I always enjoy hearing the reasons our pupils give for choosing to come to Downe House.
Sometimes the reasons are visceral: one new joiner told me recently “I just felt at home as soon as I visited the School.” Another said: “It’s difficult to know why – I just knew it was the right place for me.”
Others trace their decision to a specific person. “The girl who showed me round was so enthusiastic,” says one pupil. “She made me want to come.”
Another credits a teacher she met: “He was just so kind and friendly! He made me think it must be a nice school.”
Pupils often say they enjoyed our Assessment Day and that made them want to come. Of course, many have a friend or relative who has recommended the school.
And some of the reasons are very idiosyncratic…
“I just loved the white buildings: the whole place just looks so cool!” said one girl recently. Another said: “The cookies! I think it was the cookies that made me want to come.”
Our girls who join us at 11+ and 13+ give a wide range of reasons for choosing Downe – and of course their parents will have strong opinions which may even influence the eventual decision to come! However, those who join us after GCSE tend to give more specific reasons – and it is very often their choice and their choice alone, rather than their parents’.
Increasingly, we find that girls who attend conventional day schools – even those with outstanding academic reputations – decide they want a change after GCSE.
“I was concerned that if I remained at my day school, I wouldn’t be well prepared for going away to university,” says Violet, who joined Downe aged 16 having completed her GCSEs at a day school in Surrey. “I don’t mean in terms of homesickness, just in terms of general independence: thinking for myself, organising myself and generally taking the initiative to do more myself.
“I think coming to a boarding school has allowed me to build my confidence, whilst providing a safety net at the same time.
“My previous school was a cocoon – I needed to move out of that comfort zone to develop personally. I’d been there a long time and if I had stayed it would have been too much of the same in the Sixth Form: the same people, the same teachers, the same routines.
“Coming to Downe has given me more opportunities. I am now captain of basketball, I’ve taken up tennis and netball. None of that would have happened if I had stayed put. I’ve definitely learned more about myself. I’ve met a whole range of new people and new teachers – and I’m studying History of Art for the first time.”
Alice, who joined Downe this term from a highly academic London day school, says: “My previous school was too much of a hot house. Some of the pupils would weep if they achieved 95% in a maths exam – even in Year 9 – because they (or their parents) wanted an even higher score.
“The atmosphere and pressure meant that people didn’t do much extra-curricular stuff. I was still able to do my music” – Alice sings and plays the harp and piano – “but there is more time at Downe to do those things, and more opportunities. Some of the options here – the mini-MBA, the volunteer programme, the Ivy House Leadership Course – just wouldn’t have been available in my previous school because a day school cannot offer that breadth.”
Like Violet, Alice says that moving schools has introduced her to a new mindset that is more independent, and also that she has enjoyed meeting a new and wider range of people.
Both girls have older brothers who have boarded, and they found this helpful in making the decision to board themselves. They both said that their brothers’ experiences helped them to understand the boarding mindset better, and gave them more confidence to leave their day-school.
“I am also really enjoying getting to know pupils who have lived overseas,” says Alice. They tell me about their culture and it means I am much more likely to follow international news stories if I have friends with homes overseas.”
“Downe House has definitely broadened my horizons,” says Alice. “It’s helping me to prepare for university, where I want to read medicine.”
You can learn more about Downe House’s Sixth Form by listening to this podcast.
[Violet and Alice are pictured above]
Mr Matthew Godfrey