Epsom College in Epsom

Celebrating one of its most successful years ever, with record highs in their exam results, the historic Epsom College looks set for a bright future. Matthew Williams found out out more

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine October 2007

Celebrating one of its most successful years ever, with record highs in their exam results, the historic Epsom College looks set for a bright future. Matthew Williams found out out moreIt is just three days into the new term, and the latest batch of fresh faced students to arrive at Epsom College already have a lot to live up to. The College achieved record highs this year in their GCSE results and forty per cent of their students, taking A-Levels, achieved three 'A's. Smiles surround the school at the moment, and headmaster Stephen Borthwick is currently basking in the college's success - that has also seen high achievements on the sports field. "The students have done really well. Many of us are aware of this nasty, corrosive cynicism that results are improving each year as if by 'magic'," he says. "But this year our students have achieved well over this perceived 'inflation'. So I'm very pleased for them. "League tables are nice, but they don't really tell you an awful lot. More importantly, our students did as well as we had hoped, and in many cases better. That's the best way of judging any success." Before grilling the head, though, I first meet James Postle, the college's director of admissions and communications, who acts as my guide for the morning. Epsom has 720 students. At the moment, there are 240 girls, but this number is set to increase to 300 over the next two years. This is made up of a roughly 50/50 split between boarders and day students. They are grouped into 12 houses; the structure of which I am reliably informed is pretty similar to the house system in Harry Potter - but minus the sorting hat... Epsom takes pupils mainly from local prep schools at the age of 13. And students have to learn fast; to adapt to seven o'clock breakfasts, packed days of schooling and after school extra curricular activities that aren't just encouraged but mandatory. Most board weekly, which means they spend six days at Epsom and then one at home with their family. Saturdays are for sports and everyone plays (every first year male will play rugby against Harrow). The campus is so vast that, for part of the tour, James takes me about the grounds in his golf buggy - which allows him to show off far more of the 80 acres of land the campus sits on, and apparently goes down well with the parents of prospective pupils, and, as it turns out, Surrey Life journalists... "People did laugh when I first got it, and new students still take a while to get used to it, but it just wouldn't be possible to show people around in a feasible time otherwise," says James. "There is a real sense of community here on the campus. Eighty per cent of staff live here, which allows us to get the best teachers (who might not otherwise be able to afford moving to Surrey), as well as making us more approachable for the students." Both the head and James are visibly proud of the college's recent sporting achievements. Last year, the first XI rugby team only lost one game all season - no mean feat when your opponents include the likes of Harrow and Eton. The college rifle team have been in the top two nationally for the last 11 years, a run which has included six wins. On top of that, the Queen saw fit to open the new sports hall in 1989. James later whisks me back to the head's office. I don't quite feel like a naughty schoolboy, but the sheer amount I have had to process in such a short time means that I have to take a breather with a glass of water before entering Stephen Borthwick's office. "It's my ambition to have ten per cent of the school coming here regardless of their financial situation," he says, as we sit and chat. "We have set the wheels in motion to raise the funds that would be needed to provide the free places. It would enable us to take on people who have the enthusiasm and ability to be here, but whose parents couldn't afford it. "We're very lucky and privileged that a load of people got together 153 years ago and built and funded this school. Perhaps, in a way, that is in the back of my mind, and has made me think of my duty and obligations." As I leave, the headmaster points out a tall lad further up the corridor. It turns out that he plays rugby for England. He also happens to be a keen actor, and is, at this moment, speaking to the head of drama. Specialists in producing all rounders indeed.

The school will be hosting an open morning for prospective parents on Saturday October 13. Epsom College, College Road, Epsom, KT17 4JQ. For more information, call 01372 821000

Fame and foundation Past students have included the likes of BBC Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine, ITV journalist Jonathan Maitland and BBC journalist Nicholas Witchell. But it is for medicine that the college is probably best known. The college was founded in 1853 with Royal patronage granted by Her Majesty Queen Victoria in 1855. The founder, Dr. John Propert, raised funds to build a foundation to help orphans and widows of members of the medical profession. The Royal Medical Benevolent College opened its doors in 1855, at first providing for fewer than 100 boys. "We have a unique position with regards to medicine," says the headmaster. "There is no school that has provided more doctors since the Second World War than Epsom. We no longer concentrate on any specific area, although we're still, I'm told, the biggest producer of doctors in the country. Now though, we are not a specialist in any one area, but instead, are specialists in being all rounders."

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