Small class sizes where students get plenty of individual attention, teachers bringing lessons to life using the great outdoors, and specialist teaching sums up the education offered at Lathallan School’s rather magical, castle setting.
As a small school of no more than 250 students, Lathallan is praised for having a close-knit family community that can be hard to replicate at larger schools. There shouldn’t be the anonymity that a big school may have here, and it’s often described as a friendly school with a family atmosphere. As headmaster Richard Toley is proud to admit, “every member of staff knows each child by name and nature”.
With such a low student-to-tutor ratio, it can offer focused interventions to ensure rapid progress in a small class setting, as well as excellent pastoral care. Lathallan is also very fortunate that it can still offer state-of-the-art facilities even though its number of students is small.
Originally a Prep School, Lathallan expanded into an all-through school with the opening of its Senior year groups in 2006. Today, it offers a complete education from Nursery (children can join from birth) through to 18 years. The five school values of Confidence, Opportunity, Respect, Endeavour and Modesty are reflected across Lathallan’s broad and creative curriculum.
A non-selective school, Lathallan will appeal to students of all abilities and to those with strengths in areas beyond the academic, such as sport, drama and leadership. And with its coastal location, school farm, zipwire, and treehouse classroom, it’s an incredibly outdoorsy school.
As one Junior School teacher says, “the children love learning outside” and, with facilities like these, who wouldn’t?
Like many independent schools in Scotland, Lathallan follows the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), the national curriculum for three to 18-year-olds that is offered in all Scottish state schools. Students study a broad range of subjects until the age of 16 (much broader than the GCSE curriculum), before specialising in three to five subjects for the last two years of their education.
Individual attention, bringing lessons to life using the great outdoors, and specialist teaching sums up the curriculum offered by Lathallan throughout its Junior and Senior Schools. Students learn in average class sizes of 12, and there’s specialist teaching in science, French, music, art and sport from J1. Lessons are regularly taken beyond the classroom, so a creative writing class may be in a treehouse and a lesson in co-ordinates will be taught with a campfire treasure hunt. It’s certainly a school that lets ‘children be children’ and brings a fun, adventurous and innovative twist to some parts of the curriculum.
French is taught from Nursery and Spanish from J5, with a strong focus on immersive teaching techniques such as singing, reading and active play. Science lessons take place in a new purpose-built laboratory equipped with all the essentials from Bunsen burners to a Van de Graaff generator.
In the Senior School, the curriculum becomes broader – and the school day becomes longer (8.30am to 5pm). As students move up the school, National 5 subject choices include music technology, business management, drama, classical studies and environmental science. If a subject is not offered, students can “negotiate to do subjects, not in our core choice” such is the approachable and flexible nature of this school.
Typically, students sit five Highers at the age of 17 and then sit three Advanced Highers in their final year of school. Highers and Advanced Highers are the Scottish equivalents of A Levels and both are recognised by universities worldwide; while Highers are considered the same as AS Levels, Advanced Highers are considered slightly harder than A Levels.
There’s a strong sporting ethos at Lathalllan, and over 20% of students compete in regional or national level at sport. Its strengths include rugby (it hosts an annual 7s event) and netball (it has won four national titles in the past two years). Other sports on the curriculum include hockey, cricket, tennis, athletics, basketball, cross country and swimming.
Students have a wide choice when it comes to music tuition; they can opt for specialised teaching in piano, keyboard, violin, guitar, clarinet, snare drums, bagpipes, chanter, flute, recorder and cello. The school also stays rooted in its Scottish heritage with lessons in piping and marching drums, and there’s a very talented Lathallan Pipe Band.
There’s a well-resourced Art Centre that is the hub for all specialist art teaching, and simply take a tour of the school grounds to see the student’s very clear passion for outdoor art – which may be a display of scarecrows in autumn or a fairy door trail in spring.
Drama also takes centre stage, whether in specialist lessons in the curriculum, annual productions such as School or Rock, or acting on Lathallan’s rather magical outdoor performance area, aptly called Narnia. Students perform very well in their LAMDA exams, and high numbers of students go on to study drama at university.
Extra-curricular activities are offered throughout the week, and are compulsory on Personal Development Afternoon (PDA) every Friday. Clubs range from the creative (knitting) to the active (rock climbing), but also explore the innovative; students can take barista training in the on-site coffee shop, host a radio station or set up a jam-making business. Pupils can take part in farming, golf, gun club, knitting, photography, rock climbing, skiing and auditions for our school show.
Eco club is very popular (a sign of a very caring sprit here), and students are currently driving a campaign for Lathallan to become one of the first plastic-free schools in North East Scotland, as well as initiating some wonderful beach cleans.
There’s early preparation for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, with students learning climbing, mountaineering and volunteering skills from J7. An indication of the type of student here, Lathallan has the UK’s highest percentage of students completing the Bronze, Silver and Gold levels. It’s harder to find a student not doing the Award here.
The school also teaches navigation skills in the National Navigation Awards Scheme (NNAS), and encourages students to conserving a wild place as they work towards the John Muir Discovery Award (a leader in early environmentalism in Northern America in the 1920s). Once again, it’s the school’s campus and location that lend themselves so wonderfully to these opportunities for outdoor learning.
Students also learn the ‘farm to fork’ concept by feeding the pigs and chickens or digging potatoes and picking apples on the school farm (and 60% of ingredients for school meals sourced on campus).
Lathallan offers boarders an opportunity to live and study in a castle – it sounds like a fairytale. Lathallan offers a choice of full-time and flexi boarding in one co-ed boarding house. An advantage of having a small boarding community is that Lathallan offers boarders a choice of what they want to do at the weekend; it’s flexible and personal.
Evening activities are provided for boarders during the week, and there’s no Saturday school.
Lathallan’s location is breathtaking. Set within 60 acres of grounds, Lathallan is one of only a few schools in the world to call a castle its home.
It’s rural but well-connected, with Montrose and Laurencekirk train stations within a 15 minute-drive and Aberdeen airport only 40 minutes away.
There are no entrance exams, and students are assessed on “their own merit”.
“We strongly believe that every child deserves to enjoy the success of their individual abilities in whatever field they lie – in the classroom, on the sports field, in the arts, in personal achievement.”
The school has a wide catchment area, served by direct coach runs from Aberdeen and Stonehaven to the North and Brechin, Montrose and Finavon to the South.
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