Gresham’s (Senior) offers a choice of pathways in the Sixth Form – A Levels, the IBDP and BTECs – and encourages students to play to their many different strengths.
Gresham’s is an excellent all-rounder with a very positive vibe, a beautiful location, impressive exam results and one of the UK’s widest and most varied sixth form curriculum. Its facilities will be the envy of many rival independent schools; it has an outstanding new outdoor activity centre, a specialist STEAM centre, an excellent recording studio, and a professional theatre.
This is an all-through school with Pre-prep (Nursery to Year 1), Prep (Years 3 to 8) and Senior (Years 9-13) schools on three different sites in the upmarket town of Holt. There are around 520 students in the Senior school, and two-thirds are boarders.
With a 200-acre site close to the North Norfolk coast, Gresham’s offers a beautiful place for students to both live and learn. It describes its students as “naturally happy” and when you look at the surrounding coast and countryside, it’s not hard to see why.
There’s a choice of pathways in the Sixth Form – A Levels, IBDP and BTECs – which signals the school’s commitment to a well-rounded curriculum and belief that one size does not fit all. It is the only school in Norfolk to offer the IB too. This is a not a school with a typical student who is steered towards one pathway to further education. Academic, creative and vocational subjects are popular (numbers taking PE for example are on the rise). The school offers variety and encourages students to play to their different strengths.
Named after its founder, John Gresham, the school offers many opportunities in academia, the creative arts and sport and, as the school says, “it is a busy place”. Founded in 1555, Gresham’s has a long history of producing outstanding achievers in all walks of life, from the actress Olivia Colman to the inventor James Dyson. There’s no typical Greshamian, but it will really suit any student who wants to throw themselves into the myriad of indoor and outdoor activities that this school has to offer.
Douglas Robb was appointed Headmaster of Gresham's in September 2014; prior to that he was a housemaster at Oundle School and then head of Oswestry School. A self-confessed “rugby-loving Scot”, Mr Robb runs the school with the belief the learning is about more than achieving a raft of A grades and top scores.
He says: “Gresham’s is not a production line which designs curriculum with the sole focus of climbing the school league tables.”
In its most recent Independent Schools Inspectorate visit, Gresham’s was awarded an ‘Excellent’ rating across all nine categories in all three schools.
Students start Senior school in Year 9; if joining from Gresham’s Prep, they build on the broad curriculum previously taught and continue with a complete curriculum covering the sciences, humanities, creative subjects and up to three languages. There’s still a traditional six-day week here (as well as evening Prep on weekdays).
In Years 10 and 11, students study up to 10 IGCSE and GCSE subjects. Gresham’s also offers a one-year, fast-track GCSE programme for international and UK students, which prepares them for IBDP or A Levels. It’s a challenging and demanding course but students have increased contact time with teachers and study seven or eight subjects (rather than the usual 8- 10) to help them achieve their grades.
In the Sixth Form students have a fantastic degree of choice; they can choose to follow the IB Diploma Programme, three A Level subjects, or to replace one or two A Levels with BTEC diplomas in agriculture, digital music production or sport. There is a wide choice of subjects offered within the arts, languages, sciences, and humanities for both A Level and IB students,
Gresham’s has invested in the specialist teaching and resources needed to deliver the depth and breadth of so many different post-16 pathways. Thanks to its location in the countryside, Gresham’s is a great place to learn more about the farming business; it has some excellent music and sports facilities; and the STEAM centre is one of the best in the country.
There’s a strong languages programme, including French, German, Spanish, Mandarin and Japanese; a wide choice of arts subjects in the list of GCSE options (art, music and drama, as well as more unusual options of graphic communication and 3D design); and over 20 different subjects offered at A Level, including ‘new’ subjects such as photography, psychology and history of art.
There’s a growing STEAM programme here that has been given the biggest boost with the opening of the Dyson Centre. Equipped with classrooms, laboratories, workshops and open plan areas, the centre has become a popular hub for designing, experimenting and innovating – and has really changed the way Gresham’s teaches STEAM subjects. (It’s a beautiful building too that certainly feels inspiring and creative). It’s certainly offering students the space to collaborate and create – we loved reading about the drama, art and computing departments working together to create Animatronic Audrey II for a recent school production of The Little Shop of Horrors.
Gresham’s has an inclusive culture with a learning support team that works with children on a 1:1 basis, with small groups and within the classrooms. The Learning Support Department works with students with a variety of specific learning difficulties including Dyspraxia, ADD/ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia and ASD.
Pastoral care is paramount here, and the school has a dedicated Year 12 Wellbeing Programme with activities as varied as yoga, juggling, personal security tips, sexual health and goal setting.
Gresham's reputation for being a sporty school is well-deserved. There’s a long list of sports played here, both for recreation and competitively: as well as timetabled lessons in hockey, netball, cricket, rugby, shooting and swimming, the school offers athletics, badminton, cross-country, football, circuits & fitness, equestrian, sailing, squash, tennis, basketball, golf, table-tennis and volleyball. Such is the sporting talent here, that there are many students in the school’s Talented Athlete Programme.
The arts are an integral part of the curriculum. The Auden Theatre is a professional venue that is used for both school and outside performances. Recent student performances have included The History Boys, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The 39 Steps, and We Will Rock You. There’s a strong choral community linked to the school’s Chapel, and a very popular music recording studio used for podcasts, recitals and professionally released singles. There’s also a great school tradition that dates back to 2016 of the student bands’ Gresham’s Girls and Gresham’s Guys annually releasing charity singles.
This is most definitely a school that encourages creative thinking, imagination, performance and artistic talent. As alumni Olivia Colman says: “Perhaps I wouldn’t have been an actor at all if it weren’t for Gresham’s."
For a relatively small senior school, Gresham's has an incredible extra-curricular programme. The GAPs programme (Gresham’s Activity Programme) offers choice, variety and flexibility. The school has adapted the timetable to give all students the time to play their chosen sport for 90 minutes as well as attend a club – all on the same day. (We did say there was a busy way of life here!)
Outdoor learning is high on the agenda, and there’s an outstanding new outdoor activity centre; this features a 21 obstacle armed forces standard assault course; a 250-metre zip wire; a 22 element high ropes course; a 12 element low ropes course for younger children; abseiling facilities; a 20 person purposefully basic bunkhouse for use as a dorm, or teaching facility; and the centrepiece: the 28 metre ‘Bourdillon Tower’. It’s used in so many ways, including team building, leadership and problem-solving activities when students join the Sixth Form.
A mention must also go to the Year 9 Survival Skills course, designed by Gresham’s very own Head of Adventure: it’s great preparation for any student signing up for the Combined Cadet Force of Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, from Bronze to Gold Level.
In 2021, IB Diploma students achieved an average score of 37.5 points, 4.5 points above the worldwide average. In 2019, the last year before Covid-19 and changes to exams, the average score was 34.1.
A Level students achieved a 100% overall pass rate; 56% of grades were A*-A and 81% of grades were A*-B. In 2019, 29% of grades were A*-A and 58% of grades were A*-B.
In the BTEC results, 20% achieved a Distinction and 80% a Merit.
In GCSEs, 58% of grades were A*-A (or equivalent) and 78% were A*-B (or equivalent), in 2019, 40% of grades were A*-A (or equivalent) and 62% were A*-B (or equivalent),
There are seven single sex boarding houses; a new co-ed day house for Sixth Formers will open in 2023. The mix of day and boarding students in the boarding houses certainly helps to build a closer-knit community.
Boarders are made to feel like part of a ‘house family’ and there are frequent pizza making evenings, house curry nights, and trips to the beach to watch the sunset. Each house has its own lovely traditions, our favourite being Tallis House 10k run to Sheringham for fish and chips followed by a “spontaneous dash for the sea”!
Both day students and boarders are supported by a resident housemistress or housemaster, many who live in the house with their own family (and often a very lovable pet dog!).
Located in the pretty market town of Holt, Gresham’s is just four miles away from beautiful coastline.
Specialist facilities include a music technology recording studio, a centre for STEAM/Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics named after former student James Dyson, a theatre named after another former pupil W.H. Auden, the outdoor performance area Theatre-in-the-Woods, and a new outdoor activity centre. Sports facilities include Astroturf pitches, indoor swimming pool, two sports halls, over 30 tennis courts, an indoor shooting range, six rugby pitches, a gym, athletics track and a cross country course.
There are six key entry points to Gresham’s: Nursery, Reception, Year 3, Year 7, Year 9 and Year 12. From Year 9, all applicants sit an entrance assessment in Maths and English and attend an interview.
Annual fees range from £11.295 to £27,450 to for day students, and £28,500 to £39,345 for boarders.
Good for: Parents looking for a small, all-through school with a caring, close-knit community. The choice of pathways at Sixth Form offers a strong curriculum for different types of learner, really helping to broaden the appeal of this school. Whether academic, creative or sporty, your child will be offered plenty of opportunity to grow, learn and explore their potential – and the outdoor education at the school is simply excellent. Gresham’s also has a beautiful location, offering your child the opportunity to study in a rural campus with some fantastic indoor and outdoor facilities – while being close to some stunning coastline.
Not for: Parents searching for a city, single sex or large school. The Norfolk location may feel too rural for some, and parents looking for a day school should be aware that there’s a large boarding community here. The positive ‘have a go’ adventurous spirit of Gresham’s won’t suit the child who prefers a more academic environment – and children should arrive here with plenty of enthusiasm to try new things, explore new interests.
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