It’s not just outstanding academic results that make this co-ed day school so popular with families in Cambridgeshire – The Perse offers its students an enriched and balanced education with many opportunities in outdoor education and independent research.
Founded 400 years ago as a ‘free grammar’ school, The Perse continues to welcome students from a wide range of backgrounds into its classrooms; 10% of students receive means-tested grants every year, and the goal is to double this number by 2025.
The Perse is a large school with around 1,600 students. The school is split between three different sites: Pelican (Nursery to Year 2); Prep (Years 3-6); Senior (Years 7-11) and Sixth Form (Years 12-13) – and there’s a ‘work hard’ ethic from day one. However, with its balance of extra-curricular activities and wellbeing programmes, there’s something down to earth about this school; while it’s very selective, it doesn’t feel elitist.
It’s an academically selective school, so you’ll find classrooms filled with above-average ability students – but the school says it is really looking for the “intellectually curious”. While the school delivers consistently excellent results at GCSE and A Level, and there’s no mistaking this school’s rigorous and demanding academic curriculum, it’s not all work and no play. Its website is filled with news of different accolades from national success for its prep hockey team through to Gold for an astronomy and astrophysics Olympiad. So, while The Perse will take its pick of the most intelligent and ambitious of students, it will also challenge them far beyond exam grade success.
The school is committed to the four Perse values of endeavour, intellectual curiosity and scholarship, breadth and balance, and valuing one another and the environment – which helps to turn out well-rounded and well-behaved students. There’s an emphasis on ‘belonging’ to the Perse school with its purple branding, the Pelican logo, The Perse values painted on the corridor walls, the distinctive uniform, “Perse” purple furniture, and the house system. Taking home, the mascot Percy the Pelican is always a highlight for its Nursery students.
The Perse is in a great location. As well as having plenty of local museums, theatres and nature reserves on its doorstep, the school is close to the University of Cambridge, and there are visits for lectures, experiments and projects.
Headteacher Ed Elliott has been at The Perse since 1997. During this time, he’s overseen several key changes including the school’s switch to co-ed, doubling in size over the past 10 years, and a £40 million spend on new facilities and campus upgrades. Mr Elliott is very present in the school, and he even takes students for local history tours of Cambridge as part of the Year 7 curriculum.
Located in a city with a reputation for academic excellence, The Perse fits in with well with its challenging, rigorous and progressive curriculum. It all starts early with Prep students following a fast-paced and advanced curriculum that stands them in good stead for a Perse education later on.
With small class sizes and low student: teacher ratios, the school has the capability to support students with plenty of personalised learning, and to identify areas that need extra work; there are ratios of one adult to 10 children for Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 (and one to eight in Nursery) and an average class size of 10 students in the Sixth Form.
There’s streaming in some subjects from as young as Year 2, and technology is used from a young age with Smartboards, PCs and iPads all being used daily from the Prep school up. There’s plenty of imagination and creativity in the classroom. Curriculum Weeks give students a chance to focus on one subject, such as maths, science or literacy; there are specialist lessons in kung fu teaching from Reception and games, kung fu, dance, gymnastics and music from Year 1; and cross-curricular topics from the early years up.
The Perse has a strong language programme throughout. Spanish is taught from Year 1 and French from Year 2; regular Language Days help to inspire the love for learning a new language (everything from flamenco to paella brings Spanish to life!). All students study the language and culture of German, Mandarin Chinese and Italian in Years 8; and students are encouraged to take at least two languages (one classical, one modern) at GCSE.
As students move into the GCSE and A Level years, they are opting for the most academic subjects – maths, English, the sciences, French and humanities are certainly the most popular here. The Perse also enriches the A Level curriculum with elements of the IB programme, such as community and service; in their final year, Sixth Formers mentor students in state primary schools in the area or choose other public service.
As students move into the Senior School, there’s also a strong focus on independent research. In Year 7, students complete their first investigative project and by Year 10 most GCSE students work on a Higher Project Qualification; alternatively, they can complete a RADA Shakespeare drama certificate, Microsoft ICT certification, a PE internal certificate or opt for supervised private study time.
In the Sixth Form, students’ study three A Level subjects, as well as an additional ‘mini-elective’ and a super-curriculum option (a language certificate, two-year AS course, the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) or the Perse Rouse Research Award).
The Rouse Award really stands out as it showcases some extraordinary research skills; recent entries have been as varied as a study of Indonesian transmigration programmes, exploring the narrative style of Jane Austen, and examining how changes in pre-hospital patient care have improved survival rates in the Afghanistan War.
Students are also encouraged to stretch and challenge themselves here; The Perse offers a wide range of academic societies, extra academic electives and the Perse Rouse Research Award research programme. The 42 Society (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fans may guess that it’s named after Douglas Adams’s ultimate answer to the ultimate question), is a series of lecture from external speakers – and gives students a fantastic opportunity to hear directly from academics, medics and scientists.
The school has a global outlook, and in the past few years it has opened international campuses in China and Singapore (The Perse School, Singapore), which should offer opportunities for students to participate in exchange trips in the future. Pre-Covid, there were many trips and exchanges to Australia, Japan, Singapore and the US; students have their first overseas trip to France in Year 5; Students get the opportunity to travel from a young age; and there’s an overseas hockey and cultural tour for Year 6.
The school’s evident passion for sport and the arts provides a much needed balance to the very academic focus of life within the classroom.
There are more than 30 musical groups, including chamber ensembles, choirs and orchestra in the Prep school alone, where students perform over 60 ensembles on a weekly basis. Moving up the school, and there is a strong choral emphasis with seven choirs, ranging from classical choruses to acappella groups. for those who prefer playing an instrument, there are two full symphony orchestras, four string orchestras, three wind bands, three jazz bands, three percussion ensembles and two big bands.
Students perform in the wonderful Peter Hall Performing Arts Centre with a 370 seat auditorium and full backstage facilities; students who prefer to stay backstage, join the popular Technical Theatre Club; and there’s a large exhibition space for art, technology and other shows. While being part of such a large school can be a disadvantage when auditioning for the annual production (scores of students competing for the lead role can only lead to disappointment for many), it’s not always so at The Perse; for example, the Year 6 play is triple-cast so that every student can have a leading role (if they want).
No matter what their sporting ability is, students are actively encouraged to represent their school in Teams A-D; The Perse fields around 160 teams each year and plays an average 450 matches per term. Look at the school’s news pages to see many stories of students reaching the finals in cross country, hockey and much more.
The main sports here are traditional – cricket (girls and boys), hockey (girls and boys), netball, rugby and tennis (girls and boys), but there are also sports clubs in martial arts, running, shooting, dance, multi-sports, fencing, football and rugby (for both girls and boys). There are timetabled games lessons right through to Sixth Form, so all students get the opportunity to break from their studies, and reduce any stress, anxiety or frustration.
The Perse is not limited by its lack of sporting facilities on the Prep campus, which has only an all-weather pitch. The Senior school campus has 27 acres with extensive playing fields and a fitness suite, and all students have access to the school’s sports centre at Little Abington, just 15 minutes from school, which has football, cricket and rugby pitches and a pavilion.
As you’d expect from a school of this size, there is a vast programme of extra-curricular activities. There are more than 80 lunchtime and after-school clubs (we liked the sound of the Friday disco!) in the Prep school, and 100-plus clubs and societies including many academic options.
Well deserving of a special mention is the Perse Exploration Society (PES), the school’s very forward-thinking outdoors programme, where students ‘climb up’ from Ascent Group to Summit 12 by completing activities ranging from learning bushcraft, canoeing and mountaineering skills through to an international expedition; it’s such a big part of the school that PES has its own dedicated department and activity centre – and it’s key to developing Perse students both outdoor and life skills.
Other outdoor clubs include climbing, woodworking, archery and paddle sports, and the schools also runs the Duke of Edinburgh Award’s Scheme at Silver and Gold levels.
All children are placed within one of four houses (Barbarians, Corinthians, Foresters, and Nomads, which are all sporting teams without home grounds), and there’s plenty of healthy rivalry between the houses in various competitions that can help to bring together such a large school community.
As you may expect from a school that is selecting the brightest (from both the independent and state sectors), grades here are well above the national average.
In 2021, 94% of entries were awarded an A*-A/9-7 grade A (for the fourth year running).
The school did not publish its 2021 A Level results (the second year that exams were cancelled). However, in 2020, 93% of A Level entries were awarded an A*-A grade and 99% of entries were graded A*-C. 83% of the cohort received three or more A*-A (or equivalent) grades
Leavers’ destinations are just as impressive. In 2021, there were 23 Cambridge, and 21 Oxford offers; other places were awarded to Durham, UCL, Imperial College London, and Edinburgh – so based on grades and university destinations alone, The Perse is performing exceedingly well.
The three Perse campuses are located within walking distance of each other in the city of Cambridge.
The Senior school has science labs and classrooms; a purpose-built sports centre, on-site and off-site sports fields and all weather surfaces; a music centre including a rehearsal hall, art studios, a graphic design suite and a gallery; a lecture theatre; and an outdoor pursuits centre, climbing wall and shooting range. Its Peter Hall Performing Arts Centre opened in 2018.
The Prep school has been enhanced in recent years with a Science Centre and ICT area, adding to the existing specialist facilities that help to support teaching across the curriculum.
There are entrance exams for all year groups in the Prep and Senior schools; parents are offered a pre-test service for Year 3, to help understand of their child has the academic achievement and potential to enter The Perse. About 50% of Year 7 places go to students moving up from the Prep school – and the school offers the remaining places to students from both state and independent schools.
There are a few academic and music scholarships awarded in Year 7 and Year 9, which comes with a financial worth £450; bursaries ranging from 5% to 100% of the annual tuition fees are offered across the school.
Annual fees are £14,478 in Pelican (Nursery to Year 2); £16,806 in Prep (Years 3-6); and £18,525 in Senior (Years 7-11) and Sixth Form (Years 12-13).
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