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Robert Gordons College

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What is included in the Robert Gordon's College review?

Academic results & facilities
Up to date results for GCSEs, A levels, BTECs and IB; we go to places league tables can’t reach.

Pastoral care and inclusivity
From how the school reacts when something goes wrong to how they tackle thorny issues like substance abuse, consent and mental health. We check they’ve got it all covered.

Fees, scholarships & bursary information
An independent education is a major commitment; our review enables you to compare everything from fees to hidden costs, as well as giving detailed information on scholarships and bursaries.

Information about the head
Our unparalleled access to the head teacher means we can tell you exactly what to expect when you meet them – from leadership style right down to the décor of their study and what they’re currently reading.

Teaching and learning approaches

Entrance & admissions information

Exit information - where do the children go next?

Learning support & SEN information

Arts, sports and extracurricular

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What says..

School follows the Scottish curriculum throughout, with the addition of classical Greek at GSCE and A level. Languages thrive, with French, German, Spanish and Mandarin from junior school, then Latin and classical Greek added in senior school. Science is huge, with university-standard science building biggest in the UK, formerly part of Robert Gordon University, with its own cloud chamber in the physics department (‘the only way to see sub-atomic particles in the classroom,’ the teacher told us). New-ish performing arts centre (with all the bells and whistles, including digital recording tech) is home to the annual school shows, each...

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  • Robert Gordon's College
    Schoolhill
    Aberdeen
    AB10 1FE
  • Head: Mr Robin Macpherson
  • T 01224 646346
  • F 01224 630301
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.rgc.aberdeen.sch.uk
  • Robert Gordon's College is an independent school for boys and girls aged from 4 to 18. Day fees for Robert Gordon's College range from £11,200 - £16,465 pa and does not offer boarding. Want to know more? Access the Robert Gordon's College review.
  • Boarding: No
  • Local authority: Aberdeen City
  • Pupils: 1,527; sixth formers: 175
  • Religion: Non-denominational
  • Fees: £11,200 - £16,465 pa
  • Open days: October, November and December
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review

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Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head of college

Since September 2020, Robin Macpherson BA MSc FRSA. History degree from Oxford, master’s from Edinburgh, headship qualifications from Stirling. Son of the late Rev Allan Macpherson, former Chaplain at Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh, where he himself later taught history and was a boarding housemaster before tearing himself away to take on head of department posts at Repton Dubai and Wellington College, then as assistant rector at Dollar Academy. He has been an examiner for the SQA, the IBO and Edexcel (Pearson).

Parents tell us he is a ‘fantastic promoter of Robert Gordon’s’, saying he has ‘brought freshness’ and has youth on his side, as well as being ‘approachable’ and ‘visible’. ‘He’s everywhere and I love that.’

Influenced by Sir Anthony Francis Seldon - who ‘encouraged me to pick up my pen and begin my writing career’ – he is both a published author (most recently, The Teaching Life, co-authored with Kate Jones) and a frequent contributor to the national and educational press (eg on assessment reform and homophobic intolerance in the classroom). Diversity and equality are issues close to his heart, he says – and as such, he belongs to the Independent Schools Council’s inclusion and diversity working group and is a board member of the charity, Remembering Srebrenica Scotland, which tackles societal prejudice and intolerance (other memberships and fellowships are too long to list here but suffice to say he enjoys public speaking and both organising and attending conferences). He is also working towards broadening the backgrounds of the school’s governing body.

Any spare time is spent with his wife, who is from Afghanistan, and their two young children (both at the school) – whether it’s a beach trip in the North East, watching Netflix or enjoying football, running or golf.

Head of senior school: Since August 2021, Clare Smith MA PGDE, previously in the SLT at Wellington School, Ayrshire, and before that 14 years as teacher and head of year at Hutcheson’s Grammar School, Glasgow. Since joining RGC, she has led on the creation of a behaviour curriculum, refreshed school rules and introduced a no-phone policy. Married with two children.

Head of junior school: Since January 2024, Jane Tulloch, previously head of Auchenblae Primary School. Originally from the Orkney Islands, she began her teaching career at Lathallan Prep and has worked in primary education across the North East region. She has an MA in sociology, as well as a postgraduate diploma in primary education and the Into Headship postgraduate diploma, both from Aberdeen. Married with three children. Along with her husband, she has raised £85,000 for MND.

Entrance

From nursery by interview; those aged 9 or over sit a test, as do those entering senior school. Covid, the downturn in the oil industry and the cost-of-living crisis mean the school is not as oversubscribed as it once was – there were waiting lists for some year groups when we visited, but others were well under capacity, according to parents. Videos from staff are sent home to new starts in nursery to reduce any anxiety about starting – some children like them so much they watch them on repeat, we were told.

Exit

At 18+, virtually all to university, over 90 per cent staying in Scotland, notably Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Popular destinations south of the border include King's College London, Loughborough, Newcastle, Imperial, UCL, Manchester and Warwick. Two to Oxbridge in 2023. Usually a sprinkling overseas (one to Princeton in 2023). Engineering, economics and management, science, arts, law and medicine continue to be popular choices for courses, with nine medics and two vets in 2023. Occasional students gain a place at a conservatoire – one in 2023.

Latest results

In 2023, 95 per cent A-C at National 5; 85 per cent A/B at Higher; 76 per cent A/B at Advanced Higher. In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 96 per cent A-C at National 5; 85 per cent A/B at Higher; 67 per cent A/B at Advanced Higher.

Teaching and learning

‘Be all you can be’ is the school motto, evident from the tiniest of tots in the nursery with its two vibrant, inter-connecting playrooms and outdoor play area that form part of the College’s quadrangle, alongside the junior and senior schools. Nursery teachers (a quarter male) are committed to achieving a balance between play and learning through eg outdoor learning (storytelling dens, treasure hunts in the wooded area or free play at the playing fields at Countesswells) and weekly specialist subject teaching, sometimes over in the junior school to help with transitioning.

The junior school has the same modern, bright feel with airy classrooms, great views and walls covered in class project work – including a fantastic showcase of the P5s writing skills who had created individual pieces on the coronation of King Charles. In a P5 class, pupils were engaged by learning about sustainable development – again, splendid writing and reading work. Strong ethical leaning too – for example, they sent letters to Christopher Columbus to apologise on his behalf and to ‘set him straight’; they also read through readings of poem ‘Refugees’ by Brian Bilston which, when read backwards, turn out to have a message of tolerance and kindness. All such performances by the children are available to parents through QR codes in their jotters - a lovely touch that parents appreciate. iPads used from P7, but moderately, not as a distraction. Setting only in maths from P4.

School follows the Scottish curriculum throughout, with the addition of classical Greek at GSCE and A level. As such, the school offers the widest curriculum range in NE Scotland, with 32 subjects in S5, including economics, German, engineering, photography and psychology – plus music technology. Modern studies from end of S2.

Languages thrive, with French, German, Spanish and Mandarin from junior school, then Latin and classical Greek added in senior school. Pupils choose to continue one in S1, then add another in S2. The school has joined up with seven other schools worldwide to follow the Global Alliance for Innovative Learning (GAIL), with student conferences and exchange programmes on offer for all.

Science is huge, with university-standard science building biggest in the UK, formerly part of Robert Gordon University, with its own cloud chamber in the physics department (‘the only way to see sub-atomic particles in the classroom,’ the teacher told us). Lingering in a Nat 5 physics lesson, we saw the class take part in a stopping distance experiment with toy cars. The pupils were a little subdued, but understandably so, given that they had only just come out of the exam period. Sciences get the greatest uptake after maths and English, and a significant number do the Advanced Higher – although there were only three girls to 11 boys in the Nat 5 class we saw (school says this is unusual).

Robert Gordon’s College Online offers live-taught virtual courses in higher computing science and higher applications of mathematics to school pupils across Scotland with additional tech focussed self-study modules in AI, data science and machine learning, cyber security, game design, entrepreneurship and quantum computing. These tech modules are also available to S5 pupils.

Learning support and SEN

Emphasis on early intervention, with Support for Learning (SfL) teachers moving between the junior and senior schools to help identify potential problems and ensure continuity. In juniors, one-to-one classes are provided by the head of SfL. ‘The kids see it as something very cool to go and do,’ said a parent. In seniors, pupils are supported with literacy and numeracy during English and maths classes where needed, with either a qualified teacher or a classroom assistant working alongside the subject teacher. ‘They have the ability to make every child shine, come what may,’ said a parent. Praise too for the SFL teacher ‘always being at parents’ evenings’. Recent webinar on neurodiversity by the head was given the thumbs up, with one parent saying they ‘loved his ideas – we felt reassured every child has a place and will not be left on the shelf’. On our tour we saw bright umbrellas around the school in support of ADHD.

The arts and extracurricular

‘Don’t let the climb put you off,’ joked our tour guide as we approached the top floor art department. It’s worth the hike, with considerable artistic talent evident across a range of mediums, not least the Higher photography portfolio pieces, including a particularly good shot of a girl knitting in the library.

New-ish performing arts centre (with all the bells and whistles, including digital recording tech) is home to the annual school shows, each raising funds for chosen charities. We a saw a snippet of Six the Musical, showcasing some brilliant vocal talent. Auditions for main parts, wider roles open to everyone. Super opportunities behind the scenes too – our senior pupil tour guide was a dab hand on the decks in the sound studio.

Music also important. We observed lively singing rehearsals for the Aberdeen Big Sing, taking place in Duthie Park. They opened with a performance from the successful RGC pipe band – great participation from P3; ditto for drums and highland dancing. Besides the various choirs and bands, there are groups for, eg ukelele and recorder, and around a quarter of pupils have private lessons in singing or instruments – the latter starting from P3 with strings and chanter, then woodwind, brass, percussion, piano and guitar offered in the middle stages. Popular concert tour runs every two years – recently to Andalucia, Canada and USA; Italy up next. The school does well at the Aberdeen Musical Festival.

Clubs and societies popular, no more so than badminton, ROV, dancing, robotics, craft and business, education and enterprise. DofE is one of the largest in Scotland.

Sport

The most sporty school in the area, say parents. Bar swimming, which takes place on-site, most of it happens at the 40-acre Countesswells sports ground on the edge of the city, with Astros, water-based hockey pitch (used by international squads) and a plethora of rugby, football and cricket pitches. More in the pipeline too – some of which the school will share with the public, thus building community links.

Rugby and hockey remain the biggest sports – the only real change here is a recent emphasis on participation, as well as equality, with girls’ rugby and football and multisport on Saturdays for P1 to P4. There’s plenty more besides, but while this breadth is seen as major plus point by most parents, a couple had reservations about the danger of diluting the traditional sports. ‘RGC is the only school north of Dundee that offers rugby and hockey to a high level,’ said one. No need to worry, assures the head, who says rugby fixtures and participation have increased. Indeed, the school had its first-ever rugby 10s festival the year we visited, with teams coming from across the UK.

School is proud of its sports partnership with Robert Gordon University (RGU), with pupils benefiting both from their facilities, as well as accessing their expertise on eg ‘sports psychology, nutrition and coach education.’ The university also runs a ‘talented athlete programme’ which the school draws on for its elite, of which there are quite a few (19 pupils competed for their country at various sports in 2023).

Ethos and heritage

Born in Aberdeen in 1668, Robert Gordon made his fortune trading in the Baltic states. Wealthy, with no heirs, his ambition was to house and educate poor boys, and the resulting Gordon’s, as it’s known locally, has been a familiar city landmark ever since. But while the school has, for over a century, been confined to the northern side of the Georgian quadrangle (having gifted the rest to the Robert Gordon University in 1909), they’ve now got their land back, thanks to the university relocating to Garthdee. The additional space has enabled smaller class sizes, a new junior school and the relocation and expansion of the nursery, along with additional facilities for science and the arts.

The school has successfully traded its reputation of stuffiness and exclusivity for progressiveness and inclusivity – and although large, it feels quite intimate. We certainly felt a strong community feel on our visit – our S6 tour guide got more than one hug from younger pupils in the playground.

Some parent grumbles about staff re-organisation and turnover, but head says the restructure has helped keep costs down for parents and has ‘allowed us to set up head of department leadership roles with specialist teachers for the creative arts, languages, science and sport throughout’.

From S3, pupils can go out for lunch instead of school dinners but many choose to stay in school.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Parents describe the pastoral care as ‘excellent’. ‘They are fantastic people with the best interests of children at heart,’ said one. Good comms too from the pastoral team, who are ‘quick to respond, usually within hours of any queries’. Eight heads of guidance, same one throughout school life; ditto for form teacher. One parent said she felt ‘understood and listened to’ by the guidance teacher: ‘We had long conversations and lots of practical advice was given to try and help.’ Pupils say they feel known by staff, which they said really came through in their references for university. Wellbeing centre, with three rooms, for physical and mental health, each with a bed to lie down in – deals with issues from period pain to dealing with busy school life. All P7s and S6s are prefects, so everyone gets a leadership opportunity.

Serious disciplinary issues are rare and bullying is dealt with swiftly, with sanctions taken against children involved. New no-phone policy universally popular with parents and staff.

The school has an LGBTQ+ club, called the Alliance group, and EDI liaison groups that work with current and former pupils, parents, staff and some external advisors. Gender neutral uniforms recently introduced, with girls allowed to wear trousers and boys to wear kilts (though none choose to). Still high uniform standards, however – no staying in PE kit after games, for instance. Pupils say they feel listened to, eg during COP26 they campaigned for the ban of plastic bottles, and this continues with no single use plastics in the school.

Annual celebration for ‘Founder’s Day’ to commemorate Robert Gordon where pupils, staff and Gordonians from across the world come together to celebrate.

Pupils and parents

Pupils are confident, without being arrogant – and parent tell us the school shines at ‘drawing the best out of the shiest of pupils’. Lots of parents from medical, business, education and green sector backgrounds, alongside those receiving bursary support. Geographically, they hail from up to 40 miles outside the city, appreciating the wraparound care from 7.15am–6pm. As usually happens with a city centre location, parking around the school at drop off/pick up time can be tricky – but there is an arrangement with the multi-storey car park next door. Big drive to get parents back through the doors post-Covid, but parents’ evenings have remained digital and timed.

Money matters

Lower fee rises than other similar-sized schools in Scotland, in awareness of the current difficult economic situation. School is a significant provider of bursaries up to 100 per cent, with one in seven children in the senior school on some form of funding, two-thirds of them from BAME backgrounds.

The last word

Historic city-centre school with top academic standards, impressive facilities and progressive leadership. Parents say the school is hugely supportive and also appreciate the choice of subjects and sports to accommodate any interest or ability. Particularly lovely pupils with a strong sense of self.

Special Education Needs

Parents should contact the school directly to discuss provision for any additional educational needs. 09-09


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