This co-ed day and boarding school in Surrey continues to climb up the league tables for A Levels and GCSEs, with its its highly academic aspirations balanced by a commitment to sport, extra-curricular activities and educational enrichment.
There are around 900 students aged 11 to 18 years, with a slightly higher number of boys; around two-thirds are day students coming from across surrey and south west London, and there’s a small international student community here (20%) representing up to 30 different nationalities.
Established in 1855 to assist the orphans of medical families, Epsom College remains true to its founding principles of benevolence. The school has a timetabled service programme that includes weekly one-hour placements in the community; as the school says, service is “not a bolt on”. There is also a generous bursary programme that offered 55 students financial support in 2021, and 50% of these awards were worth 75% or more of the annual tuition fees.
This school has made several sweeping changes in recent years under the headship of Jay Piggott. Mr Piggott was appointed headmaster in 2012, following six years as head of Campbell College, 17 years as housemaster and assistant housemaster at Eton, and three years at Millfield.
Mr Piggott opened the Lower School in 2016 to extend enrolment to students in Years 7 and 8, and to help the school compete with other independent schools in the area offering the same. He has overseen the opening of a sister school in Malaysia, with all profits being ploughed back into widening access at Epsom College UK. And he has taken various steps to raise the standards of teaching, which was described by ISI inspectors in 2012 as being “uneven”, with too much variation across academic departments.
Today, Epsom College holds its head high as a senior school that is constantly moving up the league tables for A Levels and GCSEs. In 2019, 67% of all exams were graded A*-A and 90% of all exams graded A*-B. In The Telegraph’s league table it has risen from 132 in 2015 to 44 in 2019 for A-Levels. Once regarded by many as a ‘second choice’ school, it is now seen by many as ‘a school to get into’ – and the competition for places is testament to that.
The school's head can be seen as the cause of much of the improvement. Mr Piggott has elevated the school’s academic status through various measures. Epsom has a full programme of academic enrichment, which includes a daily cultural hour dedicated to the arts, guest lectures, debates, individual projects, academic clubs and societies.
The school uses the house system as the bedrock of its pastoral care, and there’s a strong family feel with 70% of staff living on campus (many of whom have their own children at the school), including the head. Matrons work closely with the housemasters/mistresses to care for students, there are daily mindfulness exercises during form time, and older students act as positive role models for their younger peers. All students need to earn a Digital Citizenship Passports before they can use iPads and phones, and Sixth Formers are trained to deliver a digital safety course to Year 9 students.
Epsom has all the hallmarks of being a lovely place to learn (and live). As well as having beautiful grounds, Gothic buildings and modern facilities, the school has launched an £8.4 million campaign for a new an academic and arts centre, and it has invested around £13 million in the refurbishment and renovation of its day and boarding houses.
The school was rated Excellent in all areas in its 2019 ISI Educational Quality inspection; inspectors made 'zero' recommendations for future improvement.
Epsom College is a traditional UK school that runs a six-day week with formal lessons every Saturday morning for Senior School students; Lower School students only have sporting fixtures on the weekend.
Teaching in the Lower School follows a broad and balanced curriculum to prepare students for GCSEs, which includes two Modern Languages (chosen from French, German, Spanish or Mandarin), Latin, single sciences, music, art, drama, and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). One of the many benefits of attending a UK independent school is its freedom to go beyond the National Curriculum of England.
Epsom College take advantage of this by adding a fortnightly Trivium class to its Lower School curriculum, which focuses on debating skills, critical thinking and reading habits. There is streaming for maths and languages from Year 7, and in Year 8, students choose to continue with Latin or take Classical Civilisation.
Students entering Year 10 take 10 GCSE/IGCSE subjects; seven are compulsory, and there are three options from a largely traditional list of subjects that includes art, computer science, design & technology, drama, French, geography, history, Latin, music, photography, PE, religious studies and Spanish.
In the Sixth Form, the list of A Level options covers the most required or preferred by universities, as well as business, Mandarin, drama and theatre studies, music, and design technology. All students are encouraged to extend their studies (and broaden their horizons to help with university applications). They must select at least one Core Curriculum option, which includes the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), Level 3 maths, an additional language, or Young Enterprise course.
Epsom College has a long-standing reputation for its excellence in sport. Old Epsomians play professional rugby for Harlequins, England and Irish Lions, and Epsom is the UK’s leading school for rifle shooting having won the National Championships 15 times. While sport is important here, there is plenty of encouragement for students of all abilities to take part and there are A to E and F teams in many sports. There are more than 20 sporting activities including rugby, cricket, netball and hockey, as well as volleyball, swimming, horse riding and golf.
Such a sporty school needs facilities, and Epsom is well-equipped for all manner of matches, training and fitness. There are two sports halls, six squash courts, a swimming pool, 12 rugby pitches, nine netball courts, 33 tennis courts, a shooting range, athletics track and a fencing salle, among others. Golfers can take advantage of the Epsom Downs Golf Club on the doorstep of the school, and horse riding takes place at a nearby riding centre.
The arts are also very well-represented at Epsom and as one student says, it is "huge here!". Across the year groups, 75% of students are involved in some kind of performance or concert many of which are staged in the 'Big School' hall. Students can study fine art, photography, drama, music, and product design up to GCSE and A Level. Beyond the classroom, there are plenty of opportunities to perform, play and create. From solo recitals and ensemble concerts, to musicals and performances in professional jazz clubs, students are encouraged to explore jazz, pop, classical, and much more. Both the junior and senior choirs are popular, and so is the orchestra. And you can expect high production values in Epsom’s annual plays, as the school will often hire professional West End stage sets, as well as costumes and sets from The National Theatre.
The school’s art school has four levels of facilities including dedicated studios for screen-printing and pottery; two studios for Sixth Form students; two further studios for GCSE and Lower School pupils; and printing presses on two floors. Design and technology lessons are held across design studios, workshops, a CNC suite and machine room. There’s also a purpose-built Music School with instruments as varied as the baritone sax and alto flutes, and dance studios with sprung floors.
At Epsom, every afternoon from 4pm is given over to co-curricular activities. There’s a programme of more than 100 clubs and activities including academic extension clubs; less traditional options such as astronomy, philosophy and exploring the Christian faith; the arts, games and sport, and service and leadership.
The school has one of the UK's largest Combined Cadet Forces, with all students joining in Year 9, and then opting to continue into Years 10-13. Epsom is well-equipped to offer CCF training and has a wonderful outdoor obstacle 'Confidence Course'.
In 2019, 67% of all exams graded A*-A and 90% of all exams graded A*-B; the school did not publish A Levels results for 2020, when exams were cancelled.
In GCSEs, 50% of all exams graded 9-8 (A*) and 74% of grades awarded 9-7 (A*-A); in 2020, 59% of GCSEs were graded 9-8 (A*), and 83% were in the 9-7 range (A*-A).
In A Levels, there is a high number of students taking the sciences, maths and economics, and a high percentage of students getting A and B grades in arts subjects.
As well as delivering increasingly high grades, Epsom College is delivering value add – that is the difference between the grades a student is predicted to gain on joining the school and the grades that they actually achieve at A Level. In 2019, the Department for Education (DfE) ranked Epsom in the top 2% of schools (and the top 5% of independent schools) in England for the progress made in A Levels.
The school has 13 single-sex houses, seven of which are for day students. Students can enrol as weekly or full boarders from Year 9, and Year 7 and 8 students can board at nearby Feltonfleet School.
Set within an 85-acre estate and surrounded by the rolling Epsom Downs, the school has both charm and heritage. Located just 30 minutes away from London, it is well-connected for airports, museums, galleries, and other attractions.
As well as the sports and arts facilities mentioned above, there is a well-equipped science department with labs, a greenhouse, and a range of animals including a panther chameleon, praying mantis, Madagascan hissing cockroaches and a large marine fish tank.
The school is currently fundraising to build The Mermaid, an academic and arts centre with seminar rooms, discussion pods, classrooms and a large study area. It will also feature a screening room and a state-of-the-art lecture theatre, a cafe and gallery space.
For 11+ entry (Year 7), students must take maths, English and VR tests plus an interview in the January of Year 6; there is also a second intake into Year 9. All international applicants are required to sit the UKiset entrance assessment; this is an online entry test taken in English. For interested families, tours of the school are led by students, which can offer one of the most personal insights into a school and is always welcomed.
Annual fees in Years 9-13 are £26,676 for day students, and £39,330 for full boarders; day fees for Years 7-8 are £20,004.
The school offers scholarships for academic, sports and performing arts at all entry points, as well as means-tested bursaries.
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