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Downe House
Downe House
Downe House
Downe House
top 200
Downe House Thatcham, Berkshire Visit
school
Downe House
Thatcham
578 pupils, ages 11-18
Girls only
Day and Boarding

Downe House

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Our view

A top choice for families looking for the proper full-boarding experience from the get-go, Downe House combines tradition with a refreshing balance of work and play. Girls get punchy results and are encouraged to develop character and charm, before heading off to top universities with invaluable grounding and a solid group of friends for life.

Where?

A two-mile drive off the M4 and a stone’s throw from Newbury, the low-slung whitewashed buildings and tangy orange roof tiles resemble a Spanish hacienda, but the sparkly Murray Centre (the largest building project in the school’s history) adds a modern touch. This new, light-filled centre for learning is an impressive hub, bang in the middle of the campus, and here, pupils can grab a coffee (in their reusable cups), top up on tuck, knuckle down to some work in a den-like study cove or attend highbrow lectures in the auditorium.

Celebrating a century on its current site in 2022, Downe House is set on slightly rolling grounds in pretty wooded Berkshire countryside. The vibe is more university than all-girls boarding school, and the grounds cover over 100 acres. Kudos to the groundsmen for the immaculate gardens.

Central London is around a 90-minute drive away, and trains from nearby Newbury connect directly to London Paddington.

Head

Emma McKendrick – aka ‘Kenny’ – is a true Downe House legend. She has been at the helm since 1997 (the school has had only five headmistresses in its history) and lends the school a soothing stability. Parents and pupils praise her calm and capable demeanour, as well as her ability to listen and to know everything and everyone. The cosy feel of the school is down to her desire to not greedily increase numbers – our insider felt the manageable size was ‘Kenny keeping her stamp on things’. Parents value the school’s policy of taking an ‘achievable number of pupils, rather than trying to cram in too many’.

Admissions

Entry is at 11+, 13+ or 16+ and Mrs McKendrick interviews girls at all entry points. She is after sparky ladies who will embrace and make the most of what Downe House has to offer. Three applications per place is the going rate.

Around 55 girls join at 11+ from more than 60 different prep schools following an assessment day (packed with group activities, team building, a school tour, interview with the head and creative writing task) and Common Entrance. Scholars are identified by a particularly strong pre-test score. Offers are unconditional for entry at 13+ (there are around 45 places up for grabs at this point; assessment takes place in the Autumn term of Year 6) and CE is used purely for setting purposes.

Girls looking to join the sixth form must sit three exams the year before entry; two in subjects they currently study, and one ‘general paper’, and there’s also an interview with the head of sixth form.

In 2021, 22 pupils were on a full or partial means-tested bursary, which are available at all entry points. To celebrate the school's centenary, the school recently launched a number of Centenary Day Bursaries, which will cover up to 100 per cent of the day fee (plus an allowance for extras) for local pupils.   

Academics and university destinations

A very well-oiled machine academically, one parent told us that they relish the emphasis on ‘a well-rounded girl being more likely to reach her full potential, rather than a girl who has been focused on nothing but A*s’. There’s no sense whatsoever that this is a hot house, but results are superb, with 98 per cent A*-B at A-level last year.

The Key Stage 3 curriculum has had a spruce: girls are now offered more choice from Upper Fourth (their Year 9), with a chance to specialise in key areas and have a firmer foundation for the GCSE years. Last year, girls achieved an impressive 71 per cent of 9-8 grades at GCSE. There’s a dedicated EPQ department, and a brilliant new elective programme kicks off in the Lower Fifth, with a series of bespoke subject-specific modules on offer covering everything from ‘the physics of music’ to ‘cognitive science’ and ‘the power of China’. It’s all part of the school’s super-curriculum, encouraging intellectual curiosity and challenge, and there’s no doubt that girls leave well-honed for the intellectual rigour of university.

Each girl has a weekly one-to-one catch up with her academic mentor to check in on her progress and smooth out any concerns, be they academic or pastoral.

In 2021, 25 per cent of leavers chose to read STEM subjects at higher education and while Oxbridge is encouraged, the school doesn’t want girls to ‘narrow their pathways’. Some head on to US big-hitters including McGill, NYU, U Penn and Barnard, while art and drama schools are also a popular route – RADA and Parsons have taken a shine to Downe House alumnae in the past.

Co-curricular

The school breeds fine sportswomen. Lacrosse is top of the list (there are no fewer than 14 different teams) and rivalries run deep – don’t get the girls started on Wycombe Abbey or Queen Anne’s. Some pupils join national squads, and more than half of girls participate in weekly lessons on the eight dedicated courts.

Tennis is extremely popular, with more than 300 lessons every week and semi-professional coaches (an ex-Wimbledon star is head of tennis). Add netball, swimming, cross-country, hockey (which is growing at a rapid pace), equestrian (the school has a partnership with Oxford Polo Club), cricket and football to the list and a 100 per cent match-play rate on Saturday in the lower school – these sporty lasses mean business. They even scoop up medals at the British Schoolgirls’ Ski Racing Championships in France.

The arts are robustly encouraged at Downe: 500 individual music lessons fill the school every week, there are six different choirs and 12 ensembles and the art room is a riot. We rejoiced at the paint splatters everywhere – it feels like a space where you can let your imagination run wild. House drama is hotly contested every year, with five plays performed in a day to a 2,000-strong audience, with more than 300 girls taking part. Famous adjudicators have included Sir Tim Rice, Alexander Armstrong and Geraldine James.

Global-exchange programmes are on trend. Downe House is part of a network of 12 schools across the world (some as far afield as Australia and Japan), and girls in Year 10 and 12 can apply to visit for a three-week stint. It’s a great way to keep pupils open-minded, and in return, international pupils ‘slip into uniform and become part of the happy throng’, says the school. Younger pupils can sign up for trips ranging from a tennis tour to Portugal to a history and politics trip to Washington DC.

Clubs are plentiful: pupils can work towards their Leith’s Introductory Certificate in Food & Wine in cookery club, Cheese Society sounds tempting and the Phoenix Society caught our eye – girls link up with boys from nearby schools to chat about any subject, from climate change to Kenyan rhinos. The Mendley Lecture series attracts a roster of high-profile speakers: recent attendees include journalists Max Hastings and John Simpson and the writer Simon Sebag-Montefiore.

Lower school pupils get to sign up for the Wakefield Award, the school’s own mini DofE/Young Enterprise hybrid leadership scheme. The school also runs a community volunteering programme, with girls popping into care homes, helping out at local primary schools and assisting with riding lessons for the disabled.

A point to note: girls have the opportunity to spend a term in France in their second year (lower fourth), where they benefit from a total immersion in the French language – the pupils we met bubbled over with enthusiasm for the ‘unforgettable experience’ and warned that ‘girls talk about it for years afterwards’.

Boarding

Full boarding is the ticket here and Downe House is ‘unapologetic in its philosophy that it generates distinct benefits’. There are a small number (around 20) of local day girls, but the school is not a fan of the to-ing and fro-ing of weekly or flexi boarding. Along with fixed exeats, girls have one or two ‘floating’ weekends they can take each term, and girls are allowed home on Saturday afternoons after matches. Closed weekends are filled to the brim with activities – boarders are present and engaged with wellness weekends, dance afternoons, movie nights and wackier options such as indoor skydiving.

Boarding houses are arranged by age group: girls spend the first two years split across three lower-school houses, before taking the grown-up step in Upper Fourth to one of the five main houses (Aisholt, AGN, AGS, Holcombe and Tedworth). The final stop is a two-year stint in one of the two dedicated sixth-form houses, which are seen as a stepping stone between school and university. Some houses sit bang-centre in the middle of the campus; two are located in the main building and one is tucked away in the surrounding woods. We peeked into a few – all were wonderfully homely, decked out in smart Farrow and Ball colours and with plenty of spaces to study or practice music.

School community

Wellbeing is the buzzword here, with a strong focus on yoga and mindfulness. Each boarding house has trained ‘wellbeing champions’ to help with stress management and sleeping and to offer pamper treats. There are also counsellors and life-coaches on hand if needed. The school uses AS Tracking – an online assessment tool designed to track pupils’ wellbeing – to help guide staff’s pastoral interactions and interventions. Every member of teaching staff takes a number of tutees under their wing, checking in with them weekly.

A dedicated lecture programme for sixth formers sees guest speakers pop in for talks on nutrition, online safety, personal finance and revision strategies, while parents are invited to join seminars on diet, drugs, the party scene and much more, to help keep the dialogue open.

The pupils we met were refreshingly unfussed about their appearance and all looked natural and smiley. One mother echoes the same sentiment: ‘They are not worrying about hair and make-up each morning and can enjoy just being girls for a little longer, while concentrating on their studies and developing strong relationships.’

Around 30 per cent of pupils come from London (the school hosts an annual drinks reception for London parents), and parents tend to fall into the ‘muddy Range Rover and black Labrador crew’, says an old girl. Girls have a very busy social life, and there are regular socials with Eton, Harrow and Radley (reeling parties seem to be a favourite), encouraging pupils to develop relaxed, platonic relationships with boys.

The Downe community is part of the package, with parents past and present and the alumnae providing an inspiring network of support. There are 3,600 old girls living in 52 countries, plus seven fourth-generation families. DH Links brings them all together and offers internships, work placements and networking events all over the world. ‘Downe is a school for real life, not just academic life,’ says a former parent, and girls stay firm friends for life, affectionately referring to themselves as DHOGS (Downe House Old Girls).

And finally...

The girls alone sell Downe House – and the refreshing normality and happiness of those we met speaks volumes. This is a hugely successful, wonderfully nurturing school – doing a solid job at setting girls up for life.

Gallery See All

Girls in green jumpers in class with blue curtains
Girls in green blazers playing the flute
Girls in green blazers in class with their hands up
Two girls in green jumpers standing by a white robot
Two girls in uniform walking through woods
Three girls in white tops and sparkly trousers singing
Girls playing hockey white shirts and green socks
Girls by small white fence playing with puppies
  • Academic results

    GCSE results
    A level results
    Download results as PDF
  • University destinations

    5% of leavers went on to Oxford or Cambridge university.
    92% of leavers went on to a Russell Group university.
    10% of leavers went on to an overseas university.
    14% of leavers went on to a creative arts or vocational course.
    94% of leavers went on to their first choice university.
  • Subjects offered

    GCSE

    Art & Design
    Biology
    Business Studies
    Chemistry
    Computer Science
    Design and Technology
    Drama and Theatre Studies
    Economics
    English Language
    English Literature
    French
    Further Mathematics
    Geography
    German
    Government and Politics
    History
    Italian
    Latin
    Mandarin
    Mathematics
    Music
    Photography
    Physics
    Religious Studies
    Russian
    Spanish
    Classical Greek
    Textile Design
    Food General

    A Level

    Art & Design
    Biology
    Business Studies
    Chemistry
    Computer Science
    Design and Technology
    Drama and Theatre Studies
    Economics
    English Language
    English Literature
    French
    Further Mathematics
    Geography
    German
    Government and Politics
    History
    History of Art
    Italian
    Latin
    Mandarin
    Mathematics
    Music
    Photography
    Physical Education
    Physics
    Politics
    Psychology
    Religious Studies
    Russian
    Spanish
    Textiles
    Classical Greek
    Product Design
    EPQ
  • Fees and bursaries

    Day fees per term

    Year 7£10,960
    Year 8 £10,960
    Year 9 £10,960
    Year 10£10,960
    Year 11£10,960
    Year 12£10,960
    Year 13£10,960
    Boarding fees per term

    Year 7£14,740
    Year 8 £14,740
    Year 9 £14,740
    Year 10 £14,740
    Year 11£14,740
    Year 12£14,740
    Year 13£14,740




    Bursaries
    Downe House offers fee support of up to 100 per cent, with the potential for further support for additional costs, to families who would not otherwise be able to afford them. Applications are judged against suitability, both academically and with respect to wider school life, as well as need. The application process contains the usual full financial history and home visit and is subject to an annual review.

    For more information please see the school website, which also contains contact details for the Registrar as well as a link to their ‘Parent’s Guide to Bursaries’:

    https://www.downehouse.net/admissions/bursaries/

    Bursary contact:
    Registrar Miss Angela Nutt
    nutta@downehouse.net
  • Transport links

    School Transport
    School bus service to/from London

    Public Transport
    Nearest mainline train station: Thatcham or Newbury
    Journey time to London by train: 60 minutes
    Nearest international airport: Heathrow (45 miles)


  • Parents tell us

     

    'The quiet, caring and diligent approach of the Head and her staff was the major draw. The school is low-key and yet quietly ambitious for its pupils. The school gives a depth of confidence to the girls, without being showy or arrogant.

    It was a brilliant admissions process from start to finish with all three girls. Everyone was so considerate, encouraging and thoughtful. Once the girls started, we were treated to regular drinks in London for all years.

    The headteacher is absolutely exemplary. The girls simply adore ‘Kenny’. She has a huge sense of humour, commands utter respect, is not afraid to partake in fun films with the girls, and yet is incredibly ambitious for the school and her girls. This was the absolute defining factor in choosing Downe. The house mistresses have all supported my girls throughout their time. The chaplain is a particular star. She makes confirmation classes great fun and instructive (using Domino's pizza helps!)

    Scrupulous involvement in detail from all of the staff. The parents' meetings are frequent and slick. We feel completely involved, without the girls necessarily knowing how involved we actually are, they are very much left to make decisions for themselves, guided by the staff. All members of staff know our children well. They are always encouraged in a healthy diet, yoga and mindfulness. Our eldest daughter who is going into sixth form feels quietly confident. The school manages expectations, being ambitious but practical.

    It is a close-knit community and new families are welcomed. There are lunches at the school, match teas and brilliant drinks in London.

    My advice to new parents would be to join the school at 11 rather than 13 in order to create friendship groups from the start of the school if possible. I think it is harder at any school to join after the majority.

    We hope the school can maintain its full-boarding status. There is no doubt this adds to the richness of the school, as the weekend activities are so bonding for all involved. House drama and founders weekend are the absolute example of this bonding of all age groups, using house activities to create excitement. We love the school.’

    ‘Downe House consistently produces polite, well rounded, kind and motivated girls who have a great perspective on life, and importantly a very close network of friends when they leave. Academic standards are very high, as demonstrated by the GCSE and A Level results, yet Downe House also provides an environment for girls, with varying different strengths and interests, to thrive and meet their full potential, whether in sport, drama, arts and music. The pastoral care is also excellent. The admissions process was excellent and went very smoothly.

    The headteacher Mrs McKendrick is one of the most impressive people I have had the pleasure to meet. She knows every girl's name, what they are interested in, and how they are performing. She also seems to know every parent well, responds to all emails and turns up to almost every event. She commands huge respect from everybody at the school (and parents) and has built up a great team of teachers and support staff. Given how Mrs McKendrick is such an important influence on the type of girl Downe House produces, indirectly she was a significant factor in our choice of school.

    It's difficult to single out individual teachers given so many of them have influenced our girls in such a positive way. Communication is very good and we are kept well informed. With regards to being involved with your children's education, you can get involved as much or as little as you want. Teachers, tutors and the Headmistress are always willing to discuss our daughters outside the usual parent meetings. If however, you choose not to get involved, there is a strong feeling that, having entrusted our girls to the school, they are getting the very best education and pastoral care.

    The pastoral care at the school is excellent and we have had no issues with our girls over the last 7 years. The teachers, tutors, and house mistresses all know our girls' strengths and weaknesses and provide an environment where girls are encouraged to speak to them (and importantly their friends) if there are issues and concerns.

    Our personal experience is one where the school has a high level of discipline but it doesn't smother the girl's individual characters, allows them to thrive and create a great network of friends who they can turn to (as well as the school staff), and as a result we have very happy and healthy girls.

    So far the experience has been excellent. Academically we feel the teaching has allowed our girls to reach their potential and achieve excellent grades. They, like most Downe House girls, are well-rounded with a good perspective on life, have good social skills, are driven and motivated, have a great network of friends (both at Downe House and other schools), and are therefore hopefully very well placed to go on to the next stage of their education. Although as parents we would love to take full credit for the above, we unfortunately do have to give a lot of the credit to Downe House!

    There is a very close-knit school community where parents are encouraged to take an active role if they want, but there is no pressure to. There is no PTA but there are regular parent and teacher social evenings.

    Certainly Downe House has lived up to expectations and there's very little, if anything, that I don't like about the school - my daughters are happy, work hard, have had a great experience, are maximising their potential and taking advantage of the opportunities and facilities the school has to offer.

    My advice to other parents would be to get involved as appropriate although if you can't, there is a feeling that the school does a great job - not just in academics and from a pastoral perspective, but also in encouraging girls to get involved in extracurricular activities.'
  • Pupils tell us

     

    'One of my favourite things about my school is the people. I am very privileged to be able to go to a school that is rich in diversity and has people from so many different races, sexual orientations and cultures and this is really important as it has allowed me to become someone that is more socially and culturally aware.

    Another thing that I love about Downe House is the range of opportunities that we are provided with, there is something for everyone. For example, in the Sixth Form we are given a fantastic choice of societies to join and you can make your own. Thirdly, one of my favourite things about the school is our facilities. After the construction of our new Murray Centre building, we now have a new auditorium which can be used for impromptu drama performances and lectures and it can also be turned to a dance studio if anyone wants to practice dance. Within the building, there is also a café where students can buy cold or hot drinks and a luscious library that is great if you want to relax and read some books or if you want to bang out hours of studying.

    I am an international student from Nigeria and I didn’t have the opportunity to fly over before I joined due to visa issues so I was able to sit my exams in my former school.

    I would definitely tell new students to brace themselves for long school days as we finish school at 6pm along with having Saturday school as that is something I did not really know when I first joined. However, we do get exeats every three weeks. I would also advise new students to make the most of house competitions especially lower down in the school because the seven years go by really quickly and you do not want to regret never auditioning for a solo in house dance or singing the ensemble in house music.

    In the year I joined, a third of the year goes to school in France for a term each term which means constant mixing of people so there were no established friendship groups meaning that new students had a fair opportunity to make friends.

    I would say that my house mistress and my academic tutor really helped me to settle in along with my roommates as they were always open to questions and were constantly checking up on me to see if I was okay especially since I was so far from home so I could definitely go to them if I had problems. I was also lucky enough to have a peer mentor in the 6th Form, who would look after me and brought me lots of sweets.

    Mrs McKendrick the headteacher is lovely. She knows everyone’s name which makes you feel special and she is always willing to listen. A lot of my teachers have made a difference to my time at school but if I had to single out one, it would most definitely be my academic tutor during my time from year 9 to year 11, Ms Rawlinson, as she was always so supportive of me and always pushed me to be my best.

    When I first joined the house, I was a bit apprehensive being one of the only black girls in the house and I was worried that I would not make friends and would be isolated but I can say that I was proven wrong and have made some very key friendships to my time at Downe House. My housemistress was absolutely lovely and was always so organised and knew what everyone should be doing and the times that they should be at places at all times. However, I can certainly say that the quality of food has certainly improved in recent years and I am quite happy with some of the meals I have had this year, my favourites being: Chicken Katsu Curry on Wednesdays, Crispy Squid on Thursdays.

    On the last day of teaching for the girls in year 13 they were their main school uniform instead of sixth form uniform.

    If I was head for a day I would cancel Saturday school.

    When I leave school, I hope to go on to King's College London to study international relations as it is one of my passions. I would definitely say that the school has helped to a large extent as we frequently have talks to do with higher education and how to write personal statements and tackle extra reading and revision techniques.'

School Updates

  • See Downe House in our Senior Boarding Schools Guide.

    See Downe House in our Senior Boarding Schools Guide.
  • Downe House partnership with SpringBoard to transform futures.

    Downe House has a long and proud history of providing an outstanding education for young people. We are delighted to have partnered with Royal National Children's SpringBoard Foundation (RNCSF) which will enable us to widen our reach to others who would not usually be able to access a Downe House education.
    Downe House partnership with SpringBoard to transform futures.
  • Downe House - Raising Respect Conference

    Raising Respect conference, hosted by Downe House, saw over 100 delegates from Schools across the country gather to discuss and explore the important pastoral care and safeguarding issues faced by schools and educators.
    Downe House - Raising Respect Conference
  • Downe House First School to introduce Virtual Reality and AI-Assisted technologies into its Sixth Form Interview Preparation Programme

    Complementing traditional in-person preparations with the most advanced technologies and empowering students to charge of their own learning.
    Downe House First School to introduce Virtual Reality and AI-Assisted technologies into its Sixth Form Interview Preparation Programme
  • WATCH: Welcome from the Headmistress

    WATCH:  Welcome from the Headmistress
  • WATCH: Sport

    WATCH: Sport
  • WATCH: Creative Arts

    WATCH: Creative Arts
  • WATCH: Music

    WATCH: Music
  • WATCH: Drama and Dance

    WATCH: Drama and Dance
  • WATCH: The Downe House DNA

    WATCH: The Downe House DNA
  • WATCH: Sport at Downe House

    WATCH: Sport at Downe House
  • WATCH: Downe House Family-Friendly Boarding

    WATCH: Downe House Family-Friendly Boarding
  • WATCH: Downe House Global Academy

    WATCH: Downe House Global Academy
  • WATCH: Sixth Form interview training programme

    WATCH: Sixth Form interview training programme
  • Downe House Pupil Editors: how pupils are driving positive environmental change

    Downe House Pupil Editors: how pupils are driving positive environmental change
  • View from the Top: Emma McKendrick on the values of a single-sex boarding education

    View from the Top: Emma McKendrick on the values of a single-sex boarding education
  • A pupil's-eye view of Downe House

    A pupil's-eye view of Downe House
  • Hear a parent and pupil talk about their experience of Downe House

    Hear a parent and pupil talk about their experience of Downe House
  • Talk Education's senior boarding focus - Downe House

    Talk Education's senior boarding focus - Downe House
  • 11+ or 13+: which one is right for my daughter?

    11+ or 13+: which one is right for my daughter?

Essentials

Address
Hermitage Road, Cold Ash, Thatcham, Berkshire RG18 9JJ

Contact
registrar@downehouse.net
01635 200286

Website
downehouse.net

ISI Report

Fees

Term Dates


Open Days

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