Gordonstoun: Preparing students for life

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Schools typically offer a range of extracurricular activities for a more wholesome development of their students beyond books. When it comes to character-building, however, one school leads the way: Gordonstoun, a world leader in character education for over 80 years.

Gordonstoun’s unique educational ethos helps students realise their potential beyond academic terms. The alma mater of three generations of British royalty, including the Duke of Edinburgh and the Prince of Wales, places equal importance on developing life skills through challenging experiences outside the classroom. Hands-on outdoor activities like sailing, expedition and community service are a core part of the curriculum, not merely optional extras.

The well-rounded education at Gordonstoun was not the only quality that caught the attention of parents Kath and Neil Brown. They had wanted all three of their children together at the same school — Gordonstoun could cater to this, as well as their varying traits.

Outstanding pastoral care made this possible. “It was clear from the outset that students’ well-being was central to their learning,” they say. “Pastoral care and friendliness of the staff give the children the confidence to ask for help in the knowledge they will be supported. The combination of this and dynamic use of the environment has developed outstanding characteristics in all our kids.

“The kids can celebrate their individuality and shape their own path. The responsibility to navigate their timetable and choose their activities give them independence, ownership and self-motivation. A staff-to-pupil ratio of one to seven ensures pastoral care is excellent and there is always someone looking out for your child.”

The Brown children now share a sibling bond that is stronger than ever.  “I think the kids will probably all agree that the highlight of school is their friendships. They share the same experiences, jokes, tales and anecdotes that have cemented their relationships for life,” they added.

Part of the reason why Gordonstoun is able to guarantee a world-leading education and experience is because of its idyllic location in the Scottish highlands. Situated on the Moray Coast, the school’s spectacular 200-acre woodland campus is the ideal environment for excursions and outdoor adventures. Here, every student learns how to sail and joins regular expeditions into the wilderness.

Gordonstoun School

A location on the Moray Coast in the North of Scotland, with the stunning coastline and the Cairngorms National Park just minutes from its doorstep, allows Gordonstoun to offer a world-leading outdoor education programme. Source: Gordonstoun

Gordonstoun founder, German educationalist Kurt Hahn, believed that students should develop life skills alongside realising their full academic potential. His ambition is perfectly captured in the school’s motto: “Plus est en vous,” which means “there is more in you.” This distinctive approach to education creates resilient, compassionate team players who also possess excellent leadership skills.

This sentiment often shines through in Gordonstoun’s compulsory participation in the seamanship programme. Charlotte S., a Gordonstoun graduate, recalls a three-week sailing trip in the summer, which everyone looked forward to.

Although there were some good winds, things started getting choppy. She felt like she was “in a very small boat in a very big sea.”

“Although it was really scary at first, sailing completely changed my outlook on life,” she says. “When there’s nothing else left in you, but you have to keep going. That’s when you find out what you really can do. I had the most insane confidence change. It was definitely life-changing.”

Gordonstoun’s fully equipped, ocean-going yacht “Ocean Spirit of Moray” (an Oyster 80 foot ketch) is designed to introduce and train students for the sea. The only school in the country with a vessel of this sort, Gordonstoun has in recent years let its student crews explore further, going to the Arctic, the Azores and regularly takes part in Tall Ships Races.

It’s an endeavour that brings out the best in young people. “There are many times when faced with a challenge, a young person can say, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ but on a boat, it’s not that easy,” says Ian Lerner, Gordonstoun’s Sail Training Co-ordinator. “There’s us and there’s the sea. It builds a sense of adventure and encourages team spirit. These are all admirable qualities to be nurturing in young students.”

Gordonstoun School

Students have their own fire engine and can respond to genuine call-outs. Source: Gordonstoun

Broadening the experience and the mind further is community service. All students take part in community service. In Year 11, they commit to one of the school’s nine services. The services, which include the Coastguard and the Fire Service, give students the valuable chance of working with the rescue service personnel in actual emergencies. Gordonstoun is the only school in the UK to have its very own fire engine staffed by students and responds to genuine call-outs.

With such an exceptional and holistic curriculum, it is little wonder that Gordonstoun has garnered many accolades throughout the years.HM Inspectors have described Gordonstoun’s pastoral care as “a model of best practice” and “outstanding.” The institution was also the winner of “Best Boarding School” at the Independent Schools of the Year Awards 2021.

After completing the English GCSE and A Level, Gordonstoun graduates often go on to prestigious institutions, the likes of Oxford, Cambridge, Central St Martins, MIT and the Northern School of Music — a testament that this school has got the recipe for student success right.

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