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Choosing a secondary school Woldingham, Wycombe Abbey or Benendon?

(32 Posts)
loopygoose Tue 02-Feb-16 09:32:43

My DD is 9 but exceptionally mature for her age and increasingly ambitious. She has been telling me she wants to go to an all-girls school that pushes her hard but where the lessons are interesting.
She's:
Reasonably sporty; good at netball, hockey and rounders,
Highly musical; plays the piano, flute and is in the chamber choir.
Loves acting and art.
Good at everything, academically, but is currently showing a particular interest in learning languages; currently Spanish, French and Chinese.
She increasingly finds girls of her age a bit too silly but I'm wondering if she just needs to be in a pool of children who're brighter.
I just don't know how pushy Wycombe Abbey is and what sort of characters flourish there and whether Woldingham (which is on our doorstep) would push her enough. Benenden worries me because it's in the middle of nowhere and I like the idea that my child would stay grounded by being in a town and around 'average' people! Any advice very much appreciated.

thirdtimeplucky Tue 02-Feb-16 12:12:15

If your daughter is as able as you describe, then she will thrive academically at any of these excellent schools. It's a very personal decision for you and your DD. Visit them all, meet the heads, talk to the girls, then take a view.

We have considered all 3 and DD will most likely be going to one of them next year. We are very happy with our choice.

merlottime Tue 02-Feb-16 12:18:03

My DD started at Woldingham this year (as a day pupil) and is absolutely thriving, academically and in terms of the all round education it offers. Feel free to PM me if you have any questions about it. We didn't consider the others on your list as we didn't want boarding.

milkshake123 Tue 02-Feb-16 13:11:28

We looked carefully, several times at Wycombe and concluded it was not for DD - it's a high octane environment that the right girl could thrive in. Very competitive. Benenden - lovely school. Everyone I know there is very happy. Broader intake than WA. Don't know Woldingham. Visit all 3 and look behind the headlines and try and get a good feel for the place. They are all excellent schools. Good luck !

Schoolfinder2016 Tue 02-Feb-16 14:55:58

Woldingham is changing its principal just fyi

MidLifeCrisis007 Tue 02-Feb-16 17:38:50

I suggest you look at St Swithun's too.....

bojorojo Tue 02-Feb-16 20:22:25

WA girls can walk into town but don't mix much!! The school is a world of its own. The very bright do well (and that is nearly everyone) but go and have a look. You will get an idea if your DD will be suited to it. Presumably your DD is at a prep school. What do they think? If she is not at a prep school, then getting her to a good one is vital.

BoffinMum Wed 03-Feb-16 22:25:21

I pulled DD out of Woldingham but it was a while back. It was very badly organised and quite frankly they could not cope with a bright child.

loopygoose Fri 05-Feb-16 17:30:51

Wow, all very useful comments. Thank you. We're going to look at WA on Saturday. I agree, entirely, that it's important to visit the school. We looked at Brighton College last weekend and, although it seems fantastic, there are lots of things we didn't like and it's just not for our DD.
I've always liked the idea of Woldingham because it's close and all the women I know who've come from the school have been strong personalities.
BoffinMum, that really worries me because my daughter is very determined and begged to be moved from her last prep simply because she didn't think the teaching was good enough or that she was being pushed hard enough. How long ago was that? She's at Cottesmore now and absolutely thriving, she says they push her but the lessons are all really fun and there isn't a single one that she doesn't enjoy. I have a meeting with the Head coming up to discuss the options. I just like to hear from those whose children are at the schools; insider information can be very valuable.
MidLifeCrisis, I did look at St Swithins but it's too far away; I don't want to travel more than an hour to get to her school because my other daughter is unlikely to end up in the same school and it could get really tricky.

merlottime Fri 05-Feb-16 17:56:57

I can't provide much insight on how the most able at Woldingham are stretched - my daughter is in set 2 of 4 - but some of her friends in set 1 are given further extension activities in some subjects. Their results for the last couple of years are very strong, and they are clearly upping their game academically. More important to me personally is providing a broad and enriching all round education - it is very hard to be bored when there is so much opportunity there for the taking. The organisation of this has been superb, but I would expect this to be standard across all of schools you are considering OP.

bojorojo Fri 05-Feb-16 18:13:02

I can see the list of schools where Cottesmore pupils have been successful in obtaining academic scholarships. I would say that if your DD gets into the scholarship stream, then any of these girls' schools would be possible. Woldingham is not on the list for any scholarships so perhaps is not popular with Cottesmore parents. Close schools are not always the best schools.

I would be slightly wary of a wanting a child pushed all the time. In the end that can get very wearing and be no fun. I have seen it in Chinese children where it is all work and no play, unless it is a musical instrument. If she is one of the brightest she will get her chance of a scholarship and the school will advise you on where to look. I see Downe House is a destination and I would look at St Mary's, Ascot. Any of these schools would do well with a bright girl. CLC is the classic town school.

However, all these schools breathe rarified air. They are not full of ordinary types! If you want to stay grounded, going to an exclusive girls' boarding school just won't do it and being at somewhere like High Wycome won't help. The two are possibly incompatible. My DD went to Godstowe Prep where lots of girls went to WA. They were universally bright, but not necessarily gifted. They all had professional (city lawyers, surgeons, consultants, PR executive, business executives, accountants etc) or very rich (old money) parents. I would say being grounded was not a priority for any of them! The ones who were not so well off took the Bucks 11 plus and had a free grammar school education.

Look at the schools based on what they offer and whether you like the "feel" of them. Do you think your DD will thrive in their care? Do they offer the extra curricular you are looking for? You will definitely know which schools are more suitable nearer the time.

seasaltcaramel Sat 06-Feb-16 11:03:20

Investigate why so many leave WA after GCSE - 20-25%. It's much more than the other all girl
Boarding schools.

thirdtimeplucky Sat 06-Feb-16 12:57:06

seasaltcaramel - just a thought - but I wonder if it is partly because they are so successful in their applications to other schools? Wycombe girls are quite a commodity. It is quite normal for a girls at all girls' boarding schools to test the mixed 6th form water....The reasons for which they stay might not always be entirely positive, just as the reasons for which girls leave Wycombe might not all be entirely negative?

seasaltcaramel Sat 06-Feb-16 17:35:43

But if they are so happy at their school why look to move. I get that some might want to go coed ( KCS/Westminster etc) or to day school (SPGS) but it doesn't account for such a huge proportion of the year group. It was something we never felt we got a satisfactory answer to.......heard too many stories of "just wanting to get out of there"....... The competition and pressure is intense. For the right girl it's fine, but it's not for everyone.

loopygoose Sat 06-Feb-16 17:38:41

Bojorojo, I love everything you've said. You're spot on. St Mary's Ascot isn't an option because we're not Catholic. Down House is a bit far (my husband really isn't keen) but I may be able to talk him round. CLC looks good but I know a girl who've left Sherborne to go to CLC and got into Oxford but is miserable about the workload. It's my daughter who's demanding to be pushed but I don't think a 9 year has a real clue what that means.
We looked at Wycombe Abbey today and they claim very few are leaving at 16 now. The girls I spoke to said the ones who leave tend to want to go back home to their London base (apparently it's very London-centric in terms of intake) and be around boys. I felt uncomfortable about WA because my daughter is really into her sports and her music and the girl who showed us round seemed very blasé about the fact that she'd given up both in favour of studying and hanging out or watching films. I'm very keen for my daughter to keep a healthy love of other activities because that, in my opinion, is what makes for a healthy and happy adult. I also thought the dorms were really cramped and run-down.
I guess we'll just keep going round the schools in the hope that we'll find one that 'feels' right and has an acceptable academic record.

Almostdone2 Sat 06-Feb-16 18:02:03

I thought the houses at WA were great especially if compared to some boys' boarding houses!!

thirdtimeplucky Sat 06-Feb-16 18:18:17

and Wycombe were Rathbones National School Lacrosse champions 2015! In a school as academic as Wycombe (in any school in fact, there will hopefully be girls with a huge cross section of interests - no school will be full of Sport Billies).

Sorry - I'm not from the Wycombe PR department! With DD having just gone through the 2016 application process, we've been attempting to ask every question & turn over every stone to find her ideal school...still are as decision date looms....

Hmmm, seasaltcaramel, I know what you mean - I've been trying to figure out how those numbers stack up too... Approaching now from the 11+ end and seeing how many London girls are super-prepped for super-selectives such as Wycombe, perhaps it is that there are just too many of the 'wrong kind of girl' making it through...

Apologies for off-piste musings Loopy! Good luck with the search.

notagiraffe Sat 06-Feb-16 18:26:29

All the girls I know from Wycombe Abbey found it quite tough on their confidence. The expectations are very high indeed.
DS2's school does a few extra curricular things with Benenden and he loves it there. Says it's really friendly and idyllic. (He even asked me if they take boys in 6th form!)

bojorojo Sat 06-Feb-16 18:37:39

My friend's Dd went to St Mary's - they are not Catholic. I agree it is not for everyone and that would have included us.

Before I saw your response about the girls leaving, I did know it was very popular with London parents. When a few girls start applying to other schools at 6th form it can have a snowball effect. Everyone starts doing it. My DDs went to girls' boarding schools and the girls do fear living in a school bubble for 7 years. Boys go at 13, girls often go at 11. After 5 years they want a change so change for 6th form. It is not necessarily a comment on the first school, more a grass is greener comment on the new school.

Regarding the ethos of the school, it really depends who shows you around. Not everyone will have a massive portfolio of extra curricular activities. My DD1 had a huge number of activities going into y11 which resulted in a meeting with her HM as to which ones to cut out. They cannot do everything and often activities clash so the young people have to prioritise. Eg school play or hockey team? When DD1 showed parents around, they must have thought she was queen of the extracurricular! When they are doing A levels and are working more independently, they often do not keep everything going and concentrate on exams. Of all the things your DD enjoys at the moment, I can guarantee that when exams kick in, there will be things that have to take a back seat. They are often replaced by school activities: going to the theatre, house activities, model United Nations, volunteering, D of E, Junior Enterprise, showing parents round etc. The list goes on and on.

Some schools have great boarding accommodation that has been modernised. Elsewhere it is somewhat older. CLC used to have beds separated by curtains. They are all different and some girls will tell you that if they have put up with boarding school dorms, nothing phases them. I would honestly be more interested in the quality of the house staff. Keep looking. Somewhere will gel.

loopygoose Sat 06-Feb-16 21:17:45

almostdone I've only looked at Brighton College so far and they were brand spanking new; knockout.
Actually thirdtimeplucky, your perspective is very interesting. I can see exactly that happening re London schools prepping hard.
Bojorojo you're right about the quality of the house staff and our girl couldn't praise the house matron enough. I think it was just a bit of a shock but I'm not wedded to the facilities end of a school; you can teach great science in a cave. Hilariously the Brighton College HM told us all that we shouldn't go around a school judging it by it's buildings whilst at the same presiding over one of the biggest building/refurbishment programmes I think I've ever seen! My daughter's current school was chosen over her last one that had far more swanky facilities; the thing that's grabbed her is the fantastic teaching and family atmosphere. But how on earth do you know if the next school does that too?! BTW, I've just taken a look at the new HM for Woldingham. She looks REALLY impressive and I'm rather excited about the future for the school if she lives up to her credentials.

loopygoose Sat 06-Feb-16 21:25:06

My only other reflection on the sports/music extra curricular side of things is that when a girl tells me that she's given up sports and also dropped the piano but has no other pursuits except hanging out and watching TV it rings alarm bells. One of my elder stepdaughters was at Cheltenham College and there were two sports scholars I knew that dropped all sports when they were there. How can that not be a red flag? I'm desperate for my girls to keep up some kind of sport and/or other activity (take your pick, I don't care which or how good they are at it) because I think it provides a defence against all the body image nonsense and an outlet when other things are a struggle.

MidLifeCrisis007 Sun 07-Feb-16 06:45:16

Are you taking your daughter with you to look around these schools loopygoose? My Year 7 DD did the rounds last year and it's a bit like buying a new house - you walk into one and it just feels "right".

A wise mum at St Mary's Ascot (who I didn't know) told me the decision had to come from my DD. If you send your child boarding at 11, they are likely to have a wobble at some point along the line. The last thing you want to hear during tearful phone conversations is "all my friends went to xyz" or "I never wanted to come to this school anyway".

My DD set her heart on Downe House (I wanted her to go to St Mary's Ascot as it's much closer). During the application process Downe House fell over themselves to make her feel welcome and she's absolutely loving the school. If your DD likes languages she'd love spending a term in Veyrines in year 8.....

Needmoresleep Sun 07-Feb-16 08:17:43

Surely Woldingham is also Catholic? Though admitedly less so. St Mary's in our experience is quite strict on the religion. Indeed would not even send us a prospectus 8 years ago, despite cousins and others being there, as DD was not baptised.

Pity as it forms a reasonable alternative to WA for the bright but slightly less confident girl.

Another option, again Catholic but not demandingly so, is Mayfield. Perhaps more for the quieter girl, and they are getting increasing numbers of enquiries from London parents who feel the London day school thing is too much, but they get very good results particularly in STEM subjects despite a broad intake.

merlottime Sun 07-Feb-16 08:22:38

Woldingham is Catholic, but welcomes girls of other/no faith as long as they can support the general ethos of the school. My DD thinks that only half of her friends are actually Catholic.

MidLifeCrisis007 Sun 07-Feb-16 08:36:25

At the St Mary's open day they made if very clear that they are a CATHOLIC school so I was quite surprised to see Lady Louise Windsor sitting the assessment last year.

So perhaps it's a CATHOLIC school*

*unless you are a member of the royal family.....

She didn't go though.....

Great school nonetheless.

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