Warwick Senior School, Warwickshire
A top selective independent senior day and boarding school for boys aged 11-18 in the lovely historic market town of Warwick.
One of the oldest boys’ schools in England, Warwick School is believed to date back to the times of warrior queen, Aethelflaed, the oldest daughter of Alfred the Great and Lady of the Mercia who ruled Mercia in the Midlands from 911.
This senior school for boys aged 11-18 is located just outside Warwick town centre on a verdant 50-acre campus stretching down the the River Avon. It is shared with Warwick Prep, Warwick School Junior and King’s High School for girls aged 11-18.
There are 977 boys: 699 in Years 7-11 and 278 in the Sixth Form – with average class sizes of 22-25 and smaller teaching groups for some GCSE and A Level subjects. Pupils live mainly within a 50-minute drive of the school. Most boys start school in Year 7, after taking the Entrance Exam following on from Warwick Prep and the Junior School, or Year 12 (Lower Sixth).
The school itself feels full of life, with a real sense of community and pupils are highly socially aware – this was praised by ISI inspectors as a real strength. Recently Year 7 boys were challenged with building and sleeping in their own cardboard shelter overnight to appreciate what it means to be homeless – raising £3,000 for Helping Hands.
Notable alumni include Christian Horner, Team Principal for the Red Bull Racing Formula 1 team – who’s married to former Spice Girl Geri Halliwell – royal florist Simon Lycett, Bristol Old Vic Actor Maanuv Thiara and actor Ralph Davis, who graduated from RADA and starred in the RSC’s 2018 production Tamburlaine with Jude Owusu.
Exceptional. Sports music and drama are a big deal at Warwick School and it’s not difficult to see why with these kinds of facilities. The school has enjoyed an impressive £40m programme of development in recent years.
Facilities include a refurbished £2.7m Sports Pavilion, comprising of a 25m swimming pool, sports hall, squash courts, hospitality suite, climbing wall, gym, and all-weather sports facilities including a new 3G pitch.
The main red-brick Victorian building is striking with a grand staircase and the welcome is warm and friendly.
Situated on the first floor of the Masefield Centre, the Library plays a central role in the life of the School. It is extensively used for reading and research throughout the day and is a popular venue at break times, lunch times and after school. It offers a venue for Sixth Form private study periods during the day and hosts Homework Club and Boarders Prep in the evenings.
Head librarian Mrs DeVouge-Bernards has created a fab selection of bookmarks with reading list suggestions in various genres. I came home with the entire collection – in the hope it might inspire my own kids! The school has also recently launched a new project focusing on 10 minutes’ reading every day during form time with the emphasis on ‘reading for pleasure’.
There’s also the fully equipped purpose-built state-of-the-art Cheshire Science Centre, outstanding bespoke Art and DT facilities and a music school with acoustic teaching pods for music lessons.
The big wow building is Warwick Hall, a top-class regional auditorium seating up to 1000 with a balcony, plus smaller drama/dance studios which opened in 2016. Also used for whole school assemblies.
On the drama front The Bridge House Theatre, opened by Dame Judi Dench in 2000, seats around 300. It also hosts visiting professional productions and community events.
The School Chapel dates to 1879 with its stunning stained-glass windows by Henry Holiday and Francis Spear and war memorials. All the boys attend a chapel service once a week and on most Sundays, in term time there’s a family service.
On the day of my visit GCSE’s were also underway – I walked into the Sports Hall to this scenario which took me straight back to being 16 again – deep breath, exhale!
I was given a pre-Covid school tour by an eloquent and emotionally intelligent Year 12 pupil. who’s not only a talented young musician (playing viola, violin and piano) but played in two orchestras and is a keen member of the Hockey team. He’s studying Maths, Further Maths, Economics & Politics and is considering a history degree at university.
This is an outdoor sculpture installation we passed on my tour (pictured above), created by pupils and the Art department as part of the school’s inaugural Discovery Festival. A boat was brought into the grounds and students were taught how to work with willow as a sculpture medium to create a Kraken, a legendary sea monster, by visiting artists, Mark and Rebecca Ford.
SHARED SIXTH FORM CENTRE
The big recent headline news is that King’s High School for girls aged 11-18 moved onto the campus in September 2019 allowing for greater collaboration between the two senior schools, while teaching remains single-sex.
A big USP is the new Shared Sixth Form Centre offering pupils the ‘best of both worlds’ before they head off to uni. Facilities include a large social space with self-service kitchen and café; specialist study spaces, social areas and a Careers Hub.
It’s beautifully-designed and open-plan with a Scandi-feel, stunning main wooden staircase, light and airy with gender-neutral toilets and the most amazing rooftop views – Kevin McCloud, the presenter of TV’s Grand Designs would be impressed.
It was Year 13’s last day before sitting A levels while I was there. I was warned they would all be in fancy dress. Several cars filled with boys dressed as Luigi’s from Mario Kart had been spotted en route to school; seeing them in person was very entertaining – there was also a group dressed up as clergy, bizarrely.
As you would expect from a selective school, the results are consistently above national level. In 2020 they had a 100% pass rate at A Level with 55% of boys gaining A*or A grades and 81% A*-B. GCSE results were similarly outstanding, more than half the grades (56%) were at A* or the equivalent in the new system (9-8). 82% of grades were awarded at A*-A (9-7) with 95% at A*-B (9-6).
I’d say the school does a fantastic job with the brightest boys while also supporting the less academic. Degree apprenticeships are also embraced.
The 2018 ISI report is ‘Excellent’ all-round. View here.
Nationally six bands entered the National Concert Band Finals at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, winning five platinum awards and one gold award – a record for the number of entrants from one school, with all performing incredibly well.
Sixth Form chemists recently participated in the Royal Society of Chemistry Olympiad, with students achieving bronze, silver and gold medals. Senior physicists also achieved a plethora of awards in the UK Senior Physics Challenge, with 32 boys receiving bronze, silver or gold awards.
The Young Enterprise Team, Kyoto – The Last Straw, produced their innovative, hardwearing, sustainable, home-made and homegrown bamboo straws. This year they had to produce a video presentation and company report commenting on success and challenges.
The varied list of co-curricular activities includes 90 clubs and societies as diverse as Politics Society featuring lectures from prominent politicians, Biology Film Club, Altiora Dancy Company led by professionals from Warwickshire’s international dance company Motionhouse with girls from King’s High; scuba diving, mural-makers, classics club and Bundesliga X Box Club.
More than 80 took part in recent Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, plus there’s an extensive range of trips and tours. Boys can also join the Combined Cadet Force (Army, Navy and Air Force) here – they love it because they say it’s a lot of fun, plus develops confidence, character and leadership.
The 1XV Rugby team made it to the 2020 Schools Cup Final at Twickenham, their 4th consecutive final, which unfortunately didn’t go ahead due to government lockdowns. Doing equally well the 1st XI hockey team made it through to the quarter-finals of the Notts Sport Boy’s Schools Championships, after being the only team to win all their matches.
Although many of the school’s teams perform at a high level, staff are keen to involve every boy in competitive sport and finding sports all boys can excel – with a vast number of weekly fixtures at different levels and a huge choice of sports clubs.
NATIONAL CENTRE FOR THE ARTS
The school is a National Centre for the Arts and there’s music oozing from every corner. You’ll find a huge amount of musical talent here with more than 750 boys taking music lessons each year and more than 40 orchestras and ensembles including a symphony orchestra, concert bands, woodwind and brass ensembles, chapel and choral choirs, jazz and rock bands, which is phenomenal!
In addition to their class music lesson, all Year 7 students have the opportunity to learn a new instrument as part of the Year 7 Music Scheme, with tuition taking place each week in small groups. Young musicians regularly participate in national music festivals, achieving national successes.
As well as some of the best facilities for drama in the country and experienced professionals, there’s workshops, trips and performance opportunities including the first student-led House Drama competition.
Currently, there’s a small boarding community with 60 international boarders, from China, Hong Kong, Macau and Nigeria aged 13+ living in modern accommodation split across two School Houses run by resident ‘house parents’. Each boarder has their own Boarding Tutor. The school also caters for weekly boarding and flexi-boarding.
Strong. It’s all about ‘Knowing the individual’ here. Warwick has been well ahead of the game when it comes to pastoral care, recognising the stresses and pressures of teenage years. The school teaches wellbeing, popularly called ‘happiness class’ and the school counsellor writes a regular column on the school website; a digital wellbeing hub has been created and is regularly updated.
Old Warwickian James Barker was appointed Head Master in June 2020. The pandemic has provided a baptism of fire and he is looking forward to the day when he can lead whole school assemblies in Warwick Hall and watch with pride from the touchline and auditorium as boys pursue their myriad interests beyond the classroom.
His association with Warwick School goes back to September 1991 and his first day as a pupil. Having studied History, Politics and Economics at A Level and captained the 1XV in his final year he went on to read Philosophy at Cardiff University. After training as a teacher, he returned to Warwick as Deputy Head Co-curricular in 2017 following stints as Upper Master at Abingdon and Assistant Head Co-curricular at the Royal Grammar School Worcester. He was appointed Senior Deputy Head in 2019 before succeeding Dr Deneal Smith as Head Master a couple of years later.
A Warwick School education has always been an education that aims to develop young men of ‘character, interest and achievement who thrive in the world both now and in the future’.
James’ passion for the school and his commitment to delivering a curriculum for the 21st Century, that helps develop young people who are able to think critically and creatively, communicate effectively, work collaboratively and have the character to deal with rapidly changing world, is infectious.
Next year he plans to return to the classroom and teach Theology and Philosophy again as well as join the Year 7 Music Scheme and learn an orchestral instrument from scratch alongside the entire year group. If you’re lucky you might even catch a glimpse of him out on the sports fields refereeing a game of rugby or umpiring a cricket match.
A Warwickian through and through James is known for his commitment to Warwick School’s vision of ensuring that every boy is known and celebrated as an individual, benefitting from the huge range of opportunities available, fulfilling their potential and pursuing their ambitions.
The Warwick Town Crier is traditionally invited to school every year to ‘request’ that the Head Master grants permissions for an extra week’s holiday at half-term for the boys. The boys gather together to hear the announcement, which is always greeted with ecstatic cheers.
From Year 9 upwards, Friday afternoons are set aside for boys to take up extra activities they wouldn’t normally be able to follow within curriculum time – academic and co-curricular. These range from cooking for university to furniture making, sailing and yoga.
FEES & SCHOLARSHIPS
Average for across the region. £4,779 per term (£14,337 annually); full boarding from £11,525 per term including tuition fees. Warwick School offers Academic, Music and Choral Scholarships, and a range of bursaries for eligible pupils. View here.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Word is that the school is very nurturing and has a warm, inclusive ethos with a big emphasis on enrichment and personal development. Clearly, the parents who send their sons here have high expectations for their academic path and success and the school delivers to the brief. Pupils also say the school responds quickly to support any boys’ individual welfare needs and the strong feeling among boys across all ages is that they’re very proud to be part of this vibrant school community.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: It’s hard to know a boy who wouldn’t enjoy it here. It has the rolling acreage and incredible facilities of a top country school, conveniently located just outside the centre of Warwick. It’s inclusive and has amazing results but the style of teaching and the huge amount of music, sport, drama and co-curricular activities mean the lads have a great time too – with many boys enjoying a through education from nursery to Sixth Form.
Not for: Boys who prefer a fully co-ed experience or parents purely looking for a highly academic, results-driven school. Warwick School is all about the holistic experience, getting involved in the opportunities that are available, and learning to become life savvy, not just book smart.
Dare to disagree? Take a look for yourself at the upcoming open day on 2 Oct. See the full calendar here.