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Teaching of a fairly formal nature (and some classrooms plain rather than purl when it came to display) but judging by interest levels – front-facing, engaged pupils clearly absorbed in subjects – it’s quality stuff. Extracurricular is ‘the heartbeat of the school,’ says head (who should know, what with taking games lessons on a Wednesday afternoon and being brains of the enterprise). DofE, CCF and many, many trips – ‘more than we need,’ thought one parent (but in a good way).  Canny land acquisition almost allows stroll into town to be accomplished entirely on school land...

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What the school says...

Visitors are always welcome to visit Reigate Grammar School. We hold regular open events and families are very welcome to come along to our our extensive programme of drama productions, concerts and talks or to meet with the Headmaster, Mr Shaun Fenton. Please contact us to arrange a visit. Reigate St. Mary's Preparatory and Choir School (ages 3-10) is the junior school to RGS. To arrange a visit to Reigate St Mary's please contact [email protected] ...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


Since 2012, Mr Shaun Fenton MA PGCE Med NPQH (50s). Formerly head of Pate’s and founded and chaired National Grammar Schools Association. Educated at Haberdashers’ Aske’s, then PPE at Oxford. Started and ditched City career for education, first in west London comprehensive until drawn by challenge of The Ridings School in Halifax, labelled worst in Britain in TV documentary. Exhilarated by challenge of working with one of the first superheads, who achieved rags to riches magic, forged in hotbed of innovation. ‘If something worked here, would work anywhere.’

Much in demand to repeat the process, quickly promoted to first deputy headship in Hertfordshire, followed by spell as troubleshooter injecting aspiration into other troubled schools that had shed senior management following inspection failures. Tough, energetic, enthusiastic and ‘comes up with about 1,000 ideas a week,’ said member of staff. ‘A very nice young chap,’ reckoned a paternalistic local.

His arrival has had a mixed reaction from parents, who seem to be holding back while they gauge the measure of the man. They love his God particle-like ability to be in several places at once (one had recently come across him at a hockey umpiring class – his latest qualification) and the way he’s handed out his email address and positively implored parents to get in touch – no issue too small. ‘I love to hear from them,’ he says (he also likes to use them to gauge temperature of public feeling – the words ‘focus group’ crop up, in other contexts, more than once).

Particularly good at unpicking existing school practices and refashioning with more stuffing. Sixth form mentors don’t just talk to pupils but are also charged with speaking to their families. Scholars are challenged from day one, with a programme designed to shape talents into Oxbridge-friendly material if academic and all-weather leadership fabric (sport) with captaincy a managed exercise in building relationships, helping develop struggling teams and nurturing individuals. ‘No point just getting them to play matches – it’s about the psychology.’ Lots of praise, too, for innovations to date, notably reintroduction of house system.

Parents worry that new system of offers to some prep pupils as early as year 5 could reduce numbers making it through to senior school. But though one parent felt it had ‘put the cat among the pigeons’, head was clear that ‘it means offers for the vast majority of Reigate St Mary students and not just the high performers'. Overall, ‘admission at age 11 is approximately half from excellent local state primary schools and half from prep schools.’

Conundrum for some might be why, with solid A* career, he has opted for first time move into independent sector instead of carrying on down the path to government darling roles as a superhead’s superhead, advising the great, good and better on how to do it. But it’s simple. As at Pate’s, he can educate society’s leaders himself and cut out the middleman. As to why here - it ‘was the only school that stood out for its ambition to make a real difference.’

Nervous to start with (he says), he certainly isn’t now. Has been charged by the governors with providing education ‘the way it should be, with no short cuts.’ Slow cook approach lets top grades rise from teaching that lets pupils live their subjects – converting hall into mini Parliament to explore legislative process, for example. ‘This could not be further away from a hothouse approach but can deliver stunning, authentic learning,’ says head.

Wants to make school one ‘you drive past others to come to’. And, yes, he does want to get results up, though refused to be drawn on any specific targets, or schools he’d measure himself against (Caterham is the long term rival at the moment). He also wants staff asking ‘what excellence looks like… what are the best teachers and schools in the world and doing? What does it mean to us?’ Too many schools coast, he thinks, relying on showy but shallow academic gimmicks, where pupils, drilled to the test, fetch up as ‘charlatans, not historians.’ As to ‘outstanding’ inspection ratings, pretty much waved aside as something that for any really good school is the starting point.

Will know he is hitting the sweet spot when shared language of excellence permeates the building and crosses the departments. No wonder ‘some staff feel they have been hit by a tsunami – need to hold on tight,’ thought insider.

Pupils, meanwhile, see a lot of him as he beams out from airy office overlooking playground. He somehow manages to pack in a bit of teaching, too. An RE teacher originally, he takes 1675 (school’s foundation date) as starting point for philosophical debate about pupils’ place in the world. Lively charm makes him a winner. Jolly, determined and, through previous posts, has seen it, done it and got the results to prove it, leaving no doubt that this head will make his mark on every area of the school without, despite recent appearance in full Darth Vader regalia, necessitating a walk on the dark side.

Married – wife Anna works part-time at the school – with two sons at linked prep.

Academic matters

‘Not a hothouse, but academic,’ is the view of one prospective parent who, like others, reckons head has been charged with ramping up results. Sciences and maths top the popularity chart, history close runners up, geography, government and politics and RS leading second wave, while marginals include music and Latin (13 taking music A level a couple of years ago was ‘exceptional’, says department director, who is happy with small exam numbers and big involvement).

Much that’s good, little bad and nothing ugly, with GCSE and A level grades both onwards and upwards. In 2018, 81 per cent of GCSEs A*-A/9-7 and 70 per cent of A levels A*/A grades. Expect best feet to be put forward and pips squeaked, all, however, without imposing undue stress. Direction of travel is gladdening head’s heart. Ten subjects taken by most, with IGCSEs for sciences, Eng lang and maths, where very able whizz through a year early. Maths is only formally set subject apart from languages, grouped to allow later starters (often from state primaries) to catch up with early adopters.

Has introduced High Performance Learning: 'an innovative, world-class education profile that helps students become enterprising learners, advanced performers and global citizens'. Teaching we saw of a fairly formal nature (and some classrooms plain rather than purl when it came to display) but judging by interest levels – front-facing, engaged pupils clearly absorbed in subjects – it’s quality stuff. ‘Not every single teacher is brilliant,’ felt parent, though praised the many who were. ‘There’s lots of laughter and interaction.’ And while teenagers ‘might moan, they do get on with lessons.’ Plenty of oohs and ahs in year 8 chemistry class, as teacher created solid. ‘I love chemistry – teaching is brilliant,’ said Oxbridge hopeful. Computing another winner – first year pupils animatedly creating crests and GCSE candidates’ amazing robotic creations proudly on show (top grades the norm).

Relaxed pupils clearly weren’t feeling the strain. Big benefit – plenty of time for non-examined goodies on offer during the normally exam-dominated GCSE years of fourth and fifth form as electives ensure there’s no lull in the pace of learning. Result is sense of open house, with teachers welcoming followers in and out of lesson time, subject loyalties very keenly felt and endearingly expressed. ‘It’s my third home,’ said year 9 enthusiast of computing. ‘Music’s my second.’

Games, options, the arts

Something for everyone, even down to flourishing forensic club (DNA testing one of covetable skills covered) with music, drama and sport taking joint curtain call in neatly blended annual summer festival featuring show-stopping goodies like fashion catwalk, school v MCC match and assorted productions and concerts.

Extracurricular, indeed, is ‘the heartbeat of the school,’ says head (who should know, what with taking games lessons on a Wednesday afternoon and being brains of the enterprise). DofE, CCF and many, many trips – ‘more than we need,’ thought one parent (but in a good way). Clubs and activities get a brochure of their own.

Sport big but not bloated (offers ‘the opportunity to play both winter sports simultaneously’ – now that’s what we call co-ordination), and gets unusually modest showing in school literature. Success, though substantial (fourth form rugby team stuffed with county players) isn’t a front, back and middle pages splash.

The talented are well catered for, now girls too (their sixth form rugby team ‘popular,’ reckon pupils), as well as enthusiastic triers. ‘My son had a fixture practically every Saturday, daughter hardly at all,’ said parent – now approaching equality for both. Particularly strong in athletics (dogged too – one national biathlon finalist swam and ran in below zero temperatures) as well as cricket (impressive wins against strong schools).

On site facilities stretch not just to sports hall but very snazzy swimming pool (open to parents every Sunday). Focus for games is 32-acre site (stonking but chilly, ‘about four degrees colder than everywhere else,’ thought staff member’), just ‘five to 10’ minutes away (15 in rush hour – we tried it) and worth a Saturday visit for the bacon butties alone.

Arts, performing and visual, cast equally long shadow. Supercharged head of drama reaches across age and interest range. Pulsating productions including puppet play, Animal Farm and A Winter’s Tale complete with revolving clock – ‘bonkers but really good,’ thought pupil. Breathtaking in both scope and ambition, with talented individuals scoring places in national youth ensembles of every type, including largely undergraduate-level festival.

With strong singing (many prep choristers move up to senior school), you’d expect super music and you get it. ‘Jaw-dropping,’ said parent. Around 50 per cent have individual music lessons, some reaching diploma standard. Once a year giant orchestra (participants numerous rather than Goliath-proportioned) scoops up local junior school performers. Normal sized version for daily use plus concert band, intermediate versions too, for those en route to grade greatness but not there yet. Add free theory/aural classes, five choirs, most audition-free, one open to staff and parents, new house music competition and evening soirées in head’s garden, and it’s a wonder the director of music isn’t fraying at the edges. ‘Music is so relaxing,’ he says, however, smilingly picking way round percussion break-out sessions in attractive (and tactically soundproofed) building.

Background and atmosphere

Despite 17th century foundations, it’s the 19th century that dominates, with up to the minute additions nicely accommodated (delivered via smart new Ballance building with change in floor covering only hint to seamless welding to existing block). New £8m learning and resource centre provides (inter alia) a library and sixth form centre surrounded by landscaped gardens.

Close to centre of Reigate, market town made good thanks to commuter-friendly train connections (and very slow level crossing). Canny land acquisition almost allows stroll into town to be accomplished entirely on school land. School has personable, unintimidating, family-centric feel. Its two sites are mere yards apart.

Atmosphere nicely inclusive, and not just for pupils – support and academic teachers, who share common room, all muck in, clearly feeling both wanted and involved. They include head of IT, former City type, running lunchtime talk on morality of banking, and head of catering heavily involved in ICT. Until recently, ‘was nice but a bit sleepy,’ thought school insider. ‘Not any more – there’s something new happening every week.’

Has announced it will open five co-ed, all through boarding schools in China for Chinese children, in conjunction with the Kaiyuan Education Fund. The aim is to promote character development as well as academic success and to use part of the income to fund bursaries in the UK.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Pupil happiness and pastoral care is the priority and carries all before it, says head. Get it right and you ‘can light the touch paper of success in all other areas of their life.’ Parents confirm school’s fleet-footedness in troubleshooting and what mother described as ‘open door feeling’ to problems. One girl’s friendship issues reported to teacher who ‘sorted it’ effectively. ‘Unique’ staff lend an ear with problems, with form tutors (who move up with pupils) as well as sixth form mentors and listening service run by chaplaincy.

Poor behaviour a minority interest, serious problems almost unknown, reckoned pupils we talked to. Detentions ‘for cheekiness’ and late work, rewards via on-line credit system.

Pupils and parents

Mixes ‘indigenous Surrey with incomers,’ said local. Lots from south west London. Some grew up here, went off to work and then came back, said local estate agent. ‘I know lots of families.’ As to children? ‘A credit to the town,’ he reckoned. Most famous old boy is David Walliams, who was recently doing a spot of filming at the school. Other alumni include Trevor Kavanagh, Keir Starmer, Susan Gritton and Ray Mears.


For the right candidate, computer doesn’t invariably say no, even out of season. ‘Come and talk to me,’ says head. Entrance isn’t ‘just about testing and measuring,’ he adds. Teacher feedback and reports count too. He’s after children ‘who will make the world a better place,'. Choristers, though welcome, subject to same criteria as the rest. Now pre-tests for 13+ entry in year 6 (maths, English and reasoning).

For sixth form, grade 7s at GCSE in subjects to be studied at A level and an overall tally of at least four 7s, four 6s and no grade lower than a 5. Some parents worried that entry requirements were being toughened up but school again works on case-by-case basis resulting in ‘a number without the full requirement coming back,’ says head. ‘I see any individual leaving because they are without the grades or even grades close enough as really sad’ – and where possible, ‘will waive the requirements’. If it isn’t possible, ‘they are a very, very small minority.’

Also notably brilliant at resolving year 12 nightmares. Head ‘hugely supportive’ when things go wrong, agreed parents and pupils, moving mountains to keep pupils at the school, sometimes repeating year or dropping a subject.


Some 80 per cent stay on to the sixth form. Eleven to Oxbridge in 2018 plus seven medics. Highly rated for quality of HE destinations by Sutton Trust which placed school in top two per cent of all UK co-eds - Durham, Bath, Loughborough, Exeter, Nottingham and Edinburgh most popular destinations currently, with one off to the US in 2018. Saturday morning help sessions for leavers needing help with deferred entry post A level a real boon.

Money matters

A scholarship programme (about 150 awards across the school), with awards of 30 per cent, potentially ‘significantly more’ at head’s discretion. Also head’s scholarship – for children bringing a je ne sais quoi activity or interest which offers ‘value to the school community – scholars are expected to give back.’ And, a nice touch, all those with straight A*/9-8s at GCSE automatically get £1,000 off the sixth form fees (parent to child bribe chats, you’d imagine, are rife as a result).

Our view

Hothouse ethos not on the agenda but, given the head's success at Pate’s, where similar approach had transformational approach on results, we’d predict similar marvels here. Definitely one to watch.

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

Reigate Grammar School is open to applications from any prospective pupil with a physical and/or mental impairment. The school's policy is to apply the same admissions criteria to all pupils and potential pupils regardless of any disability of which it is aware, and not to put any disabled pupil or potential pupil at a disadvantage compared to any pupil who is not disadvantaged because of a disability. All applications will be judged fairly and the school will consider any reasonable adjustments that may need to be made to cater for the child's disability. When applying for a place, parents are asked to write to the Headmaster setting out the nature and extent of any disability, and whether or not they wish the school to take any disability into account during the admissions process. The school currently engages two part-time learning support tutors, who are available to work with pupils on a one-to-one basis. This service is designed to assist those pupils with mild learning difficulties such as dyslexia or dyspraxia. However, the tutors' time is limited and this service is not suitable for pupils who need more help than one session each week can provide. 10-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
English as an additional language (EAL)
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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