Aspiring to be the best small school in the UK, this prep and junior campus in the Lake District offers a unique outdoor education programme which makes it most suited to the adventurous type of students.
This all-through school for 360 students in total is spread across two sites in the Lake District’s scenic Windermere; the Early Years & Junior School (Elleray Campus) for three to 11-year-olds, and the Senior School & Sixth Form (Browhead Campus) for 11 to 18-year-olds. The two campuses share an impressive host of academic, boarding and sporting facilities. Windermere offers flexi-, weekly or full boarding from the age of eight years old and there’s an even ratio of boarding to day students across the school. The school welcomes students from as far afield as China, Hong Kong, Eastern Europe and Russia to its boarding houses and classrooms.
Located in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Windermere School could win the contest for most beautiful campus – but more importantly it’s won awards for a unique outdoor education programme that uses this glorious natural setting to full advantage. Outdoor pursuits and adventurous activities play a key role in the education here; while the school delivers a strong academic curriculum that works towards the rigorous IB Diploma Programme (it was named The Sunday Times International Baccalaureate School of the Year 2018), it also takes all students out of their comfort zones as they try fell walking, ghyll scrambling, sailing, camping trips, orienteering, caving and climbing, and plenty more.
This is a school where you’re more likely to be wearing a kagool than a blazer (and with the very changeable weather in Cumbria, you’ll need one). And, as well as leaving for university with an above average IB score or BTEC grade, your child may have a new spirit of adventure (as well as a healthy, rosy glow from the great outdoors). It’s not going to be popular with city-lovers and the most academic students, and neither can it rival the facilities offered at larger schools across the country.
Julie King, Head of the Elleray campus, says:
“With adventurous learning at the heart of our provision, the children learn vital skills that they bring back into the classroom and take with them through life. Whether they are taking part in Forest School, den building, reading books in caves, or performing on our outdoor stage, there is both challenge and enjoyment.”
The Windermere School Adventure programme is a compulsory part of the curriculum is a key part of an education here. In Pre-School, Reception, Years 1-2, students take part in two 90-minute Forest School sessions every week, building outdoor shelters, rope climbing and more. In the Junior School, students take part in a full afternoon of adventure every week beginning from Year 3, where they may be camping, fell and mountain walking, learning survival and navigation skills, or orienteering on the Lakeland Fells; they also complete Bikeability awards. Students record their progress in an adventure logbook as they work their way through six challenging levels, each named after a famous explorer.
The school has its own Watersports Centre, which is located on the shores of Lake Windermere (England’s largest lake), it’s a Royal Yachting Associating (RYA) Training Centre and, it’s the only UK school to be a RYA British Youth Sailing Recognised Club. For students, this means that the summer months are spent out on the water; by the time children leave Elleray, most are working towards their RYA Stage 3 and Paddlepower Discovery (British Canoeing 2 Star).
Windermere is part of the global network of around 180 Round Square schools, which embrace a set of IDEALS – internationalism, democracy, environmental awareness, adventure, leadership, and service to the community – as part of their approach to learning. It’s the driving force behind events such as a Round Square Week of activities, student exchange trips, and regional and international service projects – all of which involve students from early years up to Year 13. By attending a Round Square school, you could say that students have extra opportunities to experience other cultures; for example, Windermere students brought clean drinking water to remote villages in Thailand and help to build accommodation under-privileged boys in Honduras.
David Griffiths will join as Head of Windermere School in August 2021, succeeding Ian Lavender who retires from the school after 12 years. Mr Griffiths is currently Headmaster at Wycombe Abbey School, Changzhou, China. A former sportsman, his hobbies include languages, golf and mountain walking, and he is married to an Early Years teacher and has four children. Windermere may be small, but it is an ambitious school – its whole school ethos is, ‘to be the best small school in Britain’. It will be interesting to see how Mr Griffiths uses his experience in an international school and builds on what he describes as Windermere’s “sense of enthusiasm, purpose and progressive spirit”.
Windermere School was rated Excellent in its most recent full ISI inspection, which took place in 2018. Inspectors noted that students’ skills in outdoor pursuits” are exceptionally well-developed” and praised the school’s “personalised, flexible education with individualised pathways throughout the school that respond to differing needs”.
Windermere builds on the strengths of the National Curriculum for England throughout the primary years with increased time learning outside the confines of a classroom; the school describes the sky as “the roof of the classroom” and you can expect your child to spend plenty of time in the outdoor play gardens. They are also taught subjects including design and technology, art, music and computing in well-equipped specialist facilities. Windermere also has the resources to teach small class sizes and, as a small school, you can expect a higher level of individual attention from teachers.
Windermere says that it believes in ‘learning by doing’, and it promises to challenge your child while also being flexible enough to tailor the curriculum “to whatever is most appropriate to your child”.
Students follow the National Curriculum for England from Early Years to Year 6. It’s a broad curriculum that is enriched by teachers taking 40% of all learning outside of the classroom, and every student is given their own targets to work towards in their Personal Pathway.
The school manages the transition to its Senior School very well; Year 5 and 6 students spend one day a week at the Senior campus, getting to know teachers in subjects such as French, ICT, drama and sports, and they eat lunch with their senior peers.
Windermere’s passion for outdoor education and adventure fuels a love for sport too. As well as encouraging students to sail, kayak, and challenge themselves with various adventure activities, the school encourages girls and boys to stay active on the pitch, court and track too.
The major competitive sports here are netball, hockey, football, tennis, cricket and athletics, and there are many after-school clubs and tournaments to take part in. Previous sports tours have taken the school’s sportiest students to Barbados, South Africa, Spain and France. Most activities take places on the lake, but there are other sporting facilities including tennis courts, a sports pitch, a full size floodlit all-weather pitch and a separate sports hall.
The arts are not overlooked either. Exhibitions are held each term, individual music tuition is available in instruments as varied as the harp through to rock guitar, and students get to perform in regular ‘Concerts in the Corridor’ morning assemblies and termly plays and musicals. Creative facilities include art and drama studios, ceramics room, darkroom, theatre, numerous music practise rooms, a large gallery and individual workstations for creative projects.
One of the advantages of being a smaller school is that all students can take part in arts performances or to be selected for sports teams; it can also mean that students have a more limited choice of clubs compared to a larger school if the demand is not there.
There’s a varied list of creative and academic extra-curricular clubs including football, golf and dance, and students can stay as late as 5pm in the After-School Care Club,
Windermere does not stand at the top of the league tables, but it is a non-academically selective school and its students do leave with places at their first-choice universities.
In 2020, 98% of GCSEs were graded A*-C (9-4), and 53% were A*-A (9-7), more than double the national average of 20%. Windermere School’s 13-year average for achieving A or above at GCSE is 43%.
The largest number of students take the IBDP and last year’s average IB score was 34.5 (it was 33.7 in 2019 and 2018). All students who took the IB Careers programme obtained at least one distinction, while three students obtained double starred distinctions.
Students go on to universities including University College London, Exeter University, Edinburgh University, St. Andrews and the University of Manchester to study courses as varied as psychology, business, biological sciences and sports management.
There are three boarding houses on campus – all with shared common views and views across the lake – two single sex houses for girls or boys aged eight to 16 years and a dedicated Sixth Form Boarding House, which is a university-style complex with flats and a bistro.
The school has a large cohort of day students who are encouraged to mix with the boarding students and take part in evening and weekend activities.
Despite its rural location, Windermere is well-connected, and it’s 90 minutes from Manchester and Liverpool International Airports and three hours by high-speed train from London.
The Senior School and Sixth Form’s Browhead Campus covers 23 acres and is home to the school’s main academic, sports, music and drama facilities, as well as its three boarding houses. There are newer and refurbished buildings (including an impressive Jenkins Centre for music, performing arts and languages) in the grounds of a Victorian mansion.
The school’s own watersports centre has a fleet of sailing boats and kayaks, two boathouses and a private beach used as a base for learning to sail, kayak, canoe or windsurf. Daily meals are served in a dining room overlooking the lake and surrounding mountains; there’s
Typical points of entry are at 4+ (Reception) and at 7+ (Year 3), and there is no formal exam or assessment; the school says that it “remains steadfastly and academically non-selective, new pupils who join the school are taken on personal merit”.
Most Junior School students move up to the Senior School, and there are limited places available at 11+ as well as 16+.
Students are encouraged to experience a full ‘taster day’ and take part in lessons before applying to the school. There’s no formal exam, only an interview with the head and school references. Rather than selecting the most academically able, the school selects girls and boys “on the basis of their likely contribution to the community and whether they are likely to make the most of the opportunities on offer”.
Non means-tested scholarships in academics, performing arts, visual arts, and sport are offered to the most high-achieving students, and there are some means-tested bursaries available.
Annual tuition fees for day students are £8,520 for Reception; £9,780 for Years 1-2, and £14,460 for Years 3-6; annual boarding fees are £22,200 for Years 3-6.
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