Founded in 1903, St Helen and St Katharine is a leading independent day school for girls aged 9–18 in Abingdon, six miles south of Oxford.
About the school
St Helen and St Katharine is a school for bright girls with enquiring minds, a place where success is celebrated but not revered. Our aim is to ensure that every student achieves success as she defines it, so that she can believe in herself, her talents and abilities, and feel prepared and equipped for life beyond school.
Our outstanding academic record makes us one of the leading girls’ schools in the country. Stimulating and challenging teaching reaches beyond the curriculum, enabling our students to become effective and independent learners. Our broad and varied extracurricular programme of 100+ clubs and activities also plays a central role within school life. We actively encourage students to give new things a go, to explore and extend interests and to make friends across age groups.
Students are admitted to the Junior Department at either 9+ or 10+ and to the senior school at 11+, 13+ and 16+. It may be possible to admit students into other years, enquiries should be made to the Admissions Office.
Scholarships are awarded to recognise excellence, ability and potential in one or more academic or extracurricular area. We offer a range of scholarships at 11+, 13+ and 16+ for academic ability, art, drama, music, sport and an all-rounder award. The financial value of awards is modest and they are not subject to means testing. Students may hold awards in more than one area (the second being of honorary rather than of financial value) but cannot hold two non-academic awards.
Opening up access for families who would not otherwise be able to afford the fees has always been central to our ethos. If a student has the ability, imagination and drive to grasp the opportunities on offer at St Helen’s, we would like to give her that chance. The School offers means tested bursaries of up to 100% of fees, including subject-specific bursaries at A-level.
For full details of the admissions process, scholarships and bursaries, including the application process, please visit the Admissions section of our website www.shsk.org.uk.
We run a three term year and the fees are the same across all year groups.
St Helen and St Katharine on how we empower our young women
We believe that one of our most important roles as a school is in helping each student find their individual voice. Here are just a few of the ways we have done that this year.
31st October 2020 — At St Helen and St Katharine, nothing is more rewarding than seeing our students harnessing their curiosity, energy and talent to shape their future on their own terms, being liberated from thoughts of what is typical or atypical for a girl. At our last Open Day, Upper Sixth student Lucy expressed perfectly what success looks like for St Helen’s: “St Helen’s isn’t successful because all the girls work non-stop and don’t do anything but maths in their spare time. It is successful because boundaries are removed, we break expectations, we go above and beyond and we never set limits on what we can achieve.”
A truly enriching girls’ education must help each student find and develop her individual voice. We encourage public speaking in all years to show every girl that she can speak up. Coached by teachers and supported by their peers, our students develop these skills with courage and growing ease, gleefully discarding the idea that young women who speak out are pushy or bossy.
Debating follows naturally from this, giving students the opportunity to enjoy good-humoured competition, work together in different year groups and learn from each other. For younger students we believe this is equally important – it makes the all-important process of analysing, giving opinions and listening to others a natural part of learning, skills which students hone and nurture as they move through the School, from Junior Department all the way to Sixth Form.
Our students’ ambitions and their voices are our driving force and the covid-19 lockdown did not put a brake on this. Remote St Helen’s brought out inventive and creative ideas across our community with both students and staff embracing all the opportunities it brought. Even our extensive extracurricular programme moved online and saw myriad activities across music, sport, drama and art continue to thrive. Online learning placed much greater responsibility on the students to inspire, educate, entertain and stretch themselves, and their resilience grew as they learned how to do all this in an environment in which they never expected to find themselves. We are all very proud of the way our community has responded.
We are proud to offer means tested bursaries from 20–100% of fees, allowing us to welcome girls into our community whose families would not otherwise be able to afford the fees. This has always been central to our ethos and we are excited to soon welcome the first recipients of our new subject-specific bursaries for Sixth Form. These are open to girls from a state funded school who wish to study STEM subjects at A-level. With our huge strength in these subjects and proud tradition of high numbers of students going on to study STEM subjects at university, the opportunity to support and empower the next generation of doctors, scientists, engineers, mathematicians, astronauts and economists is there to be grasped.
Going above and beyond is a natural state of play at St Helen’s but we know also that our students discover their voice and show their courage in as many different ways as there are individuals in the School. How we empower is to celebrate each difference and each success, to learn from setbacks and to show, by example, that there are many, many ways of taking on the world.
St Helen and St Katharine alumna gives talk about life as a junior doctor
The third in our series of online community lectures, this talk by St Helen's Old Girl Lydia gave a powerful account of her job in the NHS.
21st October 2020 — Old Girls, staff members and aspiring medics from our Sixth Form were delighted to hear reflections and insights into the ‘life as junior doctor in 2020’ from 2010 leaver, Lydia Akinola.
During this, our third SHSK Society online talk, Lydia spoke with great pride about her role working for the NHS as a junior doctor in obstetrics and gynaecology. Despite coming from a family who had a history of female medics, Lydia originally wanted to become an astronaut. However, describing herself as ‘nosy and inquisitive’, she soon realised that life as an astronaut would not give her the human interactions she craved.
Picking up on themes raised as part of Black History Month, Lydia touched on issues of resilience and racism and highlighted the lack of black and minority ethnic staff at senior levels within the NHS.
Quoting Martin Luther King and Michelle Obama, Lydia’s continues to be inspired by those who encourage a life helping people and offering opportunities to others wherever possible.
St Helen and St Katharine scholars create a Shakespeare Showcase
The period of remote school during the summer term did not stop our drama scholars from preparing a special Shakespeare Showcase, which has now been filmed in lieu of a live production.
14th October 2020 — We are very happy to present The Shakespeare Showcase directed by two of our Upper Sixth drama scholars: Sophie and Fiona. This project was started during lockdown, when Sophie and Fiona held auditions and began rehearsals online. They had a vision of a Shakespeare performance that would involve students from a cross-section of year groups and explore key characters across four Shakespeare plays. The cast and directors have worked steadily on this project, gradually moving their rehearsals from an online forum into the Studio Theatre. We are delighted to bring you their final showcase, filmed and edited by St Helen's Performing Arts Facilities Manager, Mr Verjee. The actors and directors have created some wonderfully engaging snapshots of each character, giving an insight in to each of the wider plays.
We hope you enjoy the show!
You can watch the production on the St Helen's website: https://shsk.org.uk/News/Shakespeare-Showcase.aspx
St Helen and St Katharine Upper Sixth student wins Cambridge essay prize
What are novels for - the question answered by St Helen's Upper Sixth student Fiona in her prize-winning essay, examining work by Chimamanda Adichie, Jean Rhys and Thomas Hardy.
8th October 2020 — What are novels for
We are delighted to congratulate Upper Sixth student Fiona, who has won the top prize in the Robinson College, University of Cambridge Essay Prize this year, with her essay on ‘What are novels for?’.
‘Initially I found the breadth of the title very daunting. I felt slightly inadequate answering a question which has been debated ever since the publication of the ‘first novel’ Robinson Crusoe in 1719, and probably further back still. However, it seemed as good a question as any to stimulate my literary thinking and prepare for studying English Literature at university.
My essay was based on Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk ‘The Danger of A Single Story,’ and as I had previously explored female entrapment in literature in a past essay, I was particularly struck by her idea that ‘if people are shown as one thing – only one thing, that is what they become’. I had recently read Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea and Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles as part of my wider reading, in which both female protagonists seem to become ‘the single story’ that Adichie so desperately warns us against. It was after re-reading both novels and seeing the characters’ struggle to be both seen and heard that inspired my idea that the purpose of fiction is to give a voice to the voiceless. When I decided to take on what I initially thought was an impossible question to answer in the space of 2000 words, I didn’t at all expect for it to be as beneficial and I guess as successful as it was. Taking part in this competition allowed me to continue developing my voice as a writer, something which I have found to be incredibly empowering.’
Fiona, Upper Sixth
The judges in the competition commented: 'This is a sharp, insightful essay that moves confidently between theory (what are novels for?) and close reading. The pairing of Wide Sargasso Sea and Tess of the D’Urbervilles is mutually elucidative and energetic. This essay is alert to the complexity of the novel, as well as the politic implications discussed by Adiche. The essay concludes with some fascinating observations on the interrelations between novels, “authors, readers and societies”. There isn’t space to do these ideas justice, but they are questions well worth pursuing. It was a pleasure to read this work.'
St Helen and St Katharine SHSK Society Talks - maths meets medicine
Our SHSK Society Talks are a brilliant way to keep our school community connected - September's talk focused on data, statistics and public health.
23rd September 2020 — How data and statistics play a crucial role in public health
‘How can we make sense of complicated data to provide insights into public health?
‘Do wine drinkers live longer? Do nightlights cause short-sightedness?’
‘How could mathematic modelling and fluid dynamics help track the spread of Covid-19?’
‘How is the impact of public policy on matters such as mask wearing calculated?’
We were delighted to hear these topics discussed from the point of view of 2013 leaver, Eleanor Barry, in our second online SHSK Society Talks lecture. Now in her final year of her PhD at the University of Bath, Eleanor talked through both her current research and with specific references to the current Covid pandemic. She explained with brilliant clarity to attendees how data and statistics inform public health decisions.
After completing her MMath at the University of Exeter and completing internships at Public Health England, Eleanor moved to Bath to commence a joint statistics and health PhD, looking specifically in whether exposure to a rare autoimmune disease, Systemic Sclerosis, leads to an increased risk of cancer.
In the last year, Eleanor has been focusing on an increasingly popular area in medical statistics, Causal Inference – how we can interpret from data what causes something and what is merely associated. Being able to tell the difference between these is critical to inform public health.
We look forward to welcoming alumnae to the next in our series of SHSK Society Talks!
St Helen and St Katharine embraces outdoor activity as schools re-open
St Helen's Garden to Table Club launched at the beginning of this new academic year with the aim to increase the use of our new greenhouse and create entirely school-grown meals.
21st September 2020 — Lockdown saw British gardens at their finest. We planted seedlings and tended to vegetables, helped by one of the warmest, sunniest springs on record. Whilst we could not use our new department greenhouse last term, some of our students were learning how to grow vegetables at home. Over the Easter holidays, we built two raised beds in our garden, and whilst not everything was ready before the summer holidays began, I managed to create some lovely dishes using the courgettes and Swiss chard, which were the first successes in the new garden.
September has meant that, finally (and somewhat optimistically) our Garden to Table club has begun and we have already planted out some autumn salad, onions, carrots, cabbage seeds and peas. The Indian summer might not last, so we are coming up with eco-friendly ways to keep the greenhouse toasty warm over winter. Our first project is to start composting our fruit and vegetable waste in a compost bin, which should raise the internal temperature.
Please contact our Registrar, Carole Bailey, for details about the admissions process.