Whitgift is a highly selective day and boarding all-boys school for around 1,500 student, with the choice of IB, A Levels and BTECs at Sixth Form, a large bursary programme, and a broad curriculum that focuses on developing independent thinking.
This highly selective day and boarding all-boys school for around 1,500 students, enrols boys from Years 6 to 13 (ages 10 to 18 years). Founded in 1596, Whitgift is run by the Whitgift Foundation, which has a policy of making education widely available through the award of scholarships and bursaries. It’s remained a forward-looking school that has a reputation for its large bursary programme and strong academic performance. It’s also nationally recognised as a top school for sport (it was ranked number one in School Sport Magazine’s Top 100 Schools).
While the school describes itself as “unashamedly ambitious when it comes to academic performance”, it also knows that students need more than A grades alone. The curriculum goes far beyond the teaching of traditional academic subjects, encouraging students to explore creative subjects, master the latest technology, and develop independent research skills. As one student said on a school open morning, “Before I came to Whitgift I thought about what I couldn’t do, now my favourite phrase is that I can’t do it yet.”
It’s a school with global outlook; as well as offering the IB Diploma Programme in the Sixth Form, it teaches global citizenship as a subject. The school outlines its commitment to global expansion in its 2025 Vision and is already working in partnership with the Mobius Foundation to open the World Environment School in India in 2022.
This is a school ‘for bright boys from all backgrounds’, says head Chris Ramsey. This is supported by one of the biggest educational bursary systems in the UK. Around a quarter of boys at Whitgift are on “significant means-tested bursaries”, and just under 50% are receiving some financial aid. The school is committed to doubling this figure over the next decade.
As well as students finding their own individual route to success in the world, the school wants them to leave with a responsibility to give back as well. The school has a dedicated director of partnerships and community to get every boy actively involved in community service. There’s also a strong outreach programme; an example of this is the Primary School Project, which sees more than 1,000 local school children spend a week at Whitgift every year.
Headmaster Chris Ramsey was educated at Brighton College and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and held previous headships at King’s College Taunton and King’s Chester. Ramsey’s presence at Whitgift since 2017 is evident across the school; he strongly believes in the importance of still teaching a few classes, where he can put himself “at the heart of the school”.
He’s a strong advocate for single-sex education. Writing in a school blog, Ramsey says that “there is a place for single sex schools, who know what they are trying to do, are expert at it, and understand their pupils”, and “that in a boys’ school, boys can be creative and artistic, whereas in many co-ed schools these ‘roles’ are taken by the girls”.
There’s a hard-working academic culture here, and the curriculum blends a traditional, rigorous UK curriculum with key features of the IB programme such as independent research skills and global citizenship. It’s a challenging and broad curriculum that focuses on developing independent thinking, and it exposes boys to an exciting spectrum of subjects that you won’t find on every middle school timetable.
From day one, Lower Form (Year 6) boys are learning theology and philosophy “because it makes children think”; art and design, drama, and music” to give students the “the opportunity to express themselves”; and Korean “because it’s different and introduces pupils to a non-Latinate script”.
In the Second Form (Year 8), the sciences are taught separately, which gives teachers more time to focus on STEM subjects, and all boys complete a termly independent research project as part of the school’s IGNITE course. And when it comes to GCSEs, boys study 10 subjects from a choice of six ‘core’ subjects – English Language, English Literature, mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics – with an additional four subject choices; students can select at least one Modern Foreign Language (French, German, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese and/or Spanish) and at least one humanities subject (geography, history, theology & philosophy and/or economics).
In the Sixth Form, students choose between A Levels, the IB Diploma Programme, and BTECs specialising in sport, exercise science or business. All students come together for General Studies, which features workshops on leadership, cooker, team-building, first aid, mental health, finance, and much more. Sixth Formers have their own dedicated centre, with a library, café, common room, private study areas, and careers/university advice office.
A Level students study four subjects in the first year and a “significant number” continue to complete four as well as the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). Options include all the facilitating subjects commonly required or preferred by universities, as well as the arts including photography, languages, PE, psychology and theology. The sciences, history, economics and maths have the biggest uptake – and results in these are consistently strong.
The school has a broad languages programme that sees all Year 7 students learning three languages, including one Oriental. There’s also an option for fluent French speakers to join the Section Française, which follows the French Ministry of Education curriculum in French lessons.
PE and Games lessons are compulsory throughout the Junior and Middle years, with the focus on fitness, swimming, water polo, rugby, football, hockey and cricket.
There’s an extensive drama programme with annual First Form, Lower School, Upper School, Fourth Form and Sixth Form productions, giving all age groups an opportunity to perform (or work backstage). The school can boast of many boys taking lead roles in television, film and West End productions, and students perform in an Edinburgh Festival production every two years.
Whitgift excels in music too. Students perform in concert venues as reputable as the Royal Festival Hall, The Royal Albert and Cadogan Hall, several students have been awarded Oxbridge choral scholarships, and students have the opportunity to perform with the Whitgift Chamber Orchestra (open to all talented musicians in the London area).
The school has an outstanding reputation for sport, and it has won over 300 national titles across a wide range of sporting activities. Old Whitgiftians include Elliot Daly, who represented England in the recent World Cup Final, cricketer Jason Roy who was part of the first England team to lift the World Cup.
There are many teams across the school ranging from A to F, and Whitgift boys of all sporting ability have opportunities to be coached and compete in fixtures. Whitgift has experienced sports leaders – the modern pentathlon and cross country programme is led by ex-international Pentathlete Sam Sanderson. It has the facilities on site for students to train in all manner of traditional, country and new sports ranging from rifle shooting to rugby to swimming and water polo. It also has a national reputation for cricket, training boys through its County Academy-style cricket programme during the two winter terms.
Sports facilities include an indoor Sports and Conference Centre with a 25-metre, swimming pool, a fitness suite, sports hall, squash courts, sports pitches, including an all-weather pitch, a golf driving range, and three tennis courts.
Whitgift offers a very broad co-curricular programme with clubs and societies covering the arts, subject enrichment, outdoor education, STEM, sport and special interests. Scan the huge list of activities and you’ll find beekeeping, chess, horticulture, Chinese calligraphy, fencing, mountain biking, and many more. Students in the animal club learn more about the school’s collection of snakes, reptiles, insects and pygmy hedgehog, while Sixth Formers can dissect animal hearts in the popular biology club.
There’s also an impressive outdoor education programme, with opportunities to do mountain biking, road cycling, climbing, sailing, windsurfing, wakeboarding and mountaineering; despite its more urban location, the school takes advantage of local facilities and travels further afield to the Isle of Wight, Peak District and Europe.
The school goes the extra mile to encourage its students to get involved in life beyond the classroom. There’s an extended lunch break (just under two hours) for students in the Lower and First Forms to give them more time to take part in clubs, relax and eat lunch! Also, First Formers are offered free taster sessions in fencing and eight free golf lessons from a PGA Professional, as well as a term of free music lessons to help discover “potential musical talents”.
There are regular competitions across the Junior and Senior Houses, a high uptake for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Awards and the Combines Cadet Force, and leadership opportunities across all year groups.
Whitgift is a school that does exceptionally well in exams – and results turn into places at some of the UK’s leading Russell Group universities. In 2020, 70% of places were awarded by Russell Group universities, and the school had 15 Oxbridge places; the highest numbers of students went on to study history, economics, sports science and computer science.
In 2020, 88% of grades were 9-7 at GCSE (82% in 2019); 98% were A*-B (93% in 2019) and 75% were A*-A at A Level (66% in 2019).
Whitgift consistently ranks as one of the top IB schools in the UK. In 2020, the average score was a very high 40 points, and its average score over the past three years has been 39 points.
Despite being predominantly a London day school, Whitgift has a thriving boarding house for just over 100 boys. Full boarding is popular with overseas students, while weekly boarding caters for those who face a long daily commute (or a heavy schedule of co-curricular activities – flexi boarding can be booked as late as the day before).
There’s something of a surprise about Whitgift. Located close to the centre of urban Croydon, its 45-acre campus is beautiful. It features water gardens, a maze, a Japanese themed garden, a waterfall and an almost miniature zoo with flamingos, peacocks, exotic birds and even wallabies.
Housed in a combination of Elizabethan buildings and modern facilities, there are classrooms, specialist teaching labs, a concert hall, performing arts centre, a dedicated song school, and a music ICT suite; plans for the future include a new Sixth Form centre. Students in Years 6 and 7 are based in their classroom in the Lower School building, which helps them to settle into a smaller school environment, but they do have full use of facilities across the school.
Main entry points are at 10+, 11+ and 13+, although there are places available at 10+ and applications open in September for the following year. The admissions process includes exams and an interview; at 11+ students sit the ISEB Common Pre-Test exams.
Demand for places is high; at 10+ there are 200 applications for 60 places; 11+ there are 600 applications for 120 places; and at 13+ there are 200 applications for 40 places.
All candidates sitting the entrance exams at Whitgift are considered for an Academic Scholarship. Students can apply for one of a small number of scholarships in sport and the arts which can offer a reduction of up to 50% of the school fees. Parents can apply to the John Whitgift Foundation for a means-tested bursary.
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