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Greshams

What says..

Founded to educate the children of north Norfolk, the net has now spread much wider. Head has been on tour to strengthen ties with preps and primaries across Lincolnshire, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, as far as the London border. Professional, business and artsy parents choose Gresham’s in the expectation that it will suit all siblings as long as they’re willing to get involved. Focus on academics has sharpened in recent years and new teachers are gradually…

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What the school says...

Founded in 1555, Gresham’s is an authentic boarding and day school providing a rounded education to boys and girls aged 2 - 18. The school has excellent facilities spanning a 200-acre site, set just four miles from the breathtaking north Norfolk coast. Gresham’s provides a broad and enriching education, enabling pupils to discover their own talents and develop into confident, well-rounded individuals.

The Dyson Building

The Dyson Building opened at Gresham’s in September 2021. Sir James Dyson, a former pupil at the school, enabled the innovative new centre for science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) education.

The dedicated centre for STEAM subjects disrupts the established narrative that young people must choose between science and the arts at an early stage. By teaching the subjects side by side, pupils see how the knowledge gained from one discipline can be used innovatively in another. Creativity and original thinking have always been the cornerstones of a Gresham’s education; the Dyson Building establishes state-of-the-art facilities to see this continue today.

Music

Music is at the heart of Gresham’s. The school works hard to instil and foster a love of music in pupils, providing a wide range of solo and ensemble performance opportunities at all levels. As an All-Steinway School, the facilities across the department and performance spaces are world-class. The outstanding 140-seat Recital Hall hosts many concerts, recitals and informal performances throughout the year to offer opportunities for musicians of all abilities and styles, to share their music making with the school audiences and wider communities.

Sport

Sport has always been an integral part of education at Gresham’s. Believing in educating the ‘whole person’ – mind, spirit and body – the school seeks to cultivate healthy and committed team players who value the importance of collaboration and leadership. They encourage all students to become involved in any of the various sports offered, and Gresham’s benefits from an enviable reputation in hockey, rugby, cricket, netball and shooting. Their teams compete at school, local, national and international level.

Remarkable alumni

The school has a tradition of producing outstanding achievers in all walks of life, including architects, diplomats, engineers, musicians, sportspeople and many more. Old Greshamians have been inspiring others for generations, including renowned East Anglian composer Sir Benjamin Britten, poet W H Auden, biophysicist Sir Alan Hodgkin and sportsman Richard Leman. More recently, Old Greshamians making their mark and creating news headlines include international rugby players Tom and Ben Youngs, and Academy Award-winning actor Olivia Colman.

A perfect location

North Norfolk is a beautiful place to live and learn. The school is located just outside the popular Georgian market town of Holt, surrounded by an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Academic, art, music, drama and sport scholarships are all available.
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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, previously head of Oswestry School. Masters in politics from Edinburgh, MEd from Homerton, Cambridge. 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 politics and economics teacher and housemaster. Robust and sporty (a former rugby player), he is also a lively conversationalist with an infectious energy. ‘Great sense of humour,’ say parents, who also approve that – as one put it – ‘He is present at almost all events around the school and will always step in to help; he even serves lunch to the children from time to time.’

He says school has become ‘better, bigger and bouncier’ under his leadership – others agree. Teaching is ‘less cosy’ and new facilities have elevated music and STEAM in particular. ‘It’s an everyman type of school,’ he believes. ‘Whole families come here and we will send one sibling off to Cambridge, another to Cirencester, while another will be a professional cricketer – any child will thrive.’

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

Entrance

Roughly 50 per cent of senior school come up from the prep, others from a mix of day and boarding preps from across the region (increasingly from Cambridge), some from maintained sector. No CE; 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, usually a minimum of six GCSEs at grade 6, including minimum grade 4 in maths and English and a 6 in the subjects to be studied at A level, plus school report and interview.

Exit

Around 15 per cent leave post-GCSEs (including the five per cent who join just for the one-year GCSE course). Post sixth form, two to Oxbridge in 2023 and sizeable numbers to London (Imperial, LSE, UCL) plus the other Russell Group universities. Wide range of subjects studied, including two medics in 2023. Regular few to drama school and music colleges (Central St Martins, Guildhall).

Latest results

In 2023, 46 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 45 per cent A*/A at A level (66 per cent A*-B). IB average 35. In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 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

Focus on academics has sharpened in recent years and new teachers are gradually injecting energy as well as modernity. Classes are small (no more than 24) and there are sets for English, maths and sciences. ‘Teachers are really great at noticing when you need help,’ a pupil told us. ‘Majority are passionate and go the extra mile,’ felt a parent, though there are still whispers of a little lingering complacency in the common room. There’s a pleasing level of mutual respect between teacher and pupils and a good pace, we noted. Science lessons we popped into were very hands-on and there was much proactive discussion between members of groups working together towards a common aim.

Pupils choose two languages from French, German, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin (Latin, a third) and at least one must be among the 10 subjects generally taken at GCSE. As well as languages, the arts remain popular and haven’t lost out to the recent surge in interest in STEM.

Three pathways for sixth formers: A levels, BTECs or IB, with creditable results across the board. Sixty per cent plump for A levels. Most take three and any combination of subjects can be accommodated (our guide picked up GCSE ancient Greek in upper sixth having despatched A level maths in one year). One or two A levels may be replaced with BTECs – currently on offer are agriculture, digital music production and sport. IB route a popular alternative and a particular draw for European students. Business and economics top subject choices at both A level and IB.

Full-time careers officer sees all lower sixth pupils then follows up to help with university and course choices, even gap years. Apprenticeships encouraged (place on competitive City scheme recently secured). Programme of careers talks with many Old Greshamians (OGs) returning to give their insights.

Learning support and SEN

Genuinely mixed ability here and around a fifth of pupils receive extra help with SEN, mostly dyslexia, dyscalculia and sensory impairments. Spacious purpose-built learning support centre in the midst of the campus is staffed by three full-time qualified SpLD teachers and two LSAs. Timetabled one-to-one lessons and prep support with a specialist teacher and/or support with an LSA available (additional charge); individual programme mapped out twice a year. ‘Support from someone who really knows how to help is so good,’ said one pupil. SENCo is a qualified assessor and screens all new pupils joining the school, and also reaches out to feeder schools.

The arts and extracurricular

A Steinway School, so there’s a top-notch piano in every practice room in the buzzing Britten Building (opened in 2017 by HRH The Princess Royal and named after Old Greshamian composer Benjamin Britten). Hundreds of lessons in all kinds of instruments – a third of pupils learn one (including two of Scottish heritage mastering the bagpipes). Professional suite for A level music tech and BTEC digital music production. Includes studio for eg recording performances by the school’s many bands and choirs (from Gresham’s Girls and Guys charity singles to prep pupils’ Christmas album), producing school videos and providing soundscapes for school performances (conundrum when we visited was how to recreate squirrels cracking nuts for upcoming staging of His Dark Materials). School’s own record label launching soon. Magnificent 140-seat Fishmongers’ Recital Hall hosts regular concerts throughout the term by Schola sixth form choir, chapel choir, concert band, strings and wind ensembles, but pupils also perform in local venues and in Norwich (Haydn and Mozart Requiem coming up). Pupils welcome to put together own groups and ensembles. Drum kits everywhere.

Giant (and terrifying) robotic Audrey II left over from school production of Little Shop of Horrors welcomes visitors to the drama centre, a professional quality facility (after all, this is the school that produced Olivia Colman). School’s atmospheric 300-seater Auden Theatre stages a musical every year for all (auditions for key roles) and junior play in the Lent term (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory much anticipated). Full-time theatre technician on hand. Backstage types have plenty of opportunities to develop skills of stage management, sound and lighting. GCSE and A level/IB theatre studies popular; accredited private learner centre for LAMDA exams. Regular theatre trips to London (Wicked next) and Norwich Theatre Royal; touring companies also visit.

Artists achieve 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. Alongside traditional disciplines, graphics and 3D design flourish and there are some impressively intricate, technical drawings on display in the art department, which has a new and inspiring home in the Dyson Building, an industrial-styled edifice in the centre of campus focusing on all things STEAM. Financed by Sir James Dyson himself, former pupil and current governor. Parents acknowledge the boon this is – ‘We’re very lucky to have it.’

Many pupils spend their downtime in the Dyson Building’s Maker Space, engrossed in their own engineering projects, such as designing and building an electric car to race at Silverstone or robotic creations to enter into competitions across Europe. As well as this great technological opportunity, clubs and activities (known as ‘gaps’) run three times a week and are ‘improving year-on-year’, one parent reported, though some told us they and their children would like to be more involved in the choice available. However, more than one pupil declared they’re ‘never bored and always find something to do that’s interesting’.

They’re just as likely to be found outdoors as indoors. After all, school has its own (daunting) 21-part armed forces style obstacle course with 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 used as a dorm or teaching facility for 20. Survival course for year 9 pupils based 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 their local environment.

CCF is one of the largest in the country with Royal Navy, Army, Royal Air Force and popular Royal Engineers represented. Participation is high – 90 per cent of pupils take part from the summer term in year 9; half continue in the sixth form – around 50 are NCOs. Parade ground on site and field days twice a year including shooting at RAF Marham and exercises at Muckleburgh. Active DofE with majority of students completing bronze and silver and many progressing to gold – expeditions in the Peaks, Dales and Lakes.

Holder of the Eco-Schools Green Flag programme’s gold ward and Green Flag status. Environmental co-ordinator implements waste-reducing and sustainability initiatives; school now completely powered by solar or renewables.

A ski trip every other year and opportunities to volunteer in Nepal and Kenya.

‘The school supports children with interests and strengths in all areas,’ said a parent. ‘It’s very much an all-round school where almost all children can find their “thing”.’

Sport

Pristine cricket pitch takes pride of place in the middle of the school grounds and ‘it doesn’t matter who’s playing, pupils and staff will stop and watch,’ we heard. Long fixture lists for cricket (boys and girls), but also rugby, netball and boys’ and girls’ hockey and football, usually with three teams fielded. ‘Everyone trains together and there’s real encouragement,’ approved a less sporty pupil we chatted to. New strength and conditioning gym (with two full-time performance trainers offering personalised programmes) has made a difference to the score lines (‘Other schools’ players seemed to be fitter and stronger before,’ a keen rugby player explained) and has also helped students to get into the exercise habit. Racket sports popular, as are sailing, fencing, cycling and swimming higher up the school. Riding lessons at local centre offered as a games option, from beginners to experienced equestrians; school showjumping team brings home rosettes in NSEA competitions. Swimming an extracurricular activity in school’s own pool. Many keen cross-country runners, and shooting also big – school has its own rifle range and has produced GB under-19 rifle team and cadet rifle team members. Training camps (some residential) in cricket, rugby and hockey are held here over the summer.

Boarders

Very firmly a boarding school, complete with evening tutor sessions and Saturday school. All pupils are allocated to one of seven on-campus houses (four boys’ and three girls’). Day pupils have desks in the bright and tidy dorms (mostly for two or four pupils, though individual for sixth formers) and come and go as they please until about 9pm – or they can just stay the night. ‘There’s no such thing as full, weekly and flexi boarders here,’ according to head, ‘they’re just boarders.’

Houses are substantial and spacious (the usual Gresham’s scale). One girls’ house has recently been extended to provide a beautiful common room with bi-folds, tastefully interior designed in consultation with students. All have communal spaces to chill out and study in – pupils pop back at break times and lunchtimes. Walls in all the houses are decorated with blown-up photos of ebullient groups having a whale of a time on outings and activities (seaside yoga, fire pit evenings, shopping trips), and in competitions such as the annual house singing and the ‘gritty grasshopper’ physical challenge in the woods – an assault course exacerbated by water cannons. Surprisingly a real hoot, we were reliably informed.

Ethos and heritage

Under Norfolk’s big skies, Gresham’s was founded in 1555 on 200 windswept acres of woodland and playing fields either side of the Old Cromer Road heading out of the pretty Georgian market town of Holt. Originally a grammar school, it was rejuvenated in the 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. Oak-panelled, stained-glassed, grand-staircased Big School is an atmospheric relic of the Edwardian era, and has been joined over the decades by a collection of buildings of various styles – but all large. Most notable are the buildings named for illustrious former pupils including the impressively professional Auden Theatre and the contemporary glass and exposed brick Dyson Building, devoted to all things STEAM, whose unhidden interior electrics and ducting are an education in engineering in themselves – the wooden stepped staircase in the foyer is the ideal place for young creatives to sit and exchange ideas (while charging their electronic devices). General teaching blocks have super-size classrooms and there’s a generous library whose spiral staircase leads upwards to a sixth form study space. TIGS café has been a popular recent addition. Lots of tucked-away corners for individual study – everyone brings a laptop or tablet of their choice. Forty dogs regularly in school – very Norfolk.

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

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

‘There is still a wonderful family atmosphere, despite the recent rapid growth of the school,’ said a parent – and that’s the general consensus. Built on the house system, there is a strong support network, from director of pastoral care through houseparents and tutors, all looking out for pupils’ wellbeing. Year 9 pupils who have not come up from school’s own prep are embraced and nurtured, while trained year 13 mental health first aiders offer an extra listening ear to any pupil who needs it. Lots of vertical integration, with twice-weekly in-house, mixed-age tutor groups from year 10 and informal chats on the way back from the hockey field – ‘Students often feel more comfortable to discuss their feelings while walking side-by-side,’ reckoned one experienced tutor. Joined-up approach – staff know the students well and ‘if we see the wheels are coming off, we can quickly put a plan in place,’ they say. Efficient reporting system logs academic as well as emotional observations, and parents in the loop.

Ongoing gripes from parents about the ‘inconsistent’ and ‘too junky’ food. Head retorts that, ‘for school food, it’s fine’ and invites complaining parents into the bright modern dining hall to taste it for themselves (‘They say, “Have you put this on specially for us?”’ he smiles). Quite a reasonable lasagne when we dined there.

Student-led group called Soc(I)ety aims to – in their own words – ‘celebrate the diversity at Gresham’s School’. Members meet regularly to ‘create a supportive community within the school’ and give talks emphasising the importance of being kind, considerate and understanding about fellow pupils’ sexual orientation and identity. School hosts its own Pride week annually (rainbow flag flies in chapel). Recent survey on racial inclusivity was thought-provoking.

‘Staff are generally firm but fair and have high expectations,’ said a parent. Consequently, few major misdemeanours. Zero tolerance for poor behaviour, bullying, drugs, alcohol, sex but ‘doesn’t always mean exclusion’, says head. ‘These are young people who make mistakes, so it means dealing with them appropriately, as learning experiences – most pupils are worth a second chance, but perhaps not a third or fourth.’ Parents usually involved before any sanction imposed.

Pupils and parents

Founded to educate the children of north Norfolk, the net has now spread much wider. Head has been on tour to strengthen ties with preps and primaries across Lincolnshire, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, as far as the London border. Post-pandemic, a bunching of the usual number of families fleeing the capital annually, but not a mass exodus. Professional, business and artsy parents choose Gresham’s in the expectation that it will suit all siblings as long as they’re willing to get involved. ‘Families we have met have all been truly lovely,’ gushed a parent. Indeed, pupils friendly, polite and straightforward. Twenty per cent internationals – nearly all European (attracted by IB) – creates a culturally diverse community and avoids parochialism; some murmurs that those not familiar with the British education system may benefit from more hand-holding. Plays, concerts and matches streamed online. In-person FOGS-organised social events well attended and wordy newsletter sent home every three weeks.

Money matters

Academic scholarships worth up to 20 per cent of fees offered for year 9 entry and can be topped up with a bursary if financial need is demonstrated. Drama, music, art and sport awards also offered, with 20 per cent off fees. Sixth form scholarships too, awarded in December of year 11. Long association with the Worshipful Company of Fishmongers adds to the bursary pot, as does the Gresham’s Foundation. 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 close to the idyllic north Norfolk coast, 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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