Daily life at Cheltenham Ladies College seems to be run along efficient lines but with a relaxed atmosphere. There are no bells between lessons; the girls are trusted to be on time. Speaking to various girls, teachers and staff, you get the feeling that everything in the school has been planned far in advance and is running exactly to that plan. In short, it exudes confidence.
Each morning, every girl in the school meets in the assembly room for Registration and prayers. The girls take it in turns to address the entire school in whatever subject they feel strongly about. This must be both terrifying and in time, confidence building. It’s certainly useful practice for the leadership positions many of the girls will be taking later in their lives. The school buildings and facilities are inspiring, with a clever mix of the old (the College has been here since 1854) and the new. This makes CLC a place where I suspect it is easy to think great thoughts and enjoy feeling part of something much bigger than yourself.
I got the sense that the girls are in really safe hands. Each boarding house has a diligent housemistress. However, they also have plenty of independence; the older ones are able to interact a lot with the town through a variety of community link programmes (such as an Animal Shelter, local schools, homes for the elderly and a local Homeless Centre). The girls can shop at weekends and go for meals in the evening when they are with other friends. The younger girls have specific times when they can go shopping, usually Sunday afternoon.
I was told the local residents keep an eye on the girls and will call the school if they see anything untoward. It was really quite impressive to see small troupes of girls walking arm in arm, showing genuine warmth for one another.
CLC appears to be really caring but it is also seriously bright. The school focuses on the, ‘whole girl’ with an emphasis on developing personality and character (I think this could be crudely summarised as, ‘niceness and decency without snobbery or clique building’). The academic results and exit destinations are impressive. Generally between 80% and 100% of applicants for leading universities secure their first choice and around 30% of all Oxbridge applicants are successful. The school appears to have a genuinely international outlook, with a healthy number of students heading for US Ivy League universities. There is a Professional Guidance Centre offering help at every stage; from university application, networking talks and dinners. A full list of destinations can be seen here; (http://www.cheltladiescollege.org/academic/higher-education/).
Admission is highly competitive. Each year, CLC receives approximately twice as many applications as it has places for. They have devised a clever system of pre-tests, which help parents and the school to work out how well suited a particular girl is. The tests are unique to the school and cover material on both the ISEB and state school curriculums. The tests allow for the fact that many children won’t have covered the same material at their schools. For scholars, they are looking for, ‘thoughtful curiosity and an eye for detail, rather than cramming’. We saw a sample question paper and can vouch that the questions are open ended enough to support this.
The most important part of the application process is a meeting with the admissions department, after which each girl is given a full written assessment. Reports from existing schools are also taken into account.
I was left with the overall impression that Cheltenham Ladies College is an extremely well resourced and efficiently run school; with a generous and deeply caring staff. Considering the quality of accommodation, resources available and the academic and pastoral quality of the school, I was surprised to learn that it is on the lower end of fees for both boarding and day girls.