Queen Anne’s, Caversham
Muddy says: A dynamic girls' day and boarding school that's revolutionising the way teens are taught. Set in 34 acres it boasts 'wow' facilities, results and a cool sixth form centre.
Queen Anne’s is a dynamic day and boarding school for girls aged 11-18, perched on the hill with views across Caversham and Reading. Although within striking distance of Reading, it’s a leafy oasis with 34 acres for the 467 girls to go wild. One of the oldest girls’ schools in the country, it dates back to 1698 in London and moved to its current location in 1894.
The Grade-II listed Victorian manor is the school’s shop window and a brand new glass entrance and reception area have been added this summer. The campus is largely made up of modern teaching blocks and boarding houses, including a foxy award-winning sixth form centre – a creative and fun space that gives Google’s offices a run for their money. But that’s old news, a recording studio and the St Cecelia Recital Hall now complete the phenomenal Scott Music Centre – named after former head Audrey Scott (1978-1996).
PHE-NOM-EN-AL! Queen Anne’s maybe one of the oldest and most respected girls’ school in the UK, but its facilities are top notch and we give them an A* across the board.
First up, the new £1.45 million music centre. Music is a huuuge part of school life and having outgrown it’s previous home, it is now an inspirational, harmonious space the heart of the main building. It boasts a music hall, recital hall, recording studio, sound-proofed practice rooms, a Mac suite, music offices a small performance space as well as 21 new pianos. Music is big here. An impressive 50% of pupils play an instrument, choir is cool and last year they performed at 38 different events from Westminster Abbey to Washington DC.
While we’re talking about the arts, there’s also an impressive 250-seater theatre with a light and sound control room – they put on five shows a year with WW1 tribute Journey’s End and Les Misérables getting rave reviews. The Art and Design block is in one of the few uglier buildings on campus, but it is a creative hub with lots of cool tech and equipment to inspire great artwork. Ceramics and printmaking are back on the curriculum and workshops are planned with visiting Royal Academy artists.
On the sporting front, the grounds are pristine, with lacrosse pitches, an athletics track, 7 netball courts, 14 tennis courts, an indoor swimming pool – and it’s a stonking 25m job – plus a large fitness suite, climbing wall and dance studios. Rowing is also available off site. The list goes on and on – and it’s all top notch. It will come as no surprise that Queen Anne’s are a team to beat on match days – particularly at lacrosse. But there’s a lot of silverware to polish after wins at the cricket and U13 tennis Berkshire County Finals, plus a 2018 leaver, captained the England U19 Lacrosse team at this year’s World Cup and 15-year-old discus thrower, Zara, is ranked 11th in the UK, including the adults. Casually, Olympian Chemmy Alcott trained the ski team for the Inter-Schools Ski Racing Championships. Blimey.
The big wow is the award-winning sixth form centre that opened in September 2016. It’s a hipsters’ paradise – the communal study area has funky houses if you need privacy, there’s also a cool café and upstairs the classrooms have hi-tech smart walls instead of whiteboards. What I loved the most are the three creative spaces, designed by the girls themselves – a retro cinema with fold-up velvet seating, NYC’s Central Park with park bench and cushion boulders and Big Ben.
What’s next on the development masterplan? To improve the sports facilities by adding an astro-turf pitch.
You don’t have to be Einstein’s love child to snag a place at Queen Anne’s, but complacency is not an option. The results are bonkersly good. The 2019 GCSE results showed 97% were graded A*-C across 33 subjects. An impressive 16 students achieved six or more 9/8 (A*), with some stonking grades in STEM subjects (that’s the sciences, maths and computer science, to us mere mortals) – 60% achieving 9-7 (A*/A). A- Level results were equally good – 68% were awarded A*-B and one superstar achieved an A* in A-Level music… at the age of 15! How amazing is that? Oxbridge is always an option, but Queen Anne’s pupils prefer somewhere modern and relevant to their career goals (and social life too)..
Queen Anne’s reputation is unabashedly high achieving and competitive, but there’s also huuuuge extra curricular element. Early riser? Morning swim sessions are one way to wake up. Fancy yourself as the next Oti Mabuse? Dance is really popular and offers all styles from ballet and tap to street dance. If your child is an unashamed nerd or keep in their own lane, you still have options – animation (above), astronomy club, climate change, flippin current affairs society and there’s even a club for aspiring doctors to apply for med school! Not a one-size fits all, but something for everyone.
It’s also full of dragons. *Ahem, not the teaching staff, cheeky – entrepreneurs. Each year the school takes part in Tycoon In Schools and in recentyears the KS3 kids created a business making handmade family trees with just £174 start-up costs. They made 189% return – and won! Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden need to watch their backs. Others have hosted supper clubs to raise money for charity. No shortage of female entrepreneurs here.
It’s swapped girl power for brain power – hitting the headlines (and sparking a parliamentary debate) after it trialled later school start times for Y12s, all part of Queen Anne’s research programme. Ready for the science bit? BrainCanDo is a QAS-led initiative to understanding the teen brain, translating the latest psychology and education neuroscience research into teaching that benefits the girls – causing a positive ripple on results, health and wellbeing.
For such a innovative, modern school, it’s not at the expense of tradition. Scarlet cloaks are still worn on high days and holidays and you’ll see the red army at opening mornings and church services.
The peer mentor system is a superb support for younger students and creates a real sense of community – but it does mean the older girls can become a grandma at the tender age of 16 (in name only, in case you were wondering). There’s also the annual end-of-term Bust-Up. A chance for staff and pupils to blow of steam with some fancy-dress fun. You’ll need to sharpen your elbows to get anywhere near the mirror on that day.
WRAP AROUND CARE:
The days are pretty long (8am-6.30pm) with extra curricular activities kicking in after 4.10pm, but the girls can choose to finish early on a Friday (4.30pm) and Saturdays are optional. Although traditional activities like rowing, drama and cookery and newer ones like app workshops and yoga, it’s hard not to be lured back through the school gates.
Boarding is fashionably flexible – with full, weekly, flexi and occasional boarding all on offer but most sixth-formers go the whole hog and spend the week. The three modern boarding houses are well above average and feel homely with an abundance of super-squishy sofas, large communal kitchen tables and a couple of cute dogs padding around too.
MEET THE HEAD
I have met Julia Harrington several times and she is one impressive lady. Julia came to the education game late (she worked at ITV in a previous life), and has been head at Queen Anne’s for 13 years. She’s an inspirational, energetic, forward-thinking woman. Her BrainCanDo programme teaches the girls about how the brain effects everything they do. From this greater understanding the kids can boost their ability to learn, cope with stress and just be happier. It’s where wellbeing (the hot educational buzzword) and science collide. Where do I sign up? What I loved about Julia is that she wants to disrupt the idea of ‘normal’. Anything is possible. There’s more than one way to do something – and she’s living proof of that.
Day pupils – £8,205 per term (£24,615 per annum); Full Boarding – £12,690 per term (£38,070 per annum) for 2019-2020
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents love it for its ceiling smashing attitude, pastoral care, facilities and that they are very much a part of the school community (you can pop it as often as you like). What do the girls think? They said it’s a bit strict, particularly on skirt length (nothing a sly roll of the waistband can’t sort out). But they love their school and are fiercely loyal to their houses, enjoy the social side and are driven to succeed – even if that means they have to try, try, and try again.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: It’s hard to know a girl who wouldn’t love it here. It’s academic enough for the pushiest of parents but the style of teaching plus the sport and diverse range of extra-curricular activities mean the kids have a blast.
Not for: It’s a little pricier than some schools in the area, but you get a lot bang for your buck, plus hefty discounts are available to parents serving in the British armed forces, and scholarships are up for grabs for Academic Excellence, All-Round Contribution, Art, Drama, Music or Sport.
Dare to disagree: See for yourself if you agree with my verdict. There’s a School Open Morning on Fri 6 Mar.
Queen Anne’s School, Henley Road, Caversham, Berkshire RG4 6DX. Tel: 0118 918 7333.