Pipers Corner is an independent girls’ day school for 600 4-18 year olds, set high in the Chiltern Hills in Great Kingshill, a few miles from High Wycombe. Hidden down a long leafy driveway and through wrought iron gates, you’ll find this Church of England school sitting in an extraordinary 96 acres, with facilities that have benefited from millions of pounds of amount of investment over the last 10 years.
The main building is white painted brick and looks slightly characterless from the front, though there’s an impressive light-filled double-height atrium once you get inside, and looking back towards the school from back of the school it’s much more appealing. Class sizes are small, no more than 8 in Pre-Prep, 20 in Prep and 22 in Senior School. A level classes are from 2 to a maximum of 12 depending on the subject
There’s no question that its facilities are a massive selling point for Pipers Corner and with those expansive grounds there’s plenty of space to indulge them. Outside there are fields galore of course, plus a triple flood-lit multi-use games area. Get your bearings with the site map above. There’s a 25-metre indoor swimming pool (all kids swim weekly from nursery up); plus a large sports hall with a climbing wall, and a fitness suite that’s for Students in Years 10 and above, and sports scholars. Netball and hockey are the major sports here, with athletics and rounders in summer. The “fourth Heathrow runway” as the head describes the brand new (huge) long jump facility is due to open after Easter. Cricket is growing in popularity and is no longer confined to indoor play – with links to local Cricket clubs and students going on to compete at county level.
Well catered for here with a beautiful £5m Arts Centre that most cities would be rubbing their hands together to get hold of. Eight years in the planning, it opened in 2016, contains an elegant theatre seating 280, along with orchestra pit and state-of-the-art sound and lighting facilities, so that the girls have the advantage of working within what is in fact a professional performance space. The week before I reviewed, the school held a Performing Arts networking evening for the girls, with speakers including school parents in the industry and alumnae, so the creative arts are high on the school radar.
On the top floor of the Arts Centre is a huge mixed use entertaining and teaching space with sprung floor which can be used as an additional dance room to the main stand-alone dance studio (external to the Arts Centre). The Arts Centre also has its own large café in the centre – think down lighters, trestle tables and white Sixties chairs – used by staff, Year 11 and Sixth Forme in the day and opened for evening performances to the general public.
Almost 20% of the girls take LAMDA exams here with many continuing to A-level. Music wise, there’s the usual range of music groups as well as several choirs including Sinfonia (Prep and Senior), Barbershop, Gospel, String Chamber, Classical Guitar Ensemble, Ukulele Group and Senior Singers. The Sinfonia is the Senior orchestra, and their last tour was to Rome.
More recent additions include the school recording studio and radio station, available for Year 7 up (there’s even an app so keen bean parents can listen to their children channelling Clara Amfo), plus a media studio for video editing and creating content. Podcasting is next on the agenda.
A huge calling card for Pipers is its Sixth Form centre, opened in 2016 – definitely one of the most impressive I’ve seen (and I’ve seen quite a few). Sleek pink neon squares highlight the ceiling, there’s a feeling of space and calm and clearly there’s been careful consideration to how it can really work for the girls – so it’s a large open plan area, with sociable ‘booths’ at the back, quite study areas and a kitchen, but the space is designed so that you don’t have a 360 perimeter view.
The library, above, also developed in 2016 (what a crazy year that must have been), is another modern, attractive research and study area. The relatively new Science-lab (which boasts serious eco-credentials, such as a ‘live’ roof, looks like it’s been transported from Elle Deco – those lab desks put my kitchen island to shame. And since 2000, 24 extra classrooms and 10 new department offices have been created, and 26 existing classrooms have been completely refurbished. To put it bluntly, you’re not going to find anything other than superlatives for the facilities.
At capacity for pupils, and you can see why. Purpose built, bright with small classes of 8-10 and its own library, the kids nevertheless spend a lot of time outdoors in their own dedicated play area that includes four chickens, outdoor classroom and all the usual trikes and climbing frames, Pipers Pre-Prep kids get to use all the main school facilities too along with specialist subjects taught in French, music, drama, PE/swimming, ballet and Forest School (taught once a week and available up to Year 6).
There’s a free crèche available for Pre-Prep from 4-6pm offering enrichment activities that include karate and mini tennis (a small fee applies for these activities). A sweet hangover from Covid is the ‘Mystery Reader’ – formerly on video, but now parents or grandparents come into the school to surprise their family member and read their favourite book to the class. It reflects what feels like a very inclusive and family-oriented Pre-Prep– right down to the ‘children’s’ home-made Easter egg bonnets that seem suspiciously well put together by grown up hands (no judgement, we’ve all done it).
Pipers Corner is non-selective school, but the results are strong. Unlike many independent schools whose results naughtily shot up due to self-marking during Covid, Pipers results have been remained consistent over the last six years – a 100% per cent pass rate, with around 50% of pupils getting at least one A/A* and more than a third of all subjects achieved 100% A*-B, and 73% of students gaining GSCE grades between 9-7 (A*-A).
Those interested their child developing entrepreneurial skills will want to know that the Pipers Corner team won the whole Young Enterprise National Company of the Year 2019 (and went on to represent the UK), and were finalists in Innovation School of the Year at the National Food, Farming and Environment Competition, both in 2021.
For September 2022 Politics is being introduced as an A Level (the pupils canvassed for it). More unusual subjects on the 23-strong A-level list include Textiles, Business, Sociology and Food Science & Nutrition. Languages offered are French, German and Spanish.
Pipers seems to have been ahead of the pandemic game with a counsellor in place and a second appointed just before Covid hit. The school has, however, just added a full-time non-teaching Wellbeing Manager to help pupils alleviate the general anxiety and friendship issues brought about over the last few years. A dedicated Wellbeing Room is also being created in the main school building for time out and support. Pipers Corner is a member of Girls on Board, a framework that helps girls navigate the sometimes choppy waters of friendships and growing up.
Helen Ness-Gifford has been Head here since 2007 and gives a calm, confident, maternal presence that is popular with pupils (her open door and dog-by-the-fire policy goes down well) but has also seen her successfully push through many of the innovations and developments at Pipers over the last 10 years. She clearly cares for her pupils, resorting during Covid to going door-to-door giving the Upper Sixth their prizes for a filmed speech day, and more recently starting a ‘road trip’ around the universities to take Pipers Corner undergraduates out for dinner and find out first hand their experiences in their new seats of learning.
While she’s very amenable, she’s clearly not afraid to make difficult decisions with the pupils’ wellbeing in mind – the no-mobile policy came directly from her.
Prefects get to wear Harry Potter/Oxbridge-esque long black gowns which look fancy and swishy and a bit swotty. There’s also a palpable sense of ‘getting ready of the real world’ to Pipers Corner with Sixth Formers wearing suits and putting in formal ‘job applications’ to help at the crèche after school.
Impressive. In terms of SEN provision the school’s head of individual learning is both a Chartered Educational Psychologist and a teacher, and the Individual Learning Department is accredited by CReSTeD (The Council for the Registration of Schools teaching Dyslexic pupils).
The school’s Individual Learning programme offers small group or 1:1 specialist support sessions either within the usual classroom setting or in one of our four dedicated Individual Learning Classrooms. Specialist teachers employ multi-sensory learning methods to reflect the variety of learning styles, with the aim of creating a stimulating and effective learning environment for all. Pipers Corner has students with a variety of needs including dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADD/ADHD, speech and language difficulties, and mild Autistic Spectrum conditions.
Pipers is the first school (to their knowledge – and mine for that matter) to have installed a Resident Environmentalist – Phil Williams, a former TV presenter and environmental consultant to big corporations as Sony and BP, GlaxoSmithKline and Ospreys Rugby, has been on site since 2019, applying an environmental lens across the curriculum, running workshops and also spreading the word to other schools locally. The school is working on a Sustainability Strategy where they are are aiming to reduce usage by a third and operate an energy reduction programme that will reduce their carbon footprint. Pipers is also the only school to have a live direct link to the Amazon Rainforest where young people can ask questions and learn from English speaking Amazonian Indians.
Click here for the Compliance report (2019) and integrated ISI report (2015).
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
Mobile phones have always been banned during the school day here, with girls up to Y9 only allowed a school-standardised non-smart phone. School trips are now mobile-free zones for all children, based on the head’s belief that particularly since Covid, it’s vital that pupils connect each other in the real world and relearn the lost skills of socialising and connecting.
WRAP AROUND CARE/TRAVEL
Drop off from 7.30am for breakfast club, and the girls can stay until 6pm. School buses pick up from 14 bus routes, from the likes of Marlow and Beaconsfield to Aylesbury and Seer Green.
On the higher side locally for a day school I’d say, but given the facilities you can justify the pinch. Reception – Y2 £3125 – £3795; Y3-4 £4605; Y5 £5315; Y6 £5830; Y7-13 £6580.
WORD ON THE GROUND
It’s definitely not hot-housy here, and the children I spoke to were adamant they were massively encouraged to try different activities and be adventurous and sociable (there’s a sign up in the Sixth Form centre literally telling girls ‘Have a Social Life – You Need a Balance’). Parents praise the breadth of the extra-curricular offering here and the emphasis on belief and empowerment. Unlike many schools, perhaps because of its size, there seems to be a genuine mixing between the year groups.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents keen to put the emphasis on all round character – it’s not an exam factory and the girls I spoke to seemed very aware of the real world and the skills they need to thrive in it. The facilities and green spaces will make you swoon.
Not for: The school’s relative rural isolation may be seen as a weakness (or a blessing!) by the time your daughter gets to Sixth Form. The mixed ability academic cohort may not appeal to those expecting academic drilling at every opportunity.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest! The Open Morning is on 8 October 2022, or to arrange a visit please contact the Registrar on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pipers Corner, Pipers Lane, Great Kingshill, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, HP15 6LP. Tel: 01494 718255