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25 June 2018
by Ferdinand Steinbeis

English Boarding Schools in Profile: Wycombe Abbey, England's Top Girls Boarding School

Hello from summery Oxford!
Last week we visited famous girls boarding school Wycombe Abbey.
Wycombe Abbey is an institution among English boarding schools. It is to girls boarding what Eton is to boys boarding. This was our first visit, so needless to say we were very, very curious.
But first, we need to come clean on something. At von Bülow Edcucation we've historically had mixed feelings about single sex boarding schools. On the one hand we see the benefit of a school experience that's adapted to the needs of boys and girls in the most important developmental phase of their young lives. On the other we always felt that girls and boys miss out on, well, spending time with and getting used to the opposite sex!
In any case, we went to Wycombe Abbey with an open mind. Were we rewarded for it? Yes, we were.
Wycombe Abbey is a very, very impressive boarding school.
the main school building
Nice atmosphere, surprisingly "non-stiff upper lip".
Upon arrival at the school, the first thing that struck us was how genuinely welcoming everyone was. An example: we were waiting to be seen by a slightly delayed Sophie Langdale,Wycombe Abbey's Head of Admissions. With us in reception was a family with a girl and a young boy, who was clearly very bored. Reception staff immediately caught on to this and gave him a football magazine, a hot chocolate and cookies. His smile said it all!
the school's own swan and signets
From many, many visits to world-class boarding schools, we know that this is far from normal. Visits can feel rather transactional at times!
A lot of this is down Sophie Langdale. Sophie is genuine, warm and very competent. We had a fantastic visit thanks to her and her fabulous team!
The reception -with the extraordinarily hospitable staff!
Girls can be girls.
Within seconds of walking around the school, one thing becomes very clear - the girls are different here compared to other English boarding schools. For starters, no one wears make-up. Those we spotted in casual clothes were in tracksuits and t-shirts. They laugh lots, unselfconsciously and loudly. They seem unburdened, perfectly natural and surprisingly relaxed.
When we raise this with Sophie she smiles. "That's what happens if you take boys out of the equation", she explains.
School chapel (anglican)
But much more importantly, this effect isn't superficial: 80% of 6th formers at Wycombe Abbey take A-Level maths. Physics, chemistry and biology are hugely popular here. So, unlike at many other schools, girls choose their subjects according to passion and aptitude, not according to existing gender expecations. The tired (and sexist!) adage of 'girls do creative and humanities subjects' does not apply here!
Acres upon acres for the girls to roam free!
An oasis of tranquility, to focus on what matters.
Wycombe Abbey is set in its own 170 acres of ridiculously beautiful parkland. The late-gothic main school house is surrounded by modern, state-of-the-art facilities include the Sports Centre, with a 25-metre indoor pool, the Performing Arts Centre with theatre and recital hall, an atrium café, dance and fitness. The boarding houses are all within two minutes' walking distance from where it all happens.
Lacrosse, one of the big sports at Wycombe
Within this oasis of calm, the girls can go about their activities safely and comfortably. No chauffeuring is needed; everything is right there. This allows pupils to fit in an enormous amount every day.
Activities galore!
The academic work takes up the lionshare of day. The setup is such, though, that pupils ought to be done with school and homework by 5pm. Then it's all about getting involved in sports, music, the arts, drama and the many, many activities on offer.
The arts play a major part in school life
Academic excellence guaranteed.
Academically, Wycombe Abbey is consistently in the top 3 schools in the UK. Cynics might put this down to the school's very high entrance bar. After all, if you only recruit the brightest, you'll get the best results.
The school's own theatre.
That would, however, only tell part of the story. Wycombe Abbey's academic provision is optimally set up to help individual pupils and to detect the smallest sign that a girl's standards might be slipping. Regular testing helps. An incredibly supportive network of teachers, buddies (older, more experienced girls), tutors and houseparents does the rest.
The result? A stunning 85 per cent of A levels and 97 per cent of GCSEs graded A*-A in 2017. 20 Oxbridge exits, as well as girls going to Stanford, Harvard, and Yale.
Our verdict.
We are converted! Wycombe Abbey is an amazing school where academically adept all-rounder girls will have the best education they can possibly get.
A few important facts about Wycombe Abbey:
  • www.wycombeabbey.com
  • Number of girls: 607; 557 full boarders; sixth formers: 185
  • Fees in 2017: £37,800 pa
  • 30mins from London

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