From Nursery and Reception to Prep School, Senior School and Sixth Form, this Devon-based school offers a seamless education for both elite athletes and students of all academic abilities, both day students and boarders.
Popular with children from across South East Cornwall and South West Devon, Plymouth College is a non-selective school that offers a broad curriculum and co-curriculum. It’s a small all-through school for three to 18 year-olds with around 670 students (including 140 in the Sixth Form), and there’s a sizeable international community of students here, coming from over 30 countries. It’s certainly small enough to be able to provide a caring yet disciplined learning environment.
The Prep school is located on a different site three miles away; students move to the Senior school in Year 7 (aged 11) and have the choice of day or boarding.
“To educate, enrich and empower” is the school motto here, so you very much feel that every student is offered the opportunity to learn well beyond the curriculum. While academic achievement is important, so is nurturing sporting and artistic talent, leadership, confidence and discovering new interests.
Class sizes are small, with an average of 12-13 per class, which allows teachers to offer all students plenty of individual support, working with them to enhance their strengths and improve their weaknesses. It’s certainly a strength of the school, which sees many students leaving with top grades at GCSE and A Level.
“Only then are teachers able to really know each and every child as an individual and to offer them the tailored, bespoke education they need. We simply do not allow any child to be lost, left behind, unsupported or unchallenged. This is why pupils at Plymouth College make more academic progress than at any other school in the city.”
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ mantra; Plymouth College focuses on individual learning styles to help “your child become an active, compassionate and lifelong learner”. It’s a philosophy that runs throughout the school’s education programme, and parents praise the school for individually supporting students both emotionally and academically.
Founded in 1877, it offers an alternative to the highly selective, more academically rigorous (and single sex) grammar schools in the city. As well as being very sporty, Plymouth College is an outdoorsy school that takes full advantage of its location, close to both the moors and the sea with a wide offering of activities and plenty of student clubs set up to explore it.
Headteacher Jo Hayward was appointed in 2020, having previously been Deputy Head at the school since 2016.
The school was rated Excellent in all areas in its most recent ISI inspection in 2019.
Plymouth College offers what it describes as an “ambitious and challenging curriculum” that many students fully commit to alongside rigorous sports programmes – and all children are supported right the way through their educational journey.
The school is well-equipped to deliver a broad curriculum thanks to the investment in specialist classrooms for science, design technology, art, and food technology. There’s specialist teaching in French, Spanish (from Year 5), computing, art and food technology, music and PE from Prep onwards. It’s all about preparing students for GCSEs and A Levels, where there’s a wide choice of academic, creative and sports subjects.
GCSE options include art (fine art or photography), business, classical civilisation, computer science, design and technology, drama, French, geography, German, history, Latin, music, PE, religious studies and Spanish.
In the Sixth Form, there are two pathways. Students either take A Levels (typically three) plus the Extended Project Qualification, or the Sport Baccalaureate (a non-examined, vocational course that is accredited mainly by BTEC). Students have plenty of flexibility when choosing subjects for A Level, and they are not restricted by option blocks. All Sixth Formers have a dedicated enrichment programme to help prepare them for university and independent living.
The school also offers a one year pre-Sixth Form course for Year 11 international pupils to prepare for A Levels or the Sport Baccalaureate.
Plymouth College has a reputation for being a world-leading school for performance sport. It’s rightly proud to boast of producing over 160 athletes representing 47 different nations in 15 different sports in the past 20 years.
Plymouth is one of the UK’s best schools for swimming, and its nationally recognised swim programme offers students excellent support and coaching on their path to turning professional. The school has partnered with Plymouth Leander swimming club to provide the PL performance swimming programme for day and boarding students; there are currently 85 swimmers in 14 squads and the majority are boarders at the school. PL is one of the top swimming clubs in the country and has an impressive track record at all levels of competition from junior meets through to the Olympics.
Swimmers train in the school’s own five-lane 25m pool, as well as a 10-lane 50m and six-lane 25m pools at Plymouth Life Centre, and the four-lane 25m pool at the Leisure Centre in Plympton. Students commit to an intense schedule of 30 hours of high-performance swimming a week over 12 sessions, held before, during and straight after school; there’s also a further 90 hours of swimming time and land work in the gym. There are seven full time swim coaches led by Robin Armayan (a European Gold medal coach) and supported by a team of nutritionists, chiropractors, physios and psychologists.
Through a partnership with Plymouth Diving, the school has become a centre of excellence for diving – and Tom Daley is a former student here. The school is also a leading centre for pentathlon and fencing thanks to the direction of a dedicated full-time Director of Pentathlon and Fencing, Robert Flack.
Competitive sport is introduced from Year 3, and in team sports the school does particularly well in hockey, football and rugby. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to fit in – and there are many opportunities to get involved with sports including athletics, cricket, gymnastics, hockey, cross country and equestrian.
Interested in the arts? Well, this is not just a school for the sporty or the academic. Students stage major drama productions in the school’s theatre and chapel, ranging from School of Rock and to The Great British Bump Off (an interactive murder mystery). A highlight is the annual house drama competition when students have 24 hours to stage a play
There’s also an excellent music programme. Years 3 and 4 learn the recorder and the violin before learning to compose music using the keyboard in Year 5, and there’s tuition for a wide range of instruments including even the harp and pipe organ. There’s a genuine passion for music, and it’s hardly surprising that high numbers of students go on to form bands or join the school choirs and orchestras.
Plymouth College has a have a go’ culture that can be felt in all aspects of school life, not least its broad extra-curricular programme. There are 60 activities offered to prep and senior students; there’s such a diversity in the activities on offer from coding and animation to jazz band and stockbroker club, which all makes student life very exciting and enriching
A special mention has to go to the school’s Outdoor Education Centre on Dartmoor, used as a base for coasteering, gorge walking, climbing and mountain biking.
The school consistently achieves academic success at both GCSE and A Level, which matches its tradition of excellence in the swimming pool and on the sports pitch
2022 GCSE results: 95% of grades were 9-4/A*-C; 62% were 9-6/A*-B; and 39% were 9-7/A*-A.
2022 A Level results: 97% of grades were A*-E, 81% were A*-C, 66% were A*-B, and 43% were A*-A.
In the Sports Baccalaureate, there was a 100% pass rate, with 50% pupils achieving DDD or above. Students go on to take courses from Sports Rehabilitation at the University of West England and Sport Performance at the University of Bath, to courses in Business Management in Stirling and Criminology at Loughborough.
As well as Oxbridge and Russell Group universities, leavers’ destinations also include universities in the US.
As the school says, “Success looks different for everyone”, and Plymouth College is just as proud of its non-academic achievements – one student representing the Netherlands at the European Youth Olympics, another playing cricket at county level for example.
Plymouth offers full, weekly and flexi-boarding options; the weekly option is particularly popular as students can get the best of both worlds – a boarding experience during the week, with additional academic and co-curricular activities, and then family time at the weekends.
Boarders live on campus, either in the main College House (with one boys’ and one girls’ house) or one of two satellite houses (Thompson and The Haven).
What comes across is the strong sense of belonging in the boarding houses; students come together in common areas including games and craft rooms, music practice and computer rooms, and are cared for by houseparents who live alongside them with their own families (and pet dogs!).
Boarders can use the school’s sports facilities in the evenings and at weekends – one reason why boarding is so popular with its high performance athletes – and there’s a wide range of weekend activities including ten-pin bowling, ice skating, beach visits, cinema trips, surfing, moorland walking and horse riding.
Students in the Prep school enjoy all the benefits of using the senior school facilities (a huge advantage of being part of an all-through school) while having their own age-appropriate facilities as well ¬– music rooms, theatres, sports hall, playing fields, 25m swimming pool, ICT suite and science lab.
In the Senior school, there are fully equipped classrooms, computer suites, assembly halls and drama studios, as well as a swimming pool, sports hall, gymnasium, and all weather and outdoor pitches for various sports.
Plymouth College has a non-selective admissions policy, describing itself as an “academically inclusive school”. For Sixth Form, students need a minimum of 6 GCSEs at Grade 5 or above to include English and maths, with at least a Grade 6 in the subjects they would like to study.
It offers scholarships for Academia, Art, Music, Drama, and Sports and High Performance Sports in Years 7, 9 and Sixth Form Entry. In addition to scholarships, means tested bursaries are available.
Fees range from £8,685 in Reception to £17,715 for Sixth Form. Boarding fees are £29,835 for Years 7 and 8 through to £34,200 for Years 12 and 13.
Good for: The boarding culture here is part of daily life here, and this feeds into a great community spirit that is enjoyed by both day students and boarders. It isn’t all about being the best academic at Plymouth College, which really sets it apart from very selective schools in the area; instead, the ethos is more about providing a good all-round education. A strong chocie for sporty students, the school finds the right balances between academics and sport, and maintains a very healthy, competitive and friendly learning environment.
Not for: Plymouth College is all about offering a wider curriculum and an holistic experience so families looking for a highly academic, results-driven school may prefer to look elsewhere. As very sports-driven school, it may not be the right environment for a more academic child looking for a fast-track to Oxbridge.
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