Set in the stunning county of Cumbria, this small and friendly full boarding school is like a breath of fresh air for outdoorsy, sporty students. Sedbergh School (and its sister Casterton Sedbergh Preparatory School) is an unpretentious, happy school that is renowned for its pastoral care and sporting excellence.
If there was a league for schools with the best view, Sedergh may just win. Thanks to its rural, idyllic location, the school can offer an impressive extra-curricular programme crammed with outdoor pursuits including sailing, fell walking, climbing, horse riding and ghyll scrambling. The school has a ‘have a go’ ethos that encourages students to work beyond textbooks, and Tuesday afternoons are dedicated to extra-curricular activities ranging from fell running and robotics to animal care and chess club.
There are 180 day and boarding students in the prep school and 550 in the senior school, and around 20% are international students. With 95% of students boarding at Sedbergh, it offers a full and very real English boarding experience where students eat lunch and dinner together in their house dining room, and they enter house challenges together. It all helps to create a tight-knit, cross-year community where students are supported and well-known by staff they get to know well.
While exam results are strong, and many Sedberghians go on to university, the spirit of Sedbergh is about much more than academic achievement. It’s a message that comes across in the school’s recent marketing campaign – a daring, standout video featuring a wolf that is a strong advert for the school’s differentiation, as well as its efforts to create a home away from home. Yes, academic study is always important, but so too are the experiences beyond the classroom – and it’s these that make a Sedbergh education feel exciting and colourful. For example, students annually rise to the challenge of the 10-mile Wilson Run, which is widely regarded as the oldest and most gruelling school run in the UK; they follow in the footsteps of runners since its beginnings in 1881 to notch up their name in the school’s history books.
There’s also a caring spirit, which is encouraged throughout prep when students are rewarded for good manners with a Service Merit presented in Assembly; by Year 8, children are delivering handwritten letters to the headmaster, applying for a variety of jobs to ‘serve’ the school on the ‘S Team’ – anything from being a librarian to a reading buddy.
Sedbergh was rated Excellent in its most recently available ISI Educational Quality report (2017).
Teaching is based on the National Curriculum for England but not shackled by it. As a public school, Sedbergh has the freedom to develop a broad selection of academic programmes that meet the wide-ranging needs of its students – not all of whom are looking for an Oxbridge education.
As the school says, “We are not a school of rote and regurgitation”, and the success of its pathway to the Common Entrance, GCSEs and A Levels or a City and Guilds diploma should be judged more by its Value-added progress scores than A* grades (and, yes, the latter is improving year on year).
Sedbergh delivers a broad curriculum that prepares students for the next step – whether that’s a Russell Group degree or a qualification in sports coaching or farm management. Here is a school that challenges the individual at every level. The ‘9 Star’ programme stretches Sedbergh’s high-achieving Year 9 students who are destined for Oxbridge and its development programme.
For students looking to take a more vocational path, there is the opportunity to study a City & Guilds Level 3 Subsidiary Diploma in Agriculture in the sixth form, or A Levels such as product design (the products designed here are of such a high standard, they have been given the rare Millennium Products stamp of approval). And for any geography student, Sedbergh is a living dream, whether studying the subject at GCSE or A Level – there aren’t too many schools that can boast such resources for fieldwork right on their doorstep.
Sedbergh is most famous for its sport. The school rugby club is among the strongest in the country (it consistently produces England international players including Will Carling and Phil Dowson, and many Old Sedberghians return to speak to students about the game), and Sedbergh is the current national champions in rifle shooting. For the girls, hockey takes centre stage and all Year 7 and 8 students can develop their game on a tour in Scotland. The school is also strong in cricket, tennis, football, netball and, of course (with so many cross-country paths on its doorstep, running). And, with its own stables, outdoor arena and jumping paddock, Sedbergh offers those lucky enough to keep their horse or pony at school, and many more to learn to ride.
Music is also a huge part of school life, and you’ll often hear recorder, percussion and keyboard lessons at full volume in the corridors. A love for music is encouraged from the start – even the school’s youngest can stretch their vocal chords in the pre-prep choir – and a very high percentage of Sedbergh Prep students go on to study music in 1:1 lessons.
In recent years, Sedbergh’s exam results match or rise slightly above the averages for England so it’s not one of the UK’s most academic schools – and nor does it claim to be. A Level results have ranged from 39% of students achieving A - A* in 2018, to 23% in 2019 and 36% in 2020; in GCSEs, 44% of students achieving A - A* in 2018, to 40.7% in 2019 and 48.5% in 2020. In 2020, when results were based on centre assessed grades due to the cancellation of exams, A level grades were up nationally compared to the previous year.
But look at the school’s value-added scores for A Levels and GCSEs, which mark a student’s progress; these are improving and the majority of students are accepted their first choice university, which is evidence of a strong culture of growth mindset.
Sedbergh has a beautiful campus with old stone buildings and the rolling countryside on its doorstep. Located on the outskirts of the picturesque Sedbergh, the school brings a youthful dimension to this unpretentious and quiet town.
Don’t be misled by its more remote location though. This school is as dynamic and forward-thinking as a central London school; students are using iPads in the classroom from the age of three, and can find themselves in the creative Apple Mac suite one hour and out on the dales the next.
The prep school has all the benefits of a secondary school after moving onto Sedbergh’s former senior school site, with facilities such as six fully equipped science labs, a fully equipped food technology department, design workshop, art studio, pottery studio and darkroom, as well as an equestrian centre. There is also a flood-lit Astro-turf and tennis courts, a theatre, and heated indoor swimming pool.
As you would expect from any UK private school charging just over £15k a year, the facilities at Sedbergh School are impressive. There is Five courts, gym, shooting range, tennis courts, sports courts and fields, a wonderful cricket pitch, and a new sports centre; even where new modern buildings are added to this campus, the design is always harmonious with its very natural setting.
Each boarding house at Sedbergh has its own library, common rooms, IT suite and dining room.
Sedbergh is inclusive of students of a wide range of ability and talents; while there is an admissions process including exams, interview and previous school’s report, it is not as selective as some of England’s top tier schools.
Annual tuition fees range from £8,559 for Reception to £16,671 for Years 7 - 8 and £25,662 for Years 9 - 13.
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