Family Friendly Boarding at St Swithun's
St Swithun’s boarding is designed with the modern family in mind. Our range of senior boarding options allows parents to balance the demands of a busy lifestyle, reassured that their daughter has access to a huge breadth of opportunities, first class academic and pastoral support, further education expertise and the secure, homely atmosphere of a contemporary British boarding house.
We offer full boarding for UK-based and international students; weekly boarding for London-based, regional and local families; and flexi boarding, if there are beds available, to day students in years 7, 8 and 13. Whichever option they choose, boarders at St Swithun’s escape the pressure of a daily commute, complete their study and extra-curricular commitments at school and still have time to enjoy relaxed but purposeful evenings with the historic ancient capital of England tantalisingly accessible on foot or via a short drive. Winchester is within easy distance of London and international airports with four fast trains an hour and the school’s own weekend London coach service.
Boarders will never again have access to the number and range of opportunities all in one place that they have at St Swithun’s. There are 140 co-curricular activities, clubs and societies to choose from each weekday before school, at lunchtime or after school, including cryptography, bell-ringing and astronomy club as well as music, drama, sports and academic drop-in sessions. Each weekend there are over 20 activities including for example pottery workshops, golf and watersports as well as the opportunity to represent the school in sports matches, debating competitions and Greenpower racing. In house there are regular evening activities like sushi-making, craft sessions and competitions. Boarding trips include theatre visits, meals out, shopping expeditions, country walks, ice-skating and bowling.
There are a number of sports fixtures every weekend and we are dedicated to providing meaningful opportunities so that all girls can find at least one sport or activity to equip her with a lifelong enjoyment of physical exercise. Lacrosse, netball, athletics, cricket, tennis and swimming are our major competitive sports followed by football and cross-country. We run several teams per year group and we have regular fixtures with other schools.
From age 12, the boarding experience combines the privacy of single rooms with hotel-grade bathrooms and communal spaces to share, cook, socialise and make friendships that last a lifetime. In 45 acre grounds boarders can access specialist art, drama, music, science, technology, computer science, sport, cookery and textiles facilities, the library, a 550 seat auditorium, two swimming pools, 12 tennis courts, and a grass athletics track with all-weather field areas. Higher education resources, our student guidance team, presentations from university admissions departments, regular networking and professional guidance events with our engaged alumnae, and our busy outside speaker programme are all available to boarders on-site. The full boarding programme allows increasing levels of independence both on and off-site. Boarders learn to balance their academic work, co-curricular activities and more prosaic tasks such doing their own laundry or clearing up after they’ve been baking. In their spare time they have regular access to Winchester, England’s historic and ancient capital, voted the UK’s best place to live (2020).
Pastoral support is built into boarding life at St Swithun’s through programmes like Thrive, Positive Education and Girls on Board. There are strong staff and peer-led support networks and our house-staff have decades of experience and specialist training. Boarders can also access on-site healthcare, our full-time clinical psychologist and the school chaplain who is a key part of the pastoral team.
Food is important. Boarders enjoy a delicious and extensive range of meals cooked from scratch on site three times every day featuring cuisine from around the world. Tasting sessions and a food forum give boarders the opportunity to influence the menu. They have the chance to learn about the world, taking part in and leading cultural celebrations, which often have food at their heart.
The boarding community at St Swithun’s is cohesive, supportive, happy and thriving. It builds confidence and is characterised by kindness and compassion. Boarders have the opportunity to try any number of new things and to speak out about the issues that are important to them safe in the knowledge that they will be supported and respected. They learn on every level to be ‘who they are’.
Boarders forge strong connections with day students and other boarders from the UK and over 20 countries as well as across year groups. There is complete integration across forms, teaching classes and informal groups like ‘families’ which are made up of one or two girls from each year including both boarders and day girls. Boarders are welcome to bring any of their friends back to the boarding house at break, lunchtime and after school and are encouraged to visit friends in other houses in the evenings and weekends. Sleepovers across the houses are one of the favourite things to do! This integration ensures that non UK-based boarders experience a modern British boarding school experience, learn about the world, make local friends and also have friends to travel home with and for our UK boarders, they are enriched with the knowledge, culture, celebrations and food from a wide range of countries.
Health and Wellbeing
Students have access to a team of qualified nurses based permanently in our on-site health centre during term time. They can also attend our school doctors who operate from local practices or Winchester hospital which provides a wide range of services including a full accident and emergency department. Boarding students are escorted to medical and dental appointments by a member of house staff.
Boarders at St Swithun’s are supported by house staff, heads of year, form tutors, academic staff, the health centre, our full-time on-site school psychologist, the school chaplain and designated welfare staff. You can read more about our wellbeing programme here.
At St Swithun’s we strive to create a happy, secure, friendly, open, kind, trusting and welcoming boarding community. We celebrate the diversity and uniqueness of the individual whilst creating a family atmosphere of acceptance and respect for one another. As with all families, each boarding house at St Swithun’s has its own identity and the individuals within the house are vital for creating this house character. The houses provide an environment which supports and encourages the development of the individual and at the same time encourages students to pursue their own interests and passions. Houses allow genuine friendships to be formed across the age groups and between students and staff. They are places where girls can grow and flourish to become independent young women.
We expect our full boarders to be in 2 out of every 3 weekends but, as we don’t have fixed exeats, our boarders can take weekends out of school whenever it best suits them. We don’t have Saturday morning school and weekends have a much more relaxing feel to them. That said, there is an abundance of activities from which to choose and girls are invited to create their own ‘pick-and-mix' of activities to ensure they can still spend time with friends in other houses. Some will be involved in sports matches, debating competitions, drama rehearsals etc. And then the weekend activity programme offers a range of activities such as cinema trips, visits to the Ninja Warrior centre, horse riding, golf, trips to local towns and cities, to name just a few. Our termly weekend activity booklet can be found here.
House staff are always on hand at the weekends to ensure that our boarders have a well-balanced weekend programme that allows them to be purposeful but also allow time to relax after a busy week.
We recognise the difficulty presented by exeats for non-UK based families. Over 100 of our boarding students stay on-site with us every weekend in term time, with the exception of the May bank holiday. At the start and end of term we arrange international airport transfers, and we offer storage over the school holidays to avoid students having to ship their belongings backwards and forwards. Our supportive parent network welcomes new families and we are usually able to connect boarding parents with other families that live close to them before their daughter joins St Swithun’s, and to include them in the school community.
Weekly boarding, from Sunday night to Friday afternoon allows students to pursue all of their co-curricular interests at school, leaving the weekends free for family time and socialising with out of school friends. We do all the heavy lifting making sure that girls wear the right uniform, complete their homework, eat a balanced diet, have a sensible approach to social media and device management, and have enough sleep. Our pastoral approach is all-embracing, forward-thinking and based on firm research. Physical and mental well-being and the development of healthy relationships are embedded into the curriculum and our boarding team has specific training and evidence-based experience of allaying fears about friendships, homesickness and managing a new environment and new academic subjects.
Weekly boarders enjoy the flexibility of being able to stay at school for all or any part of the weekend whenever they would like to join in our weekend activity programme, participate in a sports fixture or when work or social commitments mean that other members of the family will be away from home. We run a bus service to London on Friday afternoon and back to school on Sunday evening for those girls who do want to go home. Winchester has excellent transport links. It is close to the M3, and is only an hour by train from Waterloo. St Swithun's is a short walk or ride up from the beautiful city centre.
Flexi-boarding is offered when there are beds available. A termly commitment to the same one or two nights of the week is required. Flexi-boarders have access to the full range of co-curricular activities and support with homework from boarding house tutors on the nights they stay in school.
St Swithun’s Sevens: Our boarding programme for year 7 girls
Year 7 girls, be they day or boarding students, make up our junior house, LeRoy. In their first year at St Swithun’s boarders forge strong friendships with each other and day girls alike, forming a continuous and supportive network which endures throughout their time at school.
The St Swithun’s Sevens is an innovative, research and experience-based seven stage approach to ensuring that year 7 boarders thrive. Run by staff with decades of experience in prep and senior schools, the specialist programme values year 7s and gives them the scope to apply their talents whilst acknowledging their very natural anxieties about joining a new school. Daily, one-to-one personal care, coupled with a carousel of proven strategies, including a buddy system with older students, help them to settle in, build positive friendships, organise themselves and try new things. The seven stages of the programme focus on settling in, friendships, organisation, ‘doing stuff’, gaining knowledge of the world, healthy living and leadership. Examples of activities include dinner party etiquette and the art of conversation and tidying up to disco tunes under the light of a glitter ball. We explicitly teach our year 7 boarders how to behave and how to manage their routine rather than hoping that they will acquire these skills through osmosis. By the end of year 7 are boarders are self-confident, kind, thoughtful and entertaining company. Full details of the St Swithun’s Sevens are available here.
LeRoy is the only boarding house at St Swithun’s which is arranged in dormitories. Each dormitory has either four or six beds and students change their dorms every term to make sure they know each other well. Girls in Le Roy spend time in the senior boarding houses throughout their year 7, including movie nights and culminating in a sleepover in the house which they will be moving into in year 8.
Boarders join one of four senior houses in year 8 and remain there, taking an increasing role in the running of the house and responsibility for younger girls until they reach the end of L6.
All rooms in the senior boarding houses are single occupancy, achieving a perfect balance between the fun of communal living and the personal, private space which is increasingly important to teenagers as they mature. Great care is taken to ensure an even distribution of age groups and nationalities across each house and there are strong relationships both between year groups and between the four different senior houses. Each senior house has between 40 and 50 girls with roughly eight from each year.
Avoiding the daily grind of a commute and a very early start, boarders roll out of bed in the morning into our modern and bright bathroom facilities then take the short walk to our dining room for a wide selection of breakfast items from around the world. They return to the communal areas of their house at break for snacks such as hummus and crudités, bacon sandwiches, chocolate biscuits or fresh-baked pastries. They are welcome to bring friends from other houses or day students with them. After lunch, which all students take in the school dining room, boarders again bring their friends back to house to relax before afternoon lessons if they are not participating in a lunchtime club.
Between 4.20pm when academic lessons finish and 6.00pm boarders spend most of their time taking part in one of more than 10 different after school activities each day. They might sing in one of the school choirs on Monday, join gardening club on Tuesday, play cricket on Wednesday, take part in debating club or science club on Thursday. If they are not taking part in an after-school club boarders can relax in their own room or can bake, play Wii games or chat in the communal rooms. There is always someone around for a chat or an activity. During the lighter afternoons boarders can take the minibus into Winchester to stock up on extra treats.
At 6pm all boarders return to house and between then and 8pm they will pop over to the dining room for supper and then do their homework. All students have access to a house staff if they need help. Younger girls are free to join evening activities after 8pm, but the older students may carry on working and they are supported by the house tutor until 10pm.
From 8pm, boarders can visit other houses, use the sports facilities or join activities such as sushi-making, baking basil bread, a spa session, yoga and well-being, playing board games, playing hide and seek, rounders or tennis or taking part in practices for inter-house music, drama or sports competitions. Once a week there is a compulsory house meeting led by the housemistress and the lower sixth house officers.
Lights out and screen time are closely monitored. House staff make sure that every one of their boarders has time to communicate with their family and has the right amount of downtime and sleep for someone of their age. This, along with making sure boarders are up and appropriately dressed in the morning, that their rooms are tidy, their laundry done and that they are learning and practising social skills and building positive friendships is just part of the heavy lifting which the boarding team does. Girls go home at weekends or holidays with the independence, confidence and social skills to make the most of time with their families and home friends.
There are special activities once or twice a term, such as a celebration supper, a traditional British bingo night, Nerf gun challenges, London theatre trips, ice-skating, bowling and shopping trips. The senior boarding houses celebrate the Autumn Moon Festival, Nigerian Independence Day, Thanksgiving, Halloween and Bonfire (Guy Fawkes) Night. Enrichment activities include concerts, plays and careers events on-site and the visiting speaker programme through which academics, journalists and politicians have presented to boarders in the school’s 550 seat auditorium. In the evenings there are sometimes talks, concerts and drama at Winchester College, which is a short walk or ride away in the centre of Winchester.
Boarders stay in their senior house for five years. Their significant personal development over that period of time is reflected by increasing levels of independence, responsibility and privilege through the house system. All boarders have the opportunity to voice their opinions through forums or to suggest and lead new initiatives and there are leadership opportunities across the year groups through roles such as year group representative. By the time they are in lower sixth, boarders take major responsibility for many of the activities that bring integration across the year groups in each house and they enjoy lots of discretion over how they spend their time both inside and outside of the boarding house and off-site where appropriate.
Our sixth form boarding programme: St Swithun’s Sixes
Sixth form boarding is a two-year programme designed to achieve increasing levels of leadership, responsibility and independence in preparation for life beyond St Swithun’s. Our leavers frequently tell us that they are more prepared for university living and studying than friends from other schools and colleges because we expect them to manage themselves and help others. Full details of the St Swithun's Sixes are available here.
Boarding in lower sixth
There are between eight and 10 lower sixth boarders in each of the senior houses and they all have their own common and social spaces as well as individual bedrooms giving them independence and privacy.
Boarders in lower sixth are the most senior students in their boarding house and play a vital role in its running. They gain valuable leadership and planning experience and set the friendly, busy and supportive tone that characterises St Swithun’s boarding houses. L6 lead cluster groups of boarders from every other year group in the house and they organise study and revision groups, guidance with GCSE and A level choices and help with homework for younger boarders as well as running lots of fun activities. The offices of head of house, head of art, head of sport and head of drama in each of the senior houses are all held by L6 boarders who organise activities such as cooking, crafting and yoga as well as practices and entries for the hotly-contested house drama, singing and sports competitions.
L6 boarders receive a lot of support as they transition from GCSE to A level study. House staff, house tutors, academic subject teachers, form tutors, the Further Education Student Guidance department and their peers are on hand to provide advice and support. There is a culture of academic achievement and a strong work ethic, but there is plenty of time for relaxation, well-being, fun and friendships.
There is no Saturday teaching and L6 can choose from, on average, over 20 activities from our weekend programme. Many represent the school in sports, debating, fencing or Greenpower racing competitions, for example, or take part in the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. The most popular activity in house is cooking and sharing a meal with friends in the common areas. Boarders from other houses and other year groups, day girls and staff are frequently invited. There is also plenty of time for debate; we encourage our students to take an active interest in topical issues and to discuss them.
In acknowledgment of their maturity, L6 boarders gain increasing discretion over how they spend their free time, with access to Winchester after school and at weekends and management of their own device usage and lights out routines. They also make their own choices about what to wear, as there is no uniform in sixth form and few restrictions. The full programme of extra-curricular clubs, activities and enrichment opportunities are available to them and they frequently instigate new ones themselves. They enjoy activities and social events and forge friendships with students from Winchester College with which there are strong links.
Support from the higher education student guidance department at St Swithun’s starts before sixth form begins. Both existing and new students entering the school take a Morrisby Assessment to identify their strengths ad interests before they join. This forms the basis of a framework for a long-term plan to ensure they have the best chance of submitting a competitive university application or accessing the apprenticeship of their choice. During lower sixth, students will work with a personal statement tutor, their form and subject teachers and the student guidance department. They will also engage with the comprehensive academic enrichment programme which provides access and insight into the careers and research interests of leading academics and professionals as well as training in critical thinking, presentation and oratory, research and analysis and how to tackle Oxbridge questions, upon many other challenging activities.
The Life Beyond St Swithun’s programme, run by the student guidance department, spans both sixth form years. It helps students make an informed decision about the right course, institution and career for them through access to experts in a professional field, former students, university admissions departments and local employers. It also allows students to explore and enhance the personal skills they will need to succeed in the workplace and gives lower sixth students interview practice.
Finlay House boarding in upper sixth
In the upper sixth, boarders and day girls come together in their own, exclusive house, Finlay; a modern building with excellent facilities of a high standard, including luxurious bathrooms and shared spaces. While they are still guided and supported, boarders in Finlay have a large degree of independence, freedom and discretion over how they use their time, beginning to prepare for life beyond school and developing the skills for a successful transition to university or work. Kitchens, social spaces and study rooms throughout the house are used by both day and boarding students together throughout the day, in study periods and in the evenings. There is unrestricted access to the library, fitness suite and swimming pool in the evenings as well as events such as visiting speaker presentations. Boarders can also use the resources of the student guidance department and seek help from the housemaster and house tutors with personal statements, university applications and careers advice.
In Finlay, upper sixth students can focus on their A levels; set their own agenda for working, socialising and co-curricular activities; go to Winchester for lunch; prepare their own breakfast and dinner in house or choose to go to the school dining room; and go out in the evenings and at weekends, signing out and in again. There is also the opportunity for them to take more leadership responsibility within the school community, running societies and activities for younger students as well as taking on school officer roles such as head of school, head of boarders, head of art, head of drama, head of sport and head of music: there are many to choose from. In addition, each upper sixth student assumes responsibility for a ‘school family’ which consists of at least one pupil from each year group (from year 7 to L6). Virtual families are an important strand in the pastoral support network at St Swithun’s and are an opportunity for the upper sixth students to experience being a role model.
September of the upper sixth is when students realise the benefit of the groundwork undertaken during lower sixth and the help of the professional guidance department. 80% of upper sixth students go on to Russell Group universities with others electing to attend universities overseas or select a specialist institution. A number take advantage of the Oxbridge element of the academic enrichment programme which is designed to help them make the best possible application. Students from St Swithun’s choose a wide range of courses, the less traditional including anthropology and land economy. 25% go on to study science-related subjects. Every year a number of students make successful applications to international universities aided by the expertise and experience of the student guidance department at St Swithun’s.