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What says..

The main school site is amazingly spacious and open considering that it is in the centre of the town. This aids the sense that Stamford School is at the heart of Stamford itself, and the link is very important to everyone there. The boys like the fact they can stroll out into the town or do the 10 minute walk to the girls' school for some sixth form lessons. We watched a rehearsal where musicians from the boys' and girls' schools played side by side with a Royal Marines Band to prepare for a joint town concert that evening...

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What the school says...

The school provides high quality education for day and boarding pupils from the age of 11 to 18. Sixth form students are taught in mixed groups with the girls from Stamford High School. There is a friendly family atmosphere in the schools and all boys are helped to fulfil their potential. ...Read more

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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.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2016, Nick Gallop. A social and political sciences graduate from Durham, with an MSc in educational leadership and management; joined Stamford from the senior leadership team at Portsmouth Grammar School. He had been head of department at Wellington College after stints at Loughborough Grammar School and St Mary's, Walsall, so widely experienced. He knows what a good school looks like and seen how to manage change successfully.

The Stamford Endowed Schools diamond structure (co-ed junior school, single sex teaching from 11-16 then co-ed in sixth form) means Nick works closely with the two other heads and chief exec, Will Phelan, who was the popular former head of Stamford School. The governors did well keeping hold of Will and making an outstanding appointment in Nick. The boys say he is very open and friendly, 'not at all stuffy', and has really tried to get to know them. He is enjoying the contrasts with the south and finds the community welcoming, open and modest. One of his tasks has been to reflect to the school just how first rate it is. The boys are getting the best education they could get anywhere, he tells us.

He is lively and very articulate and boys and staff tell us he is a very good listener. He has the reputation for being reliable and trustworthy as well as flexible enough to respond to new challenges. Parents enjoy talking to him at social events and appreciate his Twitter feed and use of social media. He is busy making sure everyone understands the heritage of liberal educational thinking. He has encouraged a broadening of the year 7 and 8 curriculum, introducing The Challenge, a programme designed to embed cross-curricular skills.

He is articulating the values the school holds dear, defining what it means to be a good man in today's world. He wants the boys to be clear that kindness, respect and discipline are values that underpin everything at the school. He holds creativity to be a key 21st century skill, for the technologically savvy as well as for the artist and entrepreneur, and he is ensuring that the boys absorb all these elements through the opportunities Stamford offers. 'He is a forward looking head,' one parent told us.

Nick is a strong advocate, as you would expect, of the diamond model. It allows boys at an age when they could drift to organise events and take on formal caring roles such as mentoring, which in co-ed schools he has seen dominated by girls. Sport is a personal passion and he believes in the values of cooperation and belonging that team sports can bring. He is married to a teacher, has two daughters in the junior school and has been known to play the ukulele in a school rock concert.

Academic matters

Given a fairly broad academic ability range on entry, results are good. In 2018, 35 per cent A*/A and 62 per cent A*-B grades at A level in the joint sixth form with Stamford High, and at GCSE 55 per cent A*-A/9-7 grades. EPQ results strong, as are BTec sport level 3, though numbers here are small at the moment. They have also introduced a BTec in business studies. There is considerable flexibility around finding the right exam course for a particular cohort of boys - 'just because we have always done that one' won't wash here. French, German, Spanish and Russian are all available as well as Latin and get excellent results.

There is a serious focus on the intellectual hinterland around the curriculum. Developing intellectual curiosity as well as aspiration is important. Boys have set up a school blog to voice ideas on a range of academic matters. In the sixth form, an enrichment module extends the core three A level curriculum to include, for example, options of EPQ work, Microsoft accredited courses, sports leadership, an extra AS or even survival cooking. The 1532 Club offers serious academic enrichment outside the classroom. There are debates, talks by staff, boys, old boys and visitors aimed at introducing topics not necessarily in the curriculum. It can be used as another way of sharing the fascinating EPQ projects and adding to the preparation for university.

Every other Thursday afternoon, the whole school is off timetable. We happened to visit on a Thursday and enjoyed the amazing buzz. Year 7 were building a mechanical car and programming it for the climax of the afternoon, a race. Year 10 and 11 were asking questions in the middle school debating finals and year 9 were completely absorbed in a complicated trade game. It was a complete delight to observe these learning opportunities way outside of any exam curriculum.

There is a real thirst to draw on the intellectual world beyond school too. A group of sixth formers had just arrived back from a cutting edge science conference in Texas that had generated huge enthusiasm.

Everyone told us maths and sciences are strong and popular. The labs have all recently been refurbished, with space for practicals and for theoretical learning. There is a telescope and astronomy area. Some classrooms have walls are all covered in whiteboards and the tables to be written on.

Learning support is taken very seriously. Most learning support assistants work within classes and this has had a very positive impact on progress. The school is constantly reviewing data to determine when to set and who will succeed best where. There is some one-to-one learning support available, normally focussing on study skills. One EAL specialist. A parent with two mildly dyslexic sons spoke appreciatively of how the school kept her very well informed of just what interventions and progress were going on.

Boys, particularly those who have experience of other schools, comment on how excellent the teaching is and how teachers are 'always there for you'. There are occasional Saturday morning sessions as GCSEs loom. Teachers are happy to be emailed with an academic problem and respond very quickly.

Games, options, the arts

The head is rightly proud of the large numbers of boys who sing in the various choirs; over 100 year 7 and 8s make up a non-auditioned junior choir. There are lots of ensembles to cater for different levels and tastes including rock bands. We watched a rehearsal where musicians from the boys' and girls' schools played side by side with a Royal Marines Band to prepare for a joint town concert that evening. If it allowed the band leader to extol a music career in the Marines (no tuition fees, a degree, getting paid for playing your instrument), who can blame him?

All years 7 and 8 take performing arts subjects and there is a very healthy take up of drama and theatre studies at A level and GCSE. Drama is very popular and the staff - who teach across the boys' and girls' schools - are 'fantastic', according to parents and boys. SES remains one of the largest independent examination centres for LAMDA with around half getting distinction. Joint productions with the girls' school; rehearsals for Hairspray were in full swing when we visited. There is a big musical every three years and a number of smaller productions in between. House drama competitions ensure everyone is involved, even if not the next RSC star. There is a large performing arts centre with a theatre seating about 350 as well as smaller performance spaces.

Masses of sport goes on with the aim to encourage a life-long commitment to physicality, so there are options alongside the major sports, and the fitness suite is well used. 'It really is not just a rugby school', parents were keen to assure us, with fresh opportunities such as water polo. At the elite end, some boys are in national development squads and the teams do well in highly competitive fixture programmes. 'But if you have a pair of boots and want to play, you will be put in a team - the D, E and F teams have lots of matches too', we were told by both parents and staff. Once a year the whole school community takes part in the Burghley Run, a cross-country in the glorious near-by Burghley House grounds. A bonding experience, we are told, whether you love it or loathe it.

There is a thriving joint CCF (of three sections) with a contingent of about 350 cadets - one of the oldest and largest in the UK. DofE, also joint, is taken seriously here along with debating, astronomy club, robotics, dissection club, bush craft, chess - and on the list goes. The boys say there is no pressure to do things but they are clearly in tune with the school's message that there is something that everyone can feel passionate about. Parents like the fact that a boy doesn't have to be the best rugby player to be respected. 'They can have as quirky interests as they like,' one parent told us, 'and the others will just be very interested in them too'.

Community service features strongly. Boys help at a home for the elderly, reading and writing with visually impaired people. The staff believe it is this sort of exposure to the needs of the wider society that informs the boys' future careers just as much as their A level results.

Politics in the widest sense is a priority for the head. He encourages the boys to learn about and discuss current affairs and they are well informed and interested.

Boarders

The boarding side of the chool is relatively small and this creates, the boys say, a very close-knit community, though one that is thoroughly integrated with the rest of the school. Resident tutors and housemasters also teach, so there is always help at hand with homework. There are overseas boarders from a range of countries, but flexi-boarding - often taken advantage of by London families - is increasingly popular. Facilities are just right for boys and have recently been upgraded. We were particularly impressed by the very attractive large house kitchen where the boys all congregate after prep. There are billiards, snooker, computers, ping pong, lots of sport on Saturdays and trips to adventure parks, bowling, ice-skating, but also space to just be, for the boy who wants none of those things.

There are occasions when all the boarders across the SES schools get together. The Christmas formal meal for the seniors is one and Chinese New Year another. The boys are keen that these opportunities should increase and like the idea of building a whole school boarding identity.

Background and atmosphere

Stamford, the town, must be one of the most charming urban environments in the country, with its gracious Georgian principal streets and the river flowing through. The main school site is amazingly spacious and open considering that it is in the centre of the town. Other buildings are close by. This aids the sense that Stamford School is at the heart of Stamford itself, and the link is very important to everyone there. Some of the buildings date back to the original foundation in 1532, including a lovely chapel, and there are also modern buildings - some less attractive but serviceable, others pleasing. The boys like the fact they can stroll out into the town or do the 10 minute walk to the girls' school for some sixth form lessons.

The school also keeps close ties with old boys, quite a number of whom send their own children here. Old boys visit to share their career experiences and there's an overseas network that can be tapped into. Midnight mass on Christmas Eve in the school chapel attracts back old boys as well as staff, present pupils and a choir of 50. Old boys drop in whenever they are back in Stamford and there were a few helping with the Hairspray production.

The diamond structure is very popular. Sixth form boys said they all felt the benefits of the joint sixth form with the girls' school and increasing activities together. 'It gets a bit more serious in the sixth form, with the girls joining us,' some said, though a few told us 'they do talk a lot'. Younger boys said they would like more integration with the girls and with the juniors, but certainly don't want to have them there all the time.

There is a purposeful but relaxed atmosphere round the school. Parents say it is an environment where boys are respected for working hard and being clever. The boys we met were completely charming - open, modest, well grounded.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

The behaviour round school was excellent without being regimented. Boys say that most discipline issues are sorted out at an individual level with teachers spending time in one-to-one meetings. There are the usual grades of detentions, suspension and exit, but not much gets to the serious level. Boys can lose their scholarships if they don't pull their weight academically.

The assemblies in the old chapel take place in the middle of the day and boys say these are a welcome break in their busy day for quiet reflection on a broadly Christian theme. There are informal staff mentors when needed and overall we sensed a concerned, caring staff. Boys and parents clearly feel relationships are very positive.

The PSHE programme underpins the pastoral ethos. Boys felt it was relevant and forward looking, covering topics such as feminism and anorexia, as well as well-trodden internet safety topics.

Pupils and parents

It is usual in these reports to say how smart everyone looked. Well, the boys didn't, particularly - what they did look like was normal adolescent boys, which backs up the school's view that it is interested in individuals not production lines. Much more important than the odd shirt untucked was the obvious friendliness and openness of the boys. Parents comment on the healthy social mix in the school, though a few, who remember when the school could offer a lot of assisted places paid for by the local authority, are conscious that there are more well-heeled families than there used to be. Many parents are from business backgrounds, with quite a few working in London.

An extensive network of school buses brings children in from the surrounding areas - the farming villages but also Peterborough, Grantham, Newark, which widens the social mix. We talked to a number of parents who are both working to pay the fees.

Entrance

Main entrance at year 7, with papers including English and maths, and GL assessment reasoning tests for ability as well as attainment. 'It is only a snapshot', says the head. The school tries to look deeper into the profile of each applicant, weighing up their all round skills and the characteristics of determination and aspiration. About 40 per cent of boys come from the junior school, the rest from a mix of state and independent local schools.

For automatic entry into sixth form (year 12), at least five GCSE passes at grade 6 or better, including in the subjects to be studied at A level. Some 20 or 30 join from outside and they usually integrate quickly and well, a testament to the friendly atmosphere.

Although the school is oversubscribed and increasingly so, the raw score is not the only criteria - which is good news for boys who don't perform at their best in exams but would flourish in the Stamford environment. The school is interested in the aspirations of the family and whether they will buy into Stamford School values.

Exit

Some 20 per cent leave after GCSEs. About 90 per cent of sixth form leavers to university - all over the country and to read a wide range of subjects, including two to Oxbridge and one medic in 2018. Increasing interest is being shown in apprenticeship schemes and other high quality technical training options.

Money matters

This is a value for money school. Fees are very moderate for the independent sector in this part of the world, particularly on the boarding side. Scholarships and bursaries are available. About a fifth of all families receive some bursary support

Our view

There are big hitters in the area and Stamford is well able to hold its own. Those much more expensive schools probably win out on the uniformity of excellent buildings and state-of-the-art facilities, but Stamford is determined to keep the school as accessible to as many as possible while not compromising the things that really matter in a boy's education. Parents were very aware of the richness of the opportunities and all saw the school as producing grounded individuals who can function in the real world. It is a gem of a school.

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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