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Ampleforth College

What says..

The rule of St Benedict with its emphasis on love of neighbour, humility and self-discipline permeates everything the college does. Pupils achieving to the best of their potential is important but their spiritual and moral development is paramount. All the usual clubs and societies you would expect are offered alongside rural pursuits such as riding (school has its own equestrian outdoor arena), beagling, gamekeeping and pheasant shooting (we understand pheasant samosas are a popular snack at shoots). The last few years have been incredibly turbulent and worrying for anyone connected to the college. That so many families continued to support and advocate for Ampleforth is testament to their lived experience and trust in the school...


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What the school says...

Ampleforth College is a Catholic, Benedictine school situated in a beautiful valley below the North York Moors. Pastoral care and spiritual development are excellent. An Ampleforth education gives the young men and women in our care a Compass for Life.

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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.


Unusual sports

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



What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2023, Peter Roberts, MA, PGCE. Degree in medieval history from Merton College, Oxford followed by a PGCE from the London Institute. First teaching post was at Winchester College where he became head of the scholars’ house. Appointed head of Bradfield College in 2003, then to the King’s School, Canterbury which he led from 2011 until 2022. He was tempted from what turned out to be a very short retirement to take on the daunting challenge of guiding Ampleforth through the process of reinvigoration and healing required after an extended period of notoriety relating to historic abuse and safeguarding issues. Married to Marie, a former senior lecturer in modern languages, he describes the headship of Ampleforth as 'a joint mission and a fundamental part of our Catholic faith’. Parents refer to them as a double act and have placed their confidence in Mr Roberts: ‘He’s immensely clever, a very hard worker and just the right person to take the school forward.’

We found him realistic but also positive about Ampleforth’s future: ‘The school has had to take a lot of criticism and we have undoubtedly learned much in the process. Without wishing to make a hostage to fortune it does seem that given all we have done we must be one of the safest schools in the country.’

With a capacity of around 500, at the time of our visit Ampleforth had just 400 pupils and two boarding houses were mothballed. The head is clear that reversing this decline in numbers is a key part of his role. Such is the fiercely strong loyalty to the school from students, parents and staff, it seems likely he will succeed in this aim.

We pushed Mr Roberts hard on the impact of the school’s former difficulties on teaching, learning and pupil outcomes. Exam results seem to have held up and despite some attrition of staff there has been relative stability of teaching. He stressed that the school has never been a hothouse nor highly selective; pupils achieving to the best of their potential is important but their spiritual and moral development is paramount.

This famous, historic school has suffered a crisis from which many others would have been unable to recover. With his background at King’s (which he describes as the ‘Anglican Ampleforth’) and his commitment to ‘looking after children to do their best’, it seemed to us that Mr Roberts’ role is to steady the ship and rebuild after the storm. As a keen sailor we suspect he is the right captain for the job.


You don’t have to be a practising Catholic (although around 60 per cent of pupils are), but you do need to be in sympathy with the spiritual side of the college. For year 7 entry all pupils are interviewed by the registrar and take standardised verbal, non-verbal and numerical tests. Good school reports and reference from previous school are also required. Similar requirement for year 9 entry. UK pupils come from all over the country with Aysgarth, Mowden, Terrington and Cundall Manor being among the most significant feeder preps.

Pupils’ ability on entry is broadly average and above. School says, ‘We select on the whole person, not just academic ability…we do welcome some pupils who may not reach our (academic) standards but who we believe will flourish here.’ For the sixth form there is a relatively generous requirement of two GCSEs at grade 6 and three at grade 5 plus an interview with the registrar and school references. Ampleforth’s broad curriculum includes BTECs so there is more on offer for a wider range of abilities. In 2023, 43 per cent of sixth form entrants were from other schools, demonstrating growing confidence in the school after the recent issues. Around 20 per cent have English as an additional language.


In 2023, 76 per cent of year 11 stayed into the sixth form, the rest moving on to local colleges and apprenticeships. Roughly 90 per cent to university, over half to Russell Group with northern universities such as Edinburgh, Durham and St Andrews seemingly strong favourites. No Oxbridge in 2023 but four to medicine and veterinary courses. Students told us that the school is keen to support them in whatever route they take. Degree apprenticeships are encouraged and one parent said, ‘They are as proud of those going on to study agriculture at college as those going to the elite universities.’

Latest results

In 2023, 44 per cent 7-9 at GCSE; 36 per cent A*/A (64 per cent A*-B) at A level; 57 per cent D* to D at BTEC. In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results) 61 per cent 7-9 at GCSE: 36 per cent A*/A (64 per cent A*-B) at A level.

Teaching and learning

Fairly traditional, broad curriculum in years 7 and 8 leading to the Ampleforth junior certificate which pupils achieve at bronze, silver and gold levels. In year 7 there is a strong emphasis on developing pupils’ English and maths skills. They all take French in years 7 and 8, then choose from German or Spanish in year 9. Classical civilisation also offered in year 7 with the option of Latin or ancient Greek in years 8 and 9. From year 7 they all study computer science, art, design technology, drama and music. In year 9 learning to learn is introduced where pupils learn Microsoft Office and other data, revision and study skills. Setting is introduced in maths and Latin from year 8 and in English, science and French from year 9.

At GCSE pupils take a core of six or seven subjects which include Christian living (RE). About a third do separate sciences, the rest dual award. They take three or four option subjects depending on ability and all are encouraged to do the higher project qualification (HPQ), where they undertake a piece of independent research. Some will have additional learning support instead of the HPQ. Between 15 and 20 per cent will study two languages chosen from French, Spanish, German, Latin and ancient Greek.

Science is taught in the superb science centre built with a donation from former pupil Lord Bamford. Beautiful, well-equipped specialist labs with smaller ones for sixth form, the pupils raved about science teaching. Design technology is taught in enormous purpose-built rooms with every array of modern technology and traditional equipment. Pupils proudly showed us their work, ranging from rocket launchers to jewellery and a car which was being converted from diesel to electric fuel when we visited. Well-equipped catering room currently only used by sixth form for their BTEC in hospitality and co-curricular cooking and baking activities.

There are 28 subjects on offer in the sixth form. This is a very large number for a school of this size but apparently all will run regardless of numbers. A levels include ancient history, Christian theology, Latin and Greek. Around eight per cent of the sixth form take a BTEC alongside A levels. These include enterprise and entrepreneurship, hospitality countryside management and sport.

The library is superb; reminiscent of an Oxbridge college, it exudes an academic calm that would coax even the most reluctant to study quietly. Every piece of furniture was custom made in the 1930s by Robert (Mouseman) Thompson and bears his signature wooden mouse (searching for them must be a distraction). Reading is prioritised for its own value but also as a time for mindfulness and reflection; 6.30pm is a quiet reading time across the school for all, including staff working with children at that time.

Lessons we saw were purposeful and pupils were attentive. There was a strong sense that the family ethos of school extends into the classroom and that learning is a collaborative process, done with rather than by teachers.

Learning support and SEN

The Ampleforth Learning Hub (SEN base) is proudly at the heart of the college. ‘We are all teachers of SEN,’ said the SENCo, who has long experience teaching in state secondaries as well as leading SEN at both school and local authority level. There is a team of five teaching assistants and several teachers have additional SEN specialisms in mathematics, science and English. They support (‘almost always in lessons, we try not to withdraw pupils wherever possible’) a range of SEN from dyslexia, ADHD and autism to those with fine motor skill needs. At the time of our visit there were four students with EHCPs. Despite the age of the buildings, mobility-impaired students can be accommodated and the college also has experience of pupils with visual and hearing impairments. It seemed to us that if a child is able to benefit from the wider Ampleforth offer and could thrive academically, the college would be a good fit for pupils with SEN.

The arts and extracurricular

Creative and performance facilities are impressive; art, music and drama are very well catered for both in terms of inspiring teachers and technical support staff. Super, light, modern and airy art rooms showcase work in a variety of media. Space is generous and each sixth former taking A level art gets their own mini studio. There are two music schools including a great performance space with sprung floor, raked seating, acoustic panelling and recording facilities. A level and GCSE music numbers are comparatively strong (four in year 12 when we visited) and 45 per cent continue to learn an instrument (including organ and harpsichord) as well as participating in musical and theatrical events. There is a full-time keyboard teacher and grand pianos in each boarding house. Musical performances at home and away abound with very accomplished choirs singing mass in the Benedictine abbey twice a week as well as concerts elsewhere, including a highlight, singing in St Peter’s, Rome on Palm Sunday. Pupils spoke very movingly about the impact of the school’s music, one casually telling us, ‘When I heard the Salve Regina for the first time I wanted to cry.’ There’s even a pipe band which provides rousing support on match days.

Ampleforth boasts the oldest purpose-built school theatre in the UK. Dating from 1909 and originally lit by gas, it seats up to 200, has two well-equipped performance spaces and great backstage facilities for set design and building, multi-camera recordings and a venue for pupils to undertake the national performance support award. Specialist staff include a theatre manager and theatre director. Dance and LAMDA also offered and there are two or three shows a year. Productions range from cabaret nights to Frankenstein, Footloose and Little Shop of Horrors, with high-quality prop support from the design technology department.

Extracurricular opportunities at Ampleforth seem almost limitless. Fortunately, full boarding means that there is plenty of opportunity for young people to make the most of what’s on offer. Everyone is expected to do two or three activities a week and the programme is spectacularly well organised by the head of co-curricular to ensure that competing demands are sensibly managed so that pupils are not being pulled in different directions at the same time. All part of school’s commitment to developing the individual and caring for their wellbeing. CCF (army and RAF) is enormous, it’s run by a former member of the armed forces and there are strong links with local military bases. School has its own indoor and outdoor firing ranges and there is lots of scope to get down and muddy on manoeuvres or assembling and disassembling military vehicles. All pupils do a compulsory two sessions of CCF in year 9 before deciding if they wish to continue or not.

All the usual clubs and societies you would expect from chess to debating, DofE to Dungeons and Dragons are offered alongside rural pursuits such as riding (school has its own equestrian outdoor arena), beagling, gamekeeping and pheasant shooting (we understand pheasant samosas are a popular snack at shoots). There’s even Olympic weightlifting where pupils are guided through the basics of lifting a loaded barbell from the floor to overhead and surfing at Saltburn (wetsuits a must). Amazingly, the vast majority of activities come at no extra cost, just a small charge for shooting, riding and cookery.

There is a strong emphasis on charity work and support for others. Sixth form all take part in a friendship project working in schools or care homes, there is an annual pilgrimage to Lourdes where students buddy up with the sick and disabled, as well as lots of fundraising for local and international charities.


‘How many cricket wickets?’ we asked. ‘Four, no five, no… six plus indoor and outdoor nets,’ our student guide replied. It’s no wonder they got confused – the school has access to over 2,000 acres of rugby and hockey pitches, floodlit Astros, athletics tracks, several pavilions, lakes for fishing and rafting, pheasant woods and more. We half expected to catch sight of Basil Fawlty’s proverbial herd of wildebeest sweeping majestically past the equestrian arena.

The sports centre is modern and well equipped, all the usual facilities plus a nice 25-metre pool. The pool is open to the public and some pupils complained that this curtails their use for morning swims. School maintains its strong sporting reputation despite not being at capacity and at the assembly we attended in the Benedictine abbey the victories of several rugby teams were celebrated. Rugby, hockey, and cricket (boys and girls) dominate but pupils can try out plenty of other sports including outdoor and adventurous activities and stand-up paddleboarding. ‘You don’t have to be great at sport to get the chance to play,’ we were told. One parent said, ‘Ampleforth is busier at weekends than at any other time, the kids don’t want to go home because there is so much to do.’


Eighty per cent of pupils are full boarders. Day pupils are fully integrated into boarding life: they can arrive for breakfast and stay until 8.15pm (juniors) and 9.30pm (seniors). Day pupils who need to stay overnight for trips and activities can do so free of charge. There are four boys’ boarding houses and three girls’, plus a co-ed junior house for years 7 and 8. Two houses currently mothballed. The houses we visited were superb, possibly the best boarding accommodation we have seen. One older house had been completely refurbished inside to provide light, welcoming spaces. Accommodation ranged from six- to eight-bed dorms for younger pupils to single study bedrooms for year 13, some with ensuite bathrooms, many with glorious views over the stunning Ampleforth valley. Plenty of space to study and play in comfortable common rooms with lots of facilities. And here too we saw Mouseman furniture. One house even has a (possibly unique) Mouseman table tennis table!

Houses are well staffed and pupils go back at break and lunchtime for snacks and a bit of down time. Each house has a fenced garden and recreational area; the junior house even has its own all-weather play area. Security systems are inevitably very tight and were approved by OFSTED in December 2023. There’s a rigorous policy regarding the use of IT and pupils’ phones are taken away at night for all but sixth formers.

The boarding offer is pretty uncompromising and wouldn’t suit everyone. There are no exeats in the spring and summer terms and this applies to even the junior boarders, although there is flexibility if a pupil would benefit from a weekend at home. School said they had consulted on this system and the parents and pupils we spoke to confirmed that they liked it. One pupil said, ‘There’s so much to do here that I don’t want to miss weekend activities.’ Many parents visit at weekends, taking part in Sunday mass and social activities laid on by the college. One commented, ‘We look forward to weekends in the valley, watching matches and meeting up with other parents.’ Two-week half term in February allows plenty of time for the family ski trip.

Ethos and heritage

In 1802 a school for 70 boys was opened in the grounds of the Benedictine monastery Ampleforth Abbey. As the school grew buildings were added – Gilbert Scott (Liverpool Cathedral) was one the architects. These sit comfortably alongside more modern boarding houses and sports centre in a sylvan 2000-acre valley. Perhaps not the real world, but it is a lovely one. Buildings which at first sight might appear intimidating are in reality comfortable and well kept. The beautiful oak furniture (there’s that Mouseman again) and artwork throughout create a real sense of history. Once the school of choice for Catholic aristocracy, Ampleforth became known as the ‘Catholic Eton’. Head was keen to scotch that view: ‘We are fully coeducational, socially inclusive and working strongly with our maintained sector partners,’ he says.

School has been co-ed since 2012 and feels it. Numbers are roughly equal and relations between boys and girls are friendly and respectful. We were impressed with the surprisingly liberal dress code. The only rule appeared to be that colours should be dark, although from the impressively garish examples we noticed this doesn’t extend to socks. By no means the smartest we have seen but all the pupils we spoke to said they felt comfortable.

There is (and why wouldn’t there be?) a school pub in the village. Open at weekends and run by staff, sixth formers are escorted there and back with strict rules on what and how much they can drink. Other social events include in-house discos complete with fog machines.

The rule of St Benedict with its emphasis on love of neighbour, humility and self-discipline permeates everything the school does. The parents we spoke to were profoundly loyal to the school and adamant that their children were coming out ‘well rounded and spiritually aware, all the better for being at Ampleforth’. Nevertheless, the last few years have been incredibly turbulent and worrying for anyone connected to the school. That so many families continued to support and advocate for Ampleforth as revelations of historic sexual abuse, denials and coverups became public is testament to their lived experience at and trust in the school. During such a dark time this must have been a source of hope and inspiration to everyone working to ensure such things can never happen again.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Every pupil has a personal tutor (about six per tutor), who gets to know them and their family extremely well. A parent told us, ‘Pastoral care is outstanding. It’s incredible how many staff the kids have to lean on, from matron and the chaplain to the housemasters and mistresses, assistants and pretty much all their teachers.’ Another said, ‘Each of my children could go back to school once they left and still have a good conversation with the staff. The sense of family is strong, the staff know the children. Even the new head knows every child by name.’ There are annual house and year retreats to allow pupils time to ‘stop… consider life… and return renewed’. Choral Mass is held twice a week in the abbey and each boarding house has its own chapel.

We wondered how a pupil questioning their gender or sexuality would be supported, given the school’s Catholic ethos. Pupils looked surprised that we even needed to ask: ‘It just isn’t a problem.’ School has a staff and student equality, diversity and inclusion group and although there is no specific policy regarding LGBTQ+, pupils assured us that the right support would always be in place.

Pupil safety is understandably a top priority for the school. We saw all the recent changes which have been made to secure the site and separate it from the monastery. They seemed to us to be extremely rigorous while not making the place feel like a prison. There is now complete separation between the monastery and school. The abbey church is the only shared space and pupil access to this is strictly supervised.

We spoke to several parents who had made an active choice for Ampleforth during and in spite of all its troubles. ‘We made several visits, interrogated the staff and did a lot of soul searching but we were bowled over by the beautifully calm setting and the liberating context where we felt our children would be happy and free to find themselves.’ We also spoke to those whose children had stayed at the school during difficult times. All said that the reality of their experience was at odds with what they were hearing from the regulatory bodies. They commended the school’s openness and honesty in communicating with pupils and parents and said the school ‘ensured pupils’ education carried on unaffected’. Several families we spoke to have moved their children to the school from others because of Ampleforth’s ‘kindness and understanding and acceptance that not all students are academic high-flyers’.

Pupils and parents

About 60 per cent of families are Catholic, many parents are from affluent backgrounds, often with strong historic family connections to the school. Roughly a third are international, predominantly from western European Catholic families, a contingent from Chile and a number from Ukraine on full scholarships. About a third are local day or boarding pupils. Parents say they like the mixture that full boarding attracts but we saw few non-white faces among pupils or staff compared to other full boarding schools. Despite some elements of diversity, it seemed to us that Ampleforth remains largely monocultural. School counters that it is more diverse than in the past, with 20 per cent receiving bursarial support.

We wondered whether pupils could live up to the very favourable billing given to us by both school and parents, but they did. There was a genuine sense of welcome, humility and kindness, an understanding that they are very lucky to have the opportunities Ampleforth offers and an evident engagement with charitable activities. Although many are from privileged backgrounds, those we met represented a reasonable demographic mix.

Notable alumni include Cardinal Basil Hume, Downton creator Julian Fellowes, Lord Bamford, sculptor Antony Gormley, actors Rupert Everett and James Norton, historians William Dalrymple and Patrick French, as well as former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio and mountaineer Joe Simpson.

Money matters

The college offers academic, performing arts and sporting scholarships in all years. While there is a degree of financial support attached to some, others are honorary; all entitle recipients to additional mentoring and support in specific areas. From year 9, art and design & technology are also offered. Music, dance and drama scholars receive free tuition in their scholarship discipline. Ampleforth also offers some means-tested bursaries and Catholic pupils entering year 9 can apply for financial support from the Randag fellowship.

The last word

School (or college) isn’t a sufficient word to encompass all that we saw at Ampleforth. This is a community and a way of life – some families have five generations of living and learning in this beautiful corner of north Yorkshire. The surroundings are both tranquil and magnificent, the opportunities are tremendous, the education is well structured and helps pupils of different abilities find the right route. The school has been through a very challenging time, coming almost to the edge of closure, but it is moving forward with faith, strength and determination; acknowledging and learning from the past, maintaining all that is good and facing the future with renewed vigour. An astonishing place.

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.

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