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Cranleigh is famed for its sport, with countless national titles to its name, but it’s impressively inclusive as well, with teams... Big emphasis on kindness and tolerance throughout but like the rest of society after the pandemic, the school is seeing ‘greater levels of anxiety’. ‘The teenage years are sometimes difficult and we need to give them the tools to get through it,’ says the head. Parents say boarding staff ‘go above and beyond’. ‘They are very kind and caring, so good at helping and supporting them,’ said...

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What the school says...

Cranleigh is a leading co-educational weekly boarding and day school set in a stunning rural location in more than 280 acres on the edge of the Surrey Hills.

Cranleigh’s beautiful campus is exceptionally well equipped, with outstanding classroom, studio, performance and sports facilities, including three theatres, twelve rehearsal and performance spaces, competition pitches, equestrian centre, sports centre, gym, golf course, outdoor education centre and swimming pool.

There are strong links between the School and nearby Cranleigh Preparatory School and pupils also join from a wide variety of other prep schools across London and the home counties, creating a lively, House-based community of young people who are drawn together by their inherent love of life and getting involved in everything Cranleigh has to offer.
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Curricula

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

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

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

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2014, Martin Reader, previously headmaster of Wellington School in Somerset. Educated at St Olave’s Grammar School in Orpington and University College, Oxford, where he was an exhibitioner in English and played lots of rugby. Stayed on for an MPhil and later did an MBA in school leadership. He began his teaching career at St Edward’s, Oxford, before moving to Oundle and then Reigate Grammar, where he was senior deputy head.

An experienced, modernising head, he’s keen to move forward and get things done. Not the type to blow his own trumpet, he reckons that teaching and learning are the areas where he has had most impact at Cranleigh. ‘My passion has always been modernising what we offer and ensuring that every lesson is as vibrant as possible,’ he says. The school’s results from ‘a relatively broad intake’ are ‘very special’ and its value-added scores bear this out. ‘We’ve always said that if you take fantastic teaching and learning and combine it with a rich co-curricular programme and a wonderful community it all comes together,’ he says.

He’s a firm believer in putting substance before style – ‘we do what we say’ – and under his leadership the school has built a very strong management team and introduced wider subject choice, longer lessons, iPads for all and EPQs for the majority. He’s keen to increase diversity at the school. ‘It’s a global world and it’s good for pupils to have a global outlook,’ he says. There are more staff from diverse backgrounds these days too – ‘I had a profound conversation with an Old Cranleighan who was here 15 years ago and he said he didn’t encounter racism but that “no one on the staff looked like me”. That’s all changing now.’

The school has kept its strong sibling policy – teachers cater for a wide range of ability although pupils ‘have to be sufficiently academic to hit our criteria’. He’s adamant that Cranleigh is all about breadth so if a pupil only wants to focus on one thing – academic studies or music or sport – it may not be the right place for them. A parent said she chose the school after being impressed by the head’s words to children at an open day: 'We are going to make you life ready. You are always going to be you but we are going to teach you how to evolve in a world that is ever-changing.'

His wife Amanda is head of careers and joint head of PSHE and they have two adult children. He’s been an ISI inspector for 20 years but away from school he’s obsessed with owls and is a trustee of the Hawk and Owl Trust. He enjoys gardening, walking, skiing and spending time at the family house in Dorset. Leaving in September 2024 – ‘I think it’s the right time for us,’ he says. ‘The danger in leadership is that you stay too long in one place.’

From September 2024, the head will be Samantha Price, currently headmistress of Benenden and head at Godolphin School in Salisbury before that. Parents are delighted at her appointment. ‘It’s very exciting for a co-ed school to have a female head,’ said one. She studied history of art at the University of Edinburgh before working in development at the Tate in London. When she spotted a trainee teacher ad she switched to education, teaching at Reading Blue Coat School, King’s Canterbury and Hereford Cathedral School. Married to army chaplain Iori, with two children, she enjoys running, hiking and spending time with her family and dogs.

Entrance

Around 140 join at 13+ – 45 per cent from Cranleigh Prep across the road and 55 per cent from feeder schools in and around the home counties, London and overseas. In recent years pupils have come from preps like Feltonfleet, Brambletye, Highfield, Aldro, Edgeborough, Cumnor House, Windlesham, Shrewsbury House, Westbourne House, Danes Hill, Parkside, Broomwood, Thomas’s and Dulwich Prep.

Cranleigh prides itself on ‘not being ruthlessly selective’ and applicants sit an ISEB pre-test at their current school in October or November of year 6, followed soon after by an interview, discussion group, creative writing paper and teambuilding activities. The school holds back nearly 25 per cent of places for year 7 and 8 applicants. All 13+ offers are unconditional.

Pupils can also join at 11+. They sit the ISEB pre-test in year 6, attend a holistic assessment day and start at the prep in year 7, with no further testing to move up to the senior school in year 9. A few places are available at 16+ (around 15 or so) but it’s very competitive. Applicants must be predicted mostly grade 7s at GCSE and attend a holistic review day in the November of year 11, when they have interviews and meet staff. Unconditional offers are made in December.

Exit

Few post-GCSE leavers (usually to places like Hurtwood House or Godalming College, which offer subjects that Cranleigh doesn’t). At 18 most leave for university – Exeter, Nottingham, Oxford Brookes, Newcastle, Durham and Cardiff are currently popular. Some to Oxbridge or to study medicine but none in 2023. The occasional one overseas (a recent Stanford place) but not in 2023.

Latest results

In 2023, 73 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 48 per cent A*/A at A level (81 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 39 per cent A*/A at A level.

Teaching and learning

Cranleigh is ‘a broad church’ – a mix of academic wizards heading for a clutch of A*s at A level, others who find things a bit harder, and many in between. At A level 25 subjects on offer plus a BTEC in PE. Business studies, maths, history and English literature were the most popular A levels in 2023, with art, economics, maths and further maths the stand-out performers.

As well as three A levels, sixth formers either take a fourth A level, a two-year AS (usually a language or music technology) or an EPQ. Eighty per cent do an EPQ, perhaps not surprisingly considering the school’s assistant head (learning, teaching and innovation) helped to pioneer the qualification and is a chief examiner.

Most take 10 GCSEs, with three-quarters doing all three sciences and a quarter taking dual award science. Virtually all do at least one language – French and Spanish on offer, plus Latin and Greek. A parent told us they’d like to see a broader range of GCSE subjects – computer science and business studies perhaps.

Average class size is 16 and 10 in the sixth form. Setting in English and maths from year 9. The atmosphere everywhere is busy and purposeful – from a group of keen year 12 physics students studying the total internal resistance of a cell to year 9s excitedly launching into their first printmaking session. ‘We have been really impressed academically,’ said a parent. ‘It’s a really all-round school – they find and appreciate and value what each child has to offer rather than assuming that every child has to be an academic superstar.’ Another told us: ‘My children don’t have learning difficulties but they empathise with those who do. The school supports those who need it but they offer stretch and challenge and academic rigour too.’ Teachers are ‘very responsive’ and happy to talk things over with parents via email or Zoom calls.

Well-equipped library is open six days a week (there’s also a vast digital library). Big push on reading for year 9 pupils, who have weekly half-hour reading sessions (most popular authors are currently Karen M McManus, Robert Muchamore, Malorie Blackman and GONE series writer Michael Grant).

Learning support and SEN

Learning support is right in the heart of the school, with a team of three teachers and two learning support assistants – four women and one man. When we visited, just under 300 students had been identified with some level of SEN, a third of whom were receiving support for needs such as dyslexia, ADHD and ASD, either one to one or in small groups, depending on their needs. Around 60 pupils have ADHD and are supported by Cranleigh’s student-focused ADHD pathway.

Learning support is inspirational here, completely embedded in the school. Staff have an open door policy and pupils understand that ‘it’s perfectly okay to find something hard now and again’. ‘There’s no stigma,’ says the dynamic head of learning support, who’s been at Cranleigh for 11 years. ‘They talk about it freely and openly.’ Some access informal help for literacy, organisation and study skills and there’s a host of study clinics run by academic departments. When we visited the school was appointing pupils as learning support mentors – one per house. The school site is wheelchair and mobility scooter accessible and well set up for the partially sighted and teens with cerebral palsy.

The arts and extracurricular

Drama and music are the jewels in Cranleigh’s crown. A third of pupils learn instruments, some two or three, and there’s a myriad of music concerts and events throughout the year. ‘As soon as you start to play an instrument you’re expected to perform,’ the director of music, a concert pianist himself, told us. When we popped into the recital hall we were entranced by a talented sixth form pianist playing Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu – definitely a perk of a Good Schools Guide’s writer’s job. Music encompasses all tastes at Cranleigh – ‘we celebrate all music genres equally,’ say staff. There are ensembles and bands galore, open mic nights, a head of contemporary music and a formal partnership with Black Lives in Music. Seventeen lucky pupils who recently visited Cranleigh’s sister school in Abu Dhabi got the chance to perform creative pieces at the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Drama is surprisingly cutting edge, staging productions like Polly Stenham’s That Face and Simon Stephens’s Punk Rock, as well as old favourites like West Side Story. There’s a main school play in the 450-seat Speech Hall (a classical theatre completed in 1929) every year, a musical every two years and four or five smaller productions. ‘I want to engage the pupils in the excitement of theatre as art,’ says the director of drama. He clearly succeeds – some have gone on to study at the Bristol Old Vic and ArtsEd while others do drama at Russell Group universities. Pupils who aren’t so keen on performing join the theatre tech crew, rigging the lighting, designing shows and building sets.

Art offers countless opportunities – painting, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, photography and textiles – and most of the art staff are professional artists themselves. Around 50 pupils a year take GCSE art while up to 25 do A level (sixth form artists get their own studio spaces). Many go on to places like UAL, Arts University Bournemouth, Loughborough, Leeds, Kingston and Nottingham. The design engineering department is equally exciting, with large numbers taking DT at GCSE and up to 10 a year doing A level design engineering or product design. Robotics is growing in popularity – a Cranleigh team won the Vex Robotics national championships in 2019.

A variety of activities, clubs and societies, including CCF (which has 300 members), DofE, Purvis Society for academic scholars and Cranleigh Being, which encompasses the sixth former-led wellbeing group, eco group, charities committee and the diversity alliance (offering a safe space for pupils to discuss issues like anti-sexism, anti-racism, LGBTQ+ and neurodiversity). Cranleigh Being also runs the sixth form peer mentor programme, with around 100 older students trained to support younger pupils.

Plenty of volunteering – at local primary and special schools, care homes and gardening projects. Pupils bake for a homeless shelter in Guildford and knit blankets for charities. Year 9s do a compulsory outdoor education programme for two terms, spending an afternoon a week on mapmaking, canoeing, raft building and orienteering.

Sport

Cranleigh is famed for its sport, with countless national titles to its name, but it’s impressively inclusive as well, with teams from A to F in some sports. ‘It doesn’t really matter if you’re in the first or the fifth team, you are still valued,’ said a parent. ‘My son plays in the fourth team and there’s the sense that they’re just a great bunch of young men playing rugby. At one stage the fifth rugby team created their own sort of identity and even had their own tie made up.’ Everyone plays sport at least four times a week. Girls’ and boys’ hockey is massive – the school has produced two Olympians and 14 England players since 2010. Other pursuits on offer include cross-country, badminton, climbing, squash, dance and yoga.

Over the past few years the first rugby teams have won more than 80 per cent of their games, with county, elite academy and international players within the squad. When we visited, former pupil Oscar Beard had just been selected for the England men’s rugby Six Nations squad and there was a palpable sense of excitement about England cricketer Ollie Pope scoring 196 in his match-changing innings in Hyderabad. He captained the first XI at Cranleigh and is the great-great-great-great grandson of the school’s first headmaster.

As for facilities, where do we start? The school has 12 grass football and rugby pitches, two strength and conditioning centres, four AstroTurfs, six fives courts, five cricket squares, 28 tennis courts, a sports centre with two indoor netball courts, indoor cricket nets, nine-hole golf course, dance studio and 25-metre swimming pool. An extension to the sports hall is under construction, with a competition-standard dance studio and gym. The equestrian centre on the school site has 30 stables, 60 acres of land and two all-weather arenas. Keen riders can bring their own horses, termly, weekly or even every day. Some opt for livery or flexi-livery and a few years ago an elite GB rider happily brought four horses with her.

Boarders

Seventy per cent of pupils board in one of eight houses – four boys’ and four girls’. Cranleigh is a full boarding school but many go home after sport on Saturdays, returning on either Sunday evenings or Monday mornings. ‘In theory we’re full boarding but most opt for weekly boarding,’ we were told. A parent of full boarders said their children love their ‘very chilled, quiet’ weekends. ‘They have six very busy days so they like the chance to flop, watch films and walk into Cranleigh for a coffee,’ she said.

Every house has a housemaster/housemistress and a deputy who lives on site, plus two matrons. Parents say boarding staff ‘go above and beyond’. ‘They are very kind and caring, so good at helping and supporting them,’ said one. A large number of sibling boarders. Asked why he wanted to board, a prospective pupil, the youngest child of the family, told the head: ‘I’m all on my own at home now and I have to do all the chores so I want to board.’

Rhodes, a boarding house for girls in years 9-13, is light and spacious, with kitchens (known as ‘moabs’) for each year group and its own garden. Everyone gathers for registration (or ‘callover’) twice a day and boarders pop back at break to make toast and chat to the matrons. All day pupils belong to a boarding house and parents say they are ‘well integrated’. Loads of activities in the houses, from movie nights to Just Dance sessions. Charming rooms – dorms of four in year 9 but sixth formers get their own rooms, some styled to perfection by the girls, with LED strip lights, rugs and even sofas.

The boys’ house we visited, Cubitt, had one of the nicest common rooms we’ve seen – a calm space with low lighting, cord sofas, pool table, paintings and plants. No wonder the boys are keen to congregate there. Rooms of three, four or five in years 9, 10 and 11 but sixth formers get singles – not so lovingly decorated as the girls’ houses but wholesome all the same. Every boys’ house is paired with a girls’ house.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1865 by George Cubitt, MP for West Surrey, and Rev John Sapt, who decided that the area needed ‘a public school for the education of the middle classes’, providing ‘a sound and plain education... for the sons of farmers and others engaged in commercial pursuits’. Funded by public appeals, it was built on eight acres at the top of a hill just outside the village of Cranleigh in rural Surrey. As the school grew it gradually acquired neighbouring farms and now comprises 240 acres, plus the prep’s 40-acre site.

Most original buildings remain, including the architectural centrepiece – a red-brick quad designed by architect Henry Woodyer. He also designed the stunning Victorian chapel, where pupils of all faiths and none gather three times a week for congregational worship and singing or lectures. Outside the chapel there’s a very moving three-metre-high war memorial created by former pupil Nicholas Dimbleby, brother of David and Jonathan. Unveiled in 2016, 100 years after the Battle of the Somme, it’s surrounded by a glass panel listing the names of former pupils who died in battle.

Pupils and staff eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in the splendid Victorian dining hall, complete with the school’s original tables and benches and portraits of former heads hanging on the wall. We loved the ancient spyhole in one corner, where beady-eyed matrons used to check up on 19th-century pupils.

Behind the main building, now mostly admin offices, new buildings include the ultra-modern Van Hasselt Centre, a Siberian larch and aluminium clad teaching block with 24 classrooms, a café space and a lecture theatre. It also houses the learning support department, careers and a swish new sixth form centre. Modern foreign languages, science labs and IT are based in the Emms Centre, with a double-height atrium for collaborative study and performances. Fans of The Crown might recognise the school from the Netflix series – it was used as the location for Prince William’s school, Ludgrove, and was the setting for a rugby match too.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Behaviour is good overall but like all schools issues arise sometimes. Zero tolerance for drugs in school but staff will go to lengths, via testing and counselling, to support youngsters who may have strayed outside school. Alcohol ‘comes in fits and starts’, says the head and the school is working with parents ‘to set the correct boundaries around parties’. School bar opens once a week for over 18s only. Smoking is rare and there’s lots of education around vaping. The school takes a refreshingly strict approach to mobile phones – they are banned for year 9s (apart from travelling to and from school) but pupils can use the house landline. ‘It makes such a difference to how they bond in the first year,’ says a housemistress. Phones are permitted on a restricted basis for years 10 and 11, year 12s hand them in at 10.15pm and year 13s are allowed to keep their devices with them. ‘But some of them still hand them in,’ we were told.

Parents praise the school’s pastoral care to the rafters, especially the way tutors, pastoral leads, head of safeguarding, medical centre (staffed 24/7), four visiting counsellors and vertical tutor groups help pupils navigate the complexities of teenage life. Big emphasis on kindness and tolerance throughout but like the rest of society after the pandemic, the school is seeing ‘greater levels of anxiety’. At the time of our visit it was recruiting a clinical psychologist for early intervention when problems occur. ‘The teenage years are sometimes difficult and we need to give them the tools to get through it,’ says the head. A parent said that when their child had a difficult time on a personal level, unconnected with the school, ‘they were just brilliant. The way they nurtured her and supported her was phenomenal.’

PSHE is taught to all years, including useful tips for year 13s on core skills like cooking, changing a tyre and getting your rent deposit back. The school runs online lectures for parents on subjects like sexting, consent and advice on going to festivals. Younger pupils wear smart navy blue uniform (most girls in trousers these days) while sixth formers are clad in business suits, mostly grey and black but the occasional glimpse of bright pink or green corduroy. ‘It’s professional, but chilled,’ a sixth former told us.

Pupils and parents

The school engenders huge loyalty (‘I’m going to be in floods of tears when I leave,’ says a sixth former) and 15 per cent are the sons and daughters of former pupils. ‘It’s a fabulous school,’ said a parent whose children joined in the sixth form. ‘I only wish our children could have been there for longer.’ Another told us: ‘We didn’t want a hothouse or an environment where our daughter felt she wasn’t good enough – because she is. We wanted an all-rounder school with a family feel and when we walked into Cranleigh I thought, this is where we need to be.’

The school is steadily progressing towards 50:50 boys/girls (it’s now 45 per cent girls). Day pupils have a longish day (at least 8am till 6pm) and most live within 20 miles although journeys will become easier in September 2024 with the launch of several new day and boarding bus routes. Parents love the fact that the school is in a country setting yet only an hour from London, with its plethora of cultural activities.

Former pupils include vast numbers of successful sportsmen and sportswomen, plus director and screenwriter Patrick Marber, actors Julia Ormond and Michael Cochrane, film producer Eric Fellner, historian Andrew Roberts and former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger.

Money matters

Scholarships (with fee remission of five per cent) awarded at 13+ and 16+ – academic, art, design, drama, performing arts, music (instrumental and vocal) and sport. There’s also an all-rounder award (now called the head’s award), given at the discretion of the head to exceptional candidates. Means-tested bursaries of up to 100 per cent are available to those who have already been offered scholarships. Around 11 per cent of pupils are currently receiving bursaries. The school’s Cranleigh Foundation works with the Royal National Children’s SpringBoard Foundation, a charity that identifies looked-after and vulnerable young people who would benefit from a boarding education.

The last word

This busy, all-rounder school will suit most teens down to the ground as long as they’re happy to get stuck in. Parents praise its ‘family feel’ and pastoral care and say Cranleigh suits a wide range of abilities – from academic superstars to those who need a little bit more help.

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

Learning support is available on an individual basis for any pupil requiring it, including those with mild specific learning difficulties. There is a specially designated centrally located room where pupils have access to a networked computer. Tuition may be given in all aspects of literacy, numeracy, EFL, study skills and personal organisation. Weekly lessons are provided (typically a thirty-five minute session) depending on individual requirements. Sessions usually take place outside normal lesson times unless a pupil has study periods. These lessons are charged as an extra to parents at the pro rata hourly rate which is set annually by the Governors. Assessment of any pupil with a suspected learning difficulty can be undertaken using standardised tests and dyslexia screening software with referral to an Educational Psychologist if necessary. Cranleigh has a long standing working relationship with The Helen Arkell Dyslexia Centre, Farnham.

Who came from where


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