Repton School, Repton
One of the UK's oldest schools, Repton in Derbyshire holds a deserved reputation for sporting brilliance, mind-boggling facilities - and a refreshing lack of pretension.
One of the oldest schools in the UK, Repton School was founded in 1557 on the site of a 7th century Anglo-Saxon Benedictine abbey and subsequently a 12th century Augustinian Priory in Repton, Derbyshire. Repton is a Christian co-ed day and boarding through school, with the Prep School housed on a separate site a couple of miles away. The Senior school is known as a robust all-rounder option with a particular strength in sport, with 625 pupils, 13-18 years (Y9-13) 290 of whom are in the Sixth Form. Together with the Prep School (read my review here), Repton School is home to over 1000 children, making it one of the bigger independent schools in the area, though as you’d expect, class sizes are contained – a maximum of 22 up to GSCE and 11 for A level.
This review focuses on the Senior school which you’ll find in the heart of Repton village, its famous Arch (the sole remains of the Priory’s original gatehouse), marking the school’s entrance. The school site spans 75 acres and includes a heady mix of the historic, such as the Old Priory which now houses the Library and School archives, and the new – the Science block is all glass and angles and modernity at every turn with its own observatory.
The school spills out from its site all across the village with boarding houses and departments dotted around, and it’s quite normal to see Repton pupils moving from one activity to another around the lanes. Unusually, all staff are housed within Repton too, creating what feels like almost a whole village campus.
The split between boys and girls here is almost 50/50, with 70% of the pupils boarding full time. All pupils, whether boarder or day pupil, are members of one of 10 single-sex Houses.
In a word, immense. Repton’s successful overseas schools has funded a swathe of new state-of-the-art buildings, facilities and specialist staff that leaves most other independent schools open mouthed.
Repton’s biggest calling card is its sporting provision. Repton loves sport and it does it extremely well, at both an elite and ‘sport for all’ level. All pupils are required to play sport at least three times a week, and over 80% of pupils represents the school in at least one sport. The school has won 45 national titles in the last 10 years. Hockey is a particular strength – Repton has produced athletes for the past five Olympic Games, and has won more National Hockey Titles (46 in the last decade, since you’re asking) than any other school in the history of the National School Championships.
That said, elite programmes at Repton extend well beyond hockey, notably to swimming and tennis which have become recognised affiliated sports clubs in their own right, inviting talented individuals from outside the school to join in, to better stretch the pupils’ ability. In swimming for example, this means that pupils can compete not just with other schools, but as a club against other Swim England affiliated clubs for more varied, and tougher competition.
There’s a multi-million pound Sports Centre that includes 25m indoor swimming pool (a certain Adam Peaty used it as his main training pool leading to 2020s Olympics) two floodlit water-based astro turf hockey pitches, full size indoor hockey facility, multi-use sports hall, two indoor and 12 outdoor tennis courts, 4 squash courts, 6 netball courts and a professional strength and conditioning suite with a full time coach who works with individual top athletes, teams and even squads within the Repton High Performance Programme.
There’s even a physio and rehab programme here. With professional coaches such as former England hockey player Martin Jones and double Olympic swimmer and former Australian National Team coach Scott Talbot on staff, it’s as near to a professional sports operation as a school can get.
Surprisingly, rugby doesn’t feature predominantly on the sports priority list here – instead Repton pupils focus on six core sports with girls-only netball, plus both boys and girls playing football, hockey, cricket, swimming and tennis – a sport in which Repton’s recently been recognised in Which? as one of the UK’s top six tennis schools.
It’s worth noting that girls sport is taken very seriously at Repton, it’s not the bolt-on that I’ve seen at some other schools. In fact, it’s girls’ hockey that’s the standard bearer at Repton – the mighty girls 1st XI have won more national titles than the boys and two Old Reptonians medalled bronze in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
I could go on and on but to put it mildly – if you want your child to be active and find a sport he or she wants to play you’re in the right place. And though the school supports and motivates a high proportion of performance athletes, its ‘sports for all’ ethos is clearly more than a cute tag – the school regularly puts out A-D teams across the main sports, and according to the AS tracking surveys run by the school, the children themselves see joining in at sport here as a positive for their mental health and wellbeing.
Is your child interested in performing or becoming a technical director? There’s a 315-seat theatre space for that, with auditorium, studio theatre, dressing rooms and foyer, its modern, sharp-lined glass frontage gaining it a British Architects East Midlands Building of the Year Award, the top prize for the region. The auditorium bells and whistles include changing layout so the annual fashion show gets its own catwalk, the technical lighting and sound deck has been lowered so children from year 7 can operate it comfortably, trapdoors in the stage, plus a Director of Drama who is trained in prosthetics.
Alumni from Repton include Tom Chambers (Holby City, Strictly), George Rainsford (Bafta winner)and Nicholas Burns (Nathan Barley, Benidorm), and the recent appointment of the exuberant Jon-Paul Cooper-Richards to Director of drama seems to have had quite the effect on the kids – numbers for Drama GSCE and A level have doubled in just 2 years.
Music has its own building that houses a purpose-built Beldam Hall for concerts, recording studio, rehearsal hall and teaching spaces for instrumental lessons and a Steinway grand piano. Pianos for lessons are Yamaha grands and uprights and if your child is inclined, there’s also a 3-manual Harrison & Harrison organ in the Chapel.
There are the usual array of orchestras, ensembles, jazz bands and choirs here, along with eight popular music bands (Richard Fairbrother is the School’s Head of Popular Music who has introduced DJ’ing as an option for all pupils) and every year pupils put on Rockit – an outdoor pupil-led music festival. A third of pupils play at least one musical instrument, which is a bit low compared to most schools I review, but perhaps not surprising given the number of dedicated athletes at the school.
That said, the school does deliver for musicians with four permanent music staff, plus Heads of Strings, Wind & Brass and Singing. The Chapel Choir performs annually on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Daily Service’ Programme and has sung Evensong at St Paul’s Cathedral in both 2019 & 2020), with several recent pupils (as recently as last academic year, have gone on to win choral and organ scholarships at Oxbridge, Durham and the Royal College of Music. The performance space is put to good use with professional as well as informal school recitals.
In terms of Art, in addition to the five studios (including a life drawing and sculpture studio), which include facilities for ceramics, photography (with its own dark room and light room), kiln room, seminar rooms, art library and even a cinema space for the Studio Film Club.
There are two galleries with which to showcase work of pupils and external artists. The teaching staff are all practising artists, and include current Artist-in-Residence Tom Voyce, who won Sky Arts’ Landscape Artist of the Year in 2017 and whose remit is to engage and inspire the pupils, whether they’re art students or not. There’s also a Design Centre with two huge workshops, a CNC and 3D printing area, alongside lecture and classroom teaching spaces.
The fun continues. An ambitious £7.1m project for a dedicated Science building, known to the pupils as Science Priory, came to fruition in 2013 – an impressive, three floor, glass hewn, angular design that includes 14 specialist science teaching classrooms, a 200 seat lecture theatre, a small lecture room, a resource centre/library and outdoor teaching space.
But amidst the never-ending academic roll call of labs, creative spaces and award-winning architecture, Repton still utilises its historic buildings to great effect. The distinctive Old Priory with its leaded windows and huge open fireplaces, is now a wooden-clad atmospheric library and meeting space, dotted with historic portraits. The ancient quad – The Garth – is used for speech days, Admission of Scholars, Remembrance Sunday and summer music concerts.
They’re important, but they’re not everything at Repton. No top independent school with its fees is going to skimp on the academics and don’t worry on that front; Repton delivers to the brief. However, balance is the word that echoes off the walls around here, and you can see that in the vast array of extra-curricular activities on offer (many are pupil-led, such as the Repton Feminist Society, so new ones pop up all the time).
Repton is a Microsoft Showcase School (its Covid provision of online education won the Education Business Award for Remote Learning), and there’s been huge investment into tech, so all classrooms have interactive boards, meaning whatever notes the teacher writes on the board automatically uploads to each pupils’ laptop. The subjects taught here are largely traditional – all the usual Englishes, Maths and Sciences and humanities, a choice of French, Spanish of German languages. It goes heavy on classics, with Classical Greek with Latin (known as ‘Gratin’ internally), Latin, and Classical Civilisation all as options.
The most ‘out there’ subject is probably Business which, let’s be honest, is hardly radical. For A Levels, things are shaken up a bit more, with Photography, Psychology and Textiles added to the mix, Mandarin and Japanese studied off-timetable, and the more vocational BTEC PE also available.
A creative course to help the kids gain a greater understanding of the world beyond the confines of their academic studies is the school’s Future Learning, Future Skills (FLFS), compulsory for all pupils in the Lower Sixth, and covering everything from public speaking and personal finance to politics.
In 2021 results were strong, with GSCE grades were A* 54.9%, A*-A 73%, A*-B 96.6% and A*-C 99.3, and A level results were A* 29.1%, 63.7% A*-A, A*-B 90.7% and A*-C 96.2%. Obviously, these are results during Covid and they’re roughly 6-7% up on 2020 but the general trend from 2015 is a rise, so it seems fair. You can see the full results list from 2015-2021 here.
Destinations for 2021 included four Oxbridge places, 66% to Russell Group universities and a smattering of others to vocational settings and American universities.
Strong pastoral care is the non-negotiable for schools now, particularly those with boarding provision, and Repton has invested heavily, expanding the health and wellbeing team and giving more staff Mental Health First Aid Training. It’s an accredited AS Tracking school, and regularly monitors the mental health of the pupils, all teachers are connected via ISAMS (a shared network which allows teachers to report any issues quickly), and there are weekly meetings between the Deputy Head Pastoral and Assistant Head Pastoral and the Pastoral Support Team (including the school chaplain, House Masters, matrons, SEND team and the school counsellors). There’s also a full time medical team on site.
In 2019 two student led pastoral ideas resulted in the introduction of a therapy dog to school (her name’s Mabel, a gorgeous lab) and the setting up of the Wellbeing Room in one of the boarding houses, a quiet space where pupils can relax, play board games and pick up mental health resources if necessary. It’s now being rolled out across the whole school on a house-by-house basis A sweet touch is Upper Sixth involvement in helping to put the younger children to bed – many have opted in to mental health training so can talk to the younger kids and peer support them where necessary.
Boarders are in the majority here – around 70% of pupils rest their heads at Repton, but day pupils are well integrated into the ten Houses (six for boys, four for girls), which each number around 60 children.
The boarding houses are having an overhaul but the ones I saw (below) were on the smart side, with plenty of space and light, a maximum of four beds a room (by Sixth Form it’s single rooms) and the usual slouchy sofas, table tennis tables and giant TV screens in common room areas.
One marked difference at Repton is the fact that all Houses dine every day together for breakfast, lunch and dinner in their own respective spaces with teachers (who rotate around the houses), House staff and even guests ( all the better for the pupils to practice polite small talk). I sat at the head of a table of six sweet lads over lunch, who poured my water and cleared up their plates and chatted away happily for half an hour about how much they loved the school.
This unusual lunch set up is sold as a ‘treasured’ aspect of Repton life, but whether you agree with that or not, I think what it must do is create very strong bonds between the pupils as well as with the teachers. Supported kids tend to be nice kids, and one thing I really noticed at Repton was how polite and unpretentious the children were. For such an expensive school (prepare to look through your fingers in the Fees section), the pupils are remarkably down-to-earth, and I’m sure the house dining must play its part.
Saturday school is still at large here, so expect lessons in the morning and fixture in the afternoon. In the evenings, the children mingle in regular ‘Socials’ – anything from parties and balls to smaller events in the Houses. Black tie house dinner parties, Come Dine With Me (a dinner party hosted by pupils where they invite teachers and tutors), cabaret, international suppers as well as invitational dinners where other houses can join them. Sundays are a bit more chilled, with a roast dinner and an activities programme – all optional, kids can just chill out at school with a Sunday roast, go shopping, or choose from a raft of more energetic activities like white water rafting or paint balling.
Mark Semmence joined Repton in 2019 following five years as Headmaster at Mount Kelly and seven years at Rugby School as Assistant Headmaster. He seems an amiable, purposeful Headmaster with his head in the real world – a successful career in sports marketing prior to retraining in teaching has delivered business acumen that’s reflected in several of his key recent appointments (the COO and Chief Commercial and Development Officer have both been brought in from the business rather than education world).
As the 36th Headmaster in Repton School’s 464 year history, he’s battled the pandemic to preside over the expansion of The Repton Family of Schools nationally and internationally (there are now three schools in the UK – Repton Senior, Repton Prep and a second local prep school St Wystan’s) and seven internationally, with another three due to open in the next few years. Never mind a five-year plan, Semmence is working to a 20-year version, which includes a complete gutting and recreation of all the boarding houses, and buying several more Prep schools around the country.
In many ways Repton feels very modern –culturally, for example, it feels genuinely co-ed and the emphasis on balance seems authentic. Rubbing up against this is a school lingo that comes straight out of the 1950s. The tuck shop is called Grubber. Sunday afternoon activities are known as SLOPS (Sunday Leisure Options to you and me) and a whole Repton Dictionary is being compiled including old classics such as ‘Bone off’ (a noun or verb describing an occurrence 15 minutes after the beginning of a class if the master doesn’t turn up), Magger (matron), Chagger (changing room), Wagger (waste paper basket) and Rears (toilets).
In other news, intriguingly, once every four years the staff perform in what they call The Pedants review – a three-hour show, over three nights that is only for pupils. No parents, no marketing teams, no publicity. Never mind Fight Club, the first rule of The Pedants is – no-one talks about The Pedants.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Day pupils can join the boarders for breakfast (swimmers start training at 5am so have a special breakfast laid on to power them up after training) and can stay until 9pm for prep, supper and activities although pick up options start from 6pm.
Repton Senior is selective, but based more on what children can offer the school rather than on academics. There’s full time SENCO in the Personalised Learning department, near the entrance Arch to the school. SEND at Repton cover students with cognition and learning difficulties, communication and interaction difficulties, social, emotional and mental health difficulties, and those with physical disabilities.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
Pupils are allowed to use mobile phones in School, but only at specified times and following strict protocol, including registering the serial number of any mobile phone in their possession with their House Master and not using their phone during prep or whilst walking around the village.
There are seven routes run by the school from Monday to Saturday from Ashbourne, Beeston, Belper, Loughborough, Shenstone, Blyth Bridge/Uttoxeter, and Stone, available to Y1 and above though Reception children would be considered with an older sibling on the bus. The train is surprisingly accessible – 1 hour 15 from London Euston to Lichfield Trent Valley, and 1 hours 30 from London St Pancras to East Midlands Parkway. East Midlands Airport is 20 minutes, Birmingham International is 45 minutes, Manchester Airport 1 hour 30 and London Heathrow 2 hours.
Expensive, but you can’t argue with the facilities and care here. Day pupils £9437 per term, Boarding pupils £12,721 per term. If you’re lucky your child might win a Scholarship – up to a maximum of 20% off the fees. Otherwise, start saving.
WORD ON THE GROUND
There’s a strong sense of family at Repton – of the dozen or so children I chatted to (all without teachers around), they all talked about being part of a community and enjoying strong friendships. Though the school is unabashedly competitive at sport (and has the silverware cupboards to prove it), I’ve heard from several sources that those pupils that play sport for fun or have interests elsewhere altogether are also well supported. Some murmurings from the kids of being tired after a long day of study and activities, not to mention prep time until 9pm, but there are worse ways to tire kids out. Student led groups like Pride society (for LGBTQ+ issues) are given space to make themselves heard in a progressive environment.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Clearly sporty kids are going to be in heaven here – the opportunities way surpass those you’d find in most other schools. There are grand buildings aplenty for those who love posh school optics, but the children here seem unusually grounded and ‘normal’ which may appeal to independent school fence-sitters. The village location allows the children freedom to move around and be part of the real world rather than a complete rural bubble and the zippy transport links to London make it a workable option for southern pupils.
Not for: If your child is resolutely not a joiner in, it will be a fairly miserable five years – there’s so much going on all the time, and the ethos at Repton is very about giving things a go. It’s a Christian school, with chapel twice a week, and though it welcomes all faiths, if you feel a strong religious conviction (or perhaps none at all) that may be a consideration.
Dare to Disagree? Be my guest! There’s a whole school Open Day on Saturday 21 May and a Lower Prep Open Morning on 8 June.
Repton School, The Hall, Repton, Derbyshire, DE65 6FH. Tel: 01283 559221
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