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  • 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: 778; 473 boys, 305 girls; sixth formers: 316
  • Religion: Church of England
  • Fees: Day £29,925; Boarding £37,404 pa
  • Open days: Most Saturday mornings during term-time.
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What says..

A school that is, without question, on the up.  A real contender now, academically, and firmly on the radar of aspirational parents as well as those who have always wanted a rounded and broad education for their children. With so much available you would have thought some students might become overwhelmed and not do anything at all. Not possible here. The Bradfield Diploma, a qualification pursued in years 10 and 11, involves pupils being assessed according to their co-curricular pursuits, and quite apart from that, affirmed one student, ‘the Bradfield ethos is about getting involved; it is a…

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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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What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Boys taking Music Performance: Group at an English Independent School (Grade 2 Music or Dance)

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 (early 50s). Previously second master at Marlborough College (from 2011), he started his career in prep schools as a (very) young man. Brambletye, briefly as a gap student, and then Ashdown House as a young master where he split the year in half, six months at Ashdown (where a lot of the time was spent establishing the Ashdown château in France) and half the year studying for his doctorate. He finally firmly established himself in the boarding senior school world in 1997 when he started at Uppingham, where he was master-in-charge of cricket and housemaster for nine years. Educated in an all boys’ environment at Tonbridge School, Dr Stevens read modern and medieval languages at Caius College, Cambridge and researched Italian literature for a DPhil at Oxford. This is where he met Helen, now associate professor of English at Corpus Christi, Oxford. They have school age daughters.

A highly intelligent man; sometimes you have to run to keep up with Dr Stevens in conversation. He thinks fast and talks fast, everything spoken in a mellifluous voice, however, and everything considered and thoughtful. He made the decision to work in schools rather than devote himself to academia largely because, despite his intellect, he loves the rough and tumble of life in a boarding school. Thoroughly unpretentious, he scoffs at the hierarchies that can divide the prep and senior school worlds and values the time he spent with much younger children and the very different challenges that are found in prep schools. Both he and his wife missed the boarding house atmosphere while they were at Marlborough and both are relishing being back in the fray and at the heart of things. They are still in the process of getting to know all the pupils, which he is determined to do. Sixth formers are regularly invited to dinner at their house, and a privileged few in lower years are also invited to dine with him and his wife. Otherwise it’s at breakfast in the dining hall that he seizes the opportunity to eat with the more junior pupils and get to know their views on life at Bradfield and beyond. ‘Best insight into who are the best teachers are too’, he confides.

The ‘beyond’ is something that he holds very important. An outward looking man, he celebrates the influence of families from different cultural backgrounds – often each parent from a different country, and shudders at what the landscape may hold post-Brexit. An international outlook and mindset he considers to be essential, particularly in the face of how easy it could be to reflect a pocket of little England, given the picturesque, chocolate boxy location of the school.

An inclusive man, he has changed the staff photo so that it genuinely incorporates the whole staff, not just the teaching staff. Everyone is invited for hog roast and ice cream in his garden. He is passionate about avoiding pretension and a sense of entitlement. While keen to maintain the sense that Bradfield is a warm, relaxed and caring environment, he is concerned that this should not be mistaken for a lack of ambition. Students here are to be challenged without becoming stressed. Stretched in order to be stimulated, alive and curious. Parents approve, while noticing a shift towards heightening the academic standards. ‘Fabulous,’ said one; ‘ very sensible,’ another.

Academic matters

A school that is, without question, on the up. A real contender now, academically, and firmly on the radar of aspirational parents as well as those who have always wanted a rounded and broad education for their children. A levels back on track after a disappointing 2017, with 76 per cent A*/B grades and 41 per cent A*/A grades in 2018. IB cohort got an average of 35 points (out of a maximum of 45). Pupils normally take 10 GCSEs; In 2018, 61 per cent A*-A/7-9 grades. Economics continues in popularity; business studies, film studies, textiles and photography all offered alongside the traditional subjects. One took Latin A level in 2017, none Greek (though a small number take the Latin certificate at GCSE, and an even smaller number do Greek) but five took Russian A levels. Large take up for EPQ; wide range of projects from ‘Aid or trade in Africa, which is better for development?’; to ‘To what extent is diversification the main reason for Apple’s success?’; and ‘Was the Lance Armstrong scandal beneficial for the sport of cycling?’

The Blackburn science centre is a hugely impressive. As well as being eco-friendly and thoroughly up to speed with technology, it is beautiful to look at and ergonomic. Ten classrooms and laboratories, spaciously spread out on each of the two floors. What goes on inside is also impressive. Parents regard it as one of the stronger subjects. ‘Fantastic,’ they said. The library, on the other hand, is reassuringly old school. Constructed of the local flint and brick with diamond paned windows, it is properly stocked with books as well as decorated with looming portraits of former heads and wardens. Not a high tech environment, but a refreshingly studious atmosphere prevails, young men and women working and collaborating in here. Comfortable areas filled with smiley faced emojis to escape to with a good book.

Large study skills and support department (SSSD – SEN to you and me). About 150 receive support; caters for everyone from those who require minimal support to those who need a reasonable level, but no specialist unit to cater for extreme needs. Would not automatically turn away someone with specific difficulties but will always ask the question, ‘will they be happy here?’ says head. Vast majority who use the SSSD have had a history of provision in their previous schools, but teachers can refer individuals, initially to houseparent.

Help given across the board at key pressure points. ‘Extra lessons to help with GCSEs have been phenomenal,’ said a seasoned parent with children at other schools. However if a child is not responding to being pushed, then the pressure drops. ‘You have to want to do well, and what is brilliant is that it’s cool to work hard and to get good results,’ confirmed another parent. Grades given each side of half term. Reassuring to parents who like to feel on top of how hard their child is working.

Games, options, the arts

Bradfield is a football school, no rugby here at all. They are good - and known to be good. A recent captain of the first XI played for England in an international match against Scotland, we were told by our proud sixth form guide (who was a water polo aficionado himself). ‘If you’re good,’ he said, ‘opportunities open up for you at international level, but if you just love to play you can play at any standard that suits.’ A wide range of teams means everyone can take part but a competitive edge survives. Boys’ major summer sport is cricket; for girls it’s lacrosse (there is also mixed lacrosse, and girls can play in boys’ teams) and netball in the winter, tennis in the summer. Hockey and swimming are also major sports for both boys and girls. ‘There is a team for everyone who wants to play and the B and C teams will get the same rewards as the A team. No elitism,’ said a parent. Lush facilities from acres of green sports fields as far as the eye can see, to splendid indoor tennis courts, as well as outdoor courts, dotted around the grounds. Lots of sports tours to as far afield as Sri Lanka (cricket) and Singapore and Malaysia (hockey).

One of the most enticing range 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 and polo as well as water polo and golf. A nine hole golf course is nestled towards the end of the games pitches. Water polo takes place in the glistening 25 metre pool that forms part of the swanky sports complex. CCF compulsory for year 10; Duke of Edinburgh also has a high uptake - our guide had just achieved gold. Standards are high here – both in the quality of provision, the teaching as well as facilities, and in the quality of commitment and enthusiasm from the pupils.

A Bradfield flagship is its Greek theatre, Greeker, as it’s known. Recent performances include Antigone (in the ancient Greek). Theatre has been carefully restored and is sheltered in a shady bower. It is well used, whether it be for Shakespeare (Midsummer Night’s Dream), a rock concert, or the whole school prize giving, which involves the famous handshaking ceremony (‘a chance to test my knowledge of each child,’ winks the head).

Music thriving, as is the art. Music is housed in a spacious building with two large classrooms, a concert hall and plenty of practice rooms. ‘I'm enjoying coming here to play and practice,’ enthused one sixth former; ‘everyone is so friendly here.’ A plethora of groups and choirs, jazz and classical, some pupil led, some staff led. We watched year 9s having rowdy noisy fun with steel drums, shakers and tambourines. The art rooms are tucked away on the other side of a brook in a delightfully separate, rustic cottage-like building. Everything is tidy and organised here but without losing a sense of spontaneous creativity. Well-thumbed art books are scattered amongst the workstations. A welcome relief to see them here rather than neatly stacked and barely touched in the library. Art is popular; students like the teachers as well as the subject. We saw monochrome butterflies on wire in the textiles department and an oil painted elephant on newspaper. Photography, sculpture and screen painting all in interconnecting rooms. One particular talented student had their work exhibited at the Tate Modern.

A plethora of societies from the religious (Swinbank) to philosphy, debating, drama and feminist (Neska).

With so much available you would have thought some students might become overwhelmed and not do anything at all. Not possible here. The Bradfield Diploma, a qualification pursued in years 10 and 11, involves pupils being assessed according to their co-curricular pursuits, and quite apart from that, affirmed one student, ‘the Bradfield ethos is about getting involved; it is a family community and you get out what you put in.’

Boarders

Let there be no mistake, Bradfield is a boarding school. There are only 70 day pupils. However, with most families living within a 50 mile radius, only about 150 out of 750 pupils will be in on a Saturday night. ‘We only have them home from Saturday tea time until Sunday evening, but it’s a much needed chance to recover,’ said one mother (although they are now able to return on Monday morning); 'it’s so full on during the week.’ Pupils will make the effort to stay in for a particular event, like the famous Michaelmas Goose weekend – a weekend packed with an interhouse riot of a competition which includes ‘total wipeout’ style water and inflatables obstacle course as well as dodgeball, debating, dancing and singing (‘very raucous, and loud,’ warned a student). The summer term sees more people opting to stay, and the further up the school they are the more they choose to enjoy the freedom to finish work and socialise with friends. Year group dinners are organised for Saturday nights and the unschooly feel to the place helps attract pupils into staying. Blundells Bar plays a large part in this, open in the evenings for sixth formers on Saturday nights (as well as two weekday evenings), this is the real deal with comfortable leather armchairs and pool table, doubling as a café in the day time for all year groups with proper coffee machines and muffins. With its decked terrace overlooking the cricket pitch, it’s perfect for long summer evenings.

Faulkners – the mixed house for the whole of year 9 - is a Bradfield triumph. Not many schools do this, but the idea is to weld the year group together so that as they branch off to their different (single sex) houses in year 10 (all of which have been selected before they even arrive at the school), everyone will know each other and there will be less scope for cliquishness. There is the added advantage, suggested the super impressive and engaging housemaster and housemistress of Falkners, that the young 13-14 year olds don’t have to navigate what can be an intimidating hierarchy of older boys and girls. Most 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 building itself is modern, functional but attractive. Neat little drawers with names attached for mobile phones to go to bed in at the end of the day, very 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.

First class boarding accommodation – some of the most comfortable we’ve seen. Many of the study bedrooms have ensuite bathrooms, two or three to a room, there is a kitchen on every floor, and the comfortable common rooms are not the tatty stinky ones of olden days. Well upholstered sofas, pool tables and table football in good condition with all the pieces still intact, and best of all, when we visited at least, a lovely fresh smell of clean laundry.

Attempts are made to avoid houses becoming stereotyped – ‘the sporty one’, ‘the nerdy one’, although those trends can creep in without some social engineering.

Background and atmosphere

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, a grand central building, miles away in the middle of nowhere, but it is nonetheless a rural school. A picturesque one to boot, with its flint and brick buildings and sloping roofs. The village and the school are one and the same. There is no bank, post office or pub, but a fabulous arts and crafts manor house with stunning quadrangle and beautiful gardens, complete with astronomy hut for stargazing as well as the school chapel at the heart of the site. 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. Lots of walking to and from lessons, and that enticing sixth form bar is quite a hike. Faulkners eat in their house with some senior pupils. Others eat in the main dining room.

Plenty of quirky old fashioned public school traditions, including the many nicknames for things (glossaries are distributed on arrival arrive at Faulkners). Kitchens are Brewers, prefects, Beaks, Rux is the outdoor space near your house where you can kick a football around. The headmaster is the headman.

Day pupils fully integrated - sometimes leaving as late as 10 in the evening. They can leave after lessons but are encouraged to do their prep at school. In the sixth form they can get permission to drive themselves to school. All day pupils have a desk in a dormitory. Flexi-boarding arrangement is available, but not encouraged and not many take it up.

One housemaster (and ex-BBC sports commentator) observed that the fact that Bradfield is a football school, rather than a rugby school, allows it to lend itself more readily to a healthy, collaborative co-education environment. He may have a point. Relationships between the genders here certainly seem to be positive. Neither wary nor subservient but natural and enjoyable.

A strong community spirit, manifest in its educational partnership with Theale Green Academy, a local school which has gone from being in special measures to ‘improving’ and, ‘we hope, to good,’ says head. Pupils from Theale Green can come and learn science in the splendid labs here, but largely it’s about sharing knowledge and expertise and providing support for their teachers. Continues to nurture the more than 100 year old relationship with Bradfield Club, a youth club in Peckham.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Dr Stevens has a broadminded and sensitive approach to punishment. Highly experienced (chief disciplinarian was one of his major roles as second master at Marlborough), he recognises the difference between ‘naughtiness’ and 'nastiness’. As much of a concern as drugs now, in all schools, is the abuse of social media. While you need clear boundaries on the former, ‘if you had zero tolerance with regard to social media you could empty a school,’ he observes. One bad post may amount to stupidity, however three may well amount to bullying. Dr Stevens encourages an approach that helps pupils learn from their mistakes.

Faulkners students hand in their phones at night (quite apart from the threat to well-being caused by social media, the use of phones affects sleep, which is an even greater threat, he points out). Policies on phones and screens vary from house to house for year 10 upwards, but a heightened awareness of the effect – positive and negative – of screens is universal. 'The only criticism I have of the school is that they don’t remove the phones of all pupils at the end of the day,’ remarked one parent. Clear lines are drawn on intimate sexual relations as well as on using drugs in school – it’s automatic expulsion. ‘We don’t have open season’.

Effective mentoring and support system between the sixth formers and newbies. Sixth formers eat lunch with year 9 in Faulkners and monitor their homework time. Complicated system of appointing head girl and boy, prefects, heads of house. Not all parents and pupils are fans, not least as some teachers can be indiscreet and partisan. It involves applications with references, an interview process, with some selection by the head boy and girl and some by the teachers. Within each house pupils are appointed to particular roles - head of academic, head of media for example, not difficult for the odd person to slip through the net and find themselves without a role.

Well-being is part of the curriculum for years 9 -11. This takes place in the Well-being Centre, a comfortable place among the roof beams where pupils can sit on beanbags, in chairs around a circle or at a large table to talk about difficult issues. A recent discussion was ‘what does cancer mean to you?’ They also do yoga, mindfulness and relaxation. The cynic may detect the influence of their grander neighbour up the road, but well-being is – or should be – firmly on the map in all good schools and this is just another indicator that Bradfield is keeping up with the times.

Tutors (all teachers also act as a tutor), attached to the houses, are assigned eight students. They will mentor, support and keep an eye on their progress – including their study skills and prep. Keen to strengthen and capitalise on this personal, focused support, Dr Stevens has freed up more time for tutors to meet their tutees so that as well as keeping a watching brief, they can take a more active, inspirational role. Some parents observed that their child had had four tutors since they started. Delicate balance struck between sticking with a tutor to form a solid relationship and moving on when the dynamic is not working.

We heard some reports that a high turnover of staff, particularly housemistresses and masters in the past, meant that not all holes were plugged soon enough when they appeared; however, it would seem that things are settling down now, and the atmosphere we experienced was purposeful, collaborative and stimulating.

On the whole a tolerant, unpressurised environment. 'You’re always busy at Bradfield,' said a sixth former. ‘If you’re not doing something then something’s wrong.’

Pupils and parents

Large London and local – Reading-Windsor-Ascot - contingent. About 10 per cent international families, based overseas. ‘We keep an eye on numbers of particular nationalities, just to avoid cliques,’ says head, but there is no quota at all, no missions to the East (or anywhere else) to recruit. Some Europeans - Spanish, Danish etc - but a more English flavour to it than many boarding schools. Certainly not flashy nor grand. Families here are pretty comfortable in their skin and with their lot. ‘Impossible to pigeonhole,’ commented one parent. 'There are foreign royalty, the odd celebrity, some very ordinary English folk and a few on full bursaries, a well-rounded community.’ Boys still outnumber girls, about 60 per cent boys, but number of girls continues to grow.

Within those parameters, the pupils too are diverse. This is not a sausage factory. Dr Stevens values what he describes as ‘the integrity of difference – one of the great strengths of a boarding education.’ Pupils come from 60 different prep schools. No one school ever sends as many as 20. Among the prep schools that send numbers in double figures are Cheam, St Andrews, Lambrook, Northcote Lodge and Broomwood. Siblings are welcomed and their assessment looked at favourably: ‘it would be wrong to turn them away on the basis that they scored a few percent less than they should have,’ says head. Bradfield remains a broad church and under the current leadership will continue to do so.

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 and astronomer Sir Martin Ryle.

Entrance

Main entrance point is into year 9. Selection criteria are ‘attitude, character and potential for happiness,’ says head. School increasingly selective as demand for places has shot up in recent years. CE pass mark is 55 per cent (no slippage). Introduction of a pre-test in year 7. School considers prep school heads' reports and on the basis of that invites pupils for assessment in years 6 and 7. All candidates interviewed and tested. School works closely with prep school head with borderline candidates especially. The main aim is to find candidates who will be ‘net givers’ to the school.

First step is to see the school. Tours every Saturday morning and head makes himself available for personal meetings at other times. Occasional places do arise in year 10 and between 50 and 60 places in the sixth form. English and maths tests plus two interviews in November before year of entry into year 12. Minimum of six B/6 grades with at least Cs/4-5s in English and maths GCSEs.

Exit

Very few leave after GCSE. Practically all sixth formers go on to university. Current popular ones include Exeter, Edinburgh and Oxford Brookes. One medic in 2018; usually one or two to top arts or music colleges. Increasing numbers head for US universities and European ones, with 2018 leavers off to Indianapolis, Redlands and st Bonaventure, Moscow and Amsterdam. Three to Oxford in 2018. A very few (though school feels this is likely to increase) go straight into employment or on apprenticeship schemes.

Money matters

Although lots of scholarships awarded – including academic, sport 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.

Our view

Thoroughly unpretentious yet with lots to boast about, Bradfield is a heavenly place to learn and to grow. Very difficult to imagine who would not thrive here. There’s something for everyone and lots for all.

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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