Located in rural Norfolk Wymondham College is the UK’s largest state boarding school where hardworking students achieve well-above average grades in GCSEs and A Levels.
While it’s not a selective school, and students come from all backgrounds, it is certainly a school that has high expectations of its students and has a demanding six-day-a-week timetable. This is balanced by an extensive extra-curricular programme that offers plenty more enrichment after school hours than a typical state school, as well as a strong sports and arts programme, and a family-focused boarding experience.
It’s a large school with around 1,000 students in the main school (Years 7-11) and 350 in the Sixth Form; around half are boarders.
The College has a unique history. Founded in 1951, the College was the vision of the then Chief Education Officer for Norfolk County Council, Sir Lincoln Ralphs, to be a leading state boarding school with “exceptionally high academic standards”. It’s a vision that continues to drive the growth of the school, and the school remains proud of its heritage as it celebrates its 70th anniversary this year.
The College was built on the site of a US Air Force hospital where students were taught in wartime Nissen huts. One Nissen hut remains on the campus, which is now the school chapel. There’s a dedicated Sixth Form Centre, compete with its own boarding house.
The school made its first move into primary education in 2020 with the opening of a state primary school, Wymondham College Prep School. Located on the same site as the College, the new school offers students as young as four access to the specialist teaching and facilities at the main school – and the opportunity to stay at the same school for all 13 years of their education. The Prep school for Reception to Year 6 offers 16 boarding places a year for Year 5 and 10 boarding places for Year 6 for an annual fee of £12,165.
The College is principally a boarding school. As a state boarding school, an education at the College is free; parents pay only for the cost of boarding, which is around £12,000 a year – nearly two thirds less than the cost of a boarding education at a UK independent school. As Headteacher Dan Browning says, “Education is free. You simply pay to stay.” It has boarders from the UK, Europe and beyond
Mr Browning joined the College in 2017, bringing with him experience of running an international school in Cyprus (St John’s and King Richard Schools) and large secondary state schools in Essex.
The College follows a broad, traditional curriculum in Year 7 and Year 8, and Year 9 students are encouraged to take the English Baccalaureate (EBacc) combination of GCSE subjects – English, Mathematics, at least two Sciences, a Modern Foreign Language and either Geography or History.
Students in Years 7-11 must attend Saturday morning lessons, followed by sporting fixtures in the afternoon, but they do get slightly longer holidays than most state schools to compensate for this. There’s certainly the expectation that all students will apply themselves here. Students certainly appreciate the added value of this state school with its well above average facilities and specialist teaching – and there’s every incentive to work hard.
In Sixth Form, students study a range of traditionally academic A Levels, as well as the Extended Project Qualification. There are other enrichment courses that help to prepare students for university, such as a ‘Futures’ programme that focuses on preparing students to make appropriate choices post-18.
Headteacher Dan Browning says that the school is often “at the cutting edge of educational development”. While the school does not offer anything radical in its curriculum (and has not adapted its Saturday school as several private schools have done), it does show signs of being forward-thinking. For example, a Floreat programme was launched in 2020 for all year groups to offer learning that goes beyond the day-to-day curriculum. This ranges from character development and leadership in Year 7 to cultural masterclasses in Year 9 and study and revision skills in Year 12.
The College has the facilities both indoors and outside to offer a vast programme in sport and the arts, both on and off timetable.
Students can study PE up to A Level, the College has weekly sports clubs and competitive fixtures, and there are opportunities to play alternative sports such as scuba diving, horse riding and skiing off-campus. The College’s passion for the arts spans from specialist teaching up to A Level, clubs, annual performances, ensembles, a jazz orchestra and the school concert band.
The College has a broad extra-curricular programme known as Wymondham Life, which offers 65 activities and clubs – stretching students academically, in sport, creatively and supporting their wellbeing.
The Combined Cadet Force and Duke of Edinburgh’s Award are both very popular even though they are not compulsory or timetabled, offering students some incredible experiences in terms of leadership, teamwork and adventure training.
The College is consistently in the top 5% of state schools for GCSE and A Level results, and every year around 10 students receive Oxbridge places, with more than 50% going on to Russell Group universities.
There are no published results for 2021 but, in 2020, 34% of grades at GCSE were 9-7. At A Level, 38% of grades were A*-A and 64% were A*-B.
The College has co-ed boarding houses, which is quite unusual in this sector; the five main school houses each have separate sleeping accommodation but shared social and work areas. There is also a dedicated boarding house for Sixth Formers, Lincoln Hall, with around 240 boarders. There’s no flexi or boarding on offer here, but students can easily transfer from day to boarding places.
Students can board from as young as 11 years old here, making the need for support in settling in all the more important. All year groups are offered a high level of pastoral care by House Parents, boarding tutors, resident fellows and matrons, and international students are settled in by a dedicated support team.
There’s very much a family feel to boarding life here; Headteacher Mr Browning lives on the campus with his wife (as well as their therapy dog Mable), and several deputy heads of house are parents with children at the College.
There are two exeat weekends every term when students can return home. International boarders who stay at the College can participate in an activities programme.
All students (both boarders and day) are part of a boarding house, which helps to create a closer-knit school community. There are vertical tutor groups,
The college has a vast campus spread across 83 acres of countryside in Norfolk. Thanks to its space and investment, the College has some outstanding facilities to rival many private schools.
A specialist Technology Building houses Art, DT, Photography, Food, Textiles and Computing, as well as ‘The Atrium’ exhibition space. There are specialist areas for music and science, and a sports building with indoor swimming pool, sports hall, gym, weights room and squash court; outside are tennis courts, Astroturf and sports fields, plenty of woodland for Forest School and an indoor rifle range.
The Wymondham College Prep School, including the Underwood Hall Boarding House for Years 5-6 opened in September 2021.
Admissions for day school places are made through the Common Application Form (CAF) to the local authority, and students must apply in Year 6 for a Year 7 place. The deadline to submit the application is October 31 in the year preceding entry. There is a high demand for day places, and you’ll need to be living less than two miles of the College to stand a chance of getting a place.
The College is not academically selective, so there’s no entrance exam. It’s more about having the right postcode and living as close to the school as possible. Day places are awarded according to the Local Authority criteria of looked-after children, siblings and distance from school. Boarding places are awarded according to 'boarding need'.
You can apply for a Priority Place in the Main School; there are 16 day and boarding places every year awarded to students with musical talent; the College also offers Boarding Scholarships at Sixth Form for Achievement in Sport, Music or for Academic Excellence.
The main intake is Year 7 but places are available in Year 9 (boarding only) and again in the Sixth Form.
Annual boarding fees are £12,165 for the main school (Years 7-11) and £12,969 for Sixth Form.
While an education at the College is ‘free’, day students who want lunch, snacks and use of their house facilities, must pay an annual fee of £1,109. Alternatively, day students have the option of paying for an extended school day (four hours of enrichment and learning support) for £3,225 a year or £6,450 in the Sixth Form.
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