Popular with boarding students, Bradfield College delivers a choice of college pathways alongside an extensive co-curricular programme and a bespoke boarding programme for Year 9 students.
Founded in 1850, Bradfield is a mid-sized senior school and sixth form with around 800 students, coming from the local area, London and overseas. The school’s full boarding programme is more flexible than most in the UK, with students being allowed home on the weekend (until Monday morning if they choose). It’s certainly a popular option with students living locally. To help soften the transition into boarding life, all students entering the school in Year 9 move into the same mixed house, Faulkner's; girls and boys then move into a single-sex senior boarding house for their remaining four years at Bradfield. Former head of says:
“Faulkner's is set up to provide for the year group as a whole. They start the year together and have a strong sense of Bradfield identity throughout their time here. They do everything as a year group, from their classroom and boarding house experience to sports and social events.”
Bradfield is a school where taking part in non-academic subjects really is compulsory, and it makes an excellent attempt to offer something for everyone beyond the classroom. This is certainly not a school for any student wanting to keep their head in the books. The school’s inclusive, fun and outgoing spirit is highlighted in the first term for all new students, when they join the ever-popular Michaelmas Goose weekend. This inter-house competition includes a wacky swimming gala, an inflatable obstacle course, quizzes, singing and debating.
As deputy head (co-curricular) R. J. Wall says:
“A varied and busy Co-Curricular Programme is a key ingredient in a pupil maximising their time at the College,” and all students are expected to “challenge, develop and stretch themselves”.
That said, the school makes it clear that “what happens in the classroom is our core business". Teaching here is driven by the College’s 'Education for Life' ethos, which focuses on developing confidence, open-mindedness, resilience, inquiry, communication and innovation through "a diverse range of learning experiences". There’s little time to get bored at this school, and it may not suit any academically-focused students. To help find out just which students will be the right fit for the school, the admissions process includes an online problem-solving challenge, like those found in the TV show The Crystal Maze.
Student's mental health a cornerstone of the school's ethos, and it is frequently revamping its pastoral care system. All students have a timetabled lesson in wellbeing, discussing everything from managing stress and exam anxiety, to drugs awareness and sex education; Faulkner's students start the year with an anti-bullying workshop. Sixth formers offer support to younger students who may not want to voice their worries to a teacher through the peer mentoring programme. The school has replaced the traditional vertical tutoring system (with one tutor for a large group of students across the school) with weekly one-to-one meetings between a student and tutor. Also, several staff have completed a mindfulness-based stress reduction course, and there’s an Unsung Colleague Award which recognises staff who go above and beyond their regular duties to support students.
And no review of Bradfield could be complete without a mention of the food! The kitchen here takes school dinners to a new level of gastronomy; meals are served in a recently refurbished dining hall complete with a pastry kitchen and viewing window. The food even has its own Twitter account, sharing mouth-watering images of freshly baked croissant, hand-made post-match pies, and fully plated restaurant-style dishes (called The Pass) such as seared loin of venison, caramelised parsnip purée, spiced lentils & wild mushrooms.
The Faulkner’s (Year 9) curriculum introduces students to a wide range of subjects in preparation for their GCSE years; the timetable covers English, mathematics, the sciences, two modern languages (chosen from French, German and Spanish), art, design and technology, PE, ICT, and the performing arts. Classical languages are optional.
Bradfield teaches the humanities holistically through a course called Divisions, which it says "focuses on developing research, analysis, evaluation, essay writing and presentational skills". It's particularly good preparation for the IBDP, if students choose to take this pathway.
The school’s new Blackburn Science Centre has changed the way Bradfield teaches science. Designed to foster open-plan learning, this modern building has classrooms and laboratories spread out over two floors, with some learning areas having whiteboard walls, no desks, and cushioned stools rather than traditional seats.
At GCSE, most students take between eight and 10 subjects. In addition to the core curriculum, there is the option of taking the separate sciences or combined science, and a strong choice of foreign languages which include German, Greek, French, Latin and Spanish.
At sixth form, students take either the A Level programme and Extended Project Qualification or the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP); there is a wide choice of subjects offered within the arts, languages, sciences, and humanities on both pathways. The IBDP does offer students some subjects that are not offered at A Level such as psychology. The school is fairly quick to bring in new subjects where the demand is there, with coding and programming, and entrepreneurship among those to added most recently.
English as an Additional Language (EAL) is offered to international students throughout the lower school and sixth, if required; students can also take GCSEs and A Levels in their native tongue.
Bradfield has some impressive sports facilities that are well used for weekly games lessons, fixtures, and training. As well as having its own sports complex (also open to public members) with a double sized sports hall, 25 metre indoor pool, and strength and conditioning suite, Bradfield has two floodlit Astroturf hockey pitches; a nine-hole golf course with putting green, short game area, outdoor nets, and swing studio; and a tennis centre with three indoor courts, two outdoor hard courts, and six outdoor clay courts. There are football pitches (you won’t find any rugby balls being passed around here), and students play cricket on the quintessentially English cricket pitch, The Pit.
The weekly timetable that involves compulsory games afternoons for all students. Boys play football, hockey, cricket, and tennis, while girls play hockey, netball, lacrosse, tennis, and cricket. All Year 9 students are introduced Games in the first term – a successful programme that has seen a rise in sports such as golf at the school.
Such is the school’s determination to “find a sport that you love”, it offers a vast programme of ‘minor’ sports that includes
badminton, basketball, clay pigeon shooting, fencing, fives, golf, girls’ football, cross-country, climbing, polo, real tennis, riding, sailing, squash, swimming, shooting and water polo.
There’s no questioning Bradfield’s commitment to the arts either. This is the only school in the UK to have its own Greek theatre, after all. Affectionately known as ‘Greeker’, this beautiful 1,000-seater outdoor arena is well used for plays (including a Greek play every three years), concerts and the whole school prize-giving.
Elsewhere on campus, students study textiles, sculpture, including ceramics, photography, printmaking, and painting and drawing in the arts centre.
In Year 9, all students have a weekly drama lessons and have the option to study it at GCSE and A Level; drama facilities include a black box studio and 400 seat auditorium., and the music department has six Steinway pianos.
There are opportunities for students to perform in school plays and to direct their own; there are groups ranging from the Choral Society to the Bradfield Bellas; events include open mic nights and recording sessions. There's plenty of creative, out of the box thinking across this school's arts department. During school closures, for example, students performed a series of Living Room Live concerts from home. And, instead of a live drama production to end the autumn term 2020, students recreated six Hancock's Half Hour episodes, which were then aired to patients at The Royal Berkshire Hospital.
Co-curricular activities are not an add-on at Bradfield; instead, they feel very much part of an education here. Music, drama, sport, clubs, service, and outward-bound form the bedrock of Bradfield’s co-curricular experience – and life here could certainly get very busy.
In Years 10 and 11, all students are encouraged to get involved in a variety of academic and non-academic activities, and they are rewarded for their efforts with a Bradfield Diploma. To achieve a Gold, Silver or Bronze diploma, students must complete 10 different activities ranging from public speaking and research to responsibility and charity. Thanks to the wide choice of clubs and societies, students should find something that interests them, something new to try, and something they want to overcome.
There is time in the daily timetable for co-curricular activity, whether that is during lesson-free afternoons on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays or a 90-minute session before tea on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
Moving up the school, sixth form students are encouraged to join the Combined Cadet Force (CCF) or the Bradfield Voluntary Service Programme; there is also a high intake across the school for the different stages of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
In 2020, the average IB score was 36, and over a quarter of the cohort scored 39 points and above. This places it in the Top 20 UK schools for the latest IB results.
Bradfield has not published its most recent A Level results.
The majority of pupils leaving Bradfield go on to top universities including King's College London, University College London, Exeter, Durham and Bristol.
There are 11 single sex boarding houses, and the Faulkner's mixed-sex house for Year 9 students. In Faulkner's, all bedrooms are en-suite, and shared facilities include two surgeries, kitchen, games and TV rooms, and a dining hall.
Day students can stay well into the evenings on campus, and they have a dedicated desk within their house.
Bradfield College is located in the small, picturesque village of Bradfield, and with facilities spread across this 250-acre site, students do a lot of walking from lesson to lesson. It’s a campus that has grown from a single manor house to a sweeping campus encasing an entire village; so many of the building s are rich in history (from the Snake Door at the original red brick and flint Manor House to the Hare and Tortoise Door in the Dining Hall).
There’s an art school with riverside views, the very modern Blackburn Science Centre, the more traditional library, and the refurbished Stunt Pavilion which houses a coffee shop with views from the veranda overlooking the Major and Max playing fields.
It's advisable to apply to Bradfield College early as admissions for 13+ can start three years in advance; students can also apply for Sixth Form entry. As part of the admissions process, students have two half hour interviews and an hour of group problem solving activities, with the school saying it is looking to "explore your child’s potential and suitability for the College rather than to establish what they do or do not know". Applicants also sit the ISEB (Independent Schools’ Examination Board) Common Pre-Test.
Parents can tour the school (by appointment) every Saturday morning during term time; due to Covid restrictions, these are currently virtual Saturday open events.
Annual fees are £31,080 for day students, and £38,850 for boarding students. Scholarships and bursaries are available for both Year 9 (13+) and Sixth Form entry.
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