A major new wing has added exciting sports and arts facilities to this historic school in the heart of Eastbourne.
Slap bang in the centre of town, beside the twin gems of the Towner Art Gallery and international tennis venue Devonshire Park, and a pebble’s throw from the beach, sits historic Eastbourne College. Its traditional red brick buildings have just been joined by a state-of-the-art new wing, part of Project 150 – a £33 million upgrade marking the school’s 150th anniversary.
The ‘mildly selective’ co-ed takes 13-18s as day pupils and boarders.
Project 150 added the Nugee, with IT suites, new classrooms and more last year, then, from this April, the Winn building, featuring a new dance studio, fitness suite, sports hall, glass-backed squash courts, a swimming pool, dining hall, function rooms and a café. The Birley Centre for music drama and arts is also a fairly recent addition, having opened in 2011.
The Winn is a light and spacious building. The fantastic indoor courts are Sport England compliant and include a swanky automatic cricket bowling machine. The pool has six lanes and a touchpad timing system.
The first impression I had, looking around, was how much like a university it felt. There are grown-up touches like running machines and weights that pupils can use in their free time and a proper cafe, with big screen on the wall, where teens can hang out and socialise, or stick in their headphones and study in a relaxing environment. Incidently, the barista here is a real Italian, who encourages the pupils to order their cappuccinos in his native tongue!
The new dining room loses the canteen feel and opts instead for what looks like a hotel buffet with different enticing food stations and an emphasis on healthy eating, including a salad bar and proper oven-baked jacket potatoes. I almost expected to see someone flipping crepes!
The dining room ceiling has some rather nifty lighting that can be adjusted through a wide range of colour moods. I have similar effect, though with just three shades, in my Mini, so I’m thinking ambient orange next time I stop for a cereal bar from the glove compartment!
The new building also has good eco credentials, using combined heat power as an electricity supply.
Elsewhere on the campus there are more sports facilities, including two astro turfs. Sport is a big focus, with 92% of pupils representing the College across 18 sports, from athletics to sailing. Other facilities include a language lab, recording studio and chapel.
I was really impressed with the school’s obvious DT achievements. Some of the pupils’ contemporary chair designs were on display in the new wing, produced with the help of specialist facilities.
Three pupils recently won prizes for ceramics at the Young Craftsman of the Year Awards at the 2018 South of England Show. Art Textiles is another popular subject at the College.
Parents and the public are invited to various arts events at the college throughout the year from displays of A Level work to plays and concerts.
This year nearly 96% of Year 11 pupils achieved five or more 9 to 4 grades (equivalent to the old A* – C), with 30% of grades at 9 and 8 (equivalent to A* or better). Almost 40% of this year’s A Level results were A* or A.
Nearly all school leavers go on to undergraduate courses and the majority enter Russell Group universities. The College is also happy to encourage pupils into various apprenticeships if this better suits their career ambitions.
To dovetail with family life, the school offers full and weekly boarding. From September, flexible boarding for day pupils will be available with the opening of Arnold Lodge.
There is currently around a 50/50 split between day pupils and boarders. 10 – 20% are international.
Like halls of residence, boarders’ houses are slightly off site, across the road. It’s easy for older pupils to walk to the shops and beach.
With connections to London in under an hour and a half, the capital is certainly within the school catchment area. A Sunday night mini bus service is offered to boarders from Clapham Junction in London and Tunbridge Wells in Kent.
Tom Lawson is a friendly, bubbly man. Though the main red brick building suggests something very traditional, he insists ‘we’re not too Quidditch, not too public school’, poking some gentle fun at those who insist on upholding bizarre ancient traditions.
He says the College is ‘not an academic hothouse’ and is ‘mildly selective’, placing more emphasis on heads’ references and a trust in the prep schools’ standards than on exam grades at 11. It has an affiliation with St Andrew’s, just up the road, so this is naturally one of its key feeder schools.
The ethos of the College, he says, is to produce ‘good people that other people want to be with’ and to build confidence without the ‘public school arrogance’ that people grumble about.
I must say I was impressed with how the pupils I met chatted over lunch, asking about me and raising some good questions about journalism in general. It suggested a genuine interest in other people and an ability to converse with strangers I certainly would have found difficult at that age.
The central red brick part of the school is called the Memorial Building and was built to commemorate the boys who gave their lives in the first World War. Look out for the decorative gargoyles.
A beachfront biathlon is among the College’s sporting contests, while a singer-songwriter club is one of numerous musical options.
Every Year 9 pupil takes part in the annual House Drama Festival, directed by the Lower Sixth. Former Eastbourne College pupil Hugh Skinner, who once took the lead in a school musical, now plays Will in WIA and Prince William in The Windsors (both Muddy TV favourites!) and most recently starred as the younger version of Colin Firth’s Harry in Mamma Mia (2).
Eddie Izzard is among other famous former pupils.
The word on the ground
The teens I had lunch with spoke about the exciting variety at the school – one had just been nagged to the fitness room by a keener friend but was glad she had that option. They said pupils from elsewhere often commented on the extended hours at Eastbourne College but their own take on it was that there were so many things to enliven the day that it never dragged, plus the day houses have ‘everything but a bed.’
They said extra support was always available when needed. The top notch sports facilities were also, naturally, a big hit.
Years 9-11, £23,130 per annum (£35,250 with boarding). Sixth Form, £23,505 per annum (£35,655 with boarding).
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Fantastic sports and design facilities. A grown-up feel and town setting that will help smooth the transition to university. The less hard-nosed selective approach will suit hard workers who aren’t natural high-fliers.
Not for: If you favour the more cloistered, countryside style of independent school. Shrinking violets who might feel overwhelmed by a bustling atmosphere. If your child isn’t sporty then one of the key strengths of the college might be rather wasted on them.
Dare to disagree? Find out for yourself at the next open morning on Sat 15 Sept 2018, 9am – 1pm. There will be another on Sat 9 March 2019. Personal visits can also be arranged.
Eastbourne College, Old Wish Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN21 4JX, 01323 452300, eastbourne-college.co.uk