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  • Charterhouse
    Admissions Office
    Godalming
    Surrey
    GU7 2DX
  • Head: Dr Alex Peterken
  • T 01483 291501
  • F 01483 291507
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.charterhouse.org.uk
  • Charterhouse is an English independent day and boarding school in Godalming, Surrey. It educates boys from 13 to 18 and is co-ed in sixth-form. It was founded in 1611 on the site of the old Carthusian monastery in Charterhouse Square, London.
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Surrey
  • Pupils: 821; sixth formers: 456 (Girls 155;Boys 301)
  • Religion: Anglican
  • Fees: Day £33,630; Boarding £40,695 pa
  • Open days: Virtual Open events- check school website
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What says..

Head's biggest project, of course, is to implement the school’s move to fully co-ed (he did the same at Cheltenham College), ‘I’ve seen how brilliant co-ed can be, this is the most exciting project in independent education.’ ... Something that teenagers probably think doesn’t work for them is the robust crackdown on mobile phones, our guides said it had been pretty unpopular. According to parents, pastoral care has been ‘revolutionised’ and is, apparently, ‘unrecognisable’ from ...

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What the school says...

Founded in 1611, Charterhouse is one of the great historic public schools of England. With four centuries of history behind it, the School is committed to being at the forefront of educational progress in the twenty‑first century.

The School is situated on a magnificent and inspiring 250 acre campus in the beautiful Surrey countryside, conveniently located just off the A3 and to the south of Guildford.

Building on the success of the Sixth Form – where girls have flourished since 1971 – the School is moving to full coeducation from the age of 13, and will welcome the first girls into Year 9 in September 2021. There will be girls in every year group from September 2023.

The pupil roll will grow over the next decade from 820 today to around 1,000, with the increase representing additional places for girls. All pupils are boarders, except for about 25 day boarders.

Academic excellence is at the centre of all we do. The curriculum follows the normal path to (I)GCSEs in Year 11, followed by a choice of Cambridge Pre-U / A Level courses or the IB Diploma Programme in the Sixth Form. We aim to stretch and challenge all our pupils, in many cases well beyond the demands of the syllabus, and the university destinations of our leavers reflect both their abilities and the quality of the education we provide.

We hope our pupils will leave us having achieved the very best they are capable of, having found out what it is that they love and are good at, having learned to challenge themselves and to value other people.

We hope our pupils will leave us having achieved the very best they are capable of, having found out what it is that they love and are good at and learned to challenge themselves and to value other people.
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Curricula

International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.

Sports

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since January 2018, Dr Alex Peterken (40s), formerly head of Cheltenham College. Educated at The Prebendal School, Chichester where he was head boy and head chorister, thence to Eton College as a music exhibitioner. BA in theology from Durham, MA in educational management from London and a doctorate in education from Surrey. Previous head’s tenure was short and not without controversy, Dr Peterken frankly acknowledges that when he started: ‘Morale was low, there was lots of work to do to galvanise everyone, to renew confidence.’ It’s quite possible that with his delight in and optimism for the school he could have done all the galvanising himself, but in fact he is supported by an impressive and loyal team – several of whom upped sticks and followed him here from Cheltenham (he’s keen to point out that ‘they’re not disciples!’). His biggest project, of course, is to implement the school’s move to fully co-ed (he did the same at Cheltenham College), ‘I’ve seen how brilliant co-ed can be, this is the most exciting project in independent education.’ Despite his excitement he’s taking things slowly: ‘We’ve spent 18 months reviewing and listening, we’ve looked at all the case studies and learned all the lessons, we’re planning every single detail.’ Pupils told us, ‘He’s definitely stricter, but he’s also very approachable.’ Parents unanimously declared him, ‘Exactly the right man at the right time.’

His first move was to restructure existing sixth form girls’ boarding. Previously girls had their own separate accommodation, but it was not much more than a place to sleep, there was no house identity, instead they were assigned to existing boys’ houses. Establishing a girls’ house with house mistresses, ‘great, positive role models’ has, apparently, ‘changed the atmosphere in the school so much’. Girls who have lived through this mini-revolution have found it a bit of an upheaval – not much time to gain perspective if you’re only here for two years.

Leaving the small matter of co-education to one side, Dr P has also reviewed the timetable, ‘to make the day work for teenagers, not systems’. This does not mean everyone gets a lie-in: ‘Morning break now is a break; it used to be used for tutorials.’ Something that teenagers probably think doesn’t work for them is the robust crackdown on mobile phones, our guides said it had been pretty unpopular (previous policy allowed use at housemaster’s discretion). Dr P says he’s happy to take the flack: ‘Technology is great for communicating and in the classroom, but we don’t want unrestricted screens in boarding houses, we want pupils to enjoy school and socialise.’ He adds, a little defensively, ‘The school as a whole has to have a view and not be afraid to stand by it. We do know best, thank you very much.’ Current crop of sixth formers are particularly feeling the burn, Dr P says he’s listening and ‘may tweak’.

School rules have come in for scrutiny, ‘I read 20 pages of rules and they were all about what not to do, but we also need to be clear about what the school’s values are.’ And they are? ‘Kindness, moral courage, responsibility, perseverance and open-mindedness.’ ‘It’s easy for boys to lose their empathy between the ages of 13 and 16, we need to change the culture so that it’s okay for them to call out unkindness if they see it. We’re always battling to encourage them to come forward about things like bullying, it’s not easy, we’ve got to keep working at it.’

He acknowledges that the last 18 months have been hard work: ‘The school needed to modernise, it was looking for leadership and change’, but there’s no sign of weariness (although we noticed he was wearing his Monday socks on a Thursday), his vision and enthusiasm are driven by a genuine, clear-sighted sense of purpose. Determined to get a bit of teaching in (RE): ‘I taught half a GCSE course last year; this year I will teach year 9, they will get taught by me.’ We believe they will. He sings with the Charterhouse Choral Society and ‘keeps an eye on music in general’. Also, he ‘tries to run’ and has done the Godalming 10K – that sounds like a bit more than trying to us. Lives on site with his wife, Henny, they have six children, youngest is 3, ‘It helps with perspective’ and escapes to Cornwall for the holidays.

Entrance

About 125 places in year 9. Candidates sit the ISEB common pre-test in the autumn of year 6 at their current school. Boys (and girls) invited for interview and activity afternoon in spring term and close contact maintained with prep schools. CE pass mark of 60 per cent expected. A few places not dependent on pre-testing remain for late applicants and exceptional cases. One parent described the admissions process as ‘really relaxed, they try and make it fun for the children.’

Houses matter (although after a few weeks every pupil thinks theirs is the best). Families visit two or three, meet housemaster/mistress and staff and boys, they then select their preferred house – but don't always get it. Family connections with a particular house are respected if possible. Once places have been offered school organises events such as an overnight camp out so that pupils get to meet before starting.

At sixth form, 75 girls and 30 boys come, most as boarders and a few as day pupils. Admission by competitive examination, school reports and interview. Offers of places are unconditional but high proportion of GCSE 9-7s are expected. Houses are allocated rather than chosen at this stage.

Exit

Careers advice has gone up a few gears since our last visit: ‘We get emails every day,’ said a sixth former, ‘they really encourage us to look outside the conventional group of UK universities, to consider applying to the US or specialist colleges.’ UCL was most popular university destination in 2019, followed by Exeter, Durham and Bristol. Eleven to Oxbridge in 2019, five to study medicine, 17 to US and Canada and three to Europe. History, biomedical sciences, business and finance, law, politics and, bucking the trend, modern foreign languages, were the most popular degree subjects.

Latest results

In 2020, 79 per cent 9-7 at I/GCSE; 61 per cent A*/A at A level or Pre-U equivalent. In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 71 per cent 9-7 at I/GCSE: 50 per cent A*/A at A level or pre-U equivalent. IB average of 36 in 2020 and 34 in 2019.

Teaching and learning

Offers A levels (Pre-Us in a few subjects, will change as the qualification is phased out) and the IB. Nearly all pupils will do four subjects or three plus an EPQ and choices from a non-examined electives programme. Not huge numbers opting for IB (around 20 per cent) but parents say the programme is very well resourced and taught. ‘It’s great for academic all-rounders who aren’t ready to specialise,’ said one, adding, ‘Some [IB] classes only have two or three pupils so everyone benefits from the extra attention.’ Fairly trad range of A level/Pre-U subjects on offer plus business and management, theatre studies and philosophy and theology. School amalgamates IB, A level and Pre-U results on its website which isn’t particularly user-friendly for those in search of specifics.

Parents say the quality of the teaching is ‘absolutely excellent’ and that pupils are challenged to do well by each other as well as the beaks (teachers). Several mentioned how dedicated staff were – nearly all run extracurricular clubs and societies too. ‘The fact the beaks live on site and run clubs means that pupils see them in lots of different contexts, and vice versa.’ Another told us, ‘We really like how the beaks will go with boys’ curiosity, they’re encouraged to question things. It’s so much more than just getting through the curriculum.’ Good mix of male and female staff and Dr P has recruited more with specific co-ed experience in anticipation of 2021. Facilities all well-provisioned or being refurbished – we admired the rather sleek science block; ‘It’s filled with labs and that sort of thing’ said a sixth former, clearly not a scientist.

SEND support is ‘incredibly well coordinated’, small educational support team works with all staff to ensure that the approach is multi-pronged. Some one-to-one, but school says its focus is on providing whatever additional support is necessary in lessons. Study skills sessions offered to all pupils. One or two parents felt that academic reports could be more detailed, ‘If you’re far away it can be hard to get a sense of how your child is really getting on.’

Sport

It was at Charterhouse (jointly with Westminster) that football was first developed and in the early years of the FA Cup teams were largely composed of ex-pupils from these schools. We were shown the hallowed turf, the ‘Big Ground’, right at the heart of the school, a football pitch impeccably rolled and dazzlingly green where only the top teams’ boots may tread. Not being followers of the beautiful game we were probably a bit underwhelmed by the pitch’s historical significance, but hats off to the groundskeepers. ‘This is such a football school, people are obsessed,’ we were told, ‘rugby really struggles’ (15 football pitches and only one rugby pitch would seem to confirm this). Girls’ sport, which thus far only concerned sixth formers, has been a bit underdeveloped, ‘You could get away with not doing much.’ A new director of girls’ sport is already in post and looks set to change all that. What about girls’ football, we asked one of our guides: ‘It’s quite big, but it’s never played on the Big Ground.’ In fact, we discovered later that some girls’ matches are played here.

Football, of course, is not the only sport (though some feel it does dominate a bit too much), hockey and cricket are the other majors, played by boys and girls. Minors include sailing, shooting, water polo, tennis (there are 24 courts), fencing, lacrosse, netball and golf – there’s a nine-hole course on campus.

Art dept is deliberately studio space rather than classroom, ‘We want to encourage risk taking’ and staff (all professional artists) are on hand every day, including weekend afternoons and two late evenings. Head of art was a big fan of the Pre-U, ‘It’s more rigorous and accommodates cross-medium creativity’; we hope he isn’t too disappointed that its days are numbered – IB and A level will no doubt fill the gap. Work we saw here and across the school was bold, imaginative and extremely skilful – no wonder school’s reputation is particularly strong in this area. Pupils can also join Beerbohm – a drawing society named after former pupil the cartoonist Max Beerbohm. It’s just one of around 60 clubs and societies that encompass everything from aeronautics to Scottish dancing.

Charterhouse has produced some notable musicians, from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Peter Gabriel (and the other founding members of Genesis) and parents say the music department is ‘Absolutely superb, they’re enthusiastic, collaborative and work so hard – the drive is always towards quality.’ Another said, ‘It’s so much more than “school music” and the range of what’s on offer is huge, there’s something to fit everybody.’ Concerts are well attended by parents who live close enough, and outreach activities in local care homes and primary schools (playing carols, introducing young children to different instruments) build players’ confidence and broaden horizons. A quick flick through the school calendar reveals a packed rehearsal schedule – chapel choir, chamber music, symphony orchestra, evening recitals, jazz band, house singing. There’s even Concert Choir in which pupils, staff and family members get to sing together.

Lack of whole school play mentioned as a downside by some, but there’s plenty of drama to be had via houses or year groups with seven or eight major productions a year – 235-seat Ben Travers Theatre (named after the playwright, who was a pupil) is certainly well used. Pupils can also prepare for LAMDA exams. Artifex is the whole school arts festival, held in June, which showcases every conceivable talent: inter-house debating, academic symposia, cinema in the chapel, sketch shows and even a pop-up restaurant. Plugged, Unplugged and Lack of Talent are annual, pupil-run occasions where the school’s many bands and solo performers get to show off their creative artistry.

Boarders

Charterhouse is a full-boarding school, with only a handful of day pupils. Around three-quarters of pupils go home on Saturday afternoons and return on Sunday evenings. This can leave boarding houses depleted but there’s still loads going on for the 200 or so who stay in, including theatre and cinema trips, socials, takeaway nights and karting. School day is a long one, with some societies, rehearsals and other events starting at 9pm several nights a week.

There are currently 14 boarding houses, ‘Old Houses’ at the centre of the school and, wait for it, ‘New Houses’ further away on campus. Each has three resident staff including a matron, plus a team of house tutors. Move to fully co-ed has given school a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to review all provision and create bespoke facilities for 21st century boarding; head describes this as a ‘game changer’. There’s a hugely positive feel about the ambition and enthusiasm with which all concerned are working on every detail – from design to location. Plan is to have boys and girls living on both sides of the school so one of the two new houses being built on the edge of campus is actually for boys and the oldest boys’ house at the centre of the school will become a girls’ house.

No more ‘halls of residence’ for sixth form girls – back in the day these (rather nice) blocks were where the girls worked and laid their heads, but they weren’t ‘houses’, instead, in a rather awkward arrangement, sixth form girls were assigned to existing boys’ houses. Now there are three girls’ houses (currently just for sixth formers but by 2023 will be home to girls from all year groups as co-education develops), with house mistresses and identical status to the boys’ houses. A fourth girls’ house will open in 2021. And the one we saw looked fantastic, nearly all single rooms with ensuites too – luxury! The kitchen-diner looked very inviting, lots of plants and flowers and the table was decorated for an 18th birthday party – cake and a little bottle of prosecco.

The boys’ house we visited had just been refurbished and looked very smart. Good to see the old honours boards still in pride of place on newly painted walls. General tightening up of boarding procedures means all comings and goings are visible from ground floor office. New mobile phone rules are prominently displayed (they didn’t look that draconian to us), housemaster told us that since their imposition ‘board games have become much more popular.’ Extremely shiny brown leather sofas in the common room – suppose they have to withstand more wear and tear than the softer velvet ones in the girls’ house.

In-house dining persisted at some of the farther flung houses until recently, but all from New Houses are now fed in a very fine, open-plan central dining room. The ceiling of this dining room is perforated with many thousands of different sized holes – they look like they should be back-lit to produce a starry effect at night, but apparently this is not a feature. Those boarding in Old Houses will soon also be able to eat meals at a nearer cafe/social space. Pupils gave a somewhat cautious welcome to this change but appreciate the thinking behind the move to central dining: ‘It may be positive, it’s meant to boost whole school rather than tribal, house loyalty.’ Parents report their children saying food is ‘great at first but can get a bit boring. Lots of chicken.’ We thought our lunch was delicious – plenty of choice, excellent salads and the puddings looked great. Vegetarian and other special diets are well catered for. For other hungry moments there’s ‘Crown’, the school tuck shop and boarders can make snacks and drinks in their house butteries.

Ethos and heritage

Founded by Lincolnshire coal baron Thomas Sutton in 1611. He endowed a hospital in London on the site of the Charterhouse and left money in his will to maintain this, a chapel and a school. Moved to its present 250-acre site on top of a Surrey hill in 1872, main buildings were designed by architects of the Royal Albert Hall, the Lucas brothers. Craftily concealed behind the busy streets of Godalming, but when one arrives congested, suburban sprawl is instantly forgotten. Staff and monitors (pupils who are head of their houses) bicycle to and from lessons and houses, giving the place a rather timeless air, but main routes across campus are shared with quite a lot of cars; ‘It’s all going to be pedestrianised,’ we were told. Nevertheless, feels safe, the campus is beautiful – there’s even a farm – and the atmosphere (as one parent put it) is ‘just very calm’.

Chapel by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott (he also designed the red telephone box) is a fine place – interior is quite plain and very tranquil. It’s dedicated to the 1,050 Carthusians who lost their lives in the in the two World Wars, and subsequent conflicts. There is also a separate Catholic chapel on site, but the door was locked and currently there are no Sunday services, ‘The previous priest left and hasn’t been replaced.’ We sensed some unhappiness about this. Pupils attend services four times a week, a longer service on Friday afternoon to replace compulsory Sunday evening attendance has proved to be one of Dr P’s most popular changes.

Sixth form became co-ed way back in 1971 (those brave first girls were billeted with the good people of Godalming). It’s fair to say that the school really didn’t rush to accommodate (in any sense) its female pupils but is certainly making up for that now.

Yearlings (year 9) and other new pupils will need to learn to speak Lingua Carthusiana. ‘It’s quite hard at first,’ said one. ‘Quarters’ are terms (Oration Quarter, Long Quarter and Cricket Quarter make up the Carthusian academic year), morning break is also known as a ‘quarter’, a lesson is a ‘hash’, a classroom is a ‘hashroom’, teachers are ‘beaks’, and so on.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

According to parents, pastoral care has been ‘revolutionised’ and is, apparently, ‘unrecognisable’ from where school was three or four years ago. The tutor role is now ‘holistic’ rather than purely academic and heads of year have been appointed. Dr P says the aim is ‘proactive pastoral care with a vertical and horizontal double lock to ensure no one slips beneath the pastoral and academic radar. The school has to know every child.’ Deputy head academic told us that the new system should ‘coordinate academic and pastoral tracking.’ Lots more tutor group time, discussions, external speakers and sessions on, for instance, relationships and eating disorders for both boys and girls separately. Tutor groups are single sex but some topics are delivered to larger co-ed groups. Parents involved too, ‘It’s very important that there’s fluid contact between parents and tutors, the expectation should be lots of contact.’ All the parents we spoke to had noticed the difference and heartily approved.

Sixth form girls told us that some found the first few weeks quite hard, ‘It is weird, there’s lots of showing off, but the school is brilliant and staff pick up on any comments or behaviour that goes too far.’ The culture change that going fully co-ed brings will hopefully soon mean an end to this difficult transition. Talking to former pupils we got the impression that things were possibly a little liberal in the not too distant past, but that door has closed. The rule forbidding ‘intimate sexual relationships’ is two sentences long and the consequences of breaking it are crystal clear.

Every new pupil is allocated a ‘father’ (presumably soon to be joined by ‘mother’), from the year above who helps them learn the ropes – and the language. Surprisingly, we were told that the majority of pupils are new to boarding and need some help at first with things like organisation, ‘We have to teach them to board.’ Not everyone finds it easy to settle in and the first term especially is very tiring, so there’s an option for year 9 pupils to return to school after the weekend on Monday morning and go home for one night in the middle of the week, ‘Not many take it up, but it’s a safety blanket.’ This isn’t an option for international pupils, one parent felt that it was hard for them watching the others go home for weekends.

Pupils and parents

‘Quite a few’ pupils are following in the educational footsteps of fathers, mothers and grandfathers. One of our guides was a case in point, ‘I like the continuity, I was always going to come here.’ Several parents told us that the school is what you make it, ‘They positively encourage parents to get involved, they want you to come to all the events and to visit at weekends, but you don’t have to.’ Communication with parents used to be, well, ‘Just bad, you really had to dig for information’, but is now ‘so much better’. We heard very happy reports of housemasters sending parents regular, detailed newsletters and one or two less happy reports about the opposite kind (irregular, less detail). Nevertheless, old hands say that what you get to know depends largely on how communicative your child is. Just under 20 per cent of pupils are from abroad, this rises to around 25 per cent in the sixth form when there’s an influx from Europe – particularly Italians – for the IB.

Tremendously fascinating list of notable former pupils (Old Carthusians). Among the many deans, bishops, MPs, brigadiers and major-generals we were particularly taken by Andrew Amos (1863-1931), ‘England international footballer and clergyman’. Footballing vicars aside (there’s more than one), there doesn’t seem to a field – sports or professional – without a significant Carthusian presence. In addition to the founding members of prog rock band Genesis, Charterhouse has given the world poet and novelist Robert Graves, composers Ralph Vaughan Williams and Rachel Portman, sculptor Sir Anthony Caro, a brace of Dimblebys (David and Jonathan), William Makepeace Thackeray and Frederic Raphael (writers) and actor Graham Seed, famous for Nigel Pargetter’s long, anguished cry as he slipped to his death from the roof of his ancestral pile in The Archers.

Money matters

Offers a limited number of means-tested bursaries, up to 100 per cent of fees in year 9 and year 12 with the preference given to those who gain scholarships. Two year 9 bursaries are awarded every year on the basis of academic performance in year 6. Scholarships and exhibitions of various kinds are awarded solely on merit – the recognition is greater than the money involved.

The last word

It may have played a long game (nearly 50 years in fact), but Charterhouse is about to make the very best kind of fashionably late entrance into the world of co-ed boarding. The school we saw was eager for change, dynamic and crackling with expertise, energy, optimism and unashamed ambition. Dr Peterken has said that he wants Charterhouse to be ‘the best co-educational boarding school in the country’; from what we saw the future looks very bright indeed.

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

As the current Code of Practice requires, we are ready to take all necessary steps to ensure full access to our curriculum for students with any type of disability. We do not, however, specialise in any particular area of SEN. Whilst our entrance exams do not discriminate on SEN grounds alone, it should be remembered that we are a selective school.

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

Who came from where


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