Eton/Harrow - Girls' equivalent?

(76 Posts)
receiverofopiniongiver Sun 27-Feb-11 09:25:28

My teenage daughter asked me yesterday - what is the equivalent girls school to Eton/Harrow?

i.e. what is the school that anywhere in the world you said x people would know of it, and know what the education gave.

I struggled with the answer.

cheltenham ladies college?

Hardandsleazy Sun 27-Feb-11 09:28:36

St pauls
North London collegiate

DuplicitousBitch Sun 27-Feb-11 09:29:57

none of these places are equivelent, there is no equivelent really.

Hardandsleazy Sun 27-Feb-11 09:30:50

Fwiw I am not sure there is an equivalent mainly due to
Culture and history making it a comparatively recent thing that you have women in positions of influence in the way you think of eton or harrow . There is probably a better argument about the female colleges in Oxford or Cambridge as fair few female politicians etc came through these

Sequins Sun 27-Feb-11 09:31:34

I would have thought same as Gladys for poshness, also Benenden. St Pauls etc. are more the equivalent of somewhere like Westminster: posh + intelligent pupils

meditrina Sun 27-Feb-11 09:35:45

Benenden and Roedean, definitely.

Single sex, boarding, "posh", internationally known and royal connexions.

This is not necessarily the same as being the most academic, or the "best" (whatever that means to you).

PatientGriselda Sun 27-Feb-11 09:36:48


receiverofopiniongiver Sun 27-Feb-11 09:41:25

Thanks for that. It's also interesting the other points about posh+intelligent, and then academic etc.

As she was then asking me how different independent schools compared to themselves.

I ended up saying the same way that there are:

highly selective state schools
very good comprehensive schools
average comprehensive schools
and sink schools

that privates could almost be put into those categories (although sink independent I was classing as why spend your money, rather than failing).

thinkingaboutschools Sun 27-Feb-11 15:30:58

I would put Wycombe Abbey into that category

carmenetonense Sun 27-Feb-11 16:05:47

Agree with Hardandsleazy . The famous boys' schools were founded over 500 years ago with vast endowments from powerful figures, like Henry 8th. there are blessed with enormous wealth and resources and 500 years of history, tradition and powerful alumni to add fascination to their stories and reputations and further money to their coffers in the form of legacies.

In comparison, the first girls' independent school was North London Collegiate (1850). Cheltenham Ladies' College was founded in 1853 and Wycombe Abbey in 1896. All were founded by strong and redoubtable females.

None have huge endowments and given that women were not even fully enfranchised until 80 years ago, neither do they have large numbers of financially successful alumni to contribute a lot of money (though some do) and they don't have 500 years worth of wonderful stories and traditions or hugely powerful female pupils.

A shame don't you think?

TheDoorBell Sun 27-Feb-11 16:06:00

I agree with all the options posted above - would throw in City of London School for girls into the mix though.

FloreatEtonia Sun 27-Feb-11 18:21:52

ROFL at CLGS! shock

I would say Cheltenham Ladies, Wycombe Abbey and St Mary's Ascot.

Definitely not Rodean or Beneden.

eatyourveg Sun 27-Feb-11 18:31:01

Cheltenham ladies and St Pauls

peteneras Sun 27-Feb-11 20:06:11

The famous boys' schools were founded over 500 years ago with vast endowments from powerful figures, like Henry 8th.

Do you mean Henry 6th?

carmenetonense Sun 27-Feb-11 20:32:56

Sorry, yes, Eton founded by Henry 6th. Winchester in late 1300's, Westminster about 200 years earlier. So an even longer history than I claimed.

meditrina Sun 27-Feb-11 20:49:48

If date of foundation were the key requirement, then you'd be going back way, way before that to St Peter's York which began in 627 AD.

To go back to OP, what are the key points in thing to work out equivalence? Is boarding an important part? I assumed it wasn't academic results (as Westminster wasn't on the list), but rather global standing and instant recognition from the name.

jackstarb Sun 27-Feb-11 21:00:14


"In comparison, the first girls' independent school was North London Collegiate (1850). Cheltenham Ladies' College was founded in 1853 and Wycombe Abbey in 1896. All were founded by strong and redoubtable females."

The Lady Eleanor Holles is 300 years old - I can't believe it's the oldest girls school. However, I agree with all your other points on endowments and influence.

peteneras Sun 27-Feb-11 21:07:08

Can’t speak for the OP or her daughter, of course, but I think what they meant was global standing and instant recognition. That's him there, carmenetonense, standing right in the middle of schoolyard!

meditrina Sun 27-Feb-11 21:10:07

Fascinating list of the oldest schools here. There are two which pre-date St Peter's (King's School Canterbury and King's School Rochester).

The Red Maids School, Westbury-on-Trim, (founded 1634) appears to be the oldest surviving school for girls.

freshmint Sun 27-Feb-11 21:12:00

global standing - cheltenham ladies college

that's about it I think

Hardandsleazy Sun 27-Feb-11 21:27:56

Dunno about Lady Eleanor Holles but suspect it may be like James Allen (about 260 years old) which was orginally mixed.

That link to oldest schools is actually to hmrc site on vat.

carmenetonense Sun 27-Feb-11 21:28:56

Oops - please excuse my inaccuracies - I didn't check my facts. Would love to see the correct list Meditrina - the link seems to be to a Customs and Revenue site about take away food!smile

meditrina Sun 27-Feb-11 21:31:35

Oh rats! I can usually do links!

The one I meant is this. Definitely not VAT regulations this time!

Hardandsleazy Sun 27-Feb-11 21:35:25

More interesting how few of schools on here are mentioned

GrimmaTheNome Sun 27-Feb-11 21:37:06

Fascinating that some schools which are still extant were founded in the so-called 'dark ages'!

MarshaBrady Sun 27-Feb-11 21:39:18

I don't think any other school has a reputation which is as strong as Eton. (internationally)

carmenetonense Sun 27-Feb-11 21:39:39

Thanks. There are such a lot that are so old. It seems to me very strange and sad that for so long, the education of girls depended upon having parents sufficiently enlightened to educate them in the home.

FloreatEtonia Sun 27-Feb-11 22:06:15

Outside of London most people haven't heard of St Paul's Girls, NLC, CLGS etc so although they may be academically excellent they do not have an international or UK-wide reputation.

The most famous schools are:

Winchester (though many have never heard of this)

as for girls, there are more famouse co-ed schools than girls schools:


but WA, CLC and Benenden are probably the most famous girls schools.

receiverofopiniongiver Mon 28-Feb-11 07:46:49

The criteria was instant recognition, wherever you were of what type of school you had been to.

The conversation started about our local 'posh' independent, and my daughter was classing it alongside Eton and Winchester, but thought it was different because it was co-ed, and I explained that it was a different class, and although well-known locally, out of the area, not everyone would know it, and internationally few people would of heard of it.

So then her question was where's the equivalent for Girls' schools, where could you go as a girl, that wherever you mentioned the name, they'd know the school.

mrsshackleton Mon 28-Feb-11 10:28:58

I'd say the only school that might fall into that category (internationally known) is Cheltenham Ladies

However, the type of person who wants the very best for their child would want sons to go to Eton and girls to go to Wycombe Abbey

grovel Mon 28-Feb-11 10:37:33

St Mary's Ascot (mentioned above) would be the equivalent of Ampleforth.

chicaguapa Mon 28-Feb-11 10:49:54

I have to say my first reaction was Cheltenham Ladies as an 'equivalent' to Eton. Where did Princess Anne go? If the boys all go to Eton.

BlackType Mon 28-Feb-11 10:56:25

I've barely ever heard of some of these schools (esp. the London ones, which I've only ever heard of on MN), and I'm reasonably knowledgeable about boarding schools thanks to husband/father/children. I'd say Cheltenham Ladies would be generally well known, possibly also Benenden and Roedean. But I wouldn't say there was any real equivalent to Harrow/Eton if you mean 'famous single sex boarding schools'.

grovel Mon 28-Feb-11 11:13:40

Chica, Princess Anne went to Benenden.

mrsshackleton Mon 28-Feb-11 14:19:28

But Princess Anne's brothers went to Gordonstoun, it's only William and Harry who went to Eton

grovel Mon 28-Feb-11 15:29:06

Zara P also went to Gordonstoun.

Giselle99 Sat 05-Mar-11 15:35:23

Having grown up in the UK and 2 other countries - one of them being a country where a lot of premium is placed on a British education - the best known UK boys' schools in both countries were Eton and Harrow with everything else spoken about as though inferior to those two (including Westminster!). The equivalent for girls was definitely Cheltenham Ladies first and Roedean 2nd. The received wisdom there was you sent your bright kids to Eton and CLC and the not-so-bright ones to Harrow and Roedean. If you had children of different sexes and/or wanted co-ed, you sent them to Millfield or Malborough.

Day schools didn't feature at all for obvious reasons, and some very academic boarding schools like Wycombe Abbey for some reason haven't yet got the CLC-type name recognition. However when parents serious about sending their kids abroad do their research they usually decide based on other things like proximity to relatives, transport, fees and selectiveness, ending up sending them somewhere like Dauntseys in Devizes... but the ones above are usually on most people's wish-list.

KittyBigglesworth Sun 06-Mar-11 08:46:18

Cheltenham Ladies, Roedean, Benenden and West Heath are well known internationally.

I would say, with the advent of the internet and more particularly, Wikipedia, other girls' schools that would not have previously been known, are gaining greater awareness. For example, most people who are very interested in girls' education would have heard of St.Paul's but that awareness has broadened as a consequence of Rachel Weisz attending the school and people simply 'absorbing' the name of the school as they read her 'Wiki' entry or IMDB biog.

Royal connections certainly help boost the popularity of a school. Since Sophie Winkleman (big Suze in Peep Show) married Freddie Windsor, I have heard that applications have increased there. The fact that it has another pupil who went on to become a professor of English at Oxford probably helps too - it's never easy to determine the exact reason for a spike in demand.

I would be extremely surprised if applications for Marlborough did not surge from international interest as a consequence of Kate Middleton attending the school and parents across the world having easy access to knowledge of where she went to school. To their mind, they want their daughter to have the education of a princess too.

The alumni of a school (royal connections,prime ministers, actors, authors, singers, designers, entrepreneurs) make it desired and if they are deemed to be of a certain class then the school's status will increase by assocation. Its history, how it was established, the strength of its clubs, the number of Oxbridge applications and more superficially the price of the fees and even the architecture determine how 'posh' it is deemed to be. In the past, academic achievements may have mattered less, however parents are becoming more demanding and 'posh' without enough Russell Group and Oxbridge mascots is a concern.

To some, the day schools will never have the cache of the boarding schools that must have been attended by a member of the royal family to have real standing however increasingly, intellectual vigour combined with a few famous Oxbridge pupils give London day schools an attractive, gritty edge. Children now have greater say in where they want to spend their teenage years and they, along with their parents, do their own research. G&L, has been made 'cool' by Lily Cole and Kate Beckinsale, for example because they are attractive, intelligent and have a certain insouciance. Like attracts like -(or what people aspire to)

FloreatEtonia Sun 06-Mar-11 10:40:14

I can honestly say I have NEVER heard of West Heath! It is never mentioned by parents of daughters that I know who send their sons to Eton, Winchester, Radley, and the likes!

FloreatEtonia Sun 06-Mar-11 10:43:46

I have just googles West Heath and it is a school for girls with emotional problems/trauma. The motto is "Rebuilding damaged lives", so whilst I am sure it is a good school catering for fragile girls it's not in the same league as CLC, Benenden etc! hmm

"highly selective state schools
very good comprehensive schools
average comprehensive schools
and sink schools"

I have always wondered what is the difference between a state school and a comprehensive school? Does "state school" incorporate faith schools, whereas comp doesn't?

West Heath has been re-opened with this as it's purpose. It certainly did used to be considered in the same league, however it was closed for some time.

And sorry if it has already been mentioned as I haven't read whole thread but Princess Diana went to West Heath and I believe that some money was used from her foundation to fund the new school.

Giselle99 Sun 06-Mar-11 11:12:28

I too had never heard of West Heath - had to google it! The fact that it ran into financial difficulties and eventually closed despite the Diana links suggests it was never a major player. It was I imagine where rich people sent daughters not bright enough for even the less selective schools to prepare for finishing school and a life of marriage.

holymary Sun 06-Mar-11 14:59:02

Wycombe Abbey, Cheltenham Ladies

slipshodsibyl Sun 06-Mar-11 17:12:41

Cheltenham Ladies' and Wycombe Abbey.

KittyBigglesworth Mon 07-Mar-11 06:55:12

West Heath was well known but that was some years ago. I'd forgotten it had closed and been re-opened in another guise. Diana did go there however I was thinking more of Tilda Swinton who was also a past pupil and then went on to Fettes, then Oxford or Cambridge. With regard to Giselle99's comment about it being 'where rich people sent daughters not bright enough', I don't think A-levels and going to university was necessarily the prime aim of the school. Many of the schools that are viewed as 'posh' aren't top A-level league players. It's a mistake to assume that academic prowess confers 'poshness' or vice versa.

After Eton and Harrow, many overseas have also heard of Winchester, Stowe, Rugby, Ampleforth, Oundle, Sherborne, Sevenoaks, Charterhouse etc. Some are co-ed or accept girls in the sixth form.

yllit Tue 16-Aug-11 13:58:59

weird that nobody's mentioned st. swithun's or downe house. st. swithun's posh and top notch academically. fantastic athletic facilities as well. plus it's in winchester so does a lot with winchester college...

Elibean Tue 16-Aug-11 15:24:07

My neices went to Downe House. I wouldn't equate it with Eton or Harrow, wouldn't have thought of it...except perhaps in terms of fees!

messalina Tue 16-Aug-11 16:21:06

CLC and Wycombe Abbey would be Eton equivalents (boarding and academic). Benenden more on a par with Harrow, I'd say.

CMOTdibbler Tue 16-Aug-11 16:36:54

Wycombe Abbey, really ? I remember playing them in the schools quiz league back in the day, and they were nowhere near as good as any of the boys schools we played (I was at a bog standard comp and for some reason in both leagues it was all independants otherwise).

Colleger Tue 16-Aug-11 17:11:41

St Swithuns is more of a local school and most have not heard of it. Downe House is a good school too but unheard of outside of the English middle-upper classes.

beanlet Tue 16-Aug-11 17:16:28

I grew up overseas, so if you're looking for instant international name recognition, I'd heard of only three before I moved to the UK:

Cheltenham Ladies College (where my great-grandmother went c.1900)

and that's it.

I would add Marlborough and Downe House to beanlet's list but otherwise agree with it.

carpetlover Wed 17-Aug-11 21:27:34

I agree with Beanlet's list too though if talking co-ed, I'd add Marlborough esp now with both KM and SC having gone there.

Yet, academically, it's the day schools which seem to flourish such as St Pauls and NLCS but also Withington in Manchester which isn't widely known yet gives the London day schools a run for their money every year in the league tables.

Lizcat Thu 18-Aug-11 09:14:39

Cheltenham Ladies College would be my choice, my great great grandfather was a huge advocate of female education and sent my great grandmother and all 10 of her sisters there between 1880 and 1905. It was a very radical school in it's day which believed that being female should not stop you achieving. I have pictures of GGGM playing cricket in 1900.
I think that girls schools are not as well known because as yet we have not had 100 years of women being able to vote let alone that they should be considered equals to men. Most people thought my GGGF was crazy to spend his money educating his girls, though actually his girls and their descendants have achieved way more than his sons and their descendants.

beanlet Thu 18-Aug-11 22:31:41

Lizcat, our GGMs must have been at school together! How cool is that? Her father was also really into women's education, as was my family on the other side- I have my Granny's UCL degree certificate from 1934 hanging on my office wall; she got a Third because she spent all her time partying grin

peteneras Fri 19-Aug-11 01:30:40

To all intents and purposes (and I think someone had said it already) there is no girls’ equivalent school to Eton/Harrow - especially with reference to your question, ‘what is the school that anywhere in the world you said x people would know of it . . .’

Personally I would say the girls’ version of Eton/Harrow would be The Cheltenham Ladies’ College and Wycombe Abbey.

muddyangels123nomoreHPforme Fri 19-Aug-11 01:40:10

I wouldn't send my DD to Red Maids.
In my day (20+ years), the yr 11/6th form spent too much time drinking & chasing boys. grin

However,Badminton, is good.

radoxme Fri 30-Nov-12 22:40:28

I know of Benendan. Had a girlfriend at university of Bristol who went there. Really posh. Half French and anti Semitic. The real deal... She went out with her 40 year old tutor before me. Lol.
Also Cheltenham ladies college had meets with us at Shrewsbury and were liked.
Shrewsbury now has girls. Darwin,palin, Heseltine, Hutton, shute attended to name a few as well as a head of mi6.
Up the Midlands!

Honestyisbest Fri 30-Nov-12 23:02:15

I would say Wycombe Abbey. They do their socials with Eton and Harrow too.

steppemum Fri 30-Nov-12 23:26:36

I went to one of these grin

Cheltenham Ladies overall
Rodean for class status (less academis, more social standing)
St Pauls is for the intelligent middle classes (I mean how I think it is perceived) has the academic standing among those who know, but doesn't have the International cache.

I have never heard of Benendan shock

steppemum Fri 30-Nov-12 23:27:31

woops typo - not a good advert!

TalkinPeace2 Sat 01-Dec-12 13:43:11

Benenden was certainly high profile when Princess Anne was there

when I was sitting scholarship exams in the 70's the top boarding schools were
Wycombe Abbey
top day (in London) were
St Pauls
Frances Holland

RancerDoo Sat 01-Dec-12 13:46:46

Completely agree with Steppemum (and I went to one of those too- I wonder if the same one!)

I know nothing about Benenden either.

EvilTwins Sat 01-Dec-12 13:55:58

radoxme - you wouldn't recommend Adcote then wink (Shropshire girl) I had a friend at primary school who left to prep school and then to CLC. Even at 10 I'd heard of it - but then I did think it was similar to Mallory Towers. grin

Hamishbear Sat 01-Dec-12 14:11:42

Benenden don't advertise or aggressively market, they don't need to.

Looking at the Sutton Trust league table Benenden get more into the best universities than other more academic girls' schools.

I am beginning to think that boarding schools that try to drum up lots of applications abroad etc should perhaps be regarded with suspicion?

TalkinPeace2 Sat 01-Dec-12 14:15:45

a bit like Spanish restaurants - the ones with the people outside handing out menus NEED to - the good ones do not .....

StillSquiffy Sat 01-Dec-12 14:23:35

As an aside, OP, you explained to your DD that the schools can be bucketed into selective, outstanding, average, etc. That's not quite the case for the top public schools (of either/mixed gender); they tend to be classified according to 'characteristics' of the school and it's pupils


And of course any combination of these.

kookeethecutey Mon 14-Jan-13 10:46:53

Easy on Lady Eleanor Holles which was established in 1711!!!!

ponydilemma Mon 14-Jan-13 12:08:35

I've just googled St Swithuns and discovered that I went to primary school with the headmistress smile Wonder if I could pull a bit of 'old girl's networking' wink

wandymum Tue 22-Jan-13 14:02:36

Interesting question although it's really 2 questions as, apart from international recognition, Eton and Harrow aren't really that similar academically.

I agree that Wycombe Abbey/Cheltenham Ladies are probably the closest girls' equivalent of Eton/Winchester while Benenden and Downe House more like Harrow (i.e. posh but slightly less academic).

OhDearConfused Tue 22-Jan-13 16:03:55

To be honest: I have heard of Eton/Harrow (and known of them since I was a child), but until I started obsessing about my DS's education and come onto Mumsnet, I had not really heard of any of the girls schools (except an Aunt was a cleaner at Roedean many, many years ago).

I may have had a blinkered upbringing, but then most people in the world have in terms of UK public schools.

In short, there are no equivalents.

Xenia Tue 22-Jan-13 16:17:53

Until North London Collegiate was set up in the 1800s girls just weren't properly educated - they learned to play the piano and have social graces which is why you don't have the same traditions. NLCS is pretty good as someone mentioned (day school though). Similar academic standard to Eton. Oftne beats it. St Paul's girls but again day school.
Cheltenham LC probably beats Harrow in terms of exam results. Downe House? Whycombe Abbey - academic girls boarding.

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