• Bülow Blog
  • About Us
  • Contact Us
  • Deutsch
Have a question about this school or want us to help you?
30 May 2024
by Ferdinand Steinbeis

English Boarding Schools in Profile: Westminster School, Perfect For High-flighers Wanting London Adventure

Hello from sunny Richmond,
With the British school year gradually coming to an end, things at von Bülow are starting to slow down somewhat. This affords us more time to visit our partner schools. It also gives us time to explore new boarding schools to work with. One in particular, we had had our eyes on for a long time: Westminster School.
Westminster School is widely known as one of THE most prestigious schools in the UK. The school is located in central London, in the shadows of Westminster Cathedral and a stones’ throw from Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. It is also the school where our Managing Director’s wife Barbara went as a 6th-Former some 30-odd years ago - something she likes to point out a little too frequently for Mr Steinbeis’ liking.
Needless to say, we were excited to be invited for a meeting and tour. This time it was a 30-minute tube ride on the District Line for us from Richmond to St James’ Park station. Guy Hopkins, Westminster’s affable registrar, welcomed us and showed us around the school’s campus and facilities.
Guy also very kindly put us in touch with Oskar, a current Westminster pupil. Oskar hails from Berlin and boards full-time at the school. We were able to quiz him on everything, from Westminster’s admissions process to boarding life in London.
The view right outside school!
The Setting
No doubt, location-wise Westminster School is completely unique within our portfolio of schools. After all, it's right in the heart of London! Tucked away in the shadows of Westminster Cathedral, the school’s main campus (see the school’s map here) is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is arranged around Little Dean’s Yard, a beautiful cobble-stoned square with several beautiful Grade 1-listed houses like the Busby Library and the stunning 14th century College Hall. The latter is where Westminster’s boarders come to take their meals.
Dean's Yard, some of which is used by the school
Inevitably, as the school grew, it bought buildings within walking-distance from Little Dean’s Yard. The school’s beautiful Manoukian Music Center and Sutcliff’s Art School are just outside the Dean’s Yard perimeter; the ever-busy Robert Hooke Science Center, is a brisk 2-minute walk from school; and the furthest pupils will have to walk is to the Vincent Square Playing Fields, about five minutes away. As it started raining and we were caught without umbrellas, we managed to get back in well under three minutes.
Dean's Yard once more
As pupils were either preparing for or already taking their GCSE- and A-Level exams, our access to things was somewhat limited. Nevertheless, the Mr Hopkins gave us a good insight into Westminster’s academic, boarding and sporting facilities. Facilities-wise, Westminster School has everything a world-class school needs. However, the school will always be constrained by being in Central London and what its Grade 1-listed location will allow. So, anyone expecting a snazzy new SciTec-Center or acres of sports fields will be disappointed. No, what makes this school so impressive, so successful is to be found elsewhere.
Little Dean's Yard - the school's campus proper
Of course, going to boarding school in Central London won’t be for everyone. Whilst Westminster School itself is a safe haven, big, noisy London is literally at its doorstep. Especially international boarders will have to have the maturity and independent personality to like this. Oskar had this to say: “ I chose a boarding school in London because I wanted some of the freedoms and opportunities I had when growing up in Berlin. At first I didn’t want to go to boarding school at all, because I didn’t want to give up my independence too much. With Westminster School I found a school that gave me enough independence without compromising my safety. “
Chandelier en route to the library
What (we think!) Westminster School is about
Needless to say, Westminster School’s location in the center of London shapes school and boarding life there enormously. Looking for that idyllic place with green cricket pitches and rolling hills? Then Westminster won’t be for you. However, if you are excited by the amazing opportunities a metropolis like London can provide a curious youngster, then Westminster will be incredibly exciting. Part and parcel of frequenting an urban boarding school will be more day pupils and flexi boarders. For international pupils this can be a turn-off. We’ll discuss this in more detail later.
Bust of Queen Eisabeth I, the modern-day founder of the school
Moreover, Westminster School is a school shaped by its history. Founded in its modern guise by Queen Elisabeth I in 1560, pupils here frequent classrooms, boarding houses and libraries that stem from the middle ages and are all Grade 1 listed. A door and a corridor away is the stunning Westminster Abbey, where Westminster pupils go twice a week for chapel service. Singing house hymns knowing that Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Steven Hawkins are buried and all modern monarchs from Henry VIII to Queen Elisabeth II were crowned here, lends this place a very special veneer. Add famous Westminster alumni like philosopher John Locke, actress Helena Bonham-Carter and musicals-titan Andew Lloyd-Webber to the mix and one might understand that Westminsters (that’s what pupils here call themselves) feel proud to be here.
The beautiful Busby Library
“Ask anyone in London to describe a Westminster pupil with one word and they’d tell you ‘nerdy’, Oskar told us. “But in the best sense of the word!”. Indeed. Westminster School is known for its very smart, very studious, very engaged pupils. No exception. Combine this with its famously devoted teachers and you get that academic sweet spot where classroom magic happens. The school’s phenomenal academic results and Oxbridge success are almost a byproduct of this passion for learning and teaching.
Westminster's flag flying over Vincent Square
Lastly, Westminster School felt surprisingly unstuffy - even relaxed - to us. And that despite us visiting during exam season! This is a school that exudes a calm self-confidence, no doubt shaped by its history and centuries of academic success. It knows what it is and how good it is. Of course there’s rules and expectations like at any top-notch boarding school. But they are pragmatically held. Oscar summed it up for us with an example: “school rules say that boys need to be perfectly clean-shaven at all times. Are we? No, there’s boys with stubble. But school leadership turns a blind eye,knowing that there are way more important things to concentrate on and that overall discipline won’t suffer. We, the pupils, are trusted and treated accordingly.”
A classroom
The Academics
It might not even need saying this, but we will nevertheless: Westminster is a very academically strong school. As a result it is also one of the most coveted schools in the country and fiendishly difficult to get into.
Let’s look at a couple of facts:
In 2023, 96 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 84 per cent A/A at A level (95 per cent A-B).
In 2023, 65 Westminster pupils were accepted to Oxford and Cambridge Universities. This is the highest Oxbridge acceptance rate of any school in the UK.
Within this set of facts is buried a lot of what you need to know about this school. The exam results could almost be considered table stakes. You’d expect it, given the extremely high caliber pupils and teachers there. Westminster’s Oxbridge success is, to us, more interesting. Oxford and Cambridge don’t accept pupils that just do well at public exams. They want genuine passion, original thinking and intellectual curiosity. It’s this that a Westminster School education gets you.
Music is fantastic here!
So, how does the school achieve this? According to our trusted source Oskar it’s the combination of very smart, curious and passionate pupils with very smart, curious and passionate - and most likely Oxbridge educated - teachers. The outcome is an academically rigorous, very demanding, high-intensity learning environment where pupils really get put through their paces - by the teachers, but also by each other. Sounds ominous? It probably is at times, but it’s also exhilarating for the right type of pupil. Oscar again: “Pupils simply burn for what they do here. They read university papers on astrophysics and join essay writing competitions in their free time. For fun!” Sounds nerdy? It is, and pupils here wear this adjective as a badge of honor here.
A Touch of Glamour: Stairs to the Busby Library
This kind of environment naturally allows for academic liberties: pupils spend approximately 40% of their time on topics not covered by the normal syllabus. For example, Oskar’s Physics A-Level course allowed for ‘off-piste’ independent research projects: he built a light spectrometer and explored the physical wonders of sou vide cooking!
The inspiring teachers help, of course. Oskar waxed lyrical about his Maths teacher, who had, before teaching at Westminster, been a musician and philosopher. His philosophy teacher had been a monk for twenty years and an opera singer. These are great teachers and interesting people. No wonder the pupils enjoy being taught by them.
Sports fields on Vincent Square
The Extracurricular
Westminster School school life is busy. Pupils have a plethora of exciting extracurricular activities to choose from. From great music via good sports to various academic clubs, all interests and tastes are catered for. We got the sense that this is a school that skews towards the more cerebral pursuits.
As any school in the UK affiliated with a cathedral, Westminster’s music offer is excellent. The school’s choirs of course have the enormous privilege to practice and perform weekly in Westminster Abbey. The school’s orchestra is renowned for its quality and regularly performs at London’s main music venues like the Wigmore Hall and The Barbican. Pupils are allowed to continue to be taught by their music teachers outside school, which some do at the Royal College of Music.
Sports Hall
Westminster’s sports - or ‘stations’, as it is called here - is of a very good standard but mostly with recreation and fun in mind. 25 sports are on offer including fives, tennis, football, cricket, fencing, rowing, shooting, table-tennis and badminton. Cricket and rowing are the standout offers, where Westminster is properly competitive. The school is proud to have the best boat house of any school in London, located on the Tideway at Putney. We got to see the beautiful art deco sports hall and the immaculately kept cricket and football pitches on Vincent Square, five minutes from the school’s campus. How Westminster School is able to offer shooting when only 400 meters away from the Houses of Parliament will forever be a mystery to us!
There are over 40 clubs and societies on offer here, which are run by the 6th Formers. These include Huxley (science), Model United Nations, Pride, and various cultural societies from African Caribbean to South East Asian societies. Oscar told us that the clubs are run quite loosely. You want to hold a talk about something? You just do it! This fits the pupils’ striving for individuality perfectly. Very popular is the school’s Economics Society, where pupils conduct intense debates about competing economic models and invite renowned business people for talks.
Outside Dining Hall
Very popular among the pupils are the Westminster School lunch-time talks. These happen as often as three times a week. The school brings in interesting speakers from the worlds of business, politics and culture to give talks on anything from the Ukraine war to mental health. Pupils grab the school-provided take-away lunch boxes and listen to Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, talk about the economic consequences of Brexit - or Jacob Reese-Mogg why he still contends that it was a good idea.
But the most obvious source of extracurricular fulfillment is London itself, of course. With a little courage and self-initiative, the world is truly your oyster here! Westminster School of course has set initiatives in place and is happy to share alumni contacts. Very popular are the volunteering activities in the immediate neighbourhood. Standouts are initiatives like the Felix Project, where pupils take food to the homeless in Cental London and teach Maths and English in one of the less privileged inner-city primary schools. But that’s scraping on the surface. No matter how obscure your interest, London will be able to provide in spades. Oscar, for example, told us about his interest in high-end bespoke fashion design and his organized school outing to Savile Row, a street in Mayfair devoted to bespoke tailoring. But it needn’t be so high-brow: pupils go to pop concerts, football games and theatre plays on a regular basis.
Inside Dining Hall
The Boarding
When it comes to boarding, Westminster School is very different from your traditional, probably rural boarding school. Only approximately 25% of pupils board. And most of these are flexi boarders. This leaves about 40, mostly international full-boarders. So, if you are looking for a proper, majority boarding set-up, Westminster School won’t be for you.
Oskar, who stems from Berlin, is one of the 40 full-time boarders. Needless to say we were very interested in his opinion on this topic. With an aunt in London, whom he sees frequently, Oskar has a somewhat different vantage point. But even so, we got the distinct feeling that he was not too unhappy about having the school to himself on week-ends. “School life at Westminster is super intense. So it’s nice to have 1.5 days (Westminster has Saturday school till lunchtime!), where things quieten down. You can sleep in, relax, do a little homework and then either visit a day pupil friend or go to one of London’s many attractions. It’s actually the perfect set-up for me!”
Grant's Boarding House with pizza oven
Westminster School consists of 11 houses, six of which include boarders. Each house is looked after by a housemaster, tutor, matron, counsellor and often a chaplain to provide 360-degree pastoral care. Westminster’s houseparents are very engaged and, of course, aware of the attractions and risks that London holds for impressionable youngsters. Luckily, this bunch of boarders is a very responsible lot! Older boarders have a house curfew at 10pm during the week and week-ends. As long as houseparents know where they are, pupils are quite free to roam.
Boarders in the earlier years live in dorms of between four and eight. In 6th Form everyone has single rooms. As it was exam time, we were unfortunately not allowed to visit the boarding houses lest we disturb the revising inhabitants. So, unfortunately we cannot tell you much about the boarding facilities themselves.
Stunning: backyard view onto Westminster Abbey
Who, we think, would be suited to attending Westminster School
There is no doubt in our minds that this is a dream school for every academic high-flyer with a real hunger for learning! Intellectual curiosity (= a bit of a nerd) and an already fairly independent personality are essential. Being a boarder in a big bustling city like London makes the latter especially important.

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter
Interested in our insights, opinions and stories related to English boarding schools? Then why not sign up!
von Bülow Education
Holbrooke House
34 - 38 Hill Rise
TW10 6UA

Tel: +44 (0) 203 9534063
Email: info@buloweducation.com