Whitgift School in Croydon - 400 years of history, water gardens and cricket
A natural haven among the urban sprawl of Croydon, Whitgift School sits in 45 acres of parkland and is one of the top independent schools for boys in the country. MATTHEW WILLIAMS met the headmaster, Dr Christopher Barnett, to learn more
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine November 2007
In a glowing review earlier this year, the Independent Schools Council (ISC) wrote: "Whitgift outstandingly fulfils its aims and aspirations of very high attainment in all aspects of its provision." High praise indeed, and arriving on a bleak, wet, October morning, it doesn't take long to work out why they were so enthusiastic. A beautiful oasis not far from the centre of Croydon, the school is set in 45 acres of land that includes a cricket oval capable of hosting professional fixtures and the Whitgift Water Gardens - a sculptured oasis complete with an impressive waterfall and a host of flamingos. "David Attenborough was very impressed with the water gardens when he visited here," says the headmaster, Dr Christopher Barnett, as he shows me around the school. "It has three water areas with rare birds from every continent - and some native species as well. "Every zoo is expected to have an education department, yet no school has a zoo. This way has much more impact on children, and makes them far more aware than just the odd day visit to a zoo. Maybe one day every school will have one; it's certainly a lot of fun."
Cranes and peacocks strut proudly and freely around the school's grounds in Haling Park, which was once the home of Elizabethan admiral, Lord Howard of Effingham. Founded over 400 years ago by John Whitgift, the last Archbishop of Canterbury to be appointed by Queen Elizabeth I, the Whitgift School now provides an education for 1,201 boys in the 10-18 year old bracket. This year, the school had a 100% pass rate and featured high in The Times' top 1,000 schools list. Education for all... Although it is a fee funded school, Whitgift is run by the Whitgift Foundation, which has a policy of making the education offered as widely available as possible through the award of scholarships and bursaries. Admission is by examination and these usually take place in January. "If you are an all-rounder and want a broad education then this is a top class place to be," says the head. "We do have a certain uniqueness in that we are the only school in Britain where you can study to GCSE, IGCSE, AS, A Level, or the International Baccalaureate (IB). Most schools offer the IB or A-Levels but you normally can't choose between the two; here you can. We also offer the BTEC, which is a great qualification, particularly for boys who want to go into sport as a career." The school's facilities are exceptional and nowhere is this more apparent than in their sporting provision. A sports hall that can host international tennis and also double as a 1,800 capacity concert venue, and a swimming pool with a variable floor that allows children to be taught how to swim but can also be used for competitive sport, are just two of the highlights. "Over a long period of time, we have won all sorts at a national level in sport," says the headmaster, while showing me the school's impressive sporting hall of fame. "Many of our boys have gone on to professional careers in their chosen field and so if you are a very good sportsman, you should really have a good look at this place." Totally bowled over... The school has formed strong links with Surrey County Cricket Club and, once a year, Whitgift's Northfield plays host to a Surrey competitive game. Last year, around 3,500 were lucky enough to witness former Australian international, Shane Warne, bowl career best one-day figures as his Hampshire side beat Surrey. This year, a record attendance of over 5,000 turned up! In addition to its many sporting connections, music is another key area for Whitgift, and the school provides the home for both the Whitgift Chamber Orchestra, which brings together youngsters from many different schools, and the Croydon Young Musicians. As well as strong local links, the school has also been keen to develop its international bonds. Languages are central to the school's curriculum and pupils have the opportunity to choose from four European and two Oriental languages, and annual exchanges to France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan are also offered. "We'll be introducing more new languages and I think our language provision is second to none," continues the headmaster. "We teach languages bilingually. Studying history, geography and science, for example, with native speakers means your confidence is much greater and so your ability to actually talk to someone from that country is much stronger." Christopher is understandably thrilled with the 2007 ISC report the school received - which was overflowing with enthusiasm and praise. "The ISC report was great for us," he says. "It's nice to be called an inspiring school because that is what youth is about. You should be trying to inspire people, to make them believe in their futures and to try and give them the best possible life in the 21st century - rather than looking back at what was expected years ago. "I really do believe that it is the finest day school for boys in this country at the moment and I would quite happily put us up against anyone who would like to challenge for that title."
Whitgift School, Haling Park, South Croydon, CR2 6YT. Tel: 020 8688 9222.
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Providing for the future
The school is involved in various breeding and educational partnerships with London Zoo. As well as breeding red squirrels on the grounds, which they hope to selectively release into Haling Park one day, they also have a collection of rare birds that youngsters from local primary schools can visit to draw and learn about.
Sporting connections... Among the current staff are:
Ex-Surrey cricketers David Ward and Neil Kendrick Former Chelsea captain Colin Pates Steve Kember (who managed Crystal Palace briefly and also played for Chelsea) John Humphrey (a Charlton and Palace player) Kate Allenby (Olympic pentathlete)