Eton College

Logo of Eton College

Pupils Info

Gender – Boys School
Age range – Age 11-18
Number of pupils on roll – 1300 pupils


Average Class Size: 20
Oxbridge Entrance Percentage: 30%
A* to B at A-Level Percentage: 96%

“It’s officially over; nepotism is dead” complains one distressed father who comes from a “family of Etonians” as he laments that his youngest son (of three) hasn’t passed the entrance exam. For some this new beat to the old tune is an upsetting moment, for others it smells of sweet meritocracy. “We do not want to be a finishing school for the titled and the rich”, declares Headman Tony Little, and today’s Eton is far from that. The school still provides the best education money can buy. It may not be handed on a plate to the same types of people that it did a generation ago, but the outstanding quality of teaching, the fantastic extra-curricular and the awe-inspiring surroundings remain the same. Built in 1440 by Henry VI to educate “young men to the service of the church and state”, Eton is steeped in history. The boys “live in a rich cultural environment”. Whether one considers the rare manuscripts and books in the school libraries, the ancient buildings and traditions, the famous alumni or the bizarre school words and phrases that are still used today, Eton is a place of culture and heritage. That said, they have state-of- the-art facilities in every department but not in a way that jars with the historic landscape. Leaving its footprint in the past, Eton is striving into the future. The year ahead is an exciting one: Starting in September 2013, Eton will oversee an initiative that sponsors three boys from disadvantaged Liverpool backgrounds to spend two years at Eton. September 2014 will see the launch of Holyport College, a state-funded academy for which Eton will be the sole educational sponsor. With a mixture of day and boarding pupils, Holyport will give the less privileged an Eton-style education, sharing sporting facilities, science initiatives and access to inspiring talks and lectures. At least 100 of the 500 places will be given to children in care or in danger of being taken into care. Eton is already one of six schools that sponsor the London Academy of Excellence, a sixth form college in Newham, London. So it is not all “me, me, me” with this lot; sigh of relief.

Background and Reputation

Reader, please note, this glowing review should come with a disclaimer: Eton is not for everyone. There are many boys who have been there and flourished; most do; there are a few however who get lost in the maelstrom and are left by the wayside. Some can’t keep up academically, others find it socially challenging and retreat into themselves. As I say, it’s not for everyone. But given the opportunity to go there, this editor certainly would. Aside from Prince William and Harry, eighteen former Prime Ministers and about half of our present Cabinet, Eton has educated a real eclectic mix of boys from different nationalities, backgrounds and faiths. Don’t get hung up by that somewhat chippy and invariably narrow-minded description (usually delivered by Old Harrovians!) of the ‘arrogant Etonian’. An Eton education doesn’t automatically mean the army, or the Bar, or 2.3 children living in a Stately learning to ride, hunt, shoot and fish. Let’s take James Mallinson (a.k.a Jagdish Das), a Hindu monk living in Himachal Pradesh, and possibly the first baronet to wear dreadlocks, or his friend Dominic West, the chiselled beauty starring in the American drama The Wire. Old Etonians end up in a full range of varied careers. Even a handful of (mostly petty) criminals have passed by the ‘Burning Bush’ (another inexplicable Eton phrase referring to a lamppost frequently used as a meeting point) – Darius Guppy, Lord Brockett, Charlie Mortimer to name a few. “Self-confidence without arrogance, enthusiasm unfettered by cynicism, perseverance to withstand setbacks and active tolerance of others” are qualities that Eton hopes to instil in its pupils and, in our view, they achieve this mission beautifully. Self-assured, polite, articulate, occasionally self-deprecating (but only through a charming politeness rather than genuine lack of confidence) and independent-minded is how we found the present and past pupils we interviewed. All had a good sense of humour, which is possibly best demonstrated by ‘Eton Style’ – a parody of the chart topping hit ‘Gangnam Style’ – produced by a number of boys last year. It includes lyrics about being ‘awkward’ and not being able to talk to women, “we’re just too shy”. We saw no evidence of that. What this self- mocking YouTube hit does reveal, however, is the multi-ethnicity of modern day Eton. It could be mistaken for a Benetton advert and in our books, that’s no bad thing. If there ever was such a thing as the stereotypical Etonian, it is of bygone days.

Academic and Exit Results

A*s all round; literally. They have no plans to move to IB, arguing that the benefit of IB is breadth of education, which they are already able to offer. A-levels are taught alongside an increasing number of Pre-Us (Pre-university qualifications that aim to prepare students for higher education with a more exciting and challenging syllabus than the current A-levels provide). Stellar results see the vast majority getting into first-choice universities in the UK and increasingly in the US. Pupils have internal examinations in the Michaelmas and summer terms that keep them on their toes. The full range of results used to be published on a pin board, but it is claimed that since Prince Harry always came so close to the bottom, they no longer publish the lower half! This could be an urban myth. They aim to “stretch the boundaries of individual ability” and, in line with this, the boys meet their academic tutors once a week. Eton is unrivalled in terms of the range of subjects offered: eleven modern and classic languages housed in state-of-the-art language schools. The boys have access to an incredibly extensive range of libraries containing rare books and manuscripts, online resources, laboratories etc. Special Educational Needs (SEN) is supported by extremely advanced Learning Centre – an educational psychologist spent over a year researching before setting it up. They are brilliant during the diagnostic stages; each new boy sits an ‘F’ test in literacy in his second week of school and, should any concerns arise, an assessment is arranged and any special educational needs are supported for as long as necessary.

Sport, Art, Music and Drama

‘Wet bobs’ (rowers), ‘dry bobs’ (cricketers), and of course ‘slack bobs’ (I’ll leave that up to your imagination) are a few more bizarre terms used in the Eton vernacular. The sports are superb. Supported by state of the art facilities, everything is on offer. They have a national standards athletics stadium and an international standards rowing lake that was the site for the 2012 London Olympics. For those who want to escape the mainstream activities, there’s always beagling. I have it on high authority that this activity largely consists of sitting in woods smoking contraband cigarettes and waiting for some dogs (sorry, ‘hounds’) to sniff around followed by long teas (“sometimes we’re given beer”) at one of the dutiful parent’s nearby houses. The Fourth of June (confusingly this is not always held on the 4th June, but the name marks George III’s birthday) is an upmarket sports day – more a Krug than scotch eggs kind of affair. The famous ‘Procession of Boats’ has mothers weeping on the banks of the river as the boys float past singing the Eton Boating Song (first performed in 1863), raising their oars and tipping their flower-laden boaters to the parents. Gosh, it really is very romantic. The Drawing Schools are, though I’m now conscious of over-using superlatives, the very best we’ve seen. They are a league above most professional studios with outstanding facilities including not one, but two 3D printing machines. For those of you who aren’t yet up to speed with what the Dickens 3D printing is, check it out on TED talks. Music? Again, insanely brilliant with fantastic practice rooms, recording studios and sound technology suites. Over a thousand one-to-one music lessons are taught each week and as a result Eton can boast some highly accomplished musicians. House concerts enable the less confident or less talented to have a chance at performing. Theatre? Again (this is getting boring) is unrivalled with around twenty productions being put on each year, many of which are written, directed and performed by the students. Acting alumni include Tom Hiddleston, Eddie Redmayne and Dominic West – to name but the most obvious who are dominating our screens and stages today.

Social and Pastoral

While many boys schools have surrendered their uniforms in favour of the ‘suit and tie’ look, Eton resolutely hangs on to what outsiders might confuse with a bizarre amalgamation of black tie and wedding attire. There’s a real knack to those stiff collars. Archaic traditions live on like the privilege of wearing your choice of waistcoat if selected for ‘pop’ (that’s a prefect to you and me; but don’t worry if the Eton ‘lingo’ is confusing you, they’ve generously dedicated an entire section on their website to an Eton Glossary for those who need to get up to speed). Eton is a full boy’s boarding school; there are no day or weekly pupils. During the course of its 400 year history, there has been the (very) odd case of a Master’s daughters being educated with the boys, but this is very rare indeed. There are 25 houses; they are largely known by the housemaster’s initials though the buildings themselves have names. Some houses eat ‘in house’, others go to a centralised canteen known as Bekynton. The houses are small and intimate, with about ten boys per year group. The housemaster is the main point of contact for the parents. Only in very dire situations will you been called in to meet the Head- or Lowerman. Therefore the choice of house is of the upmost importance. “Your housemaster is everything; if he’s got your back then he has the power to support and defend you if you get in trouble, but if he doesn’t like you, he can make your life hell; so it’s really worth getting that choice right.” From the first year (F Block), all boys have their own rooms. The ones we saw were perfectly nice but certainly not what a Saudi Prince would be used to. Great pastoral care that starts with the housemaster, who is supported by the Dame (house matron): “boys are encouraged to talk about problems to those who can help, but also to find their own solutions” (Prospectus). For serious problems they have school councillors, chaplains, an Imam and Jewish and Hindu tutors. They welcome boys of any faith or no faith at all. There is formal worship on Sundays for Anglicans and Roman Catholics, but leaders of other faiths are available to minister to their own groups. Daily chapel is attended by all the boys, irrespective of religion: “I think it’s more about coming together as a school than genuine religious contemplation”.


There are numerous clubs and societies that have conventional and some decidedly unconventional focuses. From Politics, Literature, Medicine, Philosophy, Photography, Conservation to magic, film making, music production and martial arts; there is something for everyone

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