Army&You has been exploring the ace amenities on offer at some of the UK’s top independent schools. Here, Headmaster Alan Stevens takes us for a closer look at Barnard Castle School (barnardcastleschool.org.uk)…


Tell us about your school’s current facilities…
Barnard Castle School stands on the edge of the historic market town of Barnard Castle, which is built around the 12th century castle from which the town takes its name. Surrounded by stunning countryside within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it remains one of the most beautiful and safest areas to live and work in the United Kingdom yet is close enough to major cities and regional transport links to offer the best of both worlds. The school is fortunate too to call the internationally renowned Bowes Museum, with its world class exhibitions, its next door neighbour.

Within this setting, the school’s 50-acre estate of gardens, fields, pitches and courts provide a beautiful and inspirational backdrop for staff and pupils and are in use year-round for a host of sports, outdoor education and Combined Cadet Force and silver and gold Duke of Edinburgh’s Award activities. Our facilities are the venue of choice for organisations including English Cricket Board county junior matches, Newcastle Falcons RFC and Paris Saint-Germain Football Academy for summer training camps. Our indoor sports and leisure facilities include: a sports hall, squash courts, a heated swimming pool, gymnasium, weights room, dance studio, cricket pavilion and a rifle range.

Our state-of-the-art Sixth Form Centre opened in 2016 to provide an outstanding study and social space for our older students. Its versatile layout can be adapted to meet a range of needs, from one-to-one tutorials, seminars, lectures and presentations from guest speakers. It is also an exhibition space for arts events and social gatherings.

Facilities at the Preparatory School were extended in 2016 to incorporate a dedicated science laboratory and outdoor garden, additional classrooms, an outdoor stage and storytelling area, and an AstroTurf pitch. Prep School pupils have full use of the estate for PE and games, science investigations and as inspiration in creative arts.

Do you have any plans for future investment?
We are constantly striving to develop our learning and working environments and accommodation for our boarding community, the next stage of which is the refurbishment of accommodation for our younger boarders. As part of a re-organisation of boarding this year, the school is reintroducing Junior Boarding from September 2017 to provide dedicated provision for pupils from Year 3-Year 8.

Beyond this, our focus is on two priority capital projects:

  •    A dedicated Chemistry and Biology Building;
  •    A Sports Hub adjacent to the playing fields.

These two developments will, in turn, allow the redevelopment of existing facilities into new art studios.

The Barnard Castle School Foundation was formed in 2016 to be the focus of the school’s fundraising efforts for capital projects and the expansion of our long-standing bursary programme. It provides a structured approach to support future growth through the generation of funds, and the coming years will see a range of fundraising initiatives that will contribute to the school’s ambitious development plan.

What’s the jewel in your crown?
For many people, the stunning location of Barnard Castle School never fails to impress; our elevated, south-facing position offers views across the Tees Valley towards grouse moors with river, waterfalls and woodland on our doorstep.

At the heart of our school is our beautiful Chapel, which is dedicated to the Old Barnardians and masters who gave their lives in war. The focus of many gatherings throughout the year, Chapel is held in great affection by Old Barnadians, some of whom return to marry or have their children baptised here. It comes into its own especially at Christmas-time when lit by candlelight for our carol services.

Our ‘jewel’, however, is the Sixth Form Centre, whose modern, bright design blends seamlessly with the original Victorian period building from which the school has grown. Our Sixth Formers love it and benefit hugely from having their own, dedicated space for lessons, supervised and independent study and social time. Modern and technologically advanced, the centre reflects the ethos of our Sixth Form provision which is to help prepare our students for their futures by providing a professional working environment which encourages collaboration, teamwork and communication while also supporting independence and responsibility among our young adults.

What does having access to top-notch facilities mean to a child’s education?
Barnard Castle School has stunning grounds, historic buildings and many cutting edge facilities. An effective all-round education should be a rich combination of academic learning in fit-for-purpose classrooms balanced with equally fulfilling opportunities outside the classroom. Our facilities are conducive to both; our boys and girls benefit from plenty of time spent in the ‘great outdoors’ and an extensive extra-curricular programme of more than 100 activities each term, as well as learning in purpose-built environments.

However, what is even more important, and what visitors and parents remark upon more often, are the relationships, opportunities and experiences that define our children’s educational journeys. Daily life at Barney is characterised by an inclusive, family atmosphere where children feel part of a purposeful community that promotes a sense of pride, endeavour and tremendous fun. Our lack of pretension means we welcome a range of abilities, backgrounds, characters and cultures that add richness and diversity, supported by having a boarding community of pupils from all over the UK and the world. Every pupil is encouraged and supported to make use of the facilities and the opportunities available to them.

Why should parents pick your school based on your facilities?
Firstly, I wouldn’t recommend anyone to choose a school based on its facilities, however good they are, but rather to base their decision on the quality of relationships that exist between children and staff and among the children themselves. A visit will quickly show if espoused values are clearly alive and in practice every day and shaping the lives of happy children.

That said, from our beginnings as a school built to improve educational opportunities in the North of England, Barnard Castle School has continued to flourish and develop to ensure it provides the very best for its pupils.

Recent developments, for example for physics, ICT and Prep science, have been purpose-built with modern layouts and the latest technology to not only provide excellent teaching and learning environments, but also to be future proof.

The Music department is based in a dedicated, two-storey building, while drama benefits from a studio and performance space.

Barnard Castle School has an enviable reputation for sport and many former pupils have gone on to enjoy professional careers in sport, including a number of rugby internationals. Rory Underwood, England’s record try scorer and an Old Barnardian, says: “I have happy memories from Barney – I made lifelong friends, was set up to join the air force and was introduced to rugby! Thank you.”

Competitive sport begins in Year 3 so children have many years in which to develop their talent through house competitions and fixtures.

As well as our outstanding facilities, professional strength and conditioning coaching is available for those showing great potential as they move through the school.

What are your top three most used facilities?

  1. The Sixth Form Centre: Open every weekday from 8am-10pm, the Sixth Form Centre is the hub of life for Years 12 and 13. Its study facilities were designed around the notion of choice, acknowledging the fact that students prefer to work in different environments depending upon their task, their mood, the time of day and many another factors. During their study periods and at other times of day as well, Sixth Formers are able to choose to study in any of the seven distinct work areas, each with its own ambience and facilities. Classical music can often be heard playing quietly in the background, helping to maintain the perfect balance of activity and tranquility. As well as being a superb place to study, the Sixth Form Centre is a social area, popular at breaktimes, lunchtimes and after the normal school day. Boarders can use it as a social space in the early evening and until 10pm for study. It is also used for Sixth Form social events such as quiz nights and formal dinners. The bright, open plan central space also lends itself well to functions. In just one month, it will host art exhibition, be the venue for the local Rotary Young Musician of the Year contest and see a variety of guests speak in the Sixth Form lecture series.
  2. Outdoor sports facilities: Our 50-acres of grounds comprise multiple fields and grass pitches for seasonal games and activities including rugby, football, cricket, rounders, cross country and athletics. Floodlit AstroTurf pitches and courts for hockey, netball and tennis ensure year-round outdoor activity. Together with Sports Days, house matches, summer activity weeks and sports camps and coaching, the fields are in constant use.
  3. Atkinson Hall: This central space at Prep School is multi-functional and a venue for numerous events and activities, demonstrating the full and varied school life enjoyed by our youngest boys and girls. As well as hosting daily assemblies, being a supervised play space for early drop-off and its kitchen being used for food technology teaching, the hall is in constant use with activities including:
  • A stage for a three-performance run of the Year 3 and 4 play;
  • Have-a-Go music and vocal concerts;
  • Year 3 dance recital and weekend sleepover;
  • Pre-Prep Easter concert;
  • Year 6 Achievement Award Tourism Fair;
  • French Café and tea party in aid of Epilepsy in Action;
  • Safer Internet and How We Teach Mathematics presentations for parents;
  • Events run by the Barney Friends parents’ association, such as the staff and parents quiz night.

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