? What do they want to be good at? These are the questions Stowe gets to the heart of in its quest to nurture the individual. ‘Stowe is the catalytic converter of education,’ says head - and although it’s a bold claim, it’s not entirely unfair. Captivating, with something for everyone, this is a school that mixes the erudite with the sporty and studious, and in which the eccentric can shine. And it all takes place in stunning surroundings. A privileged education for those for whom more conventional schools might feel too much like a straitjacket. If your sights are firmly set on league tables and academic brags you may not have considered Stowe, but Stowe is most definitely ready for you.

Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

The Skills Development Centre at Stowe exists primarily to give help and support to pupils with different learning abilities, in order to help them fulfil their academic potential. Our aim is that those who have special needs should both be understood and supported, while at the same time taught to cope with and overcome their difficulties. Special help is provided within the department and close liaison maintained with the teaching staff as a whole, since all pupils are expected to remain integrated in the mainstream curriculum. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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