State Boarding schools UK

State boarding: character-building schools

Cranbrook looks and acts like any good boarding school. It takes pupils – girls and boys – from surrounding prep schools, at age 13, puts boys in a separate boarding house in their first year to help them settle in and boasts 75-acre grounds, a swimming pool, an observatory, tennis and squash courts, and an Astroturf.

It fields rugby, cricket and basketball teams, girls’ (and boys’) hockey and netball, tennis and rounders. There’s a Classics slot on the timetable, too – something the head, Dr John Weeds, is very enthusiastic about: “It’s another thing that adds character. It’s a sign of a school that’s pretty serious about standards.”

The future looks bright, too. “We want to open the doors to 11-year-olds because for a number of years we’ve been year 9 entry only, and that isn’t where the rest of the state secondary system is, ” Weeds explains.

Cranbrook has, twice in a row, made the Tatler State Schools Guide. “We don’t know how we got into it, ” Weeds insists, but one suspects it may be on account of his school being an oversubscribed grammar with nice buildings, good results, and a very “jolly hockey sticks” approach to games.

Their geographical rivals are the £34, 000-a-year Tonbridge School, and not one, or two, but four other “more traditional” grammar schools, offering 11-18 single-sex selective day education: The Skinners’ School in Tunbridge Wells, The Judd School in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells’ boys’ and girls’ grammars. Each less than 20 miles away, Kent parents are spoilt for choice.

The “big publics” are also on the open day list for many potential Cranbrook parents – Eastbourne College and Brighton College lie to the south, The King’s School Canterbury to the east. Routinely, names are put down for Cranbrook instead.

Upper Sixth pupil Al Smallwood, whose older brother went to Tonbridge, 18 miles up the road, explains that he “got the better deal”. “There is absolutely no difference in tuition or pastoral care. The only difference is the size of their sports hall.”

They do, as Weeds is at pains to explain, “punch their weight” against their bigger, better-funded rivals.

The parents who look around Cranbrook are split between independent-sector parents and locals, Weeds says. “Some obviously see something here that they recognise and want to buy into, but for other children that are from a slightly more down-to-earth background, you could say it’s a fast-track to some really good universities.”


Interesting facts:

The United Church Schools Trust (UCST) is a large education charity in the United Kingdom which owns and operates a group of 11 independent schools.
UCST was founded in 1883 (as the ‘Church Schools Company’) to extend the reach of academic education in Victorian...

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