Brighton College, Brighton
Muddy says: Impressive new buildings and a 'be yourself' attitude are standouts at this school beyond its strong academic reputation.
In trendy Kemptown, in the heart of Brighton and a pebble’s throw from the sea, is this co-ed with a strong academic reputation. The College’s senior school and sixth form are approached through a grand gateway that almost looks like it’s missing a portcullis. Inside is a collection of historic and modern buildings, soon to be joined by a major new centre. A prep, pre-prep and nursery sit on adjoining sites.
Brighton College has had 10 new buildings in the last 10 years and many of its rooms feel big and bright.
A new music school building was opened last year by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour and the College has welcomed musicians in residence, including the trio who played at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding.
The new Yeoh Building – a creative learning centre – is another swanky new space. Here calming classical music is piped in the corridors and it’s somewhere pupils are not told off for rocking on their chairs because these not only swivel but recline slightly on their axes. One Big Brother-style classroom has a series of cameras and is used for analysing pupils’ presentation skills and also teaching techniques – the latter as part of a drive to make classes more engaging.
Old sports facilities are being replaced by a £55 million Sports and Science Centre. Due to open in 2019, the new building will have 18 Uni-style labs, a double height gym, 25m swimming pool and an exciting-sounding rooftop running track (I’m thinking a kind of Italian Job with legs instead of Minis!) A new theatre is also in the works.
Coach Eddie Jones brought the Japanese rugby team to use Brighton College’s facilities for training during the World Cup and since then has frequently come with the England rugby team. I’m told the visits are not only exciting for the children (and their teachers!) but help the team to remember they are role models. Rising star Marcus Smith is a former pupil.
38% of GCSE grades achieved this year were at 9 (beyond the former A*) making it the most common Brighton College grade. Of the 732 pupils around the country who received seven grade 9s or above nationally, 34 were from Brighton College.
100% of grades achieved in chemistry, physics, biology, dance, Spanish, Latin, art, Greek, Arabic, DT, German, Italian and Mandarin were between 7 and 9.
2018 also proved a record year for A Level results with 99% at A*- B
The College is proud to have made the Sunday Times’ Parent Power Top 100, ahead of some more selective schools.
The school was the first to introduce compulsory Mandarin from the age of four. It has recently written its own Sixth Form history curriculum called Our Island Story pulling in aspects such as economics and current affairs to contextualise the news. It has introduced presentation classes for Year 9s and fourth formers upwards learn to touch type.
Entrepreneurship is big in the Sixth From, where pupils create their own businesses and compete for a £10,000 prize. Recent successes have included an online exchange for secondhand uniforms. Meanwhile, a Year 9 DT invention of a gadget to safely de-stone and slice avocados this year won a prize from London’s Design Museum and was featured in national newspapers.
The College has a new focus on identifying ‘fake news’ and will be running a conference with invited journalists, dissecting headlines for truth. A previous conference on mental health involved the CEO from Mind talking about the transition to University.
For the centenary of WW1, Year 9 pupils were given a name each from the school’s own war memorial to research in order to produce a series of biographies. As of this year, all lower sixth pupils now visit Auschwitz-Birkenau at the school’s expense.
There are frequent author visits with Q&A sessions in the library.
Varied after school clubs include Move Maestros, Reading Rocks, bridge and coding.
Boarding is available from Year 9 upwards at the College and from Year 4 at Handcross Park Prep.
Full, flexible and weekly boarding are offered. The Sixth Form boarders’ house is slightly off site. Some lucky boarders have sea views.
Head and school ethos
I met deputy head Leah Hamblett who told me children with a natural curiosity and love of learning and with a sense of others would be the best fit for the school.
She says that though Brighton College is known for its academic strength, many pastoral aspects are in place to create a positive, inclusive environment.
There is a mentor programme throughout the school (for both pupils and teachers), houses are allocated in a way that ensures a mix of abilities, interests and feeder schools, and pupils mix well across age groups. Children wear wristbands to remind them to perform one random act of kindness a day – with the results shared at random in weekly assemblies.
With a location in Kemptown, at the heart of Brighton’s LGBT+ scene, it’s fitting that the College takes the lead on championing diversity. It has had its own float in Brighton Pride for the last few years and was the first school to have a non-gender specific uniform, meaning skirts and trousers can be worn by any sex. Actor Sir Ian Mckellen, no less (an ambassador for Stonewall), visited the school last year to talk to pupils about homophobic bullying.
Leah says it’s part of a wider emphasis at the school on being yourself and not conforming to stereotypes, so, for instance, pupils are encouraged to feel it’s cool to be clever, and rugby players are comfortable taking part in the school’s popular Strictly -style dance competition.
On the annual Make A Difference day pupils and staff take part in a major charity project. One house is this year going to Calais to work in the ‘Jungle’ refugee camp. Scrub clearing days on the South Downs and frequent work with the local Clocktower homeless charity are among other projects.
Two Syrian refugees were given free places at the school in recent years, one of whom then won a scholarship to Oxford.
Certain days of the week are allocated for digital detox with smartphones handed in the morning. This drive to encourage children to socialise more face-to-face seems to be paying off as there’s a new trend for board games.
The school has just gone single-use-plastic-free. All pupils have been given a sugar cane bottle to refill from water fountains (if they forget, litter picking on the beach is the forfeit!)
Dancers are paired with non-dancers in the annual Strictly-style competition run by the Sixth Form. Teachers meanwhile inspire reading by giving book reviews in Monday assemblies (a bit of pressure for them to stay off trashy novels!)
Pupils get to rotate their dining locations through the week with a casual cafe with outdoor seating and another with fab squashy sofas and glitter balls among the hangouts.
The word on the ground
The pupils who showed me round had come from London schools and liked the community feel at Brighton College. You’re really encouraged to accept yourself and your own likes and dislikes – ‘non-conformity is encouraged’ they told me. ‘Sporty types’ and ‘arty types’ are not compartmentalised, for instance.
They said the teachers were passionate about their subjects and approachable.
They liked that the school feels lively into the evenings with clubs and socialising on site and plenty of house activities for boarders to encourage bonding. They were also pleased that it was easy to walk into town.
Per term: Senior school £5,600 – £7,930, Sixth Form £8,140 – £8,180. Weekly boarding £11,130 – £11,470; Full boarding £12,490 – £13,190. Pre-prep and prep £3,350 – £6,450.
The Muddy Verdict
Good for: Strong academic results without the highest selection bar. A modern-thinking, community-based feel. Pupils being encouraged to be comfortable in themselves and their differences. A positive environment for LGBT+ children.
Not so good for: That grand entrance may feel a bit daunting for some, conversely, if you want a country pile idyll this is the wrong location for you. Though the school is keen to stress it’s not a ‘pressure cooker’ less academically-gifted pupils may fit better elsewhere.
Dare to disagree? Visit for yourself. Brighton College has open mornings coming up on Sat 29 Sept 2018 (Sat 13 Oct 2018 for Sixth Form information day), then on Sat 26 Jan and Sat 27 April 2019. The next nursery, pre-prep and prep school open morning is Sat 6 Oct 2018.
Brighton College, Eastern Road, Brighton, East Sussex, BN2 0AL, brightoncollege.org.uk