Downe House School

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This article is about the school. For Charles Darwin's house, see Down House.
Downe House School
Downe House School logo.png
Established 1907
Type Independent day and boarding
Religion Church of England
Headmistress Mrs Emma McKendrick
Location Cold Ash
RG18 9JJ
England 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.

  • Hill (ages 11–12)
  • Hermitage (ages 11–12)
  • Darwin (ages 12–13)
  • AGN (ages 13–16)
  • AGS (ages 13–16)
  • Aisholt (ages 13–16)
  • Holcombe (ages 13–16)
  • Tedworth (ages 13–16)
  • Willis (ages 16–18)
  • York (ages 16–18)



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 attendees[edit]



  • Atkins, Hedley (1976). "Downe House School". Down: the Home of the Darwins: the story of a house and the people who lived there (2nd ed.). [Chichester]: Phillimore. pp. 106–110. ISBN 0-85033-231-1. 
  • Bowen, Elizabeth (1950). "The Mulberry Tree". Collected Impressions. London: Longmans Green and Co. pp. 185–194.  (Describes life at Downe House during World War I)
  • Horsler, Val; Kingsland, Jenny (2006). Downe House: a Mystery and a Miracle. London: Third Millennium Publishing. ISBN 978-1-903942-50-5. 
  • Ridler, Anne (1967). Olive Willis and Downe House: an adventure in education. London: John Murray.  At

External links[edit]