Cheltenham Ladies College
Muddy says: One of the best day and boarding girls' schools in the UK, Cheltenham Ladies College has wow-factor facilities, brilliant results and a uniquely international vibe.
What and where?
Cheltenham Ladies’ College (CLC) is a pioneering, independent school that has been at the forefront of girls’ education for more than 160 years.
This year (2019/2020) there were 844 girls aged 11-18 on the roll call, split into 80% boarders, and 20% day students. With 59 different nationalities at the College and over 40 languages spoken, if you want your daughter to grow up feeling like a global citizen – in the heart of the Cotswolds – then CLC delivers exactly that.
College’s location is pretty special, taking up a spacious 36 acre, leafy campus, but slap bang in the middle of Regency Cheltenham (voted the “best place to live” in the South West 2020 by The Sunday Times, no less).
This brings massive benefits with girls having access to the town’s year round arts and culture calendar, from galleries and theatres to the world-famous annual science, literature and music festivals.
The feel of College from the outside is very much beautiful ivy-clad cloisters and Hogwarts-esque grandeur, afterall you’re stepping into 167 years of history here. But this is also an institution with a forward-looking attitude (more on that later) and modern facilities, with a core belief in turning out independent and creative women.
The entrance to CLC is beguiling. You’d never guess the palatial campus that lies behind the glossy reception doors. The super-modern Grand Designs frontage set into a Regency avenue, opens up to reveal a lovely, leafy quadrangle flanked by classrooms. It felt like stepping into the grounds of a hall at Oxford or Cambridge. CLC is a lovely mix of old and new – from it’s Gothic architecture and marbled corridors to the recently completed modern glass art block.
I saw well-stocked labs, libraries, IT rooms and study areas on my tour, and it seems a really broad curriculum is central to the College. Alongside the core subjects, and a huge array of modern languages to learn, from Italian to Mandarin, it’s known locally (and perhaps nationally) for its reputation is for the arts and humanities (very strong here).
But another, perhaps lesser known, star turn of CLC is the Engineering, Enterprise and Technology (EET) Department which intros pupils to engineering concepts through a hands-on style of teaching.
In Art recent highlights include trips to The Tate and V&A Museum and recent achievements include girls work being selected for prestigious fashion competitions such as ‘UK Fashion Designer of the Year’. Recent ‘Upcycled Fashion Shows’ at the College have seen the girls whipping up impressive, avant-garde creations from curtains, trampoline nets, old tights and loo rolls.
Music is big news at CLC with at least five major productions every year, and a mix of years and ages able to get involved. Girls have the opportunity to use the stunning, state of the art, 325-seater theatre at the Parabola Arts Centre just down the road.
There’s even a tradition for Sixth Form girls to perform a full open-air Shakesperean play in the summer term as well as the occasional Edinburgh Fringe Festival production. Many girls also take LAMDA Speech and Drama exams, using the school’s numerous rehersal rooms and the ‘Black Box’ Studio Theatre.
If music is their passion there are a whole host of extra-curricular clubs to get involved in, such as Percussion Club and Symphony Orchestra. Concerts take place in the incredible, 800-seater Princess Hall – an awe-inspiring place that looks fresh from a Harry Potter set, with its soaring Gothic wooden panels and organ.
And the opportunities don’t stop there, pupils also get to perform at guest venues such as Eton College and St George’s Chapel in Windsor (of Harry and Meg fame) as well as regular overseas tours to Venice, Tuscany and Catalonia.
Engaging the girls in PE is right up there on the school’s priorities. We took a tour around it’s purpose built, brand new Health & Fitness Centre (finished in 2018) which is a 10 minute walk from the main campus. It’s very much like walking into a swanky, top-notch private gym and spa.
Activies they can get stuck into include a 25m swimming pool, multipurpose dance studio, a 58 station gym boasting a spin and free weights area, five squash courts, two sports halls and a really impressive climbing wall.
Plus, there are dedicated tennis courts two minutes walk away. In short, we can’t imagine anyone ever wanting to ‘bunk off’ a CLC PE lesson – I’m pretty sport phobic and I wanted to stay the whole day.
Girls also regularly compete at county, regional and even national levels in fencing, water polo, hockey and more.
CLC consistently achieves outstanding results in GSCE, A-Level and in the International Baccalaureate (IB) exams.
With an average point score of 40, it is proudly one of the most consistently high performing IB schools in the world, and was named top boarding school in the world for the IB in 2019.
A Level and GCSE results are also outstanding, with over 89.6% A*-B grades at A Level and 73.9% A* / 9 / 8 grades at GCSE in 2019.
It’s hard to think of a cooler and more charming place to board than Regency Cheltenham. The houses – six Junior, and five Sixth Form (with 4 day houses) – are all very central and set in grand period houses. Each is run by a Housemistress and a team of staff, some who live-in, with the emphasis on teaming up younger with older pupils to make them feel at home quickly – apparently there’s an equal amount of camaraderie and (healthy) fierce rivalry during the regular inter-house competitions.
Don’t expect any drab, shoddy digs here either. We’re told that all of the Houses have recently been refurbished. Each boasting a dining room, common room, prep room, computer room, and music spaces – clearly a lot of effort goes into making them feel like sanctuaries and home-from homes for the kids.
I took myself off to see one – St Helen’s House (I’m a slow walker and it was under 5 minutes away from the main campus).
It feels like stepping into a super-stylish university hall, with a giant communal lounge looking out onto rolling, manicured lawns, a common room filled with funky beanbags to slump on, TVs and even a Grand Piano, and upstairs rooms were spacious and modern. Boarding houses don’t come much nicer than this, my 13-year-old self would have thought I’d won the lottery.
College was also named the top school in the South West for both GCSE and A Level in 2020 by The Times.
The stats speak for themself with 516 offers from Russell Group Unis in 2019, 53 from the Ivy League and other US Colleges in 2019 and a whopping 168 offers from Oxbridge between 2013-2019. Impressive stuff.
Indeed, the friendly and articulate 6th former who showed me around was herself heading to Oxford Uni in September to study Geography, and her enthusiasm for eco issues and giving back to the community was really inspiring.
Meet the Head
Eve Jardine-Young – steering the ship – is warm and personable. Born and raised in Malawi, Africa, she names her main passions as equality of opportunity for women, holistic wellbeing in personal development, and environmental issues – committed to improving the college’s environmental footprint with her ‘Green Space’ initiative, which includes guest speakers, workshops and activities including BioTech Club.
She tells me she qualified as a structural engineer before becoming a teacher over twenty five years ago, and believes that foundation in flexible and problem-solving thinking filters through to her headship at the College. (She’s also the Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Gloucestershire I later learn!).
When I asked her what she loves most about the College she say: “Undoubtedly the people who make up our community – pupils, staff and parents.” She adds: “College is a warm and welcoming place where many types of students can thrive.
“Nothing about our approach is one-size-fits-all, and in our curriculum planning and co-curricular activities the watchword of ‘opportunity’ is what we focus on.”
Any Greta Thunberg wannabes out there, get applying now. Environmental issues are high on the agenda here for pupils and staff alike. Girls in the Environment Society, are currently taking the lead by working out ways to reduce the school’s carbon footprint and waste and the cool sounding Greenpower Car Club, has been busy building an electric car recently I hear.
If you like places with an old girls network, you’re in paradise. Alumnae include – actress Dame Kristin Scott Thomas; artist Bridget Riley; chair of the Science Museum Group, Dame Mary Archer; and former Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities and MP, Amber Rudd.
Wrap Around Care
As well as the 24/7 care offered to the 80% of boarders who live on site, plus the year round extra-curricular clubs, there is also a 7am to 7pm school provision with snacks available, if pupils need to stay in school.
CLC may not be the cheapest of the Indepedent sector, with fees skirting just above some of its national competitors, but it’s certainly not the most expensive either (think Wycombe Abbey or Harrow School).
The good news is that for the academic year 2020/21, College fees have been held at 2019 levels (a relief for many at the moment) and are: £12,780 for boarders per term, and £8,580 for day pupils per term.
It’s no secret that in Gloucestershire we’re lucky with a whopping seven grammar schools – three of which are all-girls. So why pay fees? It’s a valid question, but if you can avoid the ultra-competitive and highly oversubscribed grammar sector, which is stressed over by thousands of children in the county every year, then it’s a good idea.
And exam results aside, the broad curriculum and experiences CLC is able to give pupils being such a well funded and large school mean you get a good slice of ‘added value’ (we love a bit of that). And we have rarely seen such a breadth of sports facilities aimed solely at girls. Considering that in the UK only eight per cent of girls aged between 11 and 18 get enough physical activity, the fact girls here seem so engaged in keeping active (aided by the facilities) is a huge plus.
If you become a CLC pupil you’re also buying into a ready-made family spread across the world (err, super-handy for travelling we’d say), with an active network of more than 8,000 former pupils keeping in touch via Guild – College’s popular alumnae network. Having mates in 75 countries sounds amazing to us and Guild has a regular magazine and events for pupils.
I was really impressed by The Cybirds, a peer mentoring group run by Year 13 students to support younger pupils in navigating personal social media and the online world, a great support network for younger girls in the school. And, if they need somewhere to de-stress there’s the dedicated ‘Quiet Room’, a grand chapel-meets-chill-out space where according to my guide, girls often go to resolve teen arguments, pray, or just ‘take a breather’ from things.
Word on the ground
Knowing a handful of CLC pupils, I grilled them on what they thought, and one word that came up every time was ‘confidence.’ The common theme was that CLC is doing a great job of teaching girls how to believe in themselves and be resilient – valuable strings to any girl’s bow in 2020.
What also comes across is a really humble sense of the privilege they have, but most importantly, of wanting to use it for good. Everyone agreed there was a ‘work hard’ ethic, but lessons were really enjoyable and teachers supportive, so no one felt over-pressurised at all. And my 6th former for the morning even described one of her favourite humanities teachers to me as being “like my second mum” – and that’s high praise indeed.
The Muddy Verdict:
If you want your daughter to grow up intellectually curious and motivated CLC seems to be really focused on this. Despite the world-famous heritage of the school there are no cookie-cutter templates here – instead, 844 individuals are nurtured to be themselves. We also like the international vibe of the pupils, and being five minutes walk from the centre of Cheltenham and all it has to offer, undoubtedly makes for a hugely enriching school experience. I’ve always been slightly allergic to the phrase ’empowering’ as its so easy to bandy about, but CLC provides it in spades.
CLC is a vibrant, town centre school, so if you want your daughter ensconced away in a quiet, rural idyll, off a long swanky driveway, it won’t tick that box. It’s also a proudly single sex school, even into the sixth form (when other schools introduce boys), but to many this may be unimportant (and distracting!). Not one for hot-house fans, College puts the emphasis firmly on giving girls a broad education, championing the individual and the co-curricular. If you like starchy-collar feel institutions it’s not for you.
Dare to disagree?!
Don’t take my word for it, have a look for yourself at one of CLC’s Open Days. Currently, due to evolving Co-vid restrictions Open Days have temporarily been replaced by an online tour.
Click here for a virtual tour of the school and here for a brilliant snapshot into a year in the life of the school. For admission enquiries or to talk to someone about a physical visit in the future, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Bayshill Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 3EP.
Tel: 01242 520691