Dulwich College has an excellent reputation that extends far beyond its strong performance in GCSES and A Levels. Here's a school that needs to be celebrated for its commitment to free learning, for its creative streak, and for its innovative, broad curriculum that equips students for the modern world.
With a student body of 1,800, this all-through school enrols girls and boys from six months old up to the age of seven (DUCKS), and is an all boys’ school from seven through to 18 years (Junior and Senior Schools); the school has a large cohort of mainly day students.
While Dulwich has a very good reputation academically, students also excel in sport and the arts. As well as graduating many future medics, engineers and lawyers, Dulwich has a long-standing reputation for producing artists, musicians and athletes, and for preparing students for entrepreneurial, technological, cybernetic and innovative enterprises too.
With one of the founders of Dulwich being the Elizabethan actor Edward Allen, it comes as no surprise that Dulwich takes the arts very seriously. Music is central to life at Dulwich with around 600 boys learning an instrument, and there are many opportunities for students to perform. And, with 70 acres of grounds, a PE centre, tennis courts, squash courts, a swimming pool and a boathouse on the Thames, Dulwich College ensures sport plays a central role in the curricular and extra-curricular life of its students.
This is a school that thinks global and acts local to help enrich education. For example, there is an annual Junior School Symposium, where Dulwich students team up with local schools and the Dulwich College International family of schools (which has campuses in Singapore, South Korea and China) to work together on different workshops, issues and activities.
It has a strong history of philanthropy, and aims to offer 50% of students’ financial assistance in the form of either scholarships or bursaries; while the school is way off that target, in 2020 it did award 191 means-tested bursaries to boys and their families. And, testament to the high standards of its teaching, the schools is the London hub for two national teaching training programmes, which places between 30 and 40 trainee teachers per year in a range of different schools.
Founded in 1619, Dulwich is one of the UK’s oldest public schools. The school is by no means shackled by the past, however, and has a forward-thinking belief in developing “passionate free learners”. Central to the ethos of the school is deep, free and memorable learning, which Dulwich aims to achieve through learning activities that go beyond the National Curriculum for England – and are free from exams. Examples include the Excellence and Enrichment curriculum, the Year 6 Great Exhibition on a UN Global goals, College-wide Free Learning weeks, and creative weeks when all lessons are ‘hijacked’ by one department to involve students in activities as varied as soap-boxing or singing in the corridors.
The school scores excellent in the Independent School’s Inspectorate (ISI) report across the board; highlights include students' "infectious enthusiasm for all aspects of their work", and the College’s distinctive, strong commitment to "free learning" which "successfully breaks down the traditional subject divides". Here's a school that really does use its freedom as a private school to develop a bespoke curriculum for all age groups; this ranges from teaching mixed ability groups in Years 7 and 8 to offering an introduction to French literature and cookery in the school's own liberal studies course for sixth formers.
Little ones can join DUCKS (Dulwich College Kindergarten and Infants) from as young as six months, where the English curriculum is enriched with specialist teaching in French, music and PE, as well as a focus on outdoor learning with Forest School. We particularly like the very endearing use of Monty, an in-training school dog who takes part in whole class reading sessions and offers plenty of cuddles! Situated on the hill, looking down onto the main college, DUCKS is a standalone pre-school with playgrounds, sports pitches and playing fields, as well as a pond and an orchard that are used for forest school.
Life at Dulwich continues for boys as they move through the junior and senior school to work towards their GCSE and A Level exams. While Dulwich achieves consistently high results in GCSE and A Level, it offers a well-rounded, all-through education that is not achieved at the expense of a rigorous academic curriculum. To the contrary, students here can expect a balanced curriculum with plenty of specialist teaching and extra-curricular opportunities.
As well as ensuring students achieve excellent grades, the faculty at Dulwich College can be praised for exploring their subjects far beyond the curriculum; in fact, teachers here are very much encouraged to share their wider intellectual, cultural, sporting and charitable interests with students. While there is a strong emphasis on the core subjects, there are also subject specialist staff for French, art, design technology, music, PE, swimming and games from junior school, and more than 70 clubs, activities and ensembles taking place each week, both at lunchtimes and after school.
There is a strong music programme from Year 3, when all boys are taught a stringed instrument; in Year 4 all boys are taught a brass or woodwind instrument. Talent is also nurtured on the sports fields of Dulwich College, where boys, learn rugby, football, hockey, cricket, water polo, fencing, golf, cycling and rowing. The school promotes sport for all, and the timetable offers the time for all students to learn skills, work towards physical goals, and represent their school or house in competitive sport.
You can expect Dulwich to challenge and stretch your child in all year groups through its Excellence and Enrichment Programme, which offers learning opportunities beyond the traditional curriculum. In junior school, boys go off timetable to attend an annual Academic Enrichment Symposium with students from Dulwich Wood Primary School and they finish Year 6 with a cross-curricular research project based on ‘Issues and Challenges in the World Today’. If you are looking for an education that really fosters free learning, creativity and independence, then Dulwich needs to be considered.
The spirit of free learning continues into senior school when students take part in creative weeks and off timetable days. In addition to their chosen A level subjects, all boys follow an ‘A Level Plus’ programme in the Remove year (Year 12). Boys choose two courses over three terms that complement their subject choices and deepen their knowledge, often to near-undergraduate level. In addition to A level and A level Plus courses, students take two Liberal Studies courses during Remove (Year 12); they are also encouraged to think critically at Dulwich by taking a compulsory Critical Thinking module in Year 12.
The College has embraced the traditional English public-school house system, which is seen in the camaraderie, team spirit, sense of community, and belonging that students have throughout the school; this really shines through in the Senior school when students are students placed in house-based tutor groups. It also encourages leadership and teamwork from a young age; for example, Year 7 students support DUCKS children as they arrive at school, Year 8 students mentor their junior peers, and all students from DUCKS upwards can be elected to be on the student council.
Learning beyond the timetable continues the high standards seen in the classroom. ISI inspectors noted that "exceptional levels of achievement are reached in many individual and team interests including British mathematics challenges, science and languages Olympiads and debating." In addition to the Duke of Edinburgh award and Combined Cadet Force, students are encouraged to discover outside interests from a choice that includes acapella, Islamic, animation, magic, film & music making, debating, opera, drones, equality, rocketry, diplomacy, graphic novels, and human rights.
Every student is encouraged to engage in active volunteering during their time at school, and the school has a long history of working with community partners in Dulwich and the wider Southwark area.
In 2019, 63% of A Level students were graded A* to A and there was 99% pass rate; this is a fair representation of the College's consistently strong academic performance as the percentage of students achieving these top grades never falls below 60%. The school also has impressive GCSE results. In 2019, 64% of students received an A* to A and 83% scored A*-B; previous years were higher, though and remained at 83%-plus and 97%-plus respectively over the past five years or more.
Results for 2020, which were based on centre assessed grades due to the cancellation of all exams, have not been published.
Located just 15 minutes away from London’s city centre, Dulwich College’s campus has the heritage (walking through the great hall and sweeping staircases of its historic buildings will never lose its magic); the great outdoors (it has 70 acres of grounds and an outdoor centre in the Brecon Beacons); and the future (the addition of new teaching blocks and state of the art facilities keeps Dulwich’s teaching in the 21st century). It is well connected – West Dulwich tube station is just outside the campus – and offers the opportunity to board just 12 minutes away from London city centre.
Dulwich has a small, international boarding community of around 140 students, who board within four houses in the grounds of the school. According to ISC inspectors, the “very high level of professional and caring support offered by housemasters is further enhanced by an excellent and natural rapport with those in their care. They know individual boarders extremely well, and the houses have an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.”
Admission to Dulwich College is selective for entry from Year 3 and above; all students must sit the entrance exams in Year 6 to join the lower school in Year 7; specimen papers are available on the school’s website to help candidates prepare.
Annual tuition fees for all day students are £21,246, and fees remain the same for all students in the junior and senior schools; in many senior schools you can expect fees to be slightly higher. As you’d expect for a private school that has both a strong reputation and is located within London, fees here at on the higher end of the scale though.
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