Godstowe School, High Wycombe
This smart day and boarding prep school for girls in High Wycombe strikes the perfect balance between a stellar academic record and a nurturing, inclusive environment.
Godstowe School is a girls’ day and boarding prep school in High Wycombe for girls 7-13, with pre-prep and nursery for girls and boys (3-7). A small cohort of 330 prep school girls, 94 of whom board (77 fulltime) make full use of the attractive, compact 12 acre site with its central grand Victorian red brick mansion house, outlying boarding houses and more modern additions.
Non-selective but academically a powerhouse, Godstowe is a school that oozes tradition – the boaters, cloaks and (before lockdown) shaking hands with teachers at the end of the day, testament to Godstowe’s history as England’s first all-girls boarding prep school in 1900.
There’s been plenty of investment over the last few years and your daughter’s interests are likely to be indulged. A 15-room music school with recital hall was built in 1996; the full-size sports hall with upstairs dance/ballet studio and function room was opened in 2013 by Gabby Logan (a Godstowe parent no less), plus in 2017, Mary Berry (another ex-Godstowe parent) opened the pro Chef’s Kitchen. And in May 2019, Rebecca Adlington cut the ribbon on a spectacular 25m swimming pool.
For scientists, there are large, purpose built labs for separate biology, chemistry and physics lessons, including microelectronics, and there are two computer suites for ICT.
Godstowe is one of those schools that manages to put out A, B, C, and D teams and encourages participation as well as pushing for success. Netball is the main sport, though swimming is also a big deal – there are 8 swimming sessions a week, with a special academy for more serious swimmers run by the Wycombe District Swimming Club. Cross country is well supported, and Godstowe is one of the few schools to offer lacrosse at prep school level. Amongst sports offered at lunchtime and after school clubs include stoolball (me neither), judo, horse riding, ballet and biking.
MUSIC, ART AND DRAMA
Music is clearly a strong card here – 90% of the children take individual music lessons each week, making it one of the highest take ups I’ve come across. (I can also vouch personally for the brass specialist teacher as he taught my son trombone for 4 years – he has the patience of a saint). The art department is well-equipped, with two electric pottery wheels, a kiln and digital software. There’s no dedicated drama studio, but the hall has staging, lighting and sound equipment for productions and recitals.
Though previously the study of drama has been a bit thin on the ground, from this academic year, Godstowe now offers it as a curriculum subject from Form I to the Upper Third. This is in addition to their three major productions every year, where all girls are involved both onstage and behind the scenes (prop and set making & stagehand duties). Round of applause for positive change!
Over 20% of the 33 scholarships awarded in 2019-2020 were purely academic – not too shabby! That of course leaves 80% of scholarships remaining for music, art, sport and ‘general’, reflecting Godstowe’s all rounder ethos. Godstowe has just been accepted for the third year running as an Accelerated Reader Master School, in recognition of the amount of time that Godstowe pupils spend reading, and success in their quizzes.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Boarding schools have an advantage with wrap around care as they have this provision already in place. At Godstowe, the extended school day runs from 7.30am to 7pm including supper with the boarders. The Enrichment curriculum runs during lunchtimes but also after school – 50 different clubs every week, so the girls can try their hand at everything from Chinese mandarin to life coaching.
Sophie Green has been head for almost five years, and according to the girls who showed me around she’s highly involved – taking part in school trips, watching fixtures, and, er, throwing sushi pops ups! Her dog, ‘Meg the Celeb’, is hugely popular with the kids. Collegiate in approach, she is briskly friendly and, I suspect, a real ‘doer’.
Pre-Prep children are catered for in the newishly built Early Years building (opened Sept 2015) with two bright, airy classrooms plus an onsite kitchen, next to the ‘Little Godstowe’ nursery which has all the usual plus a lovely outdoor play area that looks out over the older play area. A very sweet, gentle, enjoyable start to school life here.
In an already relatively small school, and a girl’s school at that, boarding is going to feel an intimate and homely experience. Roughly 20% of children board full time from Y3 onwards, but no surprise that flexi boarding is on the increase too.
What’s quirky and what’s tradition? At Godstowe they combine! There are boaters and cloaks and an old school hymn, and the girls automatically ‘bob’ a tiny curtsy when they meet new people. At the end of a lesson, the pupils make eye contact with their teacher and shake hands (clearly this was pre-lock down but you get the drift!).
The nascent scuba and triathlon clubs show a willingness to try new things as well as protect the traditional. Unusually for a girls’ only prep school, Godstowe holds its pupils until 13 rather than the usual 11. The head’s dog (pictured) is a hit with the kids.
And finally, not a quirk as such, but interesting to note – probably the most famous part of the Godstowe campus is the turret on the boarding houses, which was the inspiration for Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers (the girls are much better behaved here though!).
Three morning buses, from Medmenham/Marlow; Amersham; and Gerrards Cross/Beaconsfield, and two return bus services, one at a normal time and one later, (both in the Beaconsfield direction).
Day fees are slightly higher than other girl’s day prep schools in the area, but boarding fees are lower than some elite competitors. Nursery and Pre-Prep £1870 – £3895 per term: Y3-8 £5995 per term; boarding supplement £2905 per term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Academically rigorous but also nurturing and inclusive – pastoral care is a big deal here (Wellbeing is actually in the curriculum as a subject). Parents love the no phones rule and the small, community feel. School lunches could offer more variety, say my young moles on the ground!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents who loves the English prep school traditions will fall in love with Godstowe. The non-selective cohort and small class numbers will appeal to many. Sporty types will be in heaven.
Not for: The relatively compact site might feel constraining to ‘big fish’ kids by the time they hit 13.