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  • St David's College
    Gloddaeth Hall
    LL30 1RD
  • Head: Mr Andrew Russell
  • T 01492 875974
  • F 01492 870383
  • E [email protected]
  • W
  • An independent school for boys and girls aged from 9 to 19.
  • Boarding: Yes
  • Local authority: Conwy
  • Pupils: 267; sixth formers: 68
  • Religion: Christian
  • Fees: Day £13,665 - £21,660; Boarding £28,245 - £40,425 pa
  • Open days: Throughout the year, please see website for details
  • Review: View The Good Schools Guide Review

What says..

The whole tenet is that each child is different and although many schools will say this, at St David’s there is a genuine flexibility - a successful attempt to make each child’s education work for them not for the convenience of the school. The absolute stand out at St David’s is outdoor education, not surprising given its location looking out on to the peaks of Snowdonia and within easy reach of the glorious North Wales coast. Glossy and socially sophisticated it is not, but ...

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What the school says...

St David’s College, is a co-educational independent boarding and day school set in the beautiful surroundings of Llandudno, North Wales. The school offers a safe and secure boarding and learning environment for boys and girls aged from 9 years. St David’s College offers GCSEs and A levels, as well as more vocational BTEC and City and Guilds qualifications.

Through our bespoke learning plans and our specialism in Outdoor Education, Music, Art and Design we discover the gifts of each pupil, give them confidence and the opportunity to flourish. Through partnership with parents we discover the gifts of each child, remove the barriers to learning and lead young people to realise their full potential. It is this unique approach that enables us to support students with additional learning needs, whilst allowing students with no specific learning needs to thrive and excel. Our highly regarded SEN provision, helping those with dyslexia and associated learning needs, works seamlessly in our mainstream environment.
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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.


Unusual sports


What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2017, Andrew Russell BSc (early 50s). Studied economics and accounting at Southampton University but after a brief flirtation with accountancy, wanting to enjoy a more outdoor, wholesome life, he arrived at St David’s 28 years ago and has stayed ever since. During that time has had roles which include head of maths, head of careers, housemaster, assistant head and deputy head. His wife Kate’s father was a housemaster here and their three children attend the school. ‘Andy and his family are St David’s to the core,’ a member of staff told us.

St David’s has a long pedigree of highly successful home-grown heads and as we got to know the school we could understand why. Mr Russell was initially drawn here because it was a place where he could combine his love of teaching with his sporting and outdoor enthusiasms. He once ran cross-country for Wales; now he walks the dog a few times a day and plays five-a-side football with the sixth form boys. He says that what drives him is people and as we watched him talking to parents, staff and children and heard him reflect on his time as a housemaster, we could see that this is true. He knows everyone and never forgets an old student. He is warm, relaxed, extrovert and comes across as well balanced and positive. Kate teaches English and is very involved in school life.

Mr Russell is totally committed to the boarding ethos and life of the school. He has invested in an expansion to the girls’ boarding house, 17 extra beds in single and twin rooms, and aims to increase boarding numbers. He believes the faith foundations of the school are still its beating heart and, supporting the chaplain’s focus on spirituality rather than doctrine, he emphasises that the spirit is one of the three pillars of the school, along with the body and the mind. He would like to make the most of the (albeit limited) expansion possibilities of the site and wants everyone to shout from the rooftops about all the wonderful things that go on at the school. Above all, he remains utterly committed to what he believes is the core purpose of his school: to ensure there are no barriers to learning and children are allowed the freedom to flourish.


Not academically selective, places are offered following an interview with the head and information gathered from present school reports and, where appropriate, other educational professionals. The school has relationships with other independent schools who have occasional students for whom orthodox education isn’t working.


Career advice is expert, personalised and well honed – it’s a strength of the school. Many sixth formers go on to university, others have gained places on apprenticeship schemes. We hear that companies who have once had a St David’s student, come back to the school for more. As well as traditional academic degrees at redbrick universities, what stands out is the range of applied degree courses the students go on to – automotive design, architecture, biomedical sciences, pharmacology, product design, even cybersecurity and ethical hacking – one we hadn’t come across before. Oxford Brookes, Lancaster, Liverpool John Moores, Manchester, Belfast and Cardiff recently popular.

Latest results

In 2023, 32 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 30 per cent A*/A at A level (76 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 19 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; seven per cent A*/A at A level; 42 per cent distinctions for BTEC.

Teaching and learning

As the head acknowledges, many pupils at St David’s, though by no means all, do have barriers to learning. ‘External exam results aren’t why parents choose St David's College,’ a parent told us. That may be true, but they will always be a factor in any decision about a school. In fact, the headline results are consistently sound. For a school that specialises in teaching dyslexic pupils, the GCSE English results are a real achievement.

In the sixth form, traditional academic A levels are offered along with BTecs in performing arts, production arts, music, outdoor education or PE options in the sports qualification, business studies and three levels of computer aided design qualifications. Art and design, including engineering, is one of the school's consistent strengths.

Students are encouraged to enter national and international competitions in areas where they excel – a group of sixth formers had just completed a global maths competition. The whole tenet is that each child is different and although many schools will say this, at St David’s there is a genuine flexibility - a successful attempt to make each child’s education work for them not for the convenience of the school.

Everything drives towards enabling pupils to become independent learners. In many cases, though difficulties will not disappear, the children learn strategies to work around them and enjoy successful careers and fulfilling lives. Children often arrive having not enjoyed their educational experience to date, many have not ‘fitted’ into the rigid box of other academic institutions. ‘My form teacher in year 7 told me I would never get any GCSEs,’ a sixth former now applying to universities told us. ‘At St David’s,’ a parent commented, ‘children don’t even realise they are being taught’ and can finally relax into learning. Some teachers bring their dogs into lessons and a therapy dog is part of creating a learning atmosphere that is stress free.

The school is at the forefront of dyslexia teaching but the St David’s approach is more than just being about dyslexia or dyspraxia, ADD or autism; it is about finding the best way of teaching that will help every individual. Class sizes are small, which helps of course, and there is smaller group and individual support.

In the sixth form there’s lots of emphasis on preparing for real jobs and the atmosphere in the DT and art workshops was more like the workplace than a school. An oak-framed garage has been rebuilt for automobile technology. Kit cars are built, old cars and motorbikes restored and souped up! The vocational courses such as product design and computer aided design allow some students to go straight into industry, working in for eg graphic design and film animation. Projects relate to live issues. One girl has designed a prosthetic limb for a child, linked with a manufacturing business and it is now being produced. In three of the last four years, St David’s students have been in the top three for the global BTec Business and Enterprise Award. Students’ DT projects are also regularly among the top 30 chosen by the Welsh Board for showing most innovation at A level. In CAD, one boy who redesigned the aerobar for endurance cycling worked in collaboration with Swansea University to see the project through from design to manufacture.

These achievements show just how much St David’s offers dyslexic children. But children without dyslexia who are visual learners, or like to learn by doing, or are creative thinkers, can also gain more in terms of challenges than in a traditional school environment. The individualised approach and number of specialist staff available explains why students and parents to whom we spoke, not all of whom were dealing with dyslexic issues, were unanimous in commending the stretch and intellectual excitement offered.

Learning support and SEN

Alongside mainstream teaching in small classes, St David’s College has the highly regarded Cadogan Centre, a learning support centre specialising in helping pupils with dyslexia and additional learning needs. The centre features a wide range of assisted learning technology as well as 20 individual support teachers for any pupils who need them. The department has considerable expertise across a range of specialisms and staff are constantly developing their skills with the aim of supporting pupils to achieve their best using the latest teaching techniques.

Staff work with children who are able and talented as well as children who, when they arrive, have hardly gained anything from their previous formal education. More importantly, all staff, not just SEN support staff, are trained in how to work with the learning needs of every single child and are expected to use multi-sensory approaches in their lessons: ‘This is such an energising place to work, we are all encouraged to think outside the box when it comes to getting the very best for each child.’ Every child and member of staff has a device that includes speech and text recognition. Familiarity with computer aided learning meant the school was able to swing into lockdown remote provision with ease.

The arts and extracurricular

Plenty of music, lots of singing and jazz in particular, drama productions every term. But the absolute standout at St David’s is outdoor education, not surprising given its location looking out onto the peaks of Snowdonia and within easy reach of the glorious north Wales coast. All pupils up to year 10 have a whole day every fortnight to make the most of all the area offers and the programme culminates in an overseas expedition at the end of year 10. There is climbing, sailing, kayaking, caving, cross-country runs, camp cooking, navigation, mine exploration and even 4x4 off-road driving. If your child can’t bear fresh air, St David’s probably won’t make your shortlist of schools.

Outdoor education is part of the draw of the school for staff as well students. Teachers know the confidence-building value of outdoor challenges for everyone and particularly those who struggle with conventional learning. DofE is huge and in addition to highly qualified instructors the school has masses of professional equipment to support the extensive range of outdoor opportunities. Pupils too can gain qualifications in outdoor leadership. These regional pursuits grow into regular international outdoor education opportunities, for example kayaking in Norway. St David’s also has strong connection with Uganda and a group of pupils visits every year to support a school there.

The school recently won national recognition with an Independent Schools Association award for extracurricular provision.


A plethora of sports, both team and individual – the school does well in terms of regional success and national representation. There are St David’s students in national Wales golf, cross-country, table tennis and swimming teams and in team GB for sailing, fell running, kickboxing and climbing. Staff members too were in national teams for rugby, rounders and fell running.


Around a third of pupils board. Some boarding houses are in the old buildings with large airy rooms – recent refurbished. In newer purpose-built accommodation there are two or three-bed dorms for younger children; sixth formers mainly have their own rooms. Judging from house noticeboards, plenty goes on in the evenings and at weekends, trips organised away from school as well as the chance to experience even more outdoor adventures. However, if your child wants a taste of city life they are going to have to travel some distance for that particular buzz. Llandudno is no London or Manchester – which is of course its appeal for some. While overseas students are resident at weekends, boarders who live closer tend to go home for at least some. The boarding staff we met were incredibly positive about the lifestyle and share this enthusiasm with pupils.

Ethos and heritage

The school incorporates a Tudor hall (Grade 1 listed), the Victorian expansion, modern buildings from when the school moved in in the 1960s as well as the new boarding facilities mentioned above. There are further building plans afoot. At the heart of the school is Gloddaeth Hall, part of the original country house, with its panelling and minstrels’ gallery. One of the boys’ boarding houses is located in this original manor house.

There is an unusual atmosphere in the school, a potent mix of gentleness, kindness, energy and high-octane enthusiasm. It is an atmosphere the founder of the school, John Mayor, would recognise and relish. He set the school up in 1965 to offer hope to the children he had seen throughout his teaching career who struggled in mainstream schools, losing confidence with every failed exam. He was driven by strong Christian principles but while the present leadership stress the faith basis of the school and recognise how it contributes to the close-knit life of the community, they do so without Mayor’s rather fervent missionary zeal.

We enjoyed a long assembly that in many ways encapsulated the ethos of St David’s. The whole community was involved, including the most junior members and local parents who sang. It took place in one of the old parts of the school, the old barn in fact, with a lovely beamed roof and a certain charm, but not smart in any way (although there was highly effective amplification and IT). There was nothing particularly polished about the performances or the question and answer session a member of staff led with a group of seniors who had been to Africa during the summer, but there was an authenticity and sense of a real community that was beguiling.

On the day of our visit, sheets of rain swept across the wild landscape. The school has a number of separate buildings so everyone is used to getting a bit wet as they splash from class to class, but nobody seems bothered.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

The approach to pupil welfare is so holistic it seems artificial to separate pastoral from everything else in the school. With under 300 pupils everyone knows everyone else and the school encourages the family atmosphere by ensuring older pupils interact with younger ones in lots of ways – both academically through, for example, paired reading and also socially in the houses and in extracurricular activities. ‘I love knowing everyone,’ a younger child told us.

Some of the children arrive having been bullied, staff told us. Those scars don’t heal quickly and we came across children who were needing much loving care. This was recognised not just by the staff but also by the other children. ‘We all look out for each other,’ an older girl told us. ‘I can tell the new ones that I was really miserable and lonely too before I came here but now I can get involved in everything and have loads of friends.’

The school is mindful of the difficulties for overseas parents and has a senior member of staff with special responsibilities for working on smooth, helpful communication with them. In addition to the regular newsletter and updates, she has set up a WhatsApp group for them. Parents appreciate the school’s efforts here.

The school has its own caterers and, like other school employees, many have been part of the school community for a long time – 30 years plus is not uncommon. The kitchen staff know the children and are quick to pick up if someone is not eating enough or overeating. The head chef, whose experience includes a number of the posher Welsh hotels, devises menus in collaboration with pupils.

Behaviour management is very much on an individual basis with every effort made to talk through actions that are unhelpful to others or the community. That said, there are clear sanctions for alcohol and drug use and the school does do random drugs tests.

Pupils and parents

Boys outnumber girls though at the lower end of the school the balance is more or less 50/50 so things may become more equal as time goes on. The girls we met were determined and gritty. Staff say girls tend to find it easier to work out ways to overcome dyslexia problems than boys do. The girls are outdoor enthusiasts – though more inclined to don walking boots than riding boots and certainly not worried that they are a hundred miles away from the nearest Harvey Nichols.

The sixth formers we met would have been very impressive in any context and given the challenges some of them have overcome we thought they were exceptional young people. As well as overall enthusiasm for the school, one message came across from everyone – ‘It is okay to ask for help.’ A past pupil to whom we spoke described going to university and being astonished that other students were reluctant to ever ask tutors anything, being almost frightened to articulate a problem. The result of the St David’s training means that when the students move on, they know how to make progress through accessing support when they need it.

A pupil told us, ‘I want to get out of bed every morning now so I can get to school early.’ Parents told us that they and their children felt comfortable and at ease in an environment that was not all about showing off academic accolades. Everyone seems to be accepted as part of the school family; ‘I don’t have to try to be someone else at St David’s,’ one boy said to us.

We met parents who have moved from other parts of the country to be able to send their children to St David’s as day pupils. One parent movingly told us, ‘Our child had been broken by the state system. St David’s has put him back together again.’

Money matters

Fees are mid-range for a boarding school. Weekly individual or small group SEN tuition is charged in addition. Discounts of 10 per cent for siblings, children of clergy, services personnel and former pupils. There is a small number of scholarships and bursaries and some pupils come with local authority support.

The last word

This is a school that parents still seem to stumble upon and those that are lucky enough to do so are often both thrilled and relieved. St David’s manages to combine many of the attractive features of independent education – highly motivated pupils, outstanding staff, an exceptional outdoor education programme, fabulous site, historic buildings – with quite exceptional learning support. Glossy and socially sophisticated it is not, but its holistic expertise deserves to be much more widely known. Founder John Mayor said that his school should be a place where every child would have the ‘freedom to flourish’; it continues to be that place today.

Special Education Needs

We take great pride in our whole school approach to dyslexia and related difficulties so all our classroom teachers receive extra training and qualifications beyond the usual BEd/PGCE. Indeed, we have over 50 years experience, and much of the research that has underpinned modern understanding of dyslexia was carried out at St David's, in collaboration with Bangor and Chester Universities. In addition, our team of 20 specialist staff provide one to one and small group support in the areas that might be holding a student back from doing their best. Our emphasis is on using multi-sensory teaching and communication strategies to help a pupil reach their full potential. We are a relatively small secondary school with equally small classes and the friendly relationship between staff and pupils is just one of the factors that leads to success. In fact, we think these aspects are really just the very best teaching practice and we have pupils every year who are aiming for 3 "A/A*" grades at A-level. Work in the classroom is supported by what we believe is the most extensive sporting, outdoor pursuits and extra-curricular programme in the UK (for instance there were 16 major expeditions last year alone). Fitness is important in its own right but it also aids concentration and team activities provide scope for learning important leadership and social skills. Having others depend on your skills and enthusiasms can be a real eye-opener to some, and our whole ethos is geared to raising your self-esteem... which is so important if your talents are to be uncovered and nurtured into full bloom.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia Y
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
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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