Bishop’s Stortford College
Right over at the far east side of the county, teetering on the Essex border, you’ll find Bishop’s Stortford College. You can’t miss it — it’s a vast site with roads and footpaths running through it, more college campus than school site, and there’s loads going on that’s worth knowing about.
Bishop’s Stortford College is a co-ed independent school, Christian (founded by Nonconformists) but welcoming those of all faiths and none, taking both day and boarding pupils. Day pupils are from 4-18 years old, with boarding from 7.
Pre-Prep typically has around 120 pupils; the Prep school usually has 460, including 50 boarders; and the senior school has 600, including 160 boarders and 250 in the Sixth Form. So, around 1,200 in total — but spread across the different stages with classes sizes of up to 20 in Pre-Prep and Prep, up to 24 in Senior School, and around 10 in the Sixth Form.
The College has a long history, having been founded in 1868. It’s set on a vast campus-style site, with a range of attractive older buildings and newer facilities. There’s some building going on right now, with four new houses going up to expand the spaces for girl boarders as well as replacements for both boys’ boarding Houses and a boys’ Day House, which will be ready for the start of the 2017/8 school year.
There’s an enormous amount of space. 130 acres of grounds. And that means there’s no sense of being crowded as is the case for many town centre schools — as well as acres and acres of playing fields. There are public footpaths that cross the site, and several woodland areas that the school uses to full advantage.
Hard to know where to start. With all that space, the sports facilities are many and various — with two full-size floodlit astro pitches for hockey and tennis, all-weather courts for netball and tennis, a floodlit netball court, rugby and football pitches, a cricket pitch of such a high a standard that Herts Cricket use it for matches during the summer — and the MCC play the school’s 1st XI in an annual match. There’s also a large swimming pool, and a sports hall with an extensive modern fitness suite on the mezzanine.
The Ferguson Building includes, alongside science labs, a large lecture theatre which makes a great venue for the school — and for community events and a social area for Sixth Formers. There’s also a separate, well-equipped theatre, which is used for Drama teaching and some very ambitious performances.
The ICT provision is extensive — 7 dedicated ICT labs, including one in pre-prep, as well as numerous smaller PC suites across campus and in the library, and a high spec wireless network throughout the school buildings.
The older buildings are being well used and maintained, and the new buildings are thoughtfully-designed with planet-friendly features including water recycling, solar panels and living sedum roofs. The dining room, for example, is open and airy — filled with light — and the new girls’ day house (built in 2015, Alliott, the style of which is the guide for the new day and boarding houses being built) is spacious, comfortable and practical. There’s a real sense of calm and purpose all across the campus.
Other bits to brag about:
The Art Department is extraordinary. Walking into the building is quite literally like walking into a professional gallery. I had a quick chat with the Head of Art, Mr Honey, and he talked a lot about encouraging the students — particularly in the Senior School — to discover and then explore their own preferred medium, rather than expecting them all to work on versions of the same thing. The artwork on the stairs as you head up was quite literally stunning — and in an astonishing range of styles and media, yet all produced within the same class. Two Upper Sixth students exhibited in the Royal Academy student show this year — they’re that good – and are constantly encouraged to develop their talent. In a more junior art class, the teacher had a work-in-progress of her own in the corner — modelling the process for the students by it simply being part of the classroom. I was properly impressed with their Art teaching and the atmosphere it creates.
There’s a lot of extra support and training for pupils with talents in particular sports too, and they were cheering on senior student Elinah Philip earlier this year as she competed in swimming at the Rio Olympics. The Rugby 1st XV have been training with Saracens and have been represented in their U18/U17 teams, and the netball teams benefit from being taught by an England player.
At GCSE, you’re looking at a 99% pass rate — and 66% *A/A. For A Level, the average is 3.6 passes per student, with 82% at A* to B. Last year, 100 leavers went on to university, with 61% securing a place at one of the top 25 universities (including Oxbridge). All pupils who applied to university secured a place.
There’s a strong emphasis on academic achievement throughout the school, with regular consultation with parents, but there’s also a real sense of helping each pupil discover their own particular talent and nurturing that. Developing a whole person, rather than simply a set of numbers.
I loved the sense of community — which on such a large site and across such a large age range could be hard to cultivate. There was also a real feeling that the pupils were encouraged to explore and develop. The pieces they were producing in the Art department and in the D&T department were incredible.
Some of the D&T projects — they’d been designing and building side tables — were things I could quite happily have taken home with me. Achievements — artistic, sporting, academic, and so on — are openly celebrated, and the students seem to have a great attitude, working hard themselves and supporting others to do so.
The Memorial Hall, right at the heart of the site, is quite beautiful and properly special. Each of the chairs is dedicated to one of the alumni who gave their lives in the World Wars, and it’s definitely the spiritual centre of the College. It’s used daily, too — that sense of history and community is part of the fabric of everyday life there.
After School and Activities:
There’s staggering range of activities on offer, making full use of all that space and the various facilities. The obvious ones like sport, drama, dance, music and so on — but others, including beekeeping, Japanese, dissection, rug making, recycling, a model UN and more, mean that’s almost certainly something for everyone.
There are three options for boarding at the College: full, weekly and flexi. Boarding is in a mixed house in the Prep school, and the separates into boys’ and girls’ boarding houses in Senior School and Sixth Form. They’re in the process of building three boarding houses at the moment, a brand new one for girls, and two replacements for boys, which they plan to be ready for September 2017.
There’s a housemaster or housemistress running each boarding house, and a real effort is made to create a family atmosphere. There’s an activity programme at the weekends, although that’s optional and there’s always time for relaxation and quiet time. All the full boarders attend a Sunday evening gathering in the chapel, reflecting on the coming week and other issues of general interest.
The Independent Schools Inspectorate, at their last inspection in 2013 (with another due soon) rated their boarding provision “highly commended,” and I got the impression that they were very proud of what they had to offer and tried to personalise both the experience and the facilities to support their boarders.
Pre-Prep ranges from £2,804 to £2,859 per term. Prep runs from £4,329 for a day pupil in years 3-4, to £4,852 for years 5-8. In the Senior School, years 9-11 are £6,065 for a day pupil, and £6,120 in the Sixth Form.
Boarders’ fees range from £6,325 to £6,868 (weekly) / £6,394 to £6.937 (full) for Prep pupils; £9,061 (weekly) / £9,151 (full) in Senior School; and £9,116 (weekly) / £9,206 (full) in the Sixth Form. Flexi-boarding ranges from £48 to £59 a night. The fees are slightly higher for Overseas Boarders.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: a great all-round education, with every opportunity for a child to find his or her particular talent and then run with it. There’s loads going on, and lots of freedom within to explore and discover. The facilities are fantastic, and the pupils are encouraged to make the very most of them. While there are various entry points, there’s a great opportunity there for real continuity. The presence of a number of overseas boarders really gives the College an international feel that I think is a huge advantage.
Not for: Boarding clearly isn’t for everyone, but boarders and day pupils are completely integrated. Class sizes are small, which is good, but it is a big place — which some students will relish and others might not enjoy so much.
Don’t take my word for it! The next Prep School Open Day is Saturday 12 Nov. And in the mean time, you can always request a prospectus and see what it’s like for yourself. They’re always happy to answer questions and show you round.