Sir William Perkins's School welcomed Talk Education last term to carry out an independent review of our wonderful community. The full review can be read below.
Stellar academics are combined with a fantastic co-curricular programme (it has a particularly fine reputation in rowing) at this girls’ day school in Surrey. A new head joined in September and she already has her feet firmly under the desk, ensuring pupils’ individuality continues to be championed – there are no identikit girls here, just high-achievers in charge of their own future.
Located on the edge of Chertsey, the school sits in 13 acres of Surrey greenbelt and is very easy to get to – it’s near a train station, the M3 and the M25. There are plenty of school-bus routes and a one-way system through the campus so that traffic flows smoothly. The school is named after the wealthy Chertsey merchant who founded it in 1725 to educate the market town’s children, and it has been at its present site since 1819 (the original red-brick building has been extended as pupil numbers have grown). There’s also a wow-factor, contemporary, three-storey performing and creative arts centre, which is home to a glass atrium café, a theatre, two spacious studios, a darkroom and – for the exclusive use of the sixth-formers – a penthouse suite with wraparound glass terrace.
Debbie Picton joined in September 2023 from Bancroft’s School, and this is her first headship and position outside of London. Down to earth and easy to chat to, she takes the girls for who they are. ‘It’s about making sense of the needs of the individual,’ she tells us. She’s surprised Sir William Perkins’s isn’t on more people’s radars, describing it as ‘a really unknown gem’. She loves the mix of girls who are all amazing at different things and values the school’s small size (just under 600 pupils), as it means everyone feels comfortable because they are known and cared about.
Unashamedly selective (there is no preferential treatment for siblings), Sir William Perkins’s sets its own entrance exams in English and maths, which staff write themselves every year. Most girls join in Year 7 but can defer or apply for a place in Year 9. They also have a short interview and can join in a sports activity, if they wish. At sixth form, new applicants are interviewed and submit their predicted grades (the school expects 8s and 9s at GCSE in languages or maths if they are to be studied at A-level, for example), with places confirmed on results day in August. Girls who are already at the school have a guaranteed place in the sixth form if a suitable course is available.
Academics and destinations
The Year 7s follow a very broad curriculum, with around 20 subjects including separate sciences, French, Spanish, Latin, German, cookery, computer science and PSHE. Each subject has its own corridor, and the only one pupils are streamed in is maths, with four classes becoming six sets. At GCSE, pupils choose nine subjects – maths, English and science are compulsory – but this can be fewer for SEND or pastoral reasons (the SEND provision is exceptional, with full-time learning support).
Sixth-formers start with four A-levels, generally dropping one at October half-term. Classes are small – normally fewer than 10 – and pupils are taught in university-style seminars with boardroom tables. There is a large silent study room, as well as booth areas and tables for individual and group work. Sixth-formers also have their own computer room, common room and wraparound terrace overlooking the sports fields.
Alumnae are involved in careers talks, and there is a medicine, vet and dentist committee. Most of the girls head off to Russell Group universities, with a few choosing overseas institutions. Pupils excel in computer science; last year, seven went on to study it at universities including Imperial College and St Andrew’s.
This is a sporty school – GCSE and A-level PE are both popular options – and there are elite pathways for netball and hockey, with scholarships on offer. Girls can also get stuck into cricket, rugby, football, athletics, rounders and badminton. Rowing is a particular strength – last season, six girls represented GB and England, and pupils can start rowing from Year 9 and join the squad from Year 11. The passionate head of rowing sets each girl her own target, and there are nine to 10 training sessions a week on the water and in the special conditioning gym – the school has its own boat house less than 10 minutes’ drive away, and pupils also train on Eton College’s Dorney Lake.
The performing arts are well served, with lots of inter-house music and drama competitions. The sixth form stages an annual Christmas pantomime, and there are also whole-school musicals – they were rehearsing for Made in Dagenham on our most recent visit. Many of the girls are talented artists too, and their work is displayed throughout the school; sixth-formers have their own dedicated studio. Over in the D&T department, there’s a classroom packed with computers and 3D printers, and pupils learn everything from textiles to electronics.
DofE is huge, with most Year 9s gaining their bronze awards. Other extracurriculars include dance, equality society and lots of different academic clubs.
A staffed wellbeing space is always open, and the girls are allowed to use it at any time, no questions asked. Pastoral care starts with pupils’ form tutor before moving up the chain to the head of year and then the pastoral head. All members of staff have a weekly pastoral briefing to ensure no one slips through the cracks.
Parents are an involved bunch and there’s a real sense of community spirit. The implications of AI, for example, is an ongoing discussion involving parents, staff and pupils alike, and to celebrate the school’s 300th anniversary in 2025, everyone is involved in the planning to do 300 things to help the community. The head is also keen to do more internationally; in October half-term, pupils went trekking in Kathmandu, where the school has a link with a charity. Ms Picton wants to grow these experiences to help expand her charges’ horizons.
A wonderful example of the benefits of girls being educated with other girls, Sir William Perkins’s School consistently turns out capable, confident young women. We predict its ‘hidden gem’ reputation will soon be swapped for ‘shining light’ – expect a clamour for places.
Click here to read the full article online at Talk Education.