Clifton College Upper School, Bristol
Muddy says: A top co-ed day and boarding school for 13-18 year olds combining a liberal outlook with some quirky public school traditions, set amongst the Georgian townhouses and Victorian villas of Clifton
Clifton College Upper School is a co-ed day and boarding school for 13–18 year olds set amidst the gorgeous Georgian townhouses and Victorian villas of Clifton in Bristol, with a separate Prep (the Pre) nearby. With its Grade II listed Gothic splendour and large green space out front called The Close, the school scores 10 out 10 for wow factor. Bristol Zoo and Gardens lies behind and Brunel’s famous Bristol Suspension Bridge is around the corner.
Founded in 1862 by the forward-thinking Dr John Percival, who believed in science, women’s education and racial tolerance, the school retains that liberal ethos. A former master at Rugby school, he also brought with him some of that school’s traditions, so Clifton has praeps (prefects), pupils play rackets and fives and run inter-House races called The Pens. Famous Old Cliftonians include Simon Russell-Beale, John Cleese and GB Hockey Olympian Gold medal winner Lily Owsley.
Currently around 740 pupils, roughly half and half day/boarding, with around 24 percent international, partly reflecting the city’s diverse population.
Impressive Victorian main school buildings complete with a quad, cloisters, newly refurbed vaulted roofed BSK (Big School Kitchen) but it’s not old period decor, furnishings and fittings inside.
Two main libraries: the Stone Library (a dedicated science library staffed by science teachers in the evening; very handy to help with prep) and the huge Percival Library. While the ceiling may be Grade II listed Hogwarts, it’s fully multi-media’d up.
The magnificent Chapel dates back to 1867. Anglican services once a month and daily assemblies which are only ‘slightly religious’, according to a pupil, and a chance for students from the various Houses and departments to speak. A choir was just warming up – the acoustics are awesome.
Music block behind the main school building. Alongside the plethora of practice rooms there’s recording studio, with two live rooms, drum room and control room – that’s a Pro Tools mixing deck on the right– and a full-time sound engineer on hand. From the Sixth Form, students can use as they wish for a few hours each week.
An elegant Recital Hall comes complete with a state-of-the-art Yamaha grand piano and a harpsichord – sort of sums up the school – that mix of tradition and the here and now.
Budding thesps take note: the purpose-built Redgrave (named after another old boy, Sir Michael), is where you can go to see the school play – and more than 40 other school and commercial productions throughout the year.
Art block has light-filled studios for fine art and ceramics and dark rooms for photography.
There’s a dedicated Learning Support Unit, which is shared between the Upper School and the Prep.
In 2017/8 three-quarters of all A Levels were A*-B; a quarter of all GSCEs were a 9 or an A*. Every year, most students go onto Russell Group universities with a smattering to Oxbridge. Future Mary Beards: it’s the only Bristol school teaching Latin, Greek and Classical Civilisation right up to Sixth Form. No International Baccalaureate but they’re broadening out into BTECs.
The Head Dr Tim Greene DPhil read chemistry and held academic appointments at Oxford and Exeter University before entering secondary education, becoming Head of College and Headmaster of the Upper School in 2016. Warm and easy to talk to, he’s hands on, teaches six lessons a week (still has a passion for chemistry), helps with Oxbridge preparation, meets with praeps (prefects) every week and has some, he admits fairly minor, duties in one of the Houses. He’s responsive to pupils requests: girls are now allowed to wear trousers – hurrah!
His aim? For the school to be the school that each pupil needs it to be and for pupils to be the best they can in whatever field – academic, sports, musics or drama – whilst being down to earth, decent people. He talks about resilience, confidence and being content in one’s own skin, wishing pupils to leave Clifton with something to take forward into the outside world, including friends for life.
First headmaster John Percival wanted all boys to do some form of physical activity to discourage ‘loafing’ (nothing changes) and today, sport at Clifton is very big, with facilities to match. A 90-acre Beggar’s Bush on the outskirts of the city (Bristol’s largest outdoor sports ground) as well as indoor heated pool, gym, rackets court, tennis courts, astro turf, Olympic standard hockey pitch, cricket nets – the list goes on and on – back at the school. Sailing at Chew Valley, rowing on the river Avon, golf at Tickenham Golf Course in North Somerset, caving and climbing around this rocky part of the world.
Rugby pitches and cricket on The Close creates the archetypal English scene. Girls play cricket and rugby too. With coaching by ex-professionals, the school produces internationals.
Girls’ hockey is outstanding: now coached by a former hockey international, the team have been national champs, produced eight schoolgirl internationals and an Olympian Gold medal winner.
Anyone for (real) tennis? Or the hard-hitting and super fast ‘rackets’, a version of squash which started in 18th century debtors’ prisons and is now played almost exclusively in private schools.
Very well equipped gym. Everyone, whatever their level of fitness, can book sessions with a personal trainer. High performance training for sport’s scholars.
Pastoral care is centred around the House system, with each pupil allocated to a single-sex House – six day Houses (known as ‘Towns’) and seven boarding Houses, each with a House Master/Mistress and tutors and its own colour striped tie. Vigorous competition between the Houses in everything from the inter-House play (with its own ‘Oscars’), song competition, debating, cooking – even darts – all organised by the pupils themselves.
The only synagogue in a UK independent school and has an active Jewish student community.
Strong connections with some of the city’s top quality cultural venues, like the classical music St George’s and innovative theatre company the Tobacco Factory Theatres.
Impressive school trips: Argentina rugby tour; altitude training in Tigne; expedition to the Arctic Circle; science trip to the CERN Hadron Collider in Geneva.
About half the pupils board in seven boarding Houses: four boys’ and three girls’ each with between 55–80 pupils term time. Full, day-boarding (up to four nights a week) and on a per night basis. Had a nose around the girls’ Worcester House, which has a fab view across The Close to the main school – and with those palms you could be on your hols. Rangy and airy with a couple of common rooms, small kitchens for making snacks and drinks (all meals are taking in the BSK across The Close), and its own laundry. Bedrooms are spacious; desks have built-in USB ports and there’s wifi too. Sixth Formers have their own rooms.
Academic and other achievements and personal development were all rated ‘excellent’ in the latest ISI report.
Three Old Cliftonians have won the Nobel Prize.
School rugby players are waiting to hear from the Guinness Book of World Records to discover whether they’ve broken the world record for most passes in three minutes and most tackles in a minute.
A Clifton College pupil held the record for a the highest ever cricket score for 117 years until it was broken in 2016.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Extensive extra-curricular programme, including Combined Cadet Force, Ten Tors, D of E, expeditions and more clubs and societies than you can shake a stick at. Per night boarding. Holiday club open all to 3–16 year olds during the hols, and for 2-year olds if they attend the nursery. Revision courses, performance sport courses, Summer language school.
Years 9–11:, from £8,100 for day pupils to £12,020 full boarding. Sixth Form: £8,230 day; £12, 390 full boarding. Sixth Form joiners from other schools: £8,530 day to £13,135 full boarding. 20% bursaries for HM Forces families; sibling discounts. Scholarships at 11, 13 and Sixth Form: academic, music, arts and sport up to 25% of fees. Polack’s House Educational Trust provides means-tested scholarships and burseries for Jewish students.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents describe the school as well-balanced and realistic, saying that whatever it is that pupils want to achieve, the teachers will do what they can to help pupils reach their goals. Staff are great and treat the pupils very much as equals. Pastoral care is ‘superb’ – and ‘there’s nothing like watching cricket on The Close in the summer’.
Good for: To take full advantage of all that’s on offer here, it’s probably best for kids who like to have a go; otherwise, whatever your child’s talents, they’d probably do well here. The city location means you’re in the swim of things in one of the UK’s most vibrant cities.
Not for: Parents wanting a school in acres of grounds in the middle of the countryside – though cricket in summer and rugby in winter on The Close creates the archetypal English country scene.
Want to see for yourself ? Their next Upper School Open Afternoon is Mon 13 May.
Clifton College, Guthrie Road, Clifton, Bristol BS8 3EZ. Tel 0117 315700.