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The school was founded in the 1870s. In 1914 it was renamed The Abbey School in honour of Jane Austen, who had been a pupil at a ladies’ boarding school adjacent to Reading Abbey's gateway.

The Abbey quickly established a reputation that has placed it at the forefront of girls' education ever since.There have been just six headmistresses since Miss Helen Musson moved The Abbey the school to its present site in 1905. Each of them has espoused the common cause of pioneering girls' education, whilst having very individual leadership styles:

1902 - 1935 Miss Helen Musson
1935 - 1960 Miss Margaret Macdonald
1960 - 1991 Miss Sheila Hardcastle
1991 - 2002 Miss Barbara Sheldon
2002 - 2014 Mrs Barbara Stanley
2014 - present Mrs Rachel Dent

Substantial developments to the physical sites have taken place over the years to ensure that the School continues to provide an excellent learning environment for all its pupils, whilst respecting The Abbey's tradition and heritage.