St Mary's School, Colchester
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|Motto||Scientia et veritas
(Knowledge and truth)
|Type||Independent day school|
|Location||91 Lexden Road
|Website||St Mary's School|
St Mary’s School was opened in the summer of 1908 by sisters, Miss May and Miss Lillian Billson. At the time there was a private school already in Colchester for both boys and girls in Inglis Road, which was run by a Miss Walton. Miss Walton gave permission for the girls who attended her school to move to St Mary’s on the strict understanding that it would be an all-girls school. As a result, Miss Walton’s school catered for boys only from this point onwards. St Mary’s opened with just eight girls, five of whom had moved from Miss Walton’s school and the others from elsewhere. With just one classroom and green collapsible desks, Miss May taught six girls aged nine and Miss Lillian taught the other two girls in the dining room. As part of the curriculum, the girls were taught English, History, Geography, French, Arithmetic, Geometry and Latin. In 1914 the girls sat their first public examination, the Junior Cambridge exam. St Mary’s grew rapidly and by 1915 it had expanded at 17 Lexden Road. Basements were used as cloakrooms and the other floors were used as classrooms. The top two floors of 13 Lexden Road were acquired for boarders, while the remainder of the house was used as a surgery by Dr Fell. During the First World War, St Mary’s girls were encouraged to be patriotic, so much so that German lessons were discontinued and the girls instead helped provide boxes of fruit, eggs, cigarettes and other goodies for the wounded in the local military hospitals. In 1923, the school bought new premises on Lexden Road, ‘Glen Mervyn’. Soon after buying the new building a gymnasium was built and the girls enjoyed learning to climb ropes and vault the horse! The school purchased the neighbouring castle-style property called The Turrets in 1974. Miss May and Miss Lillian retired at Christmas 1934 and Miss Phyllis Comrie became the new Headmistress. During this time the number of girls attending the school continued to grow and the school flourished. However, there was a decline in the number of pupils during the Second World War and when just seven girls were attending, the governors of the school began to insist that the school must close. Miss Comrie refused to allow this to happen and worked unpaid for a year in order to keep the school open. Once the war was over, the number of girls attending the school grew again rapidly and extra space was needed. A nursery was established in a converted stable, the garage became an art room and the governors bought ‘Gostwycke’ in Cambridge Road, for the boarders. In 1957, Miss Comrie retired after 23 years as Principal. She had maintained the high standards set by the previous headmistresses, the Billson sisters. The news of her retirement caused great sadness within the school community and many people believe the school owes a deep debt of gratitude to her. Indeed, without her leadership and tenacity of purpose during World War II, the school would not be here today. Miss Evelyn Butterworth, already a teacher at St Mary’s, became Headmistress in 1957. The school curriculum was modified to focus on junior girls studying for the Common Entrance Examination. This would give the girls to have the opportunity to go on to boarding schools or to take the 11+ examination before entering local grammar schools. But life at St Mary’s was not always about exams – as now, the girls still had plenty of fun. Miss Butterworth led the school’s Golden and Diamond Jubilees in 1958 and 1968. A pageant was presented by all 220 pupils based on the history of Colchester as seen through the eyes of the children. By 1965, girls were enjoying swimming lessons at the garrison pool and the structure of the school was changing. St Mary’s ceased to take boarders in order to concentrate on the day students, and five years later the school became an educational trust with a dedicated and active Board of Governors. Sadly, in 1973 Miss Butterworth died and Miss Margaret Wake took over the role of Headmistress. She ensured that the development plans for the school continued. New kitchens, classrooms, a large dining room and a heated swimming pool were all added to the school at this time. Due to overwhelming demand from parents who wished their daughters to be taught at an independent school, a senior school was opened in 1973, thus enabling the girls to study to GCE O-Level standard. In 1977 the school’s first O-Level results were encouraging, with the majority of girls achieving A and B grades. After eight years, Miss Wake retired and Mrs Mouser became Principal in September 1981. As numbers continued to grow, the school began to search for a suitable building for the infant and junior girls. Collier House in Stanway, formerly a Victorian rectory and Dr Barnardo’s home, fitted the bill perfectly and was purchased in 1982. With great care, the building was altered and ready for the infant classes to begin the autumn term in the new building. Collier House officially changed its name to Comrie House in honour of former head, Miss Phyllis Comrie. At the age of 90, she was among the guests of honour at the ceremonial opening of the junior department. Miss Comrie kindly purchased a minibus for the school, which proved invaluable for the domestic staff who ferried lunches between both schools. Gradually, the kitchen provision was extended, enabling the Lower School to become self-sufficient. Mrs Elliott was appointed Lower School Head and spent the next two years driving between the two sites. The very first junior year started the school in 1983, followed by the next two year groups as more classes were added. The newly acquired space at Lexden Road enabled the number of available subjects to be increased. During the 1990s, St Mary’s maintained the wide range of subjects on offer to girls, who achieved high standards in public examinations. In September 2006, Mrs Mouser retired after 25 years as School Principal and was succeeded by Vice Principal, Mrs Hilary Vipond. Mrs Vipond believes the school has survived for the past century by remaining true to its core values, while still providing a caring and focused environment for girls to develop as individuals and make the most of a high-quality education.
St Mary’s School is an independent day school for girls aged 3 to 16 and boys aged 3 to 4 in Colchester, Essex. St Mary's Lower School and Kindergarten are at Comrie House on London Road, while the Senior School on Lexden Road welcomes pupils from 11 to 16. The academic curriculum is at the centre of the St Mary's education and is designed to encourage girls to engage with their lessons and maximise their learning. The majority of subjects are taught in form or house groups in Years 7 and 8, although Maths is set at the end of the first term in Year 7 so that girls can work at the speed that best suits them. All girls joining the school in Year 7 learn French from the beginning, with an accelerated group for those who already have a grounding in the language. At end of Year 7, after taster sessions in Spanish, Italian and German, girls select a second language to study from Year 8. French is taught in sets in Year 8. Science begins with a general course in Years 7 and 8, with the choice of Double or Triple Science at GCSE, which is studied from Year 9. Classical Civilisation is taught throughout Years 7, 8 and 9 and there is an option to take GCSE Classics. Textiles is taught weekly in Years 7 and 8 and then in alternate blocks with Home Economics in Year 9. Religious Studies, PE and PSHCE continue to be studied by all girls throughout Years 7 to 11. RS and PE are also popular GCSE options.
St Mary's Senior School pupils achieved the best GCSE results of any independent school in North Essex in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015. In 2015, 95% of the fifty-six St Mary's GCSE candidates achieved five or more A* to C passes, with 42% of all grades A* to A. 89% achieved five or more GCSEs passes including Mathematics and English at grade C or above and there was a 100% pass rate in 13 subjects. Overall 96% of all GCSE entries at St Mary's were graded A* to C. 27% of St Mary's GCSE candidates achieved seven or more A* and A grades. This is particularly impressive, given the fact that St Mary's is non-selective on entry. Alongside the academic curriculum, pupils are encouraged to develop a wide range of interests, from sport and the arts to community and charity activities. St Mary's is an Ambassador Eco School, hosting events and sharing knowledge and practical advice on sustainability with other schools and organisations as well as the local community.
St Mary's Lower School curriculum is varied and lively. As well as a focus on the core academic subjects, girls are taught philosophy from Year 1 to help them to develop their thinking and their opinions. Girls’ horizons are broadened through music, art, drama and sport, all taught by specialist teachers and there are many trips and activities to bring a new dimension to their learning. SATs results are above the national average and several pupils each year progress to the state selective senior (grammar) schools. Some achieve scholarships to independent senior schools, including St Mary's Senior School. The Lower School has its own Forest School - an outdoor classroom and learning area in the school's grounds which is used to encourage pupils' connection with their environment and to develop confidence through physical challenge.
St Mary's Kindergarten is set in the grounds of the Lower School in a purpose-built facility with its own enclosed outdoor learning and play area. It prepares boys and girls aged rising-three to four for school by introducing early literacy and numeracy skills and developing children's confidence through sessions in music, drama, dance, art and sport, among other activities.
Motto and Houses
The school's motto, Scientia et Veritas, translates from Latin as Knowledge and Truth.
St Mary's pupils are allocated to Houses for which they try to gain house points to win various awards and trophies. The Houses are named after some of the historical gates of Colchester:
- Abbeygate (green)
- Balkernegate (blue)
- Headgate (yellow)
- Scheregate (red)