Good Schools Guide – 2024 Review

The Good Schools Guide says… A school with a kind heart where happy pupils thrive

Reigate Grammar School in the words of reviewer, Susannah Cannell, June 2024

Since 2012, Shaun Fenton OBE MA PGCE MEd NPQH FCCT. Born in Liverpool, educated at Haberdashers’ Aske’s and Oxford University (PPE). Having accepted he was unlikely to fulfil his early ambition to play in goal for Liverpool football club, head embarked on a career in accountancy. This was quickly abandoned in favour of one in education. PGCE (Oxford) and then to a succession of increasingly challenging comprehensives in London, Yorkshire and Hertfordshire where he forged his reputation as a trouble-shooter and an innovator. Jumped ship into the selective independent sector as head of Pate’s Grammar School in Cheltenham and then to RGS.

Parents and brother involved in the music and performance industry but, ‘I have the best job in the family,’ he told us. He was not short of succinct quotes to illustrate his evident love of teaching. ‘You get to see the future every day,’ was surpassed shortly after by, ‘I feel I am a solar panel and the children are the sun.’

Early in his tenure, head relocated his office so that he would be next to the playground and thus ‘in the thick of it’, rather than being tucked away in a quieter and more glamorous part of the building. Father of four, two at university, one at the school and another (hopefully) joining soon. Parents are relieved as this suggests he won’t be heading off any time soon, a fact he confirmed when asked. He’s hoping for at least another ten years that, ‘Will be even more exciting than the last ten.’ The biggest challenge is ‘getting it right’. Valuing each child and ensuring that they know they are valued is central. Head is refreshingly honest about teenagers (they are not all paragons of virtue) but is also full of admiration for them, their potential and their myriad complexities.

Parents and staff told us, ‘He is not just busy. He is dynamic and purposeful.’ They describe his constant flow of ideas and initiatives but are all adamant that, ‘Nothing is done for the sake of it. Nothing is done without reason.’ One parent admitted initially to have been, ‘a little frightened of him as he is terribly impressive, with lots of letters after his name.’ The fear was soon dispelled, thankfully.

Pupils are genuinely fond of the head and appreciate his work ethic, his fairness, his attendance at school events (even multiple showings of the same production) and his sense of fun. An ice rink was installed in the run up to Christmas and the head was to be found, dressed in red with a white beard and a jolly laugh. ‘Very big on the personal touch’; personalised welcome cards for all joiners, birthday cards for those celebrating birthdays and, in the term that pupils turn thirteen, an invitation to tea. A couple of pupils we met were heading off that very afternoon, slightly flushed with excitement.

Teaching and learning

High academic ambitions with enjoyment but without undue pressure is the modus operandi here. The focus is on pupils and making sure they are happy and settled.

One of the school’s USPs is that pupils select their GCSEs at the end of year 8, completing the course in three rather than two years. The rationale for this is compelling: plenty of time to go at a steady pace, less pressure, the chance to veer away from the confines of the curriculum if interest is piqued, and lots of consolidation. ‘There are also more opportunities to make mistakes and to recover,’ one parent explained. Parents universally applaud this approach. One told us, ‘We like it. A lot.’ No option blocks to limit choice. Six compulsory subjects (English language, English literature, maths and three separate sciences) plus four (or more) others which can be changed up until October half term. No compulsion to select a foreign language for those who feel their strengths lie elsewhere (another popular decision). Alongside GCSE courses, modular non-examined ‘electives’ enable students to develop other interests and skills (forensic psychology, a recent offering, looked particularly intriguing).

The father of one boy explained, ‘Outside tutoring is completely unnecessary,’ and praised the provision of maths support describing maths club, drop ins and revision classes as ‘fantastic’.

At A level, maths is far and away the most popular subject choice; very healthy numbers taking sciences, economics and humanities. An increasing number of BTECs (sport, business and applied science) available for those with a more technical or practical bent. Typically, students who opt for this route take a BTEC Extended Diploma (equivalent to 3 A Levels) and an A Level. Results thus far have been excellent.

Students are engaged and happy in lessons. We heard laughter in abundance but also witnessed intense concentration and intelligent debate. In a theology and philosophy lesson a small group of sixth form students discussed situation-based decisions (and Agapeic calculus). Articulate and thoughtful, they asked questions, voiced opinions and tried to reconcile theory with possible practical implications. Fascinating.

In science, the pupils do ‘loads of experiments.’ Familiar rooms; slightly scuffed wooden benches with gas outlets for Bunsen burners and, on the walls, remnants of blue tac, posters relating to safety, and the inevitable periodic tables. Looking up, we noticed a large black scorch mark on the ceiling. Apparently, students had watched (from a safe distance) a demonstration about why you should not throw water on a chip pan fire. Expressing a modicum of alarm, we were reassured that the experiment had gone precisely according to plan. Looking around, we realised that the mark on the ceiling was not an isolated one: this was evidently a lesson that many children have learnt over the years. We suspect that not one of them, faced with burning oil, will make the mistake of thinking water will solve the problem.

School takes a ‘proactive and positive approach’ to careers advice but parents with a preconceived idea of what they would like their offspring to be doing in three, seven, ten or 15 years may find these plans scuppered. The emphasis here is on each student forging their own path, following their own interests and developing their own skillset.

As important exams approach, all students are carefully guided by staff mentors. Helping students organise their time efficiently and ensuring each one has ‘a plan’ lowers anxiety and the idea is to ensure they ‘peak at the right time.’ As with so much at this school, keeping confidence high and stress levels low, is the priority.

Learning support and SEN

School caters for a range of educational needs and disabilities. Around 15 per cent of pupils access learning support and parents praise both the offering and the way in which it is administered. Pupils with EHCPs welcomed; lifts ensure any with mobility difficulties can access all areas.

Very positive about neurodiversity. ‘You can’t have real excellence without diversity of thinking,’ the head explained. A recent neurodiversity immersion experience, with an impressive interactive display designed to educate and inform, saw neurodiverse students speaking to other pupils as well as to children from local prep schools about their diagnoses, their strengths and the challenges they face.

ASD, ADHD, dyslexia and EAL specialists within the learning support team and lots of resources and adjustments made in school to accommodate needs and ensure all pupils are supported. Alongside this, numerous minor interventions for individuals and small groups address difficulties with specific areas such as maths and spelling. School keen to stress that they remain ‘open-minded, continuously exploring new avenues to meet evolving needs’.

The arts and extracurricular

There is plenty of exciting stuff going on. Innovative drama curriculum focused, when we visited, on theatre in education: drama as a means by which to educate and designed to involve (not just entertain) the audience while addressing issues such as depression and alcoholism. Productions, often in conjunction with the music department, are ambitious and impressive. Major productions, three a year, open to all above second year (year 8) often performed offsite including, most recently, at Leatherhead theatre. First form has their own production. ‘Definitely go to RGS if you want drama,’ advised a parent.

When asked about music at the school, a parent resorted to a simple, ‘Wow!’ Numerous choirs (including for staff and parents), orchestras, bands, ensembles and groups involving musicians playing all genres and at all levels. Copious tours and concerts with a recent whole school performance at the O2 a significant highlight.

Artwork throughout the school is big (including in terms of the sizes of the canvases) and stunning. Art and DT studios, both hives of industry and creativity, with students so focused on their work many failed to notice us wandering around and peering over their shoulders.

When it comes to extracurricular, the offering is diverse, extensive and often driven by the students themselves. Choice is a watchword as the school wants to ‘let children be architects of their own futures’. How any of them decide which to select from the 170 plus on offer is something of a mystery, but they do.


Onsite facilities are supplemented by an impressive 32-acre site at Hartswood, a ten-minute coach journey away.

Hockey, cricket, football and rugby (for boys and girls) the core sport options. Netball too for girls. In year 9, those for whom the main sports lack appeal can switch to multi-sports and the likes of swimming, trampolining, archery, tennis and ultimate frisbee (at which the school excels). Participation in Saturday sport is not compulsory but more than 400 students playing sport each weekend come rain or shine. Ample opportunities to play and to excel with plenty of notable team and individual successes at county, regional and national level.

‘Highly competitive, serious sport is there for many, but fully inclusive sport engagement is there for all,’ we were told. One parent summed it up, ‘There’s a lot of choice and little compulsion.’

Ethos and heritage

The school has come a very long way since its foundation in the 17th century. The main building – high-ceilinged with sash windows and wooden lockers in corridors – sits alongside numerous newer additions, including the impressive Harrison Centre (opened in 2018). This contains the stunning library (open 8 am until 6 pm), the careers resource centre and the sixth form centre where the 250 or so students socialise, work and relax while enjoying coffee and irresistible food offerings, including hot panini at lunchtime. Plans for further expansion are in the pipeline.

An ongoing fundraising campaign, ‘changing lives, building futures’ has recently benefitted charities relating to mental health, the homeless, foodbanks, cancer research and domestic abuse. The school ‘is embedded in the local community’ with year 9 students heading off to read with children in local primaries or help in homes for the elderly, while a lower sixth youth enterprise scheme is raising funds for palliative care at the nearby St Catherine’s hospice. Further afield, RGS International is expanding its portfolio of both commercial and non-commercial schools across the globe with the incorporation of not-for-profit schools in Vietnam and Cape Town. As with much else, it is not all about the bottom line: it’s about doing the right thing. The head, ‘is the driving force behind most of the good stuff that goes on,’ we were told.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

The consensus is that pastoral care is prioritised and is top notch. ‘Magnificently good,’ explained one parent, with staff quick to respond, to act and then to check in with parents after if appropriate. This care is not confined to students but extends to the whole family. ‘They’ve got your back and they’ve got your precious child’s back too,’ a parent told us.

Consistent with its general ethos of tolerance and acceptance, inclusivity is in this school’s DNA. ‘All religions, races and genders are celebrated’, we were told, and students are encouraged and supported to be proud of who they are.

Joiners in year 7 go into school the day before the new academic year begins and each is allocated a sixth form mentor with whom they meet weekly. One parent described the day that her son, ‘Went in terrified and came out beaming.’ While newbies get their bearings, a map of the site plus a time allowance at the start of lessons make navigating the complexities of the extensive site significantly less daunting. The first week is very much a ‘getting to know you’ time and there is no homework for the first three weeks to encourage pupils to join clubs and to socialise with new friends. Pupils who join at 13+ are also thoughtfully assimilated. Relationships are the backbone of the school and, to this end, heads of year move up with their cohort at the end of each academic year thus ensuring a smooth passage for both parents and pupils.

Pastoral care is ‘not just platitudes and words’, but is genuine, helpful and pragmatic. No stigma at all in admitting you are experiencing some sort of difficulty. A dedicated wellbeing centre with well-qualified staff contains the snug, a place to go ‘if you don’t feel OK’.

On the last school day before pupils headed off for their pre-exam revision, the playground was transformed into a fairground complete with candyfloss, dodgems and a Ferris wheel. Exams are a serious matter, but so is having  fun.

Pupils we spoke to agreed that school rules are fair and reasonable. The basic premiss is that relationships, not rules, dominate the behaviour code. Rather than being told not to walk on a particular side of the corridor, for example, they are reminded to avoid bumping into people. Extending this analogy to other unwanted behaviours, the head explained, ‘If they go down the wrong corridor, guide them.’

Merits are given for ‘things you do that are nice or good’ (good homework, impressive contributions in class, participating in house swimming just some of the things mentioned). We asked whether doing something kind might attract a merit. ‘Oh no,’ we were told, ‘kindness is just a given.’

Pupils and parents

Historically, most very local but, as the reputation of the school has grown, so too has the catchment area and now coaches ferry pupils from Guildford, Purley, Cobham, Oxted and Crawley. Scanning the list of Old Reigatians, among the usual roster of sportsmen, bishops and captains of industry was ‘woodsman’ Ray Mears and a certain Keir Starmer. All the parents we spoke to admit to the pride they feel about being part of the Reigate family. ‘With something this good, it’s important that as many children as possible benefit.’

Money Matters

Plenty of scholarships of relatively little (if any) monetary value. Means tested bursaries of up to 100 per cent for 15 per cent of pupils (hopefully doubling within a decade). One parent told us that, even for those paying the full whack, ‘the school is good value for money.’


Around 400 applications for 150 to 160 places. Head is resisting any temptation to move to online assessments. Around 30 per cent join from one of the three linked prep schools: Chinthurst, Reigate St Mary’s and, most recently, Micklefield. Pupils from these three schools who reach the necessary academic bar get early offers in year 5 which need to be accepted soon after to secure. Around 100 from over 75 other feeder schools within a 20-mile radius. Approximately equal numbers from state and independent. Head values (massively) relationships with prep and primary heads and references are critical. Academic prowess not necessarily a priority but ‘peacemakers are very welcome’. At 13+, a small intake (10 to 15) from prep schools that go to thirteen. At 16+, around 30 from a mix of local state secondaries and independent schools.


A small number (around 20) leave after GCSEs, usually for financial reasons, relocation, or for courses of specific interest. Post A level, most popular universities are Durham, Imperial, Bristol, UCL, Bath, Southampton, Manchester, Warwick, Surrey, Liverpool, Birmingham and Loughborough. A few to art school and overseas to US colleges such as Princeton and Berkeley. In 2023, 15 to Oxbridge and 18 medics/vets.

Latest results

In 2023, 86 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 75 per cent A*/A at A level (95 per cent A*-B).

The last word

A big, busy school with a kind heart. Underpinning everything is the conviction that happy pupils thrive and do well. Tangible happiness in and out of the classroom, exciting lessons with plenty of practical work, phenomenal extracurricular offerings, and fantastic relationships between students, staff and parents. All under the eye of the watchful, dynamic Mr Fenton, ‘A great captain of the ship.’

One happy parent summed it up. ‘Children, whatever they are like, have the opportunity to flourish at this school.’


View the review on the Good Schools Guide website by clicking here.

For a downloadable version click here.


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