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What says..

Small class sizes mean lots of attention and no question goes unanswered, although girls may well be encouraged to figure it out for themselves. For a small school, Marymount packs a big punch with an impressive range of student led activities and if nothing appeals the Marymount ‘can-do’ attitude prevails ... ‘They don’t over-react,’ says a mother. Atmosphere is happy, relaxed and friendly. Girls go about their business without fuss and seem to rub along amiably together. Lunchtime scrum in canteen however ...

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What the school says...

Marymount International School London - learn to connect the world through independent thinking and inquiry. Marymount is a community of day and boarding girls a values based environment, with a rich history and emphasis on pastoral care. As one of the first IB schools in the UK, Marymount excels with experience and continues to place among the top schools. Students ages 11-16 take part in the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme (IB MYP), an alternative to an exam driven curriculum, concentrating on independent investigations, connections between subjects and reflecting on ones strengths and successes. Students gain results in the top 5% of the world every year and attend top universities in the UK and abroad.
Located on a private estate just 12 miles from central London, Marymount offers modern facilities, including a Fabrication Laboratory (Fab Lab), in a secure suburban setting. Emphasis is placed on pastoral care. Class sizes are small and study programmes are planned to meet the needs of individual students. Boarding students are offered a range of extracurricular activities both in the evening and at weekends.
Marymount is part of a network of 19 schools around the world founded over a century ago by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary. The school follows the faith vision of its founder, that all may have life and have it to the full by welcoming students of all faiths and backgrounds. Students at Marymount embody this philosophy through their education, social development and extracurricular life and are fully prepared for life in a global setting.

The school encourages parents and students to visit so that they may see the facilities, meet some of the teachers, and hear about life at Marymount from other students.
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Curricula

International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

International Baccalaureate: middle years - middle Years is a programme for ages 11-16.

Other features

Music and dance scheme - government funding and grants available to help with fees at selected independent music and dance schools.

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2017, Ms Margaret Frazier (50s) has made her mark at Marymount. Educated at Dartmouth College, Ms Frazier (Meg to parents and staff) was born in Connecticut, USA. A career spanning some thirty years stateside has included basketball and soccer coaching, as well as history, Spanish and English teaching.

In her first two busy years here, the Main House building has been elegantly refurbished and boasts a new lounge for final years students. A classroom learning hub, and a dance studio are other welcome additions. The gym is next for an upgrade and new staff have also been appointed. ‘Ideally the faculty should be as diverse as its pupils,’ says this head, who has clearly been a hit with one and all. Your GSG reviewer failed to unearth a single solitary grumble about her headship.
Having worked continuously within the Jesuit and Sacred Heart communities of US international schools, Ms Frazier is, according to one parent, ‘clearly religious, but nothing is forced.’ Regardless of religion, all girls are welcome at Marymount, and she hopes her students will find faith and spirit in a sense of community and belonging.

A careful listener and thoughtful interviewee, friendly yet understated with even just a touch of British reserve, Ms Frazier is a warm, reassuring and gracious presence. ‘She knows all our names,’ said one student; ‘kind,’ said another. Parents describe her as ‘approachable’ and appreciate her ‘open door policy’. ‘She looks out for us too,’ reports one mother. ‘She holds her authority nicely but is definitely in charge,’ affirmed a further ‘delighted’ parent.

Ms Frazier is an enthusiastic advocate of the International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. ‘We have no back row at Marymount,’ or ‘hierarchies of subject,’ she insists. Girls are encouraged to find and follow their passion. A believer in finding balance in life and education, she seeks to promote emotional maturity in students and foster development of life skills and resilience. Discipline is positive, a light touch, where girls are ‘empowered’ to make their own choices and mistakes. ‘Adolescents have bumps,’ says Meg and Marymount encourages them to be honest, to ask for help, but share their experiences too.

A broader sports curriculum and expanding an already extensive IB subject range are on the head’s ‘to do’ list. She also acknowledges a few more boys on the scene (though not as students) might be welcome; she remains a cheerleader for single sex schools, but is keen to explore some mixed debating opportunities, for example.

Having crossed the pond with her energy consultant husband, Washington DC has been traded for leafy Coombe in Kingston. An ‘enthusiastic’ gardener, Meg Frazier smiles a lot and clearly seems to be flourishing in her new domain. Daughter, a professional musician, studied and now also works in London; two sons remain in the States, one works in the car industry, the other in cyber-security.

Academic matters

Marymount was one of the first adopters of the IB and has been following the programme now for over forty years. It remains the only girls’ Catholic day and boarding school in UK to do so. Results hovering currently at a very respectable average of 37 out of 45 in 2019 have been on the rise. No mean feat for a school that favours a holistic admissions process: head’s interview all-important rather than academic smarts.

Girls join Marymount at the start of the seven-year IB programme in grade 6 (aged 11). The first five years or ‘Middle Years Programme’ provides the foundations with project work, assessments and termly school tests. There are no external exams in this period (hurrah, no GCSEs) and it is grades 11 and 12 (ages 17-18) which culminate in IB exams and award of IB Diploma. Girls are encouraged to think for themselves and explore ideas and connections between varied subject groups. The IB style of learning is ‘a breath of fresh air,’ said one parent, whose daughter joined after being ‘taught to the test’ in her ‘pushy’ prep. Another parent: ‘My daughter was suddenly asked what she actually thought – it took a while to get used to.’

Collaborative and independent work features across the curriculum and teaching is student-centred. To ‘really thrive’ girls ideally will have completed at least one year of Middle Years Programme before moving onto the Diploma Programme, advises a staff member.

Class sizes are small, with around 12 students. Teaching we witnessed was engaging, relaxed and cheery. Girls use their own laptops in lessons: study plans, research, homework and progress are coordinated via school’s intranet. Girls are guided but not spoon-fed: in a physics class groups were discussing conflicting results from a previous experiment: why? what did it mean? Views shared, the teacher referred them back to their textbooks. A geography session on grid references for younger students was turned into an entertaining computer game with teams competing against one another. We also dropped in on some top-notch Mandarin Chinese teaching; an energetic teacher was imparting key food vocabulary, and students grappled with correct pronunciation of their favourite dishes.

Girls are attentive, confident learners who seem very tolerant and respectful of each other. No hand raising required as students spontaneously take turns to speak. Teachers will prompt but there seemed little hesitation or self-consciousness in these students coming forward. Small class sizes mean lots of attention and no question goes unanswered, although girls may well be encouraged to figure it out for themselves. ‘They don’t over-react,’ says a mother who recognises her own daughter’s propensity for ‘robust’ discussions, ‘but they don’t curb enthusiasm either’. Rapport with teachers appeared respectful, warm and friendly. ‘I get good and helpful feedback on things,’ said one student. ‘Teachers are dedicated and devoted to their work,’ says a father. ‘Very caring and attentive to the child’s strengths and weaknesses,’ said another. Director of studies explains that the bespoke nature of the IB means all students can and do succeed.

A handful of girls have learning difficulties and school says it offers differentiated work in classroom as well as individual or small group help on a ‘needs’ basis. One mother felt that while learning support had definitely been upgraded under current head, there was still room for improvement as quality of differentiated classroom teaching could be variable.

Remarkable range of languages on offer as befits a diverse student body where 40 per cent opt for a bilingual diploma: school always keen to accommodate, even if tuition is via Skype or individually with a visiting ‘external’ tutor. Thai, Polish, Turkish, Korean, Dutch all currently on offer along with more regular fare such as French, Latin, German, Spanish and, of course, Chinese. Library about to undergo minor refit to make way for more foreign language books but clearly already a well-stocked and popular student resource.

Prep is 90 minutes per night. Boarders can do it before or after supper, depending on activities. Parents feel that demands of IB in final years significantly increase workload and local girls often choose to board then to maximise study time.

Games, options, the arts

No yawning expanse of green playing fields to contemplate, but decent tennis courts and a large sports complex accommodates volleyball, soccer, basketball and badminton. Teams compete internationally and with other London schools: trophy case is full, says school. Perhaps not quite up to the cut and thrust of some competitive sporty secondaries, with at least one girl underwhelmed on arrival according to her mother: ‘She came from a really large independent and it did not compare well.’ No lacrosse or hockey and no pool on campus, but despite this the school does have a swim team with day girls training elsewhere and competing under Marymount banner. Group of upbeat boarders we spoke to insisted trips to local municipal pool also an option and likewise horse riding, golf and fencing are all possible by arrangement.

Dance and theatre are popular options and offered at diploma level. Sparkly brand-new dance studio open for business and although exterior looks rather utilitarian in arcadian Marymount setting, interior is tiptop. Girls were gently being led through a modern jazz routine on our visit: clear mix of abilities on the dance floor and no refuseniks. Royal Society dance exams available and LAMDA taught too. School assembly previewed upcoming musical with high kicking dance routine garnering much enthusiastic applause. Last year’s offering of Hairspray proved a triumph, its success prompting a switch to yearly rather than biennial productions.

Music per se clearly enjoyed, especially choir with over 40 girls taking part, and is seen as intrinsic to spiritual life of school. Instrumental tuition catered for and five practice rooms available but musicians hankering after the full symphony or big band experience should look elsewhere: current orchestra numbers just 10.

Art is taught as part of IB and not all about the portfolio but also marketing and presentation skills culminating in girls organising a show in a London gallery. Emphasis is on conceptual art: one student made a life-size plaster cast of a horse. Art rooms are well-equipped, light, spacious and artistically messy in a good way.

Creativity, Activity, Service (CAS) is one of the three essential elements that every student must complete as part of the Diploma Programme. All grades participate and are obliged to write up a ‘meaningful reflection’ afterwards. School operates on a Monday to Friday week but every Saturday morning in term time 15-20 local primary children are picked up by Marymount bus to attend ‘enrichment’ programme. Organised and taught by girls (under supervision): a recent session tempering chocolate had apparently been ‘a lot of fun’. Community clean up events, imaginative charity fund-raising and individual projects flourish: one student collected unwanted spectacles and teamed with a local optician to offer free eye tests and glasses for the homeless. We noticed boxes of sanitary products in one corridor that girls were donating to charity: a house competition was in play to see which could supply the most.

For a small school, Marymount packs a big punch with an impressive range of student-led activities. Numerous committees and societies to get involved with and if nothing appeals the Marymount ‘can-do’ attitude prevails and girls encouraged to set up a new one. Lots of badges proudly worn on blazers testify to membership of different groups.

Boarders

About a third board with biggest uptake in later years. Full, weekly and even occasional sleepovers catered for. Out of bounds during class time, accommodation is modern and comfortable and like everything else at Marymount, all spic and span. Girls room primarily in twos, but some threes; in IB years they can get an upgrade to single room with shared ensuite bathroom. Students do their own laundry (apart from uniform blouses) and change their own beds. Blazers conveniently handed in for a dry clean at end of every school year. Rooms we saw were filled with family photos and study aide-memoires. Lots of international boarders, head of boarding told us: ‘It can be hard for some girls to be so far away from parents and we try and make it a home.’ Weekend activities include a recent Harry Potter trip, and the school chefs are sometimes roped in for impromptu cupcake icing or even a risotto making session. A boarding council organises regular themed weekend dinners with quiz afterwards - girls divide themselves by age into ‘families’ and fierce but enjoyable competition ensues to claim winner’s crown - staff lend a hand and provide token prizes.

Sunday morning service obligatory in school chapel. No students allowed off campus without express parental permission: shopping trips in nearby Kingston popular. Overwhelming perception of Marymount from appreciative parents is a safe, protective and nurturing place: ‘My daughter is very happy and quickly built up a sense of belonging,’ said one. ‘Staff foster a very warm and caring environment,’ summed up another.

Background and atmosphere

Marymount is part of an international Catholic network of schools founded by Sisters of the Religious Sacred Heart of Mary. The congregation started in 1849 in Beziers, France formed by Father Jean Gailhac and Mother St Jean Cure. First school established in 1907 in Tarrytown, New York and since then around the globe. Marymount retains close links within the network and girls regularly visit Rome and Paris schools.

School sits on Coombe estate, a wealthy enclave of Kingston-upon-Thames. Sisters bought site in 1955 and lived there for over sixty years. In 1988 they hosted Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who arrived by helicopter and joined students in prayer and hymn singing. Marymount is now under lay leadership, but Sisters retain an advisory capacity as governors.

The original property has undergone many changes: chalet style classrooms and light wood interiors all add up to a clean Scandinavian feel while the six-acre manicured gardens make for a very English backdrop. Climbing trees is allowed and classes often held outside in warmer weather. Attractive dining hall equipped with fold-back doors makes al fresco dining a regular summer treat. Location is a handy one for international students with easy access to Heathrow and also good rail links into central London.

Atmosphere is happy, relaxed and friendly. Girls go about their business without fuss and seem to rub along amiably together. Lunchtime scrum in canteen however was slightly alarming when our reviewer got caught up in the maelstrom. Not typical, says school, it was unusually busy due to lunchtime talk. Attendance at all meals is obligatory and decidedly worth entering the fray for, judging by our tasty vegetarian haul. Girls decided to implement meat-free Monday and consensus on food is generally favourable. No puddings in evidence but large mound of fruit available. Mid-morning savoury snacks too, pizza on day we were there, plus a sweet treat in the afternoon.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

sounding boards for girls, but parents impressed by non-teaching staff too: ‘pleasant, kind and reliable’ is the prevailing view. ‘I know one of the canteen servers looks out for my daughter,’ said a grateful mum. ‘Always keen to look after the girls and very helpful,’ was another comment.

Marymount is not run at the helter-skelter pace of some other institutions and the girls appear all the happier for that. Each grade has an annual retreat for a few days of inner reflection. ‘The school has the rare ability to nurture the individual,’ believes one parent. ‘Definitely know what’s going on and take an interest in each individual girl,’ echoed another. ‘They [staff] are watching you,’ said an older pupil, ‘they want to help you out.’

Very detailed behaviour policy published on website. One mum recounted her daughter being pulled up for use of a swearword; another agreed that boarders’ movements are ‘very strictly regulated’, but parents are delighted with pastoral care and girls seem at ease.

Pupils and parents

Pupils present as fresh-faced and good company. Uniform is worn comfortably, if a little crumpled round the edges, skirt lengths all very respectable. Room for individuality too, with one student clearly attached to her pompom hat indoors and out, albeit a regulation school one. Gentle enquiries uncovered no serious hardships. ‘I was told to change my earrings – a bit too big,’ one girl concedes. ‘Only natural looking nail varnish allowed,’ volunteers another. Celebrations and festivals punctuate the school year: onesie day coming up soon and Halloween always an occasion. Summer graduation ceremony follows Catholic high school tradition with girls donning white gowns and carrying bouquets. Older girls we spoke to were perceptive and remarkably down to earth. Focused on their final exam year, they felt they had been well prepared and were waiting to hear back about university offers with a mixture of trepidation and excitement.

Rolling admissions and international clientele result in student flux: one girl had just arrived mid-term, but peers clearly welcoming. Students appear genuinely proud of cultural diversity and international friends they have. Around 40 per cent are British and broad spread of nationalities makes up the balance. International Day is a highlight where everyone shares their culture and cuisine and parents are welcomed into school for the celebration.

Parents association hosts a fund-raising summer barbecue and Christmas fair. School throws a party at the start of academic year allowing day and boarding parents to get together. Invitations to talks at school roll out throughout the year and the day we visited parents were invited to the same internet security presentation their children had just had. Alumnae are also invited to share in Marymount celebrations and girls have been known to return to school to marry in chapel. Wikipedia throws up a couple of vaguely interesting old girls but school prefers not to mention names.

Entrance

Applicants encouraged to visit school via open day or arrange individual tour. All sit English and maths test but school essentially looking for a good fit and students committed to IB programme. Interview with head is key. Open to admissions throughout academic year if space allows.

Exit

Majority to Russell Group, occasional Oxbridge place (none in 2019). Three medics in 2019 and entries to universities worldwide including Berkeley, California, McGill in Canada and top London destinations (LSE, UCL and Kings). US applications on the rise, especially since Brexit we heard. Girls can sign up separately for SAT and ACT prep course; staff prepare in-house for any UK tests.

Money matters

Some means-tested bursaries are available up to 100 per cent of fees. ‘We want to be generous,’ says school.

Our view

Marymount is not a school in a rush. Girls are allowed space and time to mature emotionally and intellectually at a gentler pace than elsewhere. Lack of GCSEs might be a problem if anyone wanted to spread their wings for sixth form but evidently few opt to do so. ‘My daughter went from being miserable to super-confident,’ said a very grateful mum. Another just said: ‘Thank God for Marymount!’

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

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
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 Y
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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