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What says..

This is the classic, authentic boarding school experience, but with 21st century flourish and plenty of TLC. At least 70 per cent of pupils board, but it feels like even more since the day pupils get with the programme. ’It’s a pain in the backside to be a day pupil here,' said a parent whose son started as a day pupil but swiftly changed over. A brim-full day that doesn’t end until almost 9.30pm, Saturday lessons followed by matches...

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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 (50s). Previously headmaster of Wellington School in Somerset for eight years. Brought up in Orpington and attended St Olave’s Grammar School. Thence to University College, Oxford where he was an exhibitioner in English and English lit and played lots of rugby. Stayed on for an MPhil in English studies (1100-1500); later an MBA in school leadership. Began his teaching career at Teddies in Oxford before moving to Oundle and then to Reigate Grammar where he was senior deputy head. Warm but formal; parents call him ‘sensible’. Son in upper sixth; daughter has finished university; wife Amanda runs the careers department.

Sees himself as a ‘modernising’ head - has no interest in wrapping the past in cotton wool. Believes he has met his aim of getting Cranleigh’s academic and co-curricular offerings in balance. There’s more breadth eg wider subject choice, but also depth eg longer lessons and the ascendency of the EPQ for (almost) all. Digital learning has also been in the spotlight. Everyone in the school now has his or her own school-issued iPad which must be brought to all lessons. It’s the culmination of a thoughtful three-year project (‘Eton followed our model. They came to see how it was done!’). Thanks to this head start, the school was able to sail on serenely when lockdown struck, an advantage that was highlighted by all the parents we spoke to, especially those with other children attending less well-prepared schools.

Modern Mr Reader may be, but parents we spoke to described him as a champion of old-fashioned good character: ‘He’s as likely to give a commendation for someone doing a good deed as for achievement at academics or sport’. Describes himself as ‘owl-obsessed,' and indeed he is the only HMC head who is a trustee of a wild birds of prey conservation charity, the Hawk and Owl Trust. Started an eco club at the school, has installed bird boxes and is keen on projects to increase biodiversity over the school site.

Entrance

Around 120 join at 13+, half from Cranleigh Prep across the road. Others arrive from Highfield, Cumnor House, Thomas’s, Westbourne House, Feltonfleet, Windlesham - and a number of nearby schools. Register when your child is in year 4 or 5. Applicants sit the ISEB pre-test in year 6, but the school doesn’t evaluate the results until after applicants attend one of its assessment days. Cranleigh runs a whopping 10 of these 'holistic review’ days per year, each one hosting around 50 kids. CE, or Cranleigh’s own entrance test, is sat in the summer term of year 8.

NB Pupils can now also join at 11+: they sit the ISEB Pre-test in year 6, attend a holistic review day in January of that year and start at the prep in year 7. They then have no further testing to move up to the senior school.

A few places are available at 16+ but competition is strong. Candidates should be predicted 9-7 grades at I/GCSE and must sit verbal and non-verbal reasoning papers and submit an essay. Interview and reference also required.

Exit

Almost all stay through sixth form - a few to sixth form college or perhaps nearby Hurtwood House. Diverse set of university destinations and courses. Lots to Exeter (especially), Durham, Newcastle, Bristol, Oxford Brookes and Newcastle. A few overseas, especially to the States (recently to UC San Diego, Brown, Dartmouth, U Michigan and Cornell). One to Oxbridge in 2020, but often more.

Latest results

In 2020, 69 per cent 9/7 at GCSE; 58 per cent A*/A At A level. In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 39 per cent A*/A at A level.

Teaching and learning

The rare school that can truly cater for both the Mensa candidate and his or her less gifted younger brother. Strong sibling policy means the school will always have a broadish range of abilities. Fourth formers (year 9s) take the usual broad range of subjects, with the less common compulsory addition of either Latin or classical civilisation. No surprise, then, that the school makes a strong showing in Latin at GCSE, with a few souls even braving Greek (Greek is also available as an AS). Most pupils will take 10 GCSEs, to include at least one language - current range includes French, Spanish, German; looking at introducing Mandarin.

Pupils we spoke to gushed about their teachers, though art, drama, English, economics and history seemed particularly gush-worthy. Fifty minute lessons seen as an improvement over the short and bitty lessons of the past. English lit, maths, business studies, geography and economics are the most popular subjects at A level. DT is a serious subject here and A level pupils can choose between product design or design engineering.

All sixth formers do either an EPQ, a fourth A level or a two-year AS. Cranleigh’s director of learning, teaching and innovation is one of the pioneers responsible for the national development of the EPQ and is a chief examiner of the qualification. An enrichment programme of lectures and debates for academic scholars gets mixed reviews from the scholars themselves. Perhaps think twice before pressing junior to slog for a scholarship.

Learning support and SEN

Over a third of pupils have been identified with some level of SEN; 71 of them receive additional support. Inspirational learning support: ‘made my son feel able,’ said one parent. ‘She became confident because of the support, they managed it beautifully,’ said another. Year 9 students may take one fewer subjects to access learning support. Whole school is now wheelchair and mobility scooter accessible. Recent pupil with cerebral palsy was national wheelchair tennis champion in his age group.

The arts and extracurricular

‘Pupils should be able to do everything - sport, drama, music - and not have to specialise narrowly; it’s the Cranleigh way,’ said the head, and we saw plenty of evidence. Drama is a particular jewel in the crown: ambitious, multimedia, immersive. ‘We try to compete with the West End,' a pupil explained to us solemnly. And what we observed really was at the cutting edge for a school. Up to 95 per cent of year 9 pupils choose drama as an option. Fabulous theatre tech is housed in the antique Speech Hall (ca 1905). ‘Dangerous Minds’, a pupil public speaking programme inspired by Ted talks. Students have to memorise their speech.

Music ‘was very highbrow’ when Mr Reader arrived. Much more broad-based - and ‘cooler’ - now. There is now a head of contemporary music, and music technology is an A level subject. We noticed larger than usual numbers on the lists for guitar lessons, but also lots learning … church organ. A generous donation from an Old Cranleighan made possible the purchase of a high quality three-manual pipe organ in the chapel. There is now an organist in residence and a slate of pupils learning to play the thing. Plenty of lusty congregational singing. Art facilities include print-making, photography, ceramics and kiln. Large, and high achieving, uptake of art at both GCSE and A level.

CCF cadets can be seen robustly marching about the place with flags and camouflage, and there’s no awkwardness about turfing all of year 9 outdoors for weekly drill (DofE is an alternative).

Sport

Cranleigh has 10 grass pitches (including an international standard 1st XV pitch), three Astros, 21 tennis courts, eight netball courts, four squash and six Eton fives courts, a nine hole golf course, a 25 metre, four-lane swimming pool, and a full-fledge equestrian centre. So, it’s a bit fit. Some families choose the school for sport alone - ’it’s a great selling point’. Rugby not quite god, but at least a minor deity. ‘We’re not a rugby academy,' the head told us sternly, before listing the Daily Mail trophies and other silverware the school’s rugby teams had made off with over the past 18 months. Director of rugby proud that the 1st XV has been almost entirely nurtured through the school ranks rather than being poached from elsewhere along the way. Calls them, with perhaps a nod to James Brown, 'the hardest working school squad in the country.'

Girls’ top sport is hockey, and Repton (unaccountably) are arch-rivals. Boys’ hockey also outstanding, and an Olympic gold medalist runs the boys’ 1st XI hockey team. Sixteen girls' teams and 17 boys' play on Saturdays. Frequent national finals winners or runners ups in several age groups. Top sportsmen and women will train in their main sport all year round.

'Sport for all' is more than an empty phrase here. This is the sort of school that can rustle up D and E teams without turning a hair. Sport four afternoons a week (including Saturdays). Loads of minor sports, with choice expanding as pupils move up the school. Many parents we spoke to said their own children were more of the squash and yoga ilk rather than big into team games and spoke highly of sport’s inclusiveness here: ‘There are no grim hierarchies - boys on A teams help coach D and E teams’. Still ‘it might not be the right school for a boy who literally cannot tolerate rugby’ said the head drily. Football being deliberately rehabilitated, with a full fixture card against some worthy opponents.

Sports Hall does the business, but we particularly liked the ‘Cricket Bubble’ and the ‘Woodland Fitness Centre’. Nine hole golf course is used by locals as well as students. Outdoor education centre with a focus on kayaking, a climbing wall and DofE. Equestrian centre has two all-weather arenas and 60 acres of grazing and riding land. Pupils may bring their own ponies; those without learn on the school ponies. Riding lessons are also available to the wider community outside the school.

Boarders

This is the classic, authentic boarding school experience, but with 21st century flourish and plenty of TLC. At least 70 per cent of pupils board, but it feels like even more since the day pupils get with the programme. ’It’s a pain in the backside to be a day pupil here,' said a parent whose son started as a day pupil but swiftly changed over. A brim-full day that doesn’t end until almost 9.30pm, Saturday lessons followed by matches, and very little blue sky between day and boarding fees - all these things help keep boarding robust. ‘They want Cranleigh to be a strong community; they don’t want people disappearing at 6pm.’ All that said, Cranleigh is largely a weekly boarding affair. Sure, there will always be some pupils in school of a Sunday - particularly international ones - but even they will often have a bolt hole in London or with a family friend.

Now four boys’ and four girls’ houses - the newest girls’ house, Martlet, opened in 2019. The school is, steady as she goes, sailing towards its ultimate goal of 50/50 boys/girls (currently 42 per cent girls, up from 30 per cent when Mr Reader took over). No flexi boarding (‘yuk’, commented a pupil at the very idea); day pupils are fully part of boarding houses and have a cabin desk in boarders’ rooms – it’s their ‘centre of gravity’ within the school where they do prep, get changed for sport, make toast and drinks and take part in house activities. Much loyalty and mutual support within houses; much competition between them. Every pupil we spoke to said their house was best - always a good sign. One boy referred to his housemates as a ‘brotherhood’. Girls’ relationships, as elsewhere, can be trickier. All girls houses have an ‘affiliated’ boys house – ‘it fosters co-ed spirit’, we were told – and join them for activities.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1865 by George Cubitt, MP for West Surrey, and Rev John Sapte, who decided that what Victorian Surrey needed was ‘a public school for the education of the middle classes’. The school was to ‘provide a sound and plain education… for the sons of farmers and others engaged in commercial pursuits’. The Surrey County School, funded by public appeals, was built on eight acres at the top of a hill just outside the village of Cranleigh. As the school grew to its present 280 acres, neighbouring farms were gradually acquired, remembered only in names such as The Butts (a sixth form café).

Most of the original buildings still flourish. The quaint original 1865 quad is now mostly administrative offices. But pupils all eat and chat across the original 19th century tables in the dining hall. They worship three times a week in the Victorian chapel built in 1869 - all faiths and no faiths - the whole school still fits! Unique and ghostly war/peace statue designed and sculpted by former Cranleighan Nicholas Dimbleby, brother of Jonathan and David, looms outside the chapel window. It is one of the most moving artworks we have ever seen in a public school.

Among newer buildings is the Van Hasselt Centre, a grey, Siberian larch and aluminum clad teaching monolith which provides a public-school-industrial aesthetic to the school. We guarantee that anyone describing this building will at some point use the adjective, ‘Marmite’. Light and airy, it comfortably houses 24 classrooms wrapped around ancient squash courts, the latter now used as a cafe space and a small lecture theatre. The building gives prominence to the superb learning support department. 'I wanted it at the heart of the school, not hidden down a dark corridor,' says the head. Also Cranleigh Futures (careers) and a new sixth form centre. Another swish recent addition, the Emms Centre, houses modern foreign languages, science labs and IT, its double height atrium, flooded with natural light provides a brilliant space for group study.

Former pupils include numbers of successful sportspeople, fair few military types plus Patrick Marber (actor, director, screenwriter); actors Julia Ormond, Laurence Naismith and Michael Cochrane; film producer Eric Fellner (co-chair of Working Title Films); historian Andrew Roberts; England cricketer (and great great great great grandson of Cranleigh’s first headmaster!) Ollie Pope; Will Collier (England Rugby) and former editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger. Cranleigh was used as the location for Prince William’s school, Ludgrove, in the fourth series of The Crown and was the setting for a rugby match.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

‘Zero tolerance’ for drugs in school. Sixth formers found to be taking drugs in 2019 are ‘no longer at the school’. ’We don’t want drugs to drift in; the school has to be a safe place’. However, will go to lengths, via testing and counselling, to support kids who may have strayed outside of school. School bar open twice a week for ‘a couple of beers’. Smoking a rarity. Refreshingly strict on phones. Mobiles are banned in the first year, end of. Then permitted on ‘highly restricted’ basis in years 10 and 11.

Bullying a bit more of a challenge as it’s harder for teachers to detect, and young people are reluctant to report it. Some parents felt that Cranleigh ‘may not be as tough on bullying as other schools’. That said, parents we spoke to singled out pastoral care as the very best thing about the school, and it struck us as superb. ’Houses are everything’ at Cranleigh, both academically and pastorally. ‘Returning to your house should be like coming through a family door,’ we were told.

Housemistresses, housemasters and matrons are ‘so available’ and ‘really nice people who look after the whole child’. ‘During lockdown, we got phone calls from tutors, matrons, subject teachers and the learning support department - all to check on our son’s wellbeing.’ All of this is essential in such a full on and fast-pace school. ‘Cranleigh is a busy place with very little letup’ said a parent. ‘Everyone is on their knees by the end of term.’

Despite the superficial homogeneity of the pupils, diversity lurks within. School welcomes the occasional Springboard Bursary child (national charity for children who have suffered trauma). The Alliance Society welcomes LGBTQ pupils. And the ‘iron clad’ sibling policy means there will always be a range of personalities.

Pupils and parents

Waspy. Local. Vast majority of pupils come from a 35 mile radius, covering Surrey, Sussex, Hampshire, Herts, and south London. ‘Loads of people live within a half hour of the school,' a parent told us. ‘It’s great because it means the children can get together easily during school hols'. One or two parents (of boarders!) we spoke to described themselves as living ‘almost walking distance from the school’.

Pupils join from a wide range of feeder schools including: Aldro, Brambletye, Cranleigh Prep, Danes Hill, Edgeborough, Feltonfleet, Highfield, King’s House, Lanesborough, Prebendal, Shrewsbury House and St Thomas’s Schools. Not really on the expat circuit, though there is a tiny handful of children of overseas Brits. 40 'tier 4' children (non-EU international) - much lower than most other schools of its ilk, and the school would like a few more. Only two pupils currently receive learning support for EAL. Wide range of nationalities: Nigeria, China, UAE, USA, India, France, Portugal, Switzerland, Iran, Cayman Islands, Greece, Hong Kong were all mentioned. More from the Emirates since Cranleigh opened its sister school in Abu Dhabi (2014). Remains to be seen if its new branch in China will have the same effect.

Money matters

Fees broadly in line with similar schools, though day fees are snapping at the heels of fees for full boarding. Wide range of 13+ scholarships (here called Excellence Awards) includes one for design engineering. These can be supplemented by means-tested awards: 11 per cent of pupils are currently receiving bursaries. At 11+ only music scholarships can be applied for. However, a few academic scholarships will be offered based on exceptional results in the Holistic Review.

The last word

Busy, English, local, sporty, humane - a lovable weekly boarding school firing on all cylinders. An all-rounder’s paradise, yes, but the academic offering can stand up to almost any school in the land. ‘The school is viewed as very, very sporty’, a teacher almost lamented, ‘which is actually a problem, because there’s so much more to Cranleigh’.

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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