BESSA in session: With Gordonstoun – Round Square, Strong Pastoral Care and the Scottish Outdoors

Gordonstoun is famous for being the birthplace of the Round Square movement.  Please tell us more about this philosophy and about character education in your school.

Gordonstoun is proud to be the birthplace of the Round Square movement, founded by Kurt Hahn, whose educational ethos underpins the school’s ambitious curriculum today. Hahn said “I regard it as the foremost task of education to insure the survival of these qualities: an enterprising curiosity, an undefeatable spirit, tenacity in pursuit, readiness for sensible self-denial and above all, compassion”.

Hahn believed the delivery of this could be achieved by including the widest possible range of activities in the day to day life and education of his students. Alongside a commitment to academic excellence, the importance of service – both to the school and to the wider community was also underlined. He encouraged young people to put the needs of others before themselves. Students were also given the opportunity to understand more about what they were capable of out in the hills or on the Moray Firth, to learn about teamwork and leadership, about resilience, being challenged and more than anything to broaden their horizons in the outside world. This philosophy impels students to the widest range of experiences – and this can also take place in amongst the school’s comprehensive facilities – on stage in the theatre either dancing or acting (or doing both!), performing music as a soloist or as a member of the school’s various music ensembles. Gordonstoun prepares its students for exams – and it also prepares them for life. All of the experiences students are offered at school informs and expands their sense of themselves, emotionally, physically and spiritually. The school motto is ‘Plus est en vous’ – There is more in you.

What do you think attracts students living in Asia to apply to Gordonstoun? 

Asian students are able to enjoy all the opportunities provided by Gordonstoun’s uniquely broad curriculum, in an environment which is safe, beautiful and peopled by fellow students from all over the world. Gordonstoun is a truly global community and students have the opportunity to live with and make friends with people from every continent, without themselves feeling separate in any way.

Gordonstoun also provides a real and exciting contrast to home for students from Asia. The setting in the North of Scotland provides easy access to the sea, endless sandy beaches, golf links and the mountains of the Scottish Highlands. These enable Gordonstoun to deliver its world beating outdoor education programme, providing students with opportunities and experiences – such as enjoying the view from the top of a mountain, skiing on a Spring weekend or sailing on the school’s 80ft Sail Training Vessel around some of the most beautiful countryside in the world. And all this with the provision of a robust academic programme which sees students leave Gordonstoun with exam results and experiences which enable them to enter the best universities and colleges in the world.

Although Scotland might seem a long way from Asia, Gordonstoun is within easy driving distance of two airports – Inverness and Aberdeen – both of which provide regular flights to and from London or other European cities for connecting flights to the rest of the world.

How is a pupil’s online access monitored?  What support or advice is given to pupils about internet safety and the use of social media?

Mobile phone usage is not allowed at Gordonstoun during the school day – from 8am until after classes, and access to phones at night is only allowed to the senior students. Online access is achieved through the school’s Wi-Fi network. This service is provided without cost to students and switches off at different times during the evening depending on the year group. The school’s Wi-Fi is also carefully and appropriately restricted so that inappropriate content cannot be viewed or downloaded. Gordonstoun has a very clear IT policy for both staff and students which outlines the expectation that all staff and students with regard to internet safety. Both internet safety and the use of social media are topics covered in the school’s ISC (International Spiritual Citizenship) curriculum – an integral part of the working week for all students throughout Gordonstoun. This curriculum discusses both in both broad cultural, social and personal terms.

Please describe some issues of a pastoral nature that commonly arise in boarding schools, and how are they approached or dealt with by the school?

Because Gordonstoun is lucky to welcome students from all over the world, and is one of the few remaining full boarding schools in the UK, a primary pastoral issue which commonly arises is home sickness. In the early days of boarding, being away from home can be difficult, and the pastoral team – which comprises a Housemaster or mistress, and Assistant Housemaster or mistress and a Matron in each of the school’s eight boarding houses – work very hard to make this transition as smooth as it can be. Each new student is given a ‘buddy’ as a companion and to help them with the practicalities of the early days. There are also senior students in each house with particular responsibility for younger members of the house. The start of each school year includes a few days of induction, where new students can integrate through social events, team games and activities outside of the classroom.

Gordonstoun has a clear code of conduct which students are expected to adhere to. This outlines the behaviour required and the consequences if there are lapses in that behaviour and it means that there are clear, outlined consequences for any occasion where incidents of unkindness or thoughtlessness occur.

Gordonstoun’s primary approach to managing the teenagers and preteens in the school’s care is through communication, maintaining open lines of communication with students and their parents. There is a clear pastoral infrastructure for providing support and management of the young people. A Tutor might help if school work or prep is not being achieved as it should, a Matron can help with a headache or a lost sock and more senior staff including the Deputy Head (Pastoral) are on hand to deal with anything of a more serious nature.

What advice would you have for parents looking at the boarding option for their children in terms of preparation?  How could they make it a “softer landing” socially and emotionally for their children?

It’s very important to make sure that children have everything they need when they arrive at boarding school – and the Gordonstoun admissions office is available throughout the working day to answer even the smallest query. There is also a shop on the grounds from which all uniform is purchased and which also stocks equipment for expeditions etc. – things which are more easily missed. Enthusiasm for the choice that has been made is always reassuring for a child, and easy to achieve at Gordonstoun when there is so much to take part in and enjoy.

Can you give examples of what some of your leavers have gone on to do in their careers or lives?

Gordonstoun has a very eclectic mix of former pupils, including –

  • His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh and His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales
  • Heather Stanning, double Olympic gold medalist and World Champion rower
  • Zara Tindall, Olympic Equestrian
  • John Barton, Chairman of EasyJet and Next
  • Duncan Jones, Film Director

We also count a Nobel Prize Winner, research Scientists, Doctors, Lawyers, actors including Oona Chaplin and Balthazar Getty, writers including William Boyd the novelist, and several members of the current teaching staff at Gordonstoun as former pupils, including our Headmaster Titus Edge and Director of the Gordonstoun International Summer School Claire MacGillivray.

This is the third year you are exhibiting with BESSA.  How has BESSA helped your school’s exposure and admissions process in Asia, if at all?  Can you comment on behalf of other boarding schools at BESSA too?

We have been delighted to attend BESSA for the past three years and are very pleased with the response in terms of admissions to the main School and also to the Gordonstoun International Summer School. This has been the undoubted result of a huge amount of work behind the scenes by Stephanie and her colleagues in advance of, and following, the really well attended Fairs. The venues are ideal, the organization exemplary, and the support and kindness of the BESSA staff is quite amazing ! I only wish that similar events worldwide were half as good !

If there is anything else you would like tell us about British boarding schools, or Gordonstoun in particular, please do!

Gordonstoun is confident that it provides a home from home for students who are not only from different international communities, but also from various social and financial backgrounds. The school offers scholarships and means tested bursaries to students who might benefit from a Gordonstoun education, and this has the added benefit of ensuring that the school community is truly socially balanced. Internationalism has always been an element of Gordonstoun’s educational ethos, and with a third of students form the UK, a third from Scotland and a third from the reset of the world, ours is a dynamic and diverse society. Students from overseas are provided with a Guardian, a nearby home in which they are welcome for half terms or long weekends if they can’t go home and aren’t staying with friends. These Guardians often also attend sports fixtures and plays and concerts in which their charges are performing and this relationship is one that can last long after school. The wellbeing of its students is central to Gordonstoun, and knowing children will be kept safe and happy whilst experiencing such a uniquely broad set of experiences and people with whom to experience them, should be a source of not only comfort but also excitement to any parents who are considering it.

Gordonstoun is also famous for its International Summer School (GISS), a three-week course which welcomes students from all over the world to spend time at school and also on the glorious West Coast, sailing, adventuring and coasteering. With full use of the school’s comprehensive facilities – including the state-of-the-art Sports Centre, indoor swimming pool, climbing wall, performing arts facilities, recording studio, and art and design classrooms – students can enjoy a wide range of activities whilst improving their spoken English and written English and studying other subjects which include Art, Design and Technology, Computing, IT and English Literature and – a new addition for 2020 – Photography and Film Making. Many young people who attend our Summer School go on to join Gordonstoun. GISS welcomes students aged 8-16 from 35 countries. For more information on GISS please see or speak to Director Claire MacGillivray or Chris Barton, who are attending BESSA, about either GISS or Gordonstoun.