Bishop’s Stortford College, East Herts
Muddy says: A top co-ed day and boarding school in East Herts with a dazzling array of facilities and a focus on the individual.
Bishop’s Stortford College is a co-ed independent school teetering on the Essex border, 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.
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.
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.
Four new Houses opened in Autumn 2017; Trotman House, a girls’ boarding house; Collett House, a boys’ day house; Rowe House, a new boys’ boarding house, and Robert Pearce House has been restored to its former glory following a fire in 2015. Boarders now enjoy en-suite bathroom facilities (*thud*).
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 same as the new day and boarding houses) 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 pupils – 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 in 2017 — 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 pupils 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, including Sixth Form student Elinah who swims at International level and competed in the 2016 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.
In early 2017, the College was inspected by the ISI and the overall judgement was ‘Excellent’. The inspectors said: ‘The school successfully meets its aim to be a place of learning with a broad and balanced curriculum that enables pupils to fulfil their potential in everything they undertake.’ Academic Achievement and Personal Development also scored high, both with ‘Excellent’. The levels of confidence and self-esteem in the pupils were also commented on, with the inspectors saying that they demonstrated resilience and are ‘determined to make the most of their abilities and potential.’
At GCSE, you’re looking at a 99% pass rate. This year’s results include 65% A*/A, or 9-7, and 95% A*/C or 9-5. The new grading has resulted in 24% of the pupils garnering 9, the new top grade, with the national average being 4.5 %. The College celebrated a 100% pass rate for A Level this year, with over a third of students gaining at least three or more A/A* grades and 53% A*-A grades. This year, 73% of students will be going to their firm choice uni. Degrees include English Literature at Durham, Architecture at UCL and Chemistry at Oxford.
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 pupils 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.
The College organises an annual, week-long Festival of Literature each February, now in its 10th year. In 2019 the programme includes Saira Hamilton and David Starkey. The wonderful Chris Riddell will join the School Orchestra for one of his spectacular illustrating to live music performances that have to be seen (and listened to) to be believed.
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. Two new boarding houses, one for girls and one for boys, and one new boys’ day house were completed in 2017, and one boys’ boarding house was fully restored in early 2018.
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.
Pre-Prep ranges from £3,030 to £3,089 per term. Prep runs from £4,678 for a day pupil in years 3-4, to £5,243 for years 5-8. In the Senior School, years 9-11 are £6,554 for a day pupil, and £6,613 in the Sixth Form.
Boarders’ fees range from £7,034 to £7,637 (weekly) / £7,109 to £7,714 (full) for Prep pupils; £10,076 (weekly) / £10,176 (full) in Senior School; and £10,137 (weekly) / £10,237 (full) in the Sixth Form. Flexi-boarding ranges from £116 for 2 nights to £175 for three nights. 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 Prep School Open Morning starts at 9:45am on Saturday 10 Nov. And in the meantime, 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.