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Academic culture thriving. Focused on a love of learning for its own sake. Quirky academic opportunities abound in sixth form. Dulwich Diploma encourages A level depth with something more like IB breadth - boys produce a 2000 word independent essay. All pupils take A level Plus, a programme of university-stye cross-departmental electives including American Studies, Gender Studies, Page to Stage. Arts, music and co-curricular are outstanding. Work around community and sustainability is now...

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What the school says...

Founded in 1619 by Edward Alleyn, Dulwich College our primary duty is to ensure that all our pupils fulfil their academic potential. We aim to inspire our pupils, and to build the confidence required to explore beyond the boundaries of the curriculum. Learning for its own sake is encouraged alongside focused and dedicated study.

We look to provide a wide range of sporting, cultural and adventurous activities for pupils to enjoy and through which they can learn to work co-operatively and to take a lead. Within its 70 acre site Dulwich Colleges excellent facilities support both the boys formal studies and their activities outside the classroom. Boys are encouraged to participate in expeditions and community-based activities.

Every boy is allocated to one of the eight Houses which encourages a fierce but healthy loyalty. The House system also supports the pastoral care of the boys. Boys proceed from Dulwich to the most competitive of universities, in the UK and in the world, and thereafter into all the major professions. The College has a long standing reputation for producing some of the finest actors, musicians, sportsmen and writers in the country.
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Curricula

Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.

Sports

Rowing

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Master

Since 2009, Dr Joseph (Joe) Spence BA PhD (50s). Previously headmaster of Oakham School. Before that, 10 years as housemaster to the King’s scholars at Eton College. Studied modern history and politics.

Grammar school educated, Dr Spence is vocal on education as a vehicle of social mobility – on a ‘social mission’ to attract pupils and staff from every background. Inspirational (not a word that we bandy around), sincere (without a hint of worthiness) and ambitious (but for the school rather than for himself). Generous in his praise for his team and quick to give credit where it’s due. Parents describe his approach as ‘grown-up’, ‘level’, ‘considered’. Appears to wear his responsibilities lightly, though, and brings a sense of fun to even the meatiest of topics – gives a rousing assembly, we hear.

Very excited by the ‘fantastic cauldron of south London’ that the school sits within. Leads the Southwark Schools’ Learning Partnership, a network of independent and maintained schools collaborating to provide opportunities for students and teachers to learn from each other. Also works closely with Springboard charity to broaden access – ‘Only with social mobility will come social amelioration’, he says. Proud of bursary candidates’ Oxbridge success, but is ‘not trying to make people into little bourgeois imitations – we want boys to keep a bit of where they’re from’. ‘Diversity within staff is coming’, he says, ‘and candidates of colour are now coming through fields successfully’.

Married to a lawyer, with two sons and daughter, he still finds time to keep his own intellectual life alive – book-lined study bears testament to his love of history, drama, music, art and literature, and particularly all things Irish. Writes creatively (‘happy to write a libretti overnight for the right commission’ – one played on Radio 3 just recently). Mentors extended projects from SSLP and state-school educated Art History Link-Up students. Describes commitment to ‘free learning’ as ‘my vision of what an independent education can be’ – embracing ‘those supra-curricular opportunities, that intellectual hinterland free of the constrictions of curriculum’.

Entrance

Not ultra-elite, but a high bar. 'We’re committed to the top 15 per cent or so academically’, students bringing different strengths, who will ‘take hold of and enjoy the co-curricular’. At 11+, half of the 75 boys arrive from Dulwich College Junior School, others from primaries and preps. Letter from a registered professional needed to ensure appropriate SEN arrangements for entrance exam. At 13+ mainly prep feeders.

Exit

Less than 10 per cent leaves after GCSEs. Majority who stay progress primarily to Russell Group universities. Imperial, King’s College London, LSE, UCL, Bristol, Bath, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter and Warwick all popular recently, in addition to drama and art foundation courses and degree apprenticeships. Nineteen to Oxbridge in 2021, plus seven medics. Increasing focus on global destinations, particularly the US. In 2021, students headed off to University of Virginia, University of Hamburg, Hong Kong University, University of Liden, University of Canterbury (New Zealand), IE (Spain), University of California, Georgetown University, Georgia Tech, La Salle College of the Arts (Singapore), Penn State University, McGill NYU, ETHZ (Zuric)h and Nanyang Technological University (China).

Latest results

School not releasing 2021 results. In 2020, 97 per cent 9-7 at I/GCSE. In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 84 per cent 9-7 at I/GCSE; 63 per cent A*/A at A level/Pre-U (86 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Academic culture thriving. Focused on a love of learning for its own sake. ‘We don’t strain for everyone to get nine 9s’; accordingly, plenty of 7s at GCSE and the odd 6 too. Sciences, English, maths, history and art all do well. At A level, maths most popular by far (large numbers add further maths), followed by physics, history, economics, chemistry. Lots of A*s in chemistry, English literature, geography, Latin and further maths. Over a third of teachers there for over 10 years though new faces get the thumbs up from parents, who describe staff as ‘hugely committed’: ‘they understand a boy’s potential’ and ‘set the bar high’.

Free learning underpins everything – ‘free from the syllabus, free from the constraints of the curriculum and freely engaged in by boys and teachers’. ‘It’s the interesting bits that usually happen in the crevices of the timetable’, Dr Spence explains – essay projects, competitions, debate – ‘but embedded within the school day’. Thoughtful approach to teaching and learning, with boys researching a new topic independently before discussing it in a ‘flip’ lesson; individual mini-whiteboards enable teachers to assess understanding at a glance.

Only setting is in maths and languages. ‘Idea of mixed ability pervades everything’, says deputy master, who believes that setting stifles potential growth by pigeonholing students. Separate sciences for everyone up to IGCSE. Boys seeking further intellectual stretch between years 7 and 11 can enrol on the lively scholars' programme.

Languages strong. French, Spanish, Chinese and Latin taught in lower school, with German, Italian and ancient Greek added later. Japanese, Arabic, Russian and Turkish off-timetable. Appealing language trips, including exchanges, with boys considerately settled in host families in pairs. School supports National MFL SCITT (Schools’ Centred Initial Teacher Training).

Quirky academic opportunities abound in sixth form. Dulwich Diploma encourages A level depth with something more like IB breadth – boys produce a 2000 word independent essay. All pupils take A level Plus, a programme of university-stye cross-departmental electives including American studies, gender studies, Page to Stage. Pupils engage in subject extension classes, cleverly branded eg ‘further physics’ rather than ‘Oxbridge physics’ to encourage wider engagement. Boys take advantage of national and international competitions, essay prizes and the lectures and provision that London offers.

Liberal studies taught alongside girls from JAGS and Sydenham, allowing everyone to learn in a co-ed environment – modern poetry, bookbinding, Italian cinema and ballroom dancing available. Annual Symposium comprises keynote speakers and workshops around a theme, recently ‘Consumption’, ‘Tradition and Innovation’ and ‘Uncertainty’.

Learning support and SEN

Four well-qualified learning support teachers shared with the junior school, providing support to those 20 per cent of boys with a diagnosed learning difficulty. Eight per cent receive EAL support via two dedicated teachers.

The arts and extracurricular

Arts, music and co-curricular are outstanding. Offering has been rationalised recently – ‘the breadth has always been there, but consistency of approach was needed’. Philosophy behind it is voluntarism – ‘boys are there because they want to be there’, though the school tracks who’s been turning up to what.

A rich theatrical tradition (Edward Alleyn was a big name in theatre). Won a performing arts award in 2019. Lots of London theatre trips, plus three drama festivals and 24 performance pieces annually. Work ranges from low-key and topical (year 8 ‘ocean pollution’-themed puppetry) to colourful, energetic crowd-pleasers (like Guys and Dolls and Grease). Photos of past productions suggest enormous fun was had.

Sophisticated art department engages on a high academic level and balances use of new technology with recognition that hand drawing remains key. No gimmicks. We saw exuberant classes housed in light, bright facilities. Students use film, photography, printmaking and sculpture alongside canvas. Pieces are consistently thoughtful, often thought-provoking. Comic club and blank canvas club open to all. Artists-in-residence series, currently Anne Desmet RA (wood engraver) and Cecilia McDowall (composer).

Numbers learning instruments peak in the lower school at 45 per cent. All musicians celebrated, from enthusiastic beginners to leaders of section in the National Youth Orchestra or principals at Glyndebourne and the ENO. Shiny suites for music technology and acoustic percussion; small and large practice areas. The fully sound-insulated electric ‘shed’ would be a great place to let rip with the electric guitar, if only we were cool enough to know how.

Myriad clubs and societies during long lunch breaks and after school. Debaters consider issues of justice, equality, and equity in global and local contexts, learning the art of influence in meaningful and purposeful ways. Busy competitions programme - boys debate these issues with peers from a variety of schools and backgrounds. College continues to produce world class debaters who win major tournaments and are often included in the England team. Debating also seen as a place where everyone who is interested can find community and voice, building confidence.

Work around community and sustainability is now embedded into the wellbeing syllabus rather than being an optional add-on electric ‘shed’ ‘it’s fundamental to the foundation of the school’. College is building local partners ‘rather than supporting them for a term and then disappearing’ - boys and staff take these responsibilities seriously. College off-timetable for ‘service day’ each year, from DUCKS all the way up to sixth form. Boys involved with the usual visits to primary schools and care homes, but also support the council with upkeep of local parks and graveyards.

Sport

Year 7 is considered a time when skills are built and sports tried for the first time; rugby, football, hockey and cricket are all compulsory. By year 8 choices emerge eg can drop rugby for fencing. No single sport is compulsory in the middle school but a plethora of teams lure lots in – skiing, rowing, fives, squash, cross-country and basketball, to name but a few. Boys can try golf, rock-climbing, self-defence, taekwondo and rugby 7s. Sixth formers still very involved, sometimes even officiating or coaching; they can also try croquet, horse riding or sailing. Cyclists use the superb facilities at Herne Hill velodrome.

Seventy acres of playing fields. Although rugby is the highest profile, the school points out that it is just one of many successful sports. High Performance Programme compulsory for sports scholars but open to all who demonstrate ability and potential. Boys represent GB in a range of sports. House competitions encourage everyone to take part.

Boarders

Two-thirds of boarders are in the sixth form, majority from China and Hong Kong but also Eastern Europe. Parents praised integration of overseas boarders and day boys, who are invited to fun socials including a Chinese New Year dinner. Four boarding houses are all on campus: modernised period houses decorated with OA sporting team photos. Quite basic in our view, smallish rooms with less than luxurious ensuite bathrooms, but unlikely to worry teenage boys intent on studying and playing hard surrounded by friends. Common rooms with large screen for movie nights, table football and toasters. Now offers flexi-boarding.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1619 by wealthy actor and businessman, Edward Alleyn, who set up and endowed the Foundation, which includes Dulwich College, JAGS and Alleyn’s on a rolling manorial estate which William Blake later enjoyed visiting.

The college moved to its present site in the 1870s - a gracious and intriguing south London landmark. The Grade II listed buildings, designed by celebrated architect Charles Barry Junior (his father designed the Houses of Parliament), are rather lovely - a handsome Palladian structure with some twiddly bits added. The modern buildings forming a large part of the teaching spaces are functional if lacking in charm - possibly a bit depressing on a grey day. The Lord George Building which houses the Upper School Centre feels fresher, including the youthful and trendy Ned’s Place, spacious and bright common rooms and popular ‘work room’ which is well-stocked with banks of computers.

The Laboratory, costing over £21m, opened in 2016. Led by prestigious Grimshaw Architects – Cutty Sark, the Eden Project – it includes a 240-seat auditorium, five IT suites and 18 glassy labs. ‘Boys can embark on their own adventures in learning’ in this space, which is intended to unite arts and sciences. The Landscape Plan, already underway, is redeveloping the centre of the campus, replacing the car park with ‘reflective spaces for the boys’. A wildlife boundary on the edge of the site has been established and 1,000 trees now grow across the campus. Ambitious plans are now also underway to regenerate the Lower and Junior Schools.

Dulwich College International now consists of seven schools across China, South Korea and Singapore, as well as two more established in conjunction with Chinese schools. The 2019 Dulwich Olympiad was a celebration in London of sport, drama, music and art with 900 students representing all the Dulwich schools. The master is clear, though, that Dulwich in London is his absolute focus and ‘has delegated all but top-level sign-off’.

Sartorial traditions are big but not taken too seriously. Boys and OAs enjoy the complexities of who wears which blazer or tie, but not in a pompous or snobbish way. Stripey ‘colours’ blazers awarded in recognition of achievement. Ties come in all sorts of jazzy colours depending on society or event. Boys wear the uniform with pride (though plenty of untucked shirts, of course - they’re still teenage boys).

School lunches have had a makeover. Salad bar, jacket potatoes and pasta available every day with a rota of more exotic main courses including shakshuka, stroganoff or curry.

Alumni include Chiwetel Ejiofor, Raymond Chandler, PG Wodehouse, Nigel Farage, Lionel Barber, Sir Ernest Shackleton (would be quite the school reunion).

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Although the school is large, boys feel they know each other within their year. Transition points handled thoughtfully, ensuring boys get to bond with each other, for instance on a Welsh adventure when joining the lower school. Those that have known each other since DUCKS or the Juniors mix well with new joiners. Houses named after great Tudors, a rich collection of swashbucklers, romantics and men of letters. Wooden boards throughout the school see Drake, Spenser et al jostling for position – house competitions facilitate both friendships and rivalry.

We visited at a very challenging time for the school, just as the Everyone’s Invited website hit the press and pushed Dulwich, alongside others, into headlines with anonymous accounts of sexual harassment by students from the school. The school has been happy to discuss it; Dr Spence confronted it head-on both in public announcements and in communications with current parents, who praised him for his ‘characteristically balanced, level-headed, non-hysterical’ approach. We spoke to parents about the school - are they aware of a ‘rape culture’, as the website claimed? We got the sense that the school was once quite a macho place but had softened. Rugby does not rule as it used to, and the behaviour sometimes associated with it seems not to be an issue; perhaps it once was, but the school is a different place now. The concept of ‘positive masculinity’ has been discussed within wellbeing sessions for a while, long before Everyone’s Invited emerged.

Pastoral team switched-on and relatable. Warm, sensible (female) pastoral head told us that ‘one of the positives of being a boys’ school is the boys can be precisely who they want to be - there are no genderish subjects’. Dedicated head of wellbeing, ‘excellent’ school counsellor and five division heads make up her team. Every form tutor delivers wellbeing lessons weekly. ‘Consent, teenage drinking, feminism, sexual health – if you’re having those conversations with your form tutor then it’s not embarrassing to bring it up if you’re worried about yourself or a friend’, the school told us even before Everyone’s Invited broke. School considering introducing a sports psychologist and CBT.

Annual Dulwich College Identity Awareness Month – DC I AM – involves a series of events around ‘who we are and our respect for difference’. Big focus on LGBTQ+ issues with ‘powerful’ boy-led events showing ‘it’s OK to be out’. This year’s ended with a community curry cookalong during lockdown: ‘we got this guy who runs a community curry club to cook a five course curry – the whole community, parents, boys, staff, were on screen cooking together – such a funny night.’ Diversity and Inclusion Alliance created in response to BLM (‘we had always quietly thought about it but we’d not properly grasped what needed to be done’) - run by an English teacher who also sits in on every staff recruitment interview. School has started ‘looking at the opportunities [candidates] didn’t have’ when assessing CVs, and actively looking to recruit a diverse teaching body, ‘to allow boys to feel represented positively’.

Expectations around behaviour and respect are high. School takes a tough line on bullying. Any problems with punctuality, organisation or effort are flagged very quickly with the daily report system. Gross misconducts such as possession of drugs or bullying would result in consideration for exclusion, whether fixed-term or permanent, rather than an automatic exclusion.

Pupils and parents

Socially inclusive. A culturally and ethnically diverse population, augmented by the boarders though lots of multilingual day children too. ‘It takes boys who are sporty, academic, musical, artistic and a mixture of all those things. If your child is gifted in one area, they will soar here. If they are a good all-rounder they will be encouraged to be a great all-rounder,' said a parent. It may come as a surprise to find that parents describe each other typically as ‘a good bunch of mixed, non-stuffy parents’, ‘un-snobbish and not cliquey’. Many families local, but Foundation coaches come from as far as Notting Hill, Canary Wharf, Wimbledon and Chislehurst.

Money matters

Nearly a third of boys have some financial assistance – two-thirds of these from scholarships; the rest from bursaries. Up to 105 per cent fee remission available on a means-tested basis. Parents feel the school offers excellent value for money. Exciting times ahead as a needs-blind future, championed by the master, will see up to 50 per cent of students on financial support. A protective measure against becoming a school for the global super-rich, certainly, but Dr Spence freely admits it is ‘enlightened self-interest’, too. Partly funded by OAs keen to give something back, it sits very well in this already socially enlightened place.

The last word

Don’t be fooled. Dulwich may be 400 years old, but the approach to learning and co-curricular is bang up to date. PG Wodehouse (known as ‘Plum’ to his schoolmates) described his time there as ‘six years of unbroken bliss’ – thanks to an ambitious bursary scheme, this privilege will now be available to the brightest from all backgrounds. Academic, yes, but not elitist. A super school for busy boys with inquiring minds.

Please note: Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

'The College has a Learning Support Department. This provides support for any boy who needs help as he engages with the College's academic programme, which is designed for boys in the top 15-20% of the national academic range.'

Who came from where


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