Colston’s Upper School
Muddy says: From nursery to Sixth Form, this co-ed city school has the best of all worlds – a rigorous curriculum, diverse group of students and acres of grounds
What? Where? A senior school for boys and girls aged 11-18, Colston’s Upper School has the best of both worlds – it is situated on the edge of bustling Bristol, with everything this forward-thinking, thriving city has to offer, with the grounds and facilities of a country school. Colston’s is sparky and progressive, with a rigorously academic curriculum yet a focus on a holistic approach – drama, sport and, frankly, just being kind are valued as highly as academic success.
Established in 1710 by philanthropist and MP Edward Colston, it was originally a boarding school for poorer boys, to educate them to a high enough standard to secure them an apprenticeship. It was taken under the wing of the Society of Merchant Venturers, a philanthropic group who now oversee nine schools across the city and are still very involved in Colston’s to this day. In 1861 this fledgling boys’ school moved to its current premises – the former residence of the Bishop of Bristol – and in 1984 the school made the leap in welcoming girls in the Sixth Form, moving to fully co-ed in 1991. The balance is currently 60%/40% boys/girls.
The school has a feel of a healthily international melting pot, with over 13 languages spoken at home in families from all over the globe and boasting a superbly diverse group of students. There are many families for whom this is a first foray into independent schooling, and an impressive wealth of bursaries and scholarships are on offer. The school has a strong family feel – old boys send their sons, daughters (and grandchildren) here; in fact the school currently boasts a boy who is the 3rd generation of his family to come to the school.
Relatively small for a senior school, there are around 80 children in each year, with a slightly smaller cohort in the Sixth Form as one or two pupils are lost to Sixth Form colleges. The popularity of the school might be illustrated by the distance pupils travel – 45 minutes is a fair average, with some coming from as far as Wales!
Notable alumni include current London Welsh rugby player Olly Barkley, Bristol rugby player Shane Geraghty and Alan Morley MBE, holder of the world record for tries scored in first class rugby union. You might sense a theme here.
Facilities: On the 32-acre site are multiple sports pitches (with splendid views), a theatre, AstroTurf, dance studio, sports hall, ornamental garden and the school’s very own forest school, complete with paintball range. Facilities are good, although not extraordinary. The sports hall is large, there is a fitness suite/gym, plenty of music practice rooms and a lovely bright library with stunning ornate ceiling. The swimming pool is outdoor and headed for refurbishment, while small assemblies, concerts and chapel services are held in the Chatterton Hall.
Music is prolific, with plenty of orchestras, choirs, string and brass groups, but it is drama where the school comes into its own, with the well-equipped theatre playing host to several whole-school plays and musicals every year. Drama clubs and smaller productions are on offer, as well as GCSE drama and Performing Arts BTEC.
Colston’s is known as a rugby school, and well it should be – its reputation for producing pupils who play international rugby is second to none and to date over 50 old boys have played in the top tier of professional rugby. Their most successful rugby player is Amber Reed, who played in the winning England team for the 2014 World Cup. Great news for all budding sports stars is that she now teaches at Colston’s and is a key figure in the development of girls’ rugby. Rugby scholarships are awarded in the Sixth Form, but they are awarded for other sports too, and this pattern continues down the school too.
Other sportsmen and women fear not – girls play hockey, netball, rounders and cricket, with cricket and hockey on offer for boys. A and B teams are always fielded with C and D teams often playing.
A particular mention must go to the CCF – every pupil takes part in the scheme in Year 9 and the school’s force is the largest in Bristol.
Academic results: While the school is not a hot-house of learning, academics are strong. Departments are divided into 5 faculties, enabling an enhanced cross curricular programme and more opportunities to explore those subjects. While some parents may feel Colston’s doesn’t have quite the academic clout of its rivals Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital School or Bristol Grammar School, it can absolutely support the brightest and best. A lower-level entry assessment means the school enjoys a broad church of abilities, however pupils at the top end are extremely able and results are outstanding – there are some seriously high achieving kids here!
Saying that, the school isn’t interested in creaming off the top tier of students. What they look for in pupils is rounded children who can keep up with the academic study while appreciating drama, art and sport. Here, it is important to forget the concept that a child can’t do lots of things if they want to do each of them well. Here, actually, you can.
As well as A-Levels, BTECs and Double BTECs are on offer, plus a CTEC in Business Studies. Pupils go onto a wide range of top universities including Oxbridge, Bristol, Exeter, Warwick and Cardiff, as well as creative arts courses at RADA and high level apprenticeships at Rolls Royce or Dyson.
Headteacher: This is a Headmaster with a difference. Jeremy McCullough is the main man – interested, on the ball, inspiring (with bells on). Almost faultless, I’d say. Previously at Fettes College in Edinburgh before taking on the role of Second Master at Lancing, he steers the ship with a confident, steady hand, instilling traditional manners yet encouraging a relaxed, happy environment. He doesn’t teach but is very good at spectating, in his words –approachable, visible at matches, referees 5-aside footy and referees rugby and umpires hockey.
A man with a strong vision for the school (which includes introducing a Sixth Form café and refurbishing the sports hall) he is passionate about holistic education at its best, and is keen to maintain the family feel of the school. Most of all, he, and the school, award kudos not only for top rugby players or the best mathematicians, but equally for the child who is kind to others or who raises money for the RNLI.
Read his Headmaster’s Welcome on the school’s site – it is an utter joy. “Hello, and welcome to Colston’s, or at least welcome to our website. I am afraid this is going to be quite tricky as I need to persuade you that this is a school worth visiting and I don’t have much time before you click onto the next interesting page…”
What else? Trips include an annual surf trip, French trip, Spanish trip and drama trip to Athens. The school’s ski trip hits the slopes of Killington this year, with an envy-inducing stop over in New York City.
A strong house system competes yearly in the hotly contested House Song, as well as a Poetry Slam and Colston’s Got Talent.
I was blown away by this school – not only does it give children a feel of what Bristol is all about, with its wide variety of backgrounds and cultures, it very much has a sense of everyone mucking in and getting on. Children are grounded, with a strong emphasis on service and philanthropy (visits to local care homes and primary schools to read to pupils are frequent). They aren’t in a bubble, separated from real life, but thriving in a caring, busy and enjoyable community. Bursaries offer a genuine opportunity for children who couldn’t otherwise afford to attend the school, children are aware of the world beyond, and there doesn’t seem to be any ‘what phone have you got?’ atmosphere. The focus here is on effort, in every area of the school. Children are encouraged to be the very best versions of themselves, to get the best set of grades they can get, and although academics are important there is much work done on communication, presentation and other ‘employability stuff’.
Wraparound care: Clubs run until at least 5.30pm every day, or pupils can work in the library.
The Lower School across the road takes care of young Colstonians, from ages 3 to 11.
Fees: £4650 per term.
Word on the ground: Parents feel it is a ‘real’ independent school (read: not too posh), are happy with the academic level and not phased by the school’s more flash competitors. The parents I spoke to love the caring, family atmosphere, and the fact that it is an all-through school. Almost all of Colston’s pupils stay until age 18, which makes for a real sense of continuity for both pupils and staff. Oh, and the food is great, apparently!
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Children who are academically able, muckers-in, hard workers. Those who want all the facilities of a country school in a city setting. This is a school that suits girls or boys, high flyers or those who need more support, sporty types, dramatic types or just all-round good kids.
Not for: Those who favour more traditional country senior schools with leafy driveways or school boaters. This is absolutely a city school, in all areas.
Dare to disagree? You can arrange a visit at any time, but their next open morning is Saturday 28th September, 9.30 – 11am.