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“What we liked about the college” said one parent, “is the industrious informality. They take the job seriously, but don’t wear it too formally. A low-key, calm and friendly place, with strong teaching and results, particularly in the arts.”
A very broad, almost exclusively, arts-based curriculum (no science in the sixth form, though a few mathematicians). The visual arts remain, as one might expect, exceptionally popular.
“My daughter had failed spectacularly at two other fee-paying schools.” said one appreciative mother of a daughter now at a Russell Group university. “She thought she was a dunce until they took her under their wing. They produced an incredible turn around and she went from Cs to As.”
Fine Arts also offers GCSEs, with two year groups of about 20 in all. “We find there’s a real need in year 10,” says Candida Cave, “particularly when schools start saying, you should drop this or that.”. Staff long-serving and enthusiastic, with a fair proportion who also have alternative lives as professional artists, film makers, etc. Teaching style relaxed but enthusiastic; student style, co-operative competition. “It’s very much teaching in discussion, they want to impress each other in a nice way.” says Candida Cave. Loads of outside speakers and cultural outings, with annual study trips to Florence, Paris and Venice. Not at all a hierarchical place.
The atmosphere is intentionally informal and teachers are called by their first names. “The college was very much founded as a bridge between school and university. Many students come here because they’re looking for something more flexible.”
Pupils’ work and well-being is immaculately monitored. Everyone has a personal tutor, whom they see for an hour. The tutor goes through reports, helps with essay-writing and advises on university applications. “Pupils turn up because they want to,” said one parent. “But, equally, they know that if they can’t be bothered to turn up, the attitude will be, don’t bother to come back.” Most have no problems with this. “I’ve never been to a school before where all the other pupils want to learn,” said one boy. Students sign a contract of behaviour, so know exactly what is expected, and misbehaviour, social or academic, is followed by an oral warning, a written warning, and then a parental meeting. “We’ve not excluded anyone for eight to nine years, and not even suspended anyone for a long time,” says Candida Cave. “We’re run here on mutual respect and they do seem to rise to that.” Most see the College as a place where they can be confident concerns will be dealt with quickly and in confidence. Definitely a haven for those for whom more boisterous or insensitive environments have just not worked. “The College made my daughter believe in herself. I feel I owe them.” said one parent.
A mix of mostly local professional/artistic families, who tend to be profoundly relieved that their children have found such a civilised and creative niche. Some of those who come to do GCSEs have previously been educated abroad. Others have had enough of boarding school, or failed to fit into more conventional schools. Alumni include Orlando Bloom and Helena Bonham-Carter.
A low-key, calm and friendly place, with strong teaching and results, particularly in the arts. Ideal for the ‘arty, urban misfit’ who has wilted in a more conventional environment.
You can read our Good Schools Guide review in full here.
CANDIDA CAVE IS WHAT ALL PARENTS DREAM OF IN A TEACHER, BUT THINK THEY'LL NEVER MEET