Hello from an autumnal Richmond,
It’s grey, cold and rainy here in England, which is rather befitting the general mood of the country at the moment. At von Buelow we feel very fortunate that we can escape reality at least for a few hours when we visit our partner schools.
Last week we headed down to county Sussex to visit Claremont Senior School, our first visit there. We had heard lots of good things about it, most notably about its much-feted Football Academy. One aspect made us a little wary, however: unlike at most other boarding schools we work with, pupils live in boarding houses off-site. As it turns out, this matters much less than we initially feared - in fact, it even comes with its own advantages.
Please read on to find out more.
No, not part of Claremont, but right around the corner: beautiful Botham Castle
As we shuttled down the M25 from Richmond with its stodgy traffic, we turned onto the A21 just before Sevenoaks (yes, where Sevenoaks School is located) into beautiful, green county Sussex. The school sits just off a busy, leafy main road that ends on the South Coast, in a luscious bit of green countryside. It’s easy to miss, so watch out for the school’s road signs!
As we approached Claremont School’s iron gate, we saw the school’s astro turf playing fields , an impressive sports center and, further afield, the modern 6th Form Center and Performing Arts Building. So far so impressive. The school in general is in good shape. It’s not exactly a looker, but the old school house co-exists harmoniously with the attractive new-builds.
Claremont Senior School’s local tourist attraction is beautiful Bodiam Castle, a 14th Century fortress complete with moat and soaring towers. No doubt the perfect backdrop to the school’s popular termly theater productions!
It took us just over 1,5 hours by car from London to get to Claremont Senior School. Gatwick Airport is only one hour from the school. Trains run frequently between London Charing Cross station and Hastings Station, from which it is a 20mins taxi ride to the school.
No doubt one of the biggest calling cards, the football!
What (we think!) Claremont Senior School is all about
First and foremost Claremont Senior School struck us as a warm, friendly and caring school. This vibe is best encapsulated in the person of Francoise Armstrong, the very likable and impressive Assistant Head and Director of Boarding. Francoise told us about the intentional way pupils are set up to succeed at Claremont: a lengthy admissions interview uncovers a pupil’s personal and academic needs and goals, upon which a bespoke programme is set up, including, if necessary, 1-on-1 tutorials in preparation for GCSE and A-Level exams. This level of individual attention is impressive!
Lights! The Performing arts are amazing here.
Further aspects that support this vibe are the schoo’ls small size and relative youthfulness. With only 330 pupils in the senior school, Claremont sometimes feels more like a big family than a school. The fact that the school is not even 15 years old means it is devoid of anachronistic traditions or inhibiting pretensions. No, this school feels refreshingly grounded!
Football galore: the first team training.
The school’s excellent extracurricular offer, especially around football and the performing arts, make Claremont a real go-to for football-mad boys (and increasingly girls!), as well as pupils meant for the stage. Given its small size, Claremont Senior School definitely punches above its weight here.
Fantastic art and photography also on offer
Claremont Senior School is not a selective school, and yet it still produces a solid set of results each year.
The school offers A Levels and a few BTEC (Digital Media and Entrepreneurship). The EPQ (extended project qualification) is also an option for self-motivated students who want to take on a little more.
In 2021, 42 per cent of A level grades were As and over 40 percent of GCSE grades were 9-7.
Some inspiration in the modern teaching block
On the face of it, academic achievements are not the be-all and end-all at Claremont Senior School — they make a point of having no lessons on Saturdays as is common in many boarding schools — but that’s not to say the school doesn’t take its students’ education seriously. Instead, we felt that Claremont focuses on an all-round education that includes lots of outdoor- and extracurricular activities — there’s even a nature school in the forest on the junior school campus. Students at Claremont Senior School are educated for life, not just for exams!
Photography artwork on display...
And yet, we were impressed by the promise of bespoke academic programs and guidance - especially for international pupils. Our German-speaking pupils often require an academic set-up that will ensure they won’t have to repeat the school year. Claremont delivers here with lots of advice and additional 1-on-1 tuition by teachers and house-parents on crucial subjects like math and the sciences.
Not just football: hockey and cricket are popular also!
Claremont Senior School has 330 pupils, so is rather small. A positive side-effect of this is that the extracurricular offer is very inclusive. Everyone mucks in with drama, sports, art and music - if the school is putting on a play, those that aren’t natural thespians will get involved with set design or backstage help. This means that over a short period of time students will try lots of different activities, in a way they might be unable to or intimidated by doing at a larger school.
Second football team in the distance.
That said, there are clear stand-out offers here and it’d be remiss not to start with the school’s fabulous Football Academy. Claremont sports 12 boys teams in total, coached under the caring tutelage of Head Coach Jim Colston and his team. The boys are given intensive coaching along with a clear pathway to professional football if that’s what they strive for. We met with Jim, his coaches and the two top teams on Claremont’s beautifully kept football grounds. Jim is affable, passionate and well connected - next to coaching Claremont’s football, he is involved with scouting new talent for Premier League football Club Brighton FC. We came away impressed.
Claremont was last year's Winner For Performing Arts, a huge accolade!
The school’s performing arts offer is another calling card. We took a peek into Claremont’s Performing Arts Center, where ballerinas were warming up in the dance studio and a Y10 drama class was readying itself for an improv session in the school’s small but state-of-the art theatre. There is a buzz to this place that we know only from schools that take their performing arts very seriously. We talked to pupil Summer, a young lady from Berlin, who confirmed this: “ I looked at several schools specifically because I wanted to do music and drama. Claremont Senior stood out to me for its unique vibe!” Summer now does music, music technology, dance and drama at A-Levels - no better way to prepare for a future career on and off the stage! Unsurprisingly, Claremont Senior School was named Independent School Of The Year For Performing Arts in 2021.
Cosy - boys boarding house Clyde House
As mentioned, Claremont Senior School has 330 pupils. 100 of these are borders, all of which live offsite. The girls are housed in Pyke House in the small town Battle, a 15-minute bus ride from campus. The boys live in Clyde House in nearby St Leonard’s, a 20-minute bus ride from campus.
We visited Clyde House only, which we found in good condition, if in need of a little freshening up in some places.
Obgligatory - billiard table for the boys' leisure time
To be perfectly honest, before visiting, we were dubious at best about Claremont’s offsite boarding. Aren’t pupils too disconnected from school proper this way? Or, what if you forget your math homework in your boarding house? We know that for some families offsite boarding will be a hard sell.
Breakfast and dinner are taken in-house
Interestingly in the pupils’ everyday lived experience it seems to be a non-issue at worst; an actual benefit at best. Summer, the girl we talked to saw off-site boarding as a huge bonus. She told us how Pyke House was a cozy “home away from home” that allowed for distance from school after an intense school day. She also raved to us about the freedom-affording perks of living in the picturesque town Battle, where she is free to shop for food, go for hot chocolate and get pizza.
Light and spacious - a double room at Clyde House
And Summer does not seem to be an exception: Shaun, a boy from Hong Kong and budding football pro, told us that offsite boarding at Claremont had allowed him to get to know life in the UK outside the usually bubble-wrapped school life. Living off site had allowed him to make friends outside school and allowed him to play for a local football club.
Most rooms have en-suite bathrooms
We spoke to the affable Headmaster Ed Dickie over a cup of tea about Claremont’s offsite boarding. Of course he knows that this can be a non-starter for families. “It’s about making this a strength, and we are working on this”, he said. There’s early plans to leverage the excellent standing Claremont Senior School has in the local community to create partnerships with exciting organizations - from the local football club, where pupils can play to the local law firm where pupils could intern over the summer.
Sounds to us as if he is on the right path here!
The main building
Our view on a pupil well suited to Claremont Senior School
Claremont is of course very well suited to pupils looking for a top-drawer offer in football and the performing arts. To stop there would be way too limiting, however. The school is about much, much more than that. We can imagine that the school’s small size, its lack of limiting traditions and super supportive academic and pastoral set-up would make this school a hit with anyone looking for a rounded and fun boarding school experience.
Claremont might not be flashy, and those looking for prestige, shine or polish won’t do well here, but if you are looking for an immersive, rich and fun experience then this might just be the ticket!