Gordonstoun is one of the world’s best known public schools, although it is fair to say that this reputation is due in greater part to its educating British royals including Prince Philip and Charles, Prince of Wales as well as Zara Phillips.
The school is resolutely not driven by academic performance and compares better, if imperfectly, with Eton than with Winchester in its ethos. It openly recognizes the importance of “personality” in what it looks for in those seeking entrance to the school.
Unlike Eton, however, Gordonstoun is resolutely co-educational (since 1972), welcomes a significant number of day pupils, and is a leading member of the 150 strong global “Round Square” schools group. It would not feature highly in an exclusively academic league table based evaluation of the UK’s best public schools, but this, it is argued, is precisely the point if a school genuinely wants to provide for a balanced education for the “whole child.”
The school by UK public school standards is modern, although its 17th century grounds hides its relative youth. The Round Square curriculum reflects this youth, focusing on challenge, service, responsibility, and internationalism above, but not discounting, academics.
Gordonstoun weights outdoor education highly – it has its own 80 foot sail-training yacht, Ocean Spirit of Moray; places “service to others” as integral to its education one day a week (options includes helping the elderly, training to be a coastguard, and volunteering in the fire service) and operates multiple international exchange programs. The school motto, Plus Est en Vous (There is more in you) “underpins every aspect of the curriculum and its delivery.” In the last inspection of the school, Gordonstoun was awarded the highest accolade in learning experience: “the wider achievements of young people are of exceptional quality.”
Students are drawn from a variety of nationalities and backgrounds. One in three students come from overseas, a further third from Scotland, and a third from the remaining United Kingdom.
Diversity is genuinely recognized and respected, the Care Inspectorate noting that “Students spoken with stated that during Ramadan the catering staff, and fellow students had been very supportive (both in terms of rearranged mealtimes and being supportive and encouraging).”
SEN support is provided with a new dedicated learning support faculty. 45% of boarders come from overseas.
Gordonstoun scored the highest possible accolades (“sector leading”) from the HM Inspectorate of Education in two out of five review areas in its last report (2009). These were Educational Experience and in its (breadth, scale, and quality of) Curriculum. The school was scored with “major strengths” in the remaining three classes of review. The Care Inspectorate 2015 inspection found the management and leadership of the school to be excellent and class leading. Its pupil to teacher average ratio is 10:1 in the sixth form and the average class size is 14 for GCSE study. 96% of its students progress to university at home or overseas and up to 5% attend Oxbridge.
Sports provision is extremely diverse, including a unique emphasis on sailing, expeditions, and adventure activities as integral to the curriculum.
The school “operates a policy of open access, committed to educating young people regardless of nationality, background or financial resources.” Entrance to the school at Year 9 is by Common Entrance when entering from prep school, but there is an “alternative exam” route for other students designed to capture potential.
There is also a special scholarship examination. Interviews are critical to gaining a place and are focused on children with personality. There are no school open days – prospective parents are encouraged to visit the school individually and the costs of local accommodation are borne by the school. Approximately 60 students enter the Sixth Form each year and assessment is by either Scholarship examination or interview and a report from the candidate’s present school. To enter Sixth Form, students normally have to obtain at least five grade Cs at GCSE or equivalent. Account is taken at all entrance stages of Special Educational Needs. More than 35% of students receive financial support. No more than 10% of fee remission is available for academic performance, but up to 100% fee remission is available through means testing.
Gordonstoun is non-denominational with advertised provision for Roman Catholic, Jewish, Islamic and Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist faiths.
A’ Level grades secured at A*/A/B: 46% (Compare 96% Eton)
A’ Level Grades A*/A: Not published
A’ Level Grades A*: Not published
AS Level Grades A/B: Not published
AS Level Grades A: Not published
GCSE Grades A*: Not published
GCSE Grades A*/A: 32%
Gordonstoun will not be a school of choice for parents seeking academic results, or a targeted academic education. By any standards, academic attainment is poor set against its peers within the premier league of British boarding schools.
However, in its combination of whole child focus, Round Square curriculum, and the prestige of its royal alumni, no other school within the UK comes even close to matching it.
Judged in its own terms, particularly within the context of its Round Square approach and history, Gordonstoun is a genuinely different type of boarding school, that is much better able to find, support, and nurture the many gifts of children outside the classroom than its mainstay public school counterparts – and on that basis the UK educational system, and parents seeking a whole child education, would be much poorer without it.
• Outstanding non-academic curriculum
• ‘Round Square’ education
• Academic performance
• Geographically remoteness
• Relatively high fees
• The non-academic child who wants the prestige of one of the world’s highest profile schools
• Getting the best from children of all abilities
• A balanced indoor-outdoor education
• Those seeking a single sex education
• A traditional “English” boarding school
• An academic education or school ethic
• Number of children: 577 pupils
• Age Range: 13-18
• Boarding number: 515 pupils
• Day number: 108
• Sixth Form: 469 pupils
• Number of full time teaching and pastoral staff: 138
• HMIc Rating Care: Very Good (2015)
• HMIc Rating Environment: Very Good (2015)
• HMIc Rating Staffing: Very Good (2015)
• HMIc Rating Leadership: Excellent (2015) “Sector Leading”
• HMIe Rating Learning Experience: Excellent (2009) “Sector Leading”
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