Durham School Review

Part of the Durham Cathedral Schools Foundation, this co-ed day and boarding school for 11-18 year olds is one of the UK's top-ranking schools for student progress. A school with a big heart, its strengths also lie in its chorister programme and other extra-curricular activities.
At a glance
School type
Private
School phase
Secondary
Inspection rating
Good
Curricula taught
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Annual fee average
GBP 15,000
Annual fees
GBP 13,260–15,993
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
1414
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Mr Kieran McLaughlin
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Durham School
School type
Private
School phase
Secondary
Inspection rating
Good
Curricula taught
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Annual fee average
GBP 15,000
Annual fees
GBP 13,260–15,993
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
1414
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Mr Kieran McLaughlin
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Part of the Durham Cathedral Schools Foundation, this co-ed day and boarding school for 11-18 year olds is one of the UK's top-ranking schools for student progress. A school with a big heart, its strengths also lie in its chorister programme and other extra-curricular activities.

Durham School is a co-ed day and boarding senior school for 11-18 year olds based in the historical northern City of Durham. While the school has a strong academic record in both GCSEs and A Levels, its strengths also lie in its sporting achievements, choral programme (Durham students can audition to become a chorister for the prestigious Durham Cathedral Choir) and extra-curricular opportunities.

According to the school, it is academically driven, pastorally strong, values focused and student-centric. Students thrive in an environment focused on developing "Confidence for life. Respect for all", the school motto.

Durham is part of the Durham Cathedral Schools Foundation, which offers independent, co-educational day and boarding for students from the age of three to 18 years. The original school was founded in 1414 and re-founded in 1541 by King Henry VIII.

Today, this 600-year-old school offers an environment where students “can explore, make mistakes, learn and grow”, which has proven to be a strategy for success. Durham School is one of the best in the country for educational progress; it is proud of being in the top 5% of UK schools for 'value added' at A Level – and rightly so.

Located on a 45-acre site, Durham School has a small student body of around 600, and there are over 70 international students from 19 different countries. There are around 120 boarders and, with its choice of flexible boarding options local and overseas students can choose to board full time, weekly, or for one or two days a week. The Chorister School offers a pre-prep and prep school education on a neighbouring campus, and many students enter Durham School from here.

The school offers the unique opportunity for 20 girls and 20 boys to join the Durham Cathedral Choir. Choristers aged eight through to 13 all attend Chorister School and Durham School, where they receive a discounted education.

Principal Kieran McLaughlin joined the school in September 2014 as its 53rd headmaster and prior to joining Durham, Mr McLaughlin was academic deputy head at Rugby School for five years. He is married with three young sons, all of whom attend the School.

Most recently, Durham has opened an overseas campus in Dubai, UAE. Durham School Dubai is the third school to join the expanding international portfolio of the original school and follows the opening of Durham International School, Nairobi in January 2021 (open from Nursery to Year 2) and Durham School for Girls, Doha (open from Reception to Sixth Form) in September 2019.

Curriculum

Durham School follows a curriculum it describes as both challenging and stimulating, and follows the National Curriculum for England; students work towards GCSE and A Level exams.

In terms of expectations and wellbeing, the school states that "from our EYFS classes right through to Sixth Form, we work on positive mind sets, constructive feedback, mentoring through our total commitment to outstanding pastoral care, house systems and student counselling. We celebrate each individual and their achievements, and we challenge our students to work hard, try their best and be positive about themselves."

Teaching covers a broad range of subjects including English – language and literature, mathematics, science – chemistry, biology and physics – history, geography, art, computing, music, modern foreign languages, physical education and Personal, Social and Health Education. All students attend a weekly chapel service.

The form tutors meet with students daily and oversee their development liaising with all of their subject teachers. Students are guided as to their subject choices at GCSE and A Level and to university placements through a dedicated student support team with experience in placing students in universities in the UK and overseas. 

A particular focus is given to providing students with opportunities that support and enrich the curriculum, through competitions and out of school activities such as visits to a local science museum or overseas trips such as a geography field trip to Iceland and a history trip to the Battlefields in France. 

Sixth Form students are offered a range of A Level options, including traditional subjects as well as several arts subjects, photography, PE, psychology and politics. Students also have the choice of taking a Level 3 BTEC National Diploma qualification in Business.

The school has a Learning Support Department that screens all new students and conducts further diagnostic testing if required. Over the years, students with a diverse range of additional needs have been supported including those with dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, ADHD, DCD, Asperger's Syndrome and PDD (NOS). 

Sport and the arts

As a small school, Durham offers students many opportunities to represent the school in sport and the arts.

Music is at the very heart of Durham School. It is, after all, part of a Foundation that has one of the largest cathedral choirs in the country, with students performing regularly in the historic and iconic Durham Cathedral. Students also perform in regular concerts, an annual large-scale musical, as well as several school drama productions. 

Durham School has the facilities to deliver a strong arts programme – a music technology room, large rehearsal spaces, nine teaching/practice rooms, a three manual Harrison & Harrison organ in the school chapel, and a harpsichord.

Home to the fifth oldest rugby club and third oldest boat club in the world, Durham School has a reputation for sport. As well as supporting its most elite athletes, the school has a sports for all ethos that encourages all students to stay fit and healthy. Games lessons focus on rugby, rowing, cricket, hockey and netball, and athletics, badminton, basketball, cross country, pentathlon, rounders, swimming, and tennis are also offered during and after the school day.

Facilities include an Astroturf sports field, two sports halls, a cardiovascular suite, gym facilities, swimming pool; students also use the Durham University Sports Centre for certain lessons and activities.

Beyond the classroom

Leadership skills, community projects and service are important aspects of the Sixth Form education offered by the school. Whilst Durham School believes that academic achievement is extremely important, so too, it says, are social skills and social competence.

The school’s House System creates opportunities for friendly competition and house events, and Sixth Formers are encouraged to take on the role of School Monitor and be a role model in school.

Students at all levels are given plenty of opportunities to develop and extend themselves through a range of activities and a comprehensive extra-curricular programme which includes sporting, artistic and musical opportunities, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and CCF. There are also several weekly academic workshops and a wide choice of academic societies open to all students aged 11-18.

Academic results

Durham School is particularly proud of the academic achievement that it delivers, being within the top 3% of schools nationally when it comes to the progress students make academically.  The school measures the Value Added to students’ achievements to determine how well they achieve academically and is estimated to be in the top 5% of all UK schools nationally and top 10% of all Independent Schools.

In its most recently published results A Level results (2020), 62.1% were graded A*-A, 83.7% achieved A*-B, and all entries achieved a pass at  A*-E. At GCSE, 17.5% of entries achieved Grade 9, whilst 75.5% of entries were awarded Grades 6 to 9 (the equivalent a B-A*).

63% of leavers here went to Russell Group universities and the Universities of Lancaster, Loughborough and St Andrews.

Students are tested when they enter the school, and those baseline tests are used to generate predictions for GCSE and A Level grades. These are independent predictions created by Durham University's Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring. The difference between the two is the value that that the school's academic tuition adds to each student. The latest Department for Education data shows that the school adds an average of nearly 4% additional value to its students’ results. 

Boarding

Students have a choice of Full, Weekly and Occasional Boarding at Durham School. There are three boarding houses on or within easy reach of the main campus for students aged 11 to 18 years. The school has separate Houses for boys and girls, and Housemasters/mistresses live in the boarding houses with their families, which creates a close-knit, family atmosphere.

There’s no Saturday school here, and students have several opportunities to play sport on Saturday mornings; the rest of the weekend is filled with activities including film nights, joint House BBQs and socials, and trips within the local area.

Admission and fees

Durham School welcomes applications from students with a range of academic abilities, but there is still an entrance assessment.

Annual fees range from £13,260 to £15,993 for day students, and £28,683 to £33,705 for full boarding.

There are scholarships worth up to 100% of school fees offered at 11+ and 13+. Students who audition successfully for the Durham Cathedral Choir pay reduced fees at the school.

 

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