St George’s Ascot
Muddy says: A small, friendly girl’s secondary boarding/ day school in Berkshire, where kindness, confidence and ambition are celebrated.
ST GEORGE’S, ASCOT, BERKSHIRE
St George‘s is a small girls’ secondary boarding and day school in Ascot, just 25 miles outside London for 11-18 year olds. Currently 270 girls attend, roughly half of whom board. Like many public schools, there’s a beautiful old main building with good-looking, modern additions all around. For a town school, it has a semi-rural feel with 32 glorious acres to romp around in, but with all the convenience of its town location. Great transport links and the opportunity for the girls to enjoy a little independence. The lure of a frappuccino with friends sounds great to me.
There is a real buzz about the brand spanking new 25m indoor pool. After a 12-month build and £5.6m spent, broadcaster and St George’s alumna Kirsty Gallacher was at the school to officially open it at the start of term. It’s the cherry on the facilities cake when you’ve got this lot to shout about: 6 floodlit netball courts, 8 tennis courts, 3 lacrosse pitches, mirrored dance studio (are you keeping up?), fitness suite, grass athletics track, 2 squash courts, full size sports hall. Plus the opportunity to go offsite for riding and polo.
It’s fair to say, sportiness is in these girls’ DNA. The 1st XI have won the National Small Schools Lacrosse Tournament three years on the bounce and the polo team have been national champs, plus you’ll find a few international show jumpers and high level athletes at the school.
MUSIC & DRAMA
The theatre complex is enormous and a super-active drama department makes this school an attractive proposition for jazz handers. There’s a state-of-the-art 350-seat theatre and separate drama studio giving the girls the space to flex their creativity, bringing the whole school together for the annual musical. Cats certainly went down a storm last year, and the girls heaped praise on set designer and theatre technician Russell Pearn who goes above and beyond to bring the sets to life be it for pupil projects or school productions. I get the impression the girls like to test him. He’s yet to disappoint.
Music is also also big deal at St George’s – out of 270 pupils, more than 50% of them take weekly individual music lessons or sing in the choir. There are 12 practice rooms, 2 performance spaces, a music IT suite, 4 Grand pianos and more. As you’d expect, any instrumental choices can be accommodated, even the bagpipes. Just don’t expect the Head of Music to like it (a running joke). The Chapel Choir sing Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral each year and recently travelled to Rome to sing at The Vatican. Yes, they’re that good. Even the most ferocious tiger mum can’t fail to be impressed by those stats and facts!
The new library has style and substance with the girls enjoying some peace and quiet or study time, under the watchful eye of school librarian Alison Kennedy – shortlisted for the School Librarian of the Year Award. Obviously I quizzed her on the girls’ favourite authors and reassuringly Roald Dahl, Jacqueline Wilson and Lemony Snicket are still loved alongside Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson books), Hunger Games books and William Thackery’s Vanity Fair is making a comeback thanks to the ITV’s series.
It’s hard to compare school to school sometimes but St Georges is in the top 5% in the UK for value added – supporting girls to achieve at least one grade higher than expected in GCSE and A-Level. The proof is in the pudding, this year a third achieved grades 9-7 (A*/A) in six or more subjects, with subjects like Drama, English Language, Spanish, History and Biology doing veyr well. The A level results aren’t too shabby either – 35% of results graded A*-A (nat avg is 25.5%) giving the girls the opportunity to study everything from medicine, philosophy and criminology to fine art, fashion and acting. Not everyone’s a 10 A* genius, but the quality teaching, facilities and approach to learning, certainly get superb results.
Liz Hewer has been in the hot seat for just three years and seems like a shrewd cookie. She was previously Deputy Head at St Mary’s Ascot and is in no rush to make sweeping changes. Knowing St George’s was behind the curve on IT, she has just rolled out a new techy, more efficient and creative way for teachers and pupils to work using Chromebooks (but not at the expense of actual writing, obvs). She has also signed up for GCSE Pod, offering revision resource for the YouTube-podcast generation. Brilliant. The entrance exams to the school take in not only academics but also consider outside interests and activities, including an interview to assesswhether the prospective pupil will ‘fit’ the school’s those values – confident, capable and connected. I liked her a lot. She’s got a twinkle in her eye, is forward-thinking and feels life is all about balance.
Plenty, though on first impressions it feels very traditional with the usual array of GCSEand A level subjects on offer, but in other areas can feel forward thinking. The new Chromebooks run a programme called Dragonfly – prep work, research material, school notices and more, all available at the press of a button. No YouTube or unapproved apps can be used on them, so rest assured the kids are working hard and not scrolling through Instagram during double maths.
House competitions – like the aptly named team run, the Georgian Gallop – and some co-curricular activities encourage integration between the years. I had lunch with several sixth formers who were lovely – confident, charming girls who absolutely love their school. They feel they have been given every opportunity whether they are sporty, arty, theatrical or have grand plans in science and engineering.
Famous alumnae include Winston Churchill – no, Winston’s parents weren’t a bit bonkers. It was in fact a boys’ school up until 1904. In recent years, Princess Beatrice, TV sports presenter Kirsty Gallacher, and Isobel Waller-Bridge,the St George’s former head girl, may not be a household name but she has just written the music score for Sundaynight period drama, Vanity Fair.
Girls earn their privileges through academic achievement, extra-curricular contributions and manners (no wonder the girls I met had phenomenal social skills). Doors are opened for you, chat is relaxed, and charm is effortless. I can’t stand rude kids so I’m always impressed when they can look you in the eye and hold a conversation.
I also love the ambassadors awards scheme to encourage the girls to connect outside the St George’s bubble – helping at open days, participating in charity events, linking up with other schools or helping others.
While we’re all photographing our food for instagram, the school run the Leiths Cookery Course, for first and second years. It’s no Junior Bake Off, this is a bespoke course for St George’s that focuses on culinary art – so the girls learn professional cookery skills, appreciation of food, ingredients, culinary trends and nutrition.
WRAP AROUND CARE
When it comes to boarding houses, in truth, most schools are the same – high street sofas and large TVs and games in the communal areas, oak veneer bunkbeds in the rooms. But there are plenty of posters on the walls and cute personal touches to ensure the rooms feel homely. Tailored boarding is a really popular option, enabling parents to choose for their girls to sleep over 4, 5 or 6 nights as week, usually based on what activities they’re doing. When the day starts at 8.15am and ends as late as 6.45pm, it makes sense.
For day pupils, the school runs bus services from Langley, Windsor, Maidenhead, Gerrards Cross and a weekly bus service zips up and down the M4 to London. School-run weary parents can be seen clicking their heels with delight.
It is also worth noting, the girls are encouraged – strongly – to step back from over-focusing on pure academics to forge interests in sport, music, anything co-curricular. It’s all about balance and the teachers have made it clear here that girls have to offer more than brains and academic results to compete for places at university and in the workplace. With the trend towards anxiety in teens, that’s good to hear.
FEES: The boarding fee is £11,820 per term and the day fee is £7, 300 per term so on a par with local independent senior schools. Value for money? Hard to say, but the girls seem very happy, confident, ambitious for themselves and there seems to be an absence of meanness and vanity – which is a result at this age.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Very happy parents at St George’s. The school is small (average class sizes only around 15) but not so tiny that the girls don’t have room to grow. Word is the school is nurturing but not too claustrophobic and that the girls exude confidence and individuality.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Anyone looking for a superb all round school that is academically ambitious without being a hot house. If good travel links are important, Ascot train station is less than a mile away and links straight to London Waterloo. It’s close to Windsor, Maidenhead and Reading. Those who want their daughters offered every opportunity – co-curricular activities are massive here.
Not for: Non-joiners. Mostly the interview process will weed out those who prefer a more laid-back school experience, but everyone I talked to, from the head to the pupils said that this is a school for kids who want to have ago. If you’re looking for a progressive, funky school this might not be the one for you – St George’s is about traditional education, manners and turning out confident, caring girls.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the whole school on Friday 6 March at 9am.
St George’s School, Wells Lane, Ascot Berkshire SL5 7DZ. Tel 01344 629904