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This is a traditional school steeped in history and it takes great pride in the “Rendcomb family.’ Not just a marketing strap line, we were told by parents; ‘Rendcomb has an amazing community spirit.’ Technology is taken seriously. Numbers at A level are on the up and the heads of department are well positioned to help with industry links and advice. But it’s not just for the seniors, the juniors have been crowned Gloucestershire’s Coding Champions and are…

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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

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2015, Rob Jones, previously deputy head at Shiplake College. Educated at Swansea (economics), Worcester (PGCE) and Buckingham (MEd). After a brief period mixing banking with elite rowing, he became a teacher in 1994. Rob has taught economics and business at Canford, Clifton College, King's Worcester and Dauntsey's, as well as coaching rugby and rowing and running day and boarding houses. Teaches business economics to sixth formers at Rendcomb.

A keen sportsman, an Ironman medal is proudly displayed in his office, he is a regular supporter at school matches. Lives in the college with wife, Pippa, a singer turned teaching assistant who leads the staff band, and children, a son in year 8 and daughter in year 6. Rob is immediately likeable; parents say he is ‘an excellent head teacher,’ ‘so fabulous with the students; they respect him completely,’ and ‘great with parents too.’ One explained, ‘When we first met he told us that if there wasn’t a lot of noise and laughter in the corridors there was something wrong! He hasn’t disappointed in that regard and runs a caring, happy, pupil-focused school.’ Another added, ‘He has a compelling vision for the future of the school, with the interests of the students at its heart, and isn’t scared to innovate and modernise.’

Head of junior school since 2017 is Mr Gavin Roberts, previously deputy head at the school from 2014. Before that he was senior tutor (academic) at Cathedral School, Llandaff, for 11 years. Lives in the village with his wife Jen, also a teacher. A rugby man, he is a qualified WRU referee. Gavin teaches year 5 English and is ‘warm, down to earth and approachable,’ parents told us. It was clear to us that he loves this school and as a result, ‘the children absolutely love him to bits; he allows them to be who they are…. There is always a lot of fun when Mr Roberts is around.’

There is a One College approach at Rendcomb, one ethos and one vision for the whole school, both juniors and seniors. The two heads are very much united on this and we get the feeling that this fairly new team are steering Rendcomb College towards a bright future.

Academic matters

In 2017, at A level, 66 per cent A*-B grades, and 43 per cent A*/A grades. At GCSE, 37 per cent A*-A9-7 and 63 per cent A*-B grades.

Twenty-three A levels offered including a new design and technology option. Another recent addition is a travel and tourism BTec. If this is popular, a business BTec will follow. EPQ optional. Consistently strong subjects are the sciences and maths. Oxbridge applicants are supported well with external business experts conducting mock interviews and providing feedback. Bespoke courses for overseas pupils available.

French is taught from nursery along with some Latin and German in the later years of junior school. French, Spanish and German are the main languages in the senior school. Specialist teachers teach art, music, drama, PE, and English and maths from year 3. Any child in the junior school showing particular talent or aptitude will be encouraged to take part in senior school activities. One parent told us, ‘Our son has gone from struggling/being somewhat disenchanted with school to really finding himself. His academic side has picked back up extremely well and he has taken up new hobbies (rock band, film club) and the school has been great at helping him open up and grow.’

Technology is taken seriously. Computers are upgraded every three years; the current Macs are being donated to the music technology department and the replacements are equipped with facial recognition and touch screens. The enthusiastic heads of department both have industry backgrounds, from Tesco and Microsoft respectively. The department has a maker-space full of old bits for pupils to reuse; game consoles were under construction on our visit and 3D printed prosthetic limbs operated by Raspberry Pi computers have been created in the past. There is also a computing laboratory, 3D printer and Oculus Virtual Reality headsets. Computing lessons are delivered using real-life examples. This forward-thinking department won the ICT Facility Award at the Education Business Awards in 2017 and were shortlisted for the ICT Innovation category for the use of technology across the school’s 230-acre campus. Numbers at A level are on the up and the heads of department are well positioned to help with industry links and advice. But it’s not just for the seniors; the juniors have been crowned Gloucestershire’s Coding Champions and are ranked first place in the Discover Education Coding League Table.

SEND department caters for the whole school. Provides one-to-one support as well as catch up programmes in small groups. Needs include dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia. Specialist dyslexia teachers teach pupils from 4 to 18. The department also has a quiet room. More complex needs are considered on an individual basis.

Games, options, the arts

Not the sportiest of schools. As it is small, teams are mixed ability and often mixed year groups. However, the school ethos is that everyone tries their best and everyone gets the opportunity to represent the school. Outdoor facilities, including the 10-acre sports park known as Top Pitch, are excellent but parents would like to see indoor facilities to match. Top Pitch alternates each term as rugby/lacrosse pitches, cricket pitches, football pitches, a hockey pitch and an athletics track. Plus there is a permanent clay pigeon shooting ground. Other facilities include an Astroturf (to be replaced soon), an outdoor swimming pool (to be covered one day, hopefully), squash courts, indoor cricket nets and a climbing wall.

‘Rendcomb is probably not going to be first choice for the highly competitive, sports-mad child,’ we were told, but several parents would still like to see more opportunities and activities on offer. Major sports for boys are rugby, hockey and cricket (football in the junior school). For girls it’s hockey, lacrosse (coach is part of the England Lacrosse squad) and tennis (rounders in the junior school). Badminton and basketball fixtures are arranged throughout the year but these are minor sports (offered as clubs) as are athletics, fencing, golf, netball, rounders, sailing and cross-country. Equestrian club and clay pigeon shooting are offered from year 5. Shooting teams apparently ‘hold their own’ against larger and more experienced schools like Harrow, Eton, Millfield and Cokethorpe. An athlete development programme supports a number of pupils in training and competing for district, county and national level teams. Junior pupils have swimming lessons in Cirencester Leisure Centre from reception. From year 5 pupils use the outdoor swimming pool in the summer.

Forest school is one of the stars of the show at Rendcomb (the other is The Griffin Theatre). The site has been in the grounds for 10 years, run by four fully trained staff and used by everyone. Every week nursery pupils have two sessions and juniors have one afternoon up to year 4. After that it can be chosen as an extracurricular club. Nestled amongst the trees they have a fire pit, several dens, rope swings and an eco toilet. Senior pupils have their own dedicated space as part of the outdoor education curriculum.

Art, music and DT are in one building, purpose-built in 1967. This is a good space with art studios, textiles and a design technology studio. The latter is equipped with a laser cutter and 3D printer plus CAD suite. A small exhibition area at the entrance confirms the standard is high. Upstairs is the music department, under refurbishment on our visit. Plenty of practice rooms and pupils told us they can come and practice whenever they like. Four concerts a year include both staff and pupils, plus regular informal lunchtime concerts. Around 50 per cent of pupils learn an instrument. Plenty of music clubs for all and particularly talented juniors are welcome to join senior groups.

In 2017, the £3.3m Griffin Theatre opened, the first development in almost 30 years (Godman boarding house in 1989 was the last). An impressive building, it will undoubtedly inspire pupils to take part in performing arts. Available for external events too, it has a 350-seat auditorium plus a dance studio and drama classroom. A drama lesson was underway on our visit with pupils rehearsing on the stage and in the foyer. First production in The Griffin was Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, next will be Les Misérables. Recent senior productions include One Man, Two Guv’nors, Macbeth, Jerusalem and Footloose, whilst the latest junior production was Porridge. All juniors get a part, (even the head), and all year 6s get a speaking part. Next up is Pirates of the Curry Bean.

Rendcomb also offers classical ballet from 3 years and contemporary dance from 11 years. Royal Academy of Dance and Contemporary Dance Association exams and grading. Stretch and tone classes offered to grade 3 pupils and above. Performance group club encourages pupils to choreograph pieces and enter dance competitions such as the great big British Dance Off and Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts.

Other extracurricular clubs include debating, dissection, martial arts, military fitness, theatre, Lego, nature and gardening. Juniors can opt from a range of activities including mixed year and ability sports or music clubs, knit and stitch, scrabble, or clay pigeon shooting (ammunition is extra, we were told). For sixth formers there is an in-house leadership programme, a buddy scheme and D of E to choose from.

Head is conscious of the cost of trips so funds for expeditions to places like Patagonia must be fundraised by pupils. Other trips are kept affordable, including a trip to Norway for hiking and trekking, a sports tour to Netherlands, language exchanges and outdoor challenges in the UK. Junior trips include a year 6 outdoor challenge residential, and a biennual French trip for years 5/6. Day trips include @Bristol and Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Boarders

From year 7. Around 45 per cent of pupils board either on a full, weekly or flexi (up to three nights a week) basis. Only about 10 per cent of years 7 to 9 board, meaning numbers at weekends are low (four to 12 in each house). However, numbers increase in the older years with around 55 per cent of years 10 and 11 boarding and 70 per cent of sixth formers. At weekends there are around 30 to 40 pupils in these houses. Some 75 per cent of boarders are from overseas, from a range of 14 countries worldwide. Year 11 studnets from Germany come on short stays.

There are five houses, all on the campus. House system is horizontal rather than the traditional vertical. All have common rooms with pianos, table football, projectors, TVs, X-Boxs, private Skype rooms and kitchens. We were impressed with the homeliness of the houses; rooms are well looked after and the houseparents are friendly and caring. Gap students help out in the younger year boarding houses.

The Old Rectory is a grade II listed building with plenty of character and has been housing year 7-9 boys since 1966. The girls are in Godman. Dorms are a good size, for threes or fours. Phones and such are removed at lights out. Both houses have prep rooms, but year 9s are given a separate room away from younger ones. They have a main common room to share with day pupils plus their own boarders' common room. Year 9 girls also have their own lounge that they recently redecorated in a particularly grown up design of greys and velvets. Kitchens are used for cooking as a family if numbers are low at the weekends. Both houses have gardens that boarders can spill out onto during good weather.

Years 10 and 11 boys are in Lawn House, and the girls are in Stable House. Here, boarders have individual bedrooms with a study space. In the boys' house there is a large media room for quiet study, and in the girls' there is a library, a hobbies room and a gym. Plus two house dogs.

Park House is the mixed sixth form house. Again, all rooms are individual with a study area. Common room and a well-equipped kitchen (two large cookers and a dishwasher) looks out onto the outside seating area. A smaller quiet room is available for more private chats. In addition there is Garden House, a cottage based in the village, within walking distance. All sixth formers have the opportunity to spend two separate weeks here and the idea is that they budget, shop, cook, wash and get to school on their own as an introduction to university life. Some fare better than others, we were told, but the excitement around this was ubiquitous.

A boarders' committee helps decide on evening and weekend activities. These include dance or yoga, baking, craft nights, playing laser tag on the grounds, using the climbing wall, going shopping, cinema trips, roller discos or canoeing down the River Wye.

There is plenty of socialising between boys and girls and across year groups. Social areas include The Barn for years 10-11, and the sixth form bar, open twice a week. This is tucked away in a basement with sofa snugs, a snooker room, pool room and a dance room. Think, no windows, flashing lights, graffiti walls – every teenager's dream; they absolutely love it. No place for parents, but rest assured this is a fully supervised, responsible zone.

Head is looking to reorganise the houses in the near future. He hopes to renovate the junior boys’ boarding house and turn it into a sixth form centre. The other boarding houses would then be re-jigged and extended (planning permission underway) so that years 7-9 would become mixed. Years 10-11 would remain single sex houses and the sixth would remain co-ed.

Background and atmosphere

Founded in 1920 by Frederick Noel Hamilton Wills as a boys’ school with just 12 pupils; girls were introduced into the sixth form in 1972 and the school became fully co-educational in 1992. The junior school was added in 2000 and the nursery five years later. There are now some 280 seniors and 90 juniors, with around 30 per cent from overseas.

Set within 230 acres of parkland in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds, the school is in, and very much part of, the small village of Rendcomb. Cheltenham and Cirencester are nearby. Within the beautiful grounds lies a deer park, home to over 70 fallow deer and classified as an ‘ancient tree hotspot’ by the Woodland Trust. This is an ‘outdoor’ school that makes the most of its setting, with regular events like treasure hunts for the juniors and laser tag days for the boarders. ‘Our children come home with pink cheeks and muddy trainers and yet still excel in the classroom,’ parents told us.

This is a traditional school steeped in history and it takes great pride in the 'Rendcomb family'. Not just a marketing strapline, we were told by parent after parent; ‘Rendcomb has an amazing community spirit’; ‘an all-round, family inclusive, friendly feel.’ ‘The children all mix and play together regardless of age and everyone knows everyone,’ they told us. Pupils often to be seen chatting sociably with teachers over lunch or walking between lessons. ‘A place where character comes first and superficiality is correctly dismissed,’ we were assured.

The main house is stunning inside and out. The staircase has stained glass windows that beautifuly illustrate the Aesop's fables. The school recently held a concert here (yes, this is no ordinary stairwell), taking full advantage of the acoustics and backdrop. Heating and maintaining a building like this with its huge windows and stone corridors must be challenging and the school reflects this; it is practical and far from flashy.

The grand dining hall is used solely for dining, no moving of chairs and tables on a daily basis. Diners are staggered according to age. Huge floor to ceiling windows and ornate ceilings give a sense of tradition and old-fashioned splendour. Next door a large reading room is used for overspill at lunchtimes or for events and meetings. Beyond that is a library with a 150 year history; it doesn’t get more authentic than that.

Daily assemblies after lunch are run by ‘the very funny’ head of juniors, and are popular with both pupils and parents. Year 6 requested that storytelling be part of assembly so the head is now working his way through Broccoli Boy with an audience from reception to year 6 listening attentively. Friday’s assembly is longer to celebrate achievements. Parents are welcome and they told us, ‘when they have been awarded a distinction they go up and tell the school and the parents why they were awarded it... a clever way to get used to public speaking at a very young age!’ Happy birthday is sung en masse to all who celebrated that week.

Junior school is attached to the main building. Juniors have the luxury of sharing all the senior facilities including dining in the same hall, using the sports facilities and the new theatre, plus being taught by some senior teachers. Classrooms are based around a quad with the nursery (‘excellent,’ according to parents) tucked snugly in the middle with its own courtyard. Rooms are large, overlooking the outdoor swimming pool or extensive gardens, and class sizes are small (16 max). Large art, design and technology classroom is upstairs next to a brand new science lab. With its white benches and stools, it is a modern and rather grown up lab. Juniors are also treated to science lessons in the senior school labs once a term. The playground and adventure playground are just by the sixth form boarding house. In fact the sixth formers are probably the most likely to see the juniors during their day, building on the brother and sister ethos that is a way of life here.

Both boarders and day pupils share the same boarding houses, ensuring there is no split and everybody gets to know each other. All pupils register at their houses to 8am daily. This includes Saturday school (currently under review), which is followed by sport. Most day pupils are still on-site at 4pm.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

‘We have had call to rely on the pastoral care of the tutors at Rendcomb during some challenging health issues and can honestly say that the children now view the school as a part of their extended family,’ one mother told us. Another parent explained how the school had allowed her son to pursue his rugby passion and ‘offered him all round support and care away from crazy commitment levels of an athlete and a chance to be a sixth former too!' The excellent pastoral care has resulted in a nurturing environment that 'brings out the best in each pupil regardless of their abilities or likes/dislikes. It instils confidence, encourages and builds an all round sense of respect for fellow pupils and staff.’

Pastoral care is further reinforced by the family ethos, including big sister and big brother events when younger pupils are shown around the houses. This sense of ‘looking after each other’ is not exclusive to these events, we were told. ‘I am really impressed with how many students across all years know each other and support one another,’ they explained.

Services once a week in the listed St Peter's Church on site are conducted by the school chaplain, Reverend Bob Edy, an old Rendcombian himself with many a story to tell.

Pupils and parents

Day pupils commute from Gloucester, Swindon and Stroud and some from as far as Oxford. Some parents went to the school themselves and one family we spoke to are saving up to send their new granddaughter there. ‘The parent community is really friendly, refreshingly unpretentious and richly diverse,’ one new parent confirmed. Another added, ‘The teachers and students have very strong relationships and the parents are welcomed into the community as well. ‘

Smart blue uniform with a touch of red for all except sixth formers, who wear business dress. ‘We love the way the school not only provides the children with academics but teaches them manners, confidence and to be all round great children.’ Based on the pupils we met, this is definitely true. Interests and passions are encouraged rather than stifled, resulting in a real mix of children here.

Rules are of course in place, but this isn’t a strict school in the traditional sense. More of a place where pupils will be ‘steered by conversation’ as a parent would at home. Communication with parents has improved under the new head.

Entrance

Nursery from 3 years old. For junior school entry, shadow/taster days plus assessments in English, maths and verbal/non verbal reasoning plus reports from current school. Children are teamed up with a ‘buddy’ on these days.

For senior school entry, entrance exam and interview with the head. Automatic entrance for juniors, but all pupils must sit the exam for assessment purposes. The school looks to see if the child would thrive here and any needs are discussed with the family on an individual basis. Entrance day tests include exam in the morning followed by an outdoor education session. This is a fantastic way to observe children working in teams in a more relaxed, fun environment. Overnight stays available.

Transition is seamless as the senior school continues with the junior school’s ethos, parents told us. One added, ‘New pupils settle in quickly and are not judged by whether they are good at maths, music or throwing a ball. All are genuinely kind, polite and (very importantly) full of character.‘

Sixth form entry is based on GCSE results, an interview with the head and school reports. As a small school, they can be flexible, the head told us. One pupil is studying engineering at Chippenham College as well as A levels at Rendcomb. If students have a passion or talent, the school will support them and work with other organisations so they can compete and train.

Exit

Around 80 per cent of juniors go on to senior school, others to Pate's Grammar, Marling School, Cotswold School and Stroud High.

Around 75 per cent stay on to sixth form with 90 per cent then going onto university. Destinations include Exeter, Bath, Imperial College, King’s College, Swansea, Royal Holloway, Birmingham, Cardiff and Nottingham. Subjects include geography, medicine, politics, drama, law, accounting and finance, chemical engineering and physics. One to Oxbridge in 2017.

Notable Old Rendcombians include Issy Bailey, Paralympian (shooting); Jonathan Suffolk, technical director at the National Theatre; Richard Dunwoody, jockey; David Tyler, chairman of Sainsbury’s.

Money matters

One parent told us, ‘With its Noel Wills ethos of offering an inclusive education - even to a child who would not otherwise be able of afford it - we felt much less intimidated and genuinely welcomed and valued in the Rendcomb family, something we still feel today. We love catching up with staff and pupils at the many family events.’ Many pupils are not from very rich families, so although scholarships and bursaries are limited, they are welcomed. In 2015, the school reduced sixth form day pupil fees. Numbers have since doubled.

Academic, art, music, drama and sport scholarships are awarded each year at 11+, 13+ and 16+. Noel Wills Scholarship and the Rendcomb Scholarship are offered at 11+. Pupils joining year 3 from September 2018, are eligible to apply for a 7+ scholarship.

Our view

A small family-focused school where everyone knows everyone. One parent summed it by saying, ‘When it comes to kids, nothing top trumps the development of character, and on this metric I haven't seen a school in the area that comes close to Rendcomb.’ Set in amazing grounds, this outdoorsy school is traditional with some modern twists - an impressive performing arts centre and a forward-thinking ICT department. Not for competitively sporty types, but Rendcomb is a bit of find if you’re looking for a school that nurtures individuals.

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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
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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