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Earlscliffe, Folkestone

If you are looking for an independent sixth form co-educational college, with boarding facilities, that has a strong academic reputation and a focus on university preparation, we’d like to introduce you to Earlscliffe in Folkestone.

WHAT/WHERE?

Earlscliffe was established in 2012 by Tim and Julie Fish, who after having gained 30 years’ experience of working for A-level and IB schools in Oxford and the south east, thought that there was a gap in the market for a more personalised, smaller, independent college for international students aged 15-19. The college retains a strong international focus, but is now recruiting pupils from across the UK (the aftermath of COVID and international travel restrictions played a part in this decision as well as Brexit) in a day, weekly and full-boarding capacity. 

The location certainly helps to reach a local, national and international student base as you will find Earlscliffe in Folkestone, one of Kent’s up and coming seaside towns, and not far from the elegant Leas promenade and the beach. The school is conveniently positioned only ten minutes’ walk from two stations with high-speed train links to London St. Pancras (54 minutes direct) plus the London airports are around 70-90 minutes’ drive from the school. 

Students are now travelling to and from London to Earlscliffe as the schools there are not fitting the bill, plus pupils are also joining from local schools as they are getting lost in the big classes and they need to buckle down and get those all-important results to get into their university of choice.

FACILITIES

There is no point trying to compare Earlscliffe with its fellow independent boarding counterparts in Kent as it will fall short in the facilities department when it comes to the Co-Curricular subjects as it does not have that same wealth of facilities, but the school still offers a variety of opportunities in these areas (some off-site and within the local community). The focus is on academia and achieving results, but the school still helps to pick out the students’ interests and find local experts within the town to enhance their hobbies and interests.

Sport and drama facilities are outsourced across town as the school works closely with local organizations so if your child has a particular flair or passion, they can indulge this with like-minded people in the community. The fact that everything is not spoon-fed to you on campus helps build that independent streak ahead of university.

Earlscliffe is expanding which proves that they are doing something right and in September 2022, Earlscliffe are launching a new boarding house with capacity for 50 more beds and an additional dining room. Earlscliffe also prides itself on its innovative learning approach – the school has just invested in a Virtual Reality set-up for some subjects whereby students can use a programme called Tilt Brush for art projects and can ‘virtually’ get inside a beating heart, amidst other scenarios, to really understand how it all works.

Don’t be put off by the ‘academic’ card as this is not a pushy school. What we liked was the ‘home away from home’ culture as the buildings where lessons are taught resemble lovely family houses with impressive facilities on the inside. The classes are very small, and EVERYONE knows everyone. The Head of Marketing plays footie with the students every week which really indicates how integrated the staff are with the pupils and shows that there is plenty of fun had along the way too amidst all that learning.

SPORT

Sport does play a part in school life as the pupils join in with local sports facilities and the school recognizes its importance for team building, physical exercise, and mental health but there is not a strong competitive element. Football, tennis, badminton and basketball are the key sports and there is a local league game every Monday including matches against Rochester College, for example – a fellow Dukes Education college.

Basketball has a strong following at Earlscliffe, not least helped by the fact that the Head’s wife used to be a professional basketball player, one of their daughters gained a full basketball scholarship to a US university, and there is a community link with a local team, Folkestone Saints. In September 2022, Earlscliffe will be opening a new Basketball Academy which will offer students the opportunity to study any of its academic programmes, train up to five times per week with professional basketball coaches, play weekly league matches, and have the opportunity of daily individual training sessions. They will also play matches across Kent and nationally, and receive one-to-one advice and support on applying for university basketball scholarships in the USA and Europe.

Pupils also have free, daily access to a well-equipped gym and fitness centre (within walking distance) as well as a 25-metre indoor pool, and the school offers the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award scheme too. Two other Advanced Skills Academies opening in September are the Business Academy and the Creative Arts Academy – building on activities which already take place regularly at Earlscliffe, such as a students’ Stock Trading club, Marketing Union, Photography Club, visiting speakers, and numerous business-related and art-related trips. 

MUSIC & DRAMA

If you have a child who is looking to make a career within the Performing Arts, this is not the school for you. Some students do take part in dance classes in Folkestone and there are also local choirs and amateur dramatics societies which they can join. You will however find clubs here such as Debating Club where students can take part in the Oxford Union’s Schools competition each year which builds confidence in a public speaking arena.

ICT/DT & ART

Students can take Art and History of Art A-Level and we witnessed students making their own drones within an A-Level Physics class so your children can get hands-on when it comes to some subjects. Photography is also a popular subject, and many students participate in art workshops with the Creative Folkestone Triennial Projects and attend Foundation BA course presentations on Portfolio Management at the Folkestone Quarterhouse, so the cultural backdrop of Folkestone allows these passions to flourish.

For children who are really gifted when it comes to Art and Design, their talents would be nurtured at Earlscliffe, and they could join the Creative Arts Academy for even more opportunities. The Arts department organises regular practical workshops with local artists, as well as relevant talks and lectures (both in-house and in London) and visits to galleries and exhibitions. They also provide advice on preparing a comprehensive portfolio for the university admissions process.

ACADEMIA

As you can imagine from a boutique school, Earlscliffe benefits from tiny class sizes (average 7 pupils per class) and they attribute that the key to their academic success is due to the amount of teaching allocated to most A-level subjects: nine contact lessons (which gives a total of 6hrs 45mins of class time) per subject each week. Pupils are tested every week in their subjects and parents are informed of the results so there are no surprises along the way. This system is called TRaCTM (Test, Rank and Coach) and teachers provide additional coaching to any students who need it in any subject areas, following the results of their weekly tests.

Pupils often attend foreign trips to the great financial centres of the world, such as Tokyo and New York, and the Globe Business School in Munich, and lectures at universities like The London School of Economics and University College London, plus students take part in the JP Morgan Chase schools’ programme and the Institute of Economic Affairs Dorian Fisher Memorial Prize, so their minds are opened to a wealth of business opportunities on a global scale.

For admission purposes, Earlscliffe is non-selective but pupils need to submit their most recent two years’ school reports, attain 4.0 IELTS level (or equivalent) for the one-year GCSE course and 5.0 IELTS level (or equivalent) for A-level or year 13 programmes, plus complete interviews and in-house Maths and English tests. 

When it comes to choosing Universities, there is plenty of preparation and support along the way. Mock interviews frequently take place, there is 1-to-1 support for UCAS applications and there is a trip to Boston each October to look at university options. Most students focus their applications on Russell Group universities or equivalent, but there is not a ‘one size fits all’ model here and the team will really help to identify the best pathway for your child. Each year, around 95% of its Year 13 students go on to university (some take a gap year) and last year for example, Earlscliffe students went to over 35 different universities across 15 countries.

Let the results speak for themselves too. In 2021, there was a 100% pass rate for GCSEs, with 95.5% achieving Grades 9-4 and 72% gaining Grades 9-6. A-Levels also had a 100% pass rate, and 89% scored A*-B whilst 94% achieved A*-C.

THE HEAD

Joss Williams has been the Head at Earlscliffe since October 2020 and was previously the Head of an International School in Jordan. Joss is a popular figurehead with pupils and parents alike as he has the unique combination of being a Marine who went to Oxford University – he was in the Royal Marines Commandos for seven years and completed his PGCE at Oxford University before embarking on a teaching career at Oundle and then Abingdon School. Joss also brings a sporty side to his leadership role which helps bring out a more well-rounded element in the pupils as he enjoys karate, diving and climbing and encourages the students to do CrossFit with him too.

Joss was attracted to the aspirational element of the school, yet liked the village feel as it is community focused and a pivotal part of Folkestone life. His mission is to provide a value-added education with the promise that your children ‘will do better at Earlscliffe’ as the guarantee is that their potential will be fulfilled, and they will be ready for whatever life brings post school. He wants all the students to leave with a resilient mindset and to be filled with confidence to achieve their goals and, with the hands-on teaching approach here, it would be hard to imagine how this would not happen.

BOARDING

Earlscliffe has six boarding houses, and the girls and boys are in separate ones as you may imagine. Most rooms are spacious twins with private WC and bathroom, and we liked that there are mixed ages within the rooms to help that ‘family feel’ where everyone knows everyone within their house. The décor was also brighter and funkier than other boarding houses we have seen in the area. Some single rooms are available for older students, all rooms are en-suite, and no rooms have more than two students in.

Due to the strong international reach of the students, the catering team make a concerted effort to do lots of international dishes, and everything is made from scratch by the team of chefs onsite. There is plenty to keep the students occupied during any down time with trips to London for art galleries and shows (Mamma Mia was a big hit recently) as well as the delights of Folkestone. As the Head tells us, there is not a ‘town and gown’ culture so the students can blend in very well into local town life and are allowed one late night a week (until 10pm) so they can enjoy local restaurants and pursuits. 

Students can’t wait for the opening of Folkestone F51 in April 2022, the world’s first multi-storey indoor skatepark and home to the tallest climbing wall in the south east, with facilities for skateboarding, BMX, climbing, bouldering, boxing and more! Earlscliffe have already booked regular sessions for their students at this exciting new centre.

QUIRKS

This could well be the first school that we have come across who has designed their own scenario for an Escape Room (The Leas Lift Lockout in Folkestone) where the students have spent six months designing a new set of problems and riddles within a recreation of an Earlscliffe Physics classroom. An inspired way to engage pupils’ mindsets in a truly novel way, plus a neat way of telling the locals all about your school too.

It is also nice to know that the original school building was home to Dr. Leonore Goldschmidt Schule during the Second World War, who ran a school at her house for German Jewish children who had escaped from Berlin to the UK. The new boarding house will be named Goldschmidt House in her honour so a circle of life in motion. 

ANYTHING ELSE?

We have talked about the Community aspect of the school but let us give you some colour in this department. The school asks students to commit to at least one term’s weekly service to others and students volunteer for up to two hours per week in the community including working at local hospitals, schools, and charity shops, with one pupil recently teaching residents how to speak Russian at an old people’s home, and others helping to run children’s events at a local church. 

During lockdown, the pupils initiated a virtual sponsored walk from ‘London to Lagos’ to raise money for Demelza Children’s Hospice, and there was recently a sleepout in pods in Folkestone to raise funds for a local homeless charity.

There is also a pupil-led link-up with the local Rotary club which saw the launch of the student-led Earlscliffe Interact club. Rotary’s Interact clubs aim to bring together young people aged 12-18 in nearly 15,000 clubs in 145 countries worldwide to develop leadership skills and support their local communities through charitable work, and the Earlscliffe Interact Club recently provided Christmas gifts for disadvantaged children in Folkestone.

What’s more, the school is currently providing a full scholarship to a Syrian refugee so that community and caring spirit is a very strong thread that runs throughout the school.  

Whilst Earlscliffe has a very strong international focus with 110 pupils in Sixth Form from 30 different nationalities, the school has a policy not to take more than 15% from any one nationality to ensure there is not a dominating culture.

FEES

Boarding student per term £13,650

Weekday boarding student per term £11,745

Day student per term £9,100

WORD ON THE GROUND

It is important to not just let the prospectus do the talking so we got acquainted with some of the pupils on our visit. Whilst some of the students acknowledge that the learning can be intense as there are long days and it would be nice to have a little bit more free time, many regard the school as a second home as it is small, so everyone knows everyone. 

That word ‘community’ pops up a lot and one male student told me that he loved how welcoming the school is and how his friends transcend a few year groups. The seaside location is another plus point and the deep friendships that have been forged is another, plus their eyes have been opened to many global opportunities that their academic careers can go, and it was impressive to meet students with such a drive for the future. 

Parents appreciate the small classes and constant feedback as this allows them to remotely follow their children’s performance, and the teachers are rated not only for their professionalism and experience but also for their empathy. Earlscliffe ticks a lot of boxes for parents who are in the market for an A-level school that is small enough to feel homely but diverse in culture too. Folkestone as a location is a key factor for some as it is close to London for accessibility and culture but not too close for distractions. 

Many praise the school for the fact that it encourages their children to take some responsibility for their day-to-day living, and their interests have expanded beyond their expectations with options such as UN debating and STEP Mathematics team leader on offer.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

GOOD FOR: Hands-on education with strong focus on core academic subjects. Will help those looking for support with their university route plus good for diversity as strong international links and nice boarding facilities too. 

NOT FOR: Would not suit those students who are more motivated by sport and performing arts and are looking to go in that direction for their future careers, as the school prides itself on its rigorous academic platform. 

Earlscliffe, 29 Shorncliffe Road, Folkestone, CT20 2NB, +44 (0)1303 253951, admissions@earlscliffe.co.uk

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