With so many education options open to us, more so than ever as we emerge (again) from lockdown, an increasing number of families have left London in search of a better work/life balance in more spacious surroundings in fresh, country air. Devon and Cornwall have been high on the relocation list, causing property prices to shoot up along the south west coast of the UK.
Although relocating isn’t necessarily a prerequisite to finding the best school for your son or daughter, the year we’ve had has prompted many of us to consider big life changes such as relocation. Whatever your current situation or future plans, we can advise you on schools, places to live and transport links. If we can help – even if it’s just a chat to explore options and ideas – do get in touch.
In the meantime, we hope this selection of top-performing schools in different counties across the UK will provide food for thought if you are chewing over the pros and cons of relocation.
In the UK, state schools are funded by the government and parents do not pay fees. To apply to a state school, you’ll need proof that you reside at a UK address in the school’s catchment area, unless you are in the Forces or diplomatic services.
Several counties – including Buckinghamshire, Kent and Lincolnshire – use a selection process that sees pupils at state schools in Year 6 take an optional 11+ exam as they prepare to move from primary to secondary level education. The exam is not obligatory, but results dictate whether children can attend a grammar school or secondary modern from Years 7 to 13.
Some boroughs – including Trafford (Greater Manchester) and various London boroughs – have retained that selective split at secondary school level, even though the wider region or county might have ditched selection. Some counties, such as Gloucestershire, have a mix of selective to non-selective state secondary schools at a ratio of around 1:3. In some areas (e.g. north Yorkshire) you can find solitary grammar schools (e.g. Ripon Grammar) amongst an otherwise comprehensive (i.e. non-selective) state education system.
Unlike state schools, independent schools offer more flexibility in terms of where pupils reside when they enrol and attend the school. Independent boarding schools give overseas students the opportunity to stay on site and study each term. And UK pupils may have the option to enrol as weekly boarders if being a day pupil isn’t practical. So relocation to the county – or even the country – where your chosen school is located isn’t always necessary if you consider an independent education in the UK. However, you do of course pay for the privilege of not having to relocate!
In these cases, relocating will become an important part of your choice of school.
London and the south East tend to tick the relocation boxes regarding opportunities for work, international connections and a plethora of high-performing, independent schools.
Certainly, around three quarters of the top-performing independent schools (ranked by A Level and Pre U results) are in the south East, including Oxfordshire, Brighton and Hampshire. But we know there are so many more factors you may want to consider when you’re choosing a school.
And the pandemic has broadened our horizons in terms of how we live, work and learn (ironic really, given that for the past year our horizons have felt very small and close!) New independent schools have launched a purely virtual education option; others are trialling the blended approach to learning (i.e. a mix of classroom-based and remote lessons) that studies show to be highly effective. Add to this the fact that many parents who previously commuted to an office now work from home, and may also choose to access hobbies, shops and some social occasions remotely too, and you can see why families are favouring more space over a London-based living.
Schools outside the capital are likely to have more green space too, and their fees are often lower, as is the cost of living. Transport links may be slightly further away, but the volume of traffic attempting to access them is decidedly smaller!
We can help you navigate many aspects of relocation, including which schools might best suit your child, attractive properties and places to live plus other benefits of working and living in a specific area. Do get in touch for a no-obligation chat.
Beyond academic ability
Academic success is just one factor we consider when we talk about the best UK independent schools. Excellent sporting facilities, top-notch coaches and a mindset that sees all the benefits that sport can bring, played at any level, are another important factor for many.
With a 140-year heritage and a 40-acre site housing stunning, state-of-the-art sports facilities, Truro school in Cornwall offers boys and girls aged 3 to 18 a world-class education founded on an ethos of “compassionate ambition”. Pupils echo this in their reflections on the school: “a loving place where no-one is left out”.
Its sports centre, named after Olympian Sir Ben Ainslie, is the county’s premier sports facility, used by the pupils and the wider community. It features a multi- functional, eight-court sports hall; two county-standard, glass-backed squash courts; a 32-station gym; an exercise studio with a sprung wooden floor; a 25-metre competition swimming pool; a multi-sport Astro-turf pitch plus outdoor tennis courts.
But its name is in homage to another sport, for which both Ben and Truro School have achieved international renown – sailing.
Ben, born in Macclesfield, Cheshire, spent much of his childhood on a boat off the Cornish coast. He went on to become one of the most successful sailors in Olympic history, winning medals at five consecutive Games from 1996 onwards and gold medals at every Olympics from 2000 to 2012.
Nine years ago, he made history again when he set the Olympic torch off on its 70-day tour of the UK as the first of 8,000 torch bearers in the run up to London 2012, where he carried the flag for the GB team at the closing ceremony.
Millfield School in Somerset is the largest co-educational boarding school in the UK and one of the country’s leading independent schools. With around 1,250 pupils – the vast majority of whom are full boarders representing around 65 nationalities – the school caters for children aged 2 to 18. With a real focus on fostering individual brilliance in all areas of life, from music to sport to science to whatever the child’s focus, aims and abilities, Millfield nurtures more than just a desire and aptitude for academic attainment, encouraging its pupils to be kind, to challenge, to question, to be positive influencers and to have a voice. As they say on their website, they have the resource, the attitude and the capacity to do just that. Students themselves describe life at Millfield as being part of a diverse family community; a safe place with supportive friends and teachers. A community that empowers them to balance academic goals with other aspirations, enjoying and growing in all areas without feeling overwhelmed. Pupils have access to lectures and talks beyond their chosen areas of study, encouraging a mindset of sharing ideas and inspiration.
Cheam School provides a happy childhood in an unforgettable setting surrounded by beautiful playing fields and gardens. A number of families from London choose this school, where children are supported to discover their own “essence of excellence” graduating with happiness, confidence and emotional intelligence.
Boys only, senior:
Balancing tradition and heritage with innovation and inclusive education, Eton College has been preparing boys for all life’s challenges for nearly 500 years. This most famous of all senior all-boys’ full boarding schools has been attended by the royals and current and past prime ministers of the UK.
Boys only, prep:
Caldicott School caters for boys aged 7 to 13 on a day and boarding basis. Nestled in the beautiful south Buckinghamshire countryside of Farnham Royal, a 25-mile drive from London, Caldicott regularly sends a number of its alumni to Eton and other top senior schools.
Girls only, prep:
Girls aged 2 to 11 can enjoy an outstanding all-round education at Maltman’s Green School in Gerrard’s Cross. Its 103-year history of fostering girls’ self worth and self-belief sees many graduates destined for the top girls’ senior independent schools in the country: Wycombe Abbey or St Mary’s Ascot.
It’s worth noting the outstanding Buckinghamshire state schools catering for students at secondary level too. Selective grammar schools Beaconsfield High School (girls only) and Dr Challoner’s High School (co-ed) consistently earn high scores in value-added rankings.
Bedales School is an independent, co-educational, boarding and day school in Hampshire. Founded in 1893 in reaction to the authoritarian approach of Victorian schools, it offers a more creative, liberal environment in which to excel. Its 120-acre site features playing fields, orchards, woodland, pasture and a nature reserve as well as Grade 1 listed buildings and award-winning contemporary buildings.
One of the oldest all-boys schools, Sherborne School is steeped in history and set against an idyllic backdrop in a bustling market town boasting an abbey, castles and many other beautiful buildings of medieval and Georgian origin. That combination of setting and heritage is said to give its boys “a profound sense that they are part of a living tradition”.
Winchester College is an all-boys’ full boarding school, founded in 1382 by William of Wykeham, Bishop of Winchester and Chancellor to both Edward III and Richard II. Steeped in tradition, the school nevertheless aspires to reflect its founder’s visionary approach to education, “seeking to continue his tradition of looking ahead”. The school’s motto “Manners Makyth Man” found fame again in the recent Kingsman film.
Beechwood Park is situated on a 37-acre site near St Albans and about five minutes from the M1, but is flanked by picturesque villages and accessed along winding country lanes. The school grounds was mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. The school was founded as an all-boys school in 1964 but started also to accept girls from 1993. It’s described by parents as “seriously academic” but “child centred” and recent new additions include impressive sports facilities; brand new all-weather cricket, breath-taking building. Boarding is offered and is only elected by the pupils on a 2-4 day basis.
A prep school for day and boarding pupils, Lockers Park has a strong academic record and sees many pupils move on to the country’s leading public and independent senior schools such as Eton College, Harrow School and St Albans School. Structured sport forms part of the curriculum every day, proven to improve concentration in the classroom and foster sporting success.
A senior school for performing artists
Tring Park School selects its pupils (aged 8 to 16, but with the most common, albeit competitive, entry points being at ages 11-13, 14 and 16) based on their potential for performing arts. Auditions include showcasing dance, drama and singing. The school’s focus on academic rigour (only half the day is dedicated to academic subjects, but lessons are intense) is what sets it apart from other performing arts schools.
Girls only, senior:
Established in 1853, Cheltenham Ladies College has consistently ranked as one of the top all-girls’ schools nationally. Taking day and boarding pupils aged 11 to 18, and nurturing a culture of tolerance, compassion and resilience alongside academic success, the school is located in the beautiful Regency town of Cheltenham, situated in the Cotswolds, designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The school is often referred to as a “girls’ equivalent of Eton”.
Aldro School in Godalming, an ancient market town midway between London and the south coast, has been teaching boys aged 7 to 13 for about 120 years. And from this September it will opens its gates to girls too.
Aldro has a strong academic reputation with alumni regularly achieving scholarships to top public schools such as Charterhouse, Eton, Radley, Wellington and Winchester. Part of its attraction is its impressive facilities, including a dedicated Art and Design Technology block, a lake in the grounds and ICT suite.
Girls only, prep and senior:
A day and boarding school for girls aged 4 to 18, St Catherine’s encourages its girls to be sporty and academic, confident and adventurous and its alumni enjoy outstanding success in every field – academic, sporting, cultural. Set in the stunning Surrey Hills, this school’s 25-acre campus in the village of Bramley boasts up-to-date facilities and attractive boarding accommodation for senior school pupils.
Senior, (soon to be) mixed:
Charterhouse is an iconic boys’ school preparing to become a mixed school under a new Head. The school lists kindness, moral courage, responsibility, perseverance and open-mindedness amongst its values, and the new Head is ‘tweaking’ the timetable as well as its co-educational status to ensure students get proper breaks – both from devices and formal learning – so as to relax and socialise as well as achieve academically.
Looking at relocating? We can help…
All the league tables, ranking algorithms and awards can seem overwhelming. If you’re thinking of relocating and trying to juggle all the priorities around the best place for your family – why not speak to us? We have in-depth knowledge of the best UK independent schools and can advise you on the best match for your son or daughter. We can also assist you with your search for a new home and anything else you might need as part of your relocation package. Get in touch with us today for a no-obligation chat.
Following the UK government’s confirmation of the international travel traffic light system, summer camps in the grounds and campuses of boarding schools can go ahead. Commencing in July, these give overseas students access to programmes packed full of academic and cultural learning opportunities as well as fun social games, challenges, quizzes and activities.
Students arriving into the UK from countries on the green list (which will be reviewed on 28th May and every three weeks thereafter) must test negative for Covid on their departure and again on or before the second day of their stay.
Using the test and release programme, students from countries on the amber list must test negative for Covid on departure, and again on days 2, 5 and 8 after arrival. Quarantine is only necessary for five days, provided days 2 and 5 tests are both negative. During this time, students arriving from amber countries as part of a group can form their own bubble in boarding houses, socialising and accessing face-to-face teaching before a negative test to release result gives them full access to all camp activities.
The camp provider will cover the cost of all required Covid tests and offer full refunds in cases where travel is cancelled due to change in Covid regulations.
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