Find out what makes a Gordonstoun education so special.
Pupils from around the world enjoy an unrivalled education at Gordonstoun, the co-independent school that was famously home to Prince Philip and several other members of the royal family. It’s no wonder that young people travel from all corners of the globe to study here; each pupil enjoys a school journey that spans well beyond the typical. New pupils can expect their teachers and peers to challenge them in more ways than they think possible, and each can be certain they’ll make unforgettable memories.
But what makes a Gordonstoun education so very special? And what does a regular day look like for a Gordonstoun pupil? Here, we’ll explore the experiences, opportunities, facilities, and staff support that give Gordonstoun its highly sought-after appeal.
When pupils start their journeys at Gordonstoun, they meet and make friends with young people from over 40 countries. These are the pupils they’ll work with in and out of the classroom, celebrate birthdays with, and grow with over some of the most memorable years of their lives. Internationalism is key to Gordonstoun’s ethos, and when pupils from a range of backgrounds work together, they gain cultural awareness and a deeper understanding of different beliefs.
Together, pupils embark on the many experiences, expeditions, and opportunities that Gordonstoun has to offer. Teachers encourage pupils to try as many activities as possible, and they’re always on the lookout to pair pupils with the experiences and challenges that will help them excel. Whether pupils are naturals onstage, thrive outdoors, excel in the school’s Dialogue Society showcase their talents in the Young Enterprise competition, or have an aptitude for Maths, Gordonstoun’s teachers will identify their ‘future strengths’ and nurture their ‘grand passions’, as the school’s founder Kurt Hahn would say.
‘There’s so much that’s special about Gordonstoun,’ says the school’s Principal Lisa Kerr. ‘Our uniquely broad curriculum. Our diverse and supportive community. Our stunning 200-acre woodland campus. We want young people to discover who they are, to be comfortable with who they are, and eventually to go beyond who they are. Gordonstoun isn’t just our school. It’s our home.’
Curricular and Extra-Curricular Opportunities
Pupils meet every morning in Gordonstoun’s chapel to kickstart the day with an assembly session. From here, each pupil follows a timetable of thought-provoking subjects, both traditional and modern. As of year ten, pupils narrow down their studies, selecting academic courses that lead to globally recognised qualifications and higher-education opportunities.
Whether pupils pursue traditional subjects or opt for Photography, Sociology, and Film Studies (amongst other modern subject areas), pupils enjoy many of their academic studies outside. Gordonstoun’s tranquil surroundings allow pupils to follow the school’s inspiring programmes in remote settings and enjoy river-, sea-, and mountain-based expeditions. The school doesn’t bind pupils to the classroom. Instead, they learn in and develop a deep respect for their rural surroundings and the natural environment.
Both junior and senior schools also follow the International and Spiritual Citizenship (ISC) programme, which is both core and unique to a Gordonstoun education. Pupils explore a wide range of social, spiritual, and personal issues and form their views on the world around them.
Compulsory curriculum aside, pupils can enjoy Gordonstoun’s extensive collection of extra-curricular subjects and activities. Some pupils enjoy performing in a variety of drama, dance, and musical productions, and others enjoy partaking in environmental awareness or first aid training. Meanwhile, adrenaline-fuelled pupils climb technical alpine peaks and huge ice falls, kayak in remote rivers, sail to Svalbard, camp in untrodden landscapes, and challenge themselves to climb Scotland’s mountains, like Ben Rinnes, with friends. No matter which opportunities pupils take on, a Gordonstoun education extends well beyond the conventional.
Gordonstoun’s pupils have access to several industry-standard facilities that put them in the best position to learn. For starters, the school offers a modern sports centre with a sports hall, swimming pool, fitness suite, squash courts, climbing wall, dance studio, performance gym, and analysis classrooms. Gordonstoun also boasts an indoor shooting range, five-hole golf course, all-weather pitch, playing fields, and floodlit all-weather tennis and netball courts. Meanwhile, the Art, Design and Technology, Media, Music, and Drama and Dance departments have much state-of-the-art equipment on offer.
Perhaps most importantly, the campus is so safe pupils don’t even need to lock their bikes up.
Support From Pastoral Staff and Tutors
With so much on offer for Gordonstoun pupils, the school’s pastoral staff are always on hand to help them with their academic and non-academic endeavours. All pupils benefit from the support of pastoral staff, who also form a vital link between school and home for those who board.
Amongst the pastoral staff, ‘house parents’ take on the primary role of caring for pupils while they’re away from home, and a highlight of the week is the ‘weekly brew’ when students get together for pizza or cakes and a chat. Meanwhile, assistant house parents and matrons offer support in all aspects of day-to-day life, from organising medical appointments to offering emotional support and helping pupils with personal organisation.
Gordonstoun also assigns each pupil a tutor, who works with them in small groups to ensure they’re meeting their potential. These tutors maintain regular contact with each pupil’s family. Tutors meet with their pupils once a week in the evening at their boarding houses, where they set targets for the pupils and help them prepare for non-academic events like concerts, plays, and sports events.
Gordonstoun welcomes pupils as young as four to its junior school, where children of all backgrounds enjoy a wholesome early education. Each junior house has a ‘captain of juniors’ who oversees the wellbeing of younger pupils and acts as a mentor.
Like the senior pupils, Gordonstoun’s junior pupils make the most of the outdoors while learning. Teachers encourage children to bring the outdoors into the classroom and bring the classroom into the outdoors through activities like picking and classifying leaves. Whether they’re walking to the nearby coast, climbing trees in the woods, learning how to play the bagpipes, or conducting scientific experiments, junior pupils enjoy lessons that span well beyond the classroom.
While many pupils progress from Gordonstoun’s junior school to its senior school, others start their Gordonstoun journeys between years 7 to 13. The curriculum expands during these senior years, and Gordonstoun’s 500 senior boarders enjoy a wealth of social activities outside of school time, too.
In particular, senior pupils enjoy Saturday-night ‘socials’, which often include games, discos, cinema visits, meals out, bowling trips, Scottish ‘reels’ (dances) and planning sessions for the school’s much-loved international ball. Many pupils also enjoy beach trips, often on Sundays – the Moray beaches are only a short walk from the school. And senior pupils enjoy cooking pizzas in the school’s pizza oven with the junior pupils. Gordonstoun fosters an inclusive structure, and pupils make friends across houses and year groups.
‘Gordonstoun is home for me,’ one pupil says. ‘It’s my world here.’
‘It gets to the point where you think you can do anything,’ another pupil adds.
Many year-nine and ten pupils jump at the chance to partake in Gordonstoun’s arts showcase, which takes place near the end of the first term. Year-ten pupils also share their talents in a bonus summer term production. And other keen actors enjoy challenging themselves with Gordonstoun’s weekly drama activity.
Meanwhile, musicians find their spotlights in both relaxed lunchtime concerts and formal evening performances. Gordonstoun also runs many music groups, from rock groups and a pipe band to string ensembles and a concert band. Plus, pupils may receive individual tuition for vocal coaching or their preferred instrument. The music department boasts several practice rooms and larger rooms for rehearsals and coaching. Pupils have recently performed in Gordonstoun’s chapel and South Room and further afield at Fort George (Inverness), the Canongate Kirk (Edinburgh), and St Margaret’s Church (Braemar).
Sports-lovers need not look any further than Gordonstoun’s long list of teams. The school coaches competitive teams in athletics, basketball, cricket, football, golf, hockey, netball, rugby, squash, and tennis. Meanwhile, many pupils enjoy recreational sports like badminton, climbing, cycling, kayaking, mountain biking, orienteering, horse riding, table tennis, and target shooting. Others enjoy swimming, bushcraft, surfing, skiing, snowboarding, and coasteering. The sports options are virtually endless.
Many pupils also enjoy dance, whether they take this as a GCSE subject, partake in year nine’s dance club, or enjoy informal workshops with visiting dance artists. Pupils may take part in the school’s annual dance show and many other performances. Plus, they can get inspired on Gordonstoun’s theatre visits, where pupils watch professional dance companies perform.
Sail training helps pupils develop their teamwork and leadership skills, which is why Gordonstoun admits all year-nine pupils for seamanship training in cutters, which are moored in Plockton harbour (alongside Gordonstoun’s very own 80-foot sailboat, the Ocean Spirit of Moray). By the summer of year ten, all pupils have undergone enough sail training to sail the Ocean Spirit off the west coast of Scotland for five days.
Pupils also enjoy sailing expeditions on the school’s range of small vessels, which includes Toppers, Laser SB3s, and Devon Yawls. Gordonstoun runs its small boat activities under the aegis of the RYA. The site is recognised as an RYA training centre.
Duke of Edinburgh Award
Founded by alumnus Prince Philip, the infamous Duke of Edinburgh Award has its roots at Gordonstoun. The world’s leading youth achievement award encourages pupils to challenge themselves with a range of individual and team-based expeditions. Employers around the world recognise the award at all three levels – bronze, silver, and gold. As the home of the Duke of Edinburgh Award, all Gordonstoun students take on the programme to develop their leadership and teamwork skills.
From year nine, pupils take part in an extensive careers advice programme, which allows them to make informed decisions when selecting their GCSE subject options. Pupils continue to access career advice services from this point as Gordonstoun helps them make decisions surrounding post-16 education and higher-education opportunities.
Pupils who have additional learning needs may replace one of their language studies with learning support sessions, which they take in small groups, closely following Maths and English curricula content. Pupils may continue to access learning support throughout their senior years.
Gordonstoun’s library offers a wealth of reading materials and shadows the Carnegie Book Awards, Scottish Children’s Book Awards, and Grampian Children’s Book Awards. For those who read particularly widely, Gordonstoun allows inter-library loans from the University of Aberdeen and the British Library, which means pupils have access to a virtually limitless selection of books.
Pupils enjoy fortnightly reading lessons in the library, and many return to read during breaks, lunchtimes, and after school. The English teachers help pupils find the genres they enjoy most and develop a love for reading. Gordonstoun also arranges several events in the library, such as talks from visiting authors and a Christmas book fair supplied by the local Waterstones.
Expeditions and Experiences
As part of the Round Square Conference of Schools, Gordonstoun offers its sixth formers the chance to participate in global and regional conferences. It also offers year-ten pupils the opportunity to partake in once-in-a-lifetime international exchanges. Gordonstoun’s exchange programme involves 20–30 pupils living with pupils from a fellow Round Square school for all or some of a term. Gordonstoun has partnered with schools in Australia, New Zealand, India, North America, Europe, and Africa.
Some pupils also take part in international community projects, travelling to remote areas of Thailand on a water project or building greenhouses in the mountains of Peru.
Plus, during the summer term, year-ten pupils challenge themselves to complete expeditions that involve journeying on foot, bike, canoe, or kayak, through untouched landscapes.
‘Gordonstoun gave me an opportunity to develop my love for the hills and the mountains,’ says former pupil John. ‘I was put into situations which no one would ever normally experience, especially at my age.’
Year-eleven pupils give back to the community by supporting one of nine local services. While some help the coastguard rescue team, others support community action, conservation efforts, and first aid services. And some work with the school’s fully operational fire service, wearing a pager and responding to call-outs any time of the day or night. Community service is one of Gordonstoun’s founding principles, and pupils go the extra mile to make locals’ lives easier, putting the needs of others above their own.
Extended Project Qualification
When pupils progress into the sixth form, they can support their A Levels and university applications by taking the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). This qualification provides a useful springboard for personal statements and university interviews and is ideal for pupils who want to delve into their own fields of interest. Whether pupils write a dissertation, undertake an investigation, plan a field study, or give a performance, they must create a detailed diary of their progress, write a literature review, evaluate their work, and give a spoken presentation at the end of the year. It’s a challenge that many pupils enjoy and look back on fondly.
The Gordonstoun Diploma
When pupils finish their journeys at Gordonstoun, they receive their final Gordonstoun Diploma certificate. The Gordonstoun Diploma records each pupil’s achievements across the curriculum during their time at school. Pupils receive grades for their academic learning; outdoor learning; arts, culture, and sport; and citizenship and service, each of which is central to Gordonstoun’s vision and ethos.
Gordonstoun Virtual Taster Days
Families of prospective pupils who want to explore Gordonstoun can tune into virtual taster sessions, which the school launched during the COVID-19 pandemic. These sessions have proved a valuable way of showing families the school without them having to visit in person.