Frequently Asked Questions
Q. How many pupils are in the school?
A. Around 335.
Q. How many in each year group?
A. In Years 7 and 8, there are normally between 30 and 35 girls and from UIV Form (Yr 9) upwards, around 55-60 in each year.
Q. What is the usual class size?
A. Class sizes are small and supervision is close and caring. Generally classes have up to 15 girls, but may sometimes go up to 16 or 17. In the Sixth Form class sizes are usually significantly smaller.
Q. Do girls mainly join at 11+ or 13+?
A. Mostly at 11+ but we also have a dedicated intake at 13+. As a general rule, about 2/3rds of the ultimate Year Group arrive at 11+ and a further 1/3rd at 13+. In addition, a few girls always join at 12+.
As boys develop later than girls they have traditionally gone on to their Prep Schools at 13+. Girls, however, mature earlier and most are ready for new challenges at 11+. It really depends on each individual girl and ultimately the choice lies with parents. Settling in to a new school and into new friendship groups at 11+ works very well.
Q. Do girls coming in at 13+ have difficulty settling in?
A. No, not at all. Sometimes the girls find it easier at 11+, but we are very careful to make sure our 13+ girls integrate fully and we have a specially designed induction programme to ensure this happens.
Q. How many stay on to Sixth Form?
A. Practically all. Sometimes there may be family reasons for leaving at the end of UV Form and sometimes girls are attracted by co-ed, but really it’s not the best time to move and we do encourage them to stay on and take on leadership roles in our Sixth Form.
Q. What is the percentage going on to University?
A. All go on to university except for one or two opting for Art or Drama Foundation Courses. This year girls secured places at Oxford, Cambridge and other Russell Group universities such as Cardiff, Bristol, Leeds, Edinburgh, Warwich and UCL.
Q. How many foreign students do you have?
A. Around 14% of our students come from overseas. They come from a variety of locations including France, Spain, Africa, Russia, China and Korea. We welcome cultural diversity, but will continue to limit overseas students to this percentage.
Q. How many day girls are there and how well do they integrate?
A. Approximately 20% of our pupils are day girls. We take pride in the way our day girls are integrated into the whole of school life and actively encourage them to enjoy all of the facilities of the boarders, including participation in evening and weekend activities. Junior day girls are invited to stay overnight whenever it is convenient for them or their parents.
Q. How many share a dormitory?
A. This varies from house to house and dormitory to dormitory. Between 2 and 7 girls share a room. Housemistresses change the groups sharing each term to give each girl opportunities to get to know other girls in the year group, but we do take into account firm friendships; the girls are given the chance to put in dorm requests to take into account firm friendships.
Q. At what age do they get single rooms?
A. At 14 when they move into LV Form.
Q. Why are some girls not wearing uniform?
A. We want girls to have some freedom in their choice of clothes during the normal school day. Sixth Form girls, however, are expected to set an example to the younger girls in their appearance. The Sixth Form are expected to wear formal dress for many school functions.
Q. Which sports do you offer?
A. Our main winter sports are lacrosse, hockey and netball and in the summer, tennis, athletics, and rounders. We regularly have county players and the school is currently represented at county level in six major sports. Girls can swim all year round and the use of the pool and fitness suite is very popular with the senior girls, especially first thing in the morning. Many other sports are available as clubs such as rowing, sailing, skiing, fencing …
Q. How often do girls do PE?
A. Sport is very important and in practice there is some form of sport every day. Everyone is encouraged to participate in both team and in individual sports. Each year group has a Games afternoon each week. This includes the Sixth Form, who can choose from a wide range of activities including golf, squash, badminton, football, aerobics, Pilates, riding, basketball, sailing (at the Costwold Water Park) and fencing.
Riding is a very popular option at St Mary’s where the girls compete in a number of competitions including our own Inter-Schools’ Show Jumping Event at West Wilts Equestrian Centre. Riding is offered as an extra-curricular activity throughout the week at a local riding stable. We have a number of girls who enjoy competing in Equestrian events outside of school and we have several girls who compete at national and international level.
Parents are encouraged to come and watch matches against other schools which are held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday afternoons.
Q. How many girls use the Sports Centre?
A. The Sports Centre is much enjoyed by all girls for sport and leisure. It is particularly popular with Sixth Formers who use it early in the morning and in the evenings.
Q. What languages do the girls study?
A. All girls entering the school in LIV Form study Mandarin and Latin. They can also choose one or two languages from French, Spanish or German. Girls then have the opportunity to add a further modern language or Ancient Greek in UIV Form if they so wish. We may be able to arrange for any particular language requested to be available, although private language lessons will attract an additional fee.
Q. How long has the current Headmistress been here?
A. Dr Felicia Kirk joined St Mary's Calne in January 2013. Dr Kirk has seventeen years’ experience of teaching and managing at a senior level in independent day and boarding schools in the UK (Ipswich High and Wycombe Abbey). She is an American citizen. She has excellent academic qualifications (BA in French and Latin from Maryland University; MA in French Studies with Latin from Brown University; PhD in Romance Languages and Literature). Dr Kirk is a passionate advocate for girls’ education and has strong leadership credentials.
Q. Do you have any problems with bullying, anorexia, alcohol, smoking or drug taking?
A. Obviously there are some occasions when girls are unkind to one another. Our aim is always to identify any problem very early on so that it can be dealt with before it escalates. Our pastoral care system is second to none. In our last Boarding Inspection Report, inspectors remarked on the high number of girls questioned who had never enountered bullying throughout their time at St Mary's.
Cases of anorexia and bulimia occur very occasionally. They are usually the result of a lack of self esteem and here again, early identification is esssential so that it can be dealt with appropriately. Girls are signed in to all meals and their general well-being is very closely monitored.
Smoking is a perennial issue amongst teenage girls. We are very tough on girls found smoking in school. If caught, they are interviewed by the Headmistress, a letter is sent home, the girls concerned lose privileges, and are fined. (The fines go to a cancer charity.)
We do not have problems with alcohol or drug-taking. The rules are made quite clear to the girls and they do abide by them. Drug-taking would result in immediate expulsion.
Q. How many male teachers are there?
A. We have a good number of male teachers (31%) mainly in the Classics, Science, Mathematics, Economics, RS and Modern Languages departments.
Q. What weekend and evening activities are offered?
A. We offer a wide range of evening and weekend activities, from horse riding and polo to fencing and pottery. Drama, music, art and sports are hugely popular in the girls’ free time, as is the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award; virtually all girls work for the Bronze Award and large numbers go on to higher levels. The extensive weekend programmes include a combination of in-school activities and outings. Girls are encouraged to make suggestions of activities they wish to pursue.
Q. Which area would you describe as a particular strength of the school?
A. Real focus on the individual in everything she does. The ability to recognise each girl’s talents and support and stretch her accordingly.
Q. What are the advantages of horizontal grouping for boarding houses and do all year groups then mix?
A. In a small school, vertical boarding restricts the number of friends girls can make within their own year group. Horizontal boarding, however, helps the girls really to bond as a year group, so supporting one another and developing lifelong friendships. On entering the school, each girl becomes a member of one of the five School Companies, and she remains in this Company throughout her time at the school. This provides the opportunity to mix with and work together with other year groups, encouraging a spirit of teamwork and friendly competition. There are regular Inter-Company competitions in music, drama, art and sport..
Q. Are you a very “academic” school?
A. Whilst academic study is our priority, we believe passionately in the value of an all-round education and life at St Mary’s is packed with opportunities outside of the classroom. We are not an academic hothouse. We know that parents may worry about entry standards, however, we look for potential to do well and not simply what a girl has already been taught. If your daughter is doing well at a good school and is an enthusiastic and able learner, she may have the potential to become a successful pupil at St Mary’s.
Q. How secure is the school site?
A. Very secure. All the entrances have keypad locks. There are also two security guards with dogs patrolling at night.
Q. Where does St Mary’s stand in the league tables?
A. We do very well in the league tables - but frankly, the position in the tables is fairly irrelevant as there isn’t a common starting point. What is important is that each girl achieves her very best. We are proud of what we offer and what they achieve.
Q. Do you have a pass mark at Common Entrance?
A. No. The admissions process we have developed means that we only invite those girls who we feel confident will thrive at St Mary’s to sit CE papers for us. By the time girls sit CE we will already have developed a good sense of each individual girl through liaison with their Prep School Head, as well as attendance at our Taster Days and Entrance Days. This should help to take the pressure off and we do not, under any circumstances, want to set up girls to fail. In practice, most girls tend to achieve 60 – 65% at least, although some girls may have one or two areas in which they still need to develop.
Q. Does St Mary's offer Scholarships and what are they worth?
A. We offer Academic, Music, Art, Drama and Sport Scholarships at 11+, 13+ and for Sixth Form: a Bodinnar All-Rounder and a Choral Scholarship at 13+ and various subject Exhibitions at 11+, 13+ and in the Sixth Form. Further details are available from the Admissions Office.
Q. What Busaries are available?
A. As a charitable trust we do offer a limited number of Foundation places. Applications for such places should be sent to the Headmistress. Busaries are sometimes offered to help parents who have girls already in school, who may have reduced financial circumstances. All cases are considered individually.
Q. Which schools do you have socials with?
A. We have very successful and lively socials with Eton, Radley, Winchester, and Horris Hill.
Q. Do you have flexible boarding arrangements?
A. No. We are a fully boarding school. However, staged boarding is available to the younger girls to ease the transition to full boarding.
Q. Do you offer weekly boarding?
A. No. We have Saturday morning lessons and afternoon matches. We want our boarders to be drawn into a full academic, social and personal school life that only full boarding can offer.
Q. How many Fixed Exeats are there each term?
A. There are two, one in each half term.
Q. How often can the girls come home?
A. The girls go home for each Fixed Exeat, leaving school on Friday lunchtime and returning on Sunday evening. There is one Fixed Exeat in the middle of each Half Term. The first and last weekend of the term and either side of Half Term are Non Exeat Weekends when girls must stay in school unless a special permission has been granted by the Headmistress. All other weekends are designated as ‘Free Weekends’ when a girl may use a ‘Floating’ or a Day Exeat. A Floating Exeat is from 12 noon on Saturday, or after school commitments (matches, Fourth Form Games Afternoon, rehearsals etc.), until check-in time on Sunday evening. A Day Exeat is from 12 noon on Saturday, or after school commitments, until check-in time on Saturday evening or after Chapel on Sunday until check-in on Sunday evening. The number of Floating and Day Exeats varies from Year Group to Year Group. The UVI Form may go out at any time as long as they are up-to-date with their work, and the LVI Form may go out after lessons on most Saturdays, although there are a number of weekends when they are very much involved in school activities.