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Malvern College

Muddy says: A co-educational day and full boarding school for ages 13-18, set in a beautiful 250-acre campus with some seriously *wow* facilities

Located in 250 immaculately kept acres at the edge of the former spa town of Great Malvern, Malvern College is a traditionally-minded co-ed day and boarding school and an IB trailblazer. Remaining on the same purpose-built site it has occupied since it was founded in 1865, the school is historically very strong on sport, and is working hard on upping its academic game, too.

There are currently 650 pupils enrolled, with 35% of those coming from overseas, adding an unusually cosmopolitan flavour to a very rural location. There’s a 55/45 ratio of boys and girls, with about 500 pupils remaining in at weekends. Children come from nearby feeder school The Downs Malvern, as well as other local preps, and some from further afield. In 1992 the College became both co-educational and one of the first independent schools to offer the International Baccalaurate programme, which has led to about half of Sixth Form choosing it over A-Levels. Famous OM’s include C.S. Lewis and Jeremy Paxman.

Facilities: The College has been steadily upgrading its facilities for 15 years, resulting in a standard that is not only massive but world-class. Hard against the backdrop of the 600 million-year old Malvern Hills, the extremely handsome (although slightly austere) main building looms over the rest of the campus, which slopes away to the east. Next door is a Victorian Gothic jewel of a chapel (Church of England), one of the prettiest and most impressive I’ve seen at a senior school. Attendance there three times a week is mandatory, with pupils leading the Monday service. The horseshoe-shaped campus falls away in a tier, with playing fields separating the academic and boarding side from the well-used and top-drawer sports facilities and medical centre perched next door. There is a dedicated library, plus arts and technology and music buildings, two science blocks and a geography building dotted about the heavily-treed campus. The extremely impressive Rogers Theatre was refurbished a year ago (inaugural production: Wolf Hall) and opened by actor and writer Simon Callow. As you’d expect at a school that takes sport excellence very seriously and has the space to do so, facilities are superb: three playing fields, lighted Astro pitch, all-weather pitch, 10 tennis and netball courts and standalone rackets courts. Worcestershire County Cricket Club and Worcester Warriors RFC use the school for training purposes. The hallowed main cricket square (“Senior”) was pointed out with great reverence as we passed. The 10-year old sports complex was spiffy, with 25-metre pool (canoe polo, anyone?) shooting range, dance and fitness studios, climbing wall, squash courts and in-house physio. Sports fixtures take place on Saturday after a morning of lessons.

Academics and School Life: As mentioned, the school is working hard to build its academic muscle. The required pass rate for Common Entrance is 50% but recent years has seen the average rate zoom up to 65%. Those joining at 13 enter a “Foundation” year, with the curriculum designed to encourage a breadth of interest and study. There are 17 compulsory subjects, which range from the usual sciences, maths, languages and English, but also include Life Skills, Library Skills and Debating. Changes to the curriculum for 2020-21 will include a more practical emphasis on critical thinking and enhancement of ICT skillsets.

The strong overseas contingent has ensured the IB programme is a popular choice, with a quarter of the 2019 cohort gaining 40 points or above (out of 45), putting Malvern in the top 3% worldwide. One Italian pupil achieved a perfect score, which is comparable to a mind-boggling five A*’s.

The school doesn’t enter A-Level results for League Table comparison although I did learn that, of the contingent taking A-Levels in the Sixth Form last year, 28.57% achieved an A or A*. It’s notable that 12 of 32 applicants last year had offers from Oxbridge, and most pupils go on to Russell Group universities (primarily Edinburgh, Bristol, Durham and UCL). Twenty-one pupils went onto Ivy League universities in the USA and to McGill University in Montreal.

Surrounded by some of the most rugged nature in the UK, energetic Duke of Edinburgh, CCF and Geography sections are inevitable. Access and participation in canoeing, white-water rafting, mountaineering and mountain biking is strong. All sounds exhausting, but this is a school for the robust, and one which it says strives to instil in pupils the value of appropriate risk-taking, resilience and initiative. Past international school trips have ventured to Borneo, Italy and Russia. Sports tours have included New Zealand and South Africa for cricket and rugby, Europe, Canada and the US for skiing, the UAE for yet more cricket and Portugal for surfing.

Music is particularly strong. Three years ago the school took ownership and management of the National Schools Symphony Orchestra, an annual summer course open to grade three musicians and above. Pupils can join one of seven ensembles, and perform in the 150-seat recital hall, complete with Steinway piano. The stunning setting of the school inspired composer Edward Elgar, who lived onsite in what is now House No. 7. In the past 14 years the College has undertaken a top-to-toe refurbishment programme, and happily it will be the turn of the music department, which is looking a bit tired, next.

Boarding and Pastoral: This is definitely a full-boarding experience (no flexi-boarding offered) although the 24% percent of day pupils that come from all directions are served by seven bus routes. I saw only one student on their phone the whole afternoon I was there. All made eye contact and seemed genuinely happy being at Malvern. I was particularly impressed by the girls I had lunch with in one house. Those I spoke to were warmly chatty and welcoming, unpretentious and well aware of how lucky they were to be at the school. Year groups take turn to serve, clear and even clean the tables down afterwards, before beetling off to a full afternoon of lessons and sport.

Eleven houses (numbered, not named) are run by a “Housem” – Housemaster or Housemistress – for both boarders and day pupils. Deputies, assistants and tutors round out the pastoral care. Homework (“Hall”) takes place from 7.20 until 9pm five nights a week. There are five girls’ and six boys’ houses, and these range from new and ensuite to Victorian and characterful. All dining is in-house, and the girls’ house I visited was, in particular, essentially a large family home – immaculately but comfortably decorated, lots of photos, artwork and knickknacks. Baking sessions in the large, smart-but-cosy kitchen help foster those important house bonds, as do inter-house music, debate, drama and sporting competitions. Word on the ground is the boarding houses can differ considerably, so take your time choosing. For those boys who can’t drag themselves into town for a short-back-and-sides, a hairdresser comes to the boarding houses every Monday on a rotating basis.

Headmaster: Keith Metcalfe, ex-Deputy Head of Harrow, took over from Antony Clark in April 2019. A former pupil at the Monmouth School, he rowed and played rugby for Cambridge and, if the ages of his children (six, nine and 10) are an indication, he’s likely to be in it for the long haul, good news for a future steady ship.

Sixth Formers: Very popular due to its IB offer, but there are only about 30-40 new places for Sixth Form entry every year, so competition is tough. Moving up the totem pole means the eldest pupils have their own ensuite study bedroom. Average class size in upper years is nine. The College is savvy enough to know 18-year olds will seek bright lights at the weekend and so opened a bijou “nightclub” (actually the Sixth Form Centre) at the edge of the school grounds, with alcohol consumption extremely regulated (wine and beer only, absolutely no spirits, and restricted to two over a timed period). Sixth formers are also allowed into town for a couple of hours on a Saturday night, but local publicans are very aware of who’s who and send the over-enthusiastic well on their way back to campus.

Quirks: I wouldn’t have said this is a particularly quirky place, but then I remembered the “Lost” programme. Two Remove pupils (that’s Year 10’s to you and me) from each house – willing volunteers I must add – are given backpacks of sleeping kit and food, blindfolded and dropped 50km from the school in deepest countryside. No watches, smartphones, compass or maps allowed. Nervous parents needn’t fear, a teacher followed each pair from a distance only to make sure they stuck to the rules: no hitchhiking and no more than six miles on public transport at a time. Three of the first four pairs back were girls, who may just have proved brains win over brawn every time. Oh – and last summer intrepid Malvern pupils thought it would be fun to cross the English Channel on stand-up paddle boards, which they did in just over five hours.

MUDDY’S VERDICT

Good for: Unpretentious, stalwart types who really thrive in a bustling atmosphere and who aren’t afraid of a little inclement weather and more than a little very competitive sport. This is the traditional full-boarding experience, reinforcing the palpable sense of community and family at the school – great for those overseas pupils making a home from home. Busy London kids who’d benefit from the hearty, rural experience would also be well served.

Despite the very rural setting, the cry of “it’s not as far as you think!” was one I heard many times. The city of Worcester is only nine miles away, and the new Parkway station there ensures a swift and direct two-hour journey to London Paddington. Birmingham Airport is an hour’s drive.

Probably not best for: Pupils who don’t like throwing themselves into the outdoors, or those that thrive in an academic hot-house environment. Joiner-inners are the thing here, so if you’re a quieter type you might find the cracking pace and sturdiness of the place a bit too much.

Take a look for yourself: Upcoming open days will take place on Saturday 21 March and Saturday 16 May 2020, and may be booked via the website. However, prospective parents and pupils are welcome to email admissions@malverncollege.org.uk to arrange a visit anytime.

It is recommended children are registered at least two years in advance. “Lower School” fees are £13,185 for boarders and £8,807 for day pupils, on par with the big boarding school players. Sixth Form fees are £13,646 for boarders and £8,807 for day.

Malvern College, College Road, Malvern WR14 3DF, Tel: 01684 581500, www.malverncollege.org.uk

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