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What says..

Sited to the east of the landmark pier and pavilion, the school is fashionable, practical and innovative. No Saturday morning school means that everyone has a full weekend and the chance to be part of the town instead of just being educated within it. Detractors of the school (often parents of ex-pupils at the prep or pre-prep) see it as too results focussed, with some families turning to outside tutoring to enable their children to...

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What the school says...

If you were to ask current parents why they chose Brighton College for their son or daughter, they would tell you that the children here are cheerful, balanced, at ease with themselves and each other - yet excited and enthused by the challenges before them. They might add that Brighton College succeeds in combining academic excellence with a wealth of extra-curricular opportunities, all underpinned by a deep commitment to the individual needs and enthusiasms of each child. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head master

Since 2006, Richard Cairns MA (Oxon) (40s). His path to Brighton was via a law firm in Australia, a Palestinian refugee camp, Stewart's Melville in Edinburgh, The Oratory in Reading and the deputy headship of Magdalen College School, Oxford. Staggering list of achievements/accolades includes the opening of Brighton College, Abu Dhabi; a rise from 147th to top 20 in the UK academic rankings; doubling boarding numbers; trebling applications; a huge new building programme; the acquisition of Roedean Junior and Handcross Park Prep Schools; ISI inspection report with outstanding in every category; The Sunday Times Independent School of the Year.

Keen not to take sole credit for this, he has built a teaching and management structure to ensure that ideas and initiatives can be sparked and grown – inside and outside the student body. This attitude is magnetic – for pupils, parents and staff. He sees himself and the college as a mix of tradition and modern. 'I want every pupil to be who they want to be – as I say to them in assembly [pupils agree he does, and they remember it], "If I try to be him, who will be me?”.'

Plenty of other schools try to tempt him away – the governors recently agreed a 10-week international trip, he says, ‘to give me thinking time for the next seven years’. It was a global reconnaissance mission, visiting universities in the US and Canada as well as potential twin schools in Finland, Sweden, Singapore, Ontario and Hungary. Such symbiotic connections are characteristic of this head – and they appear to stem from a dedication to improving education wherever he can use his influence or initiative. He kicked off his tenure with compulsory Mandarin lessons but also connected with Kingsford, an East London school that was doing the same. Out of this link grew the London Academy of Excellence (LAE) in Stratford, East London, the first new sixth form free school academy in the country, helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds to get into university by making sure they pass the right A levels.

Has high expectations for his pupils, wanting them to be excited in the classroom. Teaches history to the fourth form. They report creative punishments from him for inattention, eg writing a whole story about a turtle, or a poem about the girl the note was being passed to. Less formally, he has breakfast with the prefects and invites sixth formers to dinner. The pupils love getting to know the head in this way (one of seven children, he certainly knows how to cope with a large dinner table) and they discuss everything from divorce to cricket. He's not shy of involving the pupils in practicalities – from how much the new boarding developments cost to how much he would need to be sponsored to run the Big Balls relay for charity.

Academic matters

Shining results: in 2019, 94 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE; 97 per cent A*-B and 82 per cent A*/A at A level; this is up with the best in London too. One of top value-added schools. Twenty-six subjects offered at A level. Biology, chemistry, economics and maths are particularly popular (the latter taken by about two-thirds of the pupils). About a quarter take four A levels. Outside speakers (John Major, Boris Johnson, Viv Richards, David Dimbleby, David Starkey, Jeremy Paxman, Michael Gove, Matt Prior...) visit in a Wednesday afternoon slot. Each department runs both a course-specific and a general Oxbridge activity, which obviously pays off, with a record number of pupils heading up to Oxford or Cambridge.

Staff are sparky and motivated – attracted by the charms of ‘London by the sea’ and being part of a school that’s going up and up. An appraisal system of teachers by pupils is at the heart of the classroom. Pupils evidently respect quirky and effective teaching – whether it is their Mandarin teacher throat singing on YouTube or a video of a worked-through past paper for maths A level revision. The Story of Our Land course combines history, geography, philosophy and religion for the third form (year 7s), who study the geography of the cliff an invasion force climbed or debate the merits of the Muslim or Christian standpoint while looking at the Crusades.

Languages popular, not just through the Mandarin innovation – compulsory in the pre-prep since 2007 and now a GCSE option (mostly A* grades so far), with graduate students from Chinese universities to assist – but also Latin, French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, German and Greek. The burgeoning Mandarin option is a USP, with the school being awarded Confucius Institute status by the Chinese government as a centre of excellence for the teaching of the language – the first such honour for a UK school.

All new pupils attend a literacy class and the dyslexia centre is nationally famous, specifically helping around five per cent of pupils. Some have English lessons here in small groups instead of a second modern language, individual help available in sixth form. School actively seeks out and welcomes bright children with dyslexia, dyspraxia or dyscalculia. Entry based on recent Educational Psychology report, CE assessment morning (observed in groups) and interviews by head and excellent head of centre. Approximately 50 taught in centre, which also supports the prep school students.

The bright library has a mezzanine level used for quiet working space for the sixth formers. Dedicated sixth form centre also has computers but is generally more social. Saturday morning revision classes on offer in the holidays, mostly to boost confidence before exams. Class sizes average 18 up to GCSE; after GCSE, the average is eight.

Games, options, the arts

Everyone has to do dance, PE and drama. House drama, house song and up to 15 different productions a year (including visiting companies, A level and GCSE performances and Commedia dell'Arte). Dance achieves nearly 100 per cent A*/A at A level and at GCSE happens in performing arts studio (outside classes offered to the community). Six-strong faculty teaches over 70 dance classes a week. Examinations in ballet, modern, tap and jazz, and the school boasts boys’ street dance, modern and tap groups from junior to senior level.

New music school. Half of the pupils have individual music lessons, from more than 40 visiting music teachers; 22 music groups: choirs, orchestra, rock groups, concert band and various chamber groups, with participation in the National Chamber Music Competition as well as tours to Prague and Moscow. Ex-parents miss going to the performances.

Two hugely popular and innovative sixth form house competitions stem from the entrepreneurship programme and Strictly Come Dancing. The former gets academics and creatives developing a business plan together, each team competing to win £3,000 to commercialise their idea – previous winners have been a parking app and a device to stop babies knocking hot tea over. Strictly ensures boys are valued for more than just sport – the biggest applause in Monday morning assemblies goes to most unconventional achievements.

Purpose-built spaces for art, photography and DT make for beautiful art and design – there are still some lessons when the pupils watch a video for low-maintenance inspiration but the proof of the art is hanging on walls around the campus.

Sport is enormously important here, all pupils taking part in games twice a week – rounders, netball, tennis, cricket, swimming and rugby possible on campus, otherwise it’s a minibus to the college’s Jubilee Ground, with six rugby pitches or two cricket grounds, further floodlit netball courts, a pavilion and three hockey Astroturfs nearby. Withdean’s athletics stadium also hosts fixtures; each weekend sees some 300-400 children involved in competitive matches. National trophies in rugby (1st XV has particularly strong record of victories in Sussex) and netball (Sussex champions and national finalists), and leads the county in athletics. Cricket for both sexes a great strength – three former pupils have gone on to play for England women’s team.

Community service a vital part of school life: pupils visit elderly people and help disabled children or teach pensioners how to use a computer; Make a Difference Day (MADD) sees every member of the college serving the community in more than 100 different activities, from cleaning beaches and clearing scrub to sorting clothes for charity. School raises money for local charities (including Whitehawk Inn, Rockinghorse, Chestnut Tree House) and those further afield (Romania, Kenya, Sri Lanka, India).


Weekly boarding extremely popular – no Saturday school; many go straight home after Saturday morning matches. Full-time boarders can avoid the school curfew at the weekend if they stay with local families who take responsibility. Pupils can return from home by 9.30pm on a Sunday night or on a Monday morning – buses from outlying towns.

Five boarding houses for years 9-13 – two for girls and three for boys – plus a junior boarding house for 11-13-year-olds at Handcross Prep and a new co-ed sixth form boarding house. Plenty of inter-house competitions, plus lectures, debates, music evenings, quizzes etc, and the after-school use of all facilities, eg swimming pool and art department.

Background and atmosphere

Compact campus in Kemp Town, just four blocks from the sea front. Imposing 1840s buildings by Gilbert Scott (designer of St Pancras Station and the Albert Memorial). Award-winning buildings include School of Design and Technology and the Smith Café, where boarders can meet in the evening. The most popular part of this is the places where the boys and girls get to hang out casually together instead of signing in and out of each other’s boarding houses.

Sited to the east of the landmark pier and pavilion, the school succeeds in being fashionable, practical and innovative – no Saturday morning school means that everyone has a full weekend and the chance to be part of the town instead of just being educated within it. This could put some parents off, since Brighton and Hove, like many seaside cities, has its fair share of addicts, drunks and loons. However, we’ve heard no disturbing reports and most sensible local parents realise that their children are going to come to Brighton at the weekend anyway and it is far better that they feel comfortable in their favourite cafés, bars and shops rather than loitering round Churchill Square... Officially, there is a square patch of Kemp Town streets where pupils can stroll for 20 minutes of an afternoon, in a group, as long as they sign out. However, some definitely sneak a walk to the beach – they feel it’s their right considering the prospectus proudly features pupils enjoying this out-of-bounds place.

Pupils are thoughtful and articulate – we visited on the day of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral and got into a discussion with a group of 13-year-olds about whether people would dislike her so much if she had been a man who had implemented the same policies. The head picks an individual each Monday to share a random act of kindness in assembly – this type of awareness is at root of the school’s ethos which goes a fair way to balancing the social mix here. As in all schools, cliques could be found if you looked for them but the most popular are not necessarily the richest or prettiest; difference is respected and often admired. The pupils are aware that they are privileged. Has now scrapped its uniform code for 11-16-year-olds in favour of a 'skirt uniform' and 'trouser uniform', with either sex able to wear either. The sixth form wear smart businesslike clothes with some restrictions that are flouted when girls fancy tottering on high heels. They can drive themselves into school but must use street parking – high council charges are unpopular, with parents driving to attend chapel as well.

School benefits from a sense of the outside world, whether through exchanges with schools in Russia, Africa, America and Australia, the perspective offered by pupils from an inner-city school or the opportunity to twist their tongues round a year's worth of Mandarin Chinese. Link with Kingsford Community School in Newham, East London, beginning with heads' shared desire to make Mandarin mandatory, has grown into an HSBC sponsorship of three Newham pupils' education in Brighton for a year. Sixth formers buddy up with pupils at the London Academy of Excellence and share study tips via Facebook (boarders allowed 10-minute slots) and email.

The chapel, just big enough for the whole school, used three or four times a week for secular and multi-faith assemblies as well as Christian ones. Tradition still holds firm here (the oldest public school in Sussex), yet the chaplain is entertaining and eccentric – a new hymnal was an opportunity to get each house to prepare a song and belt it out in competition.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

As the head comments, this is 'a town school that is part of the real world, not apart from it'. At the beginning of every term he reiterates the ground rules on theft, bullying and beyond: expulsion and no second chances is the line on drugs and the security at the school gates is tight, yet cheery.

Report emailed home every three weeks and there are parent meetings – although some parents report not much time for parent feedback. Those needing the most help definitely get it – those who are motivated enough to dance between options will attract it too.

Head of lower school and the headmaster meet every registered pupil in their own school before they enter Brighton College. This reduces the fear of attending a new school and gives the pastoral staff a heads-up on what house and friendship group might suit a newbie. The little ones arrive three days before the rest of school and go on a treasure hunt to help them get their bearings. The transition to the upper school is another focus point for the empathetic head of lower school – moving from being one of 40 to one of 150 under the shared care of tutors and houseparents.

One lower school house and 13 others when the post-Common Entrance cohort enter, 325 boarding and 650 day – about 70 children in each so a good chance to develop cross-year relationships. All of the youngest year in each senior school house share a tutor – as pupils grow they are matched with another for GCSEs and then A levels. Majority of housemasters and housemistresses are married and parents report incredible empathy for the fallout from tricky family and financial situations. Pupils learn how to iron a shirt, sew on a button and hold their own at a dinner party through house activities – really useful preparation for university admission and beyond.

Any bullying is dealt with speedily and with emotional intelligence – no homophobia or racism, some teasing but real respect for individuality. Two options at meals and dishes containing wheat are labelled, the school is nut free. Food is also available in the Smith Café and Café de Paris below the dance studio – and the houses all have kitchens for an emergency stack of toast for a starving teenage boy.

Pupils and parents

A great social mix from the children of butchers to highbrow TV presenters, successful entrepreneurs and a smattering of Conservative MPs; 33 per cent boarding, most weekly but seven per cent overseas (five per cent Asian). Lower school just under 50 per cent from Brighton state schools, also many from London schools that stop at 11. Head ensures that useful parent contacts are wound into life of school in way that benefits both – from Leon providing soup recipes for sidelines at matches to a stylist helping with a fashion show. School buses from towns ranging from Crowborough to Eastbourne with express services for weekly boarders Friday evening and Monday morning from Tunbridge Wells and Chichester. Pupils are cheerful, enthusiastic, friendly and polite and have an easy, relaxed relationship with teachers – at the top end of the school they feel part of a wider community; again, good preparation for life outside.


Eleven-plus entry via maths, English and verbal reasoning tests. Dynamic head of lower school has worked hard to build brilliant enrichment days for gifted and talented at local primaries – practical lessons in science labs, language work and unique experience of a senior school. All of this very attractive alternative to Brighton state school ballots.

Pre-test assessment for 13+ entry; CE pass mark now 60 per cent – whether from coming from prep school or externally – with a minimum of 55 per cent in English and maths. Emotional intelligence used in assessment of intake for prep so a maximum of five out of 60 each year do not go through to the college – they must be the bright side of average or they will not be happy here – and those who disrupt the learning of others won’t fit in either. Around 45 from the prep join 40 already in the lower school. Seventy more from 54 other preps including St Christopher's, Hove and Handcross (now run by Brighton College).

Around 70 new pupils at sixth form (at least grade 6s at GCSE are essential), mostly from Burgess Hill, Brighton and Hove High School, Eastbourne, Hurst and Lancing.


A handful after GCSEs to local sixth form colleges, almost always for financial reasons. All A level leavers to university. Thirty-three to Oxbridge in 2019, and 17 medics/dentists/vets; UCL, KCL, Bristol, Imperial, Durham, Manchester, Exeter and Leeds all popular. Five off to the US in 2019 and five to Hong Kong. Famous Old Brightonians, including Peter Mayle (writer), Lord Alexander of Weedon (lawyer and banker), Lord Skidelsky (historian and politician), Laurie Penny (writer), David Nash (sculptor), Matt Prior and Holly Colvin (cricketers), Sir John Chilcot (chairman of the Iraq Inquiry), Sir Michael Hordern (actor) and Jonathan Palmer (racing driver), testify to range of successful careers which may ensue.

Money matters

At a recent open morning, parents were wondering about what extras Brighton College might offer to justify its fees being higher than rival local schools' despite its limited campus space – half an hour later they were totally sold, having been treated to a Commedia dell'Arte take on the drama, a taste of Strictly Come Dancing by sixth formers and the heads of schools speaking about the high quality lessons. Bursaries and up to 20 academic awards (5-50 per cent off basic fees), five music scholarships (up to 30 per cent off), art, drama, dance, sport, chess and all-rounder awards (up to 25 per cent off) and a DT scholarship (up to 15 per cent off) are available.

Registration fee and hefty deposits for accepting an offered place, into five figures for overseas boarders. Only refundable if pupils don’t pass the entrance exam. Deposits retained to cover extras charged in arrears, balance refunded on exit from the school.

Extras include dyslexia support and EAL tuition.

Our view

Happy, broad-minded town school for children and families who are keen on learning – producing fantastic results and sparkling individual success stories. Pupils are encouraged to achieve as much as they can, so you’d never be bored, but you could end up with too much on. Bold ideas fostered in student, staff and parent body, all the while anchoring the opportunities enabled by the fees in real world experience. Detractors of the school (often parents of ex-pupils at the prep or pre-prep) see it as too results focused, with some families turning to outside tutoring to enable their children to get into the college. Raising of CE pass mark to 60 per cent fuel for the fire of those who judge the school to be top-slicing to climb the results ladder, explained transparently by the school as a tool to manage the high volume of applications.

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

Brighton College specialises in helping bright dyslexic children to achieve their academic potential whilst, at the same time, providing them with a stimulating environment in which to develop their strengths and talents. The school has its own Dyslexia Centre which supports children from each of the three schools of Brighton College: the Pre-Prep School, the Prep School and the Senior School. Up to the end of Year 6, pupils receive a combination of in-class support in English and small group withdrawal for specialist teaching. From Year 7 onwards, full members of the Dyslexia Centre receive all their English lessons in the Centre in groups no larger than 9. In addition, most (but not all) dyslexic pupils substitute their modern languages time for additional support. For those pupils whose needs require less support, ad hoc provision is available. In the sixth form, an AS/A Level study skills course is available, together with individual support lessons. Pupils with other Special Educational Needs are the responsibility of the three Special Needs Co-ordinators (SENCOs). The school is always happy to discuss individual needs with parents, although it recognises that the level of provision it can currently offer may not be sufficient to support all Special Educational Needs. The school has a separate department for the support of those pupils whose first language is not English.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
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 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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