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In keeping with the head’s belief that ‘the current curriculum by itself no longer delivers what young people need,’ there’s tons of enrichment at all levels and all girls study PE, RE and life skills alongside their other subjects. EPQ taken by over half the sixth formers, with recent examples including neuroscience and philosophy. We saw girls participating in virtual university tours and were impressed by their questions. Drama and dance are an important part of daily life, with many students going on to study at Arts Ed and other theatre schools. Seating 280 people, and with a large stage, an orchestra pit and professional-level lighting, the arts centre offers…


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What the school says...

At Pipers Corner all girls are supported and challenged to achieve their full potential. Academically successful, our girls progress to further study at Oxbridge and other top universities or specialist dance, drama and music colleges. All girls benefit from involvement in an extensive programme of extra-curricular activities and the use of the excellent facilities offered on our 36 acre site.

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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.

What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2007, Helen Ness-Gifford (50s). Studied English lit at Exeter; PGCE from Cambridge. First job was as English teacher and then head of year at St Albans High School for Girls, followed by 12 years at Queenswood School where she was head of English.

Dynamic and straight-talking, yet also embodies the humility that characterises this school. While there is no shortage of highly branded schools that shout their straplines from local rooftops, this is not one of them – it’s not even massively visible in High Wycombe itself. ‘We don’t need to be a famous school to do a brilliant job for our girls,’ says Mrs Ness-Gifford from her wood panelled office.

Proud of the team of teachers she now has (‘the best I’ve worked with in 33 years of teaching’), she considers recruiting one of her ‘most important’ jobs. ‘Not everyone can make a connection to young people,’ she says, stressing the importance of teacher engagement and ‘how much time they’re prepared to give’ to pupils. Students interview all potential senior staff before any job offers are made. In fact, such is her focus on pupils and teachers that she refers only in passing to extensive improvements to the school that include a theatre, an eco-build science laboratory and a radio station, all of which are outstanding and have been years in the planning. She is also committed to the environmental agenda and has employed an ‘environmentalist-in-residence’ on a two-year contract to work with the school’s eco committee, as well as having had Jonathon Porritt MBE in as a keynote speaker at the school’s literary festival (previous speakers include Lucy Worsley and Lauren Child).

Parents are positive: ‘She has absolutely put her stamp on the school.’ ‘From the word go it was Mrs Ness-Gifford’s school.’ ‘A wonderful head. Fantastic for an all-girls school, ever present and very nurturing.’ That nurturing side extends to the whole family we heard, with one parent telling how she had been very sympathetic during times of family challenge. Has upped the ante academically too. Once considered a soft option in hyper competitive Buckinghamshire, an area bristling with academic secondaries (grammar and otherwise), parents say the school is shifting under her leadership. ‘She’s really changed the school. It’s more pushy on the academic side now and becoming a lot more selective,’ said one.

Married to the school’s head of English. Her daughter went through Wellington College (‘it would be too much to have us all here’), recently graduating from Bristol; her two adult stepsons are based in the States. She grew up in Jersey, loves nature and the environment, and says ‘there’s always time to read’.


Oversubscribed with waiting lists in most year groups. Entry from 4+ into a small pre-prep on a first-come-first-served basis. Next biggest intakes are into prep at year 3 (‘often the point at which parents become disillusioned with local primaries’) and year 6 (when school shifts from one form to two form entry), when entrance is via informal numeracy and literary tests and observation in class setting.

At year 7, around 40-45 children join the 35 or so moving up from the prep, with pupils divided into four classes. Newbies come from around 30 feeder schools across Buckinghamshire, Surrey and Oxfordshire including Maltman’s Green, High March, Little Kingshill and St Piran’s. Offers deferred entry at year 7 for year 9 from schools such as Godstowe and Chesham Prep. Assessments in English and maths – ‘but as unlike the 11+ as we can make it.’ Pupils also need a report from their current school and are interviewed by the head. Unlike the ‘you are good enough or you’re not’ approach of the local 11+, the head told us she looks for girls who have a spark and who show good average ability right through to the very able: ‘They may not always have hit the 11+ when they come to us but we get there; the results are the same in the end.’ Capacity for 35-45 pupils to join at sixth form when girls need six 6s at GCSE and at least 7s in the subjects to be studied.


Automatic entry from prep into seniors with plenty of warning for any girl deemed not to be able to keep up. Around 40 per cent depart after GCSEs – mostly to boarding schools, local grammars or just for a change. Vast majority of sixth formers to university, 80 per cent to Russell Group. Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan, Nottingham, Nottingham Trent and Bournemouth currently popular, to study a wide range of subjects often with arts or health focus. Recently students have secured places at Arts Ed and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Some take up degree apprenticeships. Occaisonal students to Oxbridge. One medic in 2022.

Latest results

In 2022, 66 per cent 9-7; 60 per cent A*/A at A level (86 per cent A*- B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 49 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 42 per cent A*/A (72 per cent A*-B) at A level.

Teaching and learning

Pre-prep offers a halcyon start for girls, with reception set in a large garden. Lots of time spent outside including in Forest School, with pupils returning to lively and colourful classrooms. The day starts early, with a breakfast club available from 7.30am and there’s a free crèche in the evening. Both pre-prep and prep have specialist teachers in dance, drama, music, PE and swimming. Setting for maths from year 5, and English from year 6. French taught from reception, with German and Spanish added later in senior school. Parents like the fact that the prep isn’t separate or tucked away but has the prime spot in the centre of the school, with the pupils getting use of the eg swimming pool, theatre and sports hall – facilities they wouldn’t always get in a standalone prep.

In the senior school, nine or 10 GCSEs are selected at the end of year 8, a year early, to focus on building written work and enable girls to really get to grips with subjects. ‘At 16 they might suddenly understand science, or click with mathematical problem solving,’ says head. In addition to core subjects, girls are ‘strongly encouraged’ to take a language and there are additional options in art and design, DT, food and nutrition, ICT, dance, drama and music. All take three out of 22 A levels with options including sociology, psychology and further maths – and the school will run subjects for a single student if requested. Parents refer to ‘outstanding results, much better than I expected’ – in fact, A level results are within a few percentage points of some of the local grammars. ‘We didn’t feel the need to look elsewhere at sixth form,’ said one.

In keeping with the head’s belief that ‘the current curriculum by itself no longer delivers what young people need,’ there’s tons of enrichment at all levels and all girls study PE, RE and life skills alongside their other subjects. EPQ taken by over half the sixth formers, with recent examples including neuroscience and philosophy. We saw girls participating in virtual university tours and were impressed by their questions.

The teachers that we encountered – quite a mature group - trod a path between being academic and approachable. It’s clear they enjoy teaching the girls, describing them as a ‘pleasure’ and ‘receptive to learning’. Parents love the ‘good rapport’ they have with pupils – ‘They really got the best out of our daughter,’ reported one. All senior school teaching staff are experienced in teaching to A level as head believes it’s essential they understand the whole educational journey these girls are on.

Learning support and SEN

If only all learning support departments were this good. It is CReSTeD registered although dyslexia is described as a ‘small part’ of what they do by their educational psychologist, who has 15 years’ experience with local authorities and specialises in dyslexia and dyscalculia. She has a wider SEN role from the junior school upwards and regularly identifies autistic pupils, saying ‘girls are good at masking.’ ADHD often presents differently in girls too, of course, and again the school really gets this. Early intervention is seen as key in helping girls adjust and succeed at the school; teaching staff work closely with the SEN department to deliver support. ‘They diagnosed early,’ said a parent. ‘Teachers picked it up, and they did all the tests with our permission and flagged up a processing problem. They were very good. She needed help, and she was given it. In the end, her grades were off the scale from what we expected. Nines, eights and sevens.’ We heard many success stories, including one girl who wouldn’t get out of the car for six weeks when she first joined, and has just headed off to university, a happy confident young woman. Worth bearing in mind, though, that school expects girls to have ‘good average ability or above’ and will be honest if it thinks a girl won’t cope.

The arts and extracurricular

Drama and dance are an important part of daily life, with many students going on to study at Arts Ed and other theatre schools. Seating 280 people, and with a large stage, an orchestra pit and professional-level lighting, the arts centre offers ample opportunity for students to gain experience with top level equipment. It is also home to a café with delicious healthy food, plus a bright rehearsal room and a fully mirrored dance studio where girls can study classical ballet, jazz and modern dance. Some parents – especially for those with theatrically minded daughters - told us this department ‘sealed the deal’ for them. Girls appear in polished productions from year 3, as well as doing lighting design, scenery, props and other parts of the production. Parents can get stuck in too – one, we heard, is a costume maker for the West End, another a professional set designer. ‘We forget that it’s a school show, they’re that good,’ said a parent.

The school’s music department offers a variety of instruments to learn, with extra-curricular activities including a gospel choir, jazz band, junior choir and instrumental groups. There is a new radio station too: Pipers Radio provided a broadcast commentary for sports day when Covid restrictions stopped parents attending, with fun radio ‘sweepers’ or beds provided by Chris Evan’s Virgin radio show Executive Producer.

Art, textiles and DT available as GCSEs and art is also popular at A level – in fact, some girls join the sixth form specifically for the art, where exhibition work is regularly compared (by visiting professionals) to first or second year university work. Several girls go on to top art colleges. Ambitious and brilliant work brightens up the school corridors and inspires the younger ones.

Parents say the after school clubs are ‘phenomenal’ – these include dance, DofE, photography, sports teams, theatre, debating, costume club, music ensembles and young enterprise. Stimulating trips to eg Berlin, Peru visiting Machu Picchu, as well as activity breaks that regularly include skiing.


A 25-metre swimming pool, climbing wall and triple flood lit MUGA set the stage for an active sports programme that includes tag rugby, cricket, water polo and football as well as hockey, netball, and gymnastics. There are regular fixtures and galas – ‘many schools come to us because of the facilities,’ says a pupil, ‘we’ve got it all here.’ Girls also have a cross country course over their school’s 96 acres. Currently, there’s a good showing in triathlon at national level, and a number of girls have achieved county, regional or national recognition in swimming, football, cricket and hockey. But it’s not just about the winning, with a ‘sport for all’ ethos which can be quite a relief for the many girls who never quite made the netball team in their primary school. School is big on preparing the girls for the next step of their lives too, when sport may simply be for pleasure. Girls comment on the autonomy they are given, especially further up the school, when they may just want to spend the PE session in the onsite gym.

Ethos and heritage

Pipers Corner was founded by Miss Jessie Cross in 1930 in Chiswick’s Grove Park, with 11 girls. After moves to Richmond Hill and – during the Blitz – Preston in Bucks, it settled on its current site in 1945, where it sits in a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Offered boarding until 2014 but is now day only. Parents describe it as ‘very traditional’ and are proud of eg ‘the old boards,’ ‘school hymn’ and ‘a school bible.’ Uniform includes blazers, boaters (in pre-prep) and a skirt in Piper’s tartan – again, parents approve. Most importantly, they say, there’s ‘a sense of belonging.’ A long-serving board of governors, with the Lord Bishop of Buckinghamshire as its president, and an active programme of charitable giving, led by the girls, adds to the sense of history and community.

The main Edwardian building is home to some classrooms, though most are based in the various purpose built blocks, with the last 20 years having seen significant development, most recently the theatre and new science labs. We particularly liked the eco-science classroom and were also struck by the beautiful honey bee mural on the outside of the swimming pool building, created by New York artist Matt Willey, which signposts school’s impeccable eco-creds, as do the wildflower meadow and pre-prep apple juice from the orchard (delicious). A recent Young Enterprise project had the girls making Christmas wreaths out of old corks (corks take 200 years to biodegrade, we learned), which were readily available from the parent body.

Alumnae surprisingly worldly and include actress Ana Mulvoy-Ten, Kelly Osborne and EL James (author of 50 Shades of Grey).

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

A good antidote to the local 11+ frenzy – these girls are very well nurtured after what can be quite a bruising experience of exams. Outside speakers come in to talk about mental health issues, and the school keeps a beady eye out for the likes of eating disorders (sometimes picked up by the dance teachers before the girls’ own parents) and self-harm. Discipline is achieved by ‘modelling good behaviour’ and ‘using a raised eyebrow,’ says the head. Parents are split in how they describe this aspect of the school, one saying it’s ‘a tightly run ship, quite strict’; another calling it ‘nurturing and challenging.’ Good news is that the school rarely has to use the same sanction twice, whether that’s detentions or the occasional internal exclusion (for eg smoking or online unpleasantness, on which the school takes a very firm stand).

Wonderfully inclusive – the SEN lead speaks of ‘neurological inclusiveness’ and the school is adept at dealing with girls who identify as eg non-binary. There’s a student-run inclusion committee and a giant LGBTQ rainbow crossing which reinforces the school’s stance on diversity and acceptance of all. Parents say their daughters are happy here, and feel they can be their true selves. ‘They very much instil that she can do anything,’ added one. We heard how the girls are encouraged to consider topics affecting the global community and decide ‘how best to exact change’ within the school community – impressively, this can include marches and demonstrations.

Pupils and parents

Parents range from politicians to RAF officers and sportspeople to media types, as well as lawyers and bankers. Around half are dual income. No PTA (so last year) – instead there’s a vibrant ‘parent partnership’ which not only organises all the usual balls and fairs, but also works with school on eg careers, inclusion and mental health initiatives. Pupils are engaged, polite and proud of their school, with girls falling over themselves to be the guides on open days. They travel up to an hour to get here, fromHerts, Bucks, Oxfordshire and beyond. No wonder the school’s coach service is so popular - the girls rave about it too, valuing the social aspect, and they know and like the drivers too.

Money matters

Year 7 scholarships in academics, art, drama, music and PE – worth up to 50 per cent of the fees. Means tested bursaries (which can also top up these scholarships) available up to 100 per cent. The Jessie Cross Award is available to a year 7 student educated in maintained primary school and who shows promise.

The last word

It would be missing the point to send your daughter here just for fistfuls of exam grades. While some do achieve that, the real reason girls come here is to lap up the learning journey itself, to get away from the pressure of local hothouses, to get creative and to gain skills for life – resilience, agility and collaboration among them. Perhaps most importantly, it all takes place in a warm, family-oriented environment.

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.

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