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Greshams

What says..

Edifices of note are the historic Big School and chapel, the famous Auden theatre, and brand new The Dyson Building, an impressive new space for STEAM education. There is plenty of fresh Norfolk air between the buildings and pupils are kept fit walking briskly from lesson to lesson, even crossing the road by means of a footbridge. Robust uniform keeps out the sea breeze – light blue tweed jackets for all but the sixth form, who wear suits; most refuse a coat...

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What the school says...

Founded in 1555, Gresham’s is an authentic boarding and day school providing a fully-rounded education to boys and girls aged two to 18. The school is set in 200 acres, in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, just four miles from the breathtaking North Norfolk coast.

At every level, Gresham’s offer a curriculum which is versatile and enriching. In the Sixth Form, students can choose to study either our highly successful IB Diploma Programme, a portfolio of three A level subjects, or to replace one or two A levels with BTEC diplomas.
Although it is important that every pupil reaches their academic potential, we believe there is much more to a Gresham’s education. Our pupils are quite happy to try their hand at anything and believe that success is excelling in where their heart and interests lie.
Pupils have many opportunities to participate in a diverse and exciting range of co-curricular sports, arts and music activities along with adventurous expeditions and community-based service. Our excellent facilities provide so many opportunities for pupils to develop their talents and explore new interests. In 2018, we launched our new outdoor activity centre with a 250m zip wire and 28m climbing tower. Gresham's is an All Steinway School, providing our musicians with world-class pianos, and in 2017, we opened a new state of the art music school with a recording studio, 140 seat auditorium and practice rooms.

The Dyson Building opened at Gresham’s in September 2021. Sir James Dyson, a former pupil at the school, has enabled the innovative new centre for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) education.
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Curricula

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

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.

Fencing

Shooting

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2014, Douglas Robb MA (Edinburgh) politics, MEd (Homerton, Cambridge). Previously head of Oswestry School. A post-university spell teaching in Zimbabwe and at Fettes College helped decide his career and, after teaching politics and economics at Loughborough Grammar School, he spent 10 ‘very happy years’ at Oundle as a teacher of politics and economics and housemaster, which ‘totally persuaded me of the benefits of boarding’. A former rugby player, has a commanding physical presence, is quick-witted and entertaining; a real live wire. Perceptive pupils note ‘he is confident enough to be able to listen to us and sometimes change his mind.' Parents say he is ‘not afraid to show his funny side’, but is also polite, friendly, helpful to them and very much in evidence – ‘I have seen him at literally every public event’ attests one. An advocate of the house system as being central to the success of pupils’ learning and their integration into the life of the school and for ‘opportunities for conversation and friendships, both amongst peers, but also with staff’. Has high expectations of his staff and spells out the commitment at interview; ‘I pin them down, no woolly promises to help will do. This job is a vocation.’ Is keen to continue raising academic standards, emphasise the central importance of boarding to the ethos of the school and to encourage the creativity and original thinking that ‘have always been the cornerstones of a Gresham’s education,’ he says. ‘We are keen to disrupt the established narrative that young people must choose between science and the arts at an early stage of life. By teaching the subjects side by side, pupils see how the knowledge gained from one discipline can be used in a creative way in another.’

Married to Lucinda and they have three children (two are at Gresham’s, one has moved on to university). Enjoys north Norfolk life, ‘countryside, dogs, getting to know people’. Maintains keen interest in rugby, also golf, skiing; travel and ‘proper holidays’.

During the period of remote learning, every aspect of Gresham’s life moved online. Parents appreciated the continued ‘exceptional’ academic provision, pastoral support and a sense of community encouraged by the efforts of houseparents. Pupils new to the school were cleverly integrated and included, say parents.

Full programme of co-curricular and social activities included fitness, skills and wellbeing activities such as morning yoga and HIIT workouts. An online debate was held for the first time in Gresham’s Debating Society’s 121-year history. Even CCF continued virtually, with pupils taking part in practical exercises and scenarios at home. School chaplain initiated the ‘Daily Pause’ - a poem of the day accompanied by a piece of music, sent to pupils and staff via email as a reminder to enjoy a few moments of calm and reflection. Parents appreciated the regular communication; ‘we felt very lucky that our daughter was at the school at this time,’ said one.

Entrance

Roughly 50 per cent of senior school come up from the prep school, others from a mix of day and boarding preps, some from maintained sector. No common entrance; an assessment day is held for year 9 entrants in Lent term for following September. Tests in English and maths plus reports and references from current school. For sixth form, predicted grades (usually a minimum of 6 in six subjects including those to be studied and minimum of C in English and maths) plus school report and interview.

Exit

Around 15 per cent leave post-GCSEs. Post-sixth form, a few to Oxbridge, sizeable numbers to London (Imperial, LSE, UCL) plus the other Russell Group universities. Wide range of subjects studied including a regular few to drama school and music colleges (Central St Martins, Guildhall).

Latest results

In 2021, 58 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 56 per cent A*/A at A level (81 per cent A*-B). IB average score 37. In 2019 (the last year when exams took place), 43 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 29 per cent A*/A at A level (58 per cent A*-B). IB average score 34.

Teaching and learning

‘A very modern approach for a 450-year-old school,’ says a parent. Plenty of individual attention, in classes of up to 24; sets for most subjects. Parents have noticed a steady build-up of academic ‘push’ – notes one, ‘things are less easy-going than in the past’ – and a palpable focus on encouraging independence of thought and learning. French, German, Japanese, Spanish, Chinese and Latin from year 9, building on the MFL foundations laid down in the prep and pre-prep; at least one must feature in the list of 10 subjects generally taken at GCSE. Sixth formers have the choice of A levels, IB or BTECs. Creditable results across the board at A level – most pupils take three. Around half choose IB, though some are put off by the requirement for a language as one of the six subjects studied, and, as head points out, ‘IB is an excellent exam and we encourage it, but it is not, and never will be, for everyone.' Pupils may replace one or two A levels with BTEC National Diplomas: currently on offer are agriculture, digital music production and sport.

Learning support and SEN

Around a fifth receive extra help with SEN, mostly dyslexia, dyscalculia, sensory impairments and poor self-esteem. Experienced learning support team of four full-time qualified specific learning differences (SpLD) teachers and two learning support assistants (LSA) is based in a new, purpose-built wing, equipped with the latest technology and facilities, right in the centre of the school. Timetabled 1:1 lessons and prep support with a specialist teacher and/or support with an LSA available (additional charge). SENCo is a qualified assessor and screens all new pupils joining the school, and also reaches out to feeder schools. Special extension programmes for scholars.

The arts and extracurricular

Music is important here and roughly 30 per cent of pupils have timetabled instrumental tuition. Many choirs, ensembles, bands and orchestras and a calendar of performances.
The Britten Building (opened in 2017 by HRH The Princess Royal and named after Old Greshamian composer Benjamin Britten) features the state-of-the-art 140-seat Fishmongers’ Recital Hall, along with a recording studio, music practice rooms and teaching rooms. Access all areas for serious musicians as well as those who play for fun. Industry-standard recording studio used by pupils studying A level music tech pupils and BTEC digital music production, but also for recording performances by the school’s many bands and choirs (Gresham’s Girls’ and Guys’ charity singles to prep pupils’ Christmas album). As a Steinway School, there are top-quality pianos everywhere.

Drama facilities are of professional quality too – perhaps appropriately as the school has produced several household name actors, most notably Olivia Colman. School’s Auden Theatre stages at least three major school productions every year and also hosts touring companies. With such a pedigree, this is a springboard for pupils who are keen to tread the boards, but also for those whose vocations are backstage, with opportunities to develop skills of stage management, sound and lighting. Accredited Private Learner Centre for London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) exams.

Creativity is a serious subject here and pupils are given the time and the tools to engage in their own projects; in the process, developing their skills of problem-solving, collaboration and decision-making. Donations by another illustrious former pupil, Sir James Dyson, have helped establish a superb new centre dedicated to science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) education at the school. The Dyson Building is an exciting new hub where pupils can come together to share and exchange ideas in social learning spaces, and is equipped with the latest technology. Art flourishes in this environment and incorporates graphics and 3D Design. Ambition is to propagate success in all fields of design practice. ‘We are unashamedly contemporary in our approach to art education,’ says head. ‘Rather than teaching set projects, we encourage an ethos of individuality and encourage students to explore the impact of creativity on digital forms of communication.’ Close relationship with the Saatchi gallery and partnership with Imperial College London for materials research. Top grades at GCSE, A level and IB and the most talented artists head straight to degree courses, skipping the foundation at The Slade, The Ruskin and Glasgow School of Art, for example.

Pupils take part in extra-curricular clubs three times a week, with a wide range of activities to suit their interests and allow them to explore new ventures. Outdoor pursuits are incredibly popular here, school has its own 21-part armed forces style obstacle course, featuring a 220-metre zip wire, high ropes course, low ropes course, abseiling facilities, two climbing walls and a 25-metre ‘Bourdillon Tower’. Also an intentionally basic bunkhouse for use as a dorm or teaching facility for 20 people. Survival course devised for year 9 pupils is based loosely on a military escape and evasion exercise with shelter building, fire building, wild food preparation, open fire cooking and emergency first aid exercises to hone interpersonal and life skills such as team building, leadership, resilience, and self-confidence, and to encourage pupils to care about the outdoors and their local environment.

One of the country’s largest CCFs – all three services (Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force). Participation is high - 90 per cent of pupils take part in Year 9; 50 per cent continue in the sixth form. Active Duke of Edinburgh’s Award programme with the majority of students completing bronze and a high proportion going on to silver and gold; expeditions in the Peaks, Dales and Lakes.

School holds the Eco-Schools Green Flag programme’s Gold Award and earned Green Flag Eco-School status in seven months as opposed to the usual two years. Environmental co-ordinator is responsible for exploring and implementing initiatives aimed at reducing waste and ensuring sustainability. All school’s electricity now comes from solar power or renewable sources.

Sport

All the usual team sports: rugby, hockey (for boys and girls), netball and cricket, with lots of match play and good coaching for all. Pitches, Astroturf and courts for tennis and squash galore. Riding lessons at local centre offered as a games option, suitable for all abilities, from beginner level to experienced riders who are away for their horses during term time. School showjumping team recently qualified for the NSEA National County Championships at Hickstead. Swimming an extra-curricular activity. Cross-country running a popular pastime. ‘I often go for an early run; it’s one of the reasons I like boarding,’ a pupil tells us. Upgraded gym facilities now include a strength and conditioning suite, with a specific coach to nurture pupils on school’s talented athlete programme. Alternative activities include sailing, fencing, cycling and swimming higher up the school. School has its own rifle range (several members of the club have been selected for the GB under-19 rifle team and cadet rifle team ‘The Athelings’ in recent years. During the holidays, school hosts training camps - some residential - in cricket, rugby and hockey.

Boarders

Strong boarding feel, but day pupils are well integrated – each has a shared or single study in their house. Flexi boarding is not actively encouraged, but pupils are ‘happily’ accommodated overnight on occasions when they are at school late for rehearsals, performances or other events. Many hitherto day pupils choose to board in the sixth form. Houses are comfortable, well lit and decorated with a thought to homeliness; kitchens are large and well used for sociable cooking and eating. Pupils return to their houses at break and lunch-times; houseparents and matrons always on hand. Bedrooms mostly shared between two or four though most sixth formers have individual rooms. Plenty of organised activities for boarders, though not what the head calls ‘enforced jollity’.

Ethos and heritage

Founded in 1555, originally as a grammar school, but rejuvenated in 1890s by George Howson, a headmaster with ‘advanced’ views on education that advocated the teaching of sciences, the abandonment of corporal punishment and (most unusually for the time) the encouragement of pacifist thinking. School’s 200 acres of woodlands and extensive playing fields stretch along both sides of the old Cromer road heading out of Holt and its buildings range in style from magnificent Edwardian and art deco halls and libraries (all grand staircases and stained glass), to more ordinary classrooms, but all neat, tidy and well cared for. Edifices of note are the historic Big School and chapel, the famous Auden theatre, and brand new The Dyson Building, an impressive new space for STEAM education. There is plenty of fresh Norfolk air between the buildings and pupils are kept fit walking briskly from lesson to lesson, even crossing the road by means of a footbridge. Robust uniform keeps out the sea breeze – light blue tweed jackets for all but the sixth form, who wear suits; most refuse a coat.

Former pupils have made their mark, particularly in the fields of the arts, sport, science and technology, including Benjamin Britten, WH Auden, Sir Christopher Cockerell (inventor of the hovercraft), Tom and Ben Youngs (international rugby players), Lord Reith (first director-general of BBC), Prof Alan Hodgkin and, of course, the actor Olivia Colman and inventor Sir James Dyson.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

‘A caring school with a strong community and a good moral and work ethic’, sums up one parent and others agree. Pupils not from the prep who join in year 9 are embraced and well nurtured; a successful ‘big brother/big sister’ system pairs each year 9 pupil with a sixth former. Year 13 mental health first aiders are trained to provide support and advice to their fellow pupils, focusing on well-being and sharing tips and techniques for looking after mental health, as well as signposting to appropriate help and offering a listening ear.

A relatively small school, staff and pupils all know each other well and there is good vertical interaction between the year groups and friendly, respectful staff/pupil relations. ‘I feel that my daughter has people she can talk to at school,’ says a parent. Signs of stress are picked up on quickly and there are regular sessions teaching relaxation techniques.

Student-led group called Soc(I)ety aims to - in their own words - ‘celebrate the diversity at Gresham’s School’. Members recently spoke in chapel to each year group and emphasised how important it is to be kind, considerate and understanding about fellow pupils’ sexual orientation and identity. They made their peers aware of their fundraising for The Trevor Project, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ teens and young adults.

Few major misdemeanours happen here. A clear anti-bullying policy (lots of awareness notices on walls), and counsellors, school chaplain, matrons and house staff all on the look-out. Well understood rules on illegal drugs (zero tolerance), and alcohol: over-18s may ‘enjoy a pint' (as the school puts it) in Holt; no PDA (public displays of affection) rule; few overstep the mark.

Pupils’ – and therefore parents’ – only criticism is the food, which one senses will not be given the benefit of the doubt due to Covid for much longer.

Pupils and parents

Day pupils hail from a large area of north Norfolk, many travelling for an hour each way; boarders from all over the country but predominantly East Anglia. Pupils described locally as friendly, positive and caring, with some ‘free-spirited individuals’. Mostly professional and business families with a sprinkling of county boarding families. Many are from London and enjoy the contrast with the competitive city schools; some families even move to Norfolk - parents commute back daily so their children can be day pupils. About 20 per cent from overseas, mostly Europe.

Money matters

Valuable scholarships and bursaries on offer, thanks to a long association with the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers and its generous financial underpinning of the school’s finances. Academic scholarships worth up to 20 per cent of fees offered for year 9 entry (can be topped up with a bursary, if financial need is demonstrated), drama, music, art and sport awards also offered, for up to 20 per cent. Sixth form scholarships for those who do brilliantly at GCSE (if not already in receipt of an award). Assistance for families who fall on hard times, at least to enable pupils to get through to the next public exam. Usual sibling discounts for three or more at one time.

The last word

Happy, hardy country boarding school with a deserved reputation for inspiring creativity and developing the skills and confidence to turn ideas into reality.

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

Our Learning Support Department caters for pupils with a variety of specific learning difficulties. Pupils receive one-to-one tuition from qualified and experienced SpLD teachers. All pupils having 1:1 support have an individual education plan which is reviewed and updated twice a year. We also teach small groups and offer supervised study/prep and provide in-class support where necessary. Some pupils may require learning support throughout their entire career at Gresham’s, while others may only require extra help occasionally. We do our utmost to offer assistance which best matches the needs of the pupil, striving to help each child excel. Many pupils receiving learning support will go on to achieve impressive GCSE, IB and A-level results, and we take pride in their achievements.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia
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 Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

Who came from where


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