In 1976 I lived in Houston, Texas; my children attended Duchesne Academy, a Sacred Heart School. What a lovely surprise to find, when 1 visited Woldingham. that they are sister schools, with one in Bogota, Colombia. where my wife's cousin was educated.
I drove along a private drive flanked by green farm pastures edged with hills, which changed to sculptured gardens and valeted lawns surrounding Marden Park, a late 19th Century English Country house of indeterminate style, originally built in the grand manner but extended in subsequent decades, The first girls I passed gave me wide smiles, welcoming "good mornings" and the certain knowledge that I was visiting a happy school. I knew I was to experience something special and memorable.
The Governors have, with reasonable levels of school fees, managed a development programme which includes great responsibility towards environmental issues in this unspoiled valley of great beauty. Care has been necessary to satisfy the planners prior to adapting buildings and putting up substantial extensions, including a sixth form centre, sports centre and purpose-built science block. New buildings and the resulting facilities are as good as those at any girls school with 550 pupils, but the location is exceptional.
'Ile most recent major advances have included the provision of magnificent new buildings to facilitate Art, Music and Drama studies in ideal areas. The overall result is stunning and includes a 600 tiered seat air conditioned auditorium with a state of the art technology for lighting, sound and acoustic together with environmental control. A Sculpture Court and Garden are featured outside, whilst the foyers will provide space for exhibitions. A Studio Theatre, scenery workshop, dressing rooms, and costume store complement drama teaching space. Additionally a full-size all weather pitch for
hockey etc was installed in early 2003, and a second Sixth Form Centre providing 70 ensuite single bedrooms for Upper Sixth came on stream in September 2003.
In such a perfect setting 1 would expect a well run school. Miss Diana Vernon took over as Headmistress in November 2000. A Roman Catholic School. with 50% Catholic girls; academically strong and every girl leaves for university.
Woldingham is regularly placed within the top 100 Independent Schools in the "A" level league tables, and sends between five and 10 girls to Oxbridge each year. It is no surprise therefore that it is regularly over subscribed. The school offers Academic, Music, Art, Drama and Sport scholarships at li+, 13+ and Sixth Form.
There is a very strong bond forged with old girls whose association has a secretary with an office at school. Many return to be married in the Chapel and have their wedding receptions in the School. Yes, this is a happy school; happy children are achievers, the proof is clearly visible.
Almost half the boarders are accommodated in single rooms. the others mainly in rooms for two, three or four. Boarding accommodation is very homely and of a high quality as is the variety. appearance and taste of all meals. Weekend pastimes and extra curricular activities are planned with care to cater for a wide range of tastes, as do the range of sports and games.
Team and individual initiatives live, One twelve year old, in "private enterprise-, designed a roller skating circuit. and convinced the Headmistress and Bursar to build it conveniently near the junior house. Safety is paramount, there is even a handbook on how staff should manage a crisis, though I doubt Miss Vernon would allow one to happen.
With Sacred Heart sister schools all over Europe, exchange visits are an essential part of school life. Girls are encouraged to take, until GCSE, two modem languages from French. Spanish and German and there are also opportunities to learn Italian and Japanese. Greek and Latin are still taught, and classicists frequently win university places. Mathematics is particularly strong, though -A" level successes go right across the academic board. The careers office particularly impressed me, so did computer facilities, so did the music rooms, so did the classrooms, and so did everything else. Prefects (who wear a sash) are called "Ribbons" and each year choose a theme. My guide, a Sixth Former, told me that this year's theme is concerned with friendship. The "Ribbons" I am told, run the school, Reading the student handbook:I deduce that every girl knows what is expected of her, and is given the confidence in her own ability to succeed. Woldingham offers an exceptional breadth and balance of life and education.
Can I define a "Woldingham Girl"? Indeed I can! She will have been fully involved in the preparation of her own school report, is rightly ambitious, confident, selfdisciplined, a leader, a decision maker, one who can make moral decisions with peace of mind: one on whom future generations will rely.
The Headmistress told me her pupils will, "Arrive as Girls and leave as Young Women," with I suspect vision; a vision of using their freedom to create a better life by the "pursuit of excellence".
E.xcellence.and Woldingham, the words will continue to be synonymous.