Independent Schools Guide: Glenalmond bangs the big birthday drum

Glenalmond College, set in one of the most impressive locations amid the rolling Perthshire countryside, is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year.

Glenalmond College

Former pupils, known as Old Glenalmondians, are being invited to rekindle friendships at events online and in person throughout the year, while a range of short films will take its global community down memory lane.

Glenalmond has a rich history with strong ties to its past, but it has evolved into a modern institution that provides its 300-plus boarding and day pupils with the skills for life.

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It began in 1847 when politician William Gladstone established the Scottish Episcopal College of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, opening its doors to just 14 boys in May that year.

Glenalmond College

The grand architecture inspired by Oxford’s dreaming spires, was designed by renowned Edinburgh architect John Henderson and later his son George, who was tasked with a rebuild following a fire in 1893.

By 1851, the college had become a Scottish Episcopal Foundation and the first warden, Charles Wordsworth, nephew to the poet William Wordsworth, helped to complete the school’s chapel and its consecration.

Towards the end of the 19th Century, the school roll had grown substantially and additional accommodation was created.

By 1995, Glenalmond College was fully co-educational and was the first co-ed boarding school in Scotland with a female head, Elaine Logan.

“The character and values are passed on from one generation to the next but it is important for the college to evolve; the austerity of earlier boarding-school life has been replaced by a warm and nurturing environment in which all pupils are challenged to be the best versions of themselves,” explains warden Dr Michael Alderson.

“The character and resilience which was required at the college’s foundation remain but we ensure our pupils are well-prepared for living in a modern, diverse society.”

One of the first draws of the school for parents and pupils is the enchanting setting located eight miles from Perth.

It is surrounded by 300 acres of impressive grounds which the pupils take full advantage of.

“On a simple everyday level, how many schools give a pupil the opportunity to finish lessons and then cast a fly for a salmon in the afternoon?” asks Alderson. “It is a magical location.”

Just as impressive are the four boys’ boarding houses – Patchell’s, Matheson’s, Skrine’s and Reid’s – and the three for girls – Home, Lothian and Goodacre’s – all of which are integral to the school’s community.

Each has a different style to suit each pupil and feature a range of facilities including a lounge, kitchen, games and wifi.

To ensure the wellbeing of each pupil, a house master or mistress lives alongside the boarding house with their own family, creating a family atmosphere.

“The house master or mistress plays a key role in the life of every pupil, offering support and advice on all manner of questions through the pupil’s time at school,” says Alderson, who became warden in April 2020.

“They are also the central point of contact for all questions for parents. An academic tutor supports this work as do house matrons, the Medical Centre, the Chaplain and other staff.

“Proactively, we run two programmes, Learning for Life and Learning to Learn, where we equip the pupils to deal with the challenges they will face at school and beyond.

“Importantly, too, we factor in time each day which gives the pupils space to be.

“All the pupils cite the fun sense of community and togetherness in the house, during the day, and in activities as the thing they love about Glenalmond.”

Day pupils do not miss out; they are always invited and encouraged to enjoy the activities in the evenings and weekends.

There is an extensive range of co-curricular activities on offer and the school has a proud history of rugby, hockey, cricket and lacrosse. Pupils also compete in shooting and benefit from an on-site nine-hole golf course designed by world-famous Scottish golfer James Braid.

There is also a swimming pool, pipe band, tennis court, art and music schools.

“All of these are valued alongside the academic education we offer,” Alderson maintains. “The co-curriculum is of the utmost importance at the college as it is through these activities that we help pupils develop skills which turn into competence, which then leads to the confident and capable young people we recognise as Glenalmonds’.

“The co-curriculum is a vehicle for teaching soft skills such as collaboration, situational awareness, focus, enthusiasm, self-management, resilience, which are otherwise so hard to learn.”

The academic offering is also very highly valued by parents and pupils. Glenalmond offers GCSEs and A-levels, providing pupils with ten subjects along with the opportunity to focus on three subjects of choice from the age of 16.

In the Sixth Form, pupils take three A-levels complemented by a fourth, or a Higher, in a contrasting subject.

Also in the Sixth Form is the Extended Project Qualification, which provides the opportunity for pupils to pursue their own academic interests, identifying a topic, completing research, and writing up their work.

This results in preparation for university study based on strong subject knowledge.

The curriculum extends beyond the classroom. One example is the school’s work with neighbouring country estates to look at how they combine their commercial activity with conservation, habitat management and sustainability projects.

Almost all pupils leave Glenalmond to go to university. Last year 97 per cent went to their first choice and around 60 per cent went to a Russell Group university.

Alderson emphasises: “Ultimately, our goal is to help pupils to leave with the best possible range of choices specific to them and which will allow them to lead a successful life contributing in a meaningful way to society.

“Irrespective of where and what that might mean, the doorway is opened by choice, guaranteed by a solid academic education and the character education developed through the co-curriculum and communal living.”

For anyone keen to explore Glenalmond College, there will be an open day held on Saturday,19 March, when prospective pupils and their guardians can meet pupils, staff and experience the school’s close-knit community.

This article first appeared in The Scotsman’s Independent Schools Guide, February 2022.

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