Charterhouse is a famous school with a big reputation. There are more
traditions than you can shake a stick at and a special language that bemuses
outsiders (dinner is homebill, a lesson is a hash, prep is banco, the list
goes on). Despite this heritage, Charterhouse is increasingly cutting edge.
Boarding for only boys 13-16, until the arrival of girls for the sixth-form
(boarding and day) keeps the boys and beaks (teachers), on their toes, while
their facilities are second to none. The great emphasis at Charterhouse is on
contributing: less academic students are encouraged to immerse themselves in
sports for instance, while bad behaviour can be excused by general
participation in school life. Opting out is not an option for Carthusians.
Background and Reputation
Charterhouse has weathered its share of storms over the years, from price
fixing to failing to get Gary Lineker’s son into university. Perhaps the most
serious criticism leveled against the school though, is that it is too archaic
to be in touch with the modern world. However in recent years particularly,
this argument holds less and less water. Charterhouse, at the instigation of
its Headmaster John Witheridge, has spearheaded the new system of Cambridge
pre-U exams as an alternative to A Levels; this, though controversial at the
time, especially for such a historically conservative school, has paid off,
with 100% of school leavers going onto to Higher Education (13% to Oxbridge).
The school also seems to have got the hang of the work play balance. Though
lessons are taken seriously, almost as much emphasis is placed on the other
departments. All-rounders or arty types will benefit just as much from a
Charterhouse education as the lab-bound straight A students.
Academic and Exit Results
Charterhouse’s move to the pre-U Cambridge Exam system, though a dramatic
change, has not affected the school’s capacity to get top-notch results out of
its students. Though the stress of Pre-U is said to be substantially greater
than that of A Levels: the subjects are not modular and as there is not an AS
equivalent, they are graded by a huge final exam, the Charthusians seem to be
no worse off for the pressure. In 2012, 96% of pre-U exams were awarded
Distinction or Merit grades. 78 pupils achieved Distinctions (or their A level
equivalent) in all subjects taken and 21 got the equivalent of A level A*
grades in all of their subjects. Charterhouse’s 2012 GCSE results are the
third strongest ever achieved by the School. 43% of subjects taken were graded
at A* and the figure for A* and A grades combined was 78%. All Charterhouse
students take a minimum of 9 GCSEs: nine pupils this year gained straight A*
grades and 41 achieved all A*s and As.
Social and Pastoral
Charterhouse is a deeply social place. There is great emphasis on school
bonding; activities are organized, like the famous 50-mile walk for lower
sixth, with the express objective of everyone getting to know each other. As a
result Charterhouse can seem rather a closed community to outsiders; and the
girls, when they arrive in the sixth form, typically find it difficult in the
beginning, though when they’re in they’re in for life, and say they feel as
though they have been at there forever. A great strength of the pastoral care
is the house system. Each has a dedicated housemaster; deputy master and
matron to keep an eye on things, though as a rule Charthusians are given a
great deal of freedom.
Sport, Art, Music and Drama
Sport at Charterhouse is a big thing; for a school that claims to have co-
created football this is perhaps not surprising. The best thing about
Charterhouse sport is that although it’s fiercely competitive and played to
the very highest standard (the school is regularly in the Public Schools
Football Association cup final and hosts, and contributes players to county
matches on it’s cricket pitch), less sporty types have a huge range of
activities to participate in as well: from Trampolining Club (a great
favourite with the 6 younger boys too) to Fencing. The facilities at
Charterhouse are eye-wateringly impressive, and its pupils do them justice.
Large swathes of the week and weekend are given over to sports and the
school’s top athletes are treated with reverence bordering on adoration: banco
is generally waived after a big win. Not many schools can boast having a BP
Portrait Award winner as their Head of Art, but Charterhouse can. Under Peter
Monkton’s direction the school’s Art Department, though always strong, has
entered a new phase in its life. Don’t expect just still lives and clay
figurines. If you go and look around the department, but instillations,
animations and vast sculptures. One of the things that the Art Department has
on its side is its size: the purpose built ‘studio’ is vast and put to good
use. No project is discouraged on the basis of its scope; in fact the
challenge is relished. ‘The more ambitious the better’ is the department’s
credo. Charterhouse music is prominent, not just within the school (there
arefrequently ten minute reciptals during quarter (break) and an Oratorio
choir that lifts the ancient rafters) but also outside of it. Perhaps taking
the lead from Vaughan Williams, who is a alumnus, there is more stress on
individual composition than is common at school. To walk past any of the
souped-up practice rooms of the music department is to be treated to a
cacophony of intriguing sound. For, although there are masses of staff-run
orchestras, choirs and quartets, there are even more informal student bands
and rap groups. The upshot is that school life is full of recitals, often in
the main hall but also spontaneously around the school. The best thing about
Drama at Charterhouse is the sheer quantity and range of the plays it puts on.
Within a typical year the school will stage around 8th full-length plays; from
Cabaret to Hamlet there is always something brewing. Participation in these
productions takes a huge range of forms; nothing, whether it is lights,
costumes or ticket collecting is left to the staff. There is something so
theatrical about Charterhouse and it’s students that it would be surprising if
its drama department was in any way lack-luster. Happily it is far from this.
Parents often go, and take friends to see, plays that their children are in no
way affiliated with, as it just as good but cheaper than the West End.
Charterhouse is strong on societies. There are over 40 societies, organized by
both student and teachers, and three school newspapers. In keeping with the
school ethos of contribution, these are given a great deal of attention and
encouragement from the staff and academic departments. Another great thing
about going to such an active school is the organized outdoor activities.
Throughout the school, students take part in Monday Activities, which are
generally outdoor pursuit, like cycling or archery, and two weekends a year
are given over to expeditions.