Old-fashioned scholarship and an eye on the future makes for top marks

Sunday Times, 26.07.15, term is about to end, but staff at Stephen Perse Foundation Senior School are brainstorming how to improve their already impressive record in science and maths teaching. HMC members Tricia Kelleher, principal of Stephen Perse Foundation and Ed Elliott, headmaster of The Perse School feature.

It is this dedication that has put the independent institution, in Cambridge, at the top of the Parent Power table for East Anglia.

The Stephen Perse Foundation is made up of six schools for various ages. The secondary school is currently single sex but will admit boys from 2017; the sixth form is for boys and girls. The foundation’s enviable results, with 95.4% gaining A* to B grades at A-level and 92.6% of GCSEs graded A* or A, make it one of the best performers in the country.

Tricia Kelleher, principal of all six schools, says: “The secret of our success is that we still believe strongly in our academic pedigree and the importance of scholarship. But we have also embraced the world as it is. We believe in the importance of enterprise, innovation and creativity.

“We have looked to the future to see what it holds for young people. In addition to the exams they need, we are ensuring they are prepared for life. Bosses are very concerned about young people being prepared.”

Fees for the senior school and sixth form are just under £16,000 a year and 20-25% of pupils progress to Oxbridge. Students are serious about their subject choices; one turned down Cambridge to take up an engineering offer at Imperial College London. In recent years, Perse pupils have also looked further afield to Ivy League institutions in America and the increasingly popular options in Europe, such as Maastricht and Utrecht.

Just below it in the East Anglia table is the Perse School, a co-educational private school in Cambridge, which celebrates its 400th anniversary this year (it was founded by Stephen Perse but is not one of the foundation schools).

Its headmaster, Ed Elliott, caused a stir in 2012 when he revealed that pupils who had committed minor transgressions could escape punishment if they could provide a credible excuse in 10 seconds.

“It’s a great lesson in life to talk your way out of a tight corner in a very short period of time,” he said at the time. “There are lots and lots of children who have wonderful academic skills, but some of those academic skills can be under-utilised if they don’t know how to communicate the message effectively.”

A state school, Colchester Royal Grammar in Essex, is third in the regional table. It admits boys from age 11 and girls in the sixth form. In 2014 sixth-formers received 40 offers from Oxbridge and more than 20 from medical schools.

Fee-paying schools dominate the top 20 in the Parent Power table for the southeast. The world-renowned Eton College is beaten into third place by two private girls’ schools.

Top of the table, with 99.3% of A-levels graded A* to B, is Wycombe Abbey, a boarding school in Buckinghamshire. It counts the retired judge Baroness Butler-Sloss, the Sunday Times columnist India Knight and the actress Sally Phillips among its old girls.

Just below it is Guildford High School in Surrey, with 97.1% of A-levels at A* to B grades. “The girls excel in so many areas,” says Fiona Boulton, the headmistress. “But it is their good humour, enthusiasm and curiosity that never fails to impress.”

The highest-ranked state school, in equal 18th place, is Tonbridge Grammar in Kent. The school admits girls from age 11 and boys from 16. Sixth-formers take the international baccalaureate (IB) diploma programme, which many university admissions tutors believe is a better preparation for degree-level study than A-levels. Its IB results are the equivalent of 91.3% A* to B grades at A-level.

“Our students’ diploma experience has equipped them academically and more broadly with the skills and qualities that universities and employers prize,” says Rosemary Joyce, the head. “With the diploma behind them our students really do have a competitive edge.”

The other state schools in the southeast top 30 are both selective: Reading School for boys and Kendrick School, a girls’ institution also in the Berkshire town.

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