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‘Lovely dedicated staff,’ universally praised. A sense that all girls can fit in and do well here – whatever their aptitudes, enthusiasms, personality – something to which all parents we spoke to attested. SCAGS - tracking tests for every subject every term - keep the flames licking at the girls’ heels in the years leading up to GCSEs. ‘They let you see where you are within your year,’ a girl told us earnestly. Games important - a bit jolly lacrosse sticks - and more inclusive than in the past...

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What the school says...

St Catherines, Bramley, provides an all-round, outstanding education for girls in an environment where there is no embarrasserine's welcomes both boarders and day pupils.
A well- established House system encourages fosters friendships and offers leadership opportunities. The vast majority of leavers secure their first choice universities including Oxbridge.
A raft of extra curricular activities ensure girls enjoy a genuinely all-round education.- Art, Drama, Music and Sport flourish, enhanced by access to superb on-site facilities.
St Catherine's is located in Bramley, 3 miles south of Guildford in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We are within an hour of central London by train and convenient for both Heathrow and Gatwick International Airports.
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Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Sports

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

Rowing

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2000, Alice Phillips MA Cantab (50s). Educated at Kendal High School, then read English at Cambridge. First teaching post was at the Royal Masonic School, Rickmansworth, where she rose to be head of English. Thence to deputy headship at Tormead in 1993. Understands young people. As a boarding school brat - Mrs Phillips’ father was a housemaster at Sedbergh - she 'grew up with 68 surrogate brothers and four natural ones'.

Mrs Phillips impresses at once as being full of brisk common sense, good humour and get-up-and-go. But she is also super-bright, super-articulate and super-focused on the highest of standards for her staff, her charges and herself. ‘She is utterly determined for her girls,’ one mother told us. And this blazes forth in her dedication to the job of equipping them for the future - ‘girls need to be in an environment which demonstrates that there’s nothing you can’t do’.

Back in the saddle after a few years of cross pollination as President of the Girls’ Schools’ Association (GSA) in 2014, which took her out of school three days a week, and then vice chair of the Independent Schools’ Council 2015-17. Now busy directing the school’s next phase of physical development - rebuilding part of the sixth form boarding house ('we’re not going for luxury en suite' but comfortable, practical and home from home) and replacing a time-worn teaching block with a whizz bang new one dedicated to science, technology, maths, digital learning and independent research.

No plans to go anywhere for now, but if retirement should beckon, feels the school is firmly on its rails come what may - 'If I went under a bus the rest of the management staff would keep the ethos going without a hiccup'.

Academic matters

A level results excellent across the board – no weak areas. Eighty-eight per cent of subjects taken at A level in 2019 were graded A*-B, 64 per cent A*/A. Maths the most popular A level, by far: 60 per cent of girls do it in sixth form. No other subject has even half as many takers. Greek and German surviving alongside shiny sixth form ab initio subjects like business, economics, history of art, psychology and photography. Sixth form enrichment programme includes advice on higher ed and interviews, healthcare and citizenship issues. No plans to bring in the IB diploma: 'By the time they’re in sixth form they’re ready to specialise,' says the head. All girls start sixth form with four A levels and around half drop a subject after the first year. Some sixth formers may do another GCSE, add a language or work on an EPQ.

IGCSEs in most core subjects, with GCSEs for the arts (art, DT, drama music, textiles) and fringes (Greek, Latin, PE). At I/GCSE in 2019, 83 per cent A*-A/9-7 grades. All girls do an IGCSE in French, German or Spanish. Italian an option in sixth form. Food and nutrition available as a GCSE (some girls’ schools have dropped this) and all girls participate in cookery lessons in the first two years, rotating with art, drama, DT, textiles and music. Most girls sit one GCSE, plus an RS short course, one year early.

SCAGS - tracking tests for every subject every term - keep the flames licking at the girls’ heels in the years leading up to GCSEs. ‘They let you see where you are within your year,’ a girl told us earnestly. Academic extension programme for years 11-13. Lots of options, lots of opportunities – real education takes place here. Sensible system of sixth form subject mentors.

Embraces technology, but not naive. Parents are required to supply iPads for their daughters from year 5 up - yippee, if that’s your thing. Google classroom used for notes/prep. At the same time, the school advises parents to purchase phone contracts with minimum data, and the library remains well-stocked. ‘We have literally every book,’ our guide gushed.

Parents unlikely to zero in on this school for its SEN provision. Girls with only mild dyses likely to be able to stand the heat. ‘We pride ourselves on our tracking system,’ says head, ’and on spotting any late-emerging problems’.

Games, options, the arts

A ‘busy’ school. Music, dance and performing arts particularly shine. A ton of music on tap and standards are high - over 600 individual lessons are taught every week through the senior and prep schools, and Mrs Phillips has been a governor of the Yehudi Menuhin School since 2009. The list of ballet/dance lessons available at school is as long as your arm. LAMDA too. Lively art in many media. Lots of clubs, and girls can start their own, eg this year’s Medical Reading Club(!)

Games important - a bit jolly lacrosse sticks - and more inclusive than in the past. Lots of opportunities for those less than Olympian in prowess - ‘I’m on the fourth lacrosse team!’ a girl told us brightly (there are five). Guildford High are the arch rivals (Benenden for lacrosse). Meanwhile, sports hotshots fulfil their destinies – county and national finals places in several sports and stellar showings in swimming, tennis and - especially - lacrosse. Usual range of sports on offer, and excellent facilities, plus equestrian team, and lots of individual success in non-mainstream sports eg ice skating. DofE thrives and produces a surprising number of golds. Excellent outside speaker programme, sixth form lectures, and lots of stimulating trips.

Boarders

Boarder numbers start slowly in the younger years but work up to over a third of the sixth form - around 125 boarders all told. Around half of boarders are full, half weekly - the boarding fee is the same either way. Occasional boarding also an option. Half of boarders are from international families (either expat or foreign). Big concerts, productions and lectures are streamed online so that overseas families can tap in. No Saturday school, but plenty of activities offered, plus sports matches. And, in case you’re wondering, the admissions requirements are exactly the same for boarders and for day pupils.

Bedrooms and dorms are spacious enough, welcoming and homely. Most in two-bedders, often with a third bed for occasional boarders. Even sixth formers mostly share (there are now new sixth form boarding facilities). Boarders encouraged to invite a day girl friend to board on a Friday night once a term, and are invited out at weekends in return. NB The school can accommodate a few boarders from the prep school across the street - hugely handy for a few parents.

Background and atmosphere

Established in 1885, this is a school with a proud tradition (only seven heads in its 130+ year history) which, unusually, has grown and developed all on the one site. Set in a leafy village 10 minutes south of Guildford and smack in the centre of a private school nirvana, with girls’ schools Guildford High, Tormead and Prior’s Field, co-eds Cranleigh and Charterhouse, and boys-only Royal Grammar School all within five miles.

Snug and compact, the school makes a tidy footprint surrounded by playing fields. At the centre is a humongous £15 million complex - the 125th Anniversary Halls with a dazzling auditorium (seats 300 and has ‘better acoustics than the Barbican’) plus music practice rooms, a recording studio and other spaces, which segue into the sports hall, gyms, changing rooms, dance studios and a single squash court. All fits ingeniously under one roof ('it’s great, we can avoid the rain'). Indoor swimming pool. Science labs a mix of old and new. 'University style' sixth form study centre, designed with input from the girls.

Strong house system – girls are allotted to houses aiming for a mix of abilities and interests in each. Strong ethical dimension to energetic charity work – includes toilet twinning with a loo in Africa. Food has improved – salads particularly praised – though it has not reached the Michelin star quality of a few girls’ schools we have visited.

The school’s web site is succinct rather than ostentatious - an apt reflection of the school.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

‘Lovely dedicated staff,’ universally praised. A sense that all girls can fit in and do well here – whatever their aptitudes, enthusiasms, personality – something to which all parents we spoke to attested. ‘It can be a bit full-on for some of them,’ one parent admitted – and others agreed: ‘the girls themselves push themselves to the limit – the atmosphere makes them want to be the best of the best.’ ‘They do the best they can,’ another said, ‘but they do it while looking after each other.’ All that said, this is not the Kew Gardens Palm House, and a few girls have decamped here from the most sizzling of hothouses (Wycombe Abbey, North London Collegiate?) and thrived in the slightly lower temperature.

Worship once a week for each year group in the gothic style chapel – splendid Kempe stained glass windows celebrating notable female saints, fabulous rose window and Willis organ. Uniform dropped starting in the spring term of the upper fifth on through the sixth form.

Pupils and parents

Attracts bright berries from Guildford and surrounds plus south London, and overseas boarders. Locals come from everywhere but mostly the school’s own prep and from Haslemere, Midhurst, Farnham, Guildford, Godalming, Cranleigh, Woking, Esher, Oxshott, SW London. Overseas pupils predominantly English with some EU nationals. Full boarders from, eg, China, Taiwan, Nigeria, Hong Kong, Russia, Malta, Korea, Ireland, Latvia, Estonia, Moldova - aiming for a wide blend. Lots of old girls’ daughters. Middle class and comfortable backgrounds, in the main.

Notable old girls include Francine Stock, Juliet Stevenson, Elizabeth Beresford, Zena Skinner, Davina McCall, UA Fanthorpe, Dorothy Tutin, Elinor Goodman, Isabel Hardman, Ali Dowling, Lily Travers, two ambassadors and legions of academics and other high flyers.

Entrance

Entry by academic selection, using St Catherine’s own assessment. Eleven plus candidates take papers in English, maths, science and verbal reasoning. A few places at 12+ and 13+ - papers in English, maths and reasoning. Reports from existing schools. Sixth form general paper, tests in A level choices, verbal reasoning and predicted GCSE grades – 7s expected in A level subjects. Interview for potential sixth formers (in person or via Skype). Roughly 1.5 applicants for each 11+ place - about 90-100 enter at this age and 6-9 more boarders at 13+. Around 70 apply for the 10 or so annual places in the sixth – they can afford to be very choosy. School flexible and helpful – happy to interview via Skype if you’re abroad.Not a school for anyone with less than fluent English. The few internationals who need help are offered it long-distance in the summer before they join the school.

Exit

Around a quarter of girls leave after GCSEs – mostly to co-eds or to state sixth forms. Sixth form leavers to top unis – four to Oxbridge in 2019 and seven medics, with two off overseas (Polimoda Fashion School, Italy and Academy of Performing Arts, Sarajevo).

Money matters

Four scholarships available at 11+ cover 10-20 per cent of fees. More of the same ilk at sixth form. Music awards include the esteemed Jennifer Bate Organ Scholarship, offered in conjunction with Guildford Cathedral. A few bursaries covering up to 100 per cent of fees for the bright broke at 11+ and sixth.

Our view

If you want convincing that girls only education is the right and modern way for your bright and motivated daughter, go and look. This is as good as it gets.

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

All girls are screened shortly after entry to the school to help identify any extra provision they may require. This enables all members of staff to accommodate each girl's particular strengths and weaknesses. Should it be deemed necessary, on consultation with parents, the School is able to provide individual support for pupils. This support is closely monitored and reviewed on a regular basis. Nov 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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