Fun in the fields, hi-tech in the classroom

Boarders at an idyllic state school in Shropshire work hard and play hard, reports Amy McLellan

Add classrooms with the latest computer wizardry, a performing arts centre and exam results in the top 5 per cent, and you have a setting worthy of some of the country's grandest private schools.

Yet this is a state school: Adams' Grammar in Newport, Shropshire. The school, founded by a wealthy London haberdasher in 1656, is today a specialist technology college. It takes 800 boys, including 100 boarders, with girls accepted in the sixth form. Education is free but there is a fee to cover the costs of boarding, which stands at £6,807 per year.

Boarding facilities are impressive. Younger boys live in Longford Hall, the Georgian mansion set in 100 acres of grounds and five-minute mini-bus ride from the main site. Seniors live in 18th-century town houses on the main site.

The boarding community includes pupils from Germany, Hong Kong and England, but most are drawn from families in the local catchment area. For many of these families, boarding is the best solution to busy modern lives. Year 9 pupil Iyare Nehikhare from Wolverhampton boards because both parents work long hours, while for classmate Oliver Snelling, bus routes to and from school are a problem. These are hands-on parents. "When you look at the sports touchline or the audience for the school play, a greater proportion of boarding parents are there," says the headmaster, Jim Richardson.

Boarders may be modest in number but their presence has an impact on the whole school, with day pupils benefiting from the many after-school activities. The list is extensive: sport figures highly but the youngsters also go for sign language, tobogganing, tree houses, fishing, the cadet force, musicals...

George Shi, now 17, started boarding in Year 7. At the time his family lived in London. "You don't have time to get homesick," he says. "When I first started I forgot I was in boarding school within a couple of hours. Because it's a small school, you make friends very quickly."

There is a strong emphasis on academic standards. As might be expected of a selective school, exam results are good: last summer, 69 per cent of A-level entries got top grades of A and B, and 97 per cent of pupils scored A*-C in their GCSEs.

Boarders are thought to have an edge in the academic stakes. Lee Hadley, the housemaster at Longford, explains: "If a boy is not performing well at school, it comes to me and we address it that night. That wouldn't happen with day boys. There's also a significant adult presence, with tutors on hand while they do their prep."

The school has to turn would-be boarders away because of lack of space, but there are no plans to expand. Instead, there is a programme of refurbishment and rebuilding.

Adams' is looking ahead to its 350th anniversary next year, a prospect that must have seemed bleak during the 1970s when it was regularly threatened with closure. Those dark days are long gone.

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