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16 October 2023
by Ferdinand Steinbeis

English Boarding Schools in Profile: Bradfield College, a Fantastic Country Boarding School Close to London

Hello from a rather autumnal Richmond!
September is the busiest month of our year. It is now that a lot of the top boarding schools’ start recruiting pupils for the next school year. And yet, we wouldn’t be doing our job properly if we didn’t check in on at least a few of our partner schools.
Last week we had the great pleasure of returning to Bradfield College. Bradfield is the epitome of a countryside boarding school with acres and acres of green playing fields, amazing facilities and red-cheeked, happy children.
Read on to find out more!
Touring the school - Team vBE taking a good look!
The Setting
It’s difficult to think of a school with a better location than Bradfield College. The school sits in a lusciously green bit of countryside, 15 minutes from the town Reading, 30 minutes from Heathrow Airport and 45 minutes from central London. That’s a bull’s eye in terms of accessibility and getting the best of rural and urban England.
One of the road running through Bradield's campus
The school’s campus is part of the little village Bradfield. Sorry, correction: Bradfield School IS the village Bradfield. Divided by two roads, the school’s campus spreads over 300 acres of pristine Berkshire countryside. The beautiful brick-and-flint main campus is located to the west, whereas boarding houses are a little walk up a hill. Never have we walked as much during our two-hour school visit, easily clocking up 15,000 steps. Unsurprisingly, we’ve rarely seen pupils looking healthier than at Bradfield College!
Walking, walking - Bradfield's campus is big!
Bradfield’s facilities are versatile and in great shape. Famous for its tennis, the school sports in-door tennis courts and, a rare feature, clay courts. Acres of football fields to the south of the campus border the school’s 9-hole golf course. Befitting its status as one of the sportiest schools in the UK, Bradfield has a state-of-the art sports hall complete with in-door swimming pool and two gyms. We were very taken by the school’s Greek Theatre, the only place where all 870 pupils will fit for weekly get-togethers.
A map of the school's expansive campus
Moreover we were very impressed by the cozy boarding houses. Especially Faulkner’s, a boarding house shared by Y9 boys and girls is positively delightful. A true home away from home! More about this later.
Idyllic: view onto football pitches
What (we think) Bradfield is about
Bradfield College is a proper countryside boarding school. It’s a safe haven for children, where they can focus on their academic, extracurricular and social endeavors. A feature that goes hand in hand with this is Bradfield’s weekly boarding. Over 80% of pupils leave after Saturday sports to go home to their families and return either Sunday night or Monday morning. An overseas family might rightly be concerned about their child being lonely as the school empties on week-ends. Interestingly this is not the case. In fact, it’s seen as a bonus! “The school is calm, you get to chill once during the week and take a break from the hustle and bustle of boarding life. I love it!”, Tom, a Y12 boy from Geneva told us. We can see Tom’s argument.
View from the school's reception
Bradfield College is also one of an ever decreasing number of elite boarding schools that believes - and lives! - the idea of a well-rounded education. This is not a school for kids whose idea of boarding life is to swat in the library. Here, you are expected to get involved. In the amazing sports, the fabulous art department, the music, theater or the many, many clubs that are on offer. Bradfield’s education is about developing interesting, curious young adults with real breadth.
Signage to science center
The Academics
Bradfield College is an academically successful school without being overly selective. Yes, good grades matter to guarantee a place here, but personality and interests matter just as much if not more.
In 2023, 56 per cent of pupils received 9-7 grades at at GCSE; 42 per cent A-grades at A level and an IB average score of 36 points (four above world average).
Hanging molecules
Key evidence for the above-touted well-roundedness and breadth is the fact that the International Baccalaureate (IB) is on the up here: over 60 pupils are currently pursuing the IB at Bradfield College. This is in stark contrast to several other UK IB-schools, that are struggling to convince pupils to opt for the more challenging IB curriculum.
Go on! We know you want to!
Overall,we came away with the strong impression that a lot of thought goes into how pupils are taught at Bradfield. For example, while we saw a lot of pupils using laptops and tablets in lessons, at least 25% of learning are done with pen and paper. Why? Because pupils will have to do their GCSE-, A-Level- and IB-exams with pen and paper. Makes perfect sense.
Moreover, Bradield College is big on collaborative learning. Alexandra Acton, the affable Senior Deputy Head told us: “pupils here work a lot in small teams. They learn to pool their efforts, to teach each other and to divide and conquer tasks. It’s an invaluable experience for uni and work life”.
The school's own indoor tennis center.
The Extracurriculars
Let’s start this section with a quote from Bradfield’s Head Girl Emma: “the reason why I chose Bradfield as my school was, among other things, the amazing choice of things to do! I am part of the shooting team and went to Canada for a competition this summer; I sing in the choir; I act in theatre plays in our amazing Greek Theatre; I do Duke of Edinburgh….”
But then, Emma would say that, right? No, honestly, when it comes to extracurricular activities, pupils at Bradfield College are truly spoilt for choice.
The school's own indoor pool.
Sports first. Bradfield College is consistently named as one the top schools for sports in Great Britain. Football and tennis are especially strong here. Hockey follows immediately after. Girls also get to play lacrosse and netball at a high level. That is all the major sports covered. In terms of the so-called minor sports Bradfield College has an enviable offer of over 30 sports on offer, which include swimming, water polo, equestrian, polo, shooting, sailing, fencing, yoga, basketball, cricket, fly fishing, golf and squash. And very importantly: sports is for everyone and very inclusive here!
Football is HUGE here!
Music next. Bradfield College has a thriving music scene with classical, jazz and contemporary music all well represented. Over 300 pupils play at least one instrument here. 325 individual music lessons are taught here, including more exotic ones like the harp and bassoon. Most musical activities happen in the school’s rather unassuming music building. As a ‘Steinway School’ all practice rooms have upright pianos of said legendary piano maker, as well as grand pianos in the performance halls. The school has four choirs, the College Orchestra, Jazz Band, Big Band, Brass Band, Saxophone Ensemble, String Ensemble, Latin Jazz Orchestra, dozens of bands and string arrangements. Also, not to forget, music technology is big here, so anyone interested in composing and arranging music with the help of digital technology will be very happy here.
Does not do it justice from the outside: Bradfield's music center
Unfortunately we did not get to see Bradfield’s art department this time, but remember it as a truly wonderful space from previous visits. Art is housed in a small collection of cozy cottages full of great photography, fine art, print and sculpture pieces. 3D design (formerly Design & Technology) is popular here also.
Bradfield's Greek Theater
Drama is big here, with the school’s Greek Theatre with a capacity of 1000 spectators the center of it all. Three major drama productions are staged a year.
But if none of this is for you, the school has a massive offer of further activities on offer. Here are but a few to whet your appetite: bee-keeping, screen-writing, opera club, debating, film production, jewellery-making, Model United Nations, programming and CCF.
Truly, if you are bored at Bradfield College there’s no hope for you!
One of the girls' houses, Armstrong House
The Boarding
Over 80% of Bradfield College’s pupils board. Most children board weekly. They leave school on Saturday afternoons, to return Sunday nights or Monday mornings.
A predictable response from some of our international clients is that weekly boarding is a non-starter. After all, who wants their child alone in an empty school on the week-ends?
Cozy:Double bedroom in Armstrong House
We had several enlightening conversations about this with pupils and house parents. The upshot? The lived experience is the exact opposite! Those that remain at school on week-ends enjoy the much calmer, relaxing one-and-a-half days. They use this time to fully recharge from a busy, socially intense boarding school week. Also, the 30-or-so remaining pupils organize day-trips to London, pizza & movie nights, or partake in the week-end entertainment programme provided by the school. We came away convinced!
Single bedroom with ensuite bathroom in Armstrong House
Bradfield College’s pupils live in four girls houses, and seven boys houses.
We visited Armstrong House, a cozy girls’ boarding house, home to 70 happy girls. Armstrong’s matron, an incredibly friendly, warm-hearted lady, took us on a whistlestop tour through the house’s rooms, four kitchens and homely common rooms. 6th Form girls either share a room with one other girl or get single rooms. All rooms have en-suite bathrooms. The rooms were on the smallish side, but very well maintained, tidy (!) and some beautifully decorated with posters and family pictures.
Faulkner's House
We also got to see that Bradfield’s Faulkner’s House, a uniquely Bradfield proposition: a boarding house for 160 boys and girls, joining the school in Y9. Boys and girls live in separate wings, but share common rooms and their own, beautiful dining hall. The idea is for pupils to bond and build friendships here that they will keep over the course of their five-year stay. Faulkner’s is truly wonderful. We saw cozy, bright common-rooms with play areas (Lego boxes, tables with stationary and paper for art projects etc), healthy snacks and fruit bowls. Really lovely!
Super cozy: Faulkner's House common room
The best sense of everyday boarding-life we experienced when passing a veritable avalanche of pupils returning to their boarding houses after lessons. This is a ritual that everyone here performs several times a day. The quick stroll back, to pick up books for the next lesson, as well as a snack. There’s few schools that we know where the pupils look as healthy as here!
From Knitting to Lego: Faulkner's House common room has it all
There’s three compulsory exeat weekends in the school year, when even international borders have to leave Bradfield College.
Green as far as the eye can see
Our View on a Pupil Suited to Bradfield
Bradfield College is a perfect boarding school for anyone ready to fully embrace boarding school life in all its facets. The academic offer is strong and especially the thriving IB should be a big draw for British and international families alike. The extracurricular offer is second-to-none with high-quality sports, music, theater and dozens of activities likely to tempt the most stubborn couch-potato. BUT getting involved is essential! Bradfield likes all-rounders who muck in. If that’s not your cup of tea, then this school is not for you.

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