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Queen Annes School

What says..

Fabulous art department – ‘creativity happens here’ announces a trompe d’oeil splashed across floor and entrance. One of the most imaginative arrays of A level art we’ve seen, from intricate hanging installations to the imaginary office of Kim Jong Un’s head of propaganda. The Space, home of the brand new sixth form centre plus dining hall, is a triumph of glass and stainless steel, complete with Café 6, the bright, stylish in-house eatery serving hot snacks and proper coffee to sixth formers, who relax in leather upholstered booths...

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What the school says...

High aspirations combined with a positive approach to learning creates an environment where girls at Queen Annes can grow into motivated, decisive and self-assured individuals. We are renowned for academic success alongside a rich programme of extra-curricular opportunities and excellence in the arts, drama, music and sport.

As a Church of England School we are part of The Grey Coat Hospital Foundation, Westminster, London. Located in Caversham, Berkshire, the school is situated to the north of Reading near Henley-on-Thames and is just over 40 minutes from London. School transport is available from destinations throughout Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire, London and the South.

The best way to find out about Queen Annes is to talk to those at the heart of our community our pupils! Visit our website which contains images, videos and narratives drawn from their experiences. We look forward to welcoming you to Queen Annes!
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Sports

Rowing

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmistress

Since 2006, Julia Harrington BA NPQH (50s). Educated at grammar school in Lydney and Exeter University (history and politics). From a family of teachers, decided to break the mould and work in the media before accepting her vocation and training as a teacher and psychodynamic counsellor. Having seen the array of dazzling facilities at QAS, we wonder whether she’s actually a wannabe architect. ‘No – but I am passionate about creating the right learning environment’. Clear that exam results are not enough to get girls where they want to be as adults: ‘they need creativity and resilience too – and their inner compass needs to be set firmly’. Parents say she’s absolutely ‘pro empowering women’; she’s a born marketeer (but don’t let that put you off) and, with her game face on in full sales pitch, she’d get our vote if she went into politics. There’s a psychologist fighting to get out too; conversation is littered with references to school’s proprietary neuroscientific study with the University of Reading into how people learn – BrainCanDo. Says she’s ‘very aspirational for the girls’, and for the school too, in our opinion, and clear that she ‘recognises the importance of self-esteem’. Charismatic, energetic and extremely likeable – parents say she ‘really listens’. So, some years into the job, what’s next on her undoubtedly forward-looking wish list? Making the most of school’s geographical location by building strong links with local tech giants, and a multi-use sports pitch. We have no doubt that with Mrs H and her ‘can do’ approach at the helm these won’t remain on the list for long.

Academic matters

Solid results, especially given mixed ability intake. In 2018, 69 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE with excellent outcomes in sciences, languages and the humanities. At A level, a respectable 40 per cent A*/A and 70 per cent A*-B. Biology, maths, chemistry, psychology and economics most popular choices in recent years; just tiny numbers choosing languages. Strong added value, with pupils adding between one and three grades to results. Smallish take-up of EPQ with around 18 per cent completion in 2018.

Head says academics are ‘critically important, but we’ll make sure we get there holistically’. On the subject of exam results, what’s her take on the mixed bag of academic ability amongst the pupil cohort? ‘We’ve got the medics and the lawyers and vets and the straight stars,’ she says – ‘but that’s not for everyone’. In truth, those ‘straight stars’ are in the minority. But the beauty of QAS is that it takes girls of all academic abilities and works hard to get the best out of them and, head says, is ‘quietly measuring and assessing all the time’. School has been working for some years alongside Reading and Goldsmiths Universities to develop research into what makes the brain tick with its BrainCanDo project to enable staff and girls to understand the science of learning. Such initiatives notwithstanding, the teaching we observed was basically what we see in good schools everywhere: small classes, engaged pupils and plenty of audience participation. Crucially, ‘girls are able to access real learning strategies’, according to head. Students say their teachers are ‘passionate’ and parents, with only a few exceptions, agree. The A level economics class we sat in on was buzzy and interactive with state of the art classroom technology being used to full effect.

Girls set for core subjects in year 7 and progress is ‘carefully tracked from the moment they arrive’, says head. E-learning is a major focus, sending message to students that ‘tech is cool’. Collaborative working facilitated with access to OneNote and areas of the school (notably the ‘study pods’ in the sixth form centre) have their own mini wifi zones to enable students to share ideas and projects. Touch typing taught as ‘a tool for life’. We approve. Visits from eg leading artificial intelligence companies and programming masterclasses reinforce the message and participation in fun Bebras computational thinking competitions ensures that technology ‘is not seen as too geeky’.

SEND support provided in class wherever possible with individual sessions (additional charge) available if required taking place during the (extra long) lunch break to avoid ‘counter-productive’ withdrawal from classes. Around 15 per cent of cohort on SEND register, with about nine per cent receiving support at any one time. Subject clinics praised by students. School has experience working with mild dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD and hearing impairments. Much of site, especially the newer parts, wheelchair accessible. ‘There’s absolutely no stigma to SEN’, school assured us, ‘but girls have to be able to pass the entrance exam’. EAL taught in place of MFL or Latin.

Games, options, the arts

And so to where the school truly shines – and where to begin? Super sports facilities, including 25m pool, fitness suite, sprung floor dance studio, climbing wall, squash courts plus loads of tennis and netball courts means there’s something for everyone. Even girls who hated sport before they arrived at QAS ‘love it here’ and there’s a ‘culture of being active’, says school, whether it’s a sponsored charity walk to Botswana (the distance, not the actual route), yoga, meditation and pilates or fiercely competitive games. Known for outstanding lacrosse (despite the sloping pitch – soon to be levelled, much to the delight of all – school has five girls who play for England and ranks in national top eight), and netball also strong. Fixtures for everyone in years 7 and 8 with A-E teams and from year 9 there are still C team matches most weeks, with ‘incredible’ sideline support from the parent body, and girls giving the thumbs up for fair team selection.

Dance is ‘huge’, with three-quarters of students taking dance classes and in 2018 150 ISTD dance exams taking place in school. Stunning annual dance show (we were blown away by video clips pinged to us by glowing parents) to an almost professional standard, often fully choreographed by the girls themselves. Rowing (‘very strong’) is coached by a former Olympian. Plenty of fun as well as serious sport – sports day is ‘for everyone’, with highlights including a flag relay race (flags designed by pupils) and a capture the flag competition organised by sixth form. Ballroom dancing lessons for sixth formers with boys from The Oratory – with whom they also play mixed tennis and go on a ski trip – culminates in a summer ball, eagerly attended by almost everyone (‘it’s a rite of passage’, says school).

Clubs galore at lunch times and after school, and double period lunch break enables girls to take part in activities as well as eat. Fabulous art department – ‘creativity happens here’ announces a trompe d’oeil splashed across floor and entrance. One of the most imaginative arrays of A level art we’ve seen, from intricate hanging installations to the imaginary office of Kim Jong Un’s head of propaganda. DT absorbed into art (‘we don’t do technology, but we have technology,’), with super equipment including 3D printers and a laser cutter enabling the focus to be ‘career focused, not airy fairy’ according to staff. Ceramics teacher recently appointed. With such riches in terms of facilities and an inspirational departmental head, no wonder so many girls choose art as GCSE and A level options (25 at A level in 2018) and many head off to study product design or architecture at university.

Drama, too is ‘a big subject’ according to school. How do they choose what productions to stage? ‘We look at what the girls will be good at’. So sometimes it’s Shakespeare, sometimes a musical. Music taught in the gleaming new music centre (2018) which, from a grand piano to a fleet of state of the art iMacs, has whistles and bells and then some. On curriculum from year 7, pupils work on projects such as writing advertising jingles to creating soundtracks to short movies. Beats scales and arpeggios any day of the week. Over 300 peripatetic lessons take place each week and year 7s all sing ‘whether they like it or not’, although with whole choir trips to destinations including Washington, New York or Rome, we suspect that ‘like it’ they mainly do. Chamber choir is unauditioned (there is a consort choir for elite songstresses) and with bands aplenty from jazzabelles to saxaholics there are informal performances every week.

Boarders

If it’s possible in the boarding world to be all things to all girls, QAS has it sewn up. Day girls, full boarders and everything in between all rub along easily together. Flexi is just that. One night a week? No problem. Full boarders are treated to a range of weekend activities and if the plan sounds like fun, day girls are welcome too. Four smart boarding houses are mainly purpose built, well kitted out and beautifully decorated with squidgy sofas and stylish fabrics in communal areas. No poky kitchenettes – the hubs of the houses are spacious home-style kitchens, complete with farmhouse table and chairs as centrepiece for girls to gather round in the evenings. The houseparents we met were just the ticket – friendly and approachable but no nonsense – and many houses have a four-legged resident. Upper sixth girls are based in Michell, slightly separate from the main cluster of buildings to give them peace and a degree of independence. Day girls have (slightly scruffy, very untidy) rooms with desks and lockers.

Background and atmosphere

Set amongst 34 acres of prime Caversham real estate. The handsome ivy-clad Victorian brick pile belies what lies beyond: not the usual melange of low rise horrors from the decades that architecture forgot, but an aesthete’s dream collection of facilities (fit for a capital F if only our editors would allow it) to rival any we’ve seen. The Space, home of the brand new sixth form centre plus dining hall, is a triumph of glass and stainless steel, complete with Café 6, the bright, stylish in-house eatery serving hot snacks and proper coffee to sixth formers, who relax in leather upholstered booths or outside in their own charming courtyard area. Atop this are flexible classroom spaces (we loved the writable-on walls) and themed breakout rooms decorated in the style of eg Central Park (Astroturf carpet, skyscraper mural and park benches), Big Ben or theatre. The female chaplain performs services in the galleried chapel for lower and upper school several times each week. Food gets the thumbs up; breakfasts are ‘amazing’ and good old fish and chips on Friday is top lunch. Queen Anne’s is part of the Westminster Greycoat Foundation and was established on its current site in 1894. Historic links with Westminster and the Abbey remain. Between head and her marketing department there’s plenty of buzz around school with initiatives (mostly linked to BrainCanDo) such as the recent week-long experiment allowing sixth formers to sleep until 10am before starting their school day. We wonder whether parents buy into such non-curriculum focused initiatives. The jury’s out amongst those we spoke to, but our advice is not to not get distracted by all the spin and fluff – everything you expect to get from a school with boarding fees well north of 10 grand a term is here, and more besides.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Long days (8.00am to 6.15pm) but prep is completed under supervision at school and tea is provided, so quality time at home is, in theory, just that. School transport includes coaches with flexible routes, taxis and minibuses to ship girls from up to an hour away to school each day. Pastoral care praised from the rooftops by parents and pupils and there are not many schools we have visited that have such a relaxed atmosphere and ‘hardly any peer pressure,’ according to pupils. Problems can be taken to housemistresses (‘really approachable’, say girls), tutors, independent listeners or fellow pupils from year 10 upwards, trained as part of the peer mentor team. ‘Families’ are akin to vertical tutor groups; newbies are given a ‘sister’ in the year above when they join, and girls clearly appreciate the strong inter-year group relations.

Uniform rules ‘have got really strict recently’, say girls (shorter skirts and more more earrings high on their wish lists). Sixth formers allowed the dreaded ‘smart business’ mufti (it didn’t look all that smart to us, but to be fair it was exam season). The distinctive red hooded cloaks are no longer compulsory uniform but are still worn at formal events, eg carol services and the biennial service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey. Not an obviously diverse community but school does run an annual LGBT week with special assemblies and talks and there’s a diversity noticeboard highlighting different sexualities. Misuse of social media results in immediate suspension (enforced a few times in recent years), but the usual drinking, drugs and smoking transgressions are few and far between. Low incidence of serious mental health problems rife in some girls’ schools – ‘we’re very hot on intervention’, says head, and houseparents eat all meals with girls to keep an eye on healthy dietary habits. Well-being programme has replaced PSHCE recently and is now delivered by a dedicated team to tutor groups in years 7-10, covering issues such as relationships, friendship and social media. Pupil well-being ambassadors ‘make such a difference,’ says school.

Pupils and parents

Girls we met were down to earth, articulate and chatty. Majority are reasonably local, with boarders and day girls living up to an hour away. Sixteen per cent overseas (including students from over 15 countries, Forces and expats) with the remainder mainly a mix of entrepreneurs and City workers. Increasing numbers from London who see it as an alternative to the ferocious London school scene and, after all, Paddington is only a 25 minute train ride away.

Entrance

Girls join at 11 from a large number of prep schools and state primaries. Tests in maths, English, verbal and non-verbal reasoning and a group interview. Recommendations of help required for girls with SEND made in offer letter. For entry into year 12, there’s an entrance exam and requirement of minimum six GCSEs at grade 4 or above (including English and maths and 6 in subjects to be studied at A level.

Exit

Around a fifth head off after GCSEs in search of co-ed sixth forms or to local colleges. Those who stay move on to a range of universities: Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds and Newcastle all popular destinations in recent years, as well as a number of new universities and in ones and twos to degree apprenticeships. Degree choices range from the traditional academic to fashion marketing or mechatronic robotics. One or two to Oxbridge most years (one in 2018).

Money matters

Boarding fees as expected and in line with local competitors. Day fees not too painful considering extended school day and access to boarding perks. Scholarships for art, music, drama, sports and all-rounder at 11+ and 13+. Foundation generous in the case of hardship or support needed by less wealthy families.

Our view

Cut through the marketing blurb and you’ll find a school where you can be a star without being an academic whizz. ‘There’s something magical about the place’, said one parent; ‘it’s as much about life preparation as academics’. And with such an array of first class facilities, tip top pastoral care, plus a culture of female empowerment, we think it’s definitely one for the list of any parent for whom happiness and roundedness are top priorities.

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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