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Bishops Stortford College

What says..

Standards have risen steadily in recent years. This is partly due to the presence of girls who, it could be argued, tend to develop good habits of work early. But it's also down to the rigour and quality of the teaching which parents describe as ‘outstanding.’ ‘It suits all types, even if not academically at the top of the tree,’ remarked one parent. Digital learning advanced dramatically during the pandemic-related lockdowns. Music is encouraged at all levels of the school. About 50 per cent learn individual instruments, often spurred on to learn after…

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What the school says...

Bishop's Stortford College is large enough to provide an exceptional range of opportunities, yet small enough for students to be known and valued. At the heart of the value offered are the people. It is the infectious enthusiasm, imagination and dedication of staff, which, in partnership with parents, enables pupils to grow into well-rounded, skilful, caring and confident young people, equipped and ready for the adventures and opportunities life has to offer. ...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 September 2020, Kathy Crewe-Read, formerly head of Wolverhampton Grammar School. Originally from the Isle of Man, went to school in England and took her degree (maths) at Aberystwyth. Taught at King William’s College, St Swithun’s and Yarm school and was senior deputy head at the King’s School, Chester before joining Wolverhampton. She is a school inspector for ISI.

Personable and with great warmth of manner, she is clearly revelling in her role. She admits that arriving in the middle of the pandemic made it difficult to ‘feel the pulse of the school and get to know people as I would have liked’, but she has been making up for lost time, greeting families at the gates, dropping (unannounced) into lessons and activities and generally ‘being around,’ for pupils to waylay her, which they do. Parents too say she is ‘present’, also describing her as ‘very approachable,’ ‘dynamic, but a good listener,’ ‘someone really informed about the world our children will be living in.’ Wholehearted enthusiasm for the school being led by its first woman after 25 years co-ed. ‘The school will fly even higher with such an ace role model,’ said one parent, who adds that ‘education is obviously her passion, she is not just a manager’.

Keen to build on the solid foundations the school enjoys, particularly the ‘quality of teaching which is really high. Every lesson I have been into has been good or better’. Is reviewing school structures, the timetable, subjects and exams and is looking ahead to a time, hastened by the online teaching and assessments of the pandemic, when many exams, starting with GCSEs, will be abandoned. ‘We must prepare pupils for the world as it is and as it will be,’ and is au fait with current developments in AI. ‘AI will ultimately mean pupils will be able to choose their own method of assessment’. Brave new world indeed. Thinks that as ‘technology takes over much of our work, it will be our qualities of humanity and creativity that distinguish us and these take time and space to develop.’ Is very aware that to be an effective leader means ‘not necessarily repeating what worked in a previous school’. Loves teaching maths but is not doing so at present - ‘it’s not fair on the pupils if I have to unavoidably miss lessons,’ she told us, adding that she feels it’s more effective getting to know the wider school body by being around, dropping into classes, attending school events and being accessible. Thinks the different ‘phases’ of the school (pre-pre, ,prep and senior) all offer pupils the opportunity to experience the school differently.

By her own admission, she is not the best at relaxing but off duty she likes to spend time with her grown up family, gardening (especially flowers), cycling and walking her cocker spaniel, Charlie.

Entrance

Academically selective, though takes a range of abilities not just high fliers. Selection is via entrance assessments and tests (appropriate to the age group), school references and interviews. Pupils are admitted throughout the pre and prep school years with 20-30 joining at senior stage (year 9 and 10) plus another 30-40 in the sixth form.

Exit

Up to 15 per cent leaves after GCSE to study A levels elsewhere. Nearly all sixth formers head to universities: six to Oxbridge in 2021, with Exeter, Imperial, Bristol, Nottingham, UEA, York and Durham all popular. One overseas in 2021 - to Bates College, USA, to study anthropology and sociology. Lots studying history, psychology, business and management and economics, plus a sprinkling for law and medicine. Each year a few go on to study acting, music or art and design at the various specialist colleges. None to overseas universities in recent years.

Latest results

In 2021,79 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 67 per cent A*/A at A level (87 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 76 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 50 per cent A*/A at A level.

Teaching and learning

Standards have risen steadily in recent years. This is partly due to the presence of girls who, it could be argued, tend to develop good habits of work early. But it's also down to the rigour and quality of the teaching which parents describe as ‘outstanding.’

Though not super selective, pupils tend to come from homes where education really matters. ‘It suits all types, even if not academically at the top of the tree,’ remarked one parent. ‘The school tries hard to find out what makes them tick and what motivates them,’ said another and pupils agree that, ‘working is normal here.’ The habits of hard work and application are begun right from the off in the prep school. Pupils know who the prize winners are but they ‘also know the class average so they can see the bigger picture and their place in it,’ said a parent.

Setting starts in prep and continues up to GCSE in all the core subjects and parents feel this offers the best chance for individual abilities to be supported and challenged. Pupils move sets when necessary, though the pastoral situation is taken into consideration – ‘My daughter was more comfortable near the top of a lower set and that was fine,’ said one parent. Class size average is 20. French, German and Spanish taught from prep up to GCSE; Latin for all from year 6 onwards and 15-20 take it as an option at GCSE. Maths is the most popular subject studied at A level, followed by English, art, history, business studies and economics. About a quarter of pupils take EPQ.

Digital learning advanced dramatically during the pandemic-related lockdowns when all teaching was online and parent consultations and meetings with staff on Zoom. ‘There is no substitute for classroom learning,’ says the head, ‘but that is not to disparage online learning or the plus points of holding meetings with parents on Zoom’. Parents agree, with one telling us, ‘We hope it continues. I found it much easier to get to the point and to speak confidentially without a queue of parents waiting behind me, probably listening!’

Learning support and SEN

Three full-time and two part-time staff run the department which ensures a lot of help is given within the class as well as individually or in groups. Pupils are referred by subject staff and form tutors (plus parents) are closely involved. Around 100 pupils, drawn from the whole school, receive help at any one time, quite often for a short term problem. For many, it will be for difficulties such as dyslexia or dyscalculia with a few on the autism spectrum or ADHD. There is no sense of stigma around receiving help, which is free. All international pupils are offered EAL lessons if necessary, to get them through the IGCSE in English (required for university entrance) and for this there is an extra charge (included in the overseas boarding fee). The school site itself is largely accessible though some of the older buildings are still awaiting improvements which the school has committed to.

The arts and extracurricular

Music is encouraged at all levels of the school. About 50 per cent learn individual instruments, often spurred on to learn after being introduced to a variety of string, wind and keyboard instruments in class music lessons in the prep school. Various opportunities to perform with regular concerts and recitals, some taking place in a nearby church to which local people are invited. Confidence is built with small, class based, ‘soloist,’ performances for parents, in the pre and prep schools (streamed online during the pandemic) and many pupils belong to one or more of the school’s orchestras, bands and ensemble groups. Several choirs, including an auditioned senior choir, provide lots of scope for choral concerts and light opera performances (Pirates of Penzance in 2019) and the extremely popular house music events. Lots of practice and rehearsal rooms in the music centre, pianos in all the houses and a resident college musician (usually a post-grad student) to accompany and support pupils in exams.

Around half take art as a GCSE option and the high standard is evident in displays of their work in the art studios and foyers, including sculpture, pottery, photography, clay and graphics as well as fine arts.

There is a comprehensive programme of trips and tours around the world together with field trips, DofE expeditions (this is the leading school for number of gold awards in East Hertfordshire) community work and debating competitions.

Sport

Unbeaten seasons in rugby, hockey, netball and cricket seem to be the norm. In the past 10 years the college’s U16 teams (both boys and girls) have been national indoor hockey finalists six times. Regular games afternoons, serious coaching (often given by ex-international players) and every opportunity to compete both locally and nationally mean pupils can develop their particular skills. Sports scholars and talented players receive master classes and training sessions from Olympians and professional players and the school has good contacts with the Saracen’s RFU academy programme. Swimming, water polo, tennis and athletics all on offer. Girls' cricket has made the top 100 schools in the Cricketer magazine and the school is thinking of offering rugby for girls, alongside netball and hockey. Recognising that team sports are not everyone’s ‘thing,’ the school offers running, yoga and pilates in the higher forms with the emphasis on encouraging good exercise habits for life.

Boarders

Of the four boarding houses (two for boys and two for girls) Trotman house (girls) is the most glamorous - only four years old, light and spacious with well-designed common and recreation areas and individual bedrooms rooms with en suite facilities. Two resident dogs for company and fun. Of the other three houses, two of the boys houses have been revamped to a high standard and the other two girls’ houses are next in the queue. The school is aware of the discrepancy and say that they try to put full boarders, particularly those from overseas, in the new houses.

Heads of house, resident staff and matrons are praised by parents for the homely atmosphere they create and the attention paid to helping pupils settle in when new. Wednesdays (sports fixtures) and Fridays are the most popular for ‘flexi’ boarders. School offers one, two, three and four night weekly boarding packages too and families can opt for one or the other on a termly basis though school try to be as accommodating as possible if circumstances change. Siblings are offered the choice of joining the same house as elder members of their family.

Ethos and heritage

Originally on the edge of Bishop’s Stortford, it is now part of the town as it has expanded but the lawns, playing fields and woodland that make up the 130 acre site mean the school retains a ‘country,’ rather than, ‘city,’ feel. It was founded in 1868 as a non-conformist school for the offspring of those of moderate means who wanted a good education for their sons and this principle remains current today, although the school has been fully co-educational since 1995 and numbers of boys and girls are pretty evenly balanced. Though relatively few pupils board (around 15 per cent), the school has a strong boarding ‘vibe’, which stems from the strong house system, the basis of pastoral support and the wide range of extra-curricular opportunities made possible by the long working day and Saturday school for all from aged nine onwards.

Despite an unprepossessing approach up a long tarmacked drive and a main building (now reception, admin and classrooms) like rather grand council offices, the school is an interesting mix of older, adapted buildings and newer purpose-built ones. The high ceilinged library (1930s) with its long windows and balcony has the ideal atmosphere for reading and study. The original Memorial Hall (1920) is a much loved and used space for assemblies, concerts and formal occasions while the sports hall is large enough to contain the whole school. Interesting art, music and sixth form buildings, a stunning swimming pool and three brand new boarding houses (the others are being updated). Grounds are well maintained and pupils enjoy their ‘promenading’ between buildings at change of lessons and at lunchtimes, as well as making the most of the extensive sports pitches and courts. Despite school numbers, as the prep and senior occupy separate parts of the site, it does not feel too big and parents all remark on this aspect - ‘It is large, but staff know pupils all by name and the parents too,' said one. ‘Everyone knows everyone’.

The dining room, rather overcrowded and noisy, is used by both prep and senior schools in separate sittings and the school has improved the food after some chopping and changing of catering companies and pressure from parent representatives - ‘Foodgate,’ as one referred to the process. The traditional uniform is worn well and the girls’ ankle length tweedy skirts remain surprisingly popular, though one parent suggested they resembled picnic blankets.

Lots of distinguished former pupils including writer Dick Clement (‘Porridge’), several former MI5 heads and Peter Wright, the author of ‘Spycatche,r’ together with a string of sporting successes and several musicians of note (especially if you are under 30!).

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

The house system provides the pastoral base. There are 10 houses (four boarding and six day) and pupils use their house for registration first thing and as a place to re-charge - ‘I know where I can flop, if I need to,’ said one. Most return to their houses at break times for snacks and drinks and house staff keep an eye out for anyone needing help. ‘It is mostly friendship difficulties, especially in the younger years, but struggles with a particular subject may also come up,’ said a house head, ‘and of course we keep a careful look out for the usual adolescent problems with low moods, or food or family matters.’ Vertical grouping helps create a sense of ‘family’ with older pupils looking out for younger ones and this aspect was very much missed during the pandemic. But during the lockdowns, house assemblies were held online and competitions and quizzes held regularly to keep everyone in touch and maintain some esprit de corps.

Great care is taken to help pupils transition from prep to senior school and settling in those from elsewhere. Parents describe the school as ‘nurturing’ and several said the pastoral nature of the school decided their choice. Wellbeing of pupils was a particular priority during lockdowns. There is a school counsellor, to whom pupils can refer themselves, a chaplain and a medical centre.

Zero-tolerance on drugs and alcohol but few discipline problems. Having good relationships in the first place mean it is rare to get a situation that cannot be worked through satisfactorily, according to the school. School is very aware of the various pressures on pupils, in and out of school, and a questionnaire was set up (with the help of sixth formers) in the wake of the social media campaign ‘Everyone’s invited.’ House staff and tutors deal with day to day trip-ups, contacting parents if necessary and senior staff rarely need to get involved. Pupils are motivated and well behaved and know where to turn for help if needed.

Pupils and parents

In an area of high population density, close to both Cambridge and London, the school has plenty of interested families, many of whom have moved from London to take advantage of an all-through school that operates a long school day and has a boarding offer. ‘We had several children, all really different, and we moved out of London so they could come here. It has worked out for them all.’ Minibus pick-ups have just been introduced but most parents deliver and collect, ‘which can be really slow at the end of the day – mine often arrange to meet me in the Waitrose car park!’ Mixed parent body with a predominance of business and finance, farming, scientists and other professionals – mostly two-career families. Quite a high number of pupils are offspring of former pupils and the school is popular in the town and surrounding area. Most full-time boarders are from overseas, both Europe and the far East and parents feel this gives the school a greater ethnic diversity than it would otherwise have.

Money matters

Academic, music, art and sport scholarships offered at 13+ and a considerable proportion of school income goes on means-tested bursaries (currently 34 pupils receive one). School tries to keep fees down as far as possible.

The last word

This is a flourishing school with a head who really understands the direction education is going in and will see to it that pupils are prepared for the world as it is. Unburdened by (relatively) fewer centuries of tradition than some more high-profile schools and now completely co-ed, its strong work hard/play hard ethic and excellent pastoral care of pupils make this a deservedly popular, oversubscribed school at all stages. It recruits by the best means - word of mouth.

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

At Bishop's Stortford College, pupils who have a special educational need, eg dyslexia, are welcomed at all stages of the school, providing they are deemed able to cope in the mainstream classroom, with support on a withdrawal basis; a 40-minute lesson on a one-to-one basis each week. This support is with either the SENCO of the other member of the Learning Support team. Both specialist teachers hold the Diploma in Specific Learning Difficulties (Dip SPLD). The pupil identified with a need, will then be given a pupil profile outlining difficulties with suggested strategies for learning, together with targets. Staff will be aware of the level of support that the pupil is being given by the Learning Support team. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
Hospital School
Mental health Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty Y
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability Y
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability Y
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment Y

Who came from where


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