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Day to day, the atmosphere is serene. Students are courteous and smiley as they make their unhurried way around the main college buildings, which have the feel of a cathedral crossed with a military academy – austere and magnificent in equal parts and requiring near-constant maintenance. The latest refurbishment focused on the science labs and used money raised on the occasion of the college’s 450th anniversary. Rugby and cricket coaching by professionals but parents would welcome a...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2019, Matthew Mostyn, previously second master at Stonyhurst. Educated at Downside; degree from Exeter. Taught French and German at Cheltenham College, then 14 years at Shrewsbury, including 10 as a housemaster. He is a literary translator, amateur organist and pianist and has directed numerous plays as well as being an officer in the CCF. Sporty, too – a level 4 rowing coach, he has also coached rugby and still enjoys skiing, country sports, dog walking and, in quieter moments, a good book and The Times crossword. A practising Catholic (in common with 35 per cent of his students). ‘We’re very proudly a Catholic school,’ he says, ‘it’s why St Ed’s exists. But Catholicism is something we propose rather than impose. We are saying: here it is, this is what we believe, this is a set of values and a way of thinking that can bring you great joy in life – if you want to find out more about it, we’re here to help, but we’re not going to force it. It’s a gentle Catholicism.’

Parents describe him as ‘warm and a good communicator’ and say he has ‘fitted seamlessly into the school’s ethos’. Many agree that his fresh eye was much-needed – he has already drawn up a wish list of improvements and appointed development groups to make them happen, starting with sport and tailing off into ‘wait and see’.

Prep school head since 2013, Steven Cartwright. Joined the school in 2009 as deputy head and became acting head before taking up the post of headmaster. Married with two daughters, his interests include squash, climbing and running. ‘My wife and I got married here,’ he says. ‘This place is close to my heart.’ The feeling is clearly mutual – ‘Mr Cartwright is so nice,’ say pupils, and the parents ‘adore him’, according to one, because he ‘hits the right note between wit and seriousness and he’s often at the school gates chatting to children and parents’. This is his first experience of independent school and he still marvels that ‘the children here are greatly advantaged – it’s a small school feel but with all the facilities that even the most discerning parent could wish for.'

Entrance

Entrance to nursery from the term following a child’s third birthday, subject to observational assessment. Places usually found for siblings. One-form entry with 24 places available (teacher and teaching assistant in each nursery, reception class and forms 1 and 2). Half or whole-day sessions with wraparound care from 7.30am until 6pm. Eighty per cent of nursery pupils go right through the school. Further admissions at age 4 by interview and informal assessment; taster morning for joiners in year 3 and up (two forms per year group, max 20 in each) and entry on the basis of tests in maths, English and non-verbal reasoning. Children joining at year 4 and earlier have assured entry to the college at year 7.

Around 100 places in year 7 – half filled by pupils from own prep school. For the rest there’s an interview with parents and an entry assessment in January – ‘we are selective but not to the extent of the academic hothouses in London,’ says the head. Reports and references from previous schools also carry weight. There is a small additional intake at 13+. Sixth form joiners need a minimum of five 9-6 grades at GCSE, with at least grade 6s in the subjects they wish to study at A level (7 for maths, 8 for further maths and two 6s in combined science to do any single science). They also have an interview and need reports and references from their current school.

Exit

Ninety per cent of year 6 transfer to the college, the rest mainly heading either to other independent schools or, in a few cases, to the state system. Up to a quarter leave after year 11 for state sixth form colleges; occasionally other independents. Most choose the university route – recent destinations include King’s College London, Queen’s University Belfast, Bristol, Manchester and Nottingham. Students have also headed to courses at the City University of Hong Kong and to degree apprenticeships at investment banks.

Latest results

In 2023, 50 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 27 per cent A*/A at A level (59 per cent A*-B). In 2019 (the last pre-pandemic results), 39 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 35 per cent A*/A at A level.

Teaching and learning

‘We are emphatically a school that is about developing the whole person, and that takes a lot more than just an academic education,’ says the head. That said, top grades consistently account for at least a third of results in the college. College (senior school) year groups are named after stages of learning in Latin and Greek: Elements, Rudiments, Grammar, Syntax, Poetry, Rhetoric I and Rhetoric II. Years 7 and 8 (Elements and Rudiments) study combined science; separate sciences are offered from year 9. Choice of French, German or Spanish in year 7, plus another language in years 8 and 9 – at least one must be continued to GCSE. Latin is also offered. RE is compulsory up to and including GCSE, with other options chosen in year 9. Some GCSE courses start before the end of the year to get a jump on year 10. Sixth formers (known at St Ed’s as Rhetoric I and II) have a weekly RE lesson and A Level theology is popular.

Classes of 10 or fewer in sixth form; 24 below that. Parents approve of the attention paid to trends in students’ grades and the intervention offered when expectations are not met, although, says one, ‘students could perhaps be pushed harder academically’. Widespread appreciation of the teaching quality – ‘It has been very high in the subjects our children have selected,’ nods a satisfied parent. A broad range of abilities catered for and pupils with SEN requirements are well supported, both in class, in the new dedicated learning support room and at homework club, which takes place four afternoons a week in the college. EAL available and IGCSE second language English is offered to overseas students where appropriate. Careers department works mainly with younger seniors – Poetry (year 11) have one-to-one careers interviews and online testing to suggest suitable options. Dedicated sixth form staff stay with the cohort and help with UCAS management and there is a wide-ranging talks programme. ‘You can talk about your next steps anytime,’ says our Rhetoric guide. ‘Someone is always happy to give advice.’

Broad curriculum in the prep, French from nursery with Spanish and German added in year 4 and rotated through to year 6. Science lessons in the college labs (also fun learning CSI days and rocket design workshops). History and drama particularly popular according to show of hands in year 5, but ICT, games, art, science (and break-time!) are all close behind.

Pupils are excited by their learning and bursting to talk about it – a recent year 6 battlefields trip made an impression, so much so that the pupils shared their experience on TripAdvisor. High level of exuberance all round and an impressive knowledge of and enthusiasm for the school and its history (the recent 450th anniversary was a big celebration by all excitable accounts). Year 6s take on roles of responsibility (lots, including school council, house captains, chaplaincy) with pride and sashes, and speak seriously of the importance of bonding with the younger ones in the playground – ‘You have to give them as much kindness as you can.’

Learning support and SEN

A lot of individual support for SEN and ‘intervention groups are not really noticed by the other children,’ explains a parent. ‘So many children go out of the classroom to be supported or extended elsewhere that it looks and feels commonplace.’

The arts and extracurricular

Drums and bongos filled the music room at the college when we visited – a big space used by only 12 at a time as lessons are timetabled against food tech or DT. Several practice rooms and a recording studio make up a three-floor music suite – invaluable for GCSE and A level students. Good take-up of instrumental lessons, including the organ (morning prayers accompanied by a sixth former), which are boosted by whole-class introductions in years 8 and 9. Music has had an overhaul since the arrival of a new director – ‘when I joined it was all analysis of Chopin and things like that but now we learn bass guitar and drums,’ beams our guide. A few attend junior programmes at London conservatoires. Annual school concert featuring numerous ensembles including a jazz band. Much-loved Schola Cantorum (80-strong) has led the mass at Westminster Cathedral and has sung in Douai, the school’s birthplace in France, as well as at Canterbury Cathedral and the school’s own masses. Chapel choir sings on Sundays in term time and the chamber choir performs at weddings, funerals and balls. In the prep, piano, guitar and ukulele are played widely (one of our talented guides reeled off her five instrumental lessons a week, including singing and recorder). They're a musical bunch and choristers sing in chapel, too.

College puts on an annual drama production at Spotlight, a professional theatre at Broxbourne Civic Hall – Hairspray, Les Misérables, School of Rock and Me and My Girl recently – auditions open to all, for roles on stage and behind the scenes. LAMDA lessons popular. Specialist drama teacher in the prep (who also presides over forest school) co-ordinates regular productions with a cast of all ages – Madagascar, Aladdin and Oliver! were well received. New musical theatre programme, incorporating ballet, tap and street dance. Weekly dance lesson in nursery and many of the littlest have peripatetic music lessons too. Performing arts colours awarded to the most dramatic in year 6.

Senior art impressive and a few go on to art school. In the prep, there’s a weekly art lesson with specialist teacher – clay faces and large animal papier-mâché models loomed over the art tables when we visited, but also evidence of creative drawing, painting, print-making, clay modelling (kiln in the college) and printing. Prep has recently been awarded Arts Mark Gold status.

Across the school, the last period of every school day is given over to co-curricular activities – ‘It is part of the curriculum,’ explains headmaster. In the prep, Aboriginal art and computing as well as the usual crafts and cooking; in the college, CCF (army and RAF), DofE (bronze, silver and gold with expeditions on foot and by canoe – college is a centre) and Model United Nations, as well as activities associated with academic learning, such as sharing reviews of books with a scientific slant, and rehearsals for a small annual play (latest, One Man, Two Guvnors). Prep has annual house competitions for music, drama and dance, judged by an external expert (houses named after important figures in the school’s history, throughout the prep and college). Plenty of visiting speakers, even in EYFS, which welcomes parents in a range of professions to explain their roles. Prep’s Eco-Schools Green Flag award recognises school garden and pupil-led campaigns to support and raise environmental awareness (staff now bring in their own mugs rather than disposables and pupils collect the recycling).

Many thousands are raised annually for good causes (often chosen by the students themselves) through the usual sponsored events. Strong links with the local and church community – school hosts Lea Valley Deanery Inset for teaching staff and art workshops and higher achievers’ STEM day for pupils (‘It’s about helping those schools that are not as advantaged as our own,’ says prep head). Recent ‘soup day’ saw usual school lunches donated to charity. ‘We need to burst the Edmundian bubble every now and again,’ says head.

Trips throughout the year – highlights are the year 6 outward bound residential in France (‘I personally have a fear of heights so I was very scared but I overcame it,’ confides one of our guides) and year 5 week at PGL (‘short for parents get lost’ we’re told), as well as curriculum-inspired visits in college. Annual whole-school activities week at the end of the academic year offers days out and trips abroad for all but sixth formers (who work on their UCAS instead).

Sport

Butler Hall is the PE venue for the whole school, the sports hall floor a network of lines marking courts for a multitude of games. A rotating menu of options for seniors including water polo, boxing, cardio, fencing and golf. ‘I’m crazy about badminton so I’m really pleased the school introduced me to it,’ enthuses our college guide. Indoor pool is used regularly by all, even nursery. Outdoors, acres of pitches for the usual round of hockey and netball for girls, rugby and football for boys and athletics and tennis for all in the summer. The recent appointment of a new director of sport, a former premiership rugby player, has seen a re-structure of the sports provision and the benefits are there for all to see. Sport is taken seriously at St Ed's, from taster sessions for all ages and abilities right to elite programmes for the most talented. 'Play more; play better' is the motto.

Prep pupils have a sports programme that includes cross country, basketball, girls’ football and boys’ hockey. There are inter-house sports competitions as well as matches against other schools – ‘We win a lot,’ says our sporty year 6 guide, but points out that ‘if you put your full effort into the sport you’ll be in the team’. True to the ethos, both the elite and the simply enthusiastic are ‘applauded and encouraged equally’, approve parents, because ‘at St Ed’s it’s cool to be kind and cheer on your peers’.

Boarders

‘A day school with boarding attached,’ says the head. Full boarders are mainly international students (over 20 countries represented) but flexi boarding is becoming more popular and the head expects weekly boarding to grow. One house for boys and another for girls on the upper floors of the main college building (with the best views across countryside as far as Stansted Airport to the East and even a glimpse of Canary Wharf on a clear day). Single rooms for sixth formers and twins for the rest. Modern showers and a small, newly appointed communal kitchen. Staff live alongside, with a matron on site. In the week, boarders have a snack before evening prayers, supper and study. No Saturday lessons, just sport and weekend activities (shopping, cinema, theatre).

Ethos and heritage

The oldest Catholic school in England, the college counts 20 canonised saints and 133 martyrs among its alumni. Founded in Douai, France by Cardinal William Allen in 1568 as a seminary and Catholic school for boys, it relocated 200 years later in the midst of the French Revolution to the village of Old Hall Green, just outside Ware in the Hertfordshire countryside. In 1874, the junior boys were hived off into Saint Hugh’s Preparatory School (now St Edmund’s Prep) in a house built by Pugin. Girls from the adjacent Poles Convent were allowed to join the sixth form in 1975 and the college became fully co-ed in 1986.

The idyllic 400 acres and imposing buildings are imbued with this heritage, most notably the jaw-dropping Pugin-designed main chapel, worthy of any capital city, which is used for weddings, funerals and baptisms, as well as for school services. It’s flanked by the smaller shrine chapel, built to hold a relic of St Edmund that was presented by Cardinal Wiseman in 1863. Overseen by the Archdiocese of Westminster, there is no doubt that this is a Catholic school – iconography is prominent and the ethos informs everything that is said or done within its boundaries. All students (Catholic or otherwise) are expected to attend mass regularly. Prep pupils use the main chapel weekly but have their own too. Chaplaincy plays a significant role and meets every week to discuss all aspects of college life, in a similar vein to a school council (‘though more religious,’ interjects our guide). Prep and college community comes together on St Edmund’s Day in November)for a huge, off-timetable, feast day and the culmination is a 30-verse hymn which is sung in the run-up (whilst upper sixth formers prepare for interviews and exams instead).

Day to day, the atmosphere is serene. Students are courteous and smiley as they make their unhurried way around the main college buildings, which have the feel of a cathedral crossed with a military academy – austere and magnificent in equal parts and requiring near-constant maintenance. The latest refurbishment focused on the science labs and used money raised on the occasion of the college’s 450th anniversary. Also upgraded in recent years, the sports hall, fitness suite and indoor pool are well used by pupils of all ages. The library is functional and well equipped, music and art rooms are generous, and there is IT throughout, as well as ‘bring your own device’ scheme and lots of digital learning. Sixth formers (Rhetoricians) have a dedicated study area with computers and common room. Classroom blocks are arranged around a series of courtyards, with views through the windows of playing fields to the front and an astro at the back (used mainly for hockey), as well as three hard courts (for netball or tennis), an athletics track, cricket field and nets. A feature of the otherwise unfussy quads is the pretty Pinot Garden, named in remembrance of a much-loved college priest.

The original 19th century prep building which shares the campus is somewhat cosier, thanks to 1960s additions that have created larger classrooms with big windows. Prep children have their own assembly hall, which fits all of them, and a very appealing little chapel in daily use (‘You can just pop in for a quick prayer whenever you want,’ our guide informs us). Outside there is plenty of space to play, as well as an outdoor amphitheatre and wooded area, the ideal location for the forest school.

Notable alumni include William Scholl, the sandal designer, perfumiers James and Robert Floris and actor Ralph Richardson.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

‘We all know people who have led successful lives, but also people who have led good lives and changed the world for the better,’ says the head. ‘The secret to a happy life is to focus on other people.’ Parents say with one voice that pastoral care is the key strength: ‘The senior staff really live the values of the school.’ Pupils too feel the cushion of support – ‘There’s always someone there for you if you’re sad or not feeling well – that’s what’s nice about this school,’ a year 6 told us without prompting. In the college, the house system is the main source of pastoral care, and there’s also a school counsellor. In addition, year 7 pupils are mentored by sixth formers – ‘They love it,’ says the head. ‘We don’t have any more issues than anywhere else, but we take it seriously and offer advice to pupils on how to reduce stress levels and help yourself. We say it’s okay to speak up about it and ask for help if you need it. The staff in our on-site health centre tell the pupils they have been dealing with these issues since before they were born.’

Lunches are prepared by a contract catering team and are appreciated (superb ceiling in the college dining room must be a distraction from the food). On the menu is a main meal plus an alternative and a vegetarian option, with a daily pasta and salad bar. Cakes and crumbles to follow. Dietary requirements catered for on an individual basis. ‘I usually go for seconds,’ confides our guide – must be tasty. Breakfast and dinner too for boarders. Coffee shop for Sixth formers also serves hot snacks and lunch.

Parents are largely pleased with the swift action taken to deal with any disciplinary matters; one praised the close communication during a recent incident which was ‘reassuring to the family throughout a difficult period’. Head is firm that ‘anything that makes another person unhappy is unacceptable’. Sanctions include detentions, short- or long-term suspensions and ultimately expulsion (zero tolerance for bullying and drugs). ‘It’s a question of what action is right for the person and the community,’ the head explains. ‘Sometimes a new start is what’s required.’

Pupils and parents

Vast majority are day students who come from a 50-minute radius encompassing north London, Hertford, Hitchin, Stevenage, Bishop’s Stortford and Cambridge. Most use school buses that criss-cross the Herts and Essex countryside. A wide social diversity, thanks to the numerous excellent scholarships and bursaries, and cultural too – a significant chunk of the roll is made up of boarding international students, many from Spain and France, eastern Europe (particularly Bulgaria), Africa and Asia. Thirty-five per cent of pupils are from Catholic families, the rest of ‘all other faiths and none’.

Former students keep in touch. Edmundian Association organises social and fundraising occasions plus reunions in London and elsewhere. ‘There’s a lot of goodwill,’ says the head, who welcomes back alumni to give talks (alongside current parents) at the annual careers fair, as well as for advice and mentoring.

Money matters

Academic scholarships at 7+, 11+ and 13+, awarded on performance in the entrance exam. Music, art, sport and all-rounder scholarships also available, often in combination with academic awards. Total awards can be extremely generous. A few sixth form scholarships. Limited number of means-tested bursaries, covering up to full fees.

The last word

A charming school built on solid core values, which looks to be modernising with care and thought.

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

St Edmund’s College is an inclusive school and offers provision to support students with specific needs. There is an expectation that all students, irrespective of their needs, should be offered inclusive teaching and learning which will enable them to progress in school and beyond, to the best of their ability. High-quality teaching, with suitable differentiation, will meet the needs of the majority of our students. Some students will need support which is ‘additional to’ and ‘different from’ that which is provided for the majority of students: this is special educational provision. All students with special educational needs will be fully integrated into all mainstream lessons and all aspects of College life. All teachers at St Edmund’s College should see themselves as teachers of students with special educational needs, following good practice in this area. In-class support is provided by members of the department: the College does not offer support through withdrawal from other subject lessons. The College welcomes visiting practitioners from outside agencies, such as educational psychologists, speech, language and communication therapists, sensory impairment specialists and counsellors. Following consultation with parents, support from these and other external practitioners can be arranged for students according to individual need. In order to meet the identified need of each pupil at the College, the following support is available: - Support by class teachers through differentiated classroom strategies - In-class support from members of the learning support department - Study support (offering help with homework) as part of the enrichment-activities programme during co-curricular time - Voluntary lunchtime support for reading comprehension is offered for selected students - Study skills - Exam access arrangements Regular ‘study skills’ workshops for all students are arranged by the director of studies in conjunction with ‘Elevate Education’. This forms part of the on-going Personal, Social and Health Education programme which is delivered by form tutors.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
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
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
Hospital School
Mental health Y
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
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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