Royal Alexandra and Albert School in Reigate

With its beautiful grounds, fantastic facilities and impressive sporting record, it's no wonder there's a long waiting list for the Royal Alexandra and Albert School in Gatton Park, Reigate.Tony Flook paid them a visit

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine September 2007

With its beautiful grounds, fantastic facilities and impressive sporting record, it's no wonder there's a long waiting list for the Royal Alexandra and Albert School in Gatton Park, Reigate.Tony Flook paid them a visit

Set in some 260 acres of spectacular parkland, the Royal Alexandra and Albert School in Gatton Park, Reigate, is a truly magnificent place. Formed in 1949 from the amalgamation of two schools, both with their own long histories and royal patronage, it occupies a grand Palladian-style building that was formerly the home of the Colman family (of mustard fame). The impressive grounds, which are mentioned in the Domesday Book, were gifted to Bishop Odo of Bayeaux by King William l. More recently, they were the site of a Tudor mansion, and the existing gardens were designed in part by the famous landscape gardener Lancelot "Capability" Brown. Also housing St Andrew's parish church, it is not surprising that the site is a popular venue for weddings and other events. The school itself has some 730 pupils, divided almost equally between girls and boys, of which 420 are boarders. As one of only 35 members of the State Boarding Schools' Association, its mission is to provide high quality boarding education at the lowest possible cost. "In essence, it means that pupils' day education is state funded, whilst the cost of out of hours activities and of boarding are met by their families," says the headmaster, Paul Spencer Ellis. "As a result, fees are around half what parents would expect to pay at most independent schools.

"In addition, there is a foundation that can remit fees, on a means-tested basis, for children who have a need to board but where it would otherwise be out of reach for their families. Because of this, there is a heavy demand for our 420 boarding places, for pupils aged from seven to 18, and we have plans to increase this to 550. "I am certain that boarding is a vital element in the overall experience we offer our pupils. They benefit from the atmosphere of a traditional boarding school but one that, we believe, has kept pace with changing times. The fact that most of our 112 full-time staff live on site helps build pupil/staff relationships and create a dynamic environment." The school is so popular, in fact, that even day places can be over-subscribed and, as such, it has had to set priorities. Siblings of existing pupils come first, then those who can show promise in sport. Any remaining places are offered to children living locally. Renowned for its sporting excellence, the school was awarded Sports College status in 2005 and is a young sportsman or sportswoman's paradise. As well as an indoor swimming pool, fitness centre and a well-equipped sports hall, there is a floodlit games area and extensive pitches for team games, including a cricket oval overlooking one of the three lakes. Pupils with an interest in horse riding can enjoy not only the park but also a sand school and indoor riding school (where the trophy room is bedecked with rosettes). Individual interests are also encouraged and one pupil recently showed promise at archery, while another proved to be a fine Irish dancer. "We are also seeking planning permission for indoor and outdoor tennis courts, floodlit netball courts, an athletics track, an Astroturf hockey pitch and additional rugby pitches," continues the headmaster. "Eight million pounds has already been committed for new and upgraded facilities and further capital expenditure is planned, including provision for two new science laboratories, further classrooms and a dance studio." Music is a key feature at the school too, with a self-contained centre comprising teaching spaces, rehearsal rooms and individual practice rooms. The recently-opened performing arts centre seats up to 400, whilst the chapel, which can accommodate 700 people, is used for larger events. There is also a full programme of after school activities for both day pupils and boarders. Girls as well as boys can join the cub and scout troops, and pupils are encouraged to prepare for the Duke of Edinburgh awards. "We are a church school committed to fostering Christian principles within a caring community," sums up Paul Spencer Ellis. "However, children of all faiths - or none - are welcomed and we respect all beliefs. "Here at the Royal Alexandra and Albert School, we concentrate on the quality of the teaching and on individual pupils."

The Royal Alexandra and Albert School, Gatton Park, Reigate, Surrey RH2 0TD. Tel: 01737 649000

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