Army&You has been exploring the ace amenities on offer at some of the UK’s top independent schools. Here, headmaster Mark Dixon explains what makes Reigate’s Royal Alexandra & Albert School (raa-school.co.uk) so special…
Tell us about your school’s current facilities.
With 260 acres of private parkland designed by famed landscape artist Capability Brown at their disposal, pupils at the Royal Alexandra and Albert School do not lack space. Current facilities include floodlit all-weather sports pitches, a state-of-the-art Fitness Centre, eight lane 100m tartan sprint track, indoor swimming pool, and an Equestrian Centre.
But it’s not all about sports. The Bernard Sunley Sixth Form Centre was purpose built to support the academic studies of Sixth Formers. With three IT suites, a ‘break out room’ for group work, and ‘quiet zones’, the Sixth Form Centre is the perfect environment for the independent learning required to succeed at A Level.
Parents often comment on how spacious the School’s nine boarding houses are. Each house has two large common rooms and an IT suite to support pupils with their prep. The School’s location in Gatton Park means the boarding houses have stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
Do you have any plans for future investment?
In recent years, investment has been made in the School’s Bothy Music Centre, an acoustically-improved building with excellent resources including a suite of specialist Apple Mac computers. The School’s IT suites were also recently remodelled and high spec computers installed.
Pupils’ interests are listened to when deciding future investment. Recently, a new and dedicated ACF Centre was created as pupils were keen to join and be part of the Army Cadets.
And the investment continues. A further three grass pitches are planned to facilitate inter-school matches and increase capacity for more sporting events. The School’s Grade-II listed building and Sixth Form Boarding House, Gatton Hall, will also be extensively renovated and updated in the upcoming months to ensure its continued use by all in the school community.
What’s the jewel in your crown?
Not many state schools can boast an Equestrian Centre with a double American barn that houses 20 horses, tack rooms, classroom, feed room, kitchen and office. On top of that, there is a floodlit 40x50m outdoor sand school and a 20x30m indoor sand school.
Riding is one of the most popular activities at the School and pupils enjoy riding lessons, jumping clinics and taking part in Pony Club. Pupils are matched with horses the Centre’s experienced instructors feel will best improve their riding and horse management skills. Even when not taking part in a riding lesson, pupils enjoy being in the stables in their spare time, helping the instructors groom and take care of the horses.
As an accredited British Show Jumping Centre, the School’s Equestrian Centre also hosts show jumping competitions that pupils can take part in without having to leave the school grounds!
What does having access to top-notch facilities mean to a child’s education?
The range and quality of a school’s facilities is key in pupils’ development. Not only are good teaching facilities, such as interactive white boards and iPads, required in the classroom to engage and support learning, the importance of facilities that promote exercise and outdoor play cannot be underestimated. Facilities that stimulate pupils to get out, join activities and socialise with their peers are fundamental. After all, healthy and happy children learn better in the classroom.
Why should parents pick your school based on your facilities?
The Royal Alexandra and Albert School continues to invest in its facilities as it acknowledges the importance of a child’s boarding house feeling like home, filling pupils’ spare time with enjoyable activities, and creating a sense of community. Where do facilities come in? They are the foundations.
One aspect Sixth Form students particularly enjoy is that they feel very much part of a community. This is bolstered by the Sunley Centre, a hub where they can study, meet with the Sixth Form team, and socialise with their friends. Pupils have also discovered their love for equestrian sports because they happened to sign up for a riding lesson, although they previously had no interest in horses. For some, this has led to a career they never thought they would have.
Learning goes beyond the classroom, and the School’s extensive facilities help provide pupils with the space to grow and develop into the young people they want to be and discover talents they never thought they had.
What are your top three most used facilities?
Swimming and water activities are some of our most popular clubs in our extensive co-curricular activities programme. Junior pupils have regular lessons, and the swimming pool is open to all our pupils during the evenings.
The School opens its astro pitch every evening for activities such as football, hockey and rugby training, but also for pupils to be able to play with their friends. As the all-weather pitch is floodlit every evening, pupils can play outside for longer.
Pupils have the opportunity to access the Fitness Suite during PE lessons but also during time slots in the evenings throughout the week. They enjoy letting off steam or doing a good exercise session after a full day of lessons.