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What says..

Teaching we observed was an energetic mixture of old school dry wit, lively discussion and subtle encouragement – an admirable combination only found in places where teachers know their pupils really well. School seems to have a real knack for building pupils’ confidence; one parent told us that she had been ‘astonished’ by her child’s academic progress. ‘She used to struggle, now she’s flying’. Boarding was described to us as ‘laid back’ and we rather agree…

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What the school says...

Set in an idyllic 230 acre Cotswold estate between Cheltenham and Cirencester, Rendcomb College provides a stimulating, challenging and exciting all-round education. Strong academic results are achieved and there is a full programme of sport, drama and musical opportunities for all to explore. Scholarships are available at 11+, 13+ and at 16+ and bursaries can also be applied for.

Our mission is to develop thoughtful, adventurous and academically ambitious young people who are life-long learners. We aim to prepare them with the character and skills to succeed in the ever-changing world after school. Our pupils have the freedom to experience, explore and enquire about the world around them. We aim to encourage independence and tolerance in a safe, caring community and magnificent natural environment.

Younger children regularly use the large forest school and woodland classroom facilities and outdoor education has been developed throughout the age ranges for team building and leadership training. In addition to the magnificent listed buildings that house the school's classrooms, a deer park, golf course and wilderness area are all available on site.

A new Performing Arts Centre is currently under construction and is due for completion in autumn 2016 ready for the 2016/17 academic year.
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What the parents say...

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Sports

Polo

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2015, Robert Jones, previously deputy head at Shiplake College. Educated at Swansea (economics), Worcester (PGCE) and Buckingham (MBA); has also taught economics and business at Canford, Clifton College, King's Worcester and Dauntsey's, coached rugby and rowing and run day and boarding houses. While at Shiplake, he undertook successful major reorganisations of the timetable, pastoral care and teaching systems - so unlikely to rest on his laurels here. Two children.

Head of juniors since 2015, Victoria Beevers, previously deputy head at Dean Close Prep. She has also taught at Cheltenham College Prep and Thomas's. Married to Al, she has one daughter and is a keen runner and cyclist.

Academic matters

Pretty sound academics and the trend is upwards: in 2016, nearly half of both GCSE and A level grades A*/A. English, science (double and single), maths and further maths strongest contenders at both levels with history (surprisingly), French and music least popular A level options.

Classes of maximum 18 and smaller in the run up to GCSEs mean lots of individual attention. Good range of A level options including psychology, economics and business studies inevitably means that there could be just one or two in some of these classes. Compulsory study skills sessions recently introduced. Whether tutorial sized classes are a bijou bonus or a bit of a one man band depends greatly on student teacher relationships. Sixth formers generally seem to enjoy the small groups and getting to know teachers well in a more reciprocal environment. School’s emphasis on personal development and independent learning goes up another gear after GCSEs, when in addition to more freedoms and responsibilities, pupils are encouraged to take the Extended Project Qualification and participate in a varied enrichment programme.

Perhaps those language and literature results are helped along by the inspiring view over the Churn Valley enjoyed by the English department classrooms. Teaching we observed was an energetic mixture of old school dry wit, lively discussion and subtle encouragement – an admirable combination only found in places where teachers know their pupils really well. Science, maths and ICT departments are housed in the former stables across the (very quiet) lane from the main school site, so commuting between lessons can take time and pupils sometimes ‘get a bit soggy’ when it rains. Economics gets ‘half a stable’ – sixth formers think it should ‘join up with business studies and become a full size department.’

School takes children with dyslexia, dyspraxia, mild Asperger’s and SpLDs. Learning support and EAL sessions arranged around pupils’ individual lesson plans, and parents describe the former as ‘astonishing’ and ‘inspirational’ (not to mention ‘very well organised, switched on and professional’). Another parent praised the way the school accommodates the ‘eccentric’ child saying that the same amount of effort goes into supporting the highly academic as it does those with SEN.

Rendcomb is highly regarded for its inclusive approach, but such a reputation can sometimes work against a school. It was clear to us (our opinion confirmed by parents and university destinations) that the very bright are equally well served – particularly if the competitive cut and thrust of a large, highly academic school would be likely to stifle, rather than bring out, their best. School seems to have a real knack for building pupils’ confidence; one parent told us that she had been ‘astonished’ by her child’s academic progress, ‘She used to struggle, now she’s flying’.

Games, options, the arts

With just under a third of pupils achieving A*/A for art at GCSE, it’s surprising that no more than one or two continue with the subject at A level. Facilities in the purpose built 1960s block are ample with large, light studios and there’s a real creative buzz, enhanced by the sound of music drifting down from upstairs practice rooms. Pupil and professional art is on display including, when we visited, a large ceramic hare at the main entrance to the school; pupils have also exhibited at Calcot Manor and The Paragon Gallery in Cheltenham. The beauty of the Gloucestershire countryside, not to mention the school’s architectural features such as arts and crafts style stained glass panels and ornate plasterwork, would inspire anyone. Well, nearly anyone. As we cooed over this view or that cornice our sixth form guide admitted that he’d been there since he was 4 and had ‘stopped noticing’, but knew he’d look back and realise how lucky he’d been.

Masses of music with orchestral and singing groups to suit all inclinations and abilities and excellent GCSE results although, as is often the case, there’s minimal take up at A level. The same goes for drama and theatre studies, but even if drama’s not first choice as an A level, Rendcomb fosters some dynamic talent, with a student group recently taking a play written and directed by themselves to Edinburgh, and a new performing arts centre. Newly introduced music technology A level (with all the kit) may change this; the proposed performing arts centre certainly will. Current venue, the Dulverton Hall, was originally the house’s orangery – hence the cast iron pillars. It’s had a rough life, having previously served as a gym – presumably after the glass had been removed – and is crying out for restoration. Beautiful reading room also used for concerts etc.

Sport is inclusive with Rendcomb’s possibly unique claim is that every pupil will at some stage represent the school at sport. The prevailing attitude to team sport here is very different: the fact that a place in the first team may be open to what in other places would be a third team talent delights pupils and parents alike. ‘My daughter would never have got a look in elsewhere’, one mother told us, adding that the more able at sport develop leadership skills early on because they ‘get to motivate and bring on others in their team’. Facilities include plenty of pitches, tennis and squash courts, a climbing wall, golf course and an open-air pool. There’s a packed fixture list and they ‘play good schools and learn, whether they win or lose.’ Quite a few pupils are county and national level players and school teams have recently competed and won in lacrosse and shooting competitions. All this notwithstanding, Rendcomb is probably not going to be first choice for the highly competitive, sports-mad child. Other sporting options include riding (and polo), mountain biking and even fly-fishing on the River Churn that runs through the grounds. The delightful director of sport (who would certainly have inspired this PE-dodging writer) is keen to make even more use of the college’s 230 acres and get students to see fitness as a habit for life. To this end he tries to ensure that all the sixth formers keep doing ‘something’ in the sporting line – a noble aim and one in which we’re sure he’ll succeed.

Generous range of co-curricular options including D of E. Outdoor education extends, via bushcraft, all the way to sixth form leadership challenges. School ‘sends a powerful message encouraging kids to grab every opportunity,’ a parent told us.

Plenty of trips, big and small, to Bristol Zoo, Roman Bath and Chedworth, the Cheltenham Festival, London and, closer to home, the village post office and church. Coastal expeditions end with rounders on the beach at Weston-super-Mare and ice-creams for everyone. Can we come?

Boarders

Boarding was described to us as ‘laid back’ and we rather agree. Rules is rules, of course – we’re not talking about lax discipline – but sometimes school boarding accommodation can be a little sterile. Here it was good to see such characterful and welcoming surroundings in the junior boys’ house, The Old Rectory. With its worn and polished flagstone floors, Delft tiled fireplace and jumble of colourful beanbags in the cinema room, it was more home than house. Boys get to name their own dorms – currently Harry Potter characters – and bedside tables were littered with books, mugs and evidence of snack attacks. House parents have decorated the walls with huge photo collages. Day pupils are assigned to a boarding house and have book lockers there.

Sixth formers live in Park House – girls’ and boys’ wings separated by a common room and kitchen. Park House was built in the 1970s and, predictably, is not a thing of beauty, but study bedrooms are serviceable and the atmosphere convivial and relaxed. All sixth form students get a taste of independent living with their stay in ‘the flat’, in the village. Groups of four (students don’t get to choose) are given housekeeping money and live there from Monday to Friday. They have lunch at school but must manage the rest – buying provisions from the village shop and arranging domestic chores. The results are variable – sometimes it runs like clockwork, sometimes mummies deliver food parcels and help clean up at the end.

Sensible rules about phones and technology in general and the school internet is turned off at 11pm – not popular with older students burning the candle to finish essays. Mobile phone reception was described by one parent as ‘dire’ (we agree). Discipline, when necessary, is firm but fair; small numbers and strong sense of community mean that unkindness, unhappiness, bullying etc quickly spotted and dealt with.

Background and atmosphere

Rendcomb was founded in 1920 by Noel Wills (of the philanthropist tobacco family) as an idealistic experiment in the ‘power of opportunity and environment’. Wills believed that ‘the true aristocracy among men is in reality simply an aristocracy of brains and character.’ Initially the school provided 40 local boys with a free boarding education and preparation for entry to public schools. Wills was inspired by the ideas of educationalist J H Simpson, persuading him to leave his post at Rugby and become founding head of Rendcomb College. Under Simpson, Rendcomb started taking boys from age 11 and preparing them for university. Contrary to the Spartan regime that then prevailed in most public schools, Simpson and Wills shared the Platonic view that students flourish in beautiful surroundings and should be educated together regardless of class differences. Revolutionary stuff.

While the school has inevitably evolved over time, its founder’s influence remains. For instance, there are no house competitions, thus enabling the whole school community to work together rather than dividing tribally. The emphasis on learning to lead, rather than win at all costs, was also well understood by the pupils to whom we spoke. As Noel Wills wrote of his school in The English Review in 1924, ‘Work and games are abundantly worthwhile. Neither is the former rewarded by prizes, nor the latter by colours.’

Pretty much equidistant between Cheltenham and Cirencester, Rendcomb is in Cotswolds profond. This is Laurie Lee country – steep wooded valleys, ancient hedgerows, lush pasture and winding streams. School and village are as one – the post office (school played a key role in saving it from closure) is also the tuck shop, there’s a surgery and even though the pretty church can’t quite accommodate the whole school (carol service is held in Cirencester), it’s still used for eg junior school assemblies and monthly boarders’ services.

It may look more like a country house hotel than a school from the outside but on the inside, though clean, Rendcomb is well worn. Heating and maintaining a building like this with its huge windows and stone corridors must be a bursar’s worst nightmare. The Wills family remain as trustees and, with the board of governors, are still very much involved in the school’s educational and charitable ventures. Parents generally like the fact that it’s ‘not flash’, and one commented, ‘It’s not about the latest facilities, it’s about giving children an appetite for learning.’

Rendcomb’s visitors are (or perhaps, were) met, somewhat broodingly, by a huge marble statue of King Saul that ‘came with the house’. We got the impression that the poor old chap wasn’t entirely popular, and he certainly seemed out of kilter with the school’s welcoming atmosphere. We’re not sure whether King Saul was beloved of old Rendcombians, but it seems that his days as gatekeeper are numbered. School was rather coy about his fate, but we gathered that he was off to a new home in the USA, having boosted the performing arts centre funds. Let’s hope he cheers up.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

School says there’s ‘no hierarchy’ at Rendcomb, and along with the school council is keen to see even more collaboration between year groups. A sixth former told us, ‘It’s a small community but there are lots of characters here and we all grow up together. It’s good for team spirit.’ Parents hugely appreciative of the individual care their children have received; one mother with two very different children said that ‘each got exactly what they needed’. The UK guardian of an international student who had previously disliked school told us that he had ‘blossomed’ and now ‘loved boarding’. She also praised the excellent communication from teachers and house parents.

Pupils and parents

Most families are from within 20 minutes’ drive - school is equidistant from Cirencester and Cheltenham although majority of families are from villages in between. Some also from Swindon plus a handful of US families from nearby airbase. County set still feature but parents say it’s a broad social mix – gingered up by increasing number of ex-London families. Active and engaged parents’ association runs socials and fundraisers, ‘really friendly and welcoming’ said one new member. Quite a few had chosen Rendcomb despite their children having gained places at local grammars, ‘We wanted a school where the focus wasn’t so narrow,’ said one. About 65 per cent of boarders from abroad, a considered mix of European and those from further afield. ‘It gives the students a great network after they leave.'

Entrance

Majority come up from junior school plus others from local primaries; influx from preps such as Airthrie, Beaudesert, Hatherop, Pinewood and Prior Park at age 13. Candidates for sixth form need minimum of GCSE grade B in subjects to be studied, plus reference and interview. School takes pupils with SEN who can cope with the curriculum; all are assessed individually. Nature of site means it’s unlikely to be suitable for pupils with more than minor physical disabilities.

Exit

Degree subjects as diverse as one would expect, from politics and international relations to sports and exercise science to speech and language therapy. London colleges, Bristol, Edinburgh, Exeter and Birmingham currently popular. One to Oxbridge and one medic in 2016; also one off to Keiser University in Florida with a joint academic (political science) and lacrosse scholarship.

Money matters

Very good value, especially boarding, compared to nearby competition. Music lessons, SEN and EAL support are extra. Academic, choral, sport, music and art scholarships on offer. Noel Wills full bursary awarded annually to one local state primary pupil.

Our view

Rendcomb remains true to its founder’s gently progressive vision. This is a genuinely civilised and humane school where chalk and cheese flourish alike in one of Gloucestershire’s happiest valleys.

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Special Education Needs

In keeping with our philosophy of catering for the individual, we provide individual tuition and support for children with mild learning difficulties. Rendcomb College will accept pupils who have specific learning difficulties provided it is confident that the pupil can access and cope with the demands of the mainstream curriculum as delivered by subject teachers. The Learning Support Department aims to provide specialist tuition in reading, spelling, maths and study skills for any pupil in the school who is in need of extra teaching at any stage in their school career. Support and guidance is given to pupils with specific learning difficulties who do not need extra tuition so that they are able to achieve their full potential.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL)
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
Not Applicable
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
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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