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Teaching staff are enthusiastic and engaging. Amazingly, they include three intrepid individuals who have all climbed Mount Everest. Can this feat be matched by any other school? One of them, the educational visits coordinator, even wrote a book about it called The Longest Climb. Despite its traditional exterior, the school prides itself on being innovative and forward-thinking. We liked the idea of pupil-led learning lunches, where students deliver a talk to staff...

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What the school says...

Cheltenham College occupies stunning grounds in the lively and culturally rich town of Cheltenham. We offer outstanding education within a warm and vibrant boarding community. Established in 1841, Cheltenham College was the first of the great English Public Schools. To this day, we retain a great sense of history and tradition, with magnificent buildings and architecture providing a backdrop to a first class modern education. University offers are excellent with most, if not all, high achieving pupils winning their first place choices. The curriculum is broad, with a vast range of extra-curricular clubs, societies and sports teams complementing academic work. All pupils are encouraged to get involved in all areas of school life, from drama, music and sport to adventure trips and debating societies. ...Read more

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Other features

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.

Sports

Polo

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

Rowing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2018, Nicola Huggett MA PGCE (40s), previously head of Blundell’s in Devon. Educated at St Gabriel’s, Newbury and Marlborough, she read PPE at St Hugh’s, Oxford (she was captain of her college boat club and president of the university riding club). After university she spent three years at J. Walter Thompson but decided that advertising wasn’t for her. She shadowed a history teacher at a state school in Newbury for a week and loved it from the moment she set foot in the classroom. ‘I couldn’t believe no one had ever suggested teaching to me before,’ she says. ‘I’ve put that right now. I often talk to pupils about teaching as a career.’ Following a PGCE at Oxford, she taught history part-time at Downe House while pursuing an eventing career but later decided to become a full-time teacher. She taught at Woodford County High School in Essex, then moved to Haileybury, where she became a housemistress and head of boarding. Spent six years as deputy head of Downe House, before a six-year stint as head of Blundell’s.

Warm and engaging (a group of sixth formers told us: ‘We love Mrs Huggett’ – praise indeed for a head), she is very visible around the school. ‘I try to go to everything,’ she says. ‘You often have the best conversations on the touchline or walking along.’ Despite her busy schedule, she still teaches a year 9 history set. ‘I like being in the classroom with pupils,’ she says. ‘I write reports, do parents’ evenings and experience all the things as a teacher that everyone else does.’ Parents and pupils are impressed. ‘She’s tightened up the academics and really commands respect,’ one told us. Another said: ‘She’s such an asset to the school. She’s a bit like the queen; she does her utmost for the school without taking any of the credit.’

She lives in a house on the school site with husband Spencer, who works for an automotive software consultancy. They have four children – the eldest is about to start a law conversion course, the second is reading medicine at St Andrews and the youngest two are pupils at Cheltenham College. In her spare time she enjoys riding, cycling and walking the family cocker spaniel.

Entrance

The school is academically selective (55 per cent at CE required). Up to a third of year 9s come from Cheltenham College Prep while others arrive from a host of preps, including Pinewood, St Hugh’s, Beaudesert Park, Moor Park, The Elms, Abberley Hall, Farleigh and the Dragon. In 2019 pupils came from 18 new preps and interest seems to be growing from London preps like Thomas’s and Fulham Prep. Entrants from schools that don’t prepare pupils for CE take the school’s own papers in English and maths. A small number of places are available at 14+.

All pupils going into the sixth form need at least five grade 6s and must have grade 5s or above in English and maths. External candidates, often from girls’ schools and the state sector, also take entrance papers in subjects to be studied at A level.

Exit

A few leave after GCSEs, sometimes for grammar schools and occasionally because they haven’t got the grades for the sixth form. At 18 almost all head to university, with Durham, Exeter, King’s College London, Manchester, Bristol and Edinburgh the top choices. Five to Oxbridge in 2021, and four medics. Popular subjects include economics and finance, natural science, engineering and history. Growing interest in apprenticeships and last year a girl chose to do a global business apprenticeship.

Latest results

In 2021, 71 per cent 9-7 at I/GCSE; 75 per cent A*/A at A level. In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 65 per cent 9-7 at I/GCSE; 'over a third' A*/A at A level.

Teaching and learning

The head has focused on making learning ‘exciting’ – and the impact is evident in the exam results. Most pupils take ten GCSEs and IGCSEs, including maths, English, English literature, at least two sciences and at least one language.

Teaching staff are determined that ‘no one slips through the net’ and any academic issues are tackled speedily via a range of interventions. ‘The college is brilliant at identifying children’s needs, desires, wants and abilities,’ a parent told us. ‘We never thought our son would be able to do a highly competitive science degree at university because he didn’t like maths. But not once did the college say "you aren’t going to be able to do that". They supported him and gave him the confidence to succeed and he’s had five offers from five universities. His maths teacher took him under her wing and incentivised and motivated him and now he’s one of the top scientists.’

The school has a ‘thriving society culture’ – societies for every academic subject, all pupil led and encouraging pupils to research and deliver talks themselves. French, Spanish and German taught, although school can also arrange languages like Russian, Italian and Chinese on request. Sixth formers take three or four subjects. New A levels on offer at 16+ include art history, business studies, psychology, economics and government and politics) and everyone does the EPQ.

Teaching staff are enthusiastic and engaging. Amazingly, they include three intrepid individuals who have climbed Mount Everest. Can this feat be matched by any other school? One of them, the educational visits coordinator, even wrote a book about it called The Longest Climb.

Despite its traditional exterior, the school prides itself on being innovative and forward-thinking. We liked the idea of pupil-led learning lunches, where students deliver a talk to staff on everything from social media and the dangers of vaping to dyslexia and learning styles. There’s also the lower sixth electives programme, designed to allow pupils to develop new skills. Current options include ancient history, life drawing, cyber discovery, a global mini MBA, leadership and Italian. ‘We are big enough to have lots of different niches so pupils can develop their passions,’ says the head. ‘We see ourselves as a school where all children can thrive.’

Learning support and SEN

EAL pupils have an induction programme before the start of their first term to help them find their feet as fast as possible. Learning support staff give one-to-one or small group teaching, mentoring, revision or study skills support for students with difficulties such as mild dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. The learning support team includes a learning mentor who visits boarding houses in rotation to help pupils with revision and offer support. All pupils’ literacy skills are screened on arrival at the school and in year 12.

The arts and extracurricular

Around half the pupils learn a musical instrument and there are choirs (from Schola Cantorum to pop), orchestras, bands and ensembles galore. Most days start with a half-hour service in the glorious chapel – generally a hymn and a sermon or talk. The chapel was designed by former pupil Henry Prothero to celebrate the college’s 50th anniversary and was dedicated in 1896. The college is famous for its singing and the director of music leads hymn practice for all once a week. ‘We make it fun, getting different sections to stand up or sit down,’ he says. The school puts on at least six drama productions a year, including two house plays, with students performing onstage or doing the lighting, sound, stage management and directing. Art takes place in a wing of an inspiring Grade I listed building with high ceilings, chandeliers, ornate cornices and massive windows.

Two afternoons a week are spent on activities of pupils’ choice, such as CCF, DofE, photography, pottery and water polo. An impressive community action programme enables 150 pupils to volunteer in local schools, care centres, community groups and the local hospital every week. The school has also formed a range of partnerships with primary and secondary schools at home and abroad. For example, college science teachers run regular science workshops for local primary pupils and college students have raised thousands of pounds over the years for a school for children with special needs in Romania.

Sport

Cheltenham College is undoubtedly a sporty school, with scores of county and national triumphs in rugby, hockey, cricket, tennis, rowing and polo. Two years ago pupils won gold and silver at the British Alpine Skiing Championships, a year 11 was selected to play for England Hockey’s under-18 team, two students signed contracts with Gloucester Rugby, two played rugby for England’s under-18 team and the school recently won national polo and rugby championships. The talented athlete programme is run by specialist sports professionals and provides structured training and mentoring for outstanding young athletes in their chosen sports. Facilities are first-rate, including a vast sports centre, a 25-metre swimming pool, eight rugby pitches, five cricket squares and a historic cricket pavilion, all on the school site. There is plenty of choice for pupils who prefer other sports, such as equestrian pursuits, shooting and rackets (a forerunner of squash that the school excels at).

Boarders

Very much a boarding school, with 80 per cent boarding. Most are full boarders but there are also day boarders who can board for up to 35 days each term. Eleven houses (six boys’ and five girls’ houses), including two day houses, all dotted around the perimeter of the school. Even the furthest is only a ten-minute walk away from the main school.

Each house is led by a resident housemaster or housemistress, supported by a team of tutors (their duties include running academic clinics outside lessons) and matrons. Queen’s, the day girls’ house, is a gorgeous Georgian building, with views over the college field and the chapel and boasting one of the most stylish common rooms we’ve visited in a long time, a pretty garden and a dorm with four beds (girls are allowed to stay six nights a year for free if they have school commitments; otherwise it’s £45 a night). The houses seem genuinely plugged into the local community. Each house adopts its own local charity. When we visited Boyne, one of the boys’ houses, the housemaster had left a box by the door for parents and pupils to contribute food – ‘because local food bank levels are getting low’.

Ethos and heritage

The front-facing school buildings are a vision to behold, a row of beautiful mellow Victorian gothic buildings stretching along Cheltenham’s Bath Road. Founded in 1841, the school moved to its present site two years later and accepted day boys as well as boarders. It went fully co-ed in 1998.

Much of the school has undergone a major revamp in recent years, but pupils told us that their favourite bits are the ancient chapel, historic library and wood-panelled dining hall, where students often sit for up to an hour in the evenings and chat. The redeveloped science centre, with 15 university-standard labs, inspires many pupils to study science at A level. We were very taken with a ‘funky’ (a pupil’s description) interactive periodic table in the foyer – a display of boxes explaining the chemical elements. Items include an oxygen meter from a military aircraft, aluminium bike brakes and a piece of iron barbed wire from Second World War trenches. As the head says, ‘We are historic and traditional on the outside but on the inside we are modern, forward-thinking and grounded.’

Old Cheltonians include polar explorer Edward Wilson, broadcaster Rageh Omaar, actors Nigel and Jack Davenport, film producer Tim Bevan and female racing driver Jamie Chadwick.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Parents say the pastoral care is exemplary. ‘I judge a school on how happy the children are and both my kids are thriving and reaching their full potential,’ one told us. ‘They have made lifelong friendships with their peer groups and their housemaster and housemistress will be important to them for ever. There is a real generosity from the staff in terms of their time.’ As well as their housemaster or housemistress, pupils have a tutor who is responsible for their academic, pastoral and social welfare. The deputy head (pastoral) heads the welfare management team, which meets regularly and includes the school’s chief doctor, lead nurse and two full-time counsellors. Trained peer mentors often pick up on fellow pupils’ worries before they can escalate. PSHE is delivered weekly via the Floreat programme, which promotes health, wellbeing and life skills. There are firm rules on mobile phones. For instance, year 9s are only allowed their phones for an hour a day (and not at all on tech-free Tuesdays). Staff see year 9 as a time for pupils to get to know each other and to learn about sensible phone use. If they use social media they are encouraged to add a prefect as a friend – so older ones can alert staff to anything worrying. The school takes a firm line on drugs, drink and smoking but these aren’t generally a problem.

A housemaster told us there’s an ‘educated, graduated approach' to going into Cheltenham. Pupils can walk into the town centre on Sundays – and to nearby Bath Road (lots of cafés and supermarkets) four afternoons a week as long as they get permission. ‘I wouldn’t like to go to a school in the middle of nowhere,’ one girl told us. ‘It’s nice to be able to go to a coffee shop with your friends.’

Pupils told us the school is ‘quite strict’ – but not in an excessive way. Sixth formers are allowed to go out for a meal at an approved restaurant at 17 and to an endorsed pub at 18. Their only grumble was that they’d like a bit more freedom. A raft of prefects, including head boy and head girl and deputies, plus a school council with reps from every year group.

Pupils and parents

Unlike many co-ed schools Cheltenham College is 50:50 boys and girls. The pupils we met were charming and enthusiastic, with a can-do attitude. ‘They create such decent, caring people,’ a mother told us. Our visit was at the start of the coronavirus crisis and when staff decided they had to hold the GCSE French, Spanish and German oral exams early sixth formers and staff dropped everything on a Sunday morning to help year 11s prepare. ‘It was a head’s dream to walk in at 9am on a Sunday and find how everyone had stepped up,’ smiles the head. Similarly, many local families offered to have international pupils to stay for the holidays when they heard they couldn’t get home. Sixth formers say that the school ‘isn’t cliquey or snobby’ and that they can walk into the dining room and sit with anyone. ‘The culture here is to be yourself,’ they said.

Most boarders live within a 90-mile radius, while day pupils tend to live within a 20 to 30-minute drive. Many travel in by school bus from as far afield as Stow-on-the-Wold, Gloucester and Tewkesbury. Parents include Old Cheltonians, forces families and many new to the school. Around 18 per cent of pupils are international, from places like Kenya, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, the Middle East, Russia, Ukraine, Japan and Barbados.

Pupils generally give the thumbs-up to their navy and cerise uniform and like wearing their own choice of pastel shirts. In the sixth form girls wear elegant navy midi skirts and prefects are allowed to don a jumper of their choice. ‘My favourite is an electric blue one,’ a trendsetting boy told us.

Money matters

Scholarships and exhibitions are offered at 13+ and 16+ for academic performance, art, drama, music, choral and sport. Award holders are easily identifiable by their distinctive bright pink ties. The college offers discounts for parents serving in the UK armed forces and means-tested bursaries are available for parents or guardians who are unable to afford the fees.

The last word

A happy, successful school that inspires huge affection and loyalty in its pupils and staff. It may look traditional and grand on the outside but it’s a forward-thinking place that offers a top-notch 21st-century education.

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

Cheltenham College offers strong support to bright pupils with mild specific learning difficulties. The majority of pupils work independently but some pupils may require additional support. Provision is tailored to meet the needs of individual pupils, who receive one-to-one support. Lesson times are arranged to ensure that pupils do not miss other lessons or activities. Support is offered with aspects of literacy, study skills, examination technique, organisation and areas of the academic curriculum.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
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
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 Y
VI - Visual Impairment

Who came from where


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