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‘I am surprised how many stay in,' said a parent. ‘We only live 10 minutes from the school but the children like to board as they have so much more fun.' About 60 per cent of the children are Catholic and ‘there is quite a lot of religion’, said a mother, ‘but the ethos is very inclusive and the children accept it as part of the school. It makes them think of other people and that there is more to life than who has the best mobile phone.' Huge investment in girls’ games which, until recently, were…

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What the school says...

Worth is now fully co-educational in all year groups. Derived from the Benedictine ethos on which the school was founded, Worth is a friendly place with the input from Worth Abbey providing unrivalled chaplaincy support and stability. The school is maintaining the momentum on its development plans with recent investment in an astro-turf pitch, two new science labs, refurbished accommodation for day boys and a new-build accommodation for one of the boarding houses. We offer a broad curriculum, where students can opt for the International Baccalaureate Diploma or A Levels. ...Read more

What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Boys taking History at an English Independent School (IBO Standard level component)
  • Best performance by Boys taking Computer Appreciation at an English Independent School (VRQ Level 2)

Curricula

International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

Sports

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Head master

Since September 2015, Stuart McPherson MA (40s). Educated at the University of Western Australia and took an MA in literature and religion at Newcastle. He had not planned to be a teacher but joined Sydney Grammar for a year, ended staying for 10 and did his teacher training on the job. He came over to the UK on a short term teacher exchange with Eton and spent 15 years there, where he taught English and coached rugby and cricket and was a housemaster for the final five years. He is married to Johneen, who is deputy head academic at St Mary’s Ascot, and they have four children. He says it might sound like a cliché but he spends any spare time reading and enjoys walking and camping – but definitely for no longer than 24 hours.

He has a strong Catholic faith and says the ‘key aims of the school are rooted within the Benedictine tradition – it’s about the formation of character and values and not just jumping through GCSE hoops. There is something special about the place; the ethos is tangible’. He is the third lay head and also, by coincidence, the third Australian head. ‘He is a good communicator,’ said a pupil, is willing to listen and is very approachable – 'he always has his door open in the morning and you can drop in’. ‘He looks over our personal statements and is not a scary figure and you see him a lot around the school’. ‘He hasn’t raced in and changed lots but he has improved the general ambition of the school – and the food is much better,' said a parent.

A lot has been going on behind the scenes – he has reorganised the senior leadership team and now has a team of nine, some new recruits and some from within the school, and in his second year, about 20 per cent of staff are new. He has appointed a deputy head (academic) and introduced a system of target minimum grades which, once set, are not allowed to go down, as well as peer reviews and lots of scrutiny. He says this gave teachers a shock to start with but he has encountered surprisingly little resistance, and teachers say that they feel listened to. He will walk into lessons unannounced and feels it is important to be seen to be interested, and there is a sense of co-operation between teaching staff and the senior management team. He is raising the profile of the school and has upped the marketing, and says that ‘while humility is important, it does not have to apply to the way we market the school’. ‘He is spreading the net a lot wider,' said a parent. ‘Previously the school used to rely on word of mouth’. ‘The school is much more efficient and there is more of a buzz about the place,’ said another.

Academic matters

The school has a fairly broad intake reflected in the results with 37 per cent A*/A at A level (65 per cent A*/B), an IB average of 36 points and 51 per cent A*/A at GCSE in 2016. The headmaster insists that the school is not becoming more selective, but as more clever children apply there are more to choose from. About 25 per cent do the IB, which is popular with the Europeans. The school does not push it but would like to see more British children take the IB: ‘The rigour is equal to A levels but with different demands,’ says the headmaster. Most teachers teach both. Good range of subjects offered at IB including German and Italian at A1, psychology, philosophy, music, theatre and visual arts. Offers 24 subjects at A level, including business studies, psychology, music and photography. Those doing A levels also take the EPQ (Extended Project Qualification). There can be as few as three pupils in the IB classes and about 19 in the average English GCSE class.

All juniors learn Latin, which can be dropped in year 9, all year 9 pupils have lessons in Christian living, and all have to take an RS GCSE. French, Spanish and German offered as part of the curriculum and Italian, Polish, Russian and Mandarin may be available via private tuition, but depends on the availability of a tutor. Native or near native speakers of French and Spanish can take the GCSE at end of year 10.

Plenty to keep the more academic on their toes with a range of academic societies including medical, philosophy and debating as well as challenge workshops and lectures. Careers advice much improved but still a ‘work in progress’. Well stocked careers library and useful ‘how to apply to university’ guide and annual careers fair. Old Worthians very helpful with work experience and shadowing and offer careers lectures and talks. Year 13 pupils offered a course in interview technique.

Library with a large study area and IT suite is open seven days a week and before and after school. Librarian and assistant on hand to help with research skills. Learning support provided by a small team of specialist teachers, mainly for mild difficulties and study skills, and taught either in small groups or one-to-one including in the sixth form if needed. EAL provision for about 40 pupils either in group or individual lessons, some only for technical language. Intensive tuition sometimes a condition of entry. EAL pupils also taught British traditions, life and culture. All those without a recognised English qualification have to take IELTS exam required for entry to British universities. Pre-IB course available for overseas students not ready for the full diploma.

Games, options, the arts

Sport compulsory in lower years with most continuing into sixth form – sixth formers have to do four hours exercise a week as well as activities. Lots of new talent among the sports staff including new directors of sport for both girls’ and boys’ games and many of the coaches have played at professional level including the head of cricket who was a first class player. Huge investment in girls’ games which, until recently, were considered the poor relation - hockey now coached by a women’s premier league player (who also teaches biology) and girls often train with the East Grinstead hockey club. Rugby still the major winter sport for the boys and school fields 12 teams, which means keen players of varying talents can play in matches. Boys' hockey has also been introduced. Huge range of facilities including squash courts, a golf course, floodlit Astro, two fitness suites, a couple of gyms and a fencing sale but no swimming pool – keen swimmers train at the local sports centre. The school still basking in the glory of Tom Mitchell’s silver medal at Rio as captain of the GB rugby 7s.

Very busy music department based in the performing arts centre with a recital room, teaching room and practice rooms and a suite of Mac computers - about half learn an instrument or have singing lessons and the abbey choir performs at Thursday worship and Sunday mass. ‘There is always something musical going on,’ said a pupil – regular instrumental and choral concerts and the very noisy and keenly contested annual house music competition as well as Battle for the Bands and Worth Unplugged. Students encouraged to form their own groups and soundproof rock room is available for band practice. Two former pupils currently reading music at Oxford, one with an organ scholarship and another, who is in the Sistine Chapel choir, arranged for the Worth choir to sing alongside them at a papal mass.

Lively drama in superbly equipped theatre and other venues around the school. Every year group has the opportunity to be part of a play, either acting or behind the scenes, and pupils can learn the technical aspects from the full-time theatre technician as well as costumes and make-up as well. One pupil has won a place at the National Youth Theatre.

New art school opened in 2016 – spread over two floors with junior and senior art rooms, photography studios and dark room, ICT and research facilities and a stunning gallery and light-filled exhibition space with some pretty impressive artwork on show – drawing a particular strength as well as sculpture and large scale installations. Open door policy so students can come in whenever they want. All year 9s have to have a go at DT and photography and a new DT centre is due to open in 2017.

Huge array of afternoon and evening activities, ranging from the usual cooking, drama and sport to Minecraft and code breaking, scuba diving, pedal cart design and street and modern dance. Polo offered at a local club and riding, as part of the equestrian club, at a nearby yard, where you can also keep your own horse. About 10 pupils per year take part Model United Nations and Young Enterprise. The Wednesday community service programme can be linked to the CAS element of the IB and to the D of E – about 30 achieve gold each year. ‘The new headmaster has encouraged more uptake in activities so children have much less time for hanging around,’ said a parent.

Boarders

About 55 per cent of pupils are boarders. They are allowed home most Saturday nights, but about half the boarders are in most weekends. ‘I am surprised how many stay in,' said a parent. ‘We only live 10 minutes from the school but the children like to board as they have so much more fun.' Flexi-boarding an option for boys in the first two years only; girls board from year 9 upwards. Five boarding houses with space for 60 boarders each - all have their own character and each is a home from home within the school. Many of the houseparents have young children which adds to the family atmosphere. The younger pupils share rooms but most sixth formers have their own study bedrooms and the lucky ones have ensuite bathrooms. Increasing number of girl boarders: they are moving to a larger house in September 2017 where everyone in years 11-13 will have their own room with ensuite bathroom, whilst the younger ones share. The upper sixth have traditionally had their own house, but from September 2017 they will stay in the same mixed age house all the way through.

Cinema and theatre trips as well as in-house socials and film nights held on Saturday evenings and an outing offered every Sunday, anything from paintballing, bowling or a shopping trip to a visit to the Tower of London, and there is supervised access to the school sporting facilities and fitness suite.

Background and atmosphere

The school was founded in the 1930s when Downside Abbey bought the Paddockhurst estate from Lord Cowdray and founded Worth Abbey and an adjoining prep school. Worth broke away from Downside in 1959 and by the mid-1960s the prep school had morphed into a senior school. The first day pupils arrived in the 1990s and the first girls were admitted into the sixth form in 2008 with the school becoming co-ed throughout in 2012. Although the Abbey still owns the buildings, the school is now a separate charity with an independent board of governors and a lay chairman. The original sandstone Victorian house, together with a mock Tudor model farm and whimsical clock tower, was built for Robert Whitehead, the developer of the first rocket-propelled torpedo. Set in 500 acres of farm and parkland and approached via ornate iron gates and a long sweeping drive, it must be one of the most impressive approaches to a school – and it is only seven miles from Gatwick Airport and 30 from London. It still has the feeling of a grand country house with wood panelling and a faint scent of beeswax polish.

Ten houses, some in the main house, some in the old farm buildings and the more modern ones dotted around the grounds. Five senior boarding houses (one of these for girls), four senior day houses (two of these for girls) and a co-ed junior house, all with a common room for each year group, a small kitchen, a computer room and library. There is no sixth form centre but the recently opened sixth form café seems to be providing a happy alternative. The remarkable flying saucer shaped chapel designed by Francis Pollen and opened in 1974, with new pews designed by the Thomas Heatherwick Studios, is central to the school: whole school worship held once a week and a mass every Sunday.

About 60 per cent of the children are Catholic and ‘there is quite a lot of religion’, said a mother, ‘but the ethos is very inclusive and the children accept it as part of the school. It makes them think of other people and that there is more to life than who has the best mobile phone.'

Younger pupils wear uniform, sixth form boys and girls a matching suit and academic staff wear gowns.

Very much a boarding school which takes day pupils, and despite there being more than 40 per cent day pupils, the headmaster is determined to keep it this way – the day pupils are involved in all aspects of school life and activities and have to attend Saturday morning lessons and play in matches if they are in a team. A network of school buses brings pupils from as far afield as Guildford and Tunbridge Wells.

Strong ethos of service and everyone expected to undertake some community work, culminating in Worth in the Community Day at the end of the summer term - anything from helping in primary schools, gardening for old people and work in local homeless hostel to drama productions and concerts in local care homes. Pupils encouraged to take on challenges and each year a small group attempts the cross-Channel swim; five have made it so far.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

‘Pupils are very well cared for here,’ says the headmaster. 'We don’t tolerate drugs, alcohol or bullying’, and the school runs a programme of lectures and seminars on the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Every house has a houseparent and deputy, there are house-based tutor groups which meet at least twice a week and every house has a chaplain. The school is small enough for everyone to know each other, and tutors and houseparents know pupils well and spot problems early on – it is hard to slip through the net here. Counsellor in three days a week - busy but manageable. The chaplaincy sits at the centre of the school and has a mixed team of monks, teachers and young Catholics known as the Forerunners, plus a part time Anglican chaplain – each house is allocated a chaplain. ‘The monks are very special; they are always around but quite low key,' said a pupil, 'and you can call in at the chaplaincy whenever you want – and they often have cake’. The chaplaincy promotes pilgrimage and service and organises trips to Lourdes, Camino de Santiago, and the Taize community in France during the holidays, and everyone is expected to go on a retreat. Annual trip to Worth Abbey’s charitable outpost in Peru which runs children’s homes in the Andes.

House and school prefects act as mentors to younger pupils. 'The seniors are so nice to the juniors and there is good mixing between year groups, especially through the societies,' said a parent. Everything you need to know can be found in the school magazine Worth Knowing; ‘I could not resist the pun,’ says the headmaster.

Pupils and parents

Most day children live within an hour of the school and boarders mostly from London and the home counties. About 20 per cent from abroad, mainly from Catholic countries of Europe and South America with a dozen or so from Asia. The school is improving integration between IB (mainly foreign) and A level students, who now have mixed tutorial groups. Quite a broad spectrum of parents but a large number of prosperous City workers, often with both parents commuting. Strong Catholic ethos, but families from many different religions who like the sense of community and responsibility to the wider world, and don’t feel religion is being imposed on their children.

Active friends' group gives parents a sense of belonging: ‘You can get as involved as you want – there are a lot of social events and the school is generous with its hospitality, which can lead to the development of a Worth Girth,’ said one parent. The school likes to involve the whole family via annual parents’ meetings and seminars and family mass as well as the parent portal. Although only about a third of the pupils are girls - 40 per cent in some years, and school plans to achieve this throughout - they more than make up for it in energy and ambition and ‘keep the boys on their toes,’ said a parent. We were pleased to hear that International Women’s Day is celebrated.

Former pupils tend to stay in touch and the strong sense of being part of a community carries on afterwards – a blend of confidence and humility without the public school swagger. Well-known old Worthians include actor Robert Bathurst, art dealer Philip Mould, comedian/actor Harry Enfield, England rugby player Nick Walshe, racing driver Henry Surtees, after whom the pupils’ café is named, and Tom Mitchell, who captained the silver medal winning GB rugby 7s team at Rio. As the girls come through, we expect to see their names up in lights as well.

Entrance

Pupils come from a range of prep schools including Hazelwood, Handcross Park, Great Walstead, Copthorne, Cumnor House and the Hawthorns in Surrey as well as Catholic prep schools in London. Most join in years 7 or 9 or for sixth form with a few places available in years 8 and 10. Eleven plus assessment tests at Worth in spring in year of entry – online verbal, non-verbal and numerical - and informal interviews and small group tasks plus report from current school. Overseas pupils can sit the tests in their home country.

Thirteen plus entry via the common pre-test plus assessment day with informal interview and group tasks in the spring of year 7. Common entrance is for setting purposes only.

Some international pupils join in year 11 for one year pre-IB course leading on to full IB diploma in sixth form. About 25 join sixth form – reports, references and interviews plus at least six GCSEs at A*-B or grade 6+.

Exit

Most popular universities are Bristol, Warwick, Manchester, King’s College London, St Andrews and Edinburgh with a fairly predictable range of subjects: economics, history, geography, languages, philosophy and music being the most popular. Three to Oxbridge and three to read medicine in 2016. A handful to art and drama school each year. A small number to US universities – school can help with applications but pupils often get outside tuition for SATS exams. Happy to look at alternatives if pupils not keen on university. A handful leaves after GCSEs, usually to go to sixth form colleges.

Money matters

Academic, art, drama, music and sports scholarships offered. Max award of 40 per cent goes to the top scholar in each category and other scholars may receive 20-30 per cent - additional means-tested bursary can take this up to 50 per cent of fees. St Benedict’s scholarship of up to 100 per cent of fees for local children from families who are in full communion with local church but can’t afford fees – a child must be capable of achieving a scholarship in one of the categories.

Our view

This school has everything going for it – beautiful setting and only 30 miles from London, good sport, music and art and improving academic performance, and an ambitious and energetic newish headmaster.

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Special Education Needs

In each year group a small number of students receive help from The Learning Support department. A great deal of importance is attached to informing all members of staff on a regular basis of the nature of each student's learning needs. In this way, all teaching staff can work to help students to feel secure and to succeed in the classroom. All pupils referred to The Learning Support department follow Worth's mainstream academic curriculum and additional support programs take place in 40 minute sessions during the school day. Small group lessons are normally sufficient to meet student's needs though 1-1 specialist lessons may be available at additional cost and are subject to teacher availability and timetable restrictions. Specialist lessons are held in The Learning Support Suite, where extensive use is made of our ICT facilities. Initially, all students requiring learning support must provide the school with an external educational psychologist's report. This assists with the diagnosis of problems and the structuring of programmes for their solution. Each student works with a specialist teacher. Most receive literacy and study skill support, while a small number have specialist help in maths. Strategies are introduced to help improve basic literacy skills, working memory and concentration. As pupils progress through the school, increasing emphasis is placed on learning how to learn. Time management, higher reading skills, question analysis, coursework planning and revision skills are important preparation for the demands of GCSE and beyond. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Y
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Epilepsy [archived]
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
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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