Marymount International School London is a place that blends a forward-looking global education with strong community traditions that set girls on course for bright futures

Words Libby Norman

Head up the drive of Marymount International School London and you could almost believe you had stepped back in time. It sits on a private estate close to Coombe Hill Golf Club and the delightful Edwardian main building harks back to an age when fine architecture and pride in craft prevailed. The seven-acre campus with spectacularly well-tended gardens is a calm oasis. Yet Kingston upon Thames is just down the road, it’s close to the London ‘villages’ of Richmond, Wimbledon and Putney, and with superb road and rail links to central London (just 20 minutes away) and Heathrow.

The setting is Surrey idyll, but there’s a resolutely forward-looking approach in the education provided here. Marymount was the very first all-girls’ school in the UK to adopt the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum back in 1979. This is something it remains, justifiably, proud of. The school offers both the IB Diploma and the innovative Middle Years Programme.

Focus on Marymount International School London
The setting is Surrey idyll and with glorious gardens, but Marymount London is close to the heart of the capital and major London airports

Marymount London was established in the mid 1950s by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary (RSHM), a pioneering Catholic order focused on education. It is part of a network encompassing nine countries and three continents, with sister schools spanning Paris, New York, Rio and other world cities. The school welcomes all faiths and none, but Headmistress Margaret Giblin sees the RSHM element as its bedrock. “I say to the students that it’s our anchor and it’s our guide because it roots us in why the schools were formed.

“I find Mother Butler, who founded Marymount Schools, quite inspirational. She set up the first school in the early 1900s and she wanted holistic education. She talked about physical, academic, moral and spiritual learning. She was preparing women for a changing society. At that time, many were establishing churches, but she was setting up schools. As an order, they are very progressive and very community oriented.” 

Al T Margaret Giblin
Margaret Giblin is a seasoned school leader who has worked across both independent and state sectors, joining Marymount London in January 2021

Margaret Giblin knows whereof she speaks – Theology is one of her teaching subjects (the other is English). She has also seen the Marymount community spirit at work, having started as Head here in January 2021, in the maelstrom of lockdowns. “The community here is so welcoming to the students, I also felt equally very welcomed as an incoming Head and a new member of staff.” And this despite the fact that she had her first two weeks all mapped out – down to cookies and hot chocolate for her tutor groups – when the government decision was made, two days before the start of term, not to reopen schools. “But what can you do? I put my assembly online, I had virtual hot chocolate and cookies with all the students – it was an interesting way to begin!”

“It’s more than just being an international school, there’s an international mindedness here”

Giblin was new to this role, but arrived as a seasoned school leader, having trained in Ireland and taught there on both sides of the border. She’s covered both state and independent sectors in her time and came to Marymount from Woldingham, where she had what she calls a “boomerang” tenure, teaching there first in the early Noughties and then returning in 2012. Second time around, she covered a range of roles culminating in Senior Deputy Head. She’s grateful for that breadth of roles. “I’ve seen all facets of school life, which puts you in good stead to relate to people,” she says.

Focus on Marymount International School London
School teams compete locally and internationally at Varsity and RSHM events – and this part of London offers a wealth of exciting sporting opportunities

She says it helped that she was on the teaching roster in those early days. “I had Grade 6 RE, and that was really lovely. For that period of time that you are in the classroom you’re just Mrs Giblin their RE teacher.” Head duties in the last school year – with routine but important inspections and accreditations to prepare for – made a timetabled slot impractical, so she became “super sub”, ready to cover absences and unforeseen events. “Any time there was an opportunity, I taught,” she says. “I think every teacher goes into teaching because they love it.”

The cohort at Marymount International truly is international – something like 40 countries and over 50 nationalities if you count students’ primary, secondary and sometimes third passports. The majority are day pupils. Some are so local that they walk to school, while others catch one of the school buses that travel in from London and Surrey environs. “Day pupils are London based and they are locally based, but they are coming from international backgrounds oftentimes. Many have dual nationality – they may have one parent who is British and one who is another nationality. But I think it’s more than just being international, there’s an international mindedness here,” says Giblin.

Focus on Marymount International School London
The IB shapes the learning culture here, and the exceptional library is central to an approach that prioritises open-minded enquiry and project work

When it comes to boarders, there’s a real geographic spread but no one dominant group, which the school sees as important. “What you want it to feel like is a genuinely diverse community where all are welcome. It’s all about coming together as a community, so we are really fortunate that we have such a breadth.” At the school dining hall you see an important element of how breadth is celebrated at Marymount, with a smorgasbord of imaginative and healthy choices inspired by all continents. Food is savoured here, and no need to forgo home comforts.

“We’re a very tight community, but a community that is both inward and outward facing. I think our students are superb at keeping that vision”

Boarders live in modern halls overlooking the gardens. There’s a homely but modern feel, with comfortable twin rooms and social spaces. The recently added kitchen and dining areas are “absolutely loved” by the girls, offering a useful taster of university-style independence. The Boarding is organised in grade-specific corridors, but with a strong sense of integration – between age groups but also boarders and day pupils – thanks to the House structure that blends them. While day pupils often invite boarders for sleepovers, at Marymount it works the other way too. “I think that’s really lovely – it is their home. Our Head and Deputy Head of Boarding really work to foster that.” Marymount offers options to match modern family life. Five-day and seven-day boarding remain extremely popular, and flexi is also firmly in the mix.

Performing Arts
The arts are strong suits at Marymount – these include drama, but also dance, which has just been added to the IB Diploma options

There are many advantages in boarding – not least ease of access to facilities and fixtures after hours – but every pupil here enjoys a wealth of educational spaces. Marymount’s new STEAM centre brings interdisciplinary and digital learning to life, while Visual Arts facilities include a kiln and potter’s wheel, but also laser cutter, 3D printers and Adobe software. Performing Arts are a strong suit too, and Drama and music happen throughout the year in the auditorium and other spaces, with exciting off-campus events and enrichment opportunities locally and internationally. There’s also a great mirrored dance studio, and the subject has become so popular that the school is offering Dance within the IB Diploma for the first time this year. Giblin says that she’s excited to see what the cohort here who “live and breathe dance” will achieve.

There’s an impressively well equipped new sports hall, plus outdoor pitches and courts where team games are played – volleyball, soccer (football), badminton and basketball among them. Wimbledon is only ten-minutes away, so tennis is, of course, a mainstay. School teams (Marymount Aces) compete weekly in the London Schools Sports Association against rival international schools in London and Surrey, and Varsity teams have the opportunity to travel across Europe for fixtures. There’s also the RSHM Sports Festival each year – a friendly three-day tournament among network schools. Local opportunities to represent the school range from golf tournaments to swimming meets.

Science subjects are popular, with well equipped labs and a STEAM centre that brings interdisciplinary and digital learning to life

There’s a strong sense of community evident in everything at Marymount London, and never more so than in the IB structure. Open-minded enquiry and group and individual project work are central principles, and the impressively stocked Library is a hub for embedding this approach from the Middle Years Programme onwards. Collaborative lessons between teachers and librarian help students hone sophisticated information-gathering skills and there are a huge number of books and periodicals (covering nine languages). 

“There’s a skillset embedded in IB – the attitude to learning skills, the self-regulation, the independence, the curiosity, the balance”

Margaret Giblin believes some “myth busting” is needed about the Middle Years Programme as it is not as well understood as the Diploma. She and her team have been engaging with prep schools they work with to help them understand more about the foundation it provides. “There’s a skillset embedded in IB – the attitude to learning skills, the self-regulation, the independence, the curiosity, the balance,” she says. “By the time learners come to the Diploma they’ve acquired that instinctive approach because it has been so repeated and so supported in the Middle Years journey.” One thing that Giblin loves about the IB route – and she speaks with experience of different pathways – is the spirit of enquiry it engenders. Also, as she puts it, “this sense of being comfortable with not knowing the answer because part of the education journey is in finding that”.

Marymount London’s IB Diploma results place it within the top 15% of IB schools worldwide – a third of graduates in 2022 took the Bilingual IB Diploma

Results speak for themselves, with a consistent average IB Diploma score of 37 points at Marymount. This puts it into the top 15% of IB schools worldwide. A third of the class of 2022 scored 40 points and above. Also, and this shows the international nature of the cohort, a third of graduates took the Bilingual IB Diploma. “We are really fortunate that the core academics are really strong, and they have to be. That’s every school’s bread and butter – you have to be getting it right in the classroom.”

The school’s small class sizes support high achievement, but the focus is always on developing students’ curiosity and engagement. The enrichment programme, led by Specialist Learning Director Dr Sandra Forrest, builds confidence and offers support and stretch to suit individual needs and interests. This feeds into the holistic approach that Giblin sees as central to the school’s ethos. Students are encouraged to think independently and also look outwards in academic and other areas – for example, student-led initiatives for Kingston foodbank and for a sister school in Zambia. Whatever they are planning, there’s feedback and encouragement offered by staff. “We are always saying to the students ‘so what other areas are there for you to explore?'”

Marymount’s chapel offers a calm space for pause and contemplation – all faiths and none are welcomed at the school

Underpinning all of this is the RSHM bedrock – Margaret Giblin believes it is the extra ingredient that gives the Marymount London community strength and purpose. “We’re a very tight community, but a community that is both inward and outward facing. I think our students are superb at keeping that vision – where do we fit in the world and what difference can we make here and more widely?” she says. “And there’s a lot of laughter here. We work hard and we laugh a lot – there’s a real joy in learning.”

School Shot
Marymount International School London has a secluded location in Kingston Upon Thames

Marymount International School London at a glance

Founded: 1955, by the Religious of the Sacred Heart (RSHM)

Head: Margaret Giblin, since January 2021

Gender: Girls’ school

Number of pupils: 250

Day or boarding: Day and boarding

Ages: 11-18

Points of entry: Most popular points are Grade 6 (Year 7) and Grade 11 (Year 12), accept in-year applications for admission too

Admissions: Assessment, references from current teachers, reports and interview

Religious affiliation: Catholic

Fees: School fees £27,250pa; full boarding and school fees £46,130pa; flexi and 5-day boarding options available

Address: Marymount International School London, George Road, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey KT2 7PE

Further reading: Capital gains – the added-value benefits of a London education