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Bradfield College
  • Bradfield College
    Bradfield
    Berkshire
    RG7 6AU
  • Head: Dr Chris Stevens
  • T 01189 644516
  • F 01189 644511
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.bradfieldcollege.org.uk
  • Bradfield College is an English independent school for day and boarding pupils aged 13 to 18, located in the village of Bradfield, Berkshire. It educates over 700 boys and girls and was founded in 1850 by Thomas Stevens, rector and Lord of the Manor of Bradfield.
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: West Berkshire
  • Pupils: 812; sixth formers: 332
  • Religion: Church of England
  • Fees: Day £32,280; Boarding £40,350 pa
  • Open days: Tours every Saturday morning during term time. To book please contact the school Admissions office
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What says..

Last time we were here we said, ‘A school that is, without question, on the up’. We can now report that ‘up’ has been reached, surpassed, and left stranded in the rearview mirror. Not very long ago Bradfield was seen by many as a ‘safety’ school. Now, it is firmly on the radar of aspirational parents, with several we spoke to choosing it over offers from...

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What the school says...

Bradfield College offers an all-round education based on an extremely high standard of pastoral care; an excellent academic education and the broader vision of holistic development created by the well-rounded co-curricular activities, superb facilities and a young and dynamic staff. Boarding houses offer single and double bedsits (if at all possible) in the Sixth Form. A wide selection of subjects is offered at GCSE, and Sixth Formers can study either A-Levels or the IB Diploma Programme. All pupils in the large Sixth Form go onto University.

The College is set in its own medieval village in 250 acres of beautiful Berkshire countryside, situated close to Junction 12 on the M4 and within easy reach of Reading Station and Heathrow Airport.
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Curricula

International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

Sports

Polo

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2015, Dr Chris Stevens MA DPhil (50s). Educated at Tonbridge School, then read modern and medieval languages at Caius College, Cambridge before researching Italian literature for a DPhil at Oxford. First experienced working in education as a gappie at Brambletye Prep, and then at Ashdown House where he split the year in half: six months at Ashdown establishing the Ashdown château in France and the rest of the year studying for his doctorate. Began his proper ‘career’ at age 29 when he joined Uppingham. There he taught French, Italian and history of Art, became a housemaster and was master-in-charge of cricket over his 14 years in residence. Moved on to be second master at Marlborough College. Wife Helen is associate professor of English at Corpus Christi, Oxford. They have three school-age daughters — two of them at Bradfield and one at nearby St Andrews Prep.

Previous two heads pulled the school up the academic and reputation league tables. So Dr Stevens inherited a school in fine fettle which he has buffed to an opulent glow. Fond of ‘mantras’ like ‘stretch without stress’, ‘a rising tide floats all boats’, and ‘teaching up while scaffolding down’. Parents approve, while noticing the shift towards heightening the academic standards.

Loves reading, theatre, opera, ballet. Used to play a lot of sport but became a ‘lockdown runner’ and thinks he’ll stay that way (‘it’s replaced driving as my thinking time!’). Rugged-bearded when we met him, easy to talk to, a natural orator. Makes a point of meeting every pupil every year, one way or another.

Entrance

Register during year 5 and 6. Take the ISEB pretest between November and Feb of year 6. Pupils with satisfactory prep school references are invited for interview plus team problem-solving assessments between September and March of Year 6. First round of offers are made in the summer of that year. Selection criteria are ‘attitude, character and potential for happiness,’ says head. In year 8 everyone sits either the school’s own admission test (January) or CE (June), but these are effectively a rubber stamp. Total of 90 boys and 65 girls enter Faulkner’s in September.

Be warned that the school can be a bit quick to dismiss late enquiries for places. If you are late to the party, but dead set on the school, then do persevere! Occasional places arise in year 10, and there are around 25-30 places in the sixth form. English and maths tests plus academic and pastoral interviews in November before year of entry into year 12. Minimum of six 6 GCSE grades are required with at least 5s in English and maths.

Exit

Few leave after GCSE. ‘My daughter will definitely stay through sixth form’, a parent told us. ‘She’ll be gutted when she has to leave. She’d like it to be her university!’ Around 90 per cent of sixth formers go on to university, but the choice is not taken for granted. ‘Horizons’ (careers) supports youngsters in looking outside the box eg at top flight apprenticeships or employment. Also encourages networking and the development of soft skills.

Most popular unis include Exeter, Edinburgh and Oxford Brookes. Occasionally, a student to Oxbridge (none in 2020). Lots more humanities and business degrees than STEM subjects. Increasing numbers head for US universities (some with sports scholarships) and European ones eg UCLA, Georgetown, Northeastern, McGill, Erasmus (Netherlands), WHU and Macromedia University (Germany) and IE Madrid.

Latest results

No results available for 2020. In 2019, 60 per cent 9/7 at GCSE; 34 per cent A*/A at A level (67 per cent A*/B).

Teaching and learning

Last time we were here we said, ‘A school that is, without question, on the up’. We can now report that ‘up’ has been reached, surpassed, and left stranded in the rearview mirror. Not very long ago Bradfield was seen by many as a ‘safety’ school. Now, it is firmly on the radar of aspirational parents, with several we spoke to choosing it over offers from heavy hitters like Marlborough, Wellington and top London day schools. ‘It was our number one choice,’ said one London mum. ‘We took him off the other school lists as soon as we visited. Bradfield is the perfect modern education’.

All that said, this is, above all, a school that welcomes — nay honours — the ‘all rounder’. If we had a tenner for every Bradfield pupil, parent or teacher who mentioned ‘all-rounders’, we could buy a Lamborghini. Academic breadth begins in year 9 when children are given a chance to sample almost everything before committing to GCSEs. ‘I’d never been interested in tech or computers,’ our guide told us, ‘but after we had computer science in our first year, I ended up choosing it for GCSE.’ Pupils normally take 10 GCSEs; English results far better than maths.

Business, economics and maths are perennially the most popular A level subjects. Less common subjects on offer include history of art, film studies and photography. Around 25-35 per cent of sixth formers opt for the IB rather than A levels, with parents telling us the six-subject-IB is a ‘natural fit’ for Bradfield, very much in keeping with its all-rounder emphasis. While some schools reserve the IB for their most able students, at Bradfield it’s open to everyone: ‘The extra classroom time and clearly specified requirements can actually be helpful to some less-independent learners’, explains Dr Stevens. This is apparent in its IB results which display a gargantuan range of abilities. The school is not hugely communicative regarding its exam results, publishing only broad summaries on its website.

Learning support and SEN

Bradfield has eased away from its reputation as a good destination for children requiring SEN support. However, the support is still there. Total of 77 children currently receive individual SEN lessons; lots more have been identified as needing extra time and the like. No specialist unit to cater for extreme needs and, to quote the school, 'The campus is not ideally suited for pupils with mobility issues.'

The arts and extracurricular

In what now seems like a description of a different school, we once commented that the arts played second fiddle to sport. No longer. Music, fine art and drama are all thriving and ‘children are firing on all cylinders,’ said a parent. ‘The kids who do the best here are the ones that get most involved’, said another. Even sports scholars told us that one of the things they liked best about Bradfield was the ability to fully take part in other endeavors, like drama and music. ‘Sport doesn’t own you’, one explained.

Music is housed in a spacious building with two large classrooms, a concert hall and plenty of practice rooms. Recently restored organ brightens the school chapel. Around 280 pupils learning a musical instrument, from complete beginners to ABRSM Performance Diploma standard. Lots of groups and choirs - jazz, contemporary and classical. ‘Inspiring’, say parents. That said, not a single music A level entry in 2020 or 2019, and only one in 2018. Three IB musicians in 2019. Art is popular; students like the teachers as well as the subject and art A level results are impressive. The art rooms are tucked away on the other side of a brook in a delightfully separate, rustic Mill-on-the-Floss-style collection of cottages. Photography, sculpture and printing are in interconnecting rooms, plus ample space for 3D design (no one says DT here). Lively drama with three big productions a year (one only for year 9). No dedicated theatre, but a drama studio, a hall with seating, and the college’s oddly beloved Greek theatre — the ‘Greeker’ — a concrete 1,000 seater that has a sort of mythic status at Bradfield.

Beyond the arts, children are busy, busy, busy! ‘Millions’ of extracurriculars on offer, to quote a parent. The school ring-fences time for them every day of the week and all pupils are expected to take part, whether through the journalism club or the Wine Appreciation Society (year 13 only!). This is not the place for a youngster who wants to hunker down in his room and play Fortnite. Ever keen to ensure breadth, The Bradfield Diploma gets yr 10 and 11 kids to try things outside their comfort zone, even if only as a member of the audience. Elements include public speaking, service, and reading five books (of difference genres). CCF for all from the summer term of year 9; most continue into year 10 (though volunteering is also an option). All of year 9 strides out along the Brecon Beacons for four days in the summer term (no phones!) and lots enroll in the Bronze DofE Award at the start of Year 10.

Sport

Football rules, ok? The head, a keen rugby player in his day, looked pained as he explained that it’s hard for a school to do both football and rugby really well. ‘Football’, he points out, ‘is a great co-ed sport’. And more: ‘If rugby didn’t exist, I’m not sure you’d invent it — it’s under scrutiny and that will only increase.’ Football ferociously strong: Bradfield won the Independent Schools Football Association cup for the first time in 2018. ‘No rugby is a huge plus for us’, said a parent. ‘Rugby can dominate a school’s culture and create a hierarchy among the boys.’

Sport ‘works seamlessly with the academic side’, say parents. ‘They actually co-ordinate, unlike at some schools.’ Games three times a week plus Saturday matches. Boys’ major sports are football and hockey; same for girls plus netball and lacrosse. Summer term is more co-ed with everyone involved in cricket (girls we spoke to loved it), tennis and athletics.

Lots of sports tours in pre-Covid days. One of the most enticing ranges of minor sports we’ve seen. The school website reads like a highly exclusive action-packed adventure camp. From clay pigeon and rifle shooting (school has its own ranges for both) to zumba and yoga, with fives, real tennis, dodgeball, sailing, canoeing, shooting, riding, polo and golf.

‘It stands out a mile for its sports facilities’, said a parent explaining one of the reasons she chose Bradfield. Lush acres of green sports fields as far as the eye can see, splendid indoor tennis courts, a nine-hole golf course nestled towards the end of the games pitches. Massive Astro adorned with 16 outdoor tennis courts when we were there. Water polo takes place in the glistening 25-metre pool that forms part of the swanky sports complex. ‘It’s not for a kid that hates sport’, one boy told us solemnly. A parent of a non-sporty girl told us, ‘It’s not her forte, but they’re all made to take part in some form. There’s something for everyone’.

Boarders

Weekly boarding is a ‘defining feature’ of the school, say parents. From Monday morning until after matches on Saturday Bradfield operates on full-tilt as a traditional boarding school. On Saturday afternoon, over 80 per cent of the children decamp home, returning bright eyed and bushy tailed on Sunday night or Monday morning. Only around 15 per cent are day pupils, but most of these remain at school late into the evening departing around 9pm (or later). All day pupils have a desk in a shared room. Up to 15 per cent are full boarders (many, but not all, from abroad). Flexi-boarding not really a Bradfield thing, but local children may also pop home on Wednesday nights, with permission.

In 1998, Bradfield took the brave decision to invest in its youngest boarders — a leap of faith at a time when schools were madly constructing lavish sixth form boarding houses. Faulkner’s – the mixed house for the whole of year 9 – is a Bradfield triumph. The idea is to weld the year group together so that as they branch off to their different (single sex) houses in year 10, everyone will know each other and there will be less scope for cliques. Pupils move dormitories every half term to expand friendships. It’s a jolly, cosy and gentle start to boarding life. Parents remarked on how much their children’s confidence grew throughout the year, although inevitably we heard the odd case of difficult relationships, particularly among the girls.

The Faulkner’s building is modern, functional but attractive. Comfortable and tasteful common rooms on each boys’ and girls’ side, and a place in the centre where they can all gather to play games and hang out. All rooms have an en suite, the larger rooms with two showers! Prep is done in dorm rooms each evening — with doors open. Phone policy among the best we’ve seen: 25 minutes in the morning and 45 minutes in the evening (turned in by 9pm, along with any other tech) and otherwise locked away. Older pupils are allowed phones for two hours in the evenings. No restrictions in sixth form.

Four senior girls’ houses; seven for boys. Many of the study bedrooms have ensuite bathrooms, two or three to a room, with a kitchen on every floor. Currently, D House said to be the sportiest while A House excels in music. Faulkner’s children eat in their house with some senior pupils. Others eat in the main dining room. Pupils will make the effort to stay in for a particular event, like the famous Michaelmas Goose weekend, packed with an interhouse riot of a competition which includes a ‘total wipeout’ style water and inflatables obstacle course as well as dodgeball, debating, dancing and singing (‘very raucous, and loud,’ warned a student).

Ethos and heritage

A quaintly pastoral and pristine setting that feels more like a movie location or a medieval manor than a school. Founded in the 1850s by Thomas Stevens, lord of the manor and local rector, as a choir school for his church, Bradfield may not have a long sweeping drive or a grand central building, but it is nonetheless a rural school. The village and the school are one and the same: there is no high street, no post office, no pub, not a single shop. Here children have a chance to be children for longer, and there is not much to distract them from all that is available to do at school. It is at once isolated and conveniently located. Forward thinking but imbued with romanticism. On the fringes, and at the centre: just off the M4, 30 minutes from Reading, 45 minutes from Heathrow, a pleasant commute from Theale to Paddington Station.

Lovely vistas and unexpected charm at every turn among the flint and brick buildings and sloping roofs. A highlight is the tranquil Thai Garden, named after Bradfield’s first student from Thailand. In good nick throughout, the science block stands out as a thing of semi-modern beauty: well equipped, glassy and airy, it is used by pupils after lessons as a distraction-free study space. The Stunt Pavilion, perched on the edge of the games fields was formerly a dilapidated sixth form bar. Now serves as a swish school cafe, used by pupils and staff alike; a walk down from the boarding houses for an ice cream on a summer afternoon is a cherished pastime.

As the school has grown more popular, it can be more selective, and an intellectual blossoming is in the air. Increasing numbers of academic societies now flourish. The school has moved from tutor groups to individual tutorials and improved staff’s skills at teaching with differentiation so that all abilities can be stretched. The complete renovation a 14th century church, currently being purchased by Bradfield, is the school’s next big project. The finished product will be a striking glass and stone learning centre comprising a 21st century library, collaborative learning spaces, ‘brainstorming pods’ (!) and a cafe.

School’s have-a-go ethos comes through in its website which is voluminous, joyful … and sprinkled with typos. Straightforward school uniform in the first three years gives way to own choice smart suits (and ties for boys) in sixth form. Boys still outnumber girls 60/40. Former pupils include politicians Lord David Owen and Sir John Nott, authors Louis de Bernieres and Richard Adams, cricketer and broadcaster Mark Nicholas, actor Claudia Harrison, astronomer Sir Martin Ryle, jockey Nico de Boinville (jockey), explorer Benedict Allen, comedian Tony Hancock, and Made in Chelsea stars Sam Thompson, Frankie Gaff and Olivia Bentley.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Pastoral care lauded again and again by all we spoke to: ‘The fact is there are some troubled children at these boarding schools. Many have experienced divorce, mental health challenges or even the death of a parent. Bradfield does a great job for those that need extra TLC.’ ‘Pastoral care was our biggest priority’, a mum told us. ‘That’s why we chose Bradfield.’ Parents mentioned weekly calls from tutors during lockdown: ‘It was huge’. School communication is ‘incredible’. ‘We get instant replies to emails and there is constant feedback and reports’. Faulkner’s children are awarded merit points for kindness and rewarded with treats (‘McDonalds!’ enthused a pupil; ‘a nice touch’, said a parent). Veritas, the newish LGBTQ society, welcomes all. Pupils in years 9-11 have a timetabled wellbeing lesson each week covering resilience, health, equality, community, communication and reflection. Staff too are looked after, and some have completed a mindfulness-based stress reduction course.

Disciplinary incidents of some kind come up most years. Relieved that Bradfield barely featured in the 'Everyone’s Invited’ exposé, but no school can be complacent, and staff have renewed efforts to make sure this is a school with a culture of speaking up. All of the Bradfield parents we spoke to had confidence in the school’s grip on ‘boy-girl relationships’. An episode involving a nude photo resulted in culprits immediately exiting the school. Ditto for drugs.

Pupils and parents

M4 corridor and West London loom large. Forty per cent of families hail from a 30 mile radius, 25 per cent have an address in London (some of these also have a more local home). Only eight per cent are based abroad. Far fewer international pupils, and a much more English flavour, than most boarding schools mainly owing to the preponderance of weekly boarding (only 10 children currently have EAL lessons). A good sprinkling of Old Bradfieldans. Loads of siblings — this is very much a one school fits all place. ‘I chose it because it suited both my children - one’s super-academic, the other’s more relaxed,’ said a parent. ‘Very academically-pushy parents won’t take the risk on the all-rounder education Bradfield provides; they’ll most probably look elsewhere.’

Pupils come from 60 different prep schools. Among the preps sending larger cohorts (though all send less than 20) are Cheam, St Andrews, Lambrook, Northcote Lodge, Broomwood and Twyford. We have previously said, ‘Bradfield remains a broad church and under the current leadership will continue to do so’. So far this holds true…

Money matters

Although lots of scholarships awarded (including academic, sport all-rounder and music) a fee reduction is only available with means-testing. The school is a charitable trust and provides bursary support, from anything from 100 per cent of fees to one per cent. Surprisingly, no sibling discounts.

The last word

An all-rounder’s nirvana. Bucolic setting, weekly boarding, co-ed, IB, football, first year mega-boarding-house: these are Bradfield’s USPs. A mature, confident school at its peak. ‘We have complete trust in the school’ a parent told us. ‘A feel-good school’ said another. Delicate swots or single sport obsessives may look elsewhere.

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.

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