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.
We first visited Bishop’s Stortford College in November last year. This review has been updated in August 2017, a week after the A Level results and the day after the GCSE results.
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, 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 provision for girl boarders as well as replacements for both boys’ boarding houses and a boys’ day house. All the boarders will be able to enjoy en-suite bathroom facilities! The grand opening of the boarding houses is this autumn.
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 soon to open) 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 school pupil Elinah Philip last 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.
Earlier this year, 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 70% A*/A and 99.4% A*/C. The new Maths grading has resulted in 8% of the students garnering 9, the new top grade, with the national average being 3.5 %. For A Level, this year has been described as a ‘vintage year’ for the students. The pass rate is 100%, with a quarter of the students celebrating A* grades and 37% gaining at least three or more A/A* grades. This year, 82% of students will be going to their firm choice uni. Degrees include sports rehabilitation at Hull, zoology at Bristol and Criminology at Durham.
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.
The College organises an annual, week-long Festival of Literature each February, now in its 9th year. Next year, the programme includes Ian McMillan and Sarah Outen. The wonderful James Mayhew will join the School Orchestra for one of his spectacular painting to live music performances that have to be seen (and listened to) to be believed.
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. Three new boarding houses are being completed at the moment, a brand new one for girls, and two replacements for boys, soon to open in Autumn 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.
Pre-Prep ranges from £2,915 to £2,972 per term. Prep runs from £4,500 for a day pupil in years 3-4, to £5,044 for years 5-8. In the Senior School, years 9-11 are £6,305 for a day pupil, and £6,362 in the Sixth Form.
Boarders’ fees range from £6,670 to £7,242 (weekly) / £6,742 to £7,315 (full) for Prep pupils; £9,555 (weekly) / £9,650 (full) in Senior School; and £9,613 (weekly) / £9,708 (full) in the Sixth Form. Flexi-boarding ranges from £59 a night to £202 for four 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 is Saturday 11 November, 9.45am. 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.