Skip to main content

What says..

We attended a Friday morning assembly in the cathedral, complete with Canon Ed giving the address, readings by pupils, rousing hymns and a young boy invited to light a candle for advent. ‘Even if you have no religion you can’t resist this,’ whispered a parent. We met loads of pupils as they filed in and they were charming, polite, smiley and fun. A group of boy choristers arrived in their distinctive long black cloaks and a year 7 girl sweetly told us that her mother had chosen the school after reading The Good Schools Guide. ‘So, thank you,’ she smiled... 

Read review »

What the school says...

Salisbury Cathedral School offers 'all round inspiration' to happy, confident children. It is not only home to the Cathedral choirs but to many children with a huge range of interests and talents in other areas.

Do you know this school?

The schools we choose, and what we say about them, are founded on parents’ views. If you know this school, please share your views with us.

Please login to post a comment.

Other features

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head Master

Since September 2023, Nick Hawker (interim head), previously deputy head and academic head. Originally from Solihull, he read music at the University of Birmingham before doing a master’s in musicology. He began his career at Bosvigo School in Cornwall and after qualifying as a teacher worked as a year 3 and 4 class teacher at Tywardreath School. He then moved to Polwhele House School in Truro as deputy head. He also had a part-time role as a tenor choral lay clerk at Truro Cathedral for 13 years. He has been appointed as the new headmaster of King’s St Alban’s School from January 2024. Married to Gemma, with two young children, he’s a keen sportsman, FA coach and marathon runner.

From January 2024, Mrs Sophie Baber (interim head), previously head of Brookham School in Hampshire.


The school is non-selective and children start at a variety of ages. Applicants are invited to taster days to ensure it’s the right school for them. Day pupils are mostly local although choristers and boarders often come from further afield. Boarding numbers include some forces children, Spanish youngsters who join for one or two years and, pre-Covid, two or three South African exchange pupils. The school is 50:50 boys and girls. School minibus service from Andover and a feeder bus from the Godolphin School, ten minutes’ drive away.

Chorister places are highly prized and highly selective. Pre-auditions and informal meetings are held throughout the year, with main voice trials in January for girls and in February for boys (in years 3 and 4). Trials include a short singing piece, aural tests and sight singing. Boarding is not obligatory for choristers.


A few leave at 11 for local grammars like Bishop Wordsworth’s (boys) and South Wilts (girls) but most stay till 13. Clayesmore, Wellington, Warminster, Bedales, Embley, Cranleigh, Sherborne, Kingswood Bath, Monkton Coombe, Dauntsey’s, Lancing College and Queen Ethelburga's all feature. Choristers often head to King’s Canterbury, Uppingham and Wells Cathedral School. Scholarships are proudly displayed on honours boards in the choristers’ lobby.

Our view

Tucked away in the stunning cathedral close, with 27 acres to play in and the cathedral a couple of minutes’ walk away, the school’s location is second to none. One of the oldest educational establishments in the world, it was founded at Old Sarum in 1091 by St Osmund (William the Conqueror’s nephew and the Bishop of Salisbury) to educate choristers. After 150 years the choristers’ school moved to Salisbury and in 1947 took up residence in the 13th-century buildings and grounds of the Bishop’s Palace. The school went co-ed in 1987, founded the UK’s very first cathedral girls’ choir in 1991 and merged with nearby Leaden Hall School in 2016.

The Grade I listed Bishop’s Palace wasn’t built with classrooms in mind but the creaky staircase, ancient chapel, rambling corridors and portraits of beady-eyed bishops give the school a distinct Hogwarts charm. The teaching we saw was genuinely exciting. A year 8 class was reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Alborn but broke off to tell us about Kes, the play they were rehearsing, and the Key Cup, which involved them all having to learn a poem by heart. A year 6 class told us about the school’s environmental work, including planting 2,500 bulbs and creating a rewilding area, while the dynamic head of geography and outdoor learning outlined a project to learn about the eight white chalk horses of the Wiltshire hills. Children walked the terrain, learned about the white horses’ history and geography and wrote their own poems.

The head of science told us that his number one aim is ‘to make them love science’. ‘Did you hear my hydrogen rockets going off earlier?’ he asked the head. French from nursery and Latin from year 5. Setting in years 7 and 8 but no scholarship group (teachers run tailor-made sessions according to pupils’ strengths and intended destinations). Pupils are prepared for CE but humanities are assessed internally in years 7 and 8. Classes of up to 16 and no Saturday school. The school’s eight core values of community, creativity, discovery, leadership, resilience, self-discovery, teamwork and thinking are embedded throughout the curriculum and beyond. ‘They push them to their individual abilities and encourage them to be proud of what they have achieved and to keep on going forward,’ says a parent.

Around 10 per cent have learning support, for needs like dyslexia, DCD, sensory processing needs and ASD. The head of learning support and her team (three specialist teachers and three learning support assistants) offer help in class, small groups and one-to-one. Additional help for handwriting, reading and PE.

SCS has never been known as an ultra-sporty school but sport is definitely on the up and children have recently scooped sports scholarships to Bryanston, Canford, Warminster, Dauntsey's and Embley. Lots of games pitches (real and artificial) and outdoor swimming pool on site. Children play sport four times a week – boys’ main sports are rugby and hockey and girls’ are hockey and netball. Everyone plays cricket (mixed teams up to the first XI). Girls can play rugby if they choose, coached by a former England women’s rugby player. On Fridays pupils can try their hands – and legs – at different sports, such as tennis, football, volleyball, fencing and dance. ‘We want to win but we want the children to enjoy their sport and understand the benefits of exercise too,’ says the go-ahead female director of sport.

Music is superb, with five school choirs, two cathedral choirs, 13 ensembles, at least 25 music concerts a year and as one parent put it, ‘music floating out of every window’. More than 85 per cent learn an instrument and every genre of music is covered. We enjoyed a spirited jazz band rehearsal – so infectious that two year 8 boys broke into a spontaneous dance. No purpose-built auditorium – performances take place in the 18th-century bishop’s drawing room (carpeted specially for the Princess of Wales’s visit many years ago). Music outreach programme, with staff running singing sessions for local primary schools. Plenty of opportunities for drama, with plays and musicals staged by all year groups – everything from Big Momma by years 3 and 4 to Great Expectations by years 7 and 8.

The head is very keen that the choristers ‘don’t miss out on anything’ and works closely with the cathedral to make sure they thrive. ‘It’s quite competitive to become a chorister but when they apply we aren’t expecting them to be very far along in their musical journey,’ says the director of music. ‘The crucial thing is that they want to do it.’ Choristers rehearse from 8am to 9am four days a week and sing at six services, including three on Sundays, as well as at Easter and Christmas. Unlike other schools, the choristers don’t wear different jumpers or uniform so they look like everybody else.

As well as art and DT lessons there are plenty of clubs and drop-in sessions. ‘There were 15 in here at 8am,’ grinned the head of DT as he supervised pupils making key rings, shields and LED lights. Art room has been revamped and the head of art puts every print, painting, ceramic and textile creation on display. ‘We don’t cherry-pick,’ she says. ‘Seeing your work on display makes an enormous difference. That’s the kind of school we are.’

Two-form entry in the prep but children also belong to houses and vertical tutor groups. Assemblies held in the bishop’s drawing room and in the cathedral. School is CofE but all faiths welcomed. We were fortunate enough to attend a Friday morning assembly in the cathedral, complete with ‘Canon Ed’, the cathedral’s canon chancellor, giving the address, readings by pupils, rousing hymns and a young boy invited to light a candle for advent. ‘Even if you have no religion you can’t resist this,’ whispered a parent. We met loads of pupils as they filed in and they were charming, polite, smiley and fun. A group of boy choristers arrived in their distinctive long black cloaks and a year 7 girl sweetly told us that her mother had chosen the school after reading The Good Schools Guide. ‘So, thank you,’ she smiled.

Pastoral care is first-rate. Everyone – children, teachers and support staff – looks out for each other here. The school has appointed an emotional literacy support assistant (ELSA) and children can talk to her about their worries, be they friendship issues, low self-esteem and sadly, in Covid times, bereavement. She also runs a wellbeing club, offering activities like meditation and yoga. ‘If we have happy, healthy children, they will learn,’ she says. No head boy or head girl – everyone gets leadership opportunities. When we visited sports scholars were off to deliver a rugby and hockey workshop to pupils at a nearby primary school. Pupils say the school is ‘strict, but in a good way’. Every child has a voice here – even the pre-prep children have their own school council. At the time of our visit a year 8 pupil had just successfully campaigned for girls to be able to wear trousers.

Pre-prep is housed in its own building but is an integral part of the school. Nursery children can attend part-time or full-time and virtually all progress to the pre-prep. Very little separation anxiety – ‘we let them settle in at their own pace,’ says the pre-prep head. Pupils have specialist teaching in French, PE, music, ballet and computing and there are loads of opportunities to get muddy (play trousers and wellies are part of the uniform). Early years children have a rest for 20 minutes after lunch. The pre-prep recently introduced a new approach to learning in year 1, which means that alongside formal learning the children can pursue their own play-based learning activities. The school says it provides ‘a bridge between the gentle play-based teaching in reception and the formalised learning pupils experience in year 2’.

Food is cooked fresh from scratch and eaten in an arched dining hall dating back 800 years. The head of catering (he started at the school at 16 and has been there ever since) and his team cook at least 250 lunches a day, plus breakfast and supper for the boarders. At lunchtime there’s always a hot meal, vegetarian option and salad bar, with an emphasis on healthy food and nutrition. Pupils love the roasts, fish and chip Fridays and chocolate Rice Krispie cakes. Wrap-around care, with breakfast club from 7.30am and prep school after school care till 7pm (at additional cost).

The parents we spoke to were glowing about the school. ‘What it does really well is create happy children,’ said one. Another said: ‘The staff are incredible – very dedicated to the ethos of the school and there for their students.’


About 40 children board, including a third of the girl choristers, and the boarding house, a five-minute walk across the close, is very much ‘home from home’. Full, weekly and flexi boarding and children can board from year 3 (there were two year 3 boarders when we visited). Lovely dorms for three to eight children, with sturdy bunk beds and padded noticeboards made by the director of boarding. One lucky year 6 girl can see the cathedral spire from her bed. Lots of nooks and crannies to play in, walled garden and common room with sofas and jaunty Union Jack cushions. The boarders even have their own summer festival, called BoarderFest of course.

Money matters

Means-tested bursaries available. Forces discounts of 15 per cent off day and boarding fees. Choral scholarships are equivalent to 30 per cent of day fees. Around half of the choristers receive additional means-tested bursaries.

The last word

Set in a historic cathedral close, this is a big-hearted, diverse school that buzzes with energy, enthusiasm and happiness. The music is sublime, as you’d expect, but SCS offers something special. No wonder parents wax lyrical about it.

Special Education Needs

Leavers' destinations

Who came from where

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews:

☑ 30,000 Independent, state and special schools in our parent-friendly interactive directory
☑ Instant access to in-depth UK school reviews
☑ Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of over 1,000 schools
☑ Independent tutor company reviews

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

Buy Now

GSG Blog >

The Good Schools Guide newsletter

Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.