THE GOOD SCHOOLS GUIDE REVIEW
The Good Schools Guide is an invaluable book when parents are looking to find the right school for their children. It is extremely wellestablished, being in its nineteenth edition, and it features reviews of 1200 schools, be they prep or secondary, state or independent. Roedean was visited in September 2014, and we are delighted by how positive the report is; it paints the school in a true light, and highlights the exciting developments underway, as Mr Blond pushes the girls of Roedean to be the best that they can be. The pages within this booklet are verbatim as published in The Good Schools Guide 2014.
Good Schools Guide Charter For over 25 years The Good Schools Guide has been the leading independent reviewer of schools in the UK. Our national team of reviewers are honest, opinionated and fearless. No school can pay to be included in (or choose to be excluded from) The Good Schools Guide and schools are not charged for reviews.
This is a school that’s going places. ‘Wish my daughter was starting there now,’ says mother. ‘It’s a fabulous place.’
Headmaster Since 2013, Mr Oliver Blond (40s). Previously head at Henrietta Barnett School, one of top selective state girls’ schools in the UK, for seven year stint - perfect for seeing through generation of pupils without starting to repeat himself, he says. Before that, deputy head, North London Collegiate, so something of an expert in all-girls education. Not certain post here was natural fit until visited, when was instantly won over by school’s charisma. So far, the feeling seems to be mutual. ‘Aspirational, sweet and delightful,’ says Old Girl. Busy, busy, busy – as well as teaching (English, drama, philosophy) also academic director of the Princes’ Teaching Institute charity, as well as raising two young children with wife Helen, teacher turned successful children’s author. Highly articulate (goes with the headship territory), he’s also soft-voiced and a great listener (both rarer commodities). Forthright mothers, Old Girls and especially pupils who ‘know everything that I took six months to learn’: he listens to the lot. Formerly forbidding mood amongst tight-knit school community, including a few who were a tad suspicious to find bloke in charge, now one of almost palpable relief, with rave reviews for speed with which Mr Blond has tackled permacomplacency that dominated teaching and attitudes.
School is going back to roots – academic, all-round school for British girls with a smaller percentage of international students, though with many more day students and total numbers increasing to around 500, building on an already healthy surplus. While working on amplifying siren call to Londoners, even contemplating lowering
weekly boarding prices so a closer match for day school fees in the Capital, he’s also ensuring locals start to see school not as impenetrable posh fortress but accessible Sussex place offering warm welcome on the cliff tops. They’re coming round, brand starting to feature on trendy Brighton ravers’ educational wish lists, with admissions team fielding 300 per cent increase in enquiries from locals and over 170 families attending recent open day (one of three). Integration by stealth should help. Girls and boys from local schools now involved in co-ed go-karting to hiphop curriculum enrichment, while sixth form Wednesday afternoon community service includes sessions in local primaries. School is also pushing bursaries for state schools in the area. Eleven new sixth formers are first to benefit, 20 more in next year. And, yes, though previous attempts have been made to bring in bright but financially challenged, with slightly sporadic results, we’d back Mr Blond to make it happen. Longer term, would like a third of places offered to UK pupils on needs-blind basis (school already offers some support to similar proportion of existing pupils). Will only work, though, if pupils and families, with or without scholarships, have evidence of change. ‘A school that’s waiting to be different just isn’t enough,’ he says. ‘That’s why we’ve gone at it really quite quickly.’ Presciently, Mr Blond’s first choice career was, apparently, Spiderman. Scaling the heights and accomplishing the impossible? No wonder he’s proving so successful.
Academic Matters Formidable competition from other local independents including Brighton College and Lancing, and any number of London options has made school necessarily selfcritical about results.
people and ideas,’ thought insider - proportion of international pupils had caused sense of alienation, numbers of OGs sending own children dropping like a stone.
Things now very definitely on the up, with 74 per cent of GCSE grades coming in at A* and A and 95 per cent A*-B in 2014.
One of Mr Blond’s first acts was to undertake wholesale lesson observation. Though he ‘didn’t wave a big stick,’ thought school insider, a third of staff and half the heads of department left during his first year, many taking arrival as cue to retire.
At A level, English, humanities (with exception of history) and languages currently minority interests, and of the star subjects, maths is outstanding year in, year out, with nothing below a C grade at A2 in 2014. Further maths also highly successful. Almost the cue for spot of subtle back-patting were it not for slight overall drop at A level, 83 per cent A*/B in 2013 down to 74 per cent in 2014 and just over 47 per cent A*/A. Unlike GCSEs, don’t yet merit ecstatic on-line blessing from Mr Blond - a tell-tale clue as to his feelings. However, while ‘you can change things more quickly with GCSEs,’ he says, there is a small silver lining: A2 grades represented substantial progress over what might have been expected given disappointing AS results, with intensive analysis of pupils’ weaker spots followed by tailor-made support and monitoring to narrow the gap. Parents are hugely relieved that school’s previous shortcomings have been addressed. The fear had been that essence and iconic status as landmark British girls’ boarding school were in danger of ebbing away, with rise in international pupils and non-negotiable format - full boarding or nothing - putting off many potential customers. And while nothing wrong with cultural diversity - ‘you get a huge level of tolerance for other
Parents’ perspective distinctly un-nuanced. ‘About time somebody put a bomb up them,’ said mother. ‘If I’m paying £35,000 a year, I don’t want my daughter to be told to read page 46 if she doesn’t understand.’ Focus since has been to seek out ‘dynamic, inspirational and energetic staff with new ideas and teaching methods,’ he says. The ones we saw in action certainly lived up to their star billing, with head of drama scoring bonus marks from pupils for wearing ‘Vans with a suit’ (must play well in Brighton).
Parents approve of youth and energy. Girls agree. ‘They make you feel you can do anything,’ says one. School is also recruiting master teachers, heroic role and a half involving mentoring, studying for extra qualifications and doing a spot of original research on top of normal teaching duties – and quite possibly summoned by shining silhouette of MA gown into night sky. More is accomplished with less, school day finishing earlier (and no longer at different time each day), some assemblies moved from afternoon to morning slots, lunch break increased and lessons shortened by five minutes.
Parents approve, especially day families – under older regime many pupils were simply ‘too tired,’ thought one, to take advantage of the benefits of plugging into 24/7 boarding school culture. Rethink of mixed ability teaching also under way following parental concerns about sluggish pace in English lessons. Those needing additional English help in sixth form able to take pre-A level course to bring them up to scratch, parallel streams operating in earlier years. School also offers strong support for pupils with learning difficulties, staffing recently bumped up with
appointment of new head of English with extensive experience of dyslexia. ‘They push the message that dyslexic children are taken on the same basis as everybody else,’ said parent. Engagement in lessons the only line that must be toed, says Mr Blond. Otherwise, school will do best to help, working with parents to put extra support – as needed – in place. Million dollar question is how much can be achieved without recruiting more able pupils. Parents like current mix. ’Varied - not just full of professionals’ kids who all want to go to Oxbridge,’ says one. Mr Blond adamant that most important point is that ‘girls at all levels will thrive here, though standard of entry is rising already with increased interest in the school.’
Aspirational, yes, but ‘won’t become some hothouse and wasn’t the case in last school.’ Get encouragement and self-confidence right, with school ‘a platform for women to go out and feel that anything is possible,’ and good exam results will be the by-product with no need to go out and trawl for straight A-grade students. Key to success, he believes, is ensuring that pupils are listened to – he’s very hot on fatalistic tendency of girls to see low grade as final judgment. Wants teachers to say less, listen more and help pupils articulate sometimes hidden ambitions so can be helped to achieve them. Creation of more shared meeting areas - teachers’ own dining hall has been sacrificed to the cause; common room with outstanding sea views is on its way out – will mean better communication. School, though, already good at ‘finding people’s strengths and helping them patch the weaknesses,’ reckoned insider. ‘Their drive is to make bring out the best in everybody, no matter what it is.’
Girls all - unconsciously - smile when asked about life at school. Endorsement doesn’t come much more authentic.
Games, Options, the Arts A place that allows unforced blossoming amongst kindred spirits. ‘Whether you’re a singer, guitar player or sports player, it’s very good to have social identity around the stuff you’re interested in,’ says mother. No them and us divisions between sport and arts and ‘not too binary,’ reckoned parent. Pupils full of praise for school’s desire to cater for budding polymaths, from rescheduling some after-school events, to offering subsidised or free overnight stay to ensure music or sports enthusiasts have the after-school opportunities they need, to new co-curricular programme for pupils in years 7 to 9, which offers two afternoons a week physical and intellectual stretch (car mechanics to Russian literature). Can result in unexpected blooming – only girls’ team to reach national finals of programming competition, for example. Head’s push for more community involvement is also building Brighton connection. ‘The girls want to pitch in and go and visit old ladies in the sixth form, so there’s very much a sense of community,’ says OG.
Sports increasingly busy and competitive - ‘come back in three years and we’ll be winning everything,’ reckoned girls, grounds at the front pitch-perfect with all the trimmings and added sea views. Fixtures lists, previously on the empty side, busily being filled (and such a priority that features in new sports teacher’s title), teams running to D in some sports. As elsewhere, nothing appears too much trouble for highly motivated staff, from developing tempting options for the less enthusiastic (Zumba, synchronized swimming) to encouraging links with outside clubs, planning training programmes with external coaches for some of the sports scholars, even finding assessor for pupil working towards umpiring qualification.
Creativity, arts and music consistently good, even through leaner academic times. Art winds way into much of life there, with works on display as beautiful as design of original art room, partially glassed roof letting in northern light - ‘the best’ says teacher - tiles with scenes of 1930s school life and, our favourite, a stove featuring heaven (gates and kettle stand), purgatory (oven) and hell (fiery flames), which broke in 1960s and hasn’t (sadly) been used since. Performing arts a particular strength, vibrant new drama team shaking things up, replacing previous worthy performance choices, all bang on syllabus but distinctly lacking in clapalong appeal, with a few more popular options.
‘Was Chekhov before,’ thought distinctly envious sixth form tour guides, watching infectiously toe-tapping rehearsal for Open Day, featuring selection from Hairspray. Encouragement a feature of the process, with talented instrumentals working with others who can’t read music, for example. ‘The degree to which they are supportive of one another is very striking. Has nice moral effect,’ thought parent. Latent talent encouraged by trumpet, clarinet or violin lessons for all in first two years and around half the pupils have individual music lessons in school. School trips extensive, masses abroad, boarders also enjoying busy weekend activities such as visits to Buckingham Palace and local animal sanctuary, which day pupils can also sign up for. That said, with tunnel down to the sea (much enjoyed) and stile onto the South Downs (blank looks when mentioned to pupils, despite mention in school literature) staying put isn’t half an attractive option.
Background and Atmosphere Founded by pioneering Lawrence sisters in 1885, heavy financial lifting courtesy of bunch of Midlands industrialists and friends, brilliant connections including artist Sir George Watts. Apart from brief reincarnation as HMS Vernon during the war, when was filled with Royal Navy electrical specialists while school was evacuated to Keswick, has been making stand for girls’ education here for well over 100 years. Like Eton, name has entered national consciousness as shorthand for certain type of education (school is commonly - though not uniquely - thought to be inspiration for Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers series). Reality is ‘consistent’ finished product, thought parent: ‘Articulate people who think for themselves and are conscious of the community.’
School now reacquiring spring in step, as increasing numbers of parents discount siren call of nearby co-eds whose idea of success is founded on ‘noisy alpha male over-achiever,’ said parent. Like others, finds this a less stressful enclave for her ‘un-pushy’ child. ‘My daughter’s not one who’ll walk in and want to take over socially, but she’s managed to have very strong identity here.’ Ditto school itself. ‘Looking outward, aiming high,’ says sixth form prospectus, with literal accuracy, dainty Oxbridge-style mini cloisters conveying - perhaps - subtle message about founders’ higher education aspirations for pupils. Cosy-looking it ain’t, at least from the front, with cliff top, slab-like buildings (think turreted Kendal mint cake) menacing coast road to Brighton, 45-acre site on permanent collision course with the elements, salt spray countered by special rations for plants, bracing winds the stuff of nostalgia for past pupils and, we were told by pupils, sea breezes, on one occasion, so strong that minibuses had to be used on-site to prevent accidental Mary Poppins-style departures. (Slightly overstated, thinks school, pointing out that ‘we are a sunny seaside location, too.’) Odd Portakabin aside (wall of one is top party joint for local daddy long legs population), much to enjoy,
including cheery dining halls (youngest two years have small scale version of their own, formerly staff area, table cloths in cupcake pinks and reds) while Horizons café, small box of lettuce aside, concentrates on essential sugar-rich snacks. Inside, makeovers are transforming the place. Boarding – four houses each named for a colour and decorated to match - is wonderfully homely, rooms prettily proportioned and furnished, teapot lights hanging cosily
down over breakfast bar to add domesticity to giantheight ceilings. Pupils have also been refurbished, with eccentric uniform policy (comfy in the week, smart only on Sundays) now reversed. Most now reconciled to house tie (initially a sticking point for a few) but all like smart, tailored blazers, badges crammed onto lapels recording sunny hours of school lives.
Pastoral Care and Discipline You want it, they’ve got it, from excellent health centre taking range of difficulties such as diabetes in its stride to happy relationships between pupils and staff, hot chocolate and chats available for as long as needed to help boarders settle in. School listens and responds to problems. ‘Has been really easy to get help,’ says parent. Bullying isn’t tolerated - will expel - while effective peer listening programme, backed with proper training so sixth formers know when adult assistance should be sought, stops anyone suffering in silence. ‘If someone is sitting alone in the dining hall, you’ll tell them “you’re going to sit with me – you’re not going to be on your own”,’ says sixth former. Big feature of success is open door policy that sees day girls on the premises, with school’s blessing, well past advertised hours every evening and welcomed back at weekends.
‘They are very clear that you are part of the school whether a day girl or boarder,’ says mother. Integration something school has always done well. ‘In my day, we were from very different backgrounds and just mulched along together and I’d be very surprised if there was a huge amount of perceived difference between day and boarding pupils now,’ agrees OG.
Pupils and Parents ‘Sweet, polite girls,’ was one comment, though OG pointed out that niceness often comes with ‘let’s have a pop at it’ attitude. ‘Makes you more robust so perhaps you do a few more things you wouldn’t have done.’ Certainly borne out by career choice dilemmas faced by pupils, one agonising over whether to opt for being a barrister or singer, a second torn between primatology and acting… Pupils feel liberated by school’s approach. ‘When I came here I was quite a pessimistic, glass half empty person. Here, you feel you’ve got another chance to get things right if they go wrong, without feeling judged,’ thought one. Once part of the place, it doesn’t let go easily, Old Girls busily spreading the word, enthusiasts one and all – and ‘a mighty source of strength,’ according to school literature. Old Roedeanians see school days as ‘catalyst’ for happiness and success in later life and very special part of lives. ‘Felt I should be at the back giggling with my mates,’ said one OG, who’d been back for recent visit. While ‘it’s always been quite an international school,’ points out one (ample proof in OGs’ website, with thriving communities all over the place), increasing recruitment of London and local families is creating a balance everyone is happy with. Mix and match in every sense ‘and I like that.’
Entrance Numbers rising, with additional year 7 form introduced from September 2014 and intake likely to be around 60 in subsequent years. Majority from local schools, state and independent. Further 20 to 25 pupils join year 9, up to 60 admitted in sixth form.
Exit Post GCSE exodus now substantially slowed after massive confidence-boosting exercise to reassure pupils that school can deliver the results, with 26 threatened defections reduced to eight in 2014. Still too many, says head. However, ‘retentions will improve as soon as our A levels improve.’ Turns out girls with ‘a bit of purpose in life,’ thought OG. ‘We’re very good at being able to slightly reinvent ourselves and get on with just about anybody.’ Strong on medicine (reflected in pupil base), four to Oxbridge in 2014 and good showing in all the best places, UCL heading list of destinations, closely followed by Bristol, King’s College, Loughborough - and Hong Kong. Medicine, maths, engineering, and science-related degrees mop up around a third of degrees. History, economics, politics and business also popular.
Money Matters With £10 million foundation endowment, able to offer considerable help and scholarships worth up to 40 per cent of the fees, bright locals, in particular, should be making a beeline for the place.
Our View No danger of sun setting gently on past glories. This is a school that’s going places. Sixth formers leaving as the tide turns would gladly do it all over again. ‘Wish my daughter was starting there now,’ says mother. ‘It’s a fabulous place.’
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