WEST SUSSEX IDYLL – One cannot help but be impressed by Ardingly College – the Victorian red-brick building is breathtaking. It stands in 420 acres that span the A road which carves up the tiny West Sussex village of the same name.
For weekly or full-time boarders, the train station minutes away at Haywards Heath is a familiar place; for South-West Londoners, the Balham Bullet is more familiar. The school picks up at Clapham Common at 6.40am each Monday and deposits pupils back there at 6pm each Friday.
Economics, physics and engineering are popular subjects, as are art, design and politics. The bulk of students – around two thirds – will go to Russell Group universities; the rest to the US or Canada to make their way in the world. Alumni include politicians, diplomats and those in the media, sports and arts.
“I judge our success by how many leavers get into their first or second choice of university,” says Head Ben Figgis. In 2015 that figure was 94%. “That’s a measure of success and better than the A star count,” he says. A rather more accurate benchmark, he adds, would be to survey alumni aged 30 to see where they are in their careers. “I would argue strongly for that. Then they can really say that Ardingly College prepared them for what they went on to do in life. Essentially, success is unmeasurable otherwise.” Figgis is proud that the teaching at Ardingly provides the spark that lights up children’s lives. “It can come from anywhere and at any time so what’s important is breadth of education, which you find more outside London than in London schools, which have a more narrow academic curriculum,” he says.
He cites the amazing feat of the solar car built by 150 students as an activity outside the classroom. Students designed it, built it and raced it over 3,000 kilometres from Darwin to Adelaide in the 2015 Bridgestone World Solar Challenge, finishing sixth out of 13 Cruiser Class entrants. “That was a spark,” says Figgis. “Part of school has to be getting your head down and studying for exams but these children need to know where to go in life. The idea is to make sure they are fully rounded and giving back.”
“THE TEACHING AT ARDINGLY PROVIDES THE SPARK
THAT LIGHTS UP CHILDREN’S LIVES”
Figgis believes his young band of teachers, who are allowed to take risks, and understanding the predominant aptitudes of the child, regardless of gender, are key ingredients of Ardingly’s success. Eight colourful prints light up what would otherwise be a rather plain headmaster’s study and these flag up the Ardingly Learner Profile. They are a set of characteristics which the College develops and nurtures in students and teachers so that they become habits and values: risk taking, thinking, inquiring, caring, reflectiveness, balance, stimulation and communication.
This character profiling style of pastoral care informs the College’s dialogue with students. “Our intention is for every child to understand themselves better,” says Figgis, which in turn helps overcome girls’ fear of failure and the underachievement of boys at GCSE.
Boarders stay in modern accommodation blocks, all clustered around or near the original H-shaped building that opened in 1870, its vaulted chapel still beautifully intact.
The student cohort is chiefly English; 25% emanate from western Europe (creating a 560-strong student body of 28 nationalities) and a
third of students opt for the broader curriculum found in the International Baccalaureate (IB). The College received a Best Schools Award as one of the top ten IB schools in the UK. Ardingly is a strong football school – its First X1 won the ISFA National Boodles Cup this year (a historic two years in succession) and students regularly graduate to US football colleges on sports scholarships.
Students joining from Newton Prep, Thomas’s, Broomwood Hall and Fulham Prep this year will be able to loosen the pressure valve on arriving at this West Sussex idyll, while still achieving high results.