Science is taught to all girls in Years 7 to 11, and is a compulsory core subject at IGCSE, either as a combined Dual Award Science course, or as three separate courses in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. All three sciences are then available as options at A Level.
In Year 7, the girls follow a modified version of the AQA KS3 science course, covering topics such as reproduction, the solar system, electrical circuits and acids and alkalis. In addition, they follow a course of fortnightly lessons covering the enquiry process in science: they develop skills such as how to pose a scientific question, carry out an investigation, and question the results and conclusions obtained through scientific research.
In Year 8, the science course is divided into its separate disciplines, Biology, Chemistry and Physics, each taught by subject specialists. In Biology girls look at food, digestion and respiration. In Chemistry, they cover elements, compounds and mixtures, and types of reactions. In Physics, they learn about motion, magnets and waves.
In Year 9, pupils begin the IGCSE course, following the Edexcel specification. Topics include cell structure and basic biochemistry in Biology, atomic structure, bonding and the periodic table in Chemistry, and forces, energy and motion in Physics. There is a strong emphasis on basic scientific principles, investigative work and practical skills.
In Year 10, girls choose either to take Dual Award science or to take three separate IGCSEs in Biology, Chemistry and Physics. In either case, the girls continue to receive separate lessons in each of the three sciences. The Dual Award Science course leads to an award of two IGCSE grades, and the Triple Award course leads to the award of three IGCSE grades.
At IGCSE, pupils follow the Edexcel course. The Biology syllabus covers topics such as the nature and functions of living organisms, reproduction, ecology and the use of biological resources. The Chemistry course includes principles of chemistry, the elements, organic chemistry and physical chemistry. The Physics course covers areas such as forces and motion, electricity, waves, energy, magnetism and radioactivity.
At A Level, pupils of Biology, Chemistry and Physics follow the OCR courses.
All three A Level science courses place an emphasis on the development of experimental skills, with a practical endorsement reported on separately to the theoretical, examination-based grade. Experimental work is thus embedded in all three science courses. Lessons devoted to the gaining and refining of such skills as are required to complete the practical endorsement occur on a regular basis throughout the two-year programme.
The Biology A Level explores foundations of biology, exchange and transport, biodiversity, evolution, disease, communication, homeostasis, genetics and ecosystems.
Topics covered in the Chemistry course include foundations of chemistry, the periodic table and energy, organic chemistry, physical chemistry and transition elements.
The Physics course covers foundations of physics, forces and motion, electrons, waves and photons, the Newtonion world, astrophysics, particles and medical physics.
Beyond the Classroom
The Science department runs CREST awards, a programme offered by the British Science Association, which involves pupils conducting hands-on investigations into real-life problems in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. St Mary’s pupils frequently receive Bronze and Silver awards for their work.
Junior Science Club is a precursor to the CREST award project. It allows Year 7 and 8 pupils the chance to plan and carry out the experiments that they may not have time to try during lessons.
Junior Engineering Club encourages students to try their hand at applying their scientific knowledge and their problem-solving skills in practical situations. They take part in national competitions based on engineering, design and robotic challenges. In addition, the Medical Society organises its own events, as well as visiting the Eton Medical Society for regular talks. Pupils compete successfully in Olympiads in all three sciences.
The department runs numerous trips each year. Year 7 enjoy a day out at Legoland, looking at forces in action. IGCSE pupils go on a Biology field course at Juniper Hall, and also attend Science Live!, a full day of lectures and presentations from some of the UK’s top scientists. The Lower Sixth conduct ecological investigations in the field, and visit university laboratories to gain hands-on experience with analytical apparatus not usually seen in schools, and attend lecture programmes such as Physics Live!
Religious Studies is taught to all girls in Years 7, 8 and 9, and is a core subject at GCSE. Theology is then an option at A Level, but all girls continue with at least two terms of Religious Studies in the Sixth Form.
In Years 7 to 8, girls follow a course inspired by the CTS series The Way, The Truth and The Life. They explore subjects such as the person of Jesus, the nature of discipleship, and the meaning of the Hebrew scripture. The course makes imaginative use of drama, art, music and film in delivering the syllabus.
In Year 9 girls begin with a study of vocation and conscience, and then move on to begin the GCSE course.
At GCSE, Religious Studies is a compulsory subject at St Mary’s, and follows the AQA B course. Areas of study include Roman Catholic belief and practice, Judaism, and moral principles. The girls consider Christian approaches to moral and ethical topics such as marriage, the family, and social justice.
At A Level, pupils follow the OCR course. This involves exploration of the philosophy of religion, religion and ethics, and developments in Christian theology.
Religious Studies in the Sixth Form
Girls who are not taking Theology A Level still continue with two terms of Religious Studies in the Sixth Form. This course involves the discussion of current affairs, and the role of religion in society, and is supported by a series of lectures by outside speakers.
Beyond the classroom
Year 7 girls go on a trip to see The Life of Christ at Wintershall. In Year 8, as part of their study of other religions, all the girls go on a day trip to the Jewish Museum in London. We regularly host a revision conference at school. This is a whole day event involving seminars and workshops that explore elements of the GCSE course, while also providing a flavour of A Level-style discussion. Sixth Form pupils attend conferences in London and Oxford. In addition, the Theology Society shares its enjoyment of books and films, and also provides a discussion forum for the exploration of topics outside the exam syllabus. There is also an annual discussion group with Eton College, which involves the exploration of texts such as Plato’s Symposium and Montaigne’s An Apology for Raymond Sebond.
The Religious Studies department also plays a major role in organising and helping to run the year group retreats which take place throughout the year. They also support Year 10 with their preparations for Confirmation.
Music is taught to all girls in Years 7, 8 and 9, and is then an option at both GCSE and A Level.
In Years 7 to 9, pupils explore the three key elements of listening, composing and performing. As well as lessons in singing, and plenty of opportunities for performance, the girls also complete projects which span a variety of genres. These include musical theatre, animal compositions based on Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals, the study of Romantic programme music, and Music for Voice. In Year 9, projects include Folksong, Nationalism and Blues, and Music for Film. The Bands project during the Lent term involves all girls performing a pop song in groups to a full audience in the Rose Theatre. The year ends with the popular Music for Film project.
At IGCSE, pupils follow the CIE course, in which composition and performance are key elements. Girls perform a solo and an ensemble piece each, and these performances are recorded. For the composition element, the girls compose and record two contrasting pieces. They also study a range of music, from the Baroque to the 20th century, including a world focus and a Western set work.
At A Level, pupils follow the OCR syllabus, and performance and composition again constitute a large part of the course. The girls put together and perform a 10-15 minute recital, which takes place before an audience of pupils, parents and staff, and is recorded. They also produce two original compositions over the two years. The written element of the course involves the study of the classical period, jazz and blues, programme music, and religious music of the Baroque period. The latter includes study of Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s St Matthew Passion.
Beyond the classroom
Trips are a regular feature of the Department’s activities. We are able to take advantage of the world-class music that is on offer at top London venues, especially the Royal Festival Hall, including in the last year a rare performance of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 3 in A Minor, and a complete performance of Ma Vlast, Smetana’s nationalistic cycle of tone poems which the girls are studying for A Level. Last year, Year 8 travelled to the famous Metropolis recording studio in Chiswick to make a professional recording of a song which they had written in class, and Year 7 were recently taken to a performance of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, which they had been studying in class.
European choir tours are undertaken regularly by Campion, the main senior choir, and are always very popular. On the tour of Venice and Padova in 2016, the girls sang Mass in St Mark’s Basilica, and gave concerts in the Salla della Carita in Padova and St George’s Anglican Church in Venice. They also visited churches, watched fireworks on the Grand Canal, and saw glass-blowing on Murano. This was followed in December 2017 by a Christmas tour to Budapest, where the choir performed a number of concerts, as well as singing Mass at St Stephen’s Basilica and a festive programme of music on the central stage at the Christmas market. Unfortunately, the proposed Venice trip for 2020 had to be postponed, but we hope to run this trip as soon as it becomes possible to do so.
Concerts at school take place regularly. In the Michaelmas term we hold our annual Voices by Candlelight concert, as well as an Advent Charity Concert and three carol services. The Vocal and Orchestral Concert in March is the main school concert of the year. In 2019, the programme included a complete semi-staged performance of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Soloists and ensembles perform regularly on other occasions such as Open Mornings and alumnae events. Informal lunchtime concerts are held every two or three weeks.
The girls also organise their own major events. The Summer Soirée is a concert organised with Sixth Form pupils who put on ensemble pieces with girls from younger years and guest performers from boys schools. The programme often includes original compositions. The Music Captain also organises and hosts her own annual concert, which might be a formal classical concert in the Chapel, or a contemporary café-style event in the Rose Theatre. In addition to the classical repertoire, the Department also organises regular Open Mic nights, and an annual Rock Concert.
Individual tuition in almost any instrument is offered by our wide range of peripatetic teachers. Lessons take place in one of our many practice rooms, all of which have pianos. Practice rooms and times are available to all girls throughout the day, including weekends, from 7:30am until 10:00pm. Instrumentalists and singers are entered for Associated Board and Trinity Guildhall music examinations, which take place every term.
In addition to our practice rooms, we have larger tutorial and rehearsal spaces, and opportunities for collaborative music-making are plentiful and fun. Concerts take place either in the Rose Theatre or in the Chapel.
Campion is the main senior choir, comprising girls from Year 9 upwards. Membership is by audition. Campion is at the heart of the school, providing liturgical music for Sunday Mass, singing at whole school events such as Open Day, and touring abroad every 2-3 years.
Junior Campion is the junior choir for pupils in Years 7 and 8. They lead the singing at Mass once a term, and perform in concerts throughout the year. Junior Campion provides excellent preparation for the senior choir.
Davenport is the informal choir which comes together in the Michaelmas term every year to participate in Christmas celebrations.
Madrigal is a group of singers who specialise in contemporary music. As well as performing in school concerts, they are often invited to perform at school events and functions.
Senior Madrigal is a select choir of 16 voices who perform in school concerts and at other special events.
Senior Orchestra is comprised of girls of Grade 5 standard and above. They perform in concerts several times a year, including the school’s main annual Vocal and Orchestral n Concert.
Concert Band provides an opportunity for younger musicians to learn to play together in a large ensemble, and to perform repertoire that is light and enjoyable, including film and show music. The emphasis is on music-making as collaborative and fun.
Jazz Band provides an opportunity for girls to enjoy ensemble work in a range of different styles, from blues and funk to swing and Latin. Girls learn to play tailor-made arrangements, and perform in both school and charity concerts.
Modern Foreign Languages
Most of the teachers in the MFL Department are native speakers in their primary subject. The Department also employs language assistants to help the girls outside normal lesson time, particularly with oral work.
French, German, Italian and Spanish
French is taught to all girls in Years 7 to 9, and is usually chosen as the one compulsory modern foreign language to be studied to GCSE. It is then an option at A Level.
German, Italian and Spanish may be sampled in Year 8, and girls may then choose one of these to study as their second European language through to Year 9. Bilingual pupils may be taught in a separate set, once their ability has been assessed. German, Italian and Spanish are all then available as options at GCSE and A Level.
In Years 7 to 9, pupils cover topics such as self, home and family, free time, school, future plans, and shopping. In doing so, they learn key linguistic concepts such as adjectives, pronouns, negatives, expressions of quantity, and regular and irregular verbs.
At GCSE, pupils follow the AQA course for French, German and Spanish, and the Edexcel course for Italian. They explore topics such as relationships, leisure, holidays, health and jobs, and in doing so learn new structures and tenses such as the conditional and pluperfect, as well as consolidating the work from earlier years. Where appropriate, able pupils may be entered for GCSE at the end of Year 10, and then continue their studies at a higher level in Year 11.
At A Level, pupils follow the AQA course for French, German and Spanish, and the Edexcel course for Italian. These courses cover a variety of contemporary topics such as social trends, artistic culture and political life. Pupils study two set texts, or one text and a film, and use a range of media for their individual research project which they present in their speaking examination.
Pupils in Year 8 may choose to do a taster course in Mandarin, and it is then available as a subject option in Year 9 and for GCSE. Pupils follow the Edexcel course.
Other modern foreign languages
Other languages may be available outside the timetable, according to need. We have in the past offered courses in Arabic, Dutch, Modern Greek, Polish, Portuguese and Russian. These can also be taken through to GCSE.
Beyond the classroom
Year 8 go on a very popular trip to France for a week in the summer term, during which they visit a market, make their own bread, and explore places such as St-Malo and Mont Saint-Michel. The Modern Languages Film Society is run by the senior girls, and meets several times a term to watch and discuss films in the relaxed atmosphere of the Mary Ward Courtyard Common Room. Sixth Form girls enter the Festival de Théatre Francophone in London every year, as well as the French debating competition the Joutes Oratoires. They also enjoy French poetry workshops and discussions with professor Richard Parish from Oxford. Our bilingual girls run a Foreign Language Film Club for the younger years. In addition, there is a Russian Club which meets once a week in the summer term, and is designed to give girls an introduction to the Russian language.
Mathematics is taught to all girls in Years 7 to 11, and is a compulsory core subject at IGCSE. It is then an option at A Level.
From Years 7 to 9, the girls follow a course of study that prepares the ground for the IGCSE course in Years 10 and 11. In Year 7, they follow an induction programme and are tested in a wide variety of topics, such as algebra, statistics, and investigation work. They are then set by ability, in order to maximise the learning of each pupil, and these sets are reviewed every half term.
At IGCSE, pupils follow the Edexcel course, and we expect all girls at St Mary’s to take the higher tier qualification. This covers the four core areas of Mathematics: number, algebra, statistics and geometry.
Further Mathematics is offered in Year 11 via the AQA course to girls in the top set who already have a secure knowledge of the IGCSE course, and who have shown the potential to achieve a grade 9. They extend their learning of the core syllabus, and expand on this to include calculus and further trigonometry. Further Mathematics is a stand-alone qualification, and is taken alongside IGCSE Mathematics at the end of Year 11.
At A Level, pupils follow the Edexcel course. Pure Mathematics forms the core of the A Level course, together with applied content in Statistics and Mechanics.
Further Mathematics A Level is available to able mathematicians. Pupils follow the Edexcel course, which involves the study of Further Pure Mathematics, Statistics and Mechanics.
Beyond the classroom
The Mathematics Department runs lunchtime clinics throughout the week and on weekends to support girls who need extra help outside the classroom. The Lower Sixth Further Mathematicians run a Puzzle of the Week Challenge and post an interesting Word of the Week. Gifted Mathematicians in all year groups have the benefit of mentoring on a regular basis and there is a weekly puzzle club. Every year we enter girls for the UKMT Individual and Team Mathematics Challenges and Olympiads and there is also a keenly fought inter-house competition. The Department hosts a Mathematician-in-Residence for one week a year, who gives talks and holds workshops with girls across all year groups. A Level pupils attend the annual Coulter McDowell lecture at Royal Holloway, and girls from various year groups attend occasional enrichment days and masterclasses in Oxford. Girls are often offered places on the Royal Institute Masterclasses course, which runs for six Saturdays a year.
History of Art
History of Art is available in the Sixth Form, and follows the Pearson A Level course.
Pupils learn about human history and the artistic expression of civilisations through the study of painting, sculpture and architecture. They look at the Renaissance in Italy and Modernism in Europe, as well as exploring thematic links such as nature and identity. Object-based education is an essential element of the course, so Sixth Form art historians travel to exhibitions and museums regularly, as well as abroad to both Paris and Florence to study works in situ.
Beyond the Classroom
The Minerva Society organises trips and talks as an integral part of the A Level course, as well as to extend the pupils’ appreciation of art more broadly. Recent speakers have included Simon O’Meara from SOAS and Nick Ross, Director of Art History Abroad. The senior girls also run ArtSpark, a Junior Minerva Society designed to give younger girls some experience of the subject prior to A Level.
As well as the two overseas residential trips to cities such as Paris and Florence, the Department runs regular trips to London museums and galleries. Girls have also enjoyed private candle-lit tours of St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle and Sandham Chapel.
Every year, the Department organises and leads a guided day trip to a London art collection for parents, and a guided weekend trip to a European city. In recent years we have visited the National Gallery, Tate Britain, the Foundling Museum, Dulwich Picture Gallery, and the V&A. Weekend trips have visited Amsterdam, Lisbon, Rome, Florence, Palermo, Madrid, Tuscany and Veneto. As well as being great fun, these trips have also raised money for charities such as CAFOD, the Coram Foundation and the Westminster Diocese Lourdes Fund.
SPoKE: The national art history documentary film-making competition
SPoKE is a national art history film-making competition run by the History of Art Department at St Mary’s, in conjunction with Art History Abroad and The Horse Boy Foundation. It is open to all UK pupils in Years 11, 12 and 13. Entrants are required to create a documentary film lasting between 5 and 7 minutes that presents the results of their academic research into a work of their choice. Its purpose is to challenge pupils to link the visual and verbal in an imaginative and creative manner. The competition is judged externally by people from the art and film world.
For information about the 2022 competition, please click here
The Horseboy Foundation Prize
In addition to the main SPoKE prize, the Horseboy Foundation has offered a special prize worth £200 for the film submitted to this year’s SPoKE competition which most thoughtfully reflects either on an artist with special needs or an artwork that is concerned with an issue directly related to special needs. The award of this prize will be judged by the panel.
The Horseboy Foundation was created by one of SPoKE’s judges, Rupert Isaacson, as a charity devoted to providing alternative and kinetic education to special needs and autistic as well as neuro-typical students. Its methods are used in centres across the US and Europe.
It is possible that the winner of this prize could also be shortlisted for the other prizes and places. To be eligible for the Horseboy Foundation prize, please complete the declaration form by clicking on the link below, and send it, along with your SPoKE application form, to email@example.com
History is taught to all girls in Years 7, 8 and 9. It is then an option at both IGCSE and A Level.
In Years 7 to 9, the girls follow a course in British history starting in 1066 and finishing in 1945. In Year 7 they learn about medieval life in villages and castles, and also complete a unit on Imperial China. In Year 8 they study the Tudors and Stuarts, and also learn about the French Revolution. In Year 9 the course moves on to empire, slavery, and the radical changes of the 18th century. The girls also study World War One, in conjunction with the poetry course taught by the English Department, and go on a joint History, English and Art Department trip to the World War 1 battlefields of Europe.
At IGCSE, pupils follow the CIE course. This looks at international relations from 1919 to 2001, and also involves an in-depth study of the Great Depression and Germany between the wars. The girls all complete a detailed coursework project as part of the course.
At A Level, pupils follow the Edexcel course. They study political, social, religious and cultural history, covering topics such as the 16th-17th century witch craze, 20th century British and US history, and a coursework project chosen independently by each pupil.
Beyond the classroom
Trips are an important part of studying History. In the lower school, we take all the girls on day trips to Hampton Court and the Tower of London, and in Year 9 they have a 5-day residential trip to the World War 1 battlefields of Europe in the last week of the summer term. IGCSE pupils have study days on subjects such as Vietnam and the Holocaust. In the Sixth Form, trips go up to London to lectures and exhibitions at venues such as the British Museum and the British Academy.
The Junior History Book Club and Senior History Film Club run regular events, while a weekly university group provides an opportunity for girls interested in further study to explore their own interests in greater detail. Year 9 compete in a House balloon debate in which they argue for the significance of their chosen historical characters.
Geography is taught to all girls in Years 7, 8 and 9. It is then an option at both GCSE and A Level.
In Years 7 to 9, the girls explore topics such as the Middle East, glaciation, and oceans. We make use of our beautiful grounds to complete fieldwork during lessons, exploring microclimates and parks. The girls also go on an annual field trip.
At GCSE, pupils follow the Edexcel A course, which covers both physical and human geography. Physical geography includes the study of glacial and river landscapes, weather hazards and climate change, and biodiversity and management. The course also involves a field trip to Juniper Hall where the girls complete a rivers study as part of their Investigations unit. Human geography looks at topics such as cities, global development, and resource management, and involves a field trip to the Field Studies Council in London’s Olympic Park that leads to an investigation on the impact of regeneration.
At A Level, pupils follow the Edexcel course. A variety of topics are studied, including tectonic processes and hazards, coastal landscapes, the water cycle, the carbon cycle and energy security. This leads on to the study of superpowers, global development, migration, identity and sovereignty. The course also involves a four-day residential field trip, where the girls complete an independent study of either a human or physical topic of their choice.
Beyond the classroom
Trips and fieldwork are an essential part of the study of Geography. Year 7 go on a trip to the Henley Rowing and River Museum. Year 8 visit Oxford to investigate the impact of tourism. Year 9 go to the New Forest to undertake a self-generated project on either a human or physical fieldwork topic of their choice. The focus is on developing the girls’ ability to work independently. As part of their A Level course, pupils must undertake an independent investigation. They design their own methodologies and collect data on a human or physical topic and location of their choice.
Sixth Form girls attend the Institute of Education geography lectures at UCL, and the geographical society, GeogSquad, offers girls from all years the opportunity to take part in competitions, such as WorldWise Quizes and the national Young Geographer of the Year competition.
All pupils receive lessons in English from Year 7 through to Year 11, and take IGCSEs in both English Language and English Literature. English Literature is then an option at A Level.
In Years 7, 8 and 9, pupils study a wide range of literature from all genres and periods. This involves a mix of poetry, prose and drama, and covers writing from Chaucer to the present day, including a Shakespeare play every year. They also have dedicated language lessons every week, which cover everything from technical areas such as grammar and punctuation to a wide range of writing skills. The girls also enjoy having dedicated reading time every week.
At IGCSE, the girls follow the Edexcel Language A course. They consolidate their handling of grammar and syntax, and apply these skills in a variety of writing styles, both transactional and creative. They study non-fiction, including media, travel writing and autobiography, and learn to analyse unseen texts. They also study a selection of poetry and prose writers, including Wilfred Owen and Benjamin Zephaniah.
At IGCSE, the girls follow the Edexcel course, which covers all three major literary genres. In poetry the girls encounter a variety of writers, including John Keats, Carol Ann Duffy and John Agard. For prose, they conduct an in-depth study of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, and for drama they study Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge and Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. They also learn the skills of unseen analysis.
At A Level, the girls follow the OCR course. They study a range of literature from across the ages, including Shakespeare, Webster and Milton, as well as a coursework unit in twentieth and twenty-first century writers such as Tennessee Williams, Ian McEwan, and Carol Ann Duffy. They also complete a detailed study of the Gothic genre, which includes a wide range of reading from the late 18th century to the present. In addition to studying the texts themselves, the girls look closely at contextual influences and critical history.
Beyond the classroom
Theatre trips are a regular feature of life in the department. Recent performances we have seen include The Duchess of Malfi at the Almeida Theatre, An Inspector Calls, Betrayal, Endgame starring Daniel Radcliffe, Macbeth at the Globe Theatre, Hamlet at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury, and Ian McKellen’s one man show Ian McKellen on Stage. The NT Live Society goes to see live streamed theatre in local cinemas several times a term, including in recent months Present Laughter, One Man, Two Guv’nors, Small Island, All My Sons, and an evening with Margaret Atwood.
Reading is an important part of the girls’ day, and there is an enthusiastic independent reading culture in the school. In addition to dedicated reading time in lessons, every girl has 15 minutes of reading time before bed, called ‘Little Lights’. There are two pupil-driven Reading Groups, one for younger girls, and another run by senior girls for the Sixth Form, and an annual Book Fair, at which older girls recommend books they have loved to younger girls. The Library is well stocked with contemporary and classic fiction, and is open throughout the day, including on weekends.
The Debating Society meets every week, and is open to girls in Years 9 and above. The girls develop their skills by debating a new motion each week. The Society competes in friendly debates with other local schools each term, and enters four teams into the annual Oxford Schools Debating Competition.
Public Speaking takes place in both junior and senior formats. Teams compete in the Rotary Youth Public Speaking Competition every year, as well as in the annual House competition judged by an external adjudicator.
The Creative Writing Club meets every week. Workshops are run by members of staff, and give the girls the opportunity to experiment with the writing of both prose and poetry. There is an annual Poetry Competition in Year 9 which all girls enter. Younger girls take part in annual poetry workshops with a visiting poet.
Journalism is a popular activity, and is run entirely by the girls. They produce a weekly broadsheet of topical news items, called The Paper. They also produce a more substantial termly magazine called WHAT, which contains a mixture of news and feature journalism, and is sold for charity.