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Long and distinguished association with seafaring and the navy sets the tone, although a conscious evolution – ‘removal of the anchors,’ in head’s words – over the past 30 years has loosened some of the practical strictures and focused on applying the qualities and values of service life to 21st century education...

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What the school says...

Set in 200 acres of stunning Suffolk countryside overlooking the River Stour, the Royal Hospital School is a thriving HMC boarding and day school for 11 to 18 year old girls and boys providing an excellent values-driven all round education. During their time at the School, pupils are encouraged to enjoy the adventure of learning and to develop a lifelong appetite for knowledge. There is the opportunity to pursue a huge range of interests and activities and everyone is encouraged to try something different, discover new passions and develop new skills. The Schools Combined Cadet Force (CCF) is the tenth largest in the country and more than three hundred pupils participate in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. Team and Fleet sailing is a particular strength and the School is a RYA accredited Sailing Academy. Elite sailors can get on the water up to four times a week and regularly compete at international level.

As a result of the Royal Hospital Schools unique seafaring heritage, up to 100% of fees for children of seafaring families (current or retired Royal Navy, Royal Marines, merchant navy and some other sea-going careers) may be cover through generous means-tested bursaries. Sailing Scholarships are also available providing Elite Training Programmes and Olympic Pathway opportunities.
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What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Boys taking German at an English Independent School (GCE A level)
  • Best performance by Boys taking Design & Technology Product Design at an English Independent School (GCSE)

Sports

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

Rowing

Fencing

Shooting

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since January 2016, Simon Lockyer, previously second master at Portsmouth Grammar and housemaster and head of department at Wellington College. Educated at Blundell’s School, Devon. Married with three children, all in the school. Affable and pin-sharp, parents describe him as ‘approachable, positive, ambitious for the school – and no-nonsense’. He chose headship at RHS for its ‘huge potential and the socio-economic diversity of the pupils, which is its strength’.

Academic matters

Head aims high academically and results are taking off. ‘We’re a comprehensive school in intake,’ says head, who has brought greater academic focus to the curriculum and more subject choice. Pupils take nine or 10 GCSEs and in 2018 37 per cent were A*-A/9-7. Year 13s take three or four A levels as well as an academic elective subject or EPQ and, in 2018, a third were graded A* or A. Creditable, given the wide ability range – 20 per cent of pupils on roll have some requirement for in-class learning support or receive regular lessons provided by the learning support department and about one in eight pupils have EAL.

Plenty of scope for differentiation, thanks to the ‘dynamic modern learning environment’ – iPads all over and recognition as a beacon school for safe and effective digital learning. ‘Impressive use of technology in lessons,’ say parents. Real-world skills – including interviews, aptitude tests, CVs, personal statements, careers advice, mentoring, thinking skills, teamwork, computing and digital literacy, well-being and coping with stressful situations – are embedded throughout the curriculum from year 7. Newly introduced sixth form options are enterprise and entrepreneurship BTec (two A levels), sport BTec and sociology A level. ‘Parents tell me they don’t want a privileged and entitled education,’ explains head. ‘They want schooling that will prepare their children for the world.’

Games, options, the arts

‘The difference the school can make to children’s characters – that’s the real “value added”,’ says head and certainly the array of co-curriculars is impressive.

Not an elite sporting school, but an emphasis on variety. Three games afternoons a week with all the seasonal team sports represented and chances to taste 70-plus activities, from rock climbing on the school’s own impressive indoor wall to squash, shooting and kickboxing. Gigantic sports hall (or gymnasium), indoor pool in another vast building and outdoors 96 acres of playing fields. Not to mention the Graham Napier Cricket Academy for girls and boys, golf course and bowls club. With such facilities on-site there’s little need to travel, although several annual sports tours.

Unsurprisingly, given the school’s heritage and Alton Water only a stone’s skip away, sailing is a real strength and produces some elite performers. All year 7s receive a full week's instruction – ‘we want to find ability among those who are not “dynastic” sailors,’ says school’s own director of sailing and water sports who teaches on RHS’s fleet of 60 dinghies (from beginners' to Olympic classes), four Cornish shrimpers and four powerboats. Many achieve RYA qualifications, enter national and inter-school sailing competitions and have a recreation for life. Sailing scholars have individual tuition from RYA advanced instructors. Sailing trips to the Med and further afield every year.

Everyone recommended to take art, DT or music GCSE. Expansive art and design department with superb atrium exhibition space. Art and DT carousel offers a taster. Craft and design skills are encouraged and pupils work on projects outside class time. ‘If you have a talent they push you to keep it on even if it’s not one of your exam subjects,’ said a pupil. Impressive investment in and commitment to music – John Rutter opened the superb music school and is patron of the school’s annual concert programme, performed by home-grown and professional performers. Recitals hall has spectacular acoustics and two grand pianos, with 10 others in practice rooms, all Bechsteins and Faziolis. Aspiring organists perform on one of four organs, including a grade 2 organ that is a magnet for international performers. In fact, half of pupils learn one or more of a staggering variety of musical instruments (explains our bagpipe-playing guide).

Music compulsory for years 7 to 9 and a popular choice at GCSE and A level. Recording studio and Mac suite for music tech A level and also a club. Busy choir – charity gala concert, two choir concerts, scholars’ concerts, as well as a tour to New York and annual performance at St Paul’s Cathedral. Regular concerts and performances, besides chapel, for orchestras, ensembles and bands. A 60-strong marching band accompanies pupils’ regular military-style parades, known as Divisions (‘Divis’ colloquially), which is open to all over grade 3 with drummers taught from scratch, including band marching skills – ‘not the same as marching with the squad’. Band and guard tour every three years – previously to Canada; China and Dubai next. Members receive free music tuition in return for learning this tricky skill.

Clubs 4.15-6pm – ‘technically you could do a different activity every lunchtime and every evening of the week’. Model UN, scuba diving club, Tycoon in Schools, yoga, golf and robotics club – choices for all tastes. DofE starts in year 9 and is compulsory for all. Overseas trips, excursions and tours are put on by academic departments, CCF and co-curricular activities. Four sections of CCF – royal marines, royal navy, army, royal air force – compulsory in years 9 and 10, but many continue. ‘It’s not a recruitment tool,’ said a pupil, ‘there’s no pressure’. Parents endorse – ‘Whilst our son may not go on to a career in the military, the skills he is learning through this are hugely important and transferable to the modern world.’

Divisions remain a cornerstone of RHS tradition and take place on special occasions, such as Remembrance Day, harvest festival, speech day etc. All pupils wear genuine naval uniform, with band and guards marked out by specific gaitors, and ‘chiefs’ (heads of school and prefects) with their own variations. Says head, ‘It might look a little peculiar to watch at first, but no more than the Eton wall game, for example – Divisions are our equivalent. There is nothing more remarkable than watching 750 pupils, without a single member of staff, on the parade ground and taking an enormous pride in it.’ Parents agree – ‘Whether you are from a naval background or not, I believe most families embrace the school’s heritage and Divisions.’

Boarders

‘Our house is our home,’ said a boarder. Houses remain the hub of RHS life for all pupils, whether day or boarding. The house structure now better reflects family life, with a junior house for both girls and boys – boarding and day together – and two houses dedicated to ad hoc boarders. Sixth form house Nelson is very much a stepping stone to university – ‘we gradually remove the scaffolding,’ says housemaster. Programme of house refurbishment has seen the creation of open-plan sitting areas, snug TV rooms and spacious kitchens, at the same time retaining 1930s features – lighter and brighter.

Day starts and ends in the house with an early ‘roll call’, then a return at ‘stand-easy’ (break) for toast and fruit and to pick up books for next lessons from named pigeonholes. After ‘mess’ – sittings in the dining hall in house groups – another roll call in-house. Prep for the youngest pupils is done in after-school sessions in the main school buildings, but houses have work rooms for extra study. Free time has to wait until after ‘stations’ (house duties). ‘You can slip into the routine quite easily – there’s something quite comfortable about it,’ said our guide.

Sixth form house now all single rooms, uni-style, with a shower ‘cubi’ between two, and kitchenettes and laundry areas for pupils to do their own ‘civvie’ washing in preparation for studenthood. Take pride in your appearance and look after your belongings to stay on the right side of housemaster, who conducts a routine room inspection – best floor rewarded with Krispy Kreme.

Twenty-six-bed medical centre has a full-time nurse and there's a school doctor and dentist (NHS), plus a counsellor who can be seen confidentially.

Background and atmosphere

Long and distinguished association with seafaring and the Navy sets the tone, although a conscious evolution – ‘removal of the anchors,’ in head’s words – over the past 30 years has loosened some of the practical strictures and focused on applying the qualities and values of service life to 21st century education. The Royal Hospital School was founded in the early 18th century at Greenwich in what is now the National Maritime Museum, with a remit to educate boys in mathematics and navigation. A bequest from the estate at Holbrook and a generous endowment prompted a move in the 1930s to the current enviable location on the banks of the river Stour and overlooking Alton Water, and bespoke school buildings, replicating the Christopher Wren architecture of the school’s original home.

RHS turned co-educational in 1991 and the first day pupils were admitted in 2006. Today 40+ per cent of pupils are girls and full and weekly boarders make up around 50 per cent to the total roll. School’s parent charity, Greenwich Hospital, has invested an impressive £18 million in the site over the last decade but ‘you would never build a school on this scale nowadays,’ points out head. ‘What we’ve got is really fit for purpose and is built to last. I’m not interested in vanity projects – you can spend a lot of money on design plans and consultations and I want every pound to go into creating the greatest impact on educational resources.’ Indeed, there’s no lack of ideas for the school and, thanks to the recently established development office, the funds to realise them are beginning to be forthcoming. ‘We are in a fortunate position as so many alumni had a free education and feel really invested in the school,’ beams head.

An ambitious programme of refurbishment is well underway, with most houses upgraded, along with the gym, dining hall and many classrooms. Next project is to create a learning hub in the centre of the school – library, careers, oracy and independent working space. Links are being forged beyond the campus, with business, industry and local universities, as well as maintaining the relationship with Greenwich Hospital and the navy. Says head, ‘The school was built on a peninsular to be self-sufficient, even with its own water supply, but I am keen on "bursting the bubble" – we don’t exist alone.’

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Nothing but praise for pastoral care from parents – ‘school quickly understands students’ strengths and areas for improvement and offers them opportunities to challenge and grow,’ exuded one. Not a huge school – 750 in total – and house system creates worlds-within-worlds, where students say they feel safe and secure and well known as individuals by the adults responsible for their care. ‘No one-size-fits-all approach,’ noted a parent. Particular understanding of the challenges facing children of Forces families – ‘there was a lot of moving about before I joined RHS,’ said one such pupil, ‘but now I have stability in my life and I feel the school deals with the difficulties really well’.

Saturday school, afternoon sports fixtures, clubs, Sunday Divis and chapel make for a busy life, but staff are on hand to help pupils to learn the skills of time management and to make sure day boys and girls don’t miss out. Most boarding schools run on copious quantities of food and the RHS mess hall dishes up a daily full breakfast including granola and fruit compote, lunch with a ‘theatre bar’ special of the day (eg Szechuan chicken chow mein, potato or pasta dish), mess at 6pm serves up still more, followed by toast and supper snacks available in-house. Anyone still peckish can raid his or her tuck box.

Older students are encouraged to take responsibility. Six heads of school – two heads and four deputies – and around 28 prefects have duties in the mess hall, at Divis and around the school, and the mantle of role models. Sixth formers have the freedom to go out at weekends but often prefer to see what’s going on at the in-house bar, which allows the odd drink and puts on themed party nights. All are aware of the school’s position on banned substances (expulsion) and relationships (courting allowed outside lessons only). ‘There is a clear line on bad behaviour and a consistent approach,’ reported a parent, ‘which is refreshing after our experience previously where it varied greatly.’

Pupils and parents

Growing local day population mixes with boarders from across the UK and the world (13 per cent of the roll from currently 21 countries). Still a high number of Forces families (10 per cent), with naval families supported by parent charity Greenwich Hospital. London is an hour away and school helps with lifts to the station, airport etc, and provides a ‘blue box’ repository for travelling pupils’ belongings over the holidays. Most staff are East Anglian; 85 per cent live on site.

Head encourages parents to ‘throw themselves in’ as much as their children – a recent Remembrance Day service attracted 2,500 people and had to be run twice to accommodate them all – and houses host popular family social events. Parents address staff by first names and vice versa ‘which gives a warm community feel and sense of mutual respect to the relationship we have with the school,’ said a parent. ‘A surprising informality, given the military connections…’ Easy access to teaching and house staff either in person or via email and a useful parent forum sounding board gives feedback on recent or suggested initiatives. Social media is a constant link for parents further afield.

Entrance

The majority enter at 11 via entrance tests in maths, English and verbal reasoning. At 13+ another 30-40, respectable common entrance performance needed, and there is another influx in the sixth form. A reference from the current school is essential and all prospective pupils have an interview with the head.

Exit

Housemaster jokes ‘in the past the RHS alumni organisation was called the royal navy’ – over two centuries, 20,000 boys and girls have left the school and joined up but these days about 10 per cent of pupils head to Dartmouth or Sandhurst. ‘The rest go on to a huge range of careers and individual pathways – it’s a real cauldron-like fire spitting off in all different directions,’ says head. Five in 2018 to Oxbridge and heavyweight universities eg Edinburgh, Durham, Bristol well represented. Significant numbers take a gap year, often for travel and following courses abroad.

Money matters

Complex range of awards and bursaries. School offers a limited number of academic, sporting, drama, music, art and sailing scholarships each year. The value of the award is at the discretion of the headmaster and can be topped up with a means-tested bursary. From five to 25 per cent discount for siblings. Forces families claiming the continuity of education allowance (CEA) are also eligible for discounted fees. Greenwich Hospital bursaries and discounts for the children of seafarers also available, depending on family income.

Our view

A school unlike any other – modern interpretation of naval heritage suits a diverse intake of day pupils and boarders. Super sailing and music. Pastoral care paramount.

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

The Curriculum Support department aims to support and develop individuals learning skills so that they can achieve their full potential. One-to-one lessons are provided for pupils with dyslexia or similar learning difficulties and these are tailored to the specific needs of the individual. This could include support with study skills, revision techniques and improving literacy.

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