The Spectator

School portraits: a snapshot of four notable schools | September 2021

Brampton Manor Academy; The King’s School, Canterbury; Cranleigh School, Surrey; Wilson’s School, Sutton

School portraits: a snapshot of four notable schools | September 2021
Brampton Manor Academy
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Brampton manor academy

This co-educational state school in Newham, east London, is setting the standard for the academies programme. With hundreds of high-achieving pupils, its selective sixth-form, which opened in 2012, has attracted attention for its stand-out Oxbridge achievements. This summer, 55 pupils secured Oxbridge places, beating Eton for the first time.

The sixth-form receives around 3,000 applications for about 300 places per year, while some two out of three pupils are eligible for free school meals. One pupil puts its high achievement rates down to discipline, highlighting the rules around punctuality (there’s detention if you’re late) and a strict uniform code. Ofsted highlights the school’s ‘relentless ambition and high expectations’ — but students are as high-achieving as the school itself. Sixth-formers are encouraged to be in from 6 a.m., and there is a wide range of recreational activities, from Mandarin to chess, rowing, and cooking on a budget.

The King’s School, Canterbury

Dating back to 597 ad, this school lays claim to being the oldest in the world. Founded by Augustine of Canterbury as a monastic establishment attached to Canterbury Cathedral, its 13 boarding houses are scattered around the cathedral precincts. One of the boys’ boarding houses, Meister Omers, dates from the 13th century; Edward IV held a parliament here in 1470 and it’s believed Queen Elizabeth visited in the 1500s. In the 1970s, girls joined the sixth form, and since the 1990s it has been fully co-educational.

‘At the heart of a King’s education is the dual pursuit of academic and extra-curricular excellence,’ says headmaster Peter Roberts. The Malthouse, a 334-seat theatre, was opened by Joanna Lumley in 2019, while old boy David Gower laid the foundations of the sports centre. ‘The teaching and breadth of the activities outside the classroom mean the lessons learnt and the skills acquired stay with the pupils for life,’ explains Roberts.

Cranleigh School, Surrey

As a prep and a senior school, Cranleigh offers everything: both weekly boarding and day, for boys and girls, from the age of three through to 18. Its motto, Ex Cultu Robur (‘from culture comes strength’) serves as a reminder that education is about more than academic work. Pupils excel in sport, and the facilities are top notch. There are two strength and conditioning centres, six Eton Fives courts, five cricket squares, indoor cricket nets, a nine-hole golf course and an equestrian centre, meaning there is something to suit everyone. All children are expected to play sport — to ensure ‘that all pupils play for the love of the shirt’.

It isn’t just in sport where pupils and houses compete — the maths challenge sees fourth-form pupils battle in their school houses to win the coveted prize. Academia still flourishes: in this year’s A-levels results, 68 per cent of grades were marked A*-A, with 91 per cent of grades at A*-B.

Wilson’s School, Sutton

Located on the site of the former Croydon Airport, this all-boys state grammar prides itself on its outstanding academic work. It consistently achieves good grades and is frequently spotted at the top of A-level and GCSE league tables.

Founded by Royal Charter in 1615 by King James I, it is one of the largest grammar schools in the country. There is a two-stage entrance exam, and no defined catchment area — meaning no rocketing prices on nearby houses.

Music is important here, with every pupil involved in high-quality music making. The Year 7 Instrument Programme — believed to be the only one of its kind in the UK —is a highly innovative scheme in which every Year 7 student receives free tuition for voice or a wind or brass instrument.

Pupils are provided with instruments, undertake dedicated practice regimes and perform in showcase concerts.