Founded in 1970, Hurtwood House is a private co-educational sixth-form only boarding school based around an Edwardian mansion and set in 200 acres of grounds in the Surrey Hills.
Dazzling added value academic results, breadth of curriculum, sixth-form only admissions, creative arts focus, and mixed ability selection make it unique in the UK boarding school sector.
It is also the most expensive boarding school in the country.
The school was founded in 1970 by its founding headmaster Richard Jackson, to fill a gap in the “complacent, dull public school tradition” which he saw as bereft of opportunities for the creative child. He deliberately established a sixth-form only school in order to offer pupils a “mature, less childish” environment for nurturing their talents, a better stepping stone between school and university, and a cross between public school and dedicated sixth form college that takes the best from each. Alumni include many actors and musicians including Emily Blunt and Hans Zimmer.
Hurtwood offers a significant choice of 22 GCE A Level subjects for study, and its arts program covers the breadth of theatre, music, dance, television production, textile, fashion, media, and photography options.
Subjects can be studied in any combination – Hurtwood is focused on delivering an education tailored around the individual child.
Up to half of students come from overseas with more than 30 nationalities represented. Selection is by interview and academic potential, not previous academic results. Nearly a third of students have English as an additional language, and the school offers dedicated specialist lessons to help those who require English tuition with an enhanced 15% levy on top of standard fees.
The level of fees is eye watering, but the opportunity for international students is unmatched – see below for details. The school is genuinely mixed ability and its success in academic league tables is a testament to its teaching, in many cases outperforming hothouse schools that limit intake to those of significantly above average ability. In added value tables it is the best performing public school in the UK. As the ISI reports: “Students of all abilities make excellent and rapid progress, this in no small part explained by an extraordinarily high 1:6 staff-pupil ratio. There is no special provision for dyslexia or SEN; class sizes between 7 and 12 are so small that support is offered better within lessons.
Hurtwood uniquely also offers 1-year GCSE programs in up to 6 core subjects that run in parallel for international students and as a “rescue” for UK students who have suffered interruptions to their education through, for example, illness. Class sizes are usually less than 6.
Outside the academic syllabus, the ENIGMA program enables pupils to experience areas outside the confines of the curriculum, from philosophy to kickboxing. The approach to sport is “Sport for all, if not all for Sport”, and sport is loosely defined to cover everything from traditional rugby and netball to horse riding and documentary film making.
There are 150 places available each year, equally divided between boys and girls. Selection is based on interview and school reference. A key requirement is that potential students understand what Hurtwood has to offer and are passionate about attending and contributing. “Academic records are absolutely not the only criterion for selection.”
Registration is by completion of application form and payment of £1,000 fee. There is a waiting list, but those who are right for Hurtwood at interview will be offered a place. That ‘fit’ is more important than GCSE results – Hurtwood House knows what can be achieved when pupils join the school, so the past is very much a foreign country.
Hurtwood House has a 5% Oxbridge slipstream, but pupils are as likely to attend top drama or arts schools like RADA and LAMDA or St Martins.
The school is non-denominational, open to and respectful of children from all religious faiths.
Hurtwood House was rated Excellent in its most recently available ISI Educational Quality Report (2018).
Hurtwood by any standards is an exceptional school. For the creative child, superlatives like “extraordinary” are not out-of-place. However, it is Hurtwood’s ability to take children of mixed ability and enable them to succeed at the highest creative and academic levels according to their gifts that set it apart from almost every school in the UK private school sector.
It achieves this through its being limited to sixth-form study, charging very high fees so as to achieve a high staff to pupil ratio for every child, and the passion of its founders whose philosophy and presence are felt through every aspect of the school’s life. It may not (yet) have the prestige of its older public school counterparts, but by any others standards, Hurtwood sets the benchmark for all that is best in a private school education. And for creative, mixed ability pupils, including international students, schools do not come better than this, or more highly recommended.
• Perfect school for creative children
• Breadth of curriculum
• Class sizes designed so all children excel
• Not (yet) as prestigious as historic public school counterparts
• Needs courage of pupils to leave existing schools route to sixth form
• High fees
• International admissions/approach
• Nurturing creative mixed ability children
• Whole child approach with resources to deliver
• A single sex education
• An academic hot-house
• Those wanting a traditional public school education
What actions have been completed to secure excellent for the next ISI Report In Boarding and Leadership?
There was a very small “technical” issue relating to the supervision of two small, off-campus student units which has since been resolved and we are confident that we will move to “excellent.”
In our Leadership classification this related to middle management. We have since strengthened the role of the Heads of Department (HoD) and changed the timetable to give them extra time to meet their teams. The same provision has been arranged for Housemasters.
Do you have any means-tested bursary, rather than scholarship, assistance for disadvantaged pupils? If so what percentage of students receive help and at what level.
We are always keen to support disadvantaged students and although we have no “endowment” to provide finds, we do everything we can out of our own fee income. We help mostly our local day students with amounts varying from 10% to 100% of the fees. Twenty of our current students are receiving significant bursary help.
What is the current percentage of international students? How important are international students to the life, culture, ethos and ‘feel’ of the school?
About a third of our students are from overseas, which adds a rich cultural variety to our school and is very much part of our ethos and “feel,” and significantly broadens the experiences of our UK students.
What do you look for when considering potential students for Hurtwood; what advice would you give parents as to the type of child that will be happiest, and thrive, at Hurtwood?
We are looking for students who are going to make a positive contribution to our community. Character, personality, willingness, cheerfulness, liveliness, helpfulness, maturity, a sense of responsibility and a strong sense of purpose are all qualities that we are looking for.
How important are league tables when judging a school? What do they not tell you?
Such a vexed issue! We are by no means a pressured exam “hothouse,” but we nevertheless place enormous importance on A-levels and do everything in our power to help students to get the best results that they are capable of. The League Tables and our position so high in them is the one way that parents can make a judgement as to how well a school will look after their child’s academic development and deliver the best possible outcome in terms of a university place.
The mistake is for parents to take League Tables in isolation. Equally important, but not possible to quantify in this way, is Hurtwood’s concern for each student’s personal development – delivered through pastoral care and one of the richest and most varied extra-curricular and enrichment programmes in the UK.
It should also be noted that our superb League Table position takes no account of our creativity or the fact that we are largely non-selective academically.
What are the three USPs of Hurtwood that set it apart?
Worldwide recognition of our outstanding creativity and dynamism in the specialised fields of Theatre, Film, Dance, Art, Textiles, Photography and Music.
Academic rigour in core subjects. Outstanding A-level results. More than 90% of students obtaining places at their first-choice universities, the majority of which are Russell Group.
Providing a bridge between public school and university, and making the sixth form experience as exciting as university itself.
And a fourth ….our own highly sophisticated monitoring system.
What is the key benefit of being a Sixth Form only public school?
It is very attractive for teachers to be teaching exclusively at A-level. They are very keen to apply to us, which means that we can recruit the best. A school is only as good as its teachers and at Hurtwood they are all superb A-level specialists.
For the students this is a mature community with no younger children who would need to be treated differently.
The school is clearly supervised, but the atmosphere is part-university and part-public school and thus an excellent bridge.
It is a particularly easy school for students to join from overseas, because everyone joins at the same time and there are no pre-formed friendship groups which a new student would have to break into. There is an intake of approximately 160 new students every year.
In a sentence, how would you describe a typical Hurtwood graduate after their time with you?
Hurtwood graduates are highly individualistic, and while it would be impossible to lump them all together and generalise, it would be fair to say that they are all confident and articulate, purposeful and ambitious, with strong leadership and decision-making qualities.
A’ Level grades secured at A*/A/B 87.2% (2014)
A’ Level grades A*/A 63.7% (2014)
A’ Level grades A* 27.5% (2014)
AS Level Grades A/B 96% (Predicted)
AS Level Grades A*/A 85% (Predicted)
• Age Range: 16-18 (15-19)
• Boarding number: 330 pupils
• Day number: 18
• Number of full time teaching staff: 70 (25 part-time)
• Address: Hurtwood House, Holmbury St. Mary, Dorking, Surrey RH5 6NU
• Tel and Web Address: 0044 (0) 01483 279000, www.hurtwoodhouse.com
• Admissions: [email protected]/ 0044 (0) 1483 279000
• Gender: Co-educational (160 boys, 170 girls)
• ISI Rating Boarding (2012): Good (Outcomes and Care scored excellent)
• ISI Rating Academics (2012): Excellent
• ISI Rating Personal Development (2012): Excellent
• ISI Rating Leadership (2012): Good
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