Innovative yet traditional, academic but with an exceptional range of co-curricular opportunities, day and boarding with a family-friendly approach, Downe House values, challenges, supports and educates every girl as an individual to ensure that when the time comes to leave the school, she is the best version of herself she can be and believes that she can achieve anything. At the heart of our ethos is that every girl is an individual and a Downe House education is very much tailored to the girl rather than trying to make a girl fit a mould. Our aim is to provide an education which enables each girl to discover and develop her abilities to the highest possible level whether that be in Dance and Drama, on the lacrosse field, in Computer Science, Chemistry or Russian. The bonus of the family friendly boarding and day model is that it meets the needs of families with diverse circumstances, precisely because we are willing to go the extra mile to understand and accommodate individual circumstances and to make sure that we fully support each girl and her family in the right way for them.

So many things make the difference at Downe House – the term spent in France by all Lower Fourth girls, our Global Schools’ Exchange Programme with 16 partner schools across six continents, the Elective Programme which provides ‘super-curricular’ academic enrichment, a holistic approach to wellbeing through the ‘Finding Balance’ programme, the 3-step Pastoral Care system which tailors the care for each individual girl and is expertly designed to meet the very different needs of girls at each stage of their teenage development and the World Ready programme which equips girls with the skills and self-knowledge they will need to embrace every career or life opportunity in the wider world.

Whoever you are… Whoever you want to be… Be a Downe House girl

What does it mean to be a Downe House girl? The answer is rooted deep in the Downe House DNA and its key characteristics which are the hope, aim and challenge for every girl whether she is in the classroom, on the playing fields or in her boarding house. These key characteristics are Collaboration, Resilience, Creativity, Aspiration, Compassion, Communication and being Outward Looking. Every department and section devote time and energy to ensuring that they give the girls every opportunity to develop these seven important skills and characteristics through all aspects of school life at Downe House. No matter what the girls go on to achieve beyond Downe, and the sheer variety of the career paths of our alumnae is testimony to our ethos, they all have the enduring imprint of the Downe House DNA to carry with them throughout their lives.

Meet the team

Explore Our Campus


Message from the Head

‘I believe that as a school, we have a responsibility to provide our pupils with as many opportunities as possible – academic, co-curricular and pastoral to allow every girl to grow and develop, and to discover and build on her individual strengths.

A full boarding education provides us with two precious commodities, time and space. These, coupled with excellent teaching and pastoral care, ensure that we are able to offer a broad curriculum, an outstanding range of activities and first class individual care.

Joining Downe House means that you will become part of a community that embraces its pupils, parents, past parents, alumnae, current and past staff. It is our firm belief that if we all work together with one common purpose of supporting our pupils, past and present, to reach their potential, they are far more likely to achieve real success in all spheres.

It is our aim that girls should be fully prepared for life beyond Downe House and leave us with the confidence to take up places at top universities in the UK and overseas and then move on to embark successfully on the widest range of careers across the globe. Downe House is a very special place and I hope that I, the staff and girls, will have the opportunity to meet you and show you everything that is achieved by the girls on our beautiful site.’

Headteacher, Mrs Emma McKendrick

Entrance procedure

Families are welcome to visit Downe House by appointment or by attending an Open Morning and parents can register their daughter at any time from Year 6 onwards, but no later than June in the year prior to entry. Girls are then invited to an Assessment Day, an interview with the Headmistress and invited to sit scholarship exams as appropriate.

Specialist subjects

We want each girl to experience the broadest possible choice of subjects. For that reason, a key aspect of academic life at Downe House is the opportunity to try a much wider range of subject combinations. The core curriculum subjects of English, Mathematics, Modern Foreign Languages and Science are complemented by a greater choice of the Humanities, the Classics and Social Sciences, as well as ample opportunities for Creativity, Sport and more practically-focused lessons.

Downe House was founded in 1907 by thirty-year-old, Olive Willis. In the early 1920s, when it was clear that the school had outgrown its current house, new premises were purchased in Cold Ash, Berkshire. The first full school term here was Summer Term 1922. In 2022 we celebrate the School’s centenary on the Cold Ash campus and our Deputy Head recently met with our Archivist, who happily shared some ‘rich pickings’ from the archives.

One of the most eccentric items to have appeared on the Cold Ash site was “The Giant’s Stride” – affectionately known as “Gianty” – which remained until the 1950s. Essentially, it was a tall pole with chains hung from it and ropes at the end of the chains. The girls ran around it, clinging to one of the ropes, eventually taking off using centrifugal force and rotating around and around the pole at tremendous speed and at a considerable height. It was clearly huge fun, although injuries from falling off and rope burns to the hands were common. There was no supervision!

She also let slip that occasionally, and on a whim, the School’s founding headmistress, Olive Willis, would announce a half-holiday – perhaps to celebrate a girl winning a place at a top university or simply some beautiful weather. Lessons would be abandoned at midday and the afternoon might be spent walking the four miles to Donnington Castle (and back again)!

Check out our interactive timeline – Our History – Downe House School

Exam results

These young women have worked extremely hard and have every reason indeed to be proud of all their achievements. At A Level/Pre-U, 98% of the grades achieved were A* to B with the A*/D1/D2 percentage remaining consistently high, at 51%. At GCSE, 89% of the grades were at 7 to 9 and 71% were graded 8/9 (A* and A**). Most pleasing of all was the number of grade 9s across all the subjects, which once again stands at 46%.

Sports played

Lacrosse is our main sport during the Michaelmas and Lent terms, but we have strong teams in Netball, Hockey, Tennis, Squash, Swimming, Badminton, Basketball and Cross-Country to name a few. In the Summer, we mainly focus on Tennis, Cricket and Athletics but pupils are given the opportunity to compete in many other sports such as Biathlon and Volleyball. We had our first Football and Basketball fixtures in 2022.

Each season we try to add another National Lacrosse title to our name to build on the four we already have. We regularly finish in the top few schools in the country for Squash and every year we see growing success in Biathlon. Recent notable successes include:

  • 1st Lacrosse Team Southwest Schools Lacrosse Champions (November 2021)
  • U14, U13, U12 winning the Berkshire Lacrosse Tournament
  • U12s Newbury and Berkshire Cross-Country Champions
  • U14 Biathlon team taking Bronze in the National Championships
  • Six Squash teams qualified for the 2022 Nationals. We have three teams represented at U14, something no other school has done at any group
  • Our badminton teams are unbeaten in 2022

Extra-curricular activities

Boarding brings an extended day and weekends, which we fill with a rich and varied range of opportunities and diverse programme – ranging from Music (individual lessons, choirs, large and small ensembles), Dance (individual lessons, the Dance Academy and Dance Company), Drama (RADA, Trinity Speech and Drama, Musical Theatre and Communications Skills), Art (open studio, art clubs, pottery clubs, as well as crafts, ceramics and jewelry) and Sport (squad and team practice across the sports, individual coaching sessions – particularly Tennis which is by far the most popular individual extra-lesson in sport – as well as attending local and county clubs and training sessions.

There’s also LEITHS (cookery), Duke of Edinburgh’s Bronze and Gold, Phoenix Society (public speaking), the Caledonian Society (reeling with boys schools), ROOTS (Christian Union), debating and thriving book clubs at all ages. A particularly popular addition to the Lower School programme has been a public speaking competition.

If it doesn’t exist already, pupils are encouraged to start an activity or club – and they usually need little, if any, encouragement! Pupil-led clubs range from Film Club, Engineering Society, History Society and Knitting Club to the Gender Sexualities Alliance! In their boarding houses, girls can get involved with House-organized clubs for reading, current affairs, cookery and much, much more!

We are extremely proud of our pupil-led magazines including ‘Aurora’ – Fashion and Lifestyle, ‘Adrift’ – Literary Arts, and ‘Train of Thought’ – Scholarly Essays and Opinions. Pupils also contribute to our Learning and Research Centre Journal ‘The Enquiry’, and the annual STEM magazine, ‘Origins’.

Scholarships and Bursaries

Academic Scholarships are awarded on the results of examinations and interviews in January or February of the year of entry. Assessment Days for Drama, Sport, Art and Music are offered from January to May once offers have been made.

Downe House has a long tradition of offering bursaries to pupils who would not otherwise be able to pay the fees. These are means tested and will sometimes be awards of 110% of the fees. Currently, approximately 4% of fee income is committed to bursaries, which amounts to around £1million each year. Enquiries about bursaries should be made to the Admissions Department.


More Information

Type of school: Full boarding and day school for girls aged 11-18

Number of pupils: 568

Single sex / Co-educational: Single Sex Girls

Boy/Girl ratio: Girls only

Religion: Church of England

School Fees

Full boarding fees per term – £14,030
Day fees per term – £10,435