Hello from Oxfordshire!
We’re settling into a somewhat balmy autumn here — trees are decorating the streets with piles of scarlet, orange and yellow leaves, but it’s still warm enough to sit outside with a coffee (a godsend helping us get through the latest lockdown restrictions!).
October has also brought good news as English boarding schools have adjusted to their “new normal” and we were able to make our first visit of the school year to Rendcomb College in Gloucestershire.
Rendcomb College were incredibly welcoming and responsible, managing to give us a full tour of the school while staying socially distanced and predominantly outside — despite some grey skies and a little drizzle!
As you come up the dive-way...
The approach to Rendcomb College is completely charming. An old manor house, the school sits at the top of Rendcomb Village, an unspoilt Cotswold idyll surrounded by the meanders of the River Churn. Think pretty cottages with weeping willows shading dry stone walls, worthy of any English postcard scene!
The village is, in fact, almost part of the school — most of the houses are owned by Rendcomb and lived in by teachers or other staff, and the village post office serves as the school’s tuck shop. With some of the school’s buildings scattered across the quiet lanes in the village centre, we saw students wandering around it like an extended campus.
Beautiful views, even in the rain!
Rendcomb College itself has more than 200 acres of parkland, including a deer park and vast sport and shooting grounds accessed from the school via a trail through lush woodland (or a road for parents with cars). The view from the school’s front lawn to the woodlands across the valley is absolutely breathtaking. At the time of our visit, despite a slightly dreary day, the woods were glowing with autumn colours.
The impressive main building — which was converted into a school in 1920 by the same family that endowed buildings at Bristol University — dates back to the 17th century, while its church was first built in the 12th century. Boarding houses, the art and music block, as well as some subject classrooms are dotted around the site in separate buildings — a mix of Cotswold farmhouses, a spectacular old stable yard and some less appealing 1960s
A little church as part of Rendcomb village
Despite the grandeur of its setting and history, Rendcomb College is not stiff or formal; the sprawling site is cosy and slightly shabby, making it feel relaxed and appealing.
And though it feels miles away from bustling town centres, Rendcomb College is only ten minutes by car from Cheltenham and Cirencester, and two hours from Heathrow Airport.
Much needed for our visit that day: an umbrella
What (we think!) Rendcomb College is all about
The impression we got of Rendcomb College on the outside is very similar to what we think Rendcomb College is about on the inside — a warm, welcoming school with a very big heart. Rendcomb prides itself on its “Rendcomb family” attitude, and we got exactly that impression.
The school is down-to-earth, focusing on pupils’ health and happiness above all else. A small school, with no more than 50 pupils per year, Rendcomb College’s family approach means that everyone mucks in and is treated equally — there are no social hierarchies here. The small size also means the school is able to go above and beyond for individuals, whether that’s accommodating their specific hobbies, such as horse riding, in nearby towns or being on hand to help a struggling student.
Art from the outside - the arts are fantastic here!
We also felt that Rendcomb College wasn’t hung up on formality or tradition, and was investing in ideas and facilities that would improve students’ experience rather than just look good in a brochure.
All in all, Rendcomb College is a very honest,warm, open and collegiate school — an actual home away from home!
The library from the outside
Rendcomb College is not a selective school, but it still produces a solid set of results each year. The school offers A Levels and a few BTEC (Business and Technology Education Council) subjects, such as travel and tourism, and business studies. The EPQ (extended project qualification) is also an option for self-motivated students who want to take on a little more.
In 2019, 54 per cent of A level grades were A/A/B and 28 per cent were A/A. At GCSE, 36 per cent of grades were 9-7.
On the face of it, academic achievements are not the be-all and end-all at Rendcomb College — 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 Rendcomb College focuses on an all-round education that includes lots of outdoor studies — there’s even a nature school in the forest — and leadership programmes. Students at Rendcomb College are educated for life, not just for exams!
Door to knowledge - outside the economics department
The school’s particular academic strengths lie in the sciences; the technology and computer science departments are forward-thinking and have lifted the schools’ results over the years. And it's no wonder why — in 2017, Rendcomb College won the ICT Facility Award at the Education Business Awards and was shortlisted for the ICT Innovation category for the use of technology across the school’s campus.
As a very supportive school, Rendcomb College also offers English as an additional language, and often accommodates those who wish to learn Latin — which is not in the standard curriculum — in group or individual lessons, thanks to a retired Latin teacher who is still in close contact with the school.
Horse's head of the horse yard - equestrian is offered offsite!
Because of Rendcomb College’s small size, extracurriculars are incredibly inclusive. Everyone mucks in with drama, sports, music and art — if the school is putting on a play, those that aren’t natural thespians will get involved in the 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.
The downside of this inclusive atmosphere is that Rendcomb College isn’t particularly competitive at sports, as it has only a small number of students to choose from. Like everything at Rendcomb, the teachers we spoke to were honest and open about this trade-off.
Art is huge!
However, the school’s flexible nature means they can accommodate budding specialists in other ways, by arranging for private lessons or club sports in Cirencester or Cheltenham if the school can’t satisfy a pupil. Although there are no stables at the school, for example, they have a longstanding relationship with a nearby stable and recently arranged for handball lessons every Sunday for a young international student.
Alongside sports — rugby, lacrosse, hockey, cricket and tennis being the most popular — pupils choose four activities each term that take place at the end of the school day. Students that are particularly keen on one activity can do it multiple times per week, rather than taking four different activities, if they wish.
The amazing Griffin Theatre
Recent additions have also given the school a bit of an edge. The £3.3m wood-panelled Griffin Theatre has a 350-seat auditorium and orchestra pit, as well as a dance studio with ballet barres and mirrored walls. New hockey pitches also catch the eye around the campus, where some other facilities are slightly worn. The music classrooms that we walked past all had top range Apple Macs in them — as well as lovely glockenspiel sounds floating out the windows! — and there is also a separate building with a gym and squash court.
There’s a big emphasis at Rendcomb College on the outdoors and practical skills — the Cotswold water park is nearby for water sports, the school has its own kiln and photography studio, and lots of students take up the opportunity to compete in the Young Enterprise scheme. When we visited, some pupils were even creating a mountain bike trail through the woods!
The 6th Form boarding house
Around 30 per cent of pupils are international students at Rendcomb College, and about 45 per cent of students board full time. Rendcomb’s boarding houses act as the hub for both day and boarding pupils alike, meaning there’s a strong gel across the board.
Pupils move into different houses as they progress through the school. The hub for Years 7, 8 and 9 is a recently refurbished co-ed house where pupils share bedrooms in groups of three or four. For these years there are strict rules about phones, which have to be handed in at certain times to houseparents.
In Years 10 and 11, each student has their own bedroom (and will for the rest of their school life) and girls and boys live in separate houses. The boys’ house is lucky enough to have the houseparents’ lovely black labrador retriever to hand!
In sixth form, the pupils move into a co-ed hub again, and to a separate block on the other side of the school from the rest of the boarding houses. We liked the independence this gave the sixth form students, although the 1960s building is admittedly not as attractive as some of the converted farmhouses.
Sixth formers also get an opportunity to prepare for the real world by spending two separate weeks in a cottage in Rendcomb, where they are in charge of the budget for the week and the entire cottage’s affairs. We thought this was a great idea that encourages pupils to learn independence in a way some boarding schools struggle to achieve.
There’s only one exeat weekend, in May, and it’s common for pupils to spend time at friends’ houses over the holidays or exeat.
Unlike some schools, Rendcomb College has only recently recommended that the senior school have some sort of computer or tablet for their work. We thought this was refreshing and will help keep a lot of problems associated with social media and gadgets at bay.
Rendcomb College from the back
Our view on a student suited to Rendcomb College
When we asked two students outside the classrooms in the old stable yard what Rendcomb College is like and what type of person would enjoy it, one of the boys piped up and said, “An all-rounder, there’s lots to get involved with!” while the other excitedly told us about a school-wide spider hunt that was currently going on in the grounds.
The answers we got from these students chimed perfectly in tune with the impression we’d taken away from Rendcomb College ourselves. While there is undeniably a slight tradeoff between breadth and depth at Rendcomb College — the school’s small size might feel limiting to those at the top of their game in a subject or extracurricular activity — all-rounders who thrive in a collegiate and nurturing atmosphere and are keen to try their hand at a range of experiences will likely fall in love with Rendcomb College.
We were also impressed with the teachers’ open and honest natures, and the individual care they clearly give to each student.
The school isn’t flashy, and big egos or those looking for shine and polish won’t do well here; rosy cheeks and muddy knees are more likely to fit in at this beautiful school.