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'There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night, Ten to make and the match to win' – lines written by Clifton headmaster Henry Newbolt in 1881 about the beautiful Clifton cricket pitch. 'Watching my son play cricket on the Close is just incredible,' said one father. 'He is so proud to wear the kit.' Each day begins in the impressive chapel with a hymn and an assembly led by a different department. Although robustly Anglican, there's also a synagogue as part of the school's Jewish heritage and students of all faiths or none are accommodated...

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

Other features

Music and dance scheme - government funding and grants available to help with fees at selected independent music and dance schools.

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.


Unusual sports





What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2016, Dr Tim Greene MA DPhil (Oxon), who was interim head during the spring term before being appointed head in March 2016. He came to Clifton as head of chemistry in 2006, becoming deputy head (academic) in 2013. He read chemistry, took his DPhil and subsequently became a senior research fellow in inorganic chemistry at Oxford. In 2001, he joined the chemistry department at Exeter University, moving into secondary education at Queen's College, Taunton, in 2005 as head of chemistry. He is married to Lydia Massiah and they have three sons.

Academic matters

Academic profile of the school has sharpened, resulting in dramatic improvements in GCSE and A level results. 'We have established a new benchmark in terms of expectations,' said head. In 2017, 76 per cent A*-B, 48 per cent A*/A at A level. At I/GCSE, 68 per cent A*-A/9-7 grades. Success attributed to tougher entrance requirements at all levels and recruitment of very high calibre teachers, including an Oxford don and a research fellow. 'We have some fantastic young subject specialists among our staff. This is a competitive neck of the woods – we have to be on our mettle.' As well as keeping up with Bristol day schools, Clifton now feels it can match many of the top independent schools. Science has always been strong – several Nobel Prizewinners among alumni. Excellent facilities over three floors of the school science building, including the Stone Library, with more than 5,000 science titles. Classics also enjoying a resurgence.

English has been something of a poor relation, but changes expected since the opening in 2015 of a new centre for the subject and for modern foreign languages. Aim is for it to have a university atmosphere, with seminar rooms and a cafeteria. Broad range of subjects on offer in third form (Y9) and fourth and fifth forms (Y10-11). Thirty A level subjects as well as a range of supplementary subjects (sector E) to further develop strengths and interests. Sixth form growing rapidly – now makes up half the school. EAL lessons are provided where needed and additional classes can be purchased. Individual support for students with dyslexia and other specific learning needs is provided to improve literacy and numeracy and exam skills. Independent learning department, with its own head, is in a separate building to ease stress.

Games, options, the arts

'There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night, Ten to make and the match to win' – lines written by Clifton former pupil Henry Newbolt in 1881 about the beautiful Clifton cricket pitch. Seven years later, AEJ Collins scored 628 not out there in a house match, and WG Grace also played on the turf. No wonder cricket is still a major draw: 'Watching my son play cricket on the Close is just incredible,' said one father. 'He is so proud to wear the kit.' Four ex-county cricketers on the staff providing high-standard coaching for boys and girls, and school has firm links with Gloucestershire CCC. School is the site of the the oldest English inter-school contest in the game of rugby, Clifton College vs Marlborough, the Governor's Cup. Clifton won the 150th anniversary contest recently; trophy presented by Old Cliftonian John Inverdale. It was noted that the rules of the game might have changed since the original 20-a-side fixture, but the rivalry had not. Swimming pool, gym and other sporting facilities on site but most of the games provision is over the Clifton suspension bridge at the school's 90-acre Beggar's Bush grounds. These include a water-based hockey pitch, 3G rugby pitch and a netball and tennis dome. Hockey for girls and boys also of high standard; Lily Owsley won first full international cap while still at the school and was part of the gold medal-winning GB team at the Rio Olympics. Real tennis, racquets, fives, water polo, chess, fencing … the list goes on. Lots of outdoor pursuits, CCF, trips, expeditions 'developing the whole child'.

Music is also integral – 'It's in the fabric of the school, embedded, starting in the Pre (prep school). We have an absolutely brilliant music department. Music is seen as a cool thing to do.' Outstanding facilities for recording and practice in the Joseph Cooper Music School. More than half of pupils take instrumental lessons, and they have a wide range of opportunities to perform – chapel, recital hall, theatre – in classical, jazz, blues and many other styles, both solo and in orchestras and ensembles. Alumnus violinist Julia Hwang, BBC Young Musician of the Year finalist, won a scholarship to Cambridge and recently two students won organ scholarships to Oxford. Singing prominent too; chamber choir one of many opportunities. Links with Bristol Old Vic Theatre School provide opportunities for students, as does the Redgrave Theatre, named after former pupil Sir Michael Redgrave. Annual college musical and Shakespeare play are highlights of the school year. New dance studio with sprung floor. Students have talents in art too; Clifton has won the annual Bristol schools' art competition for six years out of nine. DT has been transformed and is now 'more girl-friendly, linked to art rather than a subset of engineering', including graphic design, CAD-CAM and resistant materials. Photography (school has its own darkroom), sculpture and ceramics also popular.


The school offers day, flexi and full boarding, with the latest trend towards full boarding, often even for those whose family homes are nearby. A total of 11 day and boarding houses for the upper school – with more girls' houses now because of increasing demand. There's a continual programme to upgrade the boarding houses, with the girls and boys often given a say over décor and furnishings. Even parents get involved, helping to upgrade a garden area, for example. Spacious communal facilities, with lots of games and activities. House singing competitions and plays keep them all pretty busy. 'It's full on; you never get bored,' a pupil told us. Some pupils complained to inspectors that there were too many evening and weekend activities, but it was judged that there were 'appropriate facilities to be alone or to mix informally with friends should they so wish'.

Staff are very sensitive to individual needs and provide a listening ear, and the pupils support one another. 'It's like an extended family, with sisterly relationships.' Houseparents also celebrate personal achievements as well as academic – one has initiated a 'Good Egg' honours board. The dorms are equipped with robust, good quality furniture that can also be used to provide some personal space. Younger pupils are in rooms of up to six, while GCSE students are in threes and sixth-formers in twins or singles. Children swap rooms every term. The houses include kitchen and laundry areas and pupils are encouraged to be increasingly independent.

Background and atmosphere

Describes itself as a traditional British public school with modern teaching values. Founded in 1862 as a 'public school for the people of Bristol' and housed in imposing Victorian buildings. German and Russian families particularly attracted by the 'English boarding school experience package – and we certainly tick the Hogwarts box'. Each day begins in the impressive chapel with a hymn and an assembly led by a different department. Although robustly Anglican, there's also a synagogue as part of the school's Jewish heritage and students of all faiths or none are accommodated. You can wander the cloisters and see team sheets posted on carved wooden boards – though, crucially, the information is also available online. There's a sixth form common room in the Crypt – and how many schools have their own Armoury? The Percival Library is the highlight – 15,000 books on carved wooden shelves, some adorned with fairy lights. A whole wall of titles about or by Old Cliftonians from John Cleese to Earl Haig. During our visit there was a wonderful Alice in Wonderland theme, including a curtain of playing cards, but the 21st century is represented too, with a 3D printer in the library and some excellent DT creations on display in modern cabinets. Dictionaries in many languages are a necessity. Three full-time professional librarians manage physical and digital stock and periodicals and run activities including film clubs, book clubs, creative writing clubs, competitions and events. Lessons still take place on Saturdays, followed by matches. Saturday brunch, a recent innovation, has gone down well with pupils. All food is tasty and ample and the catering operation is impressive.

'There is a perception of Clifton as “the toffs on the hill” and I think we have softened that image,' said Mr Milne. He is determined to continue to break down barriers and ensure his pupils realise how fortunate they are and how important it is to care for others. 'We are very much changed, more engaging and more accessible. We can't afford to follow what we did 50 or 70 years ago. The thing I am most proud of is the way social impact has taken off in the prep school,' he said. 'We have always been charity minded but we are taking a step further than cake sales.' As well as working with organisations such as Fairbridge and Prince's Trust, the school runs a unique project called 'Colour My Life' in which staff, parents and some children redecorate and refurbish a home for an underprivileged family, Changing Rooms-style. 'It is one of the most meaningful things we have done. It changes children's outlooks dramatically.'

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

House masters and mistresses are the lynchpins, leading a team of tutors, matrons and support staff. Pupils of all ages know exactly where to go if they need help or advice and are hugely appreciative of the way they are looked after at school. The school has its own medical centre too. Parents seem happy with the systems in place to let them know what's happening. A comprehensive handbook outlines rules, sanctions and guidelines for so many eventualities. To an outside observer, it's a fascinating mix of ancient and modern: rustication, exeats and removing hands from pockets when passing through the Memorial Arch through to policies on the use of 'legal highs' and dietary supplements. Changes in ICT require all schools to be constantly on the alert; while Skyping mum and dad from the other side of the world is an obvious boon, the use of Wifi enabled devices also presents many challenges.

And, sadly, it's nothing new. Clifton was rocked by the arrest in 2014 of a housemaster who had been downloading indecent images. He was jailed and the school described his actions as an 'unforgivable breach of trust' and an 'affront to our values'. Specialist education lawyers were appointed to ensure best practice over safeguarding and child protection, partly in response to an unannounced ISI inspection in July 2015 that found some written procedures were not up to date, but a reinspection in January 2016 gave it the thumbs up. Parents we spoke to all said they were satisfied with the way college had responded to the matter. 'I think they’ve handled it well - changes are visible but not obtrusive,' said one.

Pupils and parents

More than 40 nationalities in the school. No one overseas group is dominant. China is the biggest – not Russia, as sometimes perceived. The Russians that do come are from wealthy but not oligarchical backgrounds. Hong Kong has always been strong, these days from both expat Brit and Chinese families. Biggest growth is in children from Western Europe – often with parents working at Airbus in Bristol or EDF in Somerset. Reputation of Bristol as a lively European city, with a wide mix of entrepreneurs and innovators, is a draw. Proximity of the airport makes the school accessible from around the globe. Very able students from countries such as Ukraine are being drawn to Clifton by word of mouth: 'It's a quality rather than a quantity argument for us. Our brand recognition is higher in some countries than in the UK, maybe because we are not inside the M25.'

As one pupil said, having native MFL and Mandarin speakers is a great help when it comes to homework and practising for oral exams. 'We have friends from all over the world.' one pupil observed. This is seen as an asset by many Bristol parents, including doctors, lawyers and other professionals. Proportion of girls in the school continues to increase – now around 40 per cent.

Sixth form has mushroomed; big demand for places, especially for girls. Parents see it as a conduit to the top universities. British families love the life-enriching experience of mixing with brilliant young people from around the world and gaining a global address book. 'The education is excellent, but it is the contacts and opportunities the children are getting that make Clifton stand out,' said one father. Students from some countries struggle a bit with cricket, but football proves a lingua franca and there is a multinational team. 'Our international dimension is one of the great strengths of the school.' Diverse, eclectic. Broader mix of social and economic backgrounds than in some similar schools, thanks to 100 per cent bursaries, which enable sons and daughters of taxi drivers to mingle happily with wealthy offspring of Old Cliftonians. Day and boarding is about a 50/50 split. This, coupled with the position within walking distance of the city centre, enables the school and its staff and pupils to be closely linked with the community.

Alumni include John Cleese, Simon Russell Beale, W G Grace and Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch.


Most join the senior school from the prep school, after taking an entrance exam of the same standard as common entrance. Some bring scholarships awarded at 11+. Additional scholarships available at 13+. External candidates for common entrance or common scholarship at age 13 now pre-tested in year 7. Entry to the sixth form usually conditional on achieving three A/7 grades and three B/6 grades at GCSE, plus an English language paper for overseas students.


Around 20 per cent leave after GCSEs and others join. Four Oxbridge places in 2017 and four medics/vets. Small number to overseas universities. Other destinations include UCL, Imperial, LSE also London School of Fashion, Central St Martins and the Vienna Conservatoire.

Money matters

Academic, art, music, organ and sport scholarships and awards for up to 25 per cent of fees are offered on merit at 13+ and for sixth form and means-tested bursaries up to 100 per cent of fees are available.

Our view

Visiting Clifton on a sunny day, the setting is almost too perfect. Among Bristol residents, the college is often viewed as full of rich, rugby kids with little grasp on the realities of life. But these stereotypes go nowhere near telling the story of the school. Whatever their backgrounds, the students are aware that the privileges they enjoy go way beyond the material. They are courteous and respectful - and modest about their frequently incredible achievements. Many of them are fluent in two or three languages. We met a brilliant young Somali boy from a disadvantaged area of Bristol who loves astronomy, intends to become an inventor and has settled in wonderfully to the school. Excellent prospectus gives a flavour – but explore the extensive website to get the widest perspective on life at Clifton College in the second decade of the 21st century.

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Special Education Needs

Clifton College is able to make learning support provision for pupils who have a range of specific difficulties including Aspergers, ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia. The learning support department offers timetabled group lessons and chargeable individual lessons based on the specific needs of each pupil.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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