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Main school library has just been completely revamped, its wonderful tiers of gothic windows pour light onto new shelves and lounging readers. Banished with the old furniture is conversation, a kind of un-modernisation which, according to our guides, has been welcomed by all. Even more enticing than golden silence are the iPads mounted on black metal plinths that pupils can use to search the library catalogue, which does not, we are told, extend to Angry Birds...

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What the school says...

Cheltenham College occupies stunning grounds in the lively and culturally rich town of Cheltenham. We offer outstanding education within a warm and vibrant boarding community. Established in 1841, Cheltenham College was the first of the great English Public Schools. To this day, we retain a great sense of history and tradition, with magnificent buildings and architecture providing a backdrop to a first class modern education. University offers are excellent with most, if not all, high achieving pupils winning their first place choices. The curriculum is broad, with a vast range of extra-curricular clubs, societies and sports teams complementing academic work. All pupils are encouraged to get involved in all areas of school life, from drama, music and sport to adventure trips and debating societies. ...Read more

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Boys taking Latin at an English Independent School (GCE AS level)

Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Sports

Polo

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

Rowing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2010, Dr Alex Peterken BA MA DEd (30s). Five children, one at the college and two at the prep; he enjoys choral singing (bass) and walking in the Cotswolds. Dr Peterken was educated at The Prebendal School, Chichester where he was head boy and head chorister, thence to Eton College as a music exhibitioner. BA in theology from Durham, MA in educational management from London and a doctorate in education from Surrey. After 12 years at Charterhouse, where he was head of higher education and careers and latterly housemaster of Saunderites, he joined the college in 2008 as deputy head and still teaches religious studies.

Referred to admiringly as ‘the man with the plan,’ he fearlessly embarked on a programme of significant changes when he took up the headship, building for the future on the school’s traditional strengths. Has he succeeded? ‘It’s the same but better,’ we were told over and over again, so that’s a yes. Genial, youthful (was one of the youngest HMC heads) and delightfully unstuffy, he teaches half a term of RS to all the first years and sits in on lessons, ‘not at the back; I sit next to the pupils and ask questions.’ Pupils can visit Dr Peterken, without an appointment, before chapel each morning; he wants to know what’s going on, what’s exercising his charges. While there may not be queues at his door at 8 in the morning, all the pupils we spoke to said that they ‘felt listened to’.

In January 2018 he returns to Charterhouse as head. The new head from September 2018 will be Nicola Huggett (40s) MA PGCE (Oxon), currently head of Blundell's School in Devon. Educated at St Gabriel’s and Marlborough, she read PPE at Oxford (where she was captain of her college boat club and president of the university riding club) before embarking on a brief career in advertising with J Walter Thompson – brief because she soon realised it was not for her. ‘Why did no-one tell me about teaching before?’ she says of her experience shadowing a teacher in a comprehensive near her home. Since then her career has taken her via Haileybury, ultimately as head of boarding, during a time when the school went fully co-ed and introduced IB, and Downe House as deputy head, before being made the first female head of Blundell's since its inception in 1604: and, indeed, she will be the first female head at Cheltenham since it was founded in 1841. Clearly a superwoman, she also runs marathons, rides - she has competed in several international three day events - and raises four children. Husband Spencer works for an automotive software development business.

Crispin Dawson, senior deputy head, will hold the reins during the spring and summer terms 2018.

Academic matters

In 2016, 70 per cent A*/A at GCSE. IGCSEs are offered in maths, English literature and science and were recently introduced for history and geography. Maths, English, DT, music, history and science results are particularly impressive. At A level in 2016, 46 per cent A*/A grades and 74 per cent A*/B. Dr Peterken has no time for the excuse ‘you can’t do all things well’, and while there are no plans to become more selective or chase league table rankings, there is a strong drive to enrich the academic opportunities for all students via a broader approach to the curriculum and programmes that enable pupils to learn more effectively.

Lessons are 35 minutes long and the new two-week timetable is, apparently, much less confusing than its eight-day predecessor. We saw thoughtful group work (boys and girls at separate tables) in Latin and a biology class where all but one were learning to love leaf mould and get to know its inhabitants.

The sixth form has received considerable attention with the introduction of an independent learning project for the lower sixth designed to extend and deepen subject knowledge (offered in addition to the EPQ). The college is also the first UK independent school to run an innovative accredited leadership and life skills course in the sixth form based on Sean Covey’s book ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers’. Pupils can choose from 24 A level subjects including textiles, theatre studies, history of art and Latin and Greek. Critical thinking can be taken as an AS.

One of the assurances Dr Peterken and his team gives is that no pupil is allowed to ‘slip under the radar’; academic problems are tackled promptly via an ‘academic support plan’ drawn up with the pupil, parents, housemaster, tutor and subject teachers. The head is also very keen for pupils to learn from each other: disorganised pupils are assigned a buddy to help them on the path to order; older and wiser pupils give talks along the lines of ‘Things we wished we’d known …’

EAL pupils attend an induction programme prior to the start of the academic year and are supported by two EAL specialists. Learning support department caters not only for those with mild dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD etc but also ensures the gifted and talented are suitably challenged. The role of this department extends to the whole school, overseeing initiatives to develop the learning potential of all pupils.

Main school library has just been completely revamped, its wonderful tiers of gothic windows pour light onto new shelves and lounging readers. Banished with the old furniture is conversation; a kind of un-modernisation which, according to our guides, has been welcomed by all. Even more enticing than golden silence are the iPads mounted on black metal plinths that pupils can use to search the library catalogue which does not, we are told, extend to Angry Birds.

Games, options, the arts

Dr Edward Wilson the Antarctic explorer was educated here and no fewer than three intrepid members of staff (one of whom is director of activities) have climbed Everest – surely some kind of a record. While the hills and fields of Gloucestershire offer little to challenge explorers or mountaineers, pretty much everything else is available to fortunate Cheltonians. The first ever inter-school rugby match was played on the school’s splendid pitch in 1844, overlooked no doubt by the confection of a pavilion that resembles a miniature Brunel railway station. In the summer this perfect pitch, which won the College’s groundsman Groundsman of the Year award, plays host to the venerable Cheltenham cricket festival.

County and national triumphs in rugby, hockey, cricket, tennis, rowing and polo; coaching for all abilities is now ‘much more professional’ and even third and fourth team matches are keenly contested and enthusiastically supported. Rackets (a forerunner of squash) is one of the more arcane sports on offer and the college has won the national championships three times and is consistently in the top four. Golf, swimming, water polo, dance and fitness are part of the exhaustive (and exhausting) sports programme as is yoga, a surprising hit with the boys; apparently it is very effective for rugby injuries.

CCF, Young Enterprise and D of E are all enthusiastically tackled, the latter being offered in its less common cycling, horseback and ski-touring options in addition to the usual walking challenge. Service activities take place every Wednesday and volunteers give their time locally at schools and residential homes. Longstanding links with Kenya see college pupils working on projects there, often carrying this on into gap years.

Art, music and modern language teaching takes place in the rather grand neo-classical surroundings of Thirlestaine House, a former gentleman’s residence. Its original features - huge mirrors, chandeliers, ornate cornices and radiator covers - have survived generations of school children (just) and create a suitably bohemian home for the creative chaos of art and pottery studios. The long gallery is venue for exhibitions, lectures and public events. Two students have gained places at RADA for costume design and backstage training courtesy of the outstanding DT department while another gained a place for acting.

Nearly half of pupils learn a musical instrument, a lower uptake than comparable schools but the figure is increasing. Chapel and chamber choirs plus orchestras, bands and ensembles must keep that 40 per cent pretty busy. Performing arts centre complete with dance studio, green room and, less predictably, a plaster frieze of the Parthenon uncovered during refurbishment. School and house plays and reviews are hugely popular, everyone is encouraged to get involved either performing or backstage.

The College also plays its part in Cheltenham’s cultural life, participating in the annual festival fest. The combined choirs of the college and Dean Close opened a recent music festival. Harmony with nearby Dean Close and the Ladies’ College is described as ‘cooperative’ with pragmatic sharing of visiting speakers, careers events and collaboration between international students’ societies. Pupils are more forthright, acknowledging and enjoying the rivalry.

Boarders

Houses are in residential roads just outside the campus perimeter – separating ‘home’ and school is considered very important: the head encourages pupils to adopt a professional attitude to school, ‘it’s a place of work’, whereas houses are a home from home, informal and a place for relaxation. Parents are encouraged to join in with weekend or social events and are pretty much in agreement with Ofsted’s conclusion that boarding provision at the college is ‘outstanding.’

In addition to a matron, each house has a resident tutor who hosts academic ‘clinics’ outside school hours. Christowe, one of the original Victorian boys’ boarding houses, has been beautifully decorated by the current housemaster and his wife (an interior designer) and there’s not a whiff of the institutional in the first floor family rooms. As with all the boys’ houses, 60 or so boys live here, sharing for the younger and single rooms for sixth formers. The common room and library are full of house memorabilia (house names a constant in the college); fascinating archive photos and a mini museum all foster a sense of continuity and house identity. Wonderful cushions decorated with the piratical house insignia of skull and crossbones were a gift from a parent. Clubby red-painted snooker and games room much admired. Ashmead, one of the girls’ houses, was built round a garden quad with secure key pad entry system, lovely light bedrooms and civilised socialising areas. Boys are allowed to visit for film evenings and the like - apparently rom-coms are rather favoured. The housemistress heads off cliques by splitting up prep school groups and changing room-mates each year. All residents meet twice a day – a practical system that also enables staff to observe shifting dynamics. House staff and prefects alert to meal skipping and similar warning signs when ‘faddy could tip into eating disorder.’

Background and atmosphere

Beautiful mellow Victorian gothic buildings along Cheltenham’s busy Bath Road undergoing final stages of major re-vamp – grade 1 listed status an expensive headache but good news for Gloucestershire’s stone masons and other master craftsmen. It’s easy to see why visiting Americans (NATO base nearby) get a touch of the vapours; it’s every inch the English public school. Public areas certainly getting the five star treatment though classrooms remain workaday and well used (all have requisite IT and smart boards). Stonework not the only area revamped: Dr Peterken has installed a duo of deputies, one pastoral, one academic, a director of learning, a new head of sixth form and 30 new members of teaching staff. Numbers, like results, are rising and a modest increase in places (about 40) is planned, as is another girls’ boarding house. Students and parents tell us that much has changed for the better, not change’s sake. Singled out for mention were improved home school communication and relations between teachers and pupils. Interestingly, members of staff said that they thought this had always been one of the strengths of the college but our sixth form guides were very certain that things were different and teachers were ‘much more involved and friendly’. The staff we met lived up to their billing and were indeed friendly, funny, charmingly young fogeyish in a few cases, and clearly enjoying both the teaching and strong sense of community at the College.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Pupils start each day in the glorious chapel, no doubt energised for study by the famously enthusiastic hymn singing. This is such a feature of college life that a recent group of upper sixth leavers asked if they could record themselves in the chapel singing favourite hymns as a parting memento. The house system is everything here, for boarders and day pupils alike; each is a community within a community and fiercely competitive. Every house has its own character and distinguishing traditions such as prefect blazers and boaters (worn with pride apparently).
Housemasters/mistresses first in line for problems whether academic or social and liaise very closely with teaching staff to ensure ‘joined up’ care. Older pupils train for peer mentoring responsibilities and can often pick up on wobbles before they become serious. Mobile phones (aka ‘the biggest headache’) only allowed in houses and, along with laptops, must be handed in before bed. If a housemaster overhears parents being berated or harangued – not uncommon in a school population that is totally teenage – he will challenge (hooray!). The writing of proper thank you letters (to former prep schools, weekend hosts and the like) is another courtesy expected of pupils. While most pupils come from similar backgrounds, staff are alert to potentially insensitive displays of conspicuous consumerism – affording one the unexpected chance to ask a parent to ‘take back the mink’.

Some pupils disgruntled about tightening up on trips into Cheltenham town centre – now only Sundays unless there’s a legitimate need. Head has responded to parents’ view that since the school offers so many activities, ‘hanging around in town’ need not be a supplementary option. Bath Road still in bounds for banks, supermarkets and cafés, not that the last should be necessary - food is plentiful with lots of choice: salad bar, curries, carvery and good puds served in the former chapel and ‘legendary’ bacon rolls and snacks dispensed by the very friendly ladies in the tuck shop. This is a town school and necessarily takes firm line on drugs, drink and similar misdemeanours. Sixth form privileges are realistic – at 17 pupils can go out for a meal at an ‘approved’ restaurant; at 18 they may visit a similarly endorsed pub. The sixth form social room in the main school has a café/bar; ‘we have to prepare them for life beyond school’, one housemaster told us.

Pupils and parents

Good mix of first time buyers, second generation Cheltonians, Forces and international. Around 18 per cent from outside UK – 30 countries represented. Not snobby or excessively label conscious. Many boarders are from local area or within a few hours of Cheltenham. Children don’t have to grow up too fast here; they’re down-to-earth, polite and confident without being arrogant. ‘It’s not a London school’, one parent said approvingly. Uniform of navy and cerise plus usual complexity of ties generally adhered to, all pupils wear own choice of pastel shirts; boys’ individuality expressed mainly via hair.

OCs include Rageh Omar, journalist; Tim Bevan, film producer; General Sir Michael Rose; Nigel and Jack Davenport, actors; James Whitaker, royal correspondent; James Stout, world rackets champion; Sir Alan Haselhurst MP, The Right Hon Lord Anthony Colwyn CB and the Norfolk coroner, William Morris. Several events marked the centenary of Dr Edward Wilson who died with Scott in the Antarctic in 1912.

Entrance

Increasingly competitive. Most via common entrance, 40 per cent from own prep school, others from plethora of localish preps including Beaudesert Park, Abberley Hall, Pinewood, St Hugh’s, Hatherop Castle, The Dragon, Bilton Grange, Moor Park and St John’s on the Hill. Entrants from state schools take exam (papers in English, maths and, where appropriate, French); sixth form candidates require at least five B grades at GCSE and must sit papers in subjects to be studied.

Exit

Around ten per cent leaves after GCSEs. Almost all sixth formers to higher education. Handful to Oxbridge (six in 2016), most to top universities, huge range from Bath to Manchester to UCL. Most popular subject choices: biological sciences, psychology, economics and management, history, engineering.

Money matters

Scholarships (up to 25 per cent ) and exhibitions (10 per cent) offered at 13+ and 16+ in academic, art, DT (13+ only), drama, music and sport. All-round award may be made at college’s discretion. Additional means-tested bursaries also available.

Our view

Radical modernisation does not always fit easily with old traditions, whether architecturally or educationally, but Cheltenham College has emerged refreshed and ready for a new era. This school is a happy, spirited community inspiring real affection and loyalty in its members.

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Special Education Needs

Cheltenham College offers strong support to bright pupils with specific learning difficulties. Provision is tailored to meet the needs of individual pupils, who receive one-to-one support. Lesson times are arranged to ensure that pupils do not miss other lessons or activities. Support is offered with aspects of literacy, study skills, examination technique, organisation and areas of the academic curriculum.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Epilepsy [archived]
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
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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