Free school story: Gildredge House Free School | newschoolsnetwork.org

Free school story: Gildredge House Free School

Gildredge House School’s motto is ‘Aspire’ and it has high academic expectations of all its pupils, combined with a unique range of extracurricular activities.

Set between the sea and the South Downs, Gildredge House School in Eastbourne has a beautiful location and impressive facilities, on a site which belonged to a school up until the 1930s.

But it’s what’s taking place inside the school that has attracted local parents, with the school well oversubscribed less than two years after it opened for the first time.

Two clear attractions are the ‘all-through’ nature of the school, which means that children can attend the school from 4-19, with no break in their education and its small class sizes, with all children taught in groups of no more than 20.

Throughout their time at the school, students come together in mixed-age houses, which are named after local personalities such as the explorer, Sir Ernest Shackleton, broadcast journalist Brian Johnston and the World War II fighter pilot Douglas Bader. This gives them the chance to collaborate on projects and compete against each other, with the annual Christmas tree decorating competition a subject of particularly fierce rivalry.

Academically, Gildredge House has used its freedoms as a free school to include additional subject areas for its pupils, such as Philosophy and Latin, which everyone learns from 11. Progress is monitored using a unique assessment system, which the school’s teachers have developed themselves in response to the abolition of National Curriculum levels. In 2014 one of them was named as the ‘Top Teacher in Eastbourne’ by a local radio station.

An extended day – which runs from 8.20am-5.00pm – allows pupils more time for learning, including scheduled ‘prep’ time for pupils to do their homework. And it also offers them a fantastically diverse range of extracurricular ‘twilight’ activities, which are on offer every afternoon and which every student is expected to take up.

The twilight programme has over 50 choices including some more unusual options, such as ultimate Frisbee, C.S.I. Club and Model United Nations. A range of sports is also on offer – making use of the school’s pitches and purpose built sports hall – and last year more than 90% of secondary pupils represented the school in a fixture, something which it is especially proud of.

Still growing into its site, the school has big plans for the future, with a sixth form which opened in 2015. This has a focus on traditional academic subjects, aimed at helping pupils move on to Russell Group universities.