This Berkshire senior school has an excellent Sixth Form, an extensive co-curricular programme, and pastoral care underpinned by a distinctive ethos based on Quaker values.
While it could easily be branded an alternative school, it would be more accurate to describe LP as offering a different approach to education, one that strongly encourages free-thinking and individuality. This is a school where everyone is on first-name terms, and there are regular silent moments for reflection throughout the school day.
The words Change-maker and Change Champions are common currency here, as the school remains true to its commitment to Achievement with Values, Character and Community. Founded as a Quaker School in 1890, continues to build its forward-thinking approach to education on Quaker values of respect, peace, equality and community. While the majority of governors are Quakers, LP is not a religious school and only a small number of students and staff are Quakers.
There’s a focus on peace; on equality (LP has recently appointed a Diversity and Inclusion Officer to further embed equality across the school); and on community (students get three home cooked meals a day and there’s wraparound care until 9pm for day students, all included in the fees).
LP is one of only small number of Quaker schools in the UK (others include Ackworth, Bootham, Sidcot, and Mount School York). The school prides itself on having a distinctive ethos and offering an education that goes beyond the classroom; families talk about its sense of calm and care for the individual. The Peace Pole on campus is very symbolic of the school’s caring outlook.
LP has around 520 students; around a third are boarders, and there’s a good number of students coming from 30-plus different countries. It’s large enough to offer a broad curriculum with some outstanding specialist facilities (GCSEs, A Levels and the IB are well covered here), yet small enough to foster the community spirit that LP is fondly known for. The IB Diploma Programme and a specialist Pre-Sixth pathway for overseas students adds to the international appeal of this school.
It’s not results-driven and although there’s plenty of academic rigour and a requirement for hard work, the school describes itself as “an academic greenhouse that looks to nurture more so than hothouse”.
LP was rated Excellent in all areas in its most recent Independent School Inspectorate (ISI) report in November 2021, the first time that Leighton Park has gained the top category in all areas of an inspection. Inspectors praised the school for its “excellent pupil and teacher relationships and the exemplary standards of pupil behaviour”.
The report also found that “Pupils display excellent attitudes to learning. They are passionate and enthusiastic without ever losing sight of the inherent Quaker ‘testimonies’ principles. Pupils are supportive of each other in their learning and trusting of their teachers.”
“Our calm, purposeful school combines the breadth of learning traditionally valued by UK independent schools with forward-thinking approach to education, inspired by our Quaker values. The highest quality teaching and learning are of course at the heart of our approach but can only be most effective when combined with a focus on values, character and community. Our aim is to inspire students to be independent learners with a determined desire to be the changemakers of the future,” is how Deputy Head (Academic), Karen Gracie-Langrick, describes the school.
Teaching at LP focuses on encouraging students to push themselves “to their cerebral limits without fear of failure or judgement”. It offers the breadth of curriculum that is so typical (and highly valued) of a UK independent education with specialist teaching from Year 7 and a choice of languages (Spanish or Mandarin in Year 7, plus French in Year 8 and German from Year 9).
The school combines this with its own forward-thinking approach to education. It offers a wider choice of vocational and academic subjects than offered at many schools in the sector; engineering as a GCSE option, Music Tech and Creative Digital Media BTECs, and the option to take the IB Diploma.
There’s a very wide choice of 26 subjects offered at GCSE level; dance and food preparation & nutrition are among recent additions as the school keeps pace with changing trends. LP has also made the IGCSE Global Perspectives compulsory as part of its “commitment to intercultural understanding and peace.”.
Around 75% of students take A Levels here (alongside the Extended Project Qualification), with the rest taking the IBDP, the CTEC Sport or BTEC Digital Music Production. There’s also a Pre-Sixth year for Year 11 overseas students.
LP’s youngest students, who come from a mix of state primary and prep schools, are given a great start to their senior education. Students in Year 7 and 8 learn in a ‘school within a school’. LP offers the school’s youngest students the comfort and familiarity of having their own building, specialist teachers for their age group, and the facilities of the Fryer House boarding house, which is also home to Year 7-8 boarders. They also enjoy the popular Fryer Camping experience on the first weekend of term to help them make friends early on. Students are stretched and challenged through initiatives like the Fryer Project Qualification.
Year 9s have their own Social Hub in the centre of the School, and it’s compulsory to complete the Duke of Edinburgh Bronze Award.
Sixth Formers have a dedicated Study Centre, attend regular field trips, study visits and adventure weekends in the UK and abroad, and many take up the opportunity to complete community work in Africa. There’s a lifeskill and careers guidance programme called the Change-maker Programme, which features lectures, a wide range of internship and work experience options, and discussions around climate change and sustainability. The school also works with local businesses to teach students about Ethical Enterprise.
Class sizes are small here – average class sizes of 16 in Years 10-11, and just seven students in the Sixth Form. Every student belongs to an even smaller tutor group of around 10 students, and they see their tutor three times every day, which gives every child a huge sense of support on a daily basis.
STEAM is really big here, and the school won the national Award for Excellence in STEAM Education in 2020. All students get the opportunity to participate in a STEAM project each year in the STEAM Innovation Hub. As a technology-focused school, all students have a Chromebook laptop (included in the fees) and students praised its delivery of online learning during the recent lockdowns.
Music is a standout feature of LP, which offers plenty of opportunities to perform, produce and learn. Over half of the students study an instrument with one of its 27 music teachers; three choirs, school orchestra, ensembles and jazz groups are among the many music clubs and groups; and students can take a specialist qualification in music technology in Sixth Form.
It’s the only school in Europe to be a Yamaha Flagship Music Education Partner, which highlights the school's focus on "making music accessible, irrespective of individual capabilities".
The school’s passion and ambition for the arts is matched by its facilities. The very impressive Michael Malnick Centre (MMC) for Music and Media (named after the ‘Goodbye Mr Chips’ actor and Old Leightonian who left a bursary to the school on his death), opened in 2019. It’s hard not be wowed by the music classrooms, seven additional music practice rooms, Yamaha Live Lounge recording studio and a digital media studio here.
The digital media studio acts as a base for the school’s BTEC in Digital Media Production, as well as several related co-curricular hobbies, including Film, TV and Animation club. And the school has an excellent partnership with Pinewood Studios to further boost its drama curriculum.
It might not be the sportiest school in the area, but LP’s inclusive sports programme is still very varied and supportive, and there is an advanced performer programme for elite athletes. The most popular boys’ sports are football, rugby, athletics and cricket, while it’s netball, hockey, tennis and swimming for the girls; the new Director of Sport, Simon Bradley, will be introducing Girls’ Rugby into the PE curriculum. Sports facilities include all-weather tennis courts, flood-lit Astro-turf pitch, covered swimming pool, and a gym, fitness studio and a strength and conditioning suite, and there are plenty of sporting activities offered off-timetable including rock climbing, judo, golf, horse riding, sailing, dance and swimming.
There’s no shortage of extra-curricular activities here; it’s big on numbers (around 90 co-curricular activities on offer, all included in the tuition fees) and variety (everything from dressmaking, knitting coding, Lego and maths to boiling an egg, magic, stressless art and yoga). There’s a brilliant online Hobby Finder too to help students select the right club at the right time. There’s also a huge focus on STEAM activities, coding club, robotics, maths team, design & build, club STEAM to name but a few.
There’s also an emphasis is on supporting the local community, and students take great pride in mentoring students at neighbouring schools, for example. Change Champions students are working hard on 14 projects to make Leighton Park more sustainable, including one project to plant more trees in the local park.
Leighton Park is one of the country’s top performing schools for Sixth Form education, and the UK Government’s league tables for Sixth Form Academic Progress show Leighton Park to be the top performing school in Berkshire and 27th in England for academic progress. Leighton Park is not a highly academically selective school, so these results are a testament to the quality of teaching and students’ appetite for learning.
IB 2021 results: The average score was 35.5, the school’s highest score is started offering the IBDP over 10 years ago.
2021 A Level results: 72% of grades were A*-A and 93% were A*-B. Top scoring subjects included maths (72% A*-A), further maths (88% A*-A), physics (93% A*-B) and art (80% A*-A). In music, another strength of the school, 80% were graded A*.
2021 GCSE results: 53% of all grades were 9–7 (A*–A) and 95% were 4(C). Once again, STEAM subjects came out top. In maths 54% of grades were 9-7, in chemistry 76%, in physics 74%, and in biology 67%. Other outstanding subjects include German where 80% of the cohort achieved grade 9 and music with 67% grades 7-9.
All students taking the CTEC and BTEC achieved 100% Distinction.
Leavers’ destinations include different universities in the UK and abroad and the variety of degree choices reflect the school’s strengths in STEAM, music and business. In 2021, 67% went on to STEAM-related degrees and 56% went on to Russell Group universities.
LP offers full, weekly or flexi boarding in one of its three boarding houses. The newly renovated and co-ed Fryer House is home to Year 7 and 8 girls and boys, and its day room, dining hall, music room, games room and wellness room crate a fantastic home away from home. It’s single-sex boarding from Year 9 upwards, and single study bedrooms for Sixth Formers. Day students can enjoy free boarding nights every year.
While the school is located within the built-up commuter town of Reading, there’s plenty of green open space (65 acres in fact) to help create an oasis of calm.
Just 30 minutes from London it’s well-connected, and the school has all the facilities you would expect from a leading independent school,.
Key points of entry are Years 7, 9 and Lower Sixth; 60 students transition from Fryer into Year 9, leaving around 20 places for students joining from secondary schools and prep schools.
Applicants sit an entrance exam and attend an interview.
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