A child's surroundings and atmosphere can have an enormous effect on happiness. Here, Country Life has made a county-by-county selection of fine schools in every corner of Britain which cover all manner of shapes, sizes and USPs.
The urban surroundings obviously look very different to when the school was founded in 1552 by Edward VI, but it still represents an oasis in the town, with grounds running down to the river and a superb new theatre built on the site of a former church. A high-achieving school academically – the International Baccalaureate (IB) is also offered – and on the sports field. Old Bedfordians include writers John Fowles and H. H. Munro (Saki), BBC Arts editor Will Gompertz, former England cricket captain Alastair Cook and comedian Al Murray. There are multiple transport links – Bedford is 35 minutes from London St Pancras – and the school has close ties with Bedford Girls’.
- Pupils: 1,000+ boys aged 7–18, day and boarding (including prep school)
- Fees: £4,111–£10,730 per term
- Motto: Floreat Schola Bedfordiensis (May Bedford School Flourish)
Picturesque Bradfield, alma mater of politician Lord Owen, novelist Louis de Bernières and explorer Benedict Allen, started, in 1850, as a choir school for the village church, fanning out from the original Arts-and-Crafts manor house and incorporating buildings designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott abnd a chapel by his son, an early pupil.
There’s a superb science centre, plus the famed ‘Greeker’ theatre in which performances of Greek tragedies were renowned. Bradfield’s academic reputation (it offers the IB) increases all the time and there’s an impressive roster of visiting lecturers, plus the Bradfield Diploma, designed to create well-rounded individuals.
- Pupils: 780 pupils aged 13–18, co-ed, predominantly boarding
- Fees: £9,975–£12,468
- Motto: Benedictus es, O Domine doce me Statuta Tua (You are blessed, Lord: teach me your laws)
The Master, Julian Thomas, had a big act to follow (Sir Anthony Seldon), but he’s proving to be his own man and has commented that there’s more to life than league tables. Having said that, Wellington’s academic results are still hugely impressive, the school has major international clout and is a force to be reckoned with on the sports field, especially the rugby pitch. Although the surroundings are urban, Wellington, built on a spectacular layout as a monument to the 1st Duke of Wellington, is set in 400 acres.
Old Wellingtonians include writer Sebastian Faulks, impressionist and comedian Rory Bremner, composer John Gardner and TV presenter Peter Snow.
- Pupils: 1,000 pupils, co-ed, (mainly) boarding aged 13–18
- Fees: £9,310–£12,740
- Motto: Virtutis Fortuna Comes (Fortune favours the bold) and Heroum Filii (The children of heroes)
Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire
There’s a new headmaster, Jeremy Banks (formerly at Beachborough), at this traditional, high-achieving boys’ prep, which chiefly feeds Eton, Harrow, Stowe, Radley and Wellington; 27 scholarships or exhibitions have been won in the past three years, including to Winchester.
Suburbia has obviously crept up since the school was founded in 1904 by J. Heald Jenkins, who named it after his bride’s middle name, but it’s set in 40 acres on the edge of Burnham Beeches, so is still fairly rural.
London pupils commute on a 7.20am ‘Caldicott express’ bus, which stops in Notting Hill, Chiswick and Brook Green; there’s also a service from High Wycombe.
- Pupils: 280 boys aged 7–13, day and boarding
- Fees: £5,611–£9,229
- Motto: Per victoria ad gloriam (Through victory to glory)
High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire
Popular Godstowe, established in 1900, was England’s first boarding prep for girls – reputedly an inspiration for Enid Blyton’s ‘Malory Towers’ series – and it still has close ties with nearby Wycombe Abbey. It’s non-selective, but pupils go on to many leading girls’ public schools.
Cricket and carpentry were on the curriculum right from the start and girls still wear cheerful bright-red jumpers and boaters. Recent years have seen a new Food Technology Room (opened by TV presenter and cook Mary Berry), sports hall (opened by Gabby Logan, who’s a current parent) and swimming pool, plus a beautifully designed website.
- Pupils: 450 pupils aged 3–13, co-ed (boys up to age 7), predominantly day
- Fees: £1,725–£5,540 (boarding supplement £2,675)
- Motto: Finem Respice (Reach towards your goal)
Founded by Henry VI in 1441, the school famously provides the boy choristers for the Carols from King’s service on Christmas Eve (they’re full boarders). The new headmistress, Yvette Day, is steeped in choral singing, having been head of the Chorister School, Durham; nearly every child learns an instrument and all are taught to read music.
As one might imagine, it’s strongly academic – potential scholars learn Greek. Means-tested bursaries are available, especially to children with musical potential.
- Pupils: 400+ pupils aged 4–13, co-ed, mainly day, including pre-prep
- Fees: £4,080–£8,070
Established more than 1,000 years ago (Edward the Confessor was a pupil) on an inspiring site beside the Ship of the Fens, which plays a big part in school life, it provides the boy choristers for the cathedral (they get a 50% fee reduction) – celebrated counter-tenor James Bowman was one.
The cathedral broke new ground when it recruited girl choristers from the school (they get a 33% fees reduction), plus there are sixth-form choral scholarships for boys and the school choir regularly sings in services. Water sports are big, with rowing on the River Ouse alongside Cambridge University rowers.
- Pupils: 1,000+ pupils aged 1–18, co-ed, mainly day, including junior school and international programme for overseas students
- Fees: £3,359–£10,355
The King’s School in Chester proclaims its aim to be ‘opening minds to the love of learning’ – and academic excellence is the focus for this historic place, which in 2018 posted the best GCSE and A-Level results in Cheshire. For the past half a century the school has been based on a 33-acre site on the outskirts of Cheshire that has facilities including a swimming pool, a theatre and a boathouse on the River Dee where the school’s rowing club is based.
- Pupils: 1,100, aged 4-18, co-ed
- Fees: £9,150–£13,515
- Motto: The King gave it, may God bless it
Cornwall’s main independent school (the city also has a 325-strong girls’ school, Truro High) capitalises on the county’s riches – geology is a strong subject – with lots of water sports: Sir Ben Ainslie, after whom the new sports centre is named, is an old boy and the headmaster, Andrew Gordon-Brown, rowed for South Africa at Olympic level. Children regularly leave the county for sporting fixtures, too, notably fencing.
Strong links with the cathedral – musical girls can join the choir and get a fees reduction – and with the Arts through its own Heseltine gallery, the Burrell Theatre and Cornish authors, such as Patrick Gale.
- Pupils: 750+ plus pupils aged 11–18, co-ed, (mainly) day and boarding (linked to prep school)
- Fees: £4,690–£9,355
- Motto: Esse quam videri (To be rather than to seem to be)
Durham, County Durham
At the centre of a beautiful city and steeped in history – it started in 1414 when Cardinal Langley re-founded the cathedral (it was a cathedral school until 1996) – academia and culture, with a strong house system and rowing tradition, Durham has produced several past and present sportsmen (Gareth Southgate visited in May), plus actor/presenter Alexander Armstrong.
Societies include Heretics, in which controversial subjects are debated, Tristram (science), MedSoc (for would-be medics) and Hillard (linguistics). Scholarships include the Peter Lee for ‘musically and academically elite children of Chinese ancestry’. There are plans afoot to develop the campus.
- Pupils: 380+ pupils aged 11–18, co-ed, mainly day(plus pre-prep and prep school)
- Fees: About £4,781–£10,338
- Motto: Floreat Dunelmia (May Durham flourish)
Sedbergh’s site barely counts as a town setting, with such wonderful views; unsurprisingly, fell running is a tradition, including the gruelling 10-mile Wilson cross-country run. Among other outdoorsy activities are orienteering, river swimming, wild camping, caving, riding, fishing, sailing, mountain-biking and kayaking.
Founded in 1525, the school, alma mater of Wordsworth’s sons, promotes both intellectual and practical routes to employment – it’s strong in geology and offers a BTec in agriculture – and has won awards for use of social media.
- Pupils: 540 pupils aged 13–18, co-ed, full boarding (plus prep school, Casterton)
- Fees: 11280
- Motto: Dura Virum Nutrix (A stern nurse of men)
It goes without saying that the school enjoys a spectacular setting in the Lake District. It’s got its own watersports centre – the only school one with Royal Yachting Association champion club status – with a fleet of boats and windsurfing, canoeing and kayaking.
Windermere is part of Round Square, an international network of 180 schools that espouse the ideals of the German-Jewish educationalist Kurt Hahn (founder of Gordonstoun) of internationalism, democracy, environment, adventure, leader-ship and service – the headmaster, Ian Lavender, was previously a Gordonstoun housemaster. It offers the IB and a few BTecs instead of A levels and is strong on languages, in part thanks to the large overseas contingent.
- Pupils: 260+ pupils aged 11–18, co-ed, mainly day (plus pre-prep and junior school)
- Fees: £5,245–£10,445
- Motto: Vincit qui se vincit (One conquers who conquers oneself)
The school, founded in 1557 and highly regarded since the days of the active headmaster Steuart Adolphus Pears in 1854–57, is in a village on the site of a former priory, but it’s far more accessible to London than one might imagine (Derby is about two hours from London Euston and 20 minutes from East Midlands Airport).
Particular USPs include a rooftop observatory on the excellent science centre, much success in debating competitions and hockey facilities good enough for Team GB’s men to train on and to give Repton girls a record number of national titles.
The school has produced numerous footballers and first-class cricketers, plus actor Basil Rathbone, Olympic athlete Harold Abrahams, tennis player Bunny Austin, writers Roald Dahl and Christopher Isherwood, publisher Victor Gollancz and petrolhead presenter Jeremy Clarkson.
- Pupils: 650 pupils aged 13–18, co-ed, day and boarding (linked to prep school Foremarke Hall)
- Fees: £8,831–£11,904
- Motto: Porta Vacat Culpa (The gate is free from blame)
The prep part of this Peak District school, founded in 1888, regularly wins plaudits and has become famed for the down-to-earth attitude of its headmaster, Peter Phillips. Facilities include a 20m heated swimming pool, an AstroTurf pitch, the only fully accredited Lego Education Innovation Studio in a northern independent school, a concert hall and pottery workshop.
Last term, on a windy day, pupils released a Bakewell pudding attached to a balloon into the air – it attracted considerable local media – and there was a Chelsea-style opening of the secret garden, with a sundial, sculptures, bird feeders and a vegetable plot, all created by pupils.
- Pupils: 260 pupils aged 3–16, mainly day
- Fees: £3,650–£8,700
- Motto: Esse Quam Videri (To be rather than be seen)
Founded by a wealthy cloth merchant, Peter Blundell, in 1604, the school may be in a (market) town, but it has a rural, local feel – alumni include Parson Jack Russell of terrier fame, who has an annual cross-country race named after him – with tweed jackets, spacious grounds, a strong riding culture and the head boy/girl beingallowed to keep a pig.
Old boy Sir Christopher Ondaatje funded the drama centre, where all aspects of theatre, including writing and stage design, are taught. Good rail (Tiverton Parkway) and air (Exeter) connections. The new headmaster is South African Bart Wielenga, previously senior deputy head.
- Pupils: 600 pupils aged 11–18, co-ed, day and boarding (plus prep school)
- Fees: £6,350–£11,735
- Motto: Pro Patria Populoque (For the country and the people)
Originally founded by Admiral Kelly in 1877 for the sons of naval officers, the school, with the beautiful backdrop of Dartmoor, has a famed swimming record (it has a 50m Olympic Legacy pool) – alumni include Olympic swimmers Sharron Davies, Robin and Paul Brew and Andrew Jameson, plus pentathlete Heather Fell – but is also considered to be academically on the way up. The prep school majors on recycling and sustainability and has a small farm.
- Pupils: 300+ pupils aged 13–18, co-ed, day and boarding (plus prep school)
- Fees: £2,410–£10,540
- Motto: Fortiter Occupa Portam (Defend your harbours bravely)
Blandford Forum, Dorset
Dorset is spoilt for rural-thinking schools in beautiful locations, but Milton Abbey, a converted monastery in a Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown landscape, is particularly splendid (the TV adaptation of R. F. Delderfield’s public-school novel To Serve Them All My Days was filmed here).
Pupils can bring ferrets and ponies, keep bees, look after farm animals, go beagling and walk dogs. Academia (it’s non-selective and part of Round Square) is individually tailored, with a strong emphasis on vocation – two-thirds of sixth-form pupils take BTec – and there’s a large learning-support department.
- Pupils: 250 pupils aged 13–18, co-ed, mostly boarding
- Fees: £6,750–£13,350
In so far as you can call Sherborne a town setting, it offers the best of both worlds, being within a charming market town – Sherborne Abbey plays a big part in school life – with good train links with London.
It also has close ties and the pooling of some A-level subjects with its opposite-number girls’ establishment down the road. There’s a civilised aura and pride in the school’s heritage, which dates from the 12th century.
Distinguished Shirburnians include mathematician Alan Turing – there’s a code-breaking society – novelist John le Carré (then David Cornwell), poet Cecil Day-Lewis, broadcaster Tom Bradby and actors John le Mesurier, Jeremy Irons and Hugh Bonneville.
- Pupils: 540+ boys aged 13–18, mostly boarding
- Fees: £10,125–£12,500
- Motto: Dieu et mon droit (God and my right)
Brighton, East Sussex
A Roedean education is a unique and wonderful experience. The school was recently judged by ISI to be excellent in every area, highlighting its remarkable strengths, and 2016 saw the school’s best ever A Level results and 2017 its best ever GCSE results. The girls have the space to grow up at their own pace here and realise their full potential, and they thrive in this environment, happy and confident in their abilities.
- Pupils: 600 girls aged 11-18
- Fees: £5,480-£12,855
- Motto: Honneur aulx dignes (Honour the worthy)
Mayfield, East Sussex
Former pupils are known as Old Cornelians, after Mother Cornelia Connelly, who, in 1863, took schoolgirls from the Holy Child School at St Leonards-on-Sea on a picnic to the rural ruins of the Old Palace of May-field, which she thought would be a splendid site for a school. Nowadays, there’s a lay headmistress (Antonia Beary, whose career is steeped in the Catholic faith) and it takes all denominations, but it is still underpinned by Catholicism – sixth-formers attend a weekly liturgy in the chapel.
Mayfield is famed for its equestrian successes under director of riding Jill Barker – girls may bring their horses to school or share one and there are both indoor and outdoor arenas – but the school is high-achieving in many fields. A wide range of academic subjects includes economics and Latin at A level and classical civilisation and food and nutrition at GCSE.
- Pupils: 350+ girls aged 11–18, day and boarding
- Fees: £7,000–£11,300
- Motto: Actions not words
Brighton, East Sussex
A Roedean education is a unique and wonderful experience.
The school was recently judged by ISI to be excellent in every area, highlighting its remarkable strengths, and 2016 saw the school’s best ever A Level results and 2017 its best ever GCSE results. The girls have the space to grow up at their own pace here and realise their full potential, and they thrive in this environment, happy and confident in their abilities.
- Pupils: 600 girls aged 11-18
- Fees: £5,480-£12,855
- Motto: Honneur aulx dignes (Honour the worthY)
This friendly, non-selective prep, set in 25 wooded acres two miles outside Colchester, still adheres to the five Rs – resilience, resourcefulness, responsibility, reasoning and reflection – set by its founders, Mr and Mrs Duggan, in 1922, when the school comprised only three small boys wearing hilariously large caps. It points out that, although prep schools such as this can’t compete with senior schools over ‘shinier’ facilities: ‘What we do offer is beyond these concrete and physical things is more to do with the development of ethos and culture, independ-ence, ownership, integrity and character.’
A recent Languages Week – there’s an annual French exchange programme (Les Ambassadeurs) with Ombrosa School, Lyon – featured a Latin assembly and a Welsh workshop and Science Week involved forensically solving a murder mystery. Holmwood boasts a 100% Common Entrance pass rate, chiefly to East Anglian schools such as Felsted, but also to Eton, Harrow, Westminster and Ampleforth.
- Pupils: 400 pupils aged 4–13, co-ed, day and boarding
- Fees: £3,380–£5,965
- Motto: Laetatus sum (I was glad)
Arguably not quite as famous as Cheltenham Ladies’ – there’s healthy rivalry – but the surroundings, Grade II*-listed Victorian buildings and a magnificent chapel, are no less gracious (the school was started to educate the sons of Victorian gentlemen in a spa town) and it’s acknowledged as a top public school.
It’s had much sporting success – riding, rowing, rackets, polo and water polo are on offer – as well as academic prowess. Alumni include ill-fated Arctic explorer Edward Wilson, writer Iain Sinclair and actor Jack Davenport. The start of the 2018-19 school year saw the first female head in 177 years: Nicola Huggett, who was also the first headmistress of Blundell’s.
- Pupils: 680 pupils aged 13–18, co-ed, day and boarding (plus prep school and nursery)
- Fees: £9,195–£12,590
- Motto: Labor omnia vincit (Work conquers all)
The situation – a magnificent, turreted Victorian mansion in 210 acres of beautiful parkland across the road from the Westonbirt Arboretum, Highgrove and the Beaufort Polo Club and adjacent to the Badminton (Horse Trials) estate – is a star of this high-achieving establishment, which offers an impressive range of subjects (including at BTec) for a small school and is strong on lacrosse.
Girls have the opportunity to sing in Gloucester Cathedral and perform at the Edinburgh Fringe. ‘The best thing Westonbirt has done for me is give me confidence,’ writes the departing head girl, who was offered a choral scholarship at Oriel College, Oxford. Westonbirt, which celebrates its 90th birthday this year, will accept day boys into Year 7 in 2019.
- Pupils: 220 girls aged 11–18, day and boarding (plus prep and pre-prep)
- Fees: £4,995–£9,750
- Motto: Bono malum superate (Overcome evil with good)
Handily placed for the A303, Farleigh, founded originally as a Catholic boys’ prep school (it welcomes all denominations, but the Catholic faith is central), occupies an attractive Georgian house surrounded by 60 acres of parkland in the Test valley (there’s a Sunday-night taxi service from London).
Under the guidance of popular headmaster Father Simon Everson, a former Anglican vicar who converted to Catholicism and first came to Farleigh as chaplain, it’s become a leading prep school, producing confident, kind, well-rounded children. It’s also strong on public speaking and the performing arts.
- Pupils: 450 pupils aged 3–13, co-ed, day and boarding
- Fees: £3,590–£8,495
Founded in 1884 by a daughter of the Dean of Winchester, it’s non-selective until sixth form (when entry requirements are ‘rigorous’), but has a justified reputation for producing bright girls and a tenacious grip of the top of the league tables.
Major efforts are made to stimulate brains through an eclectic programme of lectures, plus dynamic headmistress Jane Gandee’s enthusiasm for Radio 4 and the compulsory weekly Stretch programme (activities such as chess, music or music composition). Girls must also surely benefit by osmosis from the academic atmosphere that pervades the city through the cathedral and the renowned boys’ public school, with which there is co-operation for dramatic productions.
- Pupils: 500+ girls aged 11–18, day and boarding (plus prep school)
- Fees: £6,855–£11,200
- Motto: Caritas, Humilitas, Sinceritas (Charity, Humility, Sincerity)
This is the county’s independent school, strong both academically and in sport, so places are much in demand. Everyone pretty much knows everyone and many pupils are from farming stock; probably the most famous Old Herefordian is champion jockey Richard Johnson.
The magnificent cathedral surrounds give it a traditional feel – it was founded for choristers in the 12th century – of which pupils are justly proud. Each year, three or four boys are accepted as choristers (a considerable reduction in fees); they don’t need to be musical geniuses, but they must enjoy singing, be team players and be committed.
- Pupils: 500 pupils aged 3–18, co-ed, day
- Fees: £2,676–£4,627
- Motto: Floreat Schola Herefordensis (May the school of Hereford flourish)
Parents in this rural county are considered extremely lucky to have such a centre of excellence, founded in 1973, on their doorstep. The principal, Jonathan Godfrey, is a leading figure in the world of sixth-form colleges and the results and breadth of subjects are impressive, as is the music: the Academia Musica choir has a recording contract and performs regularly in cathedrals. Chief sports are basketball, football, hockey, netball and rugby, and players are given individual fitness programmes at the gym.
Alumni include Paralympic gold medallist Josie Pearson, composer Samuel Karl Bohn, actor Matt Milne and pop singer Ellie Goulding. The college size may be daunting for those from smaller, rural schools, but it has an exhilarating, grown-up, uni feel.
- Pupils: 2,000 pupils aged 16–18, co-ed, day
- Fees: £0 (for UK residents)
In 1690, rich haberdasher Robert Aske started the school, now in a secluded position in the 100-acre estate around Aldenham House, for the less fortunate members of his profession, since when it’s become a byword for brilliant results. A famously academic, energetic, multi-demoninational school – the alma mater of funny men Matt Lucas, Sacha Baron Cohen and David Baddiel, plus historian Simon Schama, art critic Brian Sewell and Sir Nicholas Serota, chair of Arts Council England – sticks purely to A levels (no IB or BTec), believes in filling every hour and isn’t keen on dilettantes.
- Pupils: 1,400 boys aged 11–18, day (plus prep and pre-prep)
- Fees: 6782
- Motto: Serve and Obey
There are exciting opportunities for talented children at this inspiring vocational school, one of only eight in the UK that’s Government funded. Entrance is by audition – pupils are accepted according to talent, although there’s also an academic test – and half the school day is spent on vocational training in dance, musical theatre and acting. Compulsory GCSE subjects include three options out of religious studies, music, art, textiles, drama, geo-graphy, history and computing science.
It’s produced the actresses Caroline Quentin, Lily James and Daisy Ridley, plus Olivier award-winning choreographer Drew McOnie and the Royal Ballet’s Joseph Sissens.
- Pupils: 360 pupils aged 8–19, co-ed, day and boarding
- Fees: £4,955–£11,920
A famous traditional, atmospheric girls’ boarding school, founded in 1923 and set in 240 acres of landscaped grounds around the Earl of Cranbrook’s 19th-century family home built in Tudor/Jacobean style, which has made it triumphantly into the 21st century, with excellent academic results in a broad range of subjects, including design and technology (DT).
There’s a superb science block, opened by former pupil The Princess Royal, a 150-seater lecture theatre, an eco-classroom and an all-weather sports field; planning permission has been granted for a new music school and hall.
Pupils can take Extended Project Qualifications (EPQ) and there’s a Professional Skills Programme for sixth-formers that offers experience with businesses. Despite its rural location, it’s easily accessible from London and close to the Bluewater shopping centre, which is, no doubt, popular. It’s even got its own edition of Monopoly.
- Pupils: 550 girls aged 11–18, boarding
- Fees: 12560
An atmospheric, elegant and academic school drenched in history – it was founded at the end of the 6th century – and beauty, within the precincts of the cathedral on a World Heritage site. The library, designed by William Butterfield, is superb; former pupils Sir Hugh Walpole and Somerset Maugham bequeathed their personal libraries.
Architectural plans for converting the Victorian Malthouse into an arts, science and dramatic space look exciting and The College, a brand-new building, will provide smart accommodation, withen-suite bedrooms and common rooms. Distinguished alumni include musicians Stephen Barlow and Harry Christophers; writers Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, Sir Michael Morpurgo and Edmund de Waal; and cricketer David Gower.
- Pupils: 800+ pupils aged 13–18, co-ed, day and boarding (plus junior school)
- Fees: £9,165–£12,485
‘Rossall is what you make it,’ writes the former school captain on the website, reflecting the fact that pupils span 50 nationalities, drawn by a rounded education at a traditional, healthy English public school close to the metropolis of Manchester, in a rural setting of 160 acres of coastal campus. It can even be reached by a tramway that runs along the sea.
A school speciality is the Rossall game of RossHockey, a cross between hockey and rugby, plus there’s an annual national Fives tournament and a golf academy, activities from knitting to astrophysics (a space-science centre has a planetarium, observatory and astronomer) and links with a casting agency for the theatrically inclined.
- Pupils: 450 pupils aged 11–18, co-ed, day and boarding (plus junior and infant schools)
- Fees: £3,580–£11,140
- Motto: Mens Agitat Molem (Mind over matter)
Perhaps the most spectacular setting of all, in the Ribble Valley; Tolkien, whose son taught here, is said to have based Middle-earth on the scenery and Conan Doyle, a pupil, used the mainly 17th-century house, a school since 1794, as the model for Baskerville Hall.
The standout USP of this Catholic school is the collection of treasures, including Shakespeare’s First Folio, Gerard Manley Hopkins manuscripts, Sir Thomas More’s hats, art by Rembrandt and Turner, Gunpowder Plot vestments and a thorn said to be from the Crown of Thorns.
- Pupils: 450+ pupils aged 13–18, co-ed, day and boarding (plus junior school)
- Fees: About £6,520–£11,870
- Motto: Quant je puis (All that I can)
Loughborough Grammar School, which is linked to (co-ed) Fairfield prep, challenges the notion that boys do better in mixed schools, presenting research that shows results in a boys-only school improves by 0.2 grades per GCSE and suggests that teenage boys take greater intellectual risks when not distracted by girls; certainly, the academic results are impressive here.
There is, however, plenty of collaboration with girls in music, drama and Combined Cadet Force (CCF) as well as in A-level subjects such as Classics and politics, plus an enormous choice of clubs, from bees and pond to harps and saxophones.
- Pupils: 950+ boys aged 10–18, mainly day
- Fees: £4,183–£5,401
- Motto: Vires Acquirit Eundo (We gather strength as we go)
Unsurprisingly, musical standards are high at this outward-looking cathedral school – the chamber choir performed on Howard Goodall’s album Inspired – which was formed in 1996 by the merging of three senior schools (and, later, a prep school) in purpose-built modern buildings overlooking the Minster and historic quarter; prizegivings are held in the cathedral.
Last term, Year 6 pupil Shivani Jansari was named Creative Arts Pupil of the Year and, in 2017, Artur Giniiatullin, a Year 12 pupil, won a United Learning art award. This term sees the start of a Sports Ambassador Programme, with visits from national coaches.
- Pupils: 500+ pupils aged 2–18, co-ed, day and boarding
- Fees: £3,135–£9,022
Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire
A charming prep school, founded in 1925 and set in a Victoria spa resort amid farming country in the east of the county, it sends children to a wide range of public schools. A recent inspection report said: ‘Teachers are very well qualified and have commitment, dedication and a huge enthusiasm… they also have excellent subject knowledge… They know their pupils very well and serve as excellent role models.’
There are two science labs, an indoor swimming pool, a nature pond and a forest school with a tipi. Music is well supported: more than 80% of children from Year 3 upwards learning an instrument. Last term, the local MP visited the school and answered questions about Westminster life and Brexit. A fleet of six minibuses can collect pupils from all over the county.
- Pupils: 170 pupils aged 2–13, co-ed, day and (weekly/flexi) boarding
- Fees: £2,960–£6,250
A proper country prep school – the headmaster, Fred de Falbe, has a farming background – with plenty of dogs, campfires on the beach, shooting, reeling and sailing (Beeston was second in the IAPS Sailing Championships last term). Beeston offers a ‘wrap-around day’ – day pupils can arrive at 8am and leave at up to 7.15pm (in Year 6) – which must be a great help to working parents. There’s also a minibus run, with ‘Bus Aunties’, from Norwich, Aylesham, Dereham and Fakenham.
In the past two years, there’s been 100% Common Entrance passes to first-choice senior schools, which may be as far afield as Ampleforth and Eton. The Earl of Leicester, at nearby Holkham, is chairman of the governors and the Old Beestonians.
- Pupils: 150 pupils aged 4–13, co-ed, day and boarding
- Fees: £2,850–£7,940
- Motto: Floret Fiducia (Let confidence flourish)
It may be situated amid 200 acres in the far, eastern reaches of north Norfolk, just four miles from the glorious coastline, but Gresham’s – which was originally founded as a grammar school in 1555 by Sir John Gresham after the Reformation closed the only local source of learning – provides East Anglian parents with a truly top public school (it offers both the IB and A levels) that has the stated aims of providing its pupils with ‘an enlightened education which celebrates British values in a Christian setting’.
Its theatre, the Auden Theatre – the poet was a pupil, as were composers Benjamin Britten and Lennox Berkeley, poet Stephen Spender, director Stephen Frears and actress Olivia Colman, plus inventor Sir James Dyson – which last term celebrated its 20th anniversary, is justifiably famous, school productions attracting a genuine public audience beyond parents. It’s set in 200 acres in an AONB and has a rifle range (shooting is big here).
- Pupils: 480 pupils aged 13–18, day and boarding (plus prep school)
- Fees: £3,350–£11,660
- Motto: All worship be to God alone
Famously one of the best prep schools in the Midlands, offering the now rare combination of small numbers – the ethos is for polite, happy and articulate children in a ‘country-house atmosphere’ – with extensive 17th-century grounds to roam, including a lake with rowing boats.
The curriculum includes a weekly life-skills lesson and riding (Maidwell has a showjumping team and hosts a meet of the Pytchley every year), plus official ‘muck about’ time and daily reading time after lunch. The emphasis is on providing ‘a charmed childhood’.
- Pupils: 120 pupils aged 7–13, co-ed, mainly boarding
- Fees: £5,835–£8,960
This historic and hugely successful school, set in a delightful market town but within easy reach of London (Peterborough to London King’s Cross takes 45 minutes by train), offers a wide range of GCSE subjects, including Arabic, Chinese, Design Technology, Computer Science, Greek, PE and Russian – everyone has to do at least one modern foreign language – and there’s also the Cambridge Pre-U qualification and various extension courses in the sixth form, such as a medical preparation course.
The school incorporates a theatre and gallery (the Yarrow Gallery, built in 1918 in memory of a pupil killed at Ypres), both open to the public, a radio station (Oscar Radio) and a particularly whizz-bang DT and engineering centre .
- Pupils: 1,100 pupils aged 11–18, co-ed, mainly boarding
- Fees: About £6,000–£12,000
- Motto: God Grant Grace
Belfast, Northern Ireland
One of only two Category B schools (a grammar that’s retained its assets and autonomy) in Northern Ireland, it’s sited in 100 acres in east Belfast and named after the philanthropist Henry Campbell, whose bequest enabled it to start in 1894.
Offers a wide selection of subjects, including Chinese GCSE (the 150 boarders come from all over the world) and BTecs in hospitality and sport, as well as home economics for the first two years. Drama productions and media studies are shared with Strathearn Girls’. Rugby is the big thing (11 pitches) – the school has produced several international players, plus actor David Caves, Derek Bell of The Chieftains and Brexit advocator Tim Martin of Wetherspoons.
- Pupils: 920 boys aged 4–18, day and boarding
- Fees: £1,381–£6,583
- Motto: Ne Obliviscaris (Do not forget)
Holywood, Northern Ireland
Founded in 1906, partly to prepare boys for the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, it has its own beach on Belfast Lough, so there’s kayaking and sailing. Everyone plays golf once a week and there are fly-fishing and hill-walking clubs; the headmaster, George Vance, is a qualified mountain leader and takes children walking in the Morne Mountains.
As are Windermere and Milton Abbey, Rockport is part of Round Square and has an international flavour, with a strong American representation.
- Pupils: 220 pupils aged 3–18, co-ed, mainly day
- Fees: £2,180–£8,720
- Motto: Virtus Repulsae Nescia Sordidae (True virtue never knows defeat)
This is not only Northumberland’s only independent school offering boarding, but it’s part of the Cothill Trust group of schools. This includes Le Château de Sauveterre in France, of which the headmaster, Neal Bailey, was formerly directeur and where Year 7 spends a term gaining a Continental perspective on life.
Mowden moved to its present site, the 19th-century home of the Joicey family, in 1945; the 50 acres of grounds have an indoor swimming pool, climbing wall, bike course and camping, plus there’s plenty of opportunities to take advantage of this glorious county through fishing, camping and abseiling trips. A huge range of clubs includes saxophone, river scrambling, ten-pin bowling, fell walking, clay-pigeon shooting and even electric guitar.
- Pupils: 180 pupils aged 3–13, co-ed, day and boarding
- Fees: £3,100–£7,900
This Roman Catholic State school in the west Gateshead catchment area, with its reputation for high academic expectations and strong principles, has a long waiting list.
St Thomas More, which was started in 1967 in a former industrial estate, describes its intake as ‘neither excessively deprived nor excessively affluent’ and as having fewer very able pupils than the national norm, but also fewer of the less able; the teaching of morality is core, as is the monitoring of teachers. It was the first school in the North-East to be awarded Speciality status, for technology.
- Pupils: 1,550 pupils aged 11–18, co-ed, day
- Fees: £0 (for UK residents)
- Motto: Regis servus die prius (The King’s good servant, but God’s first)
Originally founded in 1513 in the city’s Lace Market, it moved in 1868 to its present site, a mix of old, 1980s and modern buildings, and now takes girls, with 230 now in the school and the number growing. Last term, A-level students attended a seminar on Seamus Heaney at the university, the school’s musicians-in-residence the Villiers Quartet played in the city’s chamber-music festival, there was a Classical trip to Greece and national success in chess and netball.
Selective and high-achieving all round, it sells itself as ‘an academic community’ and a ‘diverse, down-to-earth’ school (strapline: So much more). It’s turned out high level cabinet-level politicians in Ken Clarke (Conservative) and Ed Balls (Labour), plus the writer D. H. Lawrence.
- Pupils: 1,000 pupils aged 4–18, co-ed, day (including junior school)
- Fees: £3,393–£4,955
- Motto: Lauda Finem (Praise to the end)
A historic school (founded in 1256) with a stimulating atmosphere, it actively encourages a multi-denominational, multi-cultural feel: school magazines include The Polyglot, which has articles in foreign languages about foreign cultures. Boarders are in the minority – Abingdon is accessible to a big catchment, being just off the A34 Winchester-Oxford road – and the previous head stopped Saturday classes to make life easier. Nearby St Helen and St Katharine girls’ school is handy for sisters and there’s much sixth-form collaboration.
Abingdon, which is academically selective, is big on music and drama (all five members of Radiohead were here, plus actors Toby Jones, Tom Hollander and David Mitchell) with an exceptional film unit, plus, being on the Thames, there’s no excuse for it not to excel in rowing.
- Pupils: 1,000 boys aged 11–18, day and boarding (plus prep)
- Fees: £6,650–£13,250
- Motto: Misericordias domini in aeternum cantabo (I will sing of the Lord’s mercy forever)
Sibford Ferris, Oxfordshire
A Quaker school (although few pupils are Quakers) that promotes the values of respect and contemplation, it’s set in a beautiful village surrounded by farmland in a horsey area (the entrance in the middle of the village is prettier than the one on the outskirts, where you only see the modern buildings).
Sibford, where teachers are called by their first names (as is the Quaker way), has a reputation for being the right place for previously ‘square pegs’, for being good on learning support (some 20% of pupils), for being blissfully free of pushy parents and for promoting individuality (it has a ‘gifted and talented’ register). Its mission is the long-term mental health and emotional well-being of its pupils, but, despite its peacefulness, it’s academically successful. It’s also been declared a nut-free zone to avoid allergy problems.
- Pupils: 400 pupils aged 3–18, co-ed, day and boarding
- Fees: £4,818–£9,548
- Motto: Truth and Honour, Freedom and Courtesy
Like near neighbour Uppingham (slightly smaller and nearly all boarding), Oakham, in a rural market town with a train station, was set up as a grammar school in 1584 by Archdeacon Robert Johnson to teach Latin, Greek and Hebrew to local boys; it went co-ed in 1971, the first independent boys’ secondary to do so.
The old part of the school was restored in the 18th century and contains frescoes painted by a former headmaster’s sister; the chapel was built to commend 68 Oakhamians and masters who were killed in the First World War (congregational hymn-singing is known as ‘congo’).
Described as ‘an outstanding community of learners’, Oakham boasts a programme of some 125 activities. Trips in a recent term included to the Dominican Republic, Germany, the Natural History Museum, the European Parliament and sailing championships – being so far inland is not a problem, as beautiful Rutland Water is just down the road. The headmaster, Nigel Lashbrook, retires in 2019; his successor is Henry Price, currently head of Wellington School, Somerset.
- Pupils: 1,000 pupils aged 10–18, co-ed, day and boarding
- Fees: £5,635–£11,220
- Motto: Et quasi cursores vitai lampada tradunt (And, like runners, they pass on the torch of life)
William Gladstone founded it in 1847 to keep young men away from the perils of the city and it certainly offers fresh air and wholesome, bracing activities: fishing on the River Almond, a golf course, white-water rafting, canoeing, climbing, canyoning, clay-pigeon shooting and skiing. Old Glenalmonds include the cartoonist H. M. Bateman and actor Robbie Coltrane. As befits its home country, Highland Bagpipes and Drumming are both taught.
Elaine Logan, the inspirational first female Warden, has introduced the Learning Project, in which teachers observe each other’s lessons and pupils’ progress is tracked. The William Bright Society is for academically gifted pupils and independent learning through the EPQ is encouraged.
- Pupils: 390+ pupils, aged 12–18, co-ed, mostly boarding
- Fees: £5,627–£12,170
- Motto: Floreat Glenalmond (Let Glenalmond flourish)
Sited around a fine 18th-century house in the small Regency town in which Edinburgh gentry took the sea air, Loretto uses the English system of A levels and GCSEs.
A small school (‘big on heart, big on ambition’), it’s internationally famed for its Golf Academy, which uses the Craigielaw and Archerfield courses and includes an indoor centre and studio with video analysis; seniors can play golf as their sole sport and a golf scholarship can be worth 10% of the fees. There’s also a dance studio, Loretto Radio, through which pupils learn presenting skills, and an in-demand pipe band that has accompanied Sir Paul McCartney and entertained the Pope.
- Pupils: 600 pupils, co-ed, aged 3–18, mainly boarding
- Fees: £3,060–£11,420
- Motto: Spartam nactus es, hanc exoram (Sparta is yours: adorn it)
Merchiston is the only boys’ independent boarding school in Scotland, offers the English curriculum, and has a global, outward-looking dimension. We take pride in specializing in the education of boys and preparing them for the world, as we have for over 175 years, developing aspirational, and sensitive, yet gentle-men! Think about a wonderfully caring and nurturing family environment, where they will learn to like learning more.
- Pupils: 440 boys aged 7-18
- Fees: £5,010-£10,970
- Motto: Ready ay Ready
Thanks to the vision of long-standing (26 years) headmaster Jonathan Forster, the remote spot on the North Welsh border has been no bar to bringing in inspiring staff or speakers; there are close links to Keele University and a nearby hospital, plus the school dominates the lacrosse scene. Planning permission has been granted and funding is under way to build a community theatre.
Most impressively, the lower sixth runs, together with mentors, a shopping mall, with Moreton Enterprises, which has achieved a £50,000 turnover. Old Moretonians include actress Sheila Reid, composer Thea Musgrave and editor of The Economist Zanny Minton Beddoes.
- Pupils: 300+ girls aged 11–18, day and (mainly) boarding
- Fees: £3,280–£11,625
Shrewsbury, which is considered one of Britain’s great public schools, was founded by Edward VI in 1552 and occupies a graceful position in 100 acres high above the Severn, 10 minutes from the town centre; girls, who wear stylish tartan skirts, arrived in 2008 (they started at age 13 in 2014).
Salopian distinctions include the world’s oldest running club, The Hunt, and race (the Tucks), a Snowdonia cottage affectionately known as Tally and the ancient chained library, which contains the manuscripts of former pupil Charles Darwin. Private Eye founders Richard Ingrams and Willie Rushton, plus Michael Palin and Lord Heseltine, are also old boys. The new headmaster is Leo Winkley, a theology graduate, who comes from St Peter’s, York.
- Pupils: 800 pupils aged 13–18, co-ed, day and (mainly) boarding
- Fees: £8,295–£13,040
- Motto: Intus si recte ne labora (If right within, trouble not)
A happy, traditional-feel school set on the leafier (racecourse) side of the town and with a campus feel – many staff live on site. It’s sporty – Olympic hockey goalie Maddie Hinch went here – with close links to the county cricket ground (Jos Buttler is an old boy), and has its own equestrian centre. It’s a Woodard school (founded by the Victorian cleric) and the splendid chapel, a concert venue for a musical town, is a centrepiece; the chaplain, Father Mark Smith, has a ‘mini-farm’ (mostly poultry and pygmy goats).
- Pupils: 460 pupils aged 13–18, co-ed, day and boarding, plus prep school
- Fees: £7,460–£11,055
North Perrott, Somerset
Surrey school Feltonfleet evacuated to North Perrott Manor, a private house, during the Second World War; one member of staff, Bill Grundy, liked the tranquil backdrop of fields and woodland so much, he stayed and started a prep school.
Admission is non-selective, but this is undoubtedly a high-achieving school academically, with an excellent music department and a strong emphasis on being outdoors (it’s got a forest school, too). A new headmaster started in September 2018: music graduate Alexander McCullough, from Polwhele House prep in Cornwall.
- Pupils: 180+ pupils aged 3–13, co-ed, day and boarding
- Fees: £1,750–£7,845
That our daughters may be as the polished corners of the temple
In 1874, AB, as it’s now known, became the first girls’ school in the Woodard foundation (it now has boys in the prep school and sixth form). It’s the only boarding school in the county, set in pretty Abbots Bromley, a regular winner of best-kept village awards and home to the annual Horn Dance.
AB is partnered with the renowned Alkins School of Dance, which offers vocational qualifications and recreational dance to all, is strong in music – the chapel is magnificent – and has its own British Horse Society-approved equestrian centre, to which pupils and parents can bring horses.
- Pupils: 250 pupils aged 3–18, co-ed, day and boarding
- Fees: £1,551–£9,907
- Motto: That our daughters may be as the polished corners of the temple
Another school to benefit from the inspiring atmosphere of a cathedral, Lichfield’s mission is ‘to be a nationally recognised school that serves its local community by creating an inclusive school community devoted to Christian ideals’. The cathedral choir includes girl choristers aged 10–15, who benefit from a 25% reduction in fees; boys receive 50% off.
A more eclectic than usual range of clubs includes young journalists, Italian for beginners, foreign films, bell ringing, extreme weather and Strictly Lichfield (salsa, ballroom and Latin dancing).
- Pupils: 400+ pupils aged 3–18, co-ed, day
- Fees: £2,935–£4,605
Described as a particularly jolly, no-nonsense, characterful prep school, chiefly thanks to its much-loved headmaster, Col Keith Boulter, a theology graduate and hockey Blue, who also owns the school (his daughter runs the pre-prep); last term, he read the bedtime story and cooked breakfast for the pre-prep sleepover and outing to a dinosaur park.
Activities include orienteering – Barnardiston has won the National Schools Orienteering Championship – and, recently, a trip to the Darley Stud in Newmarket. A bus service from Cambridge starts this term.
- Pupils: 200+ pupils aged 4–13, co-ed, mainly day
- Fees: £2,680–£6,695
A big, urban-based school that serves the local community (there are numerous bus stops) and is committed both to stretching the very able and providing one-to-one guidance where needed. ‘We are just as aware of the candidate who secures a hard-won B grade as we are of the individual who picks up a string of A* grades,’ it says.
Languages taught include German, Russian, Chinese and Latin and there’s a focus on triple science at GCSE level, plus a programme for the ‘academically gifted’ and a psychology department. Clubs include Apps For Good, karate, Mandarin, textiles, football for girls and jewellery making. Cardinal Wolsey and H. Rider Haggard are distinguished alumni.
- Pupils: 1,000+ pupils aged 3–18, co-ed, (mainly) day and boarding
- Fees: £3,950–£10,057
- Motto: Semper Eadem (Always the same)
Since the arrival of new headmaster Alex Peterken in 2017, Charterhouse has announced plans to become fully co-educational from 2021. Dr Peterken, who knew Charterhouse as housemaster before becoming head of Cheltenham College, believes this is the ‘natural extension of our current approach’, adding it will not change the school’s 400-year-old values and ethos.
Charterhouse made the move from London to Surrey in 1872 for the clean air and space that the sports department is still enjoying. Music is also a particular strength. Old Carthusians include William Makepeace Thackeray, John Wesley, Robert Baden-Powell, Ralph Vaughan Williams, poet Robert Graves, the five original members of Genesis and politician Jeremy Hunt.
- Pupils: 800 boys aged 13–18 with co-ed sixth form, mainly boarding
- Fees: £10,788–£13,055
- Motto: Deo Dante Dedi (God having given, I gave)
David Paterson is the fourth Paterson headmaster since 1931; his elder brother Nick (former headmaster) and nephew Oliver are among the teaching staff. Woodcote is friendly and wonderfully unperturbed by fancy facilities and too much technology, preferring to do its own thing at all times. Recently, there have been subtle and sympathetic renovations, including a new theatre.
Woodcote boasts a 100% Common Entrance pass rate to all the leading public schools. A daily London bus service is provided.
- Pupils: 100 boys aged 7–13, day and boarding (including flexi)
- Fees: £5,950–£7,950
- Motto: Vive ut discas et disce ut vivas (Live to learn and learn to live)
Unsurprisingly, as it’s surrounded by the Brecon hills, there’s a strong emphasis on the outdoor life (the headmaster is a former marine). The CCF is a big thing, with opportunities for helicopter and fixed-wing flying, but so is music – the chapel, restored by Gilbert Scott, is nearly 800 years old – and academic results.
Founded by Henry VIII on the site of the sacked Black Friars’ church, Christ College is the only boarding school in mid Wales; pupils are generally local and it’s a happy, close-knit community.
- Pupils: 370 pupils aged 7–18, boarding and day, including junior school
- Fees: £3,055–£9,681
- Motto: Possunt Quia Posse Videntur (They achieve because they think they can)
With playing fields running down to the River Wye and a mix of ancient and modern buildings, the school is very much part of the community of this small Welsh border town through rugby, music and the school theatre, the Blake.
Founded some 400 years ago by a member of the Haberdashers’ Company, it’s part of a group that includes Monmouth School for Girls, with which it has a joint sixth form from this term. Former Government chief scientific advisor Sir John Beddington, Robin Herd, who led the Concorde project, Olympic showjumper David Broome and rower and politician Lord Moynihan are among the alumni.
Sport is strong – many boys play rugby and cricket at county or national level.
- Pupils: 500+ pupils, aged 11–18, plus junior school
- Fees: £5,272–£10,687 (service families only pay 10% of boarding fees)
- Motto: Serve and Obey
The centrepieces of this driven, selective, academic school, which was founded by Edward the Confessor and is now housed in a neo-Tudor building beside the Avon, are the magnificent new science building on three floors, used by girls’ school Kings High and others, and the library, which contains more than 20,000 books and is housed in a building named after former pupil John Masefield. Music and drama are strong – another old boy is Country Life’s distinguished theatre critic, Michael Billington, who found the proximity of Stratford inspiring.
Friday afternoons are now devoted to an extensive activity programme; choices include the BBC School Report, cooking for university, cyber-security, first aid and chamber music. The 50-plus boarders are mainly Chinese students.
The recently-installed headmaster is Dr Deneal Smith, who comes from Westminster – he has a PhD in observational astronomy.
- Pupils: 990 boys aged 11–18, mainly day (plus junior school)
- Fees: £4,398–£5,188
- Motto: Altiora peto (I seek higher things)
Petworth, West Sussex
Seaford has one of the loveliest school settings, in the foothills of the South Downs – founded in the East Sussex town of Seaford in 1884, it moved to the market town of Petworth after the Second World War.
A typical Seafordian will be ‘articulate, confident and well-rounded’, according to the headmaster, John Green, who is perceived to have upped the academic ante and smartened the look of this non-selective school, which ‘welcomes the very brilliant and those who find the examination culture a challenge’.
There’s ongoing refurbishment this term of classrooms, plus a new library and sixth-form study and social areas. A-level subjects include photography, drama and theatre, textiles, politics and psychology; at the start of the lower-sixth year, all pupils go to North Wales for a bonding trip. Cricket is big, with a coaching staff of eight.
- Pupils: 500+ pupils aged 11–18, co-ed, day and boarding (plus prep school)
- Fees: £5,710–£11,030
- Motto: Ad Alta (Aim high)
Tollard Royal, Wiltshire
Sandroyd is idyllic, amid parkland on the Rushmore estate, and prepares children beautifully for the top public schools. Each child has a personal tutor and scholarships are plentiful; German, Spanish and Greek are taught and there’s an annual trip for Year 7 to a château in Burgundy. There’s also a learning-support unit and an intake of overseas pupils.
Music and drama are strong (the choir sings in Salisbury Cathedral and there’s a new dance studio), sports are big for both sexes (girls play cricket and the school hosts a tetrathlon) and many ride – ponies are welcome and former world-number-one eventer William Fox-Pitt, on whose family estate it is, has been known to give lessons.
There’s a minibus service for day pupils; about 10% of pupils are from military families. Explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes is president of the Old Sandroydians, who include the late Earl of Snowdon, Lord Carrington, Randolph Churchill and Terence Rattigan.
- Pupils: 200 pupils aged 2–13, co-ed, day and boarding
- Fees: £2,920–£8,470
- Motto: Niti est nitere (To strive is to shine)
This traditional girls’ school, founded in 1873 by the vicar of Calne, a typical Wilt-shire town, has no plans to expand, its aim being to maintain diversity of opportunity and individuality. The American headmistress, Dr Felicia Kirk, describes herself as a passionate advocate for girls-only education; early registration is advised as the school is hugely popular with country families.
The A–Z of activities runs from Alexander Technique via dissection, fencing, flute club, riding (this is prominent – Olympic dressage gold medallist Laura Bechtolsheimer, now Tomlinson, is an old girl), training for the annual British Schoolgirls’ Ski Races in Flaine, France, rugby and wine society to zoology.
St Mary’s is regularly in the news for winning things, whether in athletics, eventing, art, science or business enterprise.
- Pupils: 350 girls aged 11–18, day and boarding (plus mixed prep school)
- Fees: £9,675–£12,975
Great Witley, Worcestershire
Whenever the public-school scholarships are announced, Abberley usually features strongly. The strapline ‘Gumboots and Greek’ gives a pretty good idea of its ethos: although non-selective, it’s full-on academically and outdoors, being set in 90 acres of parkland around the 19th-century hall.
Rugby is as big as music – the chapel choir sings in Worcester cathedral. Activities include beekeeping, fishing, film-making, origami, Scottish dancing, spy club and the school newspaper; you can also bring your pony. Years 5 and 7 spend time improving their French and having fun in Abberley’s chalet in the French Alps.
- Pupils: 235 pupils aged 2–13, co-ed, day and full boarding
- Fees: About £3,000–£8,000
The (small) town in question is only a three-minute walk away and all around is the glorious backdrop of the Malvern hills, from which Sir Edward Elgar drew inspir-ation. The views across the Severn Plain are nothing short of spectacular.
The alma mater of C. S. Lewis, Jeremy Paxman and Monty Don has been co-ed for some 20 years, with pupils including European royalty and local farming families. Cricket is god, but when the Ledder, the annual cross-country run, was cancelled for the first time since the First World War due to fears for orchids in the wet ground, there was an outcry.
Parents describe Malvern as grounded and traditional, keen on the values of friendship and loyalty – it aims to turn out nice, well-rounded people. The headmaster, Antony Clark, who is perceived to have done good things, is in his last year; his successor will be Keith Metcalfe, currently deputy head at Harrow.
- Pupils: 650 pupils aged 13–18, co-ed, mainly boarding (linked to prep school, Downs Malvern)
- Fees: £8,228–£13,153
- Motto: Sapiens qui prospicit (Wise is the person who looks ahead)
Long known as one of the best prep schools in the North – in fact, it’s the only full boarding one – it has a reputation for producing confident all-round entrants to leading public schools. Last term was a record for scholarships (22), including a King’s Scholarship to Eton.
It’s ambitious (‘we aim high’), outdoorsy and sporty – Olympic rower Sir Matthew Pinsent and polar explorer Robert Swan are Old Aysgarthians – and promises to allow ‘boys to be boys’.
It’s just off the A1 in North Yorkshire, but in a lovely parkland setting with a river plus golf and sailing nearby. The headmaster, Rob Morse, has been at two similar schools, S. Anselm’s and Perrott Hill.
- Pupils: 150 boys aged 8–13, mainly boarding (plus co-ed pre-prep)
- Fees: £6,630–£8,630
- Motto: Ex quercu non ex salice (Of oak, not of willow)
A Quaker school founded in 1823 in the centre of York by the Society of Friends – one of the boarding houses belonged to Quaker philanthropist Josiah Rowntree – it was fully co-ed by 1983. There’s still an atmosphere of peaceful reflection; an aim is to develop students ‘into genuinely good people’. To that end, there’s much involvement with the local community through fundraising and visits to old-people’s homes and an emphasis on eco-friendly principles through BEAST (Bootham Environmental and Sustainability Team).
Music is strong: the senior choir was a finalist in the BBC Songs of Praise Choir of the Year competition, musicians have performed in the finals of the National Festival of Music for Youth and a pupil was named Cathcart Composer of the Year.
- Pupils: 575 pupils aged 3–19, co-ed, day and boarding (including junior school)
- Fees: £2,310–£9,860
- Motto: Membra sumus corporis magni (We are members of a greater body)