St John’s College, Southsea
Muddy says: A non-selective day/boarding school for kids aged 2-18 in the heart of Southsea with a strong reputation for consistent academics, sporting achievements and all-round stability.
St John’s College is a city-based day and boarding school located in the Southsea neighbourhood of Portsmouth. Coeducational with a 66/34 split boys/girls with 515 pupils this year. The school is non-selective and caters from age 2 up to 18. It’s a Christian school but this is very much ‘in the background’ with a number of different faiths in attendance at the school.
The school’s main campus is 6 acres located in a built-up area of the city, with an additional 32-acres of playing fields in nearby Farlington, just north of the city.
The buildings here are a real mixture, complete with its very own mini castle called Castle Building that was opened in 1908. This is flanked by more modern buildings and grounds, along with Edwardian boarding houses on the main campus. The interior of the school is what I’d call very functional with plenty of space for the student body during school time. Classes are kept small for that one-to-one care with no more than 20 to a class before it gets separated into two.
Although the campus is located within a heavily built-up city, it still manages to pack a lot of facilities into the space it has.
Both the Junior School and Senior School each has its own library and there’s an on-site sports hall complete with indoor climbing wall.
Also dotted around the campus is the standalone Sixth Form centre with garden and cafe, drama studio, dance studio, plus squash courts.
The school also has its own chapel with a full-size organ, a dedicated performance stage and hall for drama and music productions, as well as two auditoriums for lectures and special events.
There’s no pool at the school but pupils have access to the Royal Navy’s HMS Temeraire and the University of Portsmouth’s facilities for additional activities and extracurriculars.
Off-site, the school has 32 acres in nearby Farlington, which have netball and tennis courts, cricket, football and rugby pitches, as well as a pavilion.
One of the latest additions to the main campus is the STEAM room which has proved incredibly popular with the cohort. So popular in fact, there’s a discussion about potentially opening a larger space for more students to get involved with coding and robotics. The school also has its own 3D printer bringing the school firmly into the 21st-century and embracing emerging technologies.
Also, being so close to the beach (it’s about a 5-minute walk from the gates to the shore) a lot of learning takes place on the shoreline with Nursery & Pre-Prep Beach School sessions taking place frequently
One of the big draws for St John’s is its hefty sports credentials with student teams winning a huge amount of accolades over the last few years as well as a number of country/county level skiiers, horseriders and sailers. And, sport is definitely a lifelong love with Old Johannians – the alumni list includes a number of Premiership and England footballers, Hampshire cricketers, rugby players and more.
They certainly know how to hold a tune at St John’s. The school recently overhauled the entire music department and it shows. The school has its very own “Live Room” that comes complete with drums and other instruments, as well as lighting and a PA system to get the full experience.
All the practice rooms have had a zhuzh as well and were kitted out in 2018 with brand spanking new electric guitars, keyboards, bass guitars, pianos and more. These are available to all students as well.
The school has a good range of musical clubs as well – Orchestra, String Group, Jazz Band, Woodwind Group, Girls’ Choir, Glee Club and also the Chapel Choir (when they’re rehearsing in the chapel it’s a rather magical experience to overhear!)
The school has the “trad” music down to a tee here but they have also fully-embraced modern technology available for students and are given the opportunity to use modern programmes and editing when creating compositions.
The school has a modest amount of boarders (around 17% of students) who stay at the six gorgeous Edwardian buildings located on the main campus. Boarding is available from the age of 8 and many of the boarders are international students and children of forces families.
There’s lots of options for parents with full-time, regular, one-off and short-term boarding available.
Where the school is located within a city, the boarders get a different kind of freedom compared to your leafy green countryside settings. The older kids are allowed to go off-campus at the weekend (with strict guidelines and curfews, of course) and able to go to the cinema, shopping at Gunwharf and spend time at the beach. There’s also plenty of organised activities for everybody and plenty of facilities in the local area to keep them busy.
The school has recently won praise for its performance in Hampshire for A-Levels and are top of the Government league table, with the best ‘Value added’ results.
As well as this the academic results across the board are pretty strong. In 2018, GCSE students achieved an overall pass rate of 82% including English and Maths, with Triple Award Science students achieving 100% A*-B grades. For French, Art and Drama there was a 100% pass rate and above.
In A-Levels in 2019, there was a 100% pass rate in many subjects, including Maths and English and 100% A* – A grades for History 77% achieved A* – C grades and 90% secured their first choice university, with all students, who applied to university, being offered a place.
Many of the Sixth Form proceed onto Russell Group universities, with many going on to do very tech-related courses including Cyber Security and Mechanical Engineering. There are Oxbridge successes with one student heading to Cambridge in 2018 to study Chemical Engineering.
Mrs Mary Maguire joined the school seven years ago and this is her first academic year as the Head of College, having previously been Deputy Head. With her reassuring Irish accent, we chatted away happily about the school and her take on the setting. She was incredibly honest and explained although academic results are very good at the school, the Christian ethos that underpins the institution is at the heart of what they do, making sure that the children are prepared for the ‘real-world’ and ensuring that no child gets excluded from study based on stats.
There’s also quite a progressive mobile phone policy here, with two designated ‘phone-areas’ that the senior students can use during breaks. The students are made aware of how they present themselves on social media can impact post-school careers and are given advice on how to create online personas that won’t damage them in the long-run.
The dinkiest attendees of St John’s College, Little St John’s, start at age 2 and seemed adorably focused on what they were doing when I visited. The nursery has its own fenced off play area, complete with its own castle, mud kitchen and they also get the chance for a toddle down to the beach each week as a registered beach school.
The school was founded by a Lasallian community of Roman Catholic brothers and while the school broke off in 2015 to become truly independent many of the brothers remained living on the campus until this year. Although the school is ‘technically’ Christian there’s a HUGE mix of diversity within the student body, with local children, forces kids and lots of international students (15 nationalities and counting) of many different religions – something that is super representative of the city its located in.
The school also has quite the range of notable alumni in various fields, including Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, George Alagiah (BBC News), Alfie Allen (Game of Thrones), Hedley Greentree (architect behind Gunwharf Quays and the Spinnaker Tower), and Andy Cummingham who was the brain (and hand!) behind Bodger & Badger.
Club-wise the school has its very own ski team, with a number of high ranking skiers (county and national) within the student body. Pretty impressive considering snow is rather rare on the south coast! There’s also a Magic Club, Gaming Club and a Japanese Club too.
The school is particularly famous for its Politics Society, running for over 40 years, that again lends itself to giving students a ‘real’ view of the world and invites a very wide range of speakers. Over the years they have held talks from people such as Margaret Thatcher, Enoch Powell, Tony Benn, Nick Clegg, Theresa May and even Nigel Farage.
Average. With a stepping scale starting at £3,175 for Reception, Y1-2, £3,235 for Y3-4, £3,385 for Y5-6 and Y7-13 at £4,150 per term. Annual boarding (with school fees) for UK students is £26,205 for Y5-6 and up to £27,000 for Y7-13. International boarding fees go up to £30,150 a year from Y4-Y13. There are also sibling discounts available.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Stability and helping harness students strengths is a key message I’ve heard from parents and ex-students. There’s a very inclusive nature here, with pupils of a range of backgrounds and abilities all coming together as a rather happy collective.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: City slickers who need the buzz of a city and a diverse peer group. This is ideal for those who want to give their kids a more ‘realistic’ view of the world outside of boarding school. There is a bubble here, but its wider and freer than many schools, with a lot of trust handed to the students. If your child is particularly sporty, political or science-minded there’s lots going on here that will nurture and develop their interests.
Not for: If you picture your kids frolicking up trees and playing hide and seek in vast woodlands this is probably not quite the right spot. Although there is more than enough space for all the kids, it’s not quite the rolling sweeping countryside that other settings offer.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the next school Open Week on Mon 4 – Thurs 7 May 2020.
St John’s College, Grove Road South, Southsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire, PO5 3QW. Tel: 023 9281 5118