Just a short train journey from London and you are delivered to the grounds of Woldingham, one of the largest school estates in the country, combining academic performance with a great sense of wellbeing.
If a buzzword could be a school, it would be Woldingham. Now firmly established in the London day school market as a viable, commutable option, this dynamic establishment is shaking up the choice for families across south-west London thanks to speedy, efficient train links from Clapham Junction that deliver pupils to the rolling hills of Surrey in 25 minutes. “Girls get on the train each morning and in under half an hour, look where they are,” laughs Headmistress Alex Hutchinson, as she gestures to the 700 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds surrounding her.
“We’re one of the largest school estates in the UK and you can’t underestimate the impact fresh air and green space have on wellbeing.” Not to mention the convenience of it – everything is on site, from the astro pitches and the swimming pool, to all club provisions and boarding houses (the school offers both day and boarding places).
“Sometimes the girls just go and hang out under a tree or a tutor group goes for a walk together. Everyone comments how much richer the conversation is when walking side by side, rather than sitting face to face across a desk. There is wellbeing in the everyday at Woldingham.”
Year 7 is the most popular point of entry, with 60 to 80 girls joining, and around 40% from London. “It’s a reﬂection of the unease many families feel with the 11+ system.
We are a selective school with a clear academic ethos, but we are not a hothouse,” emphasises Hutchinson. “We have a broad intake range deliberately because we aim for a broad profile – it’s a good reﬂection on real life.” Pupils are banded so those who need to be stretched are – 24 pupils have gone to Oxford or Cambridge in the last four years – and those requiring more support have it.
Other leavers’ destinations include Russell Group universities and American and Canadian options are increasingly popular. “We are equally proud of every girl in the school and we’re in the top 17th percentile for value-added. This means girls will on average do one grade better at GCSE than their initial measured potential suggests – and this is a direct result of our superb learning, teaching and academic ethos.”
Listening to families and reacting with practical solutions is Woldingham’s secret weapon. New this year was the introduction of a deferred entry system, where girls can sit entrance exams in Year 6 for a Year 9 entry and it has proved very popular. Equally the ﬂexi-boarding system, introduced a few years ago, has been a huge success. Girls can stay one or two nights a week, perhaps if they have a late club or a play rehearsal, and get a ﬂavour of boarding.
“It builds confidence and it’s convenient. Girls sign up for a term at a time and, in most cases, they will have the same bed, in a room with boarders so they are fully integrated,” says Judith Brown, Deputy Head (Pastoral). “We’ve always responded to our parents and have the wraparound care here to do it. It’s proved very effective in integrating day girls, weekly boarders and full boarders across year groups.”
The school values its character education programme, an initiative which provides girls with the opportunity to develop the soft skills they’ll need when they leave school, but the traditional atholic ethos on which the school was founded remains relevant. “It is not an entry requirement – about a third of our pupils are Catholic – but the Sacred Heart Foundation is hugely important to the school – faith, intellect, community, personal growth and social justice are all tangible, day-to-day goals,” explains Hutchinson.
The school genuinely has a strong sense of community and values the individual as part of the whole. As January 2018’s ISI report states: “The pupils show excellent levels of empathy and tolerance towards others, respecting and valuing diversity. Throughout the school pupils appreciate that family spirit and unity, rather than difference, is the key to tolerance.” It’s well worth the quick train ride to visit and to see for yourself the opportunity it could offer your daughter.