Dover College Senior School
This 'family-feel' senior school is the latest to go under the Muddy microscope - plus we meet the new head. So what did we find?
We reviewed Dover College Prep School in 2019 and now it was time to put our Muddy magnifying glass on the Senior School especially as there is a new Head in place! Simon Fisher joined Dover College in September 2020 and is Head of the Senior and Prep School and is living in a house on the Dover College campus with his wife and two children, who have just joined the school too, so it’s into the deep end for all of them!
For those of you who did not catch our Prep School review, let us give you a quick re-cap. Dover College sits in idyllic surroundings in the grounds of a 12th Century Benedictine Priory with Dover Castle overlooking proceedings in the background. Founded in 1871, Dover College has a Nursery, Prep and Senior School (with option to board at Senior School) all within the same campus and with a total of approx. 350 pupils, there is real sense of a ‘family’ atmosphere throughout the place.
The school will be celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2021 and in 2016, Project 150, a five-year development plan, was launched with the aim to revolutionise teaching and learning at the College as well as enhance the school’s facilities with a lot of this well underway. You can already tell that Simon has ambitious plans for the school, as well as a desire to retain that nurturing side of things, so let us give you more of a lowdown…
This is a school with a significant history and for the history buffs amongst you, you may be interested to learn that King Stephen is said to have died in its Chapel – which was previously used as a barn since the dissolution of the monastery in 1535 and was then restored and consecrated as the College’s Chapel – in 1154. There is a sense of awe about these historic buildings including The Refectory and The Gatehouse (two other original 12th Century buildings) which gives this school a true English backdrop and this image is enhanced even further by the sight of Dover Castle overlooking the school.
Dover College seems to be an oasis of calm amidst the bustling town of Dover. As well as the sports facilities on campus such as the astro-pitch and football fields, there are two offsite sports facilities including Farthingloe, where Sports day is hosted each year, plus the cricket ground at Maxton, which boasts a magnificent view of Dover Castle.
They are rightfully very proud of their new IT suite (more of that later) and there are other projects in the pipeline to enhance the school’s offering, especially in light of its 150th year, with a new theatre and wellness centre soon to join the mix.
Rugby, Football, Cricket and Tennis are the main sports for the boys at Dover College with Hockey, Netball and Rounders for the girls. You also may be entertained to hear that they have a recently refurbished Eton Fives court and a team, including one of the Senior School girls, played at Eton recently so lots of different opportunities here! Sailing was also brought back a year ago as an additional sport (the beauty of being placed ten minutes away from the marina) and swimming takes place at a brand-new swimming pool in town. Athletics, cross country, tennis, squash, horse-riding and basketball are also on offer.
The new Leo Wright Building extension, launched in September 2020, is home to two computing suites and an Individual Needs department. It is real string to Dover College’s bow and would appeal to anyone who is looking for a career in creative digital media and a real example of how Dover College puts their ‘Thinking Differently’ ethos into practise as they are predicting how they can help their students access real jobs in the future. Year 7 and upwards can make the most of these facilities and we met the new Head of Creative Digital Media on our tour who re-iterated the high-quality spec of its equipment as he comes from a broadcasting world and said it was on a par with the likes of BBC and ITV broadcasters.
We also liked how they use this digital maturity to explore other subjects, with a global world view, and examine for example, how social media has impacted US politics, and this has also opened discussions from the different nationalities within the school. There is plenty of interactive fun to be had to and we saw lots of pupils filming during our tour as part of their prep and there are plans to host workshops too for pupils and parents about how we can control these online tools and not let them control us which would be a topical (and comforting) session. The well-connected Digital Media team also have in’s with the Head Commissioner at BBC, and the like, so as part of a current project, pupils are currently pitching TV ideas to them as well as taking part in workshops with industry leaders.
DT and Art is hosted in a separate building to the new Leo Wright extension and photography, fine art and textiles all offered at A level. It was good to hear how their 3D printers were used to make PPE visors for local hospitals during the first outbreak of Covid-19. DT is offered at GCSE and A Level.
MUSIC & DRAMA
There has been a recent surge to improve the school’s offering in this area with a new Director of Music and a new Director of Performing Arts in place. A new Performance Arts centre is on the horizon which will be the Timothy Cobb Centre for Performing Arts, enabling the teaching of Dance and Drama alongside Digital Media and Film, plus the Refectory will also be invested in so it can be used as a multi-use facility for a truly atmospheric backdrop. A recent performance of Chicago also brought the house down with many of the Senior School pupils taking part in this showstopper!
Music is encouraged from a very young age with music lessons available for all pupils from the age of three if they are showing an interest and the emphasis is on inclusivity. The whole school takes part in a House Music competition which we are told gets very competitive (in a fun way!) with people taking part with solo violin performances or as groups in a bid to win house points. Music technology has recently joined the syllabus as a modern skill alongside the more Classical options. As you can imagine, The Chapel is a stunning place for choral performances and Dover College is strong in this department.
In fact, Simon will be building on these house competitions by creating more of a noise around house identity and will be developing house crests and reinvigorating house identity by showcasing house flags in the Refectory.
The average class size in the Senior School is 12 and the school has a non-selective admission policy with no exams needed to enter. The stress here is on the potential of the pupil and encouraging them to love learning. This is evident from the school’s development of The Connected Curriculum, unique to Dover College, which is a skills-based connected and creative curriculum focusing on thematic teaching, educating pupils for life and workplace. This really indicates how much of learning is connected and there are regular theme weeks where the teaching staff incorporated the overall theme into their classrooms with a recent past example being ‘chocolate’ and this was explored under different microscopes for different subjects.
If you are looking for the nitty gritty results, 40% of A Level results were graded at A*-A, well above the national average of 27.6%, with a 100% pass rate achieved. The most commonly awarded grade to Dover College pupils was A and its recent overall GCSE pass rate, which was significantly above the national average, has increased over the last year. Value added was also impressive, with pupils averaging half a grade higher in each of their subjects than the external baseline test taken at the start of their courses suggested they might.
The GCSE and Sixth Form provision has recently been totally overhauled, and there are three new pathways – the GCSE+, A Level+ and the BTEC driven Careers Programme. As we keep saying, Dover College is one of the few independent schools which ensures that its pupils are fully prepared for Higher Education as well as the world of work. The pathways include a Thinking Differently Programme and Leadership & Service Programme, with the ambition for these enrichment skills to help them in the workplace in the years ahead. In fact, the new Head, Simon Fisher, is encouraging the Head Boy and Head Girl, alongside the Prefects, to drive leadership within the pupil body. There are now Prefects of Academic, Safeguarding, Pastoral Care, Chapel, Marketing, Sport and Round Square and they work with the senior staff with dedicated KPIs and strategic plans to help bring effective changes to the school and get used to operating within a standard working environment.
And from a totally aesthetic point of view, we rather liked the fact that you can see the coastline of France (on a good day) from the top of the classrooms in the Senior School!
Mr. Simon Fisher joined Dover College as Head of both the Senior and Prep School in September 2020, so it was a baptism of fire in terms of getting to know a school through installing new Covid-19 regulations but as he points out, it was a really good way to build a strong sense of team quickly!
By way of background, Simon read History at the University of Exeter before taking a PGCE in Secondary Education. His first teaching post was at Wycliffe College in Gloucestershire, where he was quickly promoted to Head of Department and subsequently onto the Senior Management Team. In 2011 he moved to Worth School in West Sussex, where as Assistant Head he led on the use of ICT to enhance learning and teaching. In 2015 he was promoted to Deputy Head, with responsibility for the academic provision. During Simon’s tenure in this role the school achieved its best set of GCSE results and received the highest possible ISI grading for academic standards.
As a historian with IT skills, Simon tells us that he was particularly drawn to the physical contrast and beauty of Dover College which combines both ancient and modern. The ‘Thinking Differently’ mantra will be carried on and he has created a dedicated website entitled everydayisanopenday.co.uk so prospective parents and pupils can book their own bespoke tour of the campus and get to know the different components of the school through videos and soundbites. This tailored approach, both actual and virtual, really brings home the ‘thinking differently’ message.
Simon believes that one of the key selling points of Dover College is that ‘small is beautiful’, allowing the staff here to really get to know the pupils. He wants this to be an environment where personal bests are celebrated, and it is these combined factors which gives its pupils that additional confidence that they can achieve what they want to do – if they put in the effort. As Simon states, ‘I was drawn to the confident and articulate pupils at Dover College who are well-grounded and aware of how lucky they are to have access to these wide range of experiences and are grateful for them too.” We certainly noticed on our walk-round that this is evident in the pupils with plenty of confident hello’s, doors held open and good eye contact.
We wholeheartedly approve of the converted horse box, which is positioned in the middle of the campus and sells hot drinks and snacks for the pupils and is run (once COVID regulations are lifted) by them too!
Dover College has just been appointed as a Round Square school, which is a network of schools worldwide that all sign up to founder Kurt Hahn’s six ideals: Internationalism, Democracy, Environment, Adventure, Leadership and Service. The benefit for the pupils is that it will bring increased opportunities for overseas exchange and community projects and this plays to the international status of the school.
For the traditionalists out there, the Head Boy and Head Girl wear red gowns, over their uniforms, on Mondays for the formal assembly. Famous Alumni include Captain Wilfred “Billie” Nevill who led the famous football charge in July 1916 at the Battle of the Somme on Christmas Day and there is a statue of him in the grounds, as a great role model for the kids and ambassador for the school.
You can board at Dover College from Year 7 and there are currently 23 nationalities who board with a strong emphasis on European pupils on account of its proximity to the continent. There is a strong sense of integration between the boarders and day pupils and the students either have single or shared double rooms.
In the girls’ boarding house, we were rather taken by the dance studio with spin and dance classes regularly on offer especially as the floor there is sprung for dancing! We also hear that the one of the boys’ houses regularly take part in Bake-Off competitions and there are also laid on activities such as trips to London or local sports fixtures or academic clinics (especially good for the pupils who don’t have English as a first language) to occupy the students during their down-time.
Academically, Sixth Form pupils have the option to its A-Level + programme or its Careers programme focusing on BTEC qualifications. There are a range of activities such as the established Young Enterprise program, completing the highly respected Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award and earning a position as one of its school senior prefects to help lead the school, allowing them to develop leadership and public speaking skills.
We were also impressed by the Sixth Form Centre complete with pool table, table tennis, sofas, kitchen, television and even disco lights and you get the impression that this communal living is getting them ready for the university life ahead of them. In the lecture theatre, they also have access to a big projector where football games and films are often shown as entertainment.
There are many plans in place for Dover College’s 150th birthday in 2021, with talks of creating a Dover College museum in the Old Gate House showcasing photos and uniform from the archive as well as heralding the future for the school. There are also plans for a grand event, to be held at the school, which will welcome back many Old Dovorians but this is all dependent on the Covid-19 situation.
It is not surprising to hear that many of the weekly boarders come from London as there is a direct train from London St. Pancras to Dover Priory, with a journey time of an hour. As you can imagine it is a great option for those who want more space for their children to thrive in, rather than a city-school.
We also liked Priory House which is the dedicated house for the Shell and Remove years as a good launchpad for the start to their Senior School life. There is dedicated time to get to know your tutors (you meet them morning and afternoon) which really helps the pupils’ wellbeing as they make that transition for the next stage in their schooling.
FEES (per term)
Shell and Remove (Age 11+) £4,750
3rd Form to Sixth Form (Age 13+) £5,800
Shell & Remove (Age 11+) £8,250
Years 9 to Sixth Form (Age 13+) £9,750
Shell & Remove (Age 11+) £9,500
3rd Form to Sixth Form (Age 13+) £11,995
Dover College offers a wide range of scholarships at 11+, 13+ and 16+ entry. In addition to academic scholarships, applications for Art, Design Technology, Music, Drama and Sport are also welcomed.
WORD ON THE GROUND
We always want to share the opinions of the pupils and parents’ so we can get to know a school inside out. Our research tells us that part of the school’s inner charm, from the students’ perspective, is the fact that pupils have friends across different year groups as it is smaller so that family atmosphere comes back into play and this comes through in the parents’ feedback too. One parent shares with us, “Dover College is a family. They look for the areas of your child that they can develop and encourage that every step of the way. Every child is famous and their successes are celebrated by the whole school community.”
The Connected Curriculum seems popular with the pupils too as one tells us that, ‘it stretches me outside my academic studies and helps me to become a more rounded individual with additional skills. I do enjoy it as it offers information that will benefit me for university and my life after I graduate and I think it would also look good to employers especially the leadership skills.”
Your children also might like the sound of the school trips, which are immensely popular as there have been excursions to France (plus ski trips!) and they have even travelled as far as Wales, Spain and Belgium on sports fixtures as well as the WW1 battle fields to represent the College. We are also told that the trips combine matches with learning about the countries they are in so they are learning about different food and culture as well as having fun times with their friends!
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Digitally minded pupils who are looking for innovative teaching methods and high-spec equipment plus those who are looking for a well-rounded curriculum with plenty of opportunity and a nurturing teaching drive.
NOT FOR: There is still some way to go for some of the facilities but if the new IT department is testament of the direction they want to go with the school, you can be assured that time, money and effort is putting into the next wave of new facilities.
Dover College, Effingham Crescent, Dover, Kent CT17 9RH, +44 1304 205969, email@example.com, www.dovercollege.org.uk