Inside beautiful and imposing grey walls of Towers Convent School lies something unexpected. A dynamic mix of modern facilities and passionate teachers combine with and complement the traditional values which lie at its core.
Originally started in 1903 when a group of exiled Sisters came from France with five little girls. They came to live at the Towers in the pretty Downs village of Upper Beeding, and have remained ever since. Now the number of pupils has grown – 350 aged two to 16 – and the number of Sisters has fallen, although six still live and work at the school.
Religious portraits, beautiful sculptures and ornate carvings are a reminder of school’s origins, but are joined by bright displays of pupils’ artwork proudly shown on walls and in cabinets. Tranquil gardens offer a place for play and reflection and the chapel used for assemblies, quiet contemplation as well as worship. But these days the majority of pupils are not Catholic – they have a range of faiths or none. All are welcomed at the school.
Seniors perform extremely well academically, taking a wide range of GCSE subjects, but it is the added value factor which is the main focus for all pupils. Every girl is cared for and supported as an individual, the size of the school means everyone knows each other well.
New Cedar Rooms provide fresh spacious classrooms for juniors, the smell of new paint and carpets still lingers, the wood-clad block makes an attractive addition to the campus.
Another recent addition opened in 2006 houses purpose-built music rooms including excellent recording facilities, drama studio, and separate labs for chemistry, physics and biology. Sciences are very popular, the all-girl environment allowing talented students to flourish in traditionally male-dominated subjects.
The same is true on the sports fields, where everyone is encouraged to join in no matter what their level. Many gifted sports students have been nurtured, and Towers is justly proud of its performance in local and regional tournaments. Some pupils have also competed strongly at national level. Gymnastics, netball, rounders and tennis are all extremely popular and played to a high standard.
Girls speak in glowing terms of their PE teacher Miss Miles She said: “The girls aren’t at all inhibited, they love to come out and throw a ball about. It’s quite different in a single sex school to the mixed schools I’ve worked in. Here the girls really love it, they have the right attitude to sports.”
Juniors have their own separate and fully equipped school and play areas, but also have the advantage of access to senior school’s specialist teachers and top class facilities for ICT, drama, music, sport and French. Professionals are brought in for workshops in music or drama, with all age groups able to benefit.
Age groups can all mix, and juniors speak enthusiastically about the time they spend with nursery children, as well as the senior pupils for whom they develop a great respect. “It’s lovely to see the nursery children, they are really sweet,” a junior pupil said.
School is open 8.15am until 6pm with the option of an overnight stay if necessary. There are no full-time boarders at the moment but flexi-boarding remains available to families who need it. Lessons in the junior school finish at 3pm but many girls stay on and play before joining the clubs from 4-5pm, and staying on for a delicious tea at the end of the day. Among popular after-school activities are the Duke of Edinburgh awards, which girls can undertake with support from staff.
Pastoral care is second to none, a word of encouragement and a listening ear is always to be found from all staff. Sister Patrick, who does first aid among her duties, is particularly loved by girls who need medical or emotional comfort. Other Sisters can be seen busily going about their business, or painting in a quiet corner of the library.
“We give them a solid foundation of values, judgement, confidence and happiness, all the things they need to grow and form their characters.”
Head Clare Trelfa joined the school in September 2013. She said: “The children who come here are like small seeds. We give them a solid foundation of values, judgement, confidence and happiness, all the things they need to grow and form their characters. They are aspiring towards the sun, and we’re giving them a challenge and saying ‘go for it, make the most of all these opportunities’. As they grow our girls really start to blossom. They have the complete package and by the time they leave us they are ready and prepared for the next step in life.”
Towers Convent School is well worth a closer look – it offers a lot more than you might expect.