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  • Steyning Grammar School
    Shooting Field
    West Sussex
    BN44 3RX
  • Head: Co-Headteachers: Mrs Nat Nicol and Mr Noel Kenned
  • T 01903 814555
  • F 01903 879146
  • E [email protected]
  • W
  • A state school for boys and girls aged from 11 to 18.
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: West Sussex
  • Pupils: 2,255; sixth formers: 4279
  • Religion: Church of England
  • Fees: Day free; Boarding £11,835 - £12,135pa
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted:
    • Latest Overall effectiveness Good 1
      • Outcomes for children and learners Good 2
      • Quality of teaching, learning and assessment Good 2
      • Effectiveness of leadership and management Good 2
    • 1 Short inspection 14th March 2017
    • 2 Full inspection 6th February 2013

    Short inspection reports only give an overall grade; you have to read the report itself to gauge whether the detailed grading from the earlier full inspection still stands.

  • Previous Ofsted grade: Good on 16th September 2009
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report

What says..

The 'Steyning family’ is made up of children who are encouraged to take risks so that they are not afraid of failure, and staff who are set on preparing the next generation to take over - ‘the sooner the better!’ says the school. The ethos of the school is printed large on boards in both sites, and the children are resilient and well-supported through exam and everyday academic pressures. Independence is highly valued here, and pupils often ask teachers for help on what suits them best in terms of learning as an individual...

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What the school says...

Steyning Grammar School is a unique, successful and dynamic learning community. Our 'Journey to Excellence' is built on traditions of excellence and highest expectations, combined with commitment to innovation and new thinking. Day and Residential school Steyning has one of the more successful boarding provisions in the UK, the only state boarding facility in Sussex, rated Outstanding by Ofsted in November 2018. ...Read more

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School associations

State boarding school

What The Good Schools Guide says


Co-headteacher since September 2019, Nat Nicol. Joined the school in 2012 as an assistant head (leading on CPD) and was promoted to deputy head (students) in 2015. Read English literature and drama at Roehampton before doing her PGCE at Sussex, where she also did her MEd. Kicked off her teaching career at Worthing High School in 1999, moving to Peacehaven Community School, where she was head of English and drama for 10 years.

Co-headteacher since September 2019, Noel Kennedy. Joined the school in 2018 as deputy headteacher and before that was assistant principal for curriculum, behaviour and safeguarding at Harris Academy Bermondsey. Read geography at Queen's University Belfast and did his teacher training at Liverpool Hope, after which he started teaching in Liverpool and then Surrey.

Academic matters

Reflections on learning are intrinsic to the school success – whether that is implicit in weekly year group assemblies (hall only holds 350); explicit in the title of the school’s newsletter; or sustained through what has been created through the IB learner profile, even though the qualification is no longer on offer here. (Few state schools in the UK can afford it financially now after funding cuts.) The size of the school means that over 30 A levels and just as many GCSEs are on offer, class sizes normally 24 with 16 to 20 at A level. In 2019, 24 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE and 70 per cent got 9-4 in both English and maths. At A level, 23 per cent A*/A and 49 per cent A*-B.

Years 7 and 8 are in the Church Street site, so their atmospheric classrooms have parquet floors and a maze of doorways leading to subject-based areas. Learning is far from low tech, though; there are banks of computers and we saw a fizzy drink can that had been rigged to record sound. At the other end of the tech spectrum, a class loved building the rock cycle using plasticine. The library was buzzy with authors visiting and pupil volunteers; an enterprise day involved a pitch to businessman Lord Sugar. However, by the time they have made their GCSE choices pupils are panting to get the open corridors and swell of new students in the Shooting Fields Site. The latter is dominated by the huge and successful A level specialist sixth form, which feels more like a college but with the pastoral support of a school – a real draw for the third of students who join in year 9.

Tutorials are one-to-one and a curriculum reform means pupils now do fewer topics but more richly. Project-based learning is electric here; the pupils love it and the opportunities it provides to anchor their academic subjects in the practical and take the experience back into the classroom: a trip to the European Organisation for Nuclear Research in Cern; Kimmeridge for biology and geology; the Globe Theatre; Oviedo for Spanish.

The learning resource centre is not just about books – a remote access system means students can log on at home and avoid emailing documents back and forth. The mezzanine level is the sixth form domain and students congregate here even in break time, a sure sign of their commitment to learning – they also gather in the canteen and a learning zone behind that.

A trial period of the ‘show my homework’ app pleases parents as well; they like to log in and see what needs to/has been done and by when. Kahoot gamifies learning in conjuction with an interactive whiteboard; apparently a warm up to a class can get pretty heated.

Engaging teachers make for the most popular A level subjects, maths, politics and chemistry at present - science labs have loads of space for practicals, which might have 16 in each class compared to 20 in extended subjects. The school is a member of 250 Challenge Partners, in a hub with three Brighton secondaries sharing constructive collaboration and challenge to improve practice and so the education of their children - the leadership team finds it a really valuable to have such critical friends. During the GCSE years the pupils become responsible for booking their parents’ appointments and act as their guides on the parents' evening itself – family feedback is that this independence works well.

The Cuthman Centre is a separate building that acts as a haven for the more vulnerable students (category 3 SEN), eight at present with specific learning difficulties; they have roll-call or more casual tea and toast there when needed, and there are NHS nurses, a counselling programme funding by pupil premium and enabled by GP referrals. In-class SEN support with learning support mentors is targeted and the impact evaluated: it ranges from laptops in exams for those with illegible writing to an SEN passport created with parent and carers. The gifted and talented (now More Able) are supported outside lesson time with book clubs and an Oxbridge programme.

Games, options, the arts

Competitive sports are netball, rugby, football, rounders and cricket, with fixtures against both independent and state schools across the county – and the Marylebone Cricket Club. The site itself has two rugby and one football pitch; sixth formers have free access to the town leisure centre adjoining the school – they can use facilities such as the pool, squash courts and dance studio (external reputation for good boys' dance). They also love the chaos of the sixth form sports day with its wheelbarrow races and Fairy Liquid slide. The equestrian team (pupil-owned horses) trains at Hickstead. If PE is not a GCSE choice, then pupils have non-competitive sport a couple of times a week.

The music department is thriving with ticketed performances each season and some 20 A level students, but would love more space (who wouldn’t). Logic is used for composition on Macs, there are opportunities for mixing with the use of the live room. Plenty of individual practitioners eg a boy playing the violin, guitar, piano; a ukulele and keyboard in a shared room in the boarding house.

Art and technology is exhibited throughout the halls of the school – and the drama hall is open to the public. The whole school competition is Steyning’s Got Talent – some kids think it is profoundly uncool, others use it as a springboard to more public performances across the county. Full school performances such as The Wedding Singer might involve 300 people in the six-night production – set, backstage, make-up as well as performers.

The 50th school anniversary trip to the Norfolk Broads had just passed when we visited. Jailbreak is another riot of a challenge where the whole of year 13 is locked up and has to escape from the science department windows, source vehicles, collect permits and get to Horsham for their recapture. This, and other initiatives such as Macmillan coffee mornings, Pink Day, Comic and Sport Relief, all add up to raising around £15,000 each year for charity.

Wilton Park is nearby, the only branch of the Foreign Office outside London, and interns from there come to work with the More Able – this gives rise to a foreign affairs discussion group, tackling topics such as Syria and Ebola. For prospective medics and vets there are established links with Brighton University and timetabled prep. There are opportunities for students to become equalities, digital or eco-commissioners, do DofE and Young Enterprise, as well as lunchtime enrichment activities and independent learning working across year groups.


On the State Boarding Schools Association committee and in the second tier of state boarding in terms of numbers. Judged outstanding by Ofsted. The boarders take enormous joy in their international mix, while grounding themselves by earning money on shifts in the canteen and volunteering.

Four boarding houses, two adapted and two purpose built, all with live-in houseparents. The pupils share rooms in the younger years, and are really joyful about the different cultural traditions that they get to experience, from jollof rice on Nigerian Independence Day to Chinese New Year; they promote their differences yet all order takeaways together. In the most modern house the year 13 pupils have a wet-room shower/toilet ensuite; they prop their doors open to their shared corridors and apparently are very responsive when told to turn their music down – 10.30pm curfew in the week and 11pm at weekends. The (mostly) boys watch the Premier League on their laptops; they have an ironing board and a kettle in their shared kitchen; when fending for themselves they eat toasties and pizza since health and safety dictates there is no proper oven. The houseparents lend their kitchen when a bake-a-thon is organised for charity.

The girls have photos as well as their names up on their doors – the images are taken by a photography student, whose work also features on the achievement board; this is the most obvious sign of a real sense of supportive celebration of peers. One girls’ common room is huge and more homely, with desks for quiet study places too, since this is a realistic experience away from home, with scheduled time for work, although laundry returned to your cubby within a day would be unusual at home…

Facebook photos posted (eg rocket club with powder paint ejected from a parachute) and well dones handed out by the houseparents for being tidy and general good, with prizes drawn at the end of term – once it was a helicopter ride! There is chance to pitch to a ‘houseparents’ dragon’s den’ for a new piece of equipment, whether a freezer or a pool table. As elsewhere, technology is used to facilitate rather than trumpeted for its own sake: Skype interviews for prospective boarders; applications scanned and emailed in; wifi or ethernet with hotspots means that Skyping home via an iPad is easy; WhatsApp is used to tackle awkward time differences.

Background and atmosphere

Founded in 1614, turned co-ed in 1953 and now spread over two sites in the small Sussex town of Steyning with architectural styles ranging from chocolate box Elizabethan black and white, through classic 50s secondary modern school architecture, to the super functional and crisp boarding house, not yet a decade old. Character-based learning is at the centre of the curriculum – teaching, assessing and reporting home on learning characteristics like grit, growth mindset, curiosity and zest.

The 'Steyning family’ is made up of children who are encouraged to take risks so that they are not afraid of failure, and staff who are set on preparing the next generation to take over - ‘the sooner the better!’ says the school. The ethos of the school is printed large on boards in both sites, and the children are resilient and well-supported through exam and everyday academic pressures. The infrastructure for boarding, with the 125 teaching staff and 150 support staff, helps to produce excellent outcomes for disadvantaged students in particular. The staff tenure is traditionally long (30 years is not that unusual), since it is a big school with plenty of space to develop and enough room for children to escape a parent/teacher’s shadow.

Far from an inner city urban intake, but everyone is aware of where they stand in the wider society – boarders from the Caribbean come across occasional piercings and extensive LGBT support, the local village kids taste cultures from Barbados to Spain, and parents say, ‘it opens up everyone’s minds’.

Busy, big and teeming with children at break time - especially in wet weather, when they head to the gym, eat lunch in the classrooms or the school canteen. No hall large enough for a whole school gathering, but the split site means that the pupils have a real sense of progression and responsibility, from getting a key to their own locker in year 7 to wearing their own clothes in the sixth form, and using the canteen as a study space as well as one to eat in.

Independence is highly valued here, and pupils often ask teachers for help on what suits them best in terms of learning as an individual. The staff are committed and respond swiftly and with initiative; the 400 year heritage adds gravitas when looking for aspirational connections. Ofsted, the State Boarding School Association and CofE status are all three seen as important benchmarks, but by no means the most important measure of the school’s success.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Both school and year councils provide feedback on issues such as uniform, the colour of leavers' hoodies, the learning resource centre, internet access to YouTube research etc. Prospective head boys and girls write a letter of application, then the school participates in an online survey, meaning year 13s get some input even though they are leaving – then they must pitch with a speech to the whole of the boarding cohort.

Horizontal pastoral system through year head and form tutor; the tutors have 12 students each and the learning mentors 10. Their aim is to personalise the school – whether that is via checking in at the Cuthman Centre and munching a piece of toast or through Pizza and Paragraphs for English Support. Growing confidence is vital, and the classes of 24 are a practical maximum to enable that.

More casually, there is supported (by the heads of year) revision in the dual purpose school canteen – peer mentors enable paired reading and might meet for breakfast in Boltons (one of the boarding houses).

No truancy, no smoking on site and no drinking. If a kid impacts the learning in a classroom then they are removed from that classroom. The student could end up in the Cuthman Centre, then a follow up and reintegration. The range and policy of sanctions is reportedly reassuring for kids who have been beating at the boundaries at other schools; ‘It’s different here, you know what to expect’. The documentation and communication of the next steps is vital for everyone involved. Academic, social or emotional barriers are identified and everyone gets analysing, understanding and working together – parents and grandparents included - with reflection and using principles of restorative justice. School says, ‘we see the best of the students’ behaviour at school…’

Pupils and parents

Local, rural and coastal catchment area encompasses a huge range of parental employment – multinational companies, small business owners, teachers; families will relocate and buy within the area to ensure they can get access to such a good state secondary education. A state boarding school can be a niche choice for many students – from Northern Ireland, Antigua, Denmark, to name just three.

Pupils arrange their own social lives, which is part of the independence that the school aims to build, and since so many walk, ride or bus into the school there is very little chance to of casual school gate friendships between parents.


Strong relationships with local primary schools. Catchment is some 200 square kilometres encompassing Henfield to Rydon. The local authority handles the year 7 and year 9 intake. Only boarding is selective, and that is about balancing fit and gender in a year group, aiming for 50 per cent of each sex. The sixth form is amongst the largest in the south east of England. Admission is usually a grade 6 or above in the subjects of choice.


Up to half leave after GCSEs. After the year 13 leavers’ celebration – they get into limos and head off to a club in Worthing, thrilled there is no room on site for something more low key – 70 per cent head off to higher education. Destinations and subjects range from Guildford School of Acting to history at Exeter; three to Oxbridge in 2019 and three medics.

Money matters

No fees for tuition, just for boarding; discounts available for up to three siblings.

Our view

A grammar school by name only, non-selective with a huge sixth form and all the curriculum choices that size enables. Diversity of boarding provision enables the broadening of everyone’s minds – from Sussex villagers to Caribbean islanders.

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

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

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Interpreting catchment maps

The maps show in colour where the pupils at a school came from*. Red = most pupils to Blue = fewest.

Where the map is not coloured we have no record in the previous three years of any pupils being admitted from that location based on the options chosen.

For help and explanation of our catchment maps see: Catchment maps explained

Further reading

If there are more applicants to a school than it has places for, who gets in is determined by which applicants best fulfil the admissions criteria.

Admissions criteria are often complicated, and may change from year to year. The best source of information is usually the relevant local authority website, but once you have set your sights on a school it is a good idea to ask them how they see things panning out for the year that you are interested in.

Many schools admit children based on distance from the school or a fixed catchment area. For such schools, the cut-off distance will vary from year to year, especially if the school give priority to siblings, and the pattern will be of a central core with outliers (who will mostly be siblings). Schools that admit on the basis of academic or religious selection will have a much more scattered pattern.

*The coloured areas outlined in black are Census Output Areas. These are made up of a group of neighbouring postcodes, which accounts for their odd shapes. These provide an indication, but not a precise map, of the school’s catchment: always refer to local authority and school websites for precise information.

The 'hotter' the colour the more children have been admitted.

Children get into the school from here:

most years
quite often
sometimes, but not in this year

Who came from where

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