The young women who leave St Swithun’s at 18 are genuinely self-confident and determined to make their way in the world whatever it takes.
The sixth form experience allows them to develop at their own pace and in their own way according to their individual strengths and interests. They are used to taking the lead in a range of different situations and they continue in this vein at university and beyond.
Girls schools not only lay the foundation for university life – they give students the confidence to put themselves forward and aim for the top.
Head of admissions, American Ivy League Institution.
There is a great deal of misinformation in the media about single-sex education. At St Swithun’s we offer a stimulating and challenging sixth-form experience not because we are a girls’ school or indeed in spite of being a girls’ school, but because we are a school which believes in giving young people the best possible skills and characteristics with which to make a success of their lives beyond school. Having said that, for some girls being in a single sex environment is really important because it is often simply easier to be yourself without pressure, either implicit or explicit, to conform to some idealised vision of what it means to be a woman.
At St Swithun’s, girls can choose how to behave without having to consider whether it is seen as appropriately feminine. Girls’ schools have higher percentages than co-educational schools of girls studying subjects thought of as typically male such as chemistry or physics. Indeed, there are some co-ed schools in which not a single girl studies A level physics. At St Swithun’s the sciences and maths are some of the most popular A level subjects.
This doesn’t mean that girls have to study science here, but simply that if they do that is normal and if they study arts subjects that is normal too. There is freedom from the sort of tiresome stereotyping so prevalent, still, in the ‘real’ world.
Stereotyping doesn’t stop with subject choice but spills over into behaviour and research has shown that girls educated in single-sex schools are more likely to be risk takers in educational and professional terms, for example applying for more challenging jobs. Equally, girls educated in single sex schools are more likely to play sport and girls who play sport have a more positive body image.
In class, our girls speak up if they don’t understand something and equally they are happy to ask and answer questions without worrying what boys might think of them. If you are reading this and concluding that girls therefore need to be in a mixed environment in order to develop confidence in front of boys, please think again. My strong belief is that by 18, when they go to university, girls’ characters are far more firmly set and confidence more securely in place so that they can be themselves whatever the mix of men and women.
The young women who leave St Swithun’s at 18 are genuinely self-confident and determined to make their way in the world whatever it takes. The sixth-form experience allows them to develop at their own pace and in their own way according to their individual strengths and interests. They are used to taking the lead in a range of different situations and they continue in this vein at university and beyond.
Girls entering St Swithun’s in the sixth form will join their peers in one of four boarding houses. Each house has its own characteristics and identity, fostering loyalty and a sense of belonging. But each also provides an environment which supports the education of the individual whilst encouraging the pursuit of personal interests and passions. As the senior year group in our boarding houses, all L6 girls are given a specific role in house which will help them to develop personal skills such leadership, management, problem-solving, communication, listening and mentoring skills.
In the U6, all girls, both boarders and day girls, are accommodated in Finlay House. It has 51 single study bedrooms for boarders and five study rooms, each for between two and seven day girls. All students have access to the school wi-fi and the house IT and printing facilities.
Finlay has two common rooms with a TV and pool table, and a large kitchen/sitting room for socialising. Each floor has a mini kitchen with a fridge and fresh, modern bathrooms. There is also a large laundry room.
Girls return to Finlay during the day time to work in their study periods. In the evening, they have direct access to the library which is stocked with numerous journals and periodicals, has a large IT provision and provides a quiet work environment. Finlay house girls are also able to access the gym, swimming pool and tennis courts during the evening. This helps them to adapt to the sort of working environment they will encounter at university, when they will take full responsibility for how they manage their free time.
From the moment a girl starts at St Swithun’s, whether in lower four, lower five or the lower sixth, we are providing her with the tools she needs to thrive outside school when she leaves at the end of the upper sixth.
In the sixth form, the girls take far more responsibility for their own development and learn – if they haven’t already – to be independent, to be self-disciplined and to take the initiative.
In the lower sixth they manage their own study periods choosing whether to work in the library or the new lower sixth study area or whether to relax in the sixth form ‘Comm’. They can also opt to have music lessons, C+P lessons, EAL or learning support lessons, language conversation lessons or tennis coaching in these study periods. They may also book individual appointments with subject teachers, form tutors, the higher education department or with the school’s clinical psychologist. It is up to the girls to decide how to use their study periods provided that they complete their homework to a good standard.
In the lower sixth both day girls and boarders remain in the same houses as in upper five. They will have the opportunity to take on leadership roles within the houses and you can read more about this in the section on character development.
In the upper sixth there is a significant change: all of the upper sixth, both day girls and boarders, come together in Finlay. The girls are free to go back to Finlay to study or relax when they do not have lessons. The day girls share studies and the boarders work in their rooms. We consider this an excellent staging post on the road to university. The girls have a great deal of freedom within the framework of a school.
Co-existing in Finlay with up to 70 other young women gives further opportunities to practise getting on with a range of other people and to practise looking after yourself. There are increased freedoms in terms of preparing meals, going into town, managing study time, taking responsibility for the running of the boarding house and so on.
All girls have the opportunity to take on positions of responsibility. We expect the girls to make as much of these roles as they wish. It is important for them to learn about being disciplined and about working with others in order to make a positive impact on the school community.
The mix of nationalities and backgrounds is a real advantage for all, providing a wide spectrum of experiences, ideas and interests. Gaining the confidence to interact with everyone and anyone is enormously valuable as the girls prepare for life in an increasingly international and diverse world. Social events with other schools give further opportunities for developing links and for practising talking to strangers. In addition, sixth formers more generally are often asked to help host events involving governors, parents and prospective parents.
Girls in the sixth form act as role models for the rest of the school. Many choose to lead and run assemblies or societies taking responsibility for their own ideas and seeing them through. There are also a number of existing societies run by sixth-formers or where sixth-formers can become involved in encouraging and inspiring younger girls.
Within all houses, both day and boarding, members of the sixth form are given responsibilities, and house staff try to involve them as much as possible in the day-to-day running of the house. Every girl in the lower sixth is given a specific role (such as sports captain, head of house, performing arts coordinator, fund-raising coordinator) and each year we appreciate their innovative ideas and willingness to get involved, for example through raising money for the charity of the term, or in organising events that include different year groups and help them to get to know one another.
We encourage all upper-sixth formers to act as mentors. The mentor programme allows the upper sixth to help and advise the lower sixth but also it ensures that younger girls know members of the upper sixth as friendly faces around school; someone to trust and confide in if they need to.
In their U6 year girls have the opportunity to apply for positions of leadership and responsibility in the school officer team. Becoming a school officer gives them individual responsibilities and recognises their valued role in the running of the school, in being ambassadors and in promoting the school on public occasions.
The head of school (head girl) leads the team which includes deputies in charge of mentoring and duties. Other members of the team oversee student participation in key areas of school life such as drama, sport, choir, fundraising and boarding.
Girls in the sixth form have access to a wide range of co-curricular activities and are welcome to suggest more.
There are over 40 activities on offer such as sport, music, drama, Duke of Edinburgh, debating and public speaking, art, technology, Green Power (building and racing a battery-powered car), Assist (raising awareness and money for charity), science journal society, Classics club, Philosothon, Young Enterprise and so on. The list is as long and as varied as the girls choose to make it.
Although some choices are inevitable, we try hard to schedule activities so that obvious combinations are possible. Unlike many schools and sixth form colleges, for example, we ensure that the girls can continue with both lacrosse and netball if they so wish. It is also perfectly possible to combine music or drama and sport with a dash of debating or Assist thrown in as well.
At weekends there are regular activities such as riding, golf and archery plus of course the opportunity to enjoy music practice. In addition, there are a range of other opportunities such as surfing or watersports weekends, visits to towns and cities such as Bath or Oxford or to local places of beauty and / or interest.
Furthermore, we offer residential trips such as the Camps International trip to Malawi in 2019 and the recent biology trip to Dominica. Closer to home, there are visits to places such as Berlin for those studying German or art, to Venice for those studying Italian, art history or art and to Russia for those studying history.
Why do we think that getting involved in co-curricular activities is so important? For the self-discipline, the enjoyment, the camaraderie, the opportunity to get to know other girls beyond your immediate friendship group, for learning to be reliable, to persevere, to manage your time and to learn more about other cultures.
In addition, we regularly invite speakers into school. Once again, the girls can suggest speakers, can attend the talks, can help host the speakers for supper beforehand and can introduce them and give a vote of thanks. All of the above allow the girls to develop interests and skills that will be of use as they move beyond St Swithun’s.
Click here to see our current co-curricular and weekend activity programme.
Living life to the full while keeping a proper balance of work, relaxation, healthy diet and exercise is always important. The PE department ensures that sixth form students have plenty of opportunities to experience a wide range of sport and exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle so girls can continue to enjoy sport after leaving school. The department is also committed to providing opportunities to participate in team or individual sports and support for students to compete at the highest levels.
Lower-sixth students must opt for two double-lesson sessions a week and in the upper sixth girls must opt for one double-lesson session of PE, although most girls choose to join in both sessions.
In the autumn and spring terms students may choose from lacrosse, netball, yoga, trampolining, tennis, aerobics, basketball, volleyball, pool lifeguarding/swimming, health-related fitness, Pilates, Zumba and dance.
In the summer term, the following are available: tennis, swimming, cricket, rounders, golf, yoga, aerobics, athletics, volleyball, dance, Pilates and croquet.
Students may use the fitness suite during and after school and there are exclusive sessions for sixth-formers. There is coaching available (at an additional charge) in tennis, diving, judo, self-defence, fencing and karate.
Click here (PDF 274KB) to see the full range of sports available at St Swithun’s.
Music combines creativity, imagination and academic study in a way that no other subject does. It is a subject that is highly regarded by universities for the breadth of skills which students develop. At St Swithun’s the purpose-built music school and highly experienced and talented music staff enable music students to extend their performing, composing, listening and appraising skills in ways which emphasise their interdependence. Many students go on to study music at university and to pursue music as a career. Our most accomplished musicians are cathedral choristers or play in county and national ensembles.
The music ensembles available to sixth form students are:
The Swithun Choir
Strictly Strings (chamber orchestra)
Senior Clarinet Choir
Lower School Clarinet Choir
Flutopia (flute choir)
Rock Group - The Morrows
There are opportunities to be involved in masterclasses learning from the best professional musicians in the country. Examples include a violin and viola masterclass with Carmine Lauri, and workshops with the Band of the Coldstream Guards and the Band of the Scots Guards. There are opportunities to perform at prestigious venues like the Royal Albert Hall and a regular international trip gives singers the opportunity to perform overseas. Our choir provided the voices for the soundtrack of a Christmas advertisement.
Visiting music staff provide tuition in the following instruments:
- Double bass
- French horn
Girls are in small form groups of 10-12 and are encouraged to seek help and advice from their form tutors. In addition, Mr Fyfe and Mrs Barnett, head of sixth form and head of lower sixth form respectively, have many years of experience in the trials and triumphs of sixth formers and can offer all sorts of practical and emotional support. For those girls who need more specific help, we have our full time, free, clinical psychologist, Dr Helen O’Connor who is a specialist in adolescent mental health.
We are a small enough school to notice very quickly if things are going wrong. You will not go unnoticed in this environment.
We believe strongly in the power of perspective. It is our role as a school to seek to give all of our students a sense of perspective and we rely on parents to work with us on this. We absolutely do not believe in pressure; where students feel under pressure there is typically a lot of noise, but limited learning.
Throughout her time at St Swithun’s a girl will learn the importance of planning, paying attention to what she can control and not worrying about what she can’t, seeking advice from experts and laughing. We try our best to provide a light-hearted approach to most aspects of school life as we know that happy students make the best progress.