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  • Malvern St James Girls’ School
    15 Avenue Road
    Great Malvern
    Worcestershire
    WR14 3BA
  • Head: Mrs Olivera Raraty
  • T 01684 584624
  • F 01684 566204
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.malvernstjames.co.uk/
  • A mainstream independent school for girls aged from 11 to 18 with a linked junior school
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Worcestershire
  • Pupils: 408; sixth formers: 120
  • Religion: Christian
  • Fees: Day £8,880 - £19,875; Boarding £20,520 – £38,190 pa
  • Open days: October, February and May
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What says..

Having the prep department in the centre of the school gives a light and fun atmosphere. This is certainly not a school that feels dominated by teenage angst. The younger girls dart around a glorious copper beech, reminding everyone in the summer term when we visited that there is a life outside GCSEs and away from computer screens. There is that unique feature you can find in non-city girls’ schools - a gentleness combined with a sassy competitiveness. ‘It's warm but not fluffy,’ says the head and we think that just about sums it up...

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What the school says...

Malvern St James is a leading independent school for girls aged 4-18. What helps to make us distinct and refreshing, is our recognition and active support for the individual talents, interests and passions of girls, and the liberating and inclusive ethos the school embraces.

MSJ doesn’t produce a ‘type’ of girl. We achieve excellent academic results but we are not an exam factory. Our ethos is one of inclusion and respect. Girls can pursue their passions and interests in the field of their choice – all routes are equal. It may be horse riding, engineering, politics, the environment or climbing. We recognise the importance of allowing each individual to grow and flourish. We find ways to support girls to achieve their passions.
to is testament to MSJ’s culture of ambition and achievement.

With a roughly equal number of day girls and boarders, the School is able to offer the best of both worlds and a very flexible boarding programme. Full, weekly and flexi boarding options are offered, designed to meet the needs of modern family lives. A central position in the town of Great Malvern, situated in the heart of England, gives access to excellent transport links and cultural opportunities all around the UK, including a direct train service from London.
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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

Unusual sports

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

Rowing

Fencing

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2016, Olivera Raraty, a historian (Leeds) with impeccable girls’ school credentials. Senior deputy at Notting Hill and Ealing High, assistant director of studies and head of history and politics at Wycombe Abbey, history specialist at Francis Holland NW1. With a warmth that has captivated the whole community, Olivera has brought the academic clout of her former roles with her, and while she loves the breadth of the ability range at MSJ, she is determined to build on the intellectual force blossoming in the school.

The girls say there has been a bit of general tightening up since Olivera’s arrival but no worrying dramatic changes. 'She is there at everything,' they note. She has got the staff on board because they can see she puts in the hours, loves the school already, has masses of exciting ideas for focusing the academic life of the school and the confidence to move things forward. 'She is just great to work with', we heard over and over again from her colleagues. Parents are pleased to have a mother of two daughters with whom to share the ups and downs of adolescence (both Olivera’s daughters are now safely through the teenage years).

Marina Stentiford (history degree from Worcester) set up and has run the prep school since 2008. She is regarded as ‘lovely’ by parents and totally committed to the development of the whole child. Staff see her as collegiate and keen to support career development in her staff. She is enthusiastic and revels in the advantages for her girls of the all-through school.

Academic matters

GCSE results have been improving steadily, albeit with a slight dip in 2019: 55 per cent at A*-A/9-7 - impressive for a school that is by no means highly selective. At A level in 2019, 44 per cent A*/A (70 per cent A*-B). Nearly 90 per cent of sixth formers are studying one or more STEM subjects (60 per cent are doing maths A level) and an unusually high number go on to study some form of engineering. An MSJ team got into the finals of the UK Maths Challenge in 2016. There is computer science on offer at GCSE and A level as well as DT product design. In fact the sixth form offer is unusually broad and undoubtedly one of the strengths of the school.

School is proud of its tailored approach to the individual in all areas of academic and personal development and is working on building an active learning approach where girls take responsibility for their own attitude to school work. In the classes we watched there was a sense of real engagement in learning and teachers were enthusiastically promoting creativity and challenge. Prep also fosters independent learning, so the girls who move up already have a strong basis which is then developed through a new year 7 curriculum that includes a Philosophy for Learning course.

The offer for the most able pupils is being refined, there are academic enrichment opportunities for everyone who wants them and some who may need a bit of initial prodding. The extension programmes include exciting outside lecturers, the prestigious Somerville suppers and various debates. New mentoring and coaching programmes have also been established.

Staff report it is an exciting place to teach and they feel free to try out innovations. The impressive senior team is keen to take the school's enthusiasm and expertise outside its grand walls and is busy plugging gaps in the local area by providing all sorts of opportunities for local primary schools - modern languages days, maths challenges, technology workshops - that get out the message that academic rigour can be fun and creative.

Careers education is far reaching, including an increasing input from alumnae. With various old girls in the Debretts/Sunday Times 500 Most Influential Britons list, the girls can connect with women who are at the top of their careers and wanting to give back to their alma mater. 'My friends at co-ed schools always have to sit through talks from lots of old boys,' one of the sixth formers told us. 'Our alumnae are all important women.'

Stunning library, well stocked and with long opening hours. The librarians are enthusiastic and fully involved with curriculum innovation across the school, in particular critical literacy - vital for independent learning, and understanding and interpreting information sources.

Learning support operates at various levels. There is a drop in session for juniors during prep. All staff have training on learning difficulties and there are two full-time SENCos in addition to literacy and numeracy specialists. Support is provided within a graduated framework after a problem is identified. This may include short term focused group work as well as one-to-one lessons (extra charge) – all designed round the needs of the individual.

The prep department is at the heart of the school, not just physically but also in its ability to access high quality facilities and specialist staffing. Not that the movement is all one way. A recent Toy Story theme allowed the girls to get to grips with mechanics while the woodland school lets them get messy and use serious tools to make tree dens. We spoke to a number of parents who had moved girls from state primaries for the range of opportunities the prep department offers.

At the other end, the sixth form is going from strength to strength. Tutors and tutees are matched as far as possible by interests and support is coherent - enough to ensure they learn how to maximise their potential without floundering when they leave. The size (about 60 in each year) means the school can be fleet footed when change and innovation are needed. EPQs are increasingly popular and topics reflect the diversity of interests – How to Organise a Tough Schools Day, Training a Racehorse, The Drawbacks of Volunteering Abroad.

Games, options, the arts

Given the size of the school its sporting success is remarkable, and the head is determined to take it still further in line with some parents’ views that there could be even more wins. There are a number of elite national athletes - at hockey, lacrosse, rounders, golf, cricket, fencing, athletics, eventing - and the school receives lots of accolades for its willingness to support individuals when they are off competing. The excitement around sport is reflected in the girls' very small wish list, where bigger sports facilities came pretty near the top. We thought they were very generous already.

Interest groups abound. Quest, a liberal religious literacy group, got a special mention. Model United Nations is popular and MSJ works with state secondary schools to help them get involved. Year 9s ran a mock election for the whole school and the staff are keen to develop the girls’ confidence in public speaking. There is a STEM club where much of the enthusiasm for all forms of engineering is born. MSJ is really doing its bit to redress the gender imbalances. 'Coding is boring until you see the application,' one enthusiastic teacher told us, ‘hence the STEM club.’

Drama is flourishing and much loved. Some girls and parents say music is the strongest department in the school - there are lots of performance opportunities including choirs, orchestras and ensembles. Visual arts are vibrant, we saw lots of evidence of ambitious, high quality pieces. Textiles is also strong.

Boarders

One junior boarding house for years 3-8, two for years 9-11 and two sixth form houses, one of which is in the main school building. The latter is much coveted by those who want to stay in bed a bit later and those who want to burn the midnight oil in the library. Other houses are in nearby Malvern, lovely properties with large country gardens, high ceilings with light and fresh air flowing through.

Weekend activities are highly rated and compulsory up to year 9. Girls are very positive about relationships between day girls and boarders.

There is a strong and experienced pastoral team. Pastoral care plans are put in place quickly and unobtrusively when necessary to provide additional support to girls. Parents say that considerable work has been done on improving home-school communications.

All pupils eat together in the newly designed dining hall and the food is fresh and diverse, catering for a cosmopolitan set. There was a healthy eating week when we visited that certainly sold the concept to us.

Background and atmosphere

Malvern St James is the result of the 2006 merger of Malvern Girls’ College (founded in 1893) and St James’s School (founded in 1896). The school is located opposite the railway station (good links to Birmingham and London) in buildings that were formerly the Imperial Hotel and which lend a certain grandeur and spaciousness to the bustle of school life.

Having the prep department in the centre of the school gives a light and fun atmosphere - this is certainly not a school that feels dominated by teenage angst. The younger girls dart around a glorious copper beech, reminding everyone in the summer term when we visited that there is a life outside GCSEs and away from computer screens. ‘They look up to the seniors who they see around all day – it gives them something to aspire to,’ the prep head told us. While it is clearly a whole school and everyone loves that, each phase has its own distinctive features. 'We dress up a lot in the junior department and parents are in and out all the time.' Senior girls get involved with the juniors in lots of ways: prefects from the senior school are attached to the pre-prep, there are house links and junior girls sit on the school anti-bullying and food committees.

Although it's not a school weighed down by its past, several much loved traditions endure. These include the exchanging of prefects’ gowns ceremony, the annual staff pantomime and ships events (the competitive houses – as distinct from the boarding houses - are called ‘ships’ here and run from the junior department right through the school). It is a place with the imagination to go with the creative ideas that the girls come up with, celebrating the quirky as well as the more mainstream.

‘It's warm but not fluffy,’ says the head and we think that just about sums it up.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

The school prides itself on its tailored, personal, family feel. There is a lot of careful, professional attention given to defining and meeting individual needs and the decision to offer an unusually broad range of options, particularly at sixth form level, supports this principle. Girls tells us that they stay at the school because its size means everyone looks out for everyone else.

The growth mindset philosophy is being well bedded in for both girls and staff and builds on the can-do mentality the school has historically cultivated. A new year 10 course looks at negative and positive coping strategies and the school intends to encourage parents to get to grips with current mental health theories, recognising that in such matters school and home need to be giving the same message.

Mental health issues are discussed very openly. There is a 'brilliant' health and well-being centre, the girls tell us, and staff are complimentary about how well the centre communicates with the rest of the school. Girls have access to an external counsellor.

Behaviour is exemplary, as you find in so many girls' schools. Staff and girls scratch their heads to think of naughty actions, but if they find something, there is a range of the usual sanctions - detentions, withdrawal of privileges. Staff say an awful lot of listening and talking works as prevention.

The management team has been looking at extending leadership opportunities for everyone. This is just as true at year 6 as at year 13. The girls appreciate this and relish the chance to try new roles in a fairly small and safe environment.

Pupils and parents

Pupils here have that unique quality you can find in non-city girls’ schools - a gentleness combined with a sassy competitiveness. These are girls who know what is trending globally on social media, but who also love a hike in the rolling Malvern Hills. These are girls who are comfortable in their own skins, they are accepted for who they are and give others the same respect and kindness. It is not nerdy to like science, we were told, and even if you are no good at sport you can still have fun on the games field.

While families are in the main pretty well-heeled, bursaries and scholarship dilute this a little. There are old farming families, those working in the new Worcestershire high-tech areas, businesspeople and professionals from the local vicinity and overseas.

Entrance

There is an element of selection but it is not ferocious. Up to year 3, the girls are invited in for a day to see how they get on. After that there is some assessment through tests. The juniors sit the same 11+ tests as external candidates but if teachers think they won't cope with the step up, there are early discussions about where would be more suitable. Nearly all of the juniors do move up, forming about half of the new year 7. Eleven-plus and 13+ entrants are often moving from co-ed preps. Sixth form entrants take papers in their three A level subjects, plus an EAL paper if English isn't their first language.

Exit

Very little drop-out post GCSEs. Some 60 per cent to top 10 UK universities. US Ivy league universities featured among 2019 leaver destinations, as did Les Roches, Switzerland.

Money matters

Range of scholarships (academic, sports, music, art drama etc) of up to 10 per cent of fees offered in years 7, 9 and 12. Some means-tested bursaries up to a total of 40 per cent. The prestigious Founders’ Awards Scholarships are for top-notch scholars and all-round ambassadors, there are additional assessments and interviews for these. Wraparound care is available at no extra cost.

Our view

While MSJ may not be smart and shiny, there is something of a Bloomsbury feel about it, but a Bloomsbury fit for the 21st century. Operating in a competitive area, MSJ continues to carve out a niche for itself as being at the forefront of thinking on girls’ education. The fact the new head has come from the GDST stable is helping this still further. The school feels driven and full of girls who are going to change the world, but keeps a sense of a small, close knit community. Undoubtedly brilliant for the all-rounder, but increasingly meeting the aspirations of the high flying academics.

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

There is an established process, according to the school SEN policy, of identification and provision for those with special needs, and a system of continuous assessment thereafter. Detailed assessments for special arrangements in examinations are carried out each year for those who need them. The support staff includes a part-time dyslexia specialist and 4 part-time EAL specialists. The added support is reflected in the excellent grades most of these pupils achieve at both GCSE and A level. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
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 Y
VI - Visual Impairment

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