United Kingdom / South East England / Cambridgeshire / Mander Portman Woodward (Cambridge)

Mander Portman Woodward (Cambridge) Review

MPW has a reputation for its exam-focused GCSE and A Level programmes, a broad and flexible curriculum and small class sizes – as well as ongoing career and university support.
At a glance
School type
Private
School phase
Post 16
Inspection rating
Outstanding
Curricula taught
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Annual fee average
GBP 24,000
Annual fees
GBP 23,220–24,990
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
1987
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Mr Tom Caston
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Mander Portman Woodward (Cambridge)
School type
Private
School phase
Post 16
Inspection rating
Outstanding
Curricula taught
Availability 2021/22
No data
Availability 2022/23
No data
Annual fee average
GBP 24,000
Annual fees
GBP 23,220–24,990
Price band help
Premium
Status
Open
Opening year
1987
School year
Sep to Jul
Principal
Mr Tom Caston
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MPW has a reputation for its exam-focused GCSE and A Level programmes, a broad and flexible curriculum and small class sizes – as well as ongoing career and university support.

MPW Cambridge is a city centre school for 14 to 19-year olds, offering over 45 GCSE and A Level courses to a community of British and international students. As well as a wide range of courses, it has a flexible curriculum and small classes of up to 10 students. With a reputation for being very exam-focused, this non-selective school is guiding mixed ability students towards high academic success. And with its less than traditional approach to education (no uniform, tutors and students are on first name terms), the school will appeal to those who prefer a more liberal schooling.

Established in 1973, MPW has a family of non-selective schools in London, Birmingham and Cambridge which currently enrols around 1,200 students, with one third coming from overseas. Full boarding will be offered at its London campus from September 2022 when the school opens its newly acquired building, Queen’s Gate House.

Around half of the school’s community at MPW Cambridge are international students who live with host families or in private boarding accommodation. Most students here are aged 18-20 and studying for A Levels.

Principal Tom Caston worked in investment banking before starting his teaching career at Shiplake College in 1999. Prior to joining MPW he held senior posts in a number of independent schools, most recently a Deputy Headship at Framlingham College.

Curriculum

MPW focuses on delivering flexible programmes for Year 10-11 and Sixth Form, offering A Levels that can be taken over one or two years and GCSEs over one year.

There is a wide and broad choice of subjects and examining boards to meet the many different needs of the many different students who enol here. Students can choose from a vast list of more than 30 different A Level subjects, including the core subjects, some less traditional options, the arts and six different languages. Choices include media studies, photography, philosophy, history of art, classical civilisation, law and accounting. Similarly, there are more than 15 GCSE subjects that cover a spectrum of academic and non-academic interests, including art and design, computer science, psychology, economics and Spanish.

There are also short retake courses, which attract those students looking to cram for retakes and Oxbridge entrance exams.

Teaching is delivered in “an exam-focused fashion” and there’s frequent and regular tests, weekly timed assignments and mock exams – much more than you would find at a typical independent school. The school’s philosophy is that “lots of tests and lots of homework” is the most effective way to achieve the best possible grades. It will not be the right learning environment for every child – training a student to pass exams and get good grades may not always prepare them for the world of work.

However, it is suited to students who thrive in smaller ‘tutorial-style’ class where they receive plenty of personal attention. With the support of a personal tutor and regular assessment, (and frequent updates to parents, the school will quickly identify any students who is underperforming – and intervene.

MPW also aims to teach children to take responsibility for themselves and their learning, and it has “high expectations” regarding attendance, punctuality and work completion ¬– all of which can give them a huge advantage in university. And it’s certainly delivering top results.

The school also has a well-established programme to support full-time students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, working-memory problems and processing speed problems.

Is it MDW an exam factory? Is it concentrating on an exam-driven syllabus at the expense of a wider curriculum? While the focus is undoubtedly on getting the top grades, families praise the school for its pastoral care and growing programme of extra-curricular activities. Students talk a lot about becoming more independent and mature too. Learning is not confined to the classroom wither, with regular field trips being organised to support their education outside the classroom.

Many of the tutors are A Level or GCSE examiners for the subjects that they teach, and with this expertise they put plenty of focus on the syllabus and exam technique. They’ll know exactly what the examination boards are looking for.

Students also receive very detailed coursebooks for every subject they take. Tutors teach in what is described as an “adult atmosphere” that is both friendly yet mature, relaxed yet academically rigorous.

MPW invests time in preparing students for transition to university. All students attend a series of seminars, each targeted at a particular degree course and led by admissions tutors and other professionals in the field; there’s specialist preparation for UCAT, BMAT, LNAT and other university entrance tests; and extra support for students planning to apply for Medicine, Dentistry, Veterinary Medicine, Law and Engineering.

Sport and the arts

MPW does not have the sports fields, tennis courts and theatres (or even a garden) of some other city centre campuses, but this doesn’t appear to be missed by the students who are there. Sport is compulsory for GCSE students and there are opportunities for all ages to compete in the football team, and attend classes in badminton, basketball and cricket. They also have the use of sports facilities at The Leys School, which is opposite the school’s main campus.

Beyond the classroom

Whole MPW certainly has a strong academic focus, it does encourage students to become the well-rounded individuals they need to shine on any top university application. GCSE students take an enrichment programme, including one activity, one sport session, and a study skills class every week, and this covers theatre visits, sport, Duke of Edinburgh, debating, poetry appreciation and community service. Trips are taken to Florence, North Wales and the Isle of Wight, as well as the many cultural locations within walking distance.

The school takes full advantage of having the University of Cambridge and the university hospital Addenbrooke’s on its doorstep. Students visit to departments and areas of cutting-edge research, ranging from Artificial Intelligence & Computing via Business & Management to Ethics & Brain Science. They also attend talks and seminars at university departments.

Academic results

In Cambridge, 68% of A Level grades were A*-A in 2021 and 84% were A*-B. %. At GCSE, 90% of all results were Grades 9-4 and 35% were Grades 9-7.

Perhaps a better measure of the success of this school, though, is its Value-Add – just how much does a student improve from when they join the school in Year 12 to when they leave with their A Level results in Year 13. MPW Cambridge has been placed by the Department for Education in the top 1% of all schools and colleges in England for value-added at A Level.

University destinations in recent years include Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Imperial College London, King’s College London, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Queen Mary University of London, Sheffield, Southampton, University College London, Warwick and University of York.

Campus and facilities

MPW has modern facilities designed for its many specialist programmes, including three science laboratories, an art room, ICT suite, study rooms, a library and common room. These are across two sites inside Victorian buildings, a short walk from each other in the heart of Cambridge.

Admission and fees

MPW is non-selective, but all applicants still complete a maths and English assessment; the school is more interested to attracting students with a positive attitude to study and behaviour.

Students enter the school at both 16 and 19 years, and most GCSE students stay on for A Levels.

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