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‘Education is about drawing out – teachers are coaches and mentors’, says head: ‘the guide on the side’ rather than ‘the sage on the stage’. We could only get superlatives out of parents when it came to arts: ‘outstanding’, ‘worlds apart’, ‘superb’. Rugby main sport for the boys with five senior teams; lacrosse for the girls, played across two terms. We watched girls putting Radley boys in their place on the pitch: far from a jolly, it looked seriously competitive out there. A country school, not as cosmopolitan as...

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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

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Sports

Unusual sports

Polo

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

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2003, Dr Anthony Wallersteiner MA PhD (50s). History at Cambridge, doctorate in art history and theory at University of Kent. Taught history at Sherborne, St Paul’s and Tonbridge before arriving as head.

Passion for art, progressive approach to pedagogy and irreverent humour - all very ‘Stowe,' an uncannily good fit. Enlightenment values evident in the school’s architecture inform ‘the genius of the place’ today, he says; teaches year 9s a visual education course about the significance of their surroundings. His study is the house’s old library, a mini replica of Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey - totally OTT until you learn that it’s a rare example of Sir John Soane doing gothic revival (seriously cool, if you’re into that sort of thing). PhD on Cornish artist Peter Lanyon led to involvement in Tate St Ives. Erudite (but not pretentious) and a natural teacher - we would happily have spent our hour together listening to his analysis of Tudor propaganda if we hadn’t had to talk shop.

Very proactive, driving the school forwards even after two decades. Parents appreciate lack of complacency - ‘when we went to look around Stowe, his attitude was "this is what we can do for your child," rather than the approach elsewhere which was "your child will be lucky if we offer them a place’’.' Hands-on, too - ‘talked to us personally on results day when our daughter had messed up an A level,’ said one grateful mother, while another praised his involvement when her son was going through a rough patch.

Lives with wife Valerie. Three children, all Old Stoics now pursuing wildly different careers in politics, creative consultancy and rock stardom – typical of school’s diversity. Dr Wallersteiner ‘quite alternative’ by his own admission - dreams of ‘giving away everything I own and windsurfing around Portland Harbour with a VW camper van’, he says, only half joking. Strikingly organic, almost symbiotic, relationship with the school - embodies a lot of what Stowe is about while school, in turn, has grown around his vision. Won’t stay forever, of course, but if or when he does decide to move on his legacy will be a thriving school confident of its place in the landscape.

Entrance

For 13+, interview two to three years before entry. Then ISEB CPT in year 6 (day) or year 7 (boarding) and school reference. Offer conditional on CE, PSB or Stowe tests. Big intake at 16+: papers in two chosen subjects plus essay paper and interview. Scholarship papers at each level. Fed mainly by prep schools, in particular Beachborough, Dragon, Caldicott, Winchester House, Swanbourne House (latter two acquired by The Stowe Group in January 2021).

Exit

Around 15 per cent leaves after GCSEs. For year 13, range of destinations reflects range of academic profiles. Newcastle, Oxford Brookes, Exeter, Edinburgh all popular recently. More study business and management than anything else. Four medics and four to Oxbridge in 2021.

UCAS support depends on tutor – some more experienced than others, we heard from parents. Head of sixth form keen that students understand the range of offerings out there when identifying the right course for them.

Head previously vocal about the hot potato which is independent school admissions to Oxbridge. Says now that he’s ‘pretty philosophical’ about it - ‘We’ve always had reasonable numbers but that’s not what we trade on’. Harvard grad helps Stoics navigate ‘maze of the American application system’. Europe, particularly Holland, an increasingly ‘attractive alternative’. ‘We talk about the Global Top 200’, he says, rather than Oxbridge and Russell Group.

Latest results

In 2021, 56 per cent 9-7 at GCSEs; 60 per cent A*/A at A level (87 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 45 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 33 per cent A*/A at A level (68 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

‘Education is about drawing out – teachers are coaches and mentors,' says head - ‘the guide on the side’ rather than ‘the sage on the stage’. ‘Dead Poets Society is the worst film ever about teaching - Robin Williams stands on a table and the only voice you hear is his’. He’s got a ‘chaotic brain’ himself, he says, showing us his notes for a recent whole school assembly which were indeed indecipherable. Wants to ‘stop putting perfect work on the walls, favouring a particular personality type’. Processes not outcomes key - it’s like those David Attenborough programmes, he says, where everybody really loves those behind-the-scenes bits at the end about how they filmed it.

Strongest A levels are art, English, history of art. At GCSE, smaller, self-selecting subjects like music and Latin get more 9s and 8s than core subjects taken by the whole year group. Not an academic hothouse and has no intention of becoming one, but those that are academically inclined are ‘nurtured’, say parents - confidence-boosting to be a big fish in a smaller academic pond, with lots of invitations to extension groups etc. Works well for those who enjoy learning but would not thrive being mid-table at a more competitive school. No shame in doing well, as one mother explained: ‘She worked hard – not everyone did, that’s for sure – but she never felt out of place for getting good grades.'

BTecs now complement the traditional A level offering - a pathway for those who may have gone elsewhere for vocational qualifications and a way to attract new, fresh talent to the sixth form. First was in engineering - a partnership with Silverstone UTC, where students go for welding and machine manufacturing. BTecs in business, creative digital media production and sport since added.

Science centre recently transformed to include 18 labs, six lecture theatres and dedicated sixth form zone. We watched a cracking physics lesson, every pupil chipping into a discussion of Galileo in a lively, unselfconscious way. Major new DT and engineering centre to be completed for 2023, the school’s centenary.

New sixth form centre – pared back aesthetics with tiered seating area and café-style set-up. Lots of pupils in there tapping away on MacBooks or having a coffee. Dubbed ‘Stowe-ho House’ by witty teenagers who know a thing or two about what’s hot right now.

Learning support and SEN

Twenty-seven pupils receive specialist support from ‘skills department’. Group or one-to-one sessions as needed, all included within fees. Around the same number receive EAL support from specialist department.

The arts and extracurricular

We could only get superlatives out of parents when it came to arts. 'Outstanding’, ‘worlds apart’, ‘superb’. Relatively recent Chung Music School houses 24 Steinways including a grand in the recital hall. A third of pupils learn an instrument, many up to diploma level. Opportunities to perform almost every day.

Drama based in the Roxy, named after the school’s first head. The Beatles played here in 1963; rehearsals for Oliver in full swing when we visited. We loved chatting to sixth form artists in the art department (big north-facing windows offer the best light for art, head of department tells us - they’ve thought of everything) and saw sophisticated and varied work. Every year 13 gets their own little section of the studio to use as they see fit. Pupils can take Arts Award, a holistic qualification that encourages participation as well as appreciation of the arts industries nationally. Stowe Arts forms part of outreach with local youngsters getting involved in front of house, marketing productions etc. Arts are dying at schools around the country - not so here at Stowe.

Climate action group leading on conservation from a scientific standpoint – ‘it can’t just be polar bears and seals’, says head. Cameras set up for monitoring badgers and bats (‘Stowe’s Springwatch’). School recently hosted inaugural national assembly for Schools’ Climate Action, committing to becoming carbon net zero by 2040: mock COP 26 and talks by Michaela Strachan, Sir Ed Davey and John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace.

Volunteering becoming more meaningful - less fundraising, more action. ‘No longer a box-ticking exercise’, say staff. Not just care home visits, but dementia training too; discussions with local organisations about providing experiences for the vulnerable using Stowe’s facilities. Hard to get hands dirty from the middle of a 700-acre estate, though, and we couldn’t help but think that the ‘fill a shoebox for Africa’ scheme required little more than access to mum and dad’s Amazon Prime; nonetheless, moving in the right direction. Pupils choose between DofE and CCF - good take-up from girls and boys in both. Change Makers week to finish school year - film-making, empathy workshops, lectures and coaching in core transferable skills for the future workplace.

Sport

Rugby main sport for the boys, with five senior teams. Lacrosse for the girls, played across two terms. We watched girls putting Radley boys in their place on the pitch - far from a jolly, it looked seriously competitive out there. Weekend fixtures coordinated against one school - we visited in the run-up to a Rugby School away weekend. Girls going up on Friday night to play hockey under lights, livestreamed on YouTube (553 views and counting); rugby cup match on the Saturday was set to be a season highlight (for completeness: first XI girls won; first XV boys lost). Charming cricket pitch hosted first recorded school match in 1928. Five hundred pupils regularly representing the school, ‘regardless of level’. Girls’ teams for football and rugby too, ‘if there’s demand’. Lots of basketball. One of the top golf schools in the country - 9-hole course with views over 18th century monuments and follies, the highlight of which is the dog-leg over water towards the ancient ‘Fary’s Oak’ (not our area of expertise but, we suspect, pretty awesome).

Enormous number of options for everyone, from badminton (‘very popular’) to 5km ‘Stowe Stroll’ through glorious parkland. Kudos to those who have a go (‘the D team is the coolest, really’, say pupils). Not just sporty, but wholesome generally - traditional outdoor pursuits include a ‘small but solid’ number involved in both beagling and fishing. Equestrian centre is cherry on the cake (or one of many cherries) - cross-country course designed by Captain Mark Phillips, British equestrian royalty (and ex of actual royalty). As we pulled up in the car we saw a pupil galloping across the parkland seemingly without a care in the world - a Jilly Cooper paradise without the smut.

Indoor facilities less lovely – parents identified swimming pool as tired, though redevelopment of sports complex is imminent and will house new classrooms for GCSE, A level and BTec sport as well as dance studios, bigger gym, viewing facilities and smarter changing rooms. Third Astro and a big indoor dome will allow for more hockey, netball and tennis year-round.

Boarders

School has recently relaxed the approach to full boarding so pupils can go home every weekend. Parents’ reactions mixed (though current parents hadn’t, of course, signed up for a weekly boarding school), ‘We liked the fact that they wouldn’t be traipsing down the Kings Road every weekend’, they told us. Saturdays busy with lessons and fixtures regardless. Those who stay in can take minibus into Buckingham or, sometimes, to the bright lights of Milton Keynes (‘but why would we?’, say pupils). Seventeen per cent of boarders international.

Houses we saw were fresh, homely and well kitted out with USB chargers, underbed storage etc. Others are more oak-paneled but equally comfortable, we hear. Common rooms strike the right balance between modern and characterful with comfy sofas and house silverware on display. Sixth form do their own laundry. Day students all have a desk in their house which they can use during the day, many adorned with fairy lights and photos of friends. Day houses close at 9pm though a lot of the younger ones leave at 7pm.

We found the atmosphere in the boarding houses warm, cosy, intimate. School engages couples as house parents to create a home-from-home feel. We saw girls doting on house parents’ newborn, ‘we’ve got 60 babysitters on tap’, chuckles the new mum. Very relaxed, easygoing relationships (‘oohh, miss, I like your dress’); pupils join staff to walk their dogs at the weekends.

Ethos and heritage

We’ve seen some serious school buildings in our time, but this takes the biscuit. We knew we were in for a treat (the school famously occupies the Grade I listed Stowe House) but the National Trust-owned parkland around it – ornamental lakes, monumental columns, temples – is extraordinary in its own right, inspiring stunning pupil landscapes. No time now for the detail, go and see for yourself, but suffice to say there aren’t many schools that boast an 1803 Egyptian Hall (sphynx – tick; sarcophagus – tick), a marble saloon modelled on the Pantheon (Roman-style victory frieze – tick) and a 17-something library with ornate plaster ceiling (views of Capability Brown gardens – tick). It’s testament to how impressive it all is that we were shown the chapel – flanked by Ionic columns and complete with 18th century paneling – as an afterthought. A few parents observed that some of it could do with tarting up but realised that it’s the price you pay to go to school in one of Britain’s finest neoclassical piles (along with the actual fees, that is).

No longer a playground for the rich and racy - culture has changed. Growing day provision has pushed up academic standards and cultivated a more ‘normal’ demographic (a relative term, of course). Stoics nowadays by no means goody-goodies, thank heavens, but more aware of their privilege. Great company without being smarmy, with a confidence which comes, we reckon, from having the chance to be good at a whole host of things. We found their easy manner and good humour endearing: a welcome change from the precociousness of their peers elsewhere. Not kids who’ve continuously been told that they’re headed for Oxbridge or that the world owes them A*s. They’re more real than that, and a lot more fun for it.

A country school, not as cosmopolitan as city-based co-eds and socially softer. One teacher described her ‘ultimate success story’: ‘she came to us with a tough exterior and said she was never going to join in and now she plays badminton for the school and is so relaxed, so comfortable in herself’.

Alumni united by passion and a twinkle in the eye: Richard Branson (ever the disruptor, apparently forcing total rethink of the canteen); David Niven (one-time Bond and classic English gent); Matthew Vaughn (director and producer); Marilyn Okoro (GB runner and Olympic bronze-medallist).

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Eight boys’, four girls’ and one co-ed (for sixth form) house - all central to pastoral care for day pupils and boarders. PSHE programme delivered (unusually) by subject specialists and augmented by staff from medical centre, chaplaincy, peer support group and school counsellor. New Wellness Centre in Queen’s Temple.

Everyone’s Invited prompted four ‘town hall’ meetings, not least because school was named (along with almost 3,000 others). ‘We are looking more at consent, focusing on what boys need to think about’. Fits with the school’s approach to gender anyway - ‘challenging those exaggerated masculine stereotypes, those tropes of masculinity: it’s fine to be male and to prefer ballet or fashion,’ says Dr Wallersteiner, ever the aesthete, adding that, ‘We could all benefit from leafing through Vogue’. Girls need ‘to understand why some boys are interested in football and gaming – it’s competitive and interactive, it gamifies social interaction.’

Classic navy blue uniform up to year 11; business suits for sixth form. Mostly in hoodies when we visited (an own-clothes day for Amnesty) but probably the ‘right’ hoodies. Lots of gum-chewing and floppy hair on the boys - staff don’t seem to mind a bit of superficial scruffiness provided that everybody’s showing respect and getting their work done. Some more debonair, ‘they want to get to Henley because they want the blazer’; ‘his personal grooming went from 0 to 100 per cent when he joined,' say parents.

Food is ‘acceptable’, according to parents who suggest that school could buy more locally and seasonally. Pupils happily tucking into proper hot lunches when we visited (‘wild boar sausages – yum’, we noted) and meals are a sociable affair. Breakfasts delicious, apparently – avocado on toast makes the odd appearance at Sunday brunch.

What about discipline, in a school once renowned for drinking, smoking and heavy petting in the bushes? We found it hard to get an answer on this one. Some parents unaware of any mischief, others could reel off recent misdemeanours and subsequent sanctions. ‘Lots of penalties’ for those caught vaping, for instance, though approach seems to be pragmatic rather than punitive and depends on house parents. School doesn’t attract disciplinarian families - ‘I hope they’re a bit naughty’, laughs one mum. 'They’re allowed to be creative within a sensible set of rules without overpowering them with legislation’, says another. Major offences dealt with appropriately and Stoics certainly not running wild - a ‘pick your battles’ approach?

Pupils and parents

Day pupils now make up a quarter: lots coming in by minibus from across Bucks and Northants (no public transport to speak of here). Parents with a creative bent, looking for something a little different to the more traditional offering or just living locally.

There exists a wealthy set, for sure, particularly among the boarders – international, London, home counties, sometimes all three – but ‘they all eat the same food’, points out one mum. Seems that even where there’s ‘money swilling around’, pupils don’t bring swank or swagger to school with them.

Parents we spoke to were down-to-earth, balanced, realistic. ‘If he ever goes on a superyacht, it’ll be as crew.' 'My expectations weren’t accurate - we’ve found parents to be inquisitive, motivated, not interested in money’. ‘I’ve edited a few parents out but I can’t get over how inclusive and fair-minded my son’s friends are.’

Money matters

Academic scholarships along with music, art, drama, sport, equestrian, design, golf and original thinking. Change 100 bursary programme aims to raise £100m to fund 100 places in perpetuity - first cohort of boys and girls already benefiting.

The last word

Stowe has left the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll behind while maintaining its sense of fun and developing a thoroughly modern approach to learning and pastoral care. Plenty of opportunity for first XV or Oxbridge if that’s what’s right, but your child will not be forced down that path; space for the unconventional and eccentricity too. An enlightened 18th century setting for an enlightenment 21st century parent. We think it’s a winner.

Please note: 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

Who came from where


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