Brighton College: top of the class

Brighton College has risen in the academic results tables to become the top performing school in Sussex and the leading co-educational school in England. All this has happened under the leadership of headmaster Richard Cairns.

Meeting Richard Cairns in his splendid office overlooking the school quadrangle you are at the place where the tradition and future of the school come together. The office is a Victorian panelled creation, complete with secret door, while Mr Cairns is very much the modern head with an eye on helping his pupils face the demands of 2020 and beyond rather than just today. One of the many ways he has done this is to make the teaching of Mandarin compulsory for all pupils up to the age of 14.When Mr Cairns arrived at Brighton six years ago, the school was 137th in the national academic league tables. Now it is 17th. This makes it the best performing school in Sussex and the best co-educational school in England.Oxbridge offers have increased from five in 2005 to 19 now, up 280 per cent.The College’s latest achievement is a glowing report from the Independent Schools Inspectorate which gives the school an excellent rating, the highest available, in all 10 categories reviewed. In 2005, only one was rated as excellent, the equivalent of outstanding in an Ofsted report.“I’m not aware of any school anywhere that has got 10 excellents out of 10. It’s brilliant because it’s for everything. When I told the staff, there was a huge round of applause for each other and a lovely sense of community,” says Mr Cairns.He says the inspection is for more than the academic excellence of the school as it covers everything including the pastoral care of the pupils. “Yes we get really good exam results because we have really good teaching but we also have outstanding sport. Our first XV rugby team has not lost to a Sussex school in four years.”Mr Cairns says the school’s success is based on three elements: the staff, the happiness of the children and the restructuring of the management of the school. Since his arrival, he has improved the excellence of the teaching. “I thought the key thing to do was to get in a brilliant teaching staff because I think everyone in their lives has been changed by a teacher. “As a headmaster you have to put yourself back into the body of your 13 year old self and ask what made you love school, what encouraged you to work at school? And it was the brilliant history teacher or the rugby coach that made you believe in yourself.“What I’ve realised is that as your school gets better and better you become part of a virtuous circle so good ambitious teachers will move from other top schools to Brighton College.”He says the happiness of the children is vital. If the children feel valued then they will respond by working harder and the results will improve. One of the first things he did was to stop lessons late in the afternoon and on Saturdays, thus reducing the actual number of lessons taught a week from 48 to 41. Many people said the results would suffer. In fact, the opposite was the case.“I wanted to make sure that every child here was happy, valued for who they are. I always say to the children, I want you to be a first class version of yourself not a second class version of someone else.”“They meet their tutor twice a day to discuss their progress. They have three-weekly interim reports which they comment on. I teach History to all the Year 9s personally to get to know them. I have dinner every Thursday with a group of 15 Lower Sixth Formers. I am the only person in the school who has taught every child in this school.”The restructuring of the school management included appointing heads of sixth form, middle school and lower school to look after the care of the children and setting up year group councils. He also chairs the parents’ forums. The idea is that if everyone feels more involved in the running of the school then everyone will feel proud when it does well because everyone feels they have contributed to that success.During the last election he was struck by the calls from all parties for more entrepreneurs. Now the school has a Director of Enterprise, there is time on the curriculum for entrepreneurship and the school has taken a share in three new businesses run by the winners of a Sixth Form enterprise competition.As for the future? He thinks further improvement is possible and that his virtuous circle of success breeding success should continue, ensuring that Brighton College remains a beacon of excellence for years to come.

The College was rated excellent for:1. The quality of pupils’ achievements.2. The quality of curricular and extra- curricular provision.3. The quality of teaching.4. The spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils.5. Pupils’ welfare, health and safety.6. The quality of boarding.7. The quality of governance.8. The quality of leadership.9. The quality of management.10. The quality of links with parents.

A-levels: In 2005, 77.7% of entrants got A or B grades.In 2010, 94.5% achieved A*-B.

GCSE: In 2005, 67.7% got A* or A grades.In 2010, it was 83.0%.

Oxbridge: In 2005. 5 pupils received offers from Oxford and Cambridge.In 2010, 19 pupils received offers.

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