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Marlborough College
  • Marlborough College
    Marlborough
    Wiltshire
    SN8 1PA
  • Head: Louise Moelwyn-Hughes
  • T 01672 892300
  • F 01672 892307
  • E [email protected]
  • W www.marlboroughcollege.org/
  • Marlborough College is an English independent day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 13 to 18 in Marlborough, Wiltshire. It was founded in 1843 for the sons of Church of England clergy and now educates over 900 pupils.
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Wiltshire
  • Pupils: 1011; sixth formers: 439 (231 boys and 208 girls)
  • Religion: Church of England
  • Fees: £39,930pa
  • Open days: Individual campus tours, pre-booked open days and in-depth virtual visits. House visits held in the Michaelmas Term 2022 for entry at 13+ in 2025 Open days and House visits held in the Michaelmas and Summer Terms 2022 for entry at 13+ in 2026
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review
  • Ofsted report: View the Ofsted report
  • ISI report: View the ISI report

What says..

There’s so much on offer beyond the academic timetable that it’s hard to know where to start. ‘This is a very busy place,’ says the deputy head (co-curriculum and outreach). Superb facilities and inspirational specialist teaching mean that every pupil, no matter what their prowess, gets involved in sports and the arts. Wise advice from year 11 pupils – known as ‘the Hundred’ – is to ‘get stuck into as much as you can while you’re here...'

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What the school says...

Founded in 1843 and set in a beautiful location steeped in history, Marlborough College is the largest co-educational independent full boarding school in the UK with over 1000 pupils, aged 13 to 18. The College is academically ambitious, committed to extending access, and offers a fast-paced, contemporary, challenging and enriching education within a warm, inclusive and spiritual environment. More than 80% of our pupils gain places at Russell Group Universities or Oxbridge, our sports teams regularly reach the latter stages of national competitions, our Symphony Orchestra plays in partnership with the Southbank Sinfonia and our artists exhibit in the Mount House Gallery. The pastoral care delivered through our 16 boarding houses is unrivalled, ensuring each child is known and cared for individually. Full boarding fosters independence and interdependence and our pupils form friendships for life and develop the social and leadership skills needed to flourish in adulthood. ...Read more

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Sports

Polo

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

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Master

Since 2018, Louise Moelwyn-Hughes MA (40s), previously head of St Edmund’s School in Canterbury. She grew up on a council estate in Northern Ireland and at 11 was awarded a place at Methodist College in Belfast, known to locals as Methody, one of Northern Ireland’s leading grammar schools. ‘My parents couldn’t afford the bus fare but my county stepped in and gave me a bus pass,’ she recalls. She began studying ancient Greek at 12 and loved reading and translating so much that in the sixth form her teacher stopped her in the corridor and said she should apply to Cambridge. ‘How do I do that?’ she asked. He wrote three colleges on a scrap of paper and she chose Magdalene College because she liked the name. Her father drove her to Cambridge for her interview – ‘my first time on the mainland’. It started snowing as they walked along the Backs and they both shed a tear of emotion. ‘My education has enabled everything in my life,’ she says.

In her last year at Cambridge she applied to join the diplomatic service but then spotted three job ads in an education magazine. Marlborough snapped her up before anyone else (‘the only boarding schools I’d come across before were St Trinian’s and Malory Towers’) and she spent 13 happy years there, teaching classics and Arabic, getting involved in sport and music and becoming a housemistress (Princess Eugenie was in her house). She then headed to The Perse School, Cambridge to become their first female senior deputy head and six years later moved to the top job at St Edmund’s.

She hadn’t been looking to move again but leapt at the chance to take the reins at Marlborough (she received a handwritten letter asking her to apply). Right from the start her two main aims have been to put academics at ‘the absolute core’ of the school and to expand access. ‘These two things are so important to me,’ she says. Marlborough is launching an ambitious plan to raise £50 million over 10 years, enabling the college to offer 100 110 per cent bursary places – ‘for children and families who couldn’t afford an education like ours, for those who would thrive here and relish the opportunity.’

On the academic side she says that Marlborough has been reticent about calling itself an academic school in the past – but she’s determined to change all that, especially as pupils’ average grades at A level are already an impressive AAB. Everyone is encouraged to be ‘academically ambitious’ (70 or 80 now apply to Oxbridge each year rather than 30 in the past), academic successes are celebrated in assemblies along with sports triumphs and there are more academic prizes on prize day. She visibly brightened when we told her about a group of year 11 pupils we’d met who were fizzing with enthusiasm about their A level choices. ‘That’s music to my ears,’ she says.

Popular with parents and pupils alike. A recent sixth former described her as ‘lovely’ and told us that ‘pupils really like her’, while a mother said: ‘She’s wonderful – a very level-headed leader.’ Another described her as ‘the most amazing, inspirational woman. She’s softly spoken but no-nonsense and she’s steering the ship on a very steady path.’

She is enjoying ‘every minute’ of her Marlborough role, particularly the extensive bursary project. ‘We have ten years to raise the money so there is a huge job to be done here,’ she says. Her teacher husband used to be head of politics at King’s School, Canterbury but has been looking after their three young children during the pandemic. They live in a house on site and she laughingly says that her hobbies outside work ‘used to be squash, walking and reading’. She’s ‘quite big on languages’ – during her first stint at Marlborough she learned Arabic in a year and ended up teaching it herself. She doesn’t teach these days but hopes to get back to it in the future.

Entrance

Parents can register children up to five years prior to entry (from September of year 4). The school advises registering in good time. Selection for 13+ entry is based on a reference from a child’s current school, interview and ISEB pre-test results. Most applicants are assessed in year 6, when around 70 per cent of places are allocated. ‘The move to year 6 assessments has cast the net a lot wider,’ says the director of admissions. Approximately 25 per cent of places are awarded in year 7 and five per cent in year 8. Most applicants take CE and their results are used for setting when children start at the school. Those with confirmed places are expected to achieve an average of 60 per cent at CE. ‘The intellectual side is important but we are also looking for character, energy, creativity and spark,’ says the deputy head (academic).

The school does its best to accommodate siblings but it isn’t automatic. Pupils come from around 260 prep schools (100 preps represented in each year group alone). A fifth from London but the majority from the south (from Devon across to Kent), plus a few from Scotland. Around 12 per cent are international pupils, from the US, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and India among others. ‘We’re really global,’ says the school.

Entry into the sixth form is very competitive, with one in four applicants getting in. ‘They have to be academically ambitious, willing to get involved in co-curricular activities and contribute to the boarding community,’ says the director of admissions. At this stage selection is based on references from a pupil’s current school, VRQ test, exams in proposed A level subjects and an interview.

Exit

Very few, if any, leave after GCSEs. ‘Everyone stays because it’s so nice in the sixth form,’ a year 11 told us. At 18 pupils head off in all directions. Up to 15 per cent opt for overseas universities – most recently to Brown, Michigan State University, NYU, UCLA, Georgetown, CU Boulder, McGill, British Columbia, Parsons, Boston and Miami, with pupils also receiving offers not taken up to RISD, Duke, Middlebury, Vassar and Toronto. Most popular UK destinations are Durham, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Exeter and Bristol (90 per cent of university offers are from ‘high tariff universities’). There’s a new head of Oxbridge admissions and six went to Oxbridge in 2021. Wide range of degree subjects.

Latest results

In 2021, 79 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 75 per cent A*/A at A level (94 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last year that exams took place), 68 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 45 per cent A*/A at A level (79 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Marlborough has always performed well academically but the master is determined to shift up a gear. Most pupils now take three A levels as standard rather than four (they can do more if they wish but the thinking is that with three they will have more time to devote to other things too, like the EPQ, short courses and learning a new language).

All the usual A level subjects on offer, plus business, classical civilisation, economics, exercise and sports sciences, history of art, music technology and psychology. No block system – the school does its best to accommodate subject combinations. Definitely a school for keen linguists. The deputy head (academic) describes languages as ‘our Rolls-Royce department’ and pupils can choose French, German, Greek, Italian, Latin, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew and Japanese. Maths and politics are the most popular A level subjects and along with art and biology achieve stand-out results. Around two-thirds of sixth formers take the EPQ – recent endeavours include a research-based report on the social impact of the ska music movement in the Midlands and a practical project that involved designing a BMX race track. Plans are underway to introduce a level 2 EPQ for year 11s.

Most pupils take 11 GCSEs, including English lang and lit, maths, a modern foreign language (some take two or three), RS and double or triple science. Bright linguists can take a language GCSE early – at the end of year 10. Class sizes of between five and 13 at A level and between 10 and 20 in years 9 to 11.

The school offers an exciting approach to learning from the start. Shell pupils (year 9s) do something called Form, a multidisciplinary enquiry into the origins of human civilisation. These lessons take the place of separate English, history and RS and aim to develop intellectual curiosity. Lots of interest in entrepreneurship – ‘we aren’t just educating people for dusty libraries,’ says the deputy head (academic) – and the school is introducing an entrepreneurship programme for the youngest pupils. Setting in maths and sciences.

Innovation Centre opened in 2021 - a hub for social enterprise, engineering and technology. ‘We plan to equip pupils with the skills, confidence and creativity to face the challenges of the fourth Industrial Revolution – from advanced robotics to artificial intelligence,’ says the master. The library is a hive of activity. Open seven days a week, it sends out weekly newsletters, hosts visiting speakers and helps sixth formers with research for their EPQs. We liked the Everest Reading Challenge, which encourages younger pupils to read ten books for pleasure.

Learning support and SEN

Approximately 100 pupils have learning difficulties, such as moderate dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD, and receive one-to-one support from the five-strong learning support team.

The arts and extracurricular

There’s so much on offer beyond the academic timetable that it’s hard to know where to start. ‘This is a very busy place,’ says the deputy head (co-curriculum and outreach). Superb facilities and inspirational specialist teaching mean that every pupil, no matter what their prowess, gets involved in sport and the arts. Wise advice from year 11 pupils – known as ‘the Hundred’ – is to ‘get stuck into as much as you can while you’re here’.

Drama productions staged at the Bradleian, a 135-seat studio theatre, and the Ellis Theatre, which seats up to 450. They include lower school plays, main school productions, Penny Readings (staged by Shell) and Tiny Bites, short independent plays produced by pupils. In 2020 17 took the GCSE in theatre studies, six took A level and many more opt to do LAMDA public speaking qualifications. Nearly half have individual music lessons and house music competitions get everyone doing something tuneful. There’s a plethora of music groups to join – symphony orchestra, chamber orchestra, chapel choir and big band among others.

Art is huge, with 61 taking the subject at GCSE in 2020 and 34 doing art A level. The art school is open seven days a week and comprises six studio spaces, plus specialist areas for painting, printmaking, ceramics, photography, engraving and drawing. The school’s own art gallery, the Mount House, is next door.

The school is a founder member of CCF, with 300 cadets and a 25-metre indoor range. Those who choose not to join the CCF do outreach activities – hearing children read at local primary schools, mentoring maths students at a Slough secondary school, working with Riding for the Disabled, volunteering in charity shops and doing conservation work on the River Kennet. Countless outdoor activities on offer, including climbing, canoeing, kayaking, mountain biking, sub-aqua diving, an annual week-long year 9 trip to the Brecon Beacons and the arduous 125-mile Devizes to Westminster canoe race.

Sport

Marlborough is an ultra-sporty school. ‘We expect all pupils to be physically active in some way,’ says the deputy head (co-curriculum and outreach) – and they take him at his word. Rugby is massive – Marlborough played its first inter-schools rugby match in 1864 and since then the school has produced four England captains and 38 internationals – but so are hockey, netball, cricket, tennis, athletics and swimming.

There’s an abundance of sports pitches, including two all-weather, floodlit pitches, plus a sports hall complex, fitness room, two studios and a fencing salle, a 25-metre indoor swimming pool, an outdoor activities centre (with a climbing wall) and squash, rackets and fives courts. The former town gaol is now the college gym.

Many pupils represent the school (and their county and country) but there are lots of house competitions too, from cross-country to water polo. ‘They are very ambitious on the sports front,’ said a parent. ‘There is a very high standard at the top but there are enough teams for everyone who wants to play.’

Boarders

‘Marlborough is a genuine seven-day-a-week boarding school,’ says the master. Ninety-eight per cent boarding (only a handful of day pupils, mostly children of teaching staff). Sixteen boarding houses: six girls’, six boys’ and four mixed (boys plus sixth form girls, each with their own designated areas). Vertical (mixed age) boarding encourages cohesion between the year groups and house loyalty is fierce.

At the time of our tour visitors weren’t allowed into the boarding houses due to the pandemic (parents weren’t either) but a group of year 11s gave us the lowdown. First year pupils sleep in dorms of four or five but as they get older they get their own rooms, some with ensuites. Every house has its own distinct character. A mother described Dancy, the newest girls’ boarding house, as ‘like a hotel’ while a recent sixth former said Ivy, a girls’ house on the High Street, is highly sought-after. In the sixth form the mixed houses are very popular, especially as pupils eat breakfast and dinner in-house. Parents say housemasters and housemistresses are ‘very present’ and ‘very encouraging’ and that every house is different in design and character.

When we asked year 11 pupils for their advice on choosing a house we were told: ‘Each house is different so go with your gut. I walked into Ivy and I knew it was the one I liked the best.’ A boy said he chose his house because the housemaster was ‘so great’. Lots to do at weekends – from rock climbing to pottery – but there’s downtime too, whether it’s a coffee in town with friends or a rummage through vintage clothes in local charity shops.

Ethos and heritage

Marlborough was established in 1843, when a group of Church of England clergy, with the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury, decided to found a boarding school to provide an affordable education for clergymen’s sons. They leased the Castle Inn and admitted 199 boys. The college grew rapidly and now comprises 250 glorious acres and more than 1,000 pupils.

The college site is bordered by water meadows, trout lakes, downs, the River Kennet and the town itself and is one of the most impressive we’ve seen in two decades of visiting schools. It’s full of architectural gems – there can’t be another school in the country where you can walk out of a glorious Victorian gothic revival chapel (with stained glass by Burne Jones and former Marlburian William Morris and sculpture by Eric Gill) and come face-to-face with a neolithic mound. Known as Merlin’s Mound, it’s the second largest manmade mound in Europe and boasts a 17th-century grotto at its base (often used for poetry readings). Floodlit at night, it has been restored in recent years and a path winds its way round and round to the top.

For budding young archaeologists, architects and art historians the Marlborough campus is a fascinating treasure trove. Edward Blore, who designed Buckingham Palace, built two boarding houses and the master’s lodge while William Newton created the Memorial Hall in memory of the 749 Marlburians who lost their lives in the First World War. The acoustics at this neoclassical theatre and assembly hall are world-class (Julian Lloyd Webber, Tasmin Little, Emma Kirkby and the BBC Big Band have all played there).

Peeping out from behind the Memorial Hall is another William Newton creation – a white-painted 1930s concrete science block with Crittall windows (very chic these days) and wittily topped with a golden gourd (the senior science master at the time was called Arthur Gourd). We could wax lyrical about these architectural delights all day but as we said in a previous review, the eclectic mix of ancient and modern across the school site embodies the breadth and quality of a Marlborough education. We were shown round by the director of international admissions, an architectural historian who knows the provenance of every wall and window and can’t believe his luck at working in such an extraordinary place. At the time of our visit he was working on a project called Marlborough in a Hundred Objects, a collection of artefacts belonging to the college.

Marlborough has always been a trailblazer and in 1968 became one of the first schools to admit girls in the sixth form. It went fully co-ed in 1989 (there are still slightly more boys than girls but it isn’t far off 50:50).

The view of the teens we met is that Marlborough is traditional but definitely not snooty and that it’s easy to make friends. We heard a couple of grumbles that more could be done to integrate new sixth formers but they were in the minority. Pupils like their uniform – sixth form girls are particularly keen on their ankle-length black skirts. ‘It’s great in winter because you can chuck them on over your pyjamas or trackie bottoms,’ one told us. Sixth form boys wear suits – ‘occasionally you’ll see a wild one,’ we were told. Lower down the school, girls wear tartan kilts and striped blouses while boys sport grey trousers, white or striped shirts and house ties. Lots of distinctive Marlborough jargon – teachers are beaks, a weekend out is a priv and a disco is a bar.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Marlborough describes itself as ‘a talking school’ and stresses the importance of pupils seeking advice if they are concerned about their own or someone else’s mental wellbeing. The school is keen on ‘informal conversations’ where pupils can chat to housemasters and housemistresses, personal tutors, dames, prefects, the school counsellor and staff at the medical centre (known to all as the ‘sani’). Youngsters told us they were clear about who to go to if problems arise. There’s also a new safeguarding pastoral hub where pupils can drop in and talk about issues that are bothering them. When the Everyone’s Invited website hit the headlines the school invited Wiltshire County Council to advise and work with them. ‘It’s about giving pupils the tools to make the right decisions,’ say staff. Marlborough has also created a health and wellbeing council and is about to be part of a forum with other schools, receiving training from the police and social services.

The word ‘happy’ cropped up a lot in our conversations with parents. ‘It has been a very happy place for our daughters,’ one said. Others told us it is a ‘very caring’ school. ‘It produces well-rounded, happy, polite young people and is big on kindness and community,’ we were told. Another parent said that ‘everyone supports each other’ and makes lifelong friends while a former pupil described it as ‘really great and really social’. Current pupils’ view is that there are so many different characters at Marlborough that ‘everyone fits in’.

Pupils told us there are ‘a fair amount of rules’, particularly about punctuality, looking smart and being polite. ‘It’s good preparation for later life,’ they said cheerfully. Clear policies on smoking, alcohol and drugs – all spelled out to pupils and parents. Lesser sanctions for misdemeanours like turning up late, back-chatting or handing in work late. The school is very keen on pupil voice and all ages get plenty of opportunities to air their views (pupils even run Marlborough’s Instagram account).

Pupils and parents

Marlborough pupils are a great advert for coeducation – charming, friendly and sparky, the sort who can fit in anywhere. Parents get to know their children’s friends at weekends and during the holidays and pupils make friends for life.

Old Marlburians are an impressive bunch. In addition to ranks of clerical and military worthies, notable former pupils include William Morris, John Betjeman, Louis MacNeice, Siegfried Sassoon, Bruce Chatwin, Sir Francis Chichester, Wilfrid Hyde-White, James Robertson Justice, Michael Pennington, Jack Whitehall, Lauren Child, Cressida Cowell, Frances Osborne, Sally Bercow, Samantha Cameron, journalists Frank Gardner, Tom Newton Dunn and Hugh Pym and Oscar-winning screenwriter, actress and director Emerald Fennell – plus, of course, the Duchess of Cambridge and Princess Eugenie.

Money matters

A raft of scholarships (more honour than hard cash) but also directors’ scholarships, which recognise outstanding excellence in music and sport and carry a fee reduction of 20 per cent. The master and the College Council are committed to expanding the bursary scheme and have launched an ambitious fund-raising campaign (see above). At the moment around 100 pupils (nearly 10 per cent of the school) receive some form of means-tested bursarial support.

The last word

The college defines its values as ‘respect, responsibility and rigour’, an ethos that is at once modern and ambitious, yet in keeping with its Anglican traditions. A Marlborough education is 21st-century co-ed boarding at its very best. As one parent puts it: ‘Getting a place here is like winning a golden ticket.’

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

Children with mild special educational needs can enjoy successful careers at the college, and allowances are made when such children undertake the Assessment test. However, Marlborough is not an appropriate school for children with moderate to severe difficulties. There is a Learning Support Centre staffed by five full time SPLD trained members of staff, which at present caters for over 100 pupils with differing needs. A wide range of Learning difficulties are addressed from problems with spelling, reading and writing, to personal organisation and other study skills. The aim is to enable pupils to access the wider curriculum, as well as meeting their specific individual requirements. 10-09

Who came from where


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