St Mary’s School, Gerrards Cross
A caring, supportive, high-achieving all-through girls school (3-18 years) in elegant Gerrards Cross.
St Mary’s School is a selective independent day school (recently shortlisted in the best Girls’ School category in the Independent Schools of the Year 2020 awards) for 375 girls aged 3-18 in Gerrards Cross, established 148 years ago by an Oxfordshire Anglican foundation. A handsome gothic building, all wood panelling, tall chimneys and ornate ceilings sits flush in a compact site of 6 acres. Class sizes are small – an average of 16 in senior school, with three classes per year group, so your daughter will have plenty of attention here.
There’s been an ambitious building investment programme in the last few years with a purpose-built Cedar House Sixth Form (2016) – think quiet study area, common area and kitchen and a green screen room. In 2018 Cherry Tree House opened, a new 6 classroom block. A cool wooden cladded new Early Years building, Little St Mary’s, was completed in 2020.
Aside from the fitness suite and trampolines there’s a brand new astroturf planned, and a breadth of sports offering that has seen girls reach the national finals in gymnastics, badminton and athletics, though with a bijou outside area clearly the majority of facilities are offsite. 2019 saw the first dedicated sports awards presentation at the school, a hint at the priority now being given an area previously underdeveloped.
MUSIC AND DRAMA
Performing arts are a particular strength of this school, and perhaps due to the small student numbers, staff and parents are also involved – the chemistry teacher plays cello and head of drama plays the flute in the orchestra, and there’s a community choir that includes parents, governors, staff and girls, in addition to school choirs. Ensembles on offer include Swing Band, Flute Ensemble, Clarinet Choir, Classical Guitar Ensemble, Senior Orchestra and a Chamber Group. Drama is very popular here, with the vast majority of the girls taking part in productions (either back of house or jazz handing it on the stage), 14% of the girls take part in LAMDA exams and the prep and senior schools each on 4 shows per year.
With 12 per cent of sixth formers applying for Oxbridge in 2018 and 2019 despite its non-selective cohort , St Mary’s clearly caters well on academics, with the majority being core subjects, thoug you can also take the likes of Business Economics, Media Studies, IT, Textiles, PE and Religious Studies here.
At GCSE, this year (2020) 15% were at Grade 9, the very highest A*grade, 35% at Grade 9 and 8, 62% at Grades 9-7, 84 % at Grades 9-6 and 99.77% at Grades 9-4.
For A levels 2020 53% A-A and 83% A-B grades. Really strong results by anyone’s standard.
SEN provision here is excellent, with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ASD, hearing loss and mental health issues all catered for in-house with two Specialist Teachers who are also Level 7 qualified Specialist Assessors with SpLD practising certificates. ‘CAKE’ (Cognitive and Kinaesthetic Education), is run as a lunchtime club for groups of 4-5 on their timetable for girls who need extra help in Key Stage 3 (Years 7-9). By Y10 support is individual.
In the Prep Department there is in-class support, extra 1:1 boosters and support for reading as well as small group support for fine motor skills, speech and language and social skills.
Patricia Adams has been in the hot seat since Sept 18, and it’s her first headship, having been head of Spanish at Oxford High School, head of modern languages at Headington School and more recently academic deputy head at Blackheath High. She talks about St Mary’s having a ‘large school mentality’ and I definitely think her modus operandi is to increase the punch and visibility of the school – you can see that with her emphasis on sport. Recognising that St Mary’s onsite facilities are constrained by its size, Adams is big on wellbeing, happiness and individual attention – a USP that plays into St Mary’s strength of being a friendly, caring school.
You can read the latest ISI report here.
Definitely proactive on this front. St Mary’s is a ‘Girls on Board’ school, a training approach that helps girls, their parents and their teacher to understand girl friendships and empowers the girls to understand them and solve problems when they arise. And there are regular evenings put on for parents (the latest was a talk from Bucks MIND charity) to help support their daughters. There’s a strict no mobile phone policy here, apart from for Sixth Form at break time (cue parental whooping).
A very sweet, bright nursery with all the bells and whistles necessary though clearly the new purpose-built nursery building is the star – a wooden-clad, light and airy space with low-level interactive screens. Then there’s the creative outdoor space with a sweet story area and obstacle course.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Standard for a day school – in the mornings it’s a 7.45am drop off (though Nursery and Reception is an 8am start which might not be convenient if you have children in both stages at the school). After-school club lasts until 6pm, but Senior girls can do supervised prep in the library instead.
School buses collect from Rickmansworth, Uxbridge, Bourne End and along the route. For a full list see here.
One of the benefits of being such a small school is that the girls get a chance to take responsibility and positions of leadership. There’s a sweet flag ceremony where the old head girl hands over the flag over to the new head girl – the flag is lowered and raised again as the new head girl and her team of 4 (practically a company!) take over responsibilities.
On the buildings front, there’s a lovely senior library, with ceiling plasterwork like sugar icing, and a gorgeous little quirky corner for reading.
The school has starting a lecture series that is also open to the public via Eventbrite (free admission) – Jess Wade, the Imperial College physicist who made it her mission to raise the profile of female scientists on Wikipedia by writing 600 profiles is scheduled to speak in November.
On the lower end for such a wealthy area. Per term, Nursery £2,155, Reception £2995, Y1-3 £4255-£4735, Y4-5 £4820, Year 6 £5070, and Y7-13 is £6105. Scholarships are available for entry to Year 3 (Academic) and for Year 7 with Academic, Sport, Music, Art and Drama. For Sixth Form, scholarships are on offer for Academic, Expressive Arts and Sport.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The view from parents and those in the know seems to be that St Mary’s has much to shout about but the school is (unfairly) put in the shadow by the whopper facilities of some of its neighbours. Pastorally the school is very strong, helped by the fact that it’s an all-through school – St Mary’s really gets to know and nurture the kids. School lunches have improved massively apparently, and the girls I spoke to were really happy and settled at the school. One thing though Mrs Adams – the girls would like a less strict school bag policy please!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents who are looking for all-through education, girls who will thrive in an intimate, supportive environment. The school is a five-minute drive from Gerrards Cross train station, so it’s handy for parents working in London (Marylebone is a titchy 20 minutes commute). Excellent extra-curricular activities – robotics through to Chinese Mandarin in the Senior school, ballet and coding through to debating and pilates for the Prep girls.
Not for: If you’re after a huge school with masses of space – the small grounds relative to some other local girls’ schools might put off those who like to luxuriate in what they’re paying for.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! There’s a virtual whole school Open Morning Sat 10 Oct. Registration essential.
St Mary’s School, Packhorse Rd, Gerrards Cross SL9 8JQ. Tel: 01753 883370.