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It was a joy hearing the rugby-playing sixth former, who had set his sights on Cambridge, wax lyrical about the music department and refer with awe and respect to a recent school production of A Christmas Carol as ‘very professional - dead arty and stuff’. Founded 1525 by Roger Lupton, a provost of Eton, it nestles amidst the fells in the beautiful old town of Sedbergh. It has a huge campus with gorgeous old stone buildings. Lots of fresh air involved...

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What the school says...

Sedbergh School is a true boarding school with the House system playing a major role in the pastoral care and education of the pupils.

The recent academic results show that a school that excels in music and sport can also excel in its academic achievements and, combined with an almost unequalled extra curricular programme, provides a unique educational experience in an outstanding setting in the Yorkshire Dales.

Sedbergh School provides scholarships, awards and bursaries for talented individuals in music, sport, and for the academically able. Contact the school office or go to the web site for further information.
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What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Geology at an English Independent School (GCE AS level)
  • Best performance by Boys taking Religious Studies at an English Independent School (GCE AS level)

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.

International Study Centre - school has a linked, international study centre for overseas students wishing to improve their English.

Sports

Fencing

Shooting

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head master

Since 2010, Andrew Fleck (geology at Nottingham; MA at Sussex), a period which he describes as the happiest years of his career.

The uniqueness of Sedbergh, he suggests, lies in its location (cocooned within the rolling hills of the Cumbrian countryside) and the fact it is a close and supportive full boarding community (in other words, a vast distance away from youth-distracting razzamatazz and the potentially toxic influences of flashy urban street corners). So while extracurricular activities are of great importance within any school, they are of colossal importance here. The rural setting effectively means pupils must draw on inner resources and ‘go find’ interesting things to do in rain or shine (not difficult, frankly, out of the mind-boggling array of sport, performance activities and societies on offer). So as a parent you won’t get your child fiddling about with Snapchat in the local Costa. There is no local Costa. What you get instead is something altogether more interesting and nurturing of individualism – which is very Andrew Fleck.

At school in Marlborough, he discovered his entrepreneurial side when a housemaster gave him the space to do his own thing (building kayaks in the laundry block and getting a little business going). He says being given that opportunity, that sense of empowerment and freedom, transformed his life, and ever since he has felt a responsibility to pass on such opportunities to pupils, whether they want to be a scientist in Cambridge or become a top equestrian.

Keen to open the vistas of the world for pupils, he is currently working with global companies and universities to put together a plan for a Centre for Advanced Technology and Science (which will also support other schools in Cumbria). A visionary, he can see the professions are changing with the encroachment of automation and that employers’ needs will be very different in a decade when technical skills are likely to be highly prized. If the plan comes to fruition, it will teach crucial skills like laser cutting, 3D design, complex composites. In short, a unique blend of commercial academia.

He is, however, equally tuned into traditional academic challenge for pupils; the 9 star programme for top scholars (around 10 per cent of each year group) is aimed at helping pupils discover new ways of thinking. Head says it also acts as a seed of inspiration for the rest of the year group. He is aware that the fundamental shift in the higher academic end is about moving children from concrete to abstract thought. It therefore tackles a number of innovatory areas, like game theory – a sub-field of economics and maths, all about strategic decision making. Pupils may later be invited onto the Oxbridge development programme.

His, frankly fascinating, comment pieces in the school magazine grapple with the challenges of the modern working world. In one column he talks about creating an environment where pupils are willing to take intellectual risks (acutely aware that it is only through challenge that children can claim they have achieved their very best). In another column, he addresses the fact that children are having to contemplate the shifting sands of reality in a world where the term post-truth prevails.

He is, though, also thoroughly grounded in the here and now of the school; as one parent said, he is always on the touchline, cheering away. Personable and easy to approach.

No surprise that the school has recently garnered an award from the Boarding Schools Association for its deployment of social media. As the Twitter revolution started, Andrew Fleck immediately saw its benefits and created a role within the school to manage social media. Parents adore it (one parent said she ‘lived on it’): it plugs them into the mainframe of their child’s life in a more immediate way. It’s a small but telling example that the head, ever-alert to innovation, is most definitely not a man to let educational grass grow under his Sedberghian feet.

Academic matters

Andrew Fleck cites geology as a strength (the geology classroom, crammed with a huge collection of rocks, with desks sloping upwards like a university lecture room, is incredible). Sadly, the teacher is due to retire in 2018. Big shoes to fill. However, based purely on results, the maths A level results looked very good to us and we feel that maths has sneaked in as a school strength (see below).

The school responds to its broad intake by setting pupils from year 9 by ability. A tutor monitors progress, liaising with subject teachers. Added value is measured for every level of ability (though those stats weren’t available to us). There is a broad curriculum; year 9 takes up French, and German or Spanish is on offer (though very few take languages at A level). More offbeat options are available at GCSE, like jewellery design. There are alternative options in sixth form beyond A level – a BTec in agriculture in conjunction with Newton Rigg College in Penrith.

A 2017 inspection report states 'assured and inspiring teachers with high expectations and expertise in their subject successfully encourage most pupils….to achieve their potential and fulfil their ambitions'. Where pupils would benefit from extra lessons, they are arranged. Everything is on tap, this being a full boarding community.

ICT is deployed to support learning, such as organising notes or recording class discussions. There is also what are described as ‘pioneering academic opportunities’, like the 100 hour revision challenge for years 11, 12 and 13 over the Easter holidays (as in, 21 days hol, five hours a day etc).

Some 120 pupils have learning difficulties; most of the extra support is around dyslexia or dyspraxia and is often one-to-one. Learning support works across both ends of the spectrum, though, including the 9 star programme. One parent, whose son was on the programme, felt he was flying academically. Another parent felt the academic side of things was generally ‘on the rise’ due to Andrew Fleck’s lead.

Results are good overall (bearing in mind the very broad spread of intake) and on the up for the last few years. Particular strengths are English, English literature, maths, biology, chemistry, physics and geography. In 2017, 42 per cent of GCSEs were A*-A/7-9.

At A level in 2017, 38 per cent A*/A and 63 per cent A*-B grades, plus 22 out of the 85 taking BTec in agriculture got A*.

Games, options, the arts

Sedbergh has a national reputation for sports prowess but while the school is staggeringly good within this arena, this is only part of the story. (The old perception that this is a school for rugby players is past its sell by date.) Sedbergh today offers something wonderful for everyone. Frankly, it was a joy hearing the rugby-playing sixth former, who had set his sights on Cambridge, wax lyrical about the music department and refer with awe and respect to a recent school production of A Christmas Carol as ‘very professional - dead arty and stuff’.

So, back to sport: each house fields teams for the inter-house competitions and the school itself continues to have a reputation for excellence. Pupils clearly love the Saturday sports matches where the whole school turns out to support. There is a vast array of activities on offer: lacrosse, athletics, horse riding (Sedbergh has an equestrian team), but also orienteering, fishing, kayaking, mountain biking, fell running, badminton, sailing, shooting, squash, tennis. The facilities match all this but are about to get a whole lot better as a new sports centre is being built for summer 2018. Expert sports coaching is also available, often with video analysis. The relationship between sport and good mental and physical health has long been established and here the regularity of sport seems to be a fundamental part of Sedberghian life. Staff are very aware of its benefits and note the increase in requests for early morning coaching around exam times. Parents also enthused about the freedom Sedbergh offers; that while care and safety were paramount, children get to experience activities like river bathing, mud sliding and wild camping (usually off menu in a lot of red tape schools). The expression ‘it toughens them up’ was used a lot by parents. (Here, a note of caution; the school’s ‘joining in’ ethos might mean those more apprehensive by nature, or naturally introverted, may not be so well suited.)

The pupils we spoke to effervesced about the school’s 125 year old Wilson run (a 10 mile cross country fell race for 16+ pupils, described by the Guardian newspaper as ‘hell in the fens’), about the camaraderie it engendered, the ‘supporting each other through’ it, the rapturous applause at the finishing line. It’s all very reminiscent of the Brownlee brothers’ spirit, because this is a run which requires grit and a can-do attitude which pretty much sums up what Sedbergh is all about. Its caring ethos and multiplicity of extracurricular activities nurture resilience and teamwork (qualities which most of the working world is crying out for right now).

Performing is dominant too, with high numbers taking LAMDA. School plays attract great interest; a recent production of Les Misérables had a cast of 78. While acting is good for confidence, head rightly values ‘theatre’ for its mind-expanding qualities and spoke of his relish in listening to pupils debate the concept of redemption in Les Mis. Likewise in Cabaret, the moral dilemmas, the lack of courage, were chewed over.

Pupils spoke to us casually about regular debating competitions, about having to prepare a topic quickly and thinking on their feet. They didn’t seem fazed.

Musical opportunities run the spectrum: choral, orchestra, swing band (a big jazz and swing night had the pupils entertaining 150 guests). Everyone participates at some level; there is a house singing competition, for example. Professional musicians give concerts but there are also scholars’ concerts and small informal musical soirées. The choristers get to sing in vast spaces like Durham Cathedral and recently went on tour around Italy. One pupil made it into the national youth choir. It’s all on tap, again; you can pitch up at the music school before or after lessons and have a practice.

Unless they have the head's permission, all join the school contingent of the CCF. Teamwork and leadership are the primary motivators for this and exposure to new experiences – scuba diving, gliding, piloting. That said, the pupils we spoke to had done voluntary work instead of the CCF – helping in local schools - and seemed to have got a great deal of satisfaction out of it.

In addition, pupils are prepared for the finer things in life: events to practice etiquette, confidence-builders for social settings (balls). This is all reinforced by the fact that staff and pupils have three civilised meals a day together in each house.

Loads of trips, some to incredibly exotic climes, like an ecology trip to Madagascar.

Some fantastic clubs for those with big academic appetites (there is also an inter-house academic challenge): Polyglots (languages), the Invisible society (science), classics soc, Rogers society (economics).

Boarders

As this is a full boarding school, it has the pastoral care to go with it. The 2017 inspection report puts it thus: 'Boarding provides pupils with a safe, happy, fulfilling platform from which they can pursue their academic and other interests'.

There are nine houses (six boys, three girls), each with its own style and character to foster a sense of belonging: its own library, common rooms, computer suite, dining room. Each with a houseparent, resident matrons and associated house tutors.

One of the housemistresses we met had extraordinary powers of recall about every detail of the pupils in her care. She was a tour de force of warmth and intellect; she knew who would be sitting next to whom at lunch, what vegetables they liked and where each of them were. She exuded quiet competence, iron grasp of detail and seemed to possess mountains of energy. The newest girls’ boarding house opened in 2015; a delightful building, all whitewashed stone walls, individual rooms with bow windows and fireplaces lending much charm (each room for year 10s upwards has a desk – year 9s do prep together, supervised by prefects). The house communal rooms have lovely furniture (piano, chandeliers), a super dining area, veranda, bright cushions and clean kitchen areas. A big TV is tuned into the news to top up their current affairs knowledge.

The lower years share, usually around five to a room. Older children are two or three to a room, sixth formers are on their own. The configuration in each room changes every term. While pupils put in requests to share with someone, the houseparent uses their good judgement to make the final decision (with the best will in the world, problems bubble up and, as one pupil muttered, term times can feel intense).

Any worries - eg homesickness - are fed back to parents from the houseparents. One parent spoke of visiting her sons’ boarding house for the first time, seeing a row of black wellies outside the door and being struck by how homely it all was. Discipline, she felt, was good as the boys respected the housemaster.

Pupils are allowed to use their phones outside lesson and prep times but not at night.

Background and atmosphere

Founded 1525 by Roger Lupton, a provost of Eton, it nestles amidst the fells in the beautiful old town of Sedbergh. It has a huge campus with gorgeous old stone buildings. Lots of fresh air involved in walking from building to building. The school corridors, lined with traditional photos, have an old world charm about them. Nothing too edgy – the biology lab had geraniums on all the windowsills. Great exhibition space for art, nice DT workshops, decent labs and IT equipment. The library is out on its own in a beautiful old building. Views of hills to make the heart sing.

Girls joined in 2001 and now make up around 40 per cent of students. Sedbergh merged with Casterton School in 2013. The Sedbergh juniors moved to the merged junior school on the Casterton site (known as Casterton, Sedbergh Preparatory School), whilst the Casterton seniors moved to the merged senior school, named Sedbergh School, on this site.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Andrew Fleck says they regularly seek pupils’ views in discussion groups, run anonymous surveys and take safeguarding extremely seriously. The safeguarding board will always follow up on any concern voiced by a pupil, no matter how slight. Any hint of bullying is tackled immediately.

Older pupils can wander into town. The pupils have many socials on campus, though: Caribbean evenings, fancy dress parties, sketch shows. Minor disciplinary issues (being late for lessons) mean you will get endorsements, and too many of those means you may not attend socials.

One parent, whose son had been sent home due to a teenage misdemeanour, praised the calm way with which it had been dealt and said how easy it had been to reintegrate on his return due to Andrew Fleck’s easy manner.

The school is open to all faiths and runs Sunday worship. The chaplain is an extra layer in the pastoral system.

There is a health centre with a doctor, nurses and physio.

Pupils and parents

In addition to Sedbergh’s prep school, Casterton, pupils come from prep schools usually within a three hour radius: Scotland, Newcastle, York, Lancashire and Derbyshire. The net has started to be cast out wider, pulling in some pupils from the home counties who want this type of experience for their children. Around 60 per cent boys, and 20 per cent from overseas (there is specific information for Chinese students on the admissions page of the website).

Parents are described as enthusiastic, keen to work with the school to solve any problems. There are parent invites to garden parties and dinners and everyone congregates in the local hostelry, The Dalesman, after sports matches for tea.

Parents praised the excellent communication (although one expressed disappointment that a week-long trip to Cambridge had been called off without explanation and not rearranged). Generally, though, it was felt updates were frequent and staff very accessible.

Entrance

The school is modestly selective. Most admissions via common entrance but the bar is not set too high. So the intake tends to be a broad mix. Pupils joining at a later stage in the school take maths and English exams.

Exit

Around half to Russell group universities with the odd trickle to Oxbridge , some applying post-A levels. It’s fair to say there is latitude here for improvement, which may well come via initiatives like the 9 star programme.

There is a real blend and variety of destinations and subjects. More traditional subjects like art history, law, chemistry, classics and maths sit alongside the professional vocational ones; engineering, dentistry, and medicine. There are also a sprawl of more modern courses; sport science, international business management, fashion design, broadcast journalism.

Money matters

A number of scholarships available across academic, music, art, DT, drama, sport or even for being an all-rounder (with regard to the latter, we rather suspect Andrew Fleck would approve of polymaths). There are also means-tested bursaries.

Our view

The caring enfold of this beautiful school gives young adults an opportunity to find their passions, draw on inner resources and reach their academic and personal potential. If you want your child to have an outdoorsy experience and be imbued with the robust spirit of a self-starter, this is the place. Couch potatoes or teenagers with a partiality for clubbing probably shouldn’t apply.

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Special Education Needs

Sedbergh offers individual learning support to pupils with specific learning difficulties, especially Dyslexia. Either within the timetable instead of a second modern language or in pupil's free time. Nov 09.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
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

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