Downe House School

This article is about the school. For Charles Darwin's house, see Down House.
Downe House School
Established 1907
Type Independent day and boarding
Religion Church of England
Headmistress Mrs Emma McKendrick
Location Cold Ash
RG18 9JJ
Coordinates: 51°26′14″N 1°16′25″W / 51.4373°N 1.2737°W / 51.4373; -1.2737
DfE number 869/6002
DfE URN 110123 Tables
Students 559
Gender Girls
Ages 11–18

Green, Red

Publication Cloisters
Main entrance
Bird's-eye view

Downe House School is a selective independent girls' day and boarding school in Cold Ash, a village near Newbury, Berkshire, for girls aged 11–18.[1]

The Good Schools Guide described Downe House as an "Archetypal traditional girls’ full boarding school turning out delightful, principled, courteous and able girls who go on to make a significant contribution to the world".[2]


Downe House was founded in 1907 by Olive Willis, its first headmistress, as an all-girls' boarding school. Its first home was Down House in the village of Downe, Kent (now part of the London Borough of Bromley), which had been the home of Charles Darwin.[3]

By 1921 Down House was too small for the school, so Willis bought The Cloisters, Cold Ash, Berkshire, to which the school moved in 1922, and where it remains. It now accepts day pupils but is still predominantly a boarding school.

In 2005, Downe House was one of fifty of the country's leading independent schools which were found guilty of running an illegal price-fixing cartel, exposed by The Times, which had allowed them to drive up fees for thousands of parents.[4] Each school was required to pay a nominal penalty of £10,000 and all agreed to make ex-gratia payments totalling three million pounds into a trust designed to benefit pupils who attended the schools during the period in respect of which fee information was shared.[5] However, Mrs Jean Scott, the head of the Independent Schools Council, said that independent schools had always been exempt from anti-cartel rules applied to business, were following a long-established procedure in sharing the information with each other, and that they were unaware of the change to the law (on which they had not been consulted). She wrote to John Vickers, the OFT director-general, saying, "They are not a group of businessmen meeting behind closed doors to fix the price of their products to the disadvantage of the consumer. They are schools that have quite openly continued to follow a long-established practice because they were unaware that the law had changed."[6]

Downe House won the Tatler 'Best Public School Award' in 2011.[7]


As most girls at Downe House are boarders, the house system is incorporated with the boarding programme.



Downe House educates girls between the ages of eleven and eighteen, taking them from the last years of junior school through to the sixth form. Girls can join the school at the ages of eleven, twelve, or thirteen, on leaving a primary or prep school, or at sixteen after completing GCSEs.

Entry into Downe House is competitive, with entrants needing to pass the Common Entrance Examination.


The core subjects at Downe House are English, Mathematics and Science as well as Humanities, Classics and Social Sciences subjects and there are options such as Fine Arts, Foreign Languages and Business Studies.[9]

In 2010, the Cambridge Pre-U was introduced as an alternative to A Levels at Downe House.[10]

Notable former pupils


  1. "Schools Guide 2012 - Downe House". Tatler.
  2. Profile on the Good Schools Guide
  3. Atkins 1976, pp. 106–110.
  4. Independent schools face huge fines over cartel to fix fees - Times Online
  5. "OFT names further trustees as part of the independent schools settlement". Office of Fair Trading. 21 December 2006.
  6. "Private schools send papers to fee-fixing inquiry". The Daily Telegraph. London. 3 January 2004. Retrieved 27 September 2014.
  7. "Cold Ash school named Tatler's school of 2011". Newbury Weekly News. 7 October 2011.
  8. Boarding
  9. Curriculum
  10. Liberated learning, through liberated teaching
  11. Sheppard, Martin (14 December 2014). "Margaret Aston: Historian who illuminated the study of religious life in England between the late Middle Ages and the Civil War". The Independent. Retrieved 3 January 2015.
  12. Cochrane, Kira (11 January 2013). "Clare Balding: 'I want to make the world better, for women mainly'". London: The Guardian.
  13. "Out Of The Shadow". Chicago Tribune. 9 April 1989.
  14. Gilbert, Gerard (3 December 2011). "Miranda Hart: 'I was never in the cool gang'". London: The Independent.
  15. "Not too Cool for School!" (PDF) (1). Cloisters. Summer 2011. p. 5.
  16. Oglethorpe, Tim (18 January 2013). "I never thought I'd be a secret agent at 62! Geraldine James feared her career was over. Now she's made a film with James Bond - and landed a spy role herself". London: Daily Mail.
  17. Party Pieces Princess in News of the World dated 21 November 2010, p. 4
  18. Pukas, Anna (20 November 2010). "Kate Middleton's eligible little sister". Daily Express.


External links

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