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Outdoorsy lot who make the most of the facilities and seem to agree with the ‘healthy mind, healthy body’ outlook. Friendly pupils, unflustered and polite, with just the right amount of door-holding and rather less hair flicking and self-conscious teenage behaviour than usual. Un-flashy, country school, ‘It’s a Barbour and boots place.’ The need for teenagers, sixth formers particularly, to handle stress is taken seriously with regular sessions on relaxation and quick intervention if a pupil is struggling. Sixth formers also choose their own…

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What the school says...

Gresham's is a vibrant co-educational school where we bring out the best in each other. We provide a high quality, fully rounded education to boys and girls from the age of two in our Nursery and Pre-Prep to Sixth Form students. We are fortunate to benefit from extensive and peaceful grounds in the pretty Georgian market town of Holt, just four miles from the coast and twenty-three miles from Norwich with its historical attractions and national and international transport links.

In 2016, the Independent Schools Inspectorate awarded the school 'excellent' in all nine categories following its inspection.

The breadth and diversity of our school community make for a happy, warm and supportive learning environment. Here, young people are prepared for rewarding personal and professional lives with the intellectual, personal and social qualities and skills needed to make a positive difference to the communities in which they live.

Pupils have many opportunities to participate in an exciting range of co-curricular sports, arts and music activities along with adventurous expeditions and community-based service. Our excellent facilities provide so many opportunities for pupils to develop their talents or explore new interests. In 2018, we launched our new outdoor activity centre with a 250m zip wire and 28m climbing tower. Gresham's is an All Steinway School, providing our musicians with world-class pianos and in 2017, we opened a new state of the art music school with a recording studio, 140 seat auditorium and practice rooms.

Whilst we can boast first class academic achievements, the academic success and personal development of all pupils at all levels gives us the greatest sense of fulfilment and reward.
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International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

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.





What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2014, Douglas Robb MA (Edinburgh) politics, MEd (Homerton, Cambridge), previously head of Oswestry School. A post-university spell of teaching in Zimbabwe and at Fettes College helped decide his career. Following a post teaching politics and economics at Loughborough grammar, he taught and was a housemaster at Oundle for 10 very happy years which ‘totally persuaded me of the benefits of boarding’. Quite a commanding physical presence (a former rugby player), extremely quick-witted and entertaining, a live wire. ‘He is confident enough to be able to listen to us and sometimes change his mind,’ we were told by a pupil, and it is clear that he has ‘picked up the vibe’ of the school. He thinks ‘it is dangerous to try and change a school; find one that’s good and help make it the best. A school has a life of its own; I am a caretaker for a short time.’ Believes the house system is central to the success of pupils learning and integrating well into school life. It can also help during the teenage years with ‘opportunities for conversation and friendships, both amongst peers, but also with staff’. Has high expectations of his staff and spells out the commitment at interview; ‘I pin them down, no woolly promises to help will do. This job is a vocation.’ He is scornful of phrases such as ‘work-life balance’, believing that, in term time, successful teachers must be prepared to involve themselves far beyond the classroom itself, including meetings at odd times; ‘Ten o’clock in the evening is not unheard of.’ Is fortunate to be inheriting sound finances and is planning new boarding and music facilities and a sixth form centre. Is keen to continue raising academic standards – ‘I never heard of a head wanting to lower them’ – and to emphasise the central importance of boarding to the ethos of the school. Will accept pupils ‘so long as they are prepared to work hard’ and their parents are realistic and in support.

Is married to Lucinda and they have three children (all at Gresham’s). He is enjoying north Norfolk life, ‘countryside, dogs, getting to know people’. Maintains keen interest in rugby, also golf, skiing and travel and ‘proper holidays’.


Roughly 50 per cent of senior school have come up from the prep school, others from a mix of day and boarding preps, some from maintained sector. No common entrance; an assessment day is held for year 9 entrants in Lent term for following September. Tests in English and maths plus reports and references from current school. For sixth form, predicted grades (usually a minimum of A*/B in six subjects including those to be studied and minimum of C in English and maths) plus school report and interview.


Around 20 per cent leaves post-GCSEs. A few to Oxbridge, sizeable numbers to London (Imperial, LSE, UCL) plus the other Russell Group universities. Wide range of subjects studied including a regular few to drama school and music colleges (Central St Martins, Guildhall). Varying numbers leave for pastures new after GCSE, usually in the maintained sector, plus the odd one for vocational work (gamekeeping a recent one). Head approves of pupils choosing vocational work and believes it reflects the diversity of the school.

Latest results

In 2021, 58 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 56 per cent A*/A at A level (81 per cent A*-B). IB average score 37. In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 43 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 29 per cent A*/A at A level (58 per cent A*-B). IB average score 34.

Teaching and learning

Class sizes of up to 24, and setting for most parts of the curriculum, mean pupils get focussed attention. Parents think the size of the school allows for pupils to develop at their own pace, though several also mentioned, not as a criticism, ‘there is definitely more push; things are less easy-going than in the past.’ Pupils generally take at least 10 GCSEs. For the sixth form, there is the choice of A levels or the IB with between a quarter and 50 per cent taking the IB. The requirement for one of the six subjects studied to be a language puts off a lot and, as an exam, it is perceived as ‘stiffer’ than A levels. The previous head’s attempt to enforce the IB for all by 2016 met with strong parental resistance, and was abandoned as a policy in favour of the status quo: all may, none must. The present head is clear, ‘IB is an excellent exam and we encourage it, but it is not, and never will be, for everyone.’ Creditable results across the board at A level.

Learning support and SEN

Around a fifth receive extra help with SEN, mostly dyslexia, dyscalculia, sensory impairments and poor self-esteem. The need for help appears greatest in years 9 and 10 and lessens as pupils progress through the school, perhaps finding their feet. The department is well staffed with full- and part-time teachers, one devoted to teaching ESL, and help is offered individually and in small groups. Care is taken to ensure that individual difficulties are made known to subject staff. New entrants are screened to flag any problems early on and close relations nurtured with feed junior schools. Charged as an extra, but there is a termly cap on fees at £500.

The arts and extracurricular

DofE popular at all levels, with around 30 reaching gold each year; CCF and the BASC course (British Association for Shooting and Conservation) are options. New outdoor activity centre includes a 250-metre zip wire, obstacle course, low and high ropes course and a 28-metre Bourdillon climbing tower named after Tom Bourdillon, one of England’s greatest mountaineers and Gresham's alumnus.

The reputation of the school’s drama department and facilities is renowned and the school has produced several professional actors, Olivia Colman (Broadchurch and Rev) most notable. With professional facilities (Auden theatre hosts touring companies as well as being used for several school productions each year – excellent sound and lighting systems, dressing rooms, proper auditorium, the lot), drama is a very popular extra activity: ‘It was a reason to come here.’ Parents loud in their praise: ‘It is incredible what they can stage; lots of opportunities to develop a serious interest in stage management, lighting and sound as well as acting.’ At least three major productions each year; it can be a real springboard for pupils who want to go on to study at drama school or university.

Music is equally valued – roughly half the school has timetabled instrumental tuition and there is a wide variety of choirs, ensembles, bands and orchestras. Despite a revamp for the Britten centenary in 2013, accommodation is under par and new facilities are a high priority on the head’s building programme, which includes the new music school and sixth form centre.

Well-designed building devoted to art, textiles, and DT – splendid displays of pupils' work, excellent facilities and all manner of projects undertaken. Opportunities to use oil paints from the start, life-drawing classes regularly held and artists in residence inject their own talents and energy into this thriving department. Superb exhibition space, lots to feast the eyes on – a really dynamic place to develop a talent. Art and design have their own rather eye-catching building in the prep too, with spectacular displays of pupils’ work (including designs on backs of chairs) and every inducement for creativity. 'We do textiles, mosaics, woodwork, mess generally.'


Outdoorsy lot who make the most of the facilities and seem to agree with the ‘healthy mind, healthy body’ outlook. All the usual team sports: rugby, hockey (for boys and girls), netball and cricket, with lots of match play for everyone and good coaching for those taking things seriously. School also hosts training camps, some residential, in cricket, rugby and hockey, in the holidays. Swimming is compulsory in the lower forms and an extra activity higher up. Weights room, rowing machines, yoga and cross-country running all popular. ‘I often go for an early run; it is one of the reasons I like boarding,’ we were told by one girl, and it is obviously not a place for those who prefer stewing indoors. The few who seriously dislike team games are treated humanely and allowed to do shooting (this is Norfolk), sailing, fencing, cycling and swimming higher up the school. Pitches, Astroturf and courts for tennis and squash galore, and a rifle range (members of the club have been junior ladies champion four years running, and several pupils have been selected to represent Britain in the U19 rifle team).


Strong boarding feel, but day pupils are well integrated having their own bed and/or desk, in their house, and though flexi boarding is not actively encouraged, ‘We happily accommodate pupils overnight on occasions when they are here late for rehearsals, performances or other school events.’ Pupils do swap around quite a bit; choosing to board in the sixth form is popular; others, sometimes for financial reasons, become day. Houses are comfortable, well lit and decorated with thought given to making things home-like, for example decent-sized kitchens that are actually used for cooking and eating in, rather than miserable little kitchenettes with a toaster and electric kettle, standing room only. Houseparents and matrons are always about, pupils return to their houses at break and lunch; bedrooms mostly shared between two or four.

The academic/pastoral divide is blurred; house staff teach their own subject alongside their pastoral duties. Lots stay in at weekends and there are plenty of organised activities though not what the head calls ‘enforced jollity’. Houses sit together at their own tables in the revamped dining hall. The food ‘has improved, we get more salads’ (this from a girl) but we thought it still a bit on the stodgy side – room for improvement. Some houses have fruit always available, but not all, a source of some grievance, we discovered. Straightforward uniform: jacket and trousers for boys (‘suits’ in the sixth form), calf-length tartan kilts and new, light blue tweed jackets (rather chic) gradually replacing the old blazers. Coats hardly worn and if needed (one thinks of bracing North Sea breezes), ‘We wear what we like so long as it’s not too outrageous.’ How sensible. Home clothes once the timetabled day is over and at the weekends.

Ethos and heritage

Founded originally as a grammar school (1555), rejuvenated in 1890s by George Howson, a headmaster with ‘advanced’ views on education. He introduced the teaching of sciences, abandoned corporal punishment and encouraged pacifist thinking – practically unheard-of then. Set in over 170 acres of woodlands and extensive playing fields, school buildings extend on both sides of the old Cromer road leading out of Holt (pupils cross via a bridge) and are a mixture of styles and quality, ranging from magnificent Edwardian and art deco halls and libraries with grand staircases, stained glass etc, through to more run-of-the-mill classrooms, the innovative art and design block and the famous Auden theatre. Dyson STEAM building opens in autumn 2021. Pupils get plenty of fresh air doing the brisk walk between lessons in different parts of the site. There is a well looked-after air about the place and a programme of refurbishment of various houses is under way together with further planned developments.

Arts, sport, science and technology are all well represented amongst former pupils, who include Benjamin Britten, WH Auden, Sir Christopher Cockerell (inventor of the hovercraft), Sir James Dyson (vacuum cleaner), Tom and Ben Youngs (international rugby players), Lord Reith (first director-general of BBC), Prof Alan Hodgkin and Olivia Colman.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Nothing but praise from parents; ‘My three boys all settled quickly and never felt out of things as day pupils,’ was a remark we heard over again. The school focuses particularly on those not coming up from the prep school in year 9, and there is a ‘buddy’ system in place. ‘Our son found it hard to begin with, but the school continued to support him; they were brilliant and he is really happy there now.’ The small size of the school means staff and pupils all know each other and relationships are forged, which can help if there are difficulties at any stage. Good interaction between the different year groups and friendly, still respectful staff/pupil relations.

Apart from usual minor misdemeanours, a well behaved lot. There is a clear anti-bullying policy (lots of awareness notices on walls), counsellors and a school chaplain as well as matrons and house staff all keeping an eye out. Well understood rules on illegal drugs (zero tolerance), and alcohol: over-18s may drink (‘enjoy a pint' is the phrase used) either in the school’s own bar or the Feathers in Holt; no PDA (public displays of affection), but few overstep the mark. The need for teenagers, sixth formers particularly, to handle stress is taken seriously with regular sessions on relaxation and quick intervention if a pupil is struggling.

Pupils and parents

Friendly pupils, unflustered and polite, with just the right amount of door-holding and rather less hair-flicking and self-conscious teenage behaviour than usual. Un-flashy, country school, ‘It’s a Barbour and boots place.’ Day pupils are drawn from a large area of north Norfolk, many travelling for an hour each way; boarders from all over the country but predominantly East Anglia. Mostly professional and business families with a sprinkling of county boarding families, plus lots from London – many choose the school for the contrast with the fiercely competitive schools in the Capital. Some move to Norfolk for this reason, both parents commuting, or one remaining in Norfolk during the week so children can be day pupils. About 20 per cent from overseas, mostly Europe.

Money matters

Thanks to a long association with the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers and its generous financial underpinning of the school’s finances, a number of valuable scholarships and bursaries are on offer. Academic scholarships worth up to 20 per cent of fees offered for year 9 entry (can be topped up with a bursary, if financial need is demonstrated), drama, music, art and sport awards also offered, for up to 20 per cent. In the sixth form, scholarships are offered to those who do brilliantly at GCSE (if not already in receipt of an award) and help is forthcoming if families fall on hard times, at least to enable pupils to get through to the next public exam. Usual sibling discounts for three or more at one time.

The last word

Well-established country boarding school with a deserved reputation for the encouragement of the arts, particularly music and drama. Its relatively small size and position make it a good choice for those looking for a broader educational experience within a school with a strong pastoral ethos. The twin paths of the IB and A levels will remain under the present head. Hard to think who would not thrive in this happy, well-run school.

Please note: 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.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

Greshams Learning Support department, housed in a newly extended support centre, deals mainly with pupils who are dyslexic, dyspraxic or dyscalculic. There are currently 105 pupils on the learning support register; 53 are receiving regular individual lessons from suitably qualified teachers, whilst those who have become independent learners may only need occasional help. All pupils are screened on entry to the school to ensure that anyone who needs help is identified and appropriate help is arranged. Pupils who are known to have a specific learning difficulty before they enter the school are tested by the head of learning support before entry. There is some limited in-class support for pupils who need a scribe for examinations, and many pupils use laptops as their usual method of presenting work. In the GCSE years pupils who have individual lessons usually take nine rather than ten GCSEs and the one-to-one sessions are supplemented by small study groups led by a teacher from the department. The results for pupils on the learning support register are good; all pupils usually achieve GCSE English, English literature and mathematics with at least a grade C and we would expect almost all of our pupils to take A levels and then go on to university.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
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

Who came from where

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