The six houses

The school remains inspired to this day by the aims and mission of Mary Ward, the founder of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which established St Mary’s School in Ascot in 1885. The school’s houses are all named after women who were members of the Institute in its earliest days, including Mary Ward herself.

MARY WARD HOUSE, named after MARY WARD (1585-1645)

Head of House: Kate Jenkinson. Kate taught at St Mary's from 2000-2001, and returned in 2012 as Head of the Upper Sixth Mary Ward House. She teaches in the Maths Department, and also runs the Wine tasting society. 

Mary Ward was born in 1585 into a wealthy Catholic family, and grew up in Reformation England leading the double life that Catholics were compelled to live in those dangerous days. She felt called to the religious life at 15 and entered the monastery of Poor Clares in St Omer. By 1609, she had gathered around her a group of companions determined to follow her guidance in founding a religious Order for women along the lines of the Society of Jesus. Despite controversy and obstruction, they established themselves as a religious community in St Omer, and opened a school for girls. In the following years Mary Ward travelled widely, founding schools all over Europe. In 1639 she arrived in London, and founded several free schools there, as well as a convent near York. She died at St Mary’s School in York in 1645.

BABTHORPE, named after BARBARA BABTHORPE (1592-1654)

Head of House: Helena West. Helena has been at St Mary's since 2000, and has been Head of Babthorpe House since 2006. She teaches in the Religious Studies Department, and is also a member of the Ministry team. She is in charge of and organises the annual retreats which take place for each year group. 

The Babthorpes were one of the oldest recusant families in Yorkshire, and it was while staying with them in 1600 that Mary Ward felt the calling to religious life. In 1609, Barbara Babthorpe joined Mary Ward and the small band of women who had come together as Mary's companions at St Omer. She was named by Mary Ward to be her successor as Chief Superior in 1645. Barbara Babthorpe died in Rome in April 1654 and was buried at the English College.

BEDINGFELD, named after FRANCES BEDINGFELD (1616-1704)

Heads of House: Tom and Katie Parsons. Tom has been at St Mary's since 2000, and has been Head of Bedingfeld House since 2003. He teaches in the History of Art and English Departments. He also runs the Bridge club, and SPoKE, the national art history film competition which is hosted by St Mary's. He leads art history trips for parents to London and abroad, and enjoys playing in the staff and girls Football club. Katie joined St mary's in 2003 as Head of Bedingfeld House. She is a joint editor of the Ascot Alumnae Association magazine, and also takes parent trips. 

Frances Bedingfeld became a pupil of Mary Ward at the age of 14, and at 16 entered the Institute in Rome. She accompanied Mary Ward on her last journey back to England in 1639. In 1669 she moved back to England for good, became a headmistress, and then a dedicated superior. In 1686, she bought a house just outside Micklegate Bar in York, and started a school there. The house is now the Bar Convent and is home to members of the CJ community. She died in Bavaria in 1704 and lies in an unmarked grave.

POYNTZ, named after MARY POYNTZ (1593-1667)

Head of House: Roisin Toner. Roisin joined St Mary's in 2002, and took over as Head of Poyntz House in 2009. She teaches in the Religious Studies Department. She is a member of the Ministry team, with particular responsibility for sacramental preparation. She is also the School Garden Co-ordinator. 

Mary Poyntz lived and worked alongside Mary Ward from 1609 to 1627, and accompanied her on several journeys between England and Rome. In 1627, she was appointed the first superior of the community in Munich, and in the late 1630s, she once again accompanied Mary Ward on her return to England. When Mary Ward died in 1645, Mary Poyntz and Winifred Wigmore moved to Paris and worked on the first biography of Mary Ward. Mary Poyntz was appointed as successor to Barbara Babthorpe as Chief Superior in Rome in 1654. She died in 1667 and is buried in Munich in an unmarked grave.

ROOKWOOD, named after SUSANNA ROOKWOOD (1583-1624)

Head of House: Helen Jansen. Helen first joined St Mary's in 1994, and became Head of Rookwood House in 2010. She teaches in the Drama Department, and is also in charge of the school's many and varied equestrian activities.

Susanna Rookwood was 26 when she met her younger cousin Mary Ward, and was inspired by her enthusiasm and faith. She chose to go to St Omer with Mary, and within a few years was back in London as superior of a community of six members. In 1622, she went to Rome to assist Mary Ward in the presentation and defence of the Third Plan of the Institute before the committee of cardinals. Mary Ward valued her services highly, but realised that her spiritual gifts were underused. When the new house was set up in Naples in 1623, Susanna was named as the first superior. She was in office for only six months when she became ill and died.

WIGMORE, named after WINNIFRED WIGMORE (1585-1657)

Heads of House: Val and Nigel Hutchinson. Val and Nigel have run Wigmore House together since 2008. Val teaches in the Computing and ICT Department, and Nigel is a member of the Music Department and the school organist.

Winnifred Wigmore joined Mary Ward as one of her companions in 1609. In 1619, she became novice mistress in Liège. On the death of Susanna Rookwood, who was superior of the house in Naples, Winnifred was regarded as her obvious successor, but she resisted the appointment fiercely. In 1631, she went to Rome to set up a community on the Esquiline. Winnifred was one of the members who returned to England with Mary Poyntz and Catherine Smith, to be with Mary Ward at her death. In 1650, she went to Paris and became headmistress of a school and novice mistress. She died in 1657.

Parents at St Mary’s

"St Mary's hits the ball out of the park. It is a lovely, brilliant school."
- Current parent

Parents are members of the St Mary’s community just as much as the girls and staff. They often come to Mass on Sundays, and might then take their daughters out for lunch. They are also welcome at certain evening events, including our wonderful Inspirational Women series of talks. Parents are warmly invited to all of our many drama productions and concerts, including the bi-weekly lunchtime concerts in the chapel. Major events such as the Carol Service, the Dance Show, Open Day and Sports Day are big family celebrations, attended by many parents and siblings. On a more informal level, parents regularly pop in to see their children on a weekend, or take them out for tea.

We hold a Parents Day of Prayer every term, and the History of Art Department leads guided art trips for parents to London, as well as to European cities. Parents can keep in touch with the school and all its events through the parent portal.

Co-curricular activities

"It's a very friendly community. Doing other activities, you get to meet lots of the older girls - it's a lovely way of mixing."
- Year 7 girl

Once the last academic lesson ends, at 4:30, the girls spread off around campus, to sports practices, music or drama rehearsals, club and society meetings, dance practices, talks, House teas, trips, events with other schools, house competitions, or one of the many other activities that are available. There are clubs and societies for almost everything, from the Gender Equality Discussion Group to the Coding and Robotics Club, but the afternoon and evening schedule is flexible so that girls can make the best use of their time. This includes designated quiet times and spaces for girls to do their Study without interruption or distraction.

Societies, Clubs and Activities

Creative and performance arts
Creative writing clubCamera club3D design and printing club
WHAT magazineDrawing clubVideo production team
The PaperClay clubCandle making
Madrigal choirConcert bandMusic scholars ensemble
The Campion singersJazz bandHarp ensemble
Junior CampionRock bandsFlute ensemble
Senior orchestraSession bandBrass club
Composing clubMusic technologyDavenport Christmas choir
School playStudio theatre playSchool musical
Lower school play
Drama Captain’s play
Trinity Guildhall examinations
Drama club
Thorndike society (theatre trips)
Theatre crew
Team sports
HockeyNetball Athletics
Clubs and activities
Athletics event trainingFencingModern dance
Cross-countryKarateContemporary dance
FootballBadmintonSt Mary's Dance Company
Fitness and wellbeing
Group fitnessPilatesYoga
Alexander techniqueAerobicsZumba
CREST Science awardCoding and robotics clubMinerva society (History of Art)
Medical societyGeogSquadArtSpark
(Junior History of Art)
Dissection clubLiterary societyModern Foreign Languages film society
Junior ScienceNT LiveRussian club
Junior Engineering clubJunior History and Classics societyEcPol
Maths enrichmentJunior Classics clubCurrent Affairs society
Maths puzzle clubSenior Classics societyPhilosophy and Ethics society
Other activities
Service SquadModel United NationsPet shed
The Duke of Edinburgh's AwardFemSocGardening club
Debating societyGender equality discussion groupSpelling club
Public speakingBridge clubVintage film society
Book clubCookery clubWine tasting society


Weekends are busy and fun at St Mary's. There are often sports fixtures or House competitions on Saturday. The weekend programme then extends well beyond that, and could include almost anything: in the past year, trips have gone out to theme parks such as Birdworld and Chessington, waterparks, trampoline parks, or to go climbing, sailing, or ice skating. The girls have even been snotubing, and driven miniature tanks. There have been outings to museums and galleries both locally and in London, and to cinemas and the theatre. In fine weather, girls might go out for walks in the local countryside, or just enjoy an outing with friends to the cafés and shops in Ascot, Windsor or elsewhere.

On site, there is always plenty to do. Quiet time is always set aside for working. Elsewhere, the girls might have a roller disco, an afternoon of giant inflatables, or circus skills training, and there are always craft activities such as making jewellery, designing T-shirts, or learning professional stage make-up. The Art Department studios are open all weekend, as are the Music Department practice rooms and the libraries. Food is always fun, with barbecues, pizza in the woods from our own wood-fired pizza oven, or cake and cookie baking. Girls often take a lead in organising, advertising and running weekend events, many of which raise money for charity. There are also regular exeats when the girls can go home to relax and see family, and they are allowed to take one additional 'floater' weekend per term.

As a girls boarding school, we know how important it is to maintain good links with the world beyond our immediate community. We have active debating and Model United Nations societies who regularly meet and compete with other schools, and we enjoy a strong partnership with Eton, which is only a short drive away. The girls and boys meet up for societies and talks, and girls regularly attend Eton’s Medics Society, as well as other events. Etonians preparing for confirmation share in the St Mary’s Confirmation preparation in Year 10.

The girls love getting together with boys their age from other schools at socials on Saturday nights, and we hold these regularly for all ages with Eton, Winchester, Harrow, Radley, Papplewick, Ludgrove and Woodcote. Reeling is a particularly popular activity, but as well as music and dancing, we organise quizzes, discussion suppers, sports events and joint workshops, and the girls on the Socials Committee enjoy devising and planning new events. Departments also regularly join up with other schools for talks and society meetings. Our Sixth Form Ball at the end of the summer term is a wonderful celebratory event for the girls, their partners and parents, and is held in a marquee in the school’s beautiful grounds.

Charities and service

Service to the community is an integral part of the Catholic tradition. Girls help out in local charity shops and residential care homes, and with a local organisation helping people with disabilities. We also have a squad which maintains public footpaths in the area. Service is a central part of the Duke of Edinburgh's Award, which a large number of girls complete every year. Many of them also join OMV's annual pilgrimmage to Lourdes.

Charity events are a weekly feature of life at St Mary’s, and are overseen by the pupil-led Charities Committee. Last year the girls raised over £27,000 for a range of causes that are dear to them, from Equality Now and Path out of Poverty to the Teenage Cancer Trust and Save the Rhino. Houses raise money for their chosen charities on most weekends, through bake sales, toasty making and raffles. There is an annual Year 10 Charity Funfair, which, with its exciting food and games stalls, has the feel of a country fête. Senior girls organise major events such as the Rock Concert and the Summer Soirée, and publish the student magazine, WHAT, which they sell for charity. We have Home Clothes days, an annual charity tennis tournament, raffles, and monthly CAFOD lunches, which raise money for the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development. Through all of this, the girls grow up understanding that charity means not just giving money, but also giving time.

The Duke of Edinburgh's Award

Success in the Duke of Edinburgh's Award depends upon commitment to the ideals of service and self-improvement, and it is therefore a source of great pride for us that almost every girl in Year 9 and 10 completes her Bronze Award, up to two-thirds go on to complete their Silver Award, and usually between a third and a half go on to complete Gold. Every girl gives dedicated time each week to volunteering, the development of a personal skill, and practising a physical activity of her choice. At all three levels, the Award also requires one practice expedition and one assessed expedition, which take place in areas such as the New Forest, for Silver, or the Vercours region in France for Gold.


Girls in all year groups can choose weekly dance classes as a paid option. We offer ballet, tap, pointe, contemporary and modern, which includes street, jazz and hip-hop, and girls doing ballet can opt to take the Royal Academy of Dance examinations. Classes take place in our two dance studios in the Orchard Centre Sports Complex. Every girl who takes dance performs in the annual Dance Show on the stage of the Rose Theatre, and there is also a House competition every year, which is run by the House Dance Captains. Girls may elect to take GCSE Dance, which is offered locally through the Natalie Vinson School of Dance. For our more talented dancers, the Dance Company is the school’s performance group, which trains at a higher level, and performs both at school and at local dance events such as the LiftOff Festival and the Vanquish Entertainment shows. St Mary’s girls have also auditioned successfully for the Berkshire County Youth Dance Company, the London Children's Ballet, and even the Bolshoi.

Sport, Music and Drama

'There is so much going on here. You get all the opportunities you could possibly want.'
- Year 10 girl

Sport is an exciting and central part of every girl's day. We are proud to punch well above our weight in competitive sport at local, district, county and national level. We have a stunning range of facilities and superb specialist coaching staff. There is a 6-lane/8-straight athletics track with external field areas, two floodlit AstroTurf pitches, which become 21 extra tennis courts in the summer, two further floodlit tennis/netball hard courts, three further floodlit tennis hard courts, a grass football pitch, and a 25m heated indoor swimming pool. The Orchard Centre is our state of the art indoor sports complex, which has a main sports hall accommodating four badminton courts as well as indoor basketball and netball, a fitness suite (with 22 cardiovascular machines), two glass-backed squash courts, and two dance studios, one of them mirrored.

In Year 7, all girls take part in our four major sports, hockey, netball, tennis and athletics, but also do gymnastics, swimming, cross-country and cricket. From Year 9 onwards, other options are available, including the fitness suite, basketball, volleyball, badminton, zumba, yoga, pilates and football. Individual tennis and athletics event coaching is available all year round. There is a huge range of other paid activities which the girls can opt for, including karate, fencing, trampolining, squash, ballet and modern dance, and we are able to make arrangements for coaching in other disciplines, such as golf, polo and table tennis, as required.

From Year 10, girls choose either hockey or netball to play competitively, but can also continue with tennis, athletics, swimming, squash, rounders, cross-country, or any of the other activities that are available. Every girl has the opportunity of up to two hours of sporting activity every day, and the Heads of House and tutors oversee their weekly timetable to ensure that they are maintaining a healthy balance in their lives.

All year groups have fixtures throughout the year in all the major sports of hockey, netball, tennis and athletics, as well as many other sports. We also enter and perform well at county, regional and national competitions. Two recent St Mary’s alumnae represented England youth teams at rounders and netball whilst at the school. We also have a Gymnastics Gala and a Dance Show every year, and there are regular House competitions.

We run a programme of leadership activities and Sports Academy talks on topics such as nutrition, sport psychology and injury prevention. We take interested girls to the Girls Go Gold conference, and to international sports fixtures whenever possible. There is a trip to Flaine every year for the British Schools Ski Races competition, and a hockey and netball tour to South Africa every two years.


Music has a prominent role at St Mary's. There are regular concerts involving the orchestra, our various choirs, the jazz band, and other ensembles and soloists, and the choirs also take a leading role in worship at Mass on Sundays. There is at least one major concert every term, as well as regular lunchtime concerts, a scholars concert, a Music Captain's concert, and frequent performances at Open Mornings and other events. In the run-up to Christmas there is an evening of Voices by Candlelight, an Advent Charity Concert, and a very beautiful Carol Service. There are always plenty of opportunities for girls of all abilities to perform, and it isn't all classical. The senior girls also run an Open Mic night every term, and an annual Rock Concert.


There are plenty of opportunities for girls to perform on stage at St Mary’s. Productions take place all year round, and involve girls from all year groups. There are six productions a year, covering all genres, as well as a Drama Captain's play. Some productions take place in the Rose Theatre, while others are smaller scale studio productions. There is a whole school musical every other year. The Drama Captain’s play is organised and directed entirely by the Sixth Form Drama Captain. Recent productions have included A Midsummer Night's Dream, Red, The Wizard of Oz, The Wardrobe, Little Womenand The House of Bernarda Alba. There is also an annual House drama competition, the entries for which are directed by the House Drama Captains, and which often experiment imaginatively with physical theatre and dance. Ensemble work is a stand-out feature of St Mary’s productions, so all girls feel thoroughly involved, from the lead to the lowliest extra. Girls are also adept at running the sound and lighting booth and helping to build the wonderful sets.

Spiritual life

“I think Mary Ward would be really proud of what we have achieved."
- Upper Sixth pupil

St Mary’s is a Catholic school, and the chapel is at the heart of our building and our everyday life. Our school motto is ‘Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam’: ‘for the Greater Glory of God’. A Catholic education means fulfilling human potential, not for self-aggrandisement, but for the Glory of God and for the benefit of others. That sense of service to the community, in all its meanings, was what inspired Mary Ward, and continues to inspire us today. We express this purpose in our mission statement.

Our mission statement

St Mary’s School Ascot remains faithful to the mission of Mary Ward. We guide the girls in our care to become ‘capable and fit to do God’s service’ in whatever walk of life they follow as women of the 21st century.

We aim:

to foster the intellectual, spiritual and personal development of girls and women within the context of the Catholic boarding school
to encourage in each pupil a sense of her own worth and talents so that she is prepared to lead others and to enrich her world
to develop each pupil’s potential for independent thought and the search for truth through a rigorous academic education
to promote a strong sense of responsibility, co-operation and tolerance based on a Christian awareness of the needs of others
to provide the opportunity for each pupil to enjoy the full sacramental life and spiritual richness of the Catholic Church
to form women of conscience, competence and compassionate commitment
to create and foster a partnership between parents, school and the wider community
to follow in the spirit of Mary Ward who cherished ‘freedom of spirit, sincerity, and a cheerful disposition’.

Chapel is at the heart of the school, and its doors are always open. It sits just off the central corridor in the main building, opposite the girls refectory, close to the House offices and the staircases that go up to the boarding areas. The school gathers in chapel four mornings a week, and also for Mass on Sundays. We also hold Mass for the whole school at the start of term, and on other special occasions such as Saint Cecelia's Day, and House Masses offer further occasions for worship in a more informal setting. The remaining two mornings involve prayers and assembly in Houses and with tutor groups. Our own Father Dermot leads us in Mass, and in prayers on other occasions, and is a regular and cheerful presence around school. The girls love sitting and chatting with him in the refectory, and value his calm wisdom and steadying influence in their busy lives.

In both whole school and House assemblies, the girls often prepare and lead worship. This can range from reflecting on the life of a saint whose feast day the church is celebrating to a dramatic presentation of the teachings of the prophets. Staff too across the curriculum lead whole school prayers, demonstrating the rich traditions and styles present in the St Mary's community. Girls act as Eucharistic ministers at Mass, and alumnae often speak about this public role in communion as one of their most powerful memories. In addition, the Liturgy Captains organise Praise and Worship evenings in the crypt for younger girls, which are followed by cookies and hot chocolate.


All pupils go on retreat for one or two days every year. We feel that it is essential for each girl to be given time to step out of everyday school life, and reflect on her faith, her relationships with others, and where she is on her spiritual journey. We believe that a genuine Christian commitment cannot simply be taught but must be encouraged by example and nurtured through instruction, support and discussion.

Retreats are led by experienced retreat directors and involve a variety of activities that give the girls rest, a change of routine, and therefore the time and space for spiritual reflection. Retreats always follow a theme, such as the need for faith in times of change, or the value of prayer, as well as preparation for Confirmation in Year 10. Retreats might include discussions, workshops, some drama or a film, walks in our beautiful grounds, and the chance to enjoy silence and prayer. They give the girls an opportunity to talk things through in a calm and supported atmosphere.


Confirmation takes place every year and is a significant event that we celebrate together as a community, including parents and staff. The girls receive the Sacrament of Confirmation at a special Mass celebrated by the Bishop of our Diocese or his representative. They prepare carefully for this moment in their sacramental journey. They have weekly lessons in Religious Studies, which are a fixed part of the timetable, but they also meet in smaller discussion groups led by catechists who are members of staff and practising Catholics. These often take place in the home of one of the pastoral staff, over coffee and biscuits, and are lovely informal opportunities for the girls to talk about their faith. They also have a day of recollection during the final run-up to the Confirmation itself.

History of Mary Ward and St Mary’s School Ascot

Mary Ward was born in 1585 into a wealthy recusant Catholic family near Ripon in Yorkshire. She received a good classical education, and then, at the age of 15, she decided upon the religious life, and entered the monastery of Poor Clares in St Omer. By 1609, she had gathered around her a group of companions determined to follow her guidance in founding an unclosed religious Order for women along the lines of the Society of Jesus. This Order became known as the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Mary Ward believed that women were intellectually equal to men and deserved an education that reflected that equality. The education of girls therefore remained central to her work, and for the next twenty years she travelled widely, often on foot, founding schools all over Europe. In 1639, she returned to England, founding several free schools in London, before settling in Heworth, near York, where she founded a convent. Mary Ward died at St Mary’s School in York in 1645.

The Institute which Mary Ward found, continued its work in education in the following centuries. In 1885, Mother M Joseph Edwards opened a House in Ascot, named after Our Lady of the Snows, a name of which Mary Ward was particularly fond. St Mary’s School duly opened with just 19 pupils under the Headship of Sister Veronica Lund (1885-91). The earliest buildings remain at the heart of the school, including the chapel, which was consecrated in 1906, and the layout of the estate included the rhododendrons and azaleas which still greet visitors as they come up the drive. Under Mother Cecelia Marshall, Headmistress from 1905-1921, the roll grew to 90, and the school established its reputation with alumnae as a happy, family community to whom they were happy and keen to entrust their own daughters. Mother Ignatius Beveridge succeeded Mother Cecelia, and ran the school until 1949, during which time it acquired its reputation for professional high standards. University entrance became more common, and the school celebrated its first Oxbridge entrants. Errollston was opened in 1936 to cater for girls wanting to stay in education beyond 16.

Mother Bridget Geoffrey-Smith, Headmistress from 1956-76, remained true to the original founding mission of educating Catholic girls, but sought to broaden the intake and increase numbers. She employed the first full-time lay teacher and made sure that external examinations were taken much more seriously. By 1970, Errollston had become so oversubscribed, and the syllabus had changed so much, that it was absorbed into the main school as a two-year academic Sixth Form. Sister Emmanuel Orchard then began the process of modernising the school, a task which Sister Mark Orchard then continued between 1982 and 1999. A Board of Governors was appointed, lay teachers became more common, and the IBVM gradually withdrew from direct involvement. In 1986, the management of the school was handed over to the St Mary’s School Trust. New buildings appeared, including the Science and Art Blocks, the indoor swimming pool, and the Mary Ward Courtyard. When Sister Mark (now Sr Frances) retired from Headship in 1999, Mrs Mary Breen became the school’s first lay Headmistress. She served for over twenty years, before handing over to Mrs Danuta Staunton in 2019. The school roll settled at around 390, while expansion of the facilities continued, including a new theatre building, libraries, sports centre, athletics track and a second Sixth Form boarding house complex, completed in summer 2018. Throughout all these changes, the school has remained true to the original aim of Mary Ward: the education of girls within a Catholic community. Mary Ward believed that ‘Women in time will come to do much’, and St Mary’s School Ascot is proud still to be fulfilling that vision.

Caring for your daughter

“All the members of staff, the teachers, the boarding staff, they really care about each one of us.”
- Year 8 girl

As a full boarding school, we understand that raising a child is not something that parents and school do separately. A girl’s academic success goes hand in hand with her happiness and health, and as a close-knit community, we are able to keep a close eye on both. Our pastoral system looks after the girls 24 hours a day, and is particularly geared towards ensuring that they have a healthy balance in their lives of work, exercise, and rest, as well as plenty of other opportunities for stimulating the mind, cementing friendships, and nourishing the soul.

The House system

Every girl is in one of the five houses from Year 7 to the Lower Sixth. Each house is run by a Head of House who lives on site with her family, and who oversees all aspects of a girl's academic, co-curricular and personal development, supported by a team of tutors. The Head of House is the main point of contact for parents. In their final exam year, the girls move into the new Mary Breen Courtyard, which has its own Head of House and other residential staff.

The Heads of House have their offices in the heart of the school and are available to the girls throughout the day and evening, as well as on weekends. They host house teas in their homes for small groups of girls, as well as house suppers in the refectory, and organise our amazing programme of weekend activities.

The Tutor system

Each girl has a tutor from her house, whom she meets regularly during the week, and socially in the evenings and on weekends. The tutor oversees the detail of a girl's day-to-day life, liaising with staff on her behalf, and helping her to learn the art of time management using her Life Timetable. This helps her to ensure that she has a good balance of work, exercise, fun activities, practice time, relaxation and sleep.

In addition, girls are able to speak to the school’s Independent Listener, who visits the school three days a week. She is a wise and sympathetic counsellor to whom the girls know they can speak with complete confidentiality.

Mentoring and minding

The mentoring and minding systems run as a vein through school life, so that new girls settle quickly, and senior girls offer support, care and guidance. Every new girl is given a minder who is close to her in age, who will be a friendly face and offer a wealth of advice, from where to put your games kit to how to negotiate the pupil app. Senior girls then take on a longer-term mentoring role, meeting with groups of younger girls regularly to offer their wisdom and advice, and running activities and clubs for them. Departments also run buddy systems whereby older girls support younger girls with their learning.

PSHCE: Skills for Life

Skills for Life is our bespoke timetabled programme for PSHCE: personal, social, health and citizenship education. It runs from Year 7 through to the Upper Sixth, and is delivered through talks, seminars, discussion groups, and practical workshops. It is designed to provide the girls with all the wisdom and advice that they need to help them mature and grow, and covers the knowledge and skills needed to embark on a happy and successful adult life.

In Skills for Life, the girls learn about their bodies and staying healthy, and about relationships, friendships and sexual intimacy. They are taught about the risks associated with alcohol and drugs, about keeping safe online and building a positive digital footprint. Other sessions cover the political landscape of Britain, and the basics of personal finance, as well as moral and ethical issues such as discrimination. We encourage the girls to look inward, to know themselves better, and to look outward, to understand the world around them and to be well prepared for life beyond St Mary’s.

Use of technology

Learning to use technology wisely is essential for all young people today. At St Mary's we are enthusiastic about technology and innovation, but we know how challenging it can be for young people to keep their use of it safe and in perspective. Girls are therefore allowed to have one mobile phone at school, to help them keep in touch with family and friends, but they are not permitted internet-enabled phones until Year 9. In Years 7-10, girls are allowed their phones only at certain times. Girls in Years 7 and 8 may have iPads that are set up by the school for educational purposes, but they are not permitted to use them for entertainment at school, other than using FaceTime to keep in touch with home. All devices are registered on the school's network, and all girls sign up to the school's ICT Acceptable Use Policy. Access to WiFi is restricted according to age, just as it would be at home, both in terms of when it can be used, and which websites can be accessed.

Use of social media can sometimes be particularly problematic for young people, and we are therefore very careful about how it is used. Girls in Years 7 and 8 are not permitted to be on any kind of social media. All girls receive regular ICT safety education, and we have our own e-safety officer, who educates and supports the girls, and keeps in touch with online trends and dangers.

Medical Centre

The Infirmary is located within the boarding area of the main school, and is staffed 24 hours a day. The nurses dispense homely remedies according to the infirmary protocol as required, oversee all prescribed medication, and support girls who have longer term health conditions. All girls are registered with the school doctor, who holds surgeries twice a week, and whom the girls can see at any time in her surgery in the neighbouring village of Sunningdale. The nurses also liaise closely with other medical specialists and can arrange dental and eye appointments locally as necessary. Many girls also choose to have weekly sessions in Alexander technique, which helps them achieve posture and balance, both physically and mentally.

Community life

"I told my parents I didn't want to board. Then I walked into St Mary’s, and I just wanted to come here."
- Lower Sixth girl

Boarding appeals to girls of all types: it develops their independence and cultivates a rich sense of community and common purpose. As a full boarding school, St Mary’s is able to provide the culture, facilities and opportunities, both within and beyond the classroom, that enable the girls to lead a varied and fulfilling life.


Girls share their boarding areas with other girls their age, so there are very strong relationships within each year. In Year 7, girls get to know each other through sharing rooms with several other girls. In Years 8 and 9, they share smaller rooms, and most girls also share in Year 10, though there are a few single rooms. All girls have their own room in Year 11. Every year group enjoys having its own common room where they can get together and relax. Boarding staff and grad assistants join the girls in their common room in the evenings to make hot chocolate and chat about their day.

Other year groups are always nearby, and strong friendships are formed between girls of all ages, through shared interests, societies, sport, music, drama, and through the mentoring and minding systems that involve girls from all year groups. Girls also greatly value the relationships that they build with teaching staff, who are often present in the evenings and on weekends, taking extra subject surgeries or running other activities. Residential staff live in flats within the boarding areas, so there is always someone just around the corner if the girls ever need anything during the night.

Sixth form accommodation

The Mary Ward Courtyard and Mary Breen Courtyard are our two purpose-built boarding complexes, each consisting of a number of town houses around a central courtyard, where the Lower Sixth and Upper Sixth live independently from the main school. Both complexes have their own residential staff. Every girl has her own study bedroom, and in the Mary Breen Courtyard these are all en-suite. Each house also has a kitchen and living area. In the Upper Sixth, girls often choose to eat breakfast 'at home', and then join the rest of the school for lunch and dinner in the refectory. The girls love the independence, whilst still feeling very involved with school life. The two years they spend in these houses are excellent preparation for life at university and beyond.


Food is a wonderful part of community life at St Mary's. The girls and staff all love the food, and the cheerful atmosphere in which meals are shared in our newly refurbished refectory. At every meal there is a range of hot and cold options, and at lunch and supper there is also a varied and delicious salad bar. Girls may choose what they fancy, but there are staff on hand to guide them, and to ensure that they have a balanced diet. They can, and frequently do, go back for more.

Saints' feast days are celebrated with both Mass and a feast, often including an enormous cake, and houses regularly dine together at house suppers on Fridays. In the summer we have barbecues, and our Christmas dinner is legendary. Girls from all year groups are represented on the Food Committee, which reports on their likes and dislikes, and suggests additions to the menu. Visitors on Open Mornings are able to sample the food, and the girls happily tell them that it really is this good every day.


For many girls, being able to bring in their own pets to keep in the pet shed and garden is one of the many things that makes St Mary's feel like home. The pets are looked after entirely by the girls, who must ensure they are fed, watered, cuddled, and cleaned out regularly. It's a lovely way to make friends with other girls who have pets, and can provide an important physical link with home. The Pet Welfare Committee meets regularly to oversee things and awards a prize every term for the best kept pet.


SMASH is the St Mary’s School Shop and is a popular venue for girls during their breaks and on weekends. It sells a large range of stationery, toiletries, gifts and greetings cards, stamps, sports equipment, snacks and drinks, and is also where the girls go to collect their parcels. They can try on uniform items before ordering, and second-hand uniforms are also available. SMASH operates a cashless system: parents load their daughter’s SMASH payment card online and can monitor and limit their spending. 


As they grow through the school, all girls have opportunities to take on roles of responsibility. Older girls act as minders to new girls, mentors to younger girls, and can also act as subject buddies, helping younger girls with their academic work. Girls from all seven year groups can serve on committees such as the Food Committee, the Cyber and Tech Committee, the Eco Committee, and the Charities Committee. These committees work with their peers to raise issues, organise projects, and provide feedback and ideas to the Senior Management Team. House activities are run by Sixth Form Captains in areas such as art, drama, music, sport, public speaking, science, charities, and liturgy. The House Captains, their deputies, and the Sixth Form Prefects play a major role in organising and running events for the younger girls.

Timeline of the school day

7:20Rising bell
7:20-8:00Breakfast in the Girls Refectory (Sixth Form may breakfast in their own kitchens)
8:10First bell
8:40- 10:25Periods 1 and 2
10:25-10:55Break (food and drink served in the Girls Refectory)
10:55-12:40Periods 3 and 4
12:40-13:50Lunch (including some clubs and activities)
13:50-16:30Periods 5, 6 and 7
16:30Tea (served in the Girls Refectory)
16:30 onwardsSport and other activities
18:00-20:00Supper (times staggered according to year groups and activities). Following supper, girls have free time. Activities and clubs continue throughout the evening.
20:15-21:00Year 7 to their boarding areas by 20:15 – little lights at 20:40 – lights off at 21:00
20:30-21:15Year 8 to their boarding areas by 20:30 – little lights at 21:00 – lights off at 21:15
21:00-21:45Year 9 to their boarding areas by 21:00 – little lights at 21:30 – lights off at 21:45
21:45-22:00Year 10 Little lights at 21:45 - lights off at 22:00
22:15-22:30 Year 11 Little lights at 22:15 - lights off at 22:30
22:30-23:00Sixth Form in houses by 22:30 – LVI little lights at 22:45 -lights off by 23:00
‘Little lights’ is the time when the main lights in the boarding areas are turned off. Girls may keep their bedside light on in order to read.