Myddelton College, Denbigh, North Wales
A go-getter, non-selective co-ed boarding school based in jaw-dropping natural surroundings. Myddelton's emphasis on elite sport and all-rounder credentials are an immediate attraction.
Opened in 2016, Myddelton College is a non-selective co-ed day and boarding school for 7–18-year-olds in the heart of Denbigh, North Wales, with 275 students with a 50/50 split of boys to girls and 25% boarders – a mix of international students and local kids (Chester and Liverpool are only an hour away, and Manchester 90 minutes). Class sizes are small, ranging from 10 to a maximum of 18 students.
Unusually for a school in the centre of town, Myddelton’s Grade II handsome grey stone Victorian buildings, founded by the Worshipful Company of Drapers in 1859 and used by Howell’s School until 2012, cover a luxurious 37.5 acres. With views out onto the Clwydian Range, the school sits in the shadow of the remains of the 13th century fortress of Denbigh Castle giving it an enchanted feel – no surprise to hear, then, that Myddelton’s Great Hall was just pipped to the post as a location for Harry Potter.
Particularly in terms of sport, I’d say extensive. There’s a full-size football pitch, rugby pitch, 4 tennis courts, indoor climbing wall, dance studio, large gym and an equestrian facility that’s just been given a £30,000 revamp with stabling for 10 horses and ponies, two 20-foot by 40-foot all-weather arenas, plus a ten-acre field with easy bridleway access. And in case you’re crying, ‘Hang on, where’s the caving simulator?’, don’t worry, it has one of those too.
After an opening roll of 105 students in 2016, Myddelton has since tripled enrolment. Current head Andrew Allman was hired in 2017 to boost academic standards, and clearly he’s succeeded! Certainly within Myddelton there’s now an expectation of academic attainment amongst staff and pupils. A level results for 2021 were 70% A*-A Grades and 99% A*-C Grades, while GCSE grades were 55% A*-A Grades and 91% A*-C Grades. No Oxbridge leavers this year but the roll call of Russell Group go-getters is impressive, with pupils taking up places at the universities of Bath, York, Edinburgh, Warwick, Manchester, Leeds and even Central Saint Martins – the Oxbridge of the fashion world. For the last three years, 100% of school leavers have gone to their first-choice university which is no mean feat.
Subject wise, the studying options offered at Myddelton are largely traditional I’d say, with a couple of interesting caveats – Chinese GCSE/A Level, a BTEC in Film and TV Production and, a first for me to come across, Marine Science offered at AS and A Level. So I think there is an appetite for educational adventure here, and perhaps with more pupils in the coming years, we’ll see an increase in further innovative subjects.
Though Myddelton clearly delivers academically, there’s no doubt that its elite sporting programmes in football, tennis, equestrian and outdoor adventure learning offer a USP that few other schools offer.
Working in consultation with Tennis Wales on its programme, Myddelton is the only school in Wales that integrates tennis education as part of the curriculum under head coach John Whitehall (former Performance Coach of the year at the British Tennis Awards), as well as allowing pupils to complete official Lawn Tennis Association Coaching badges – great for UCAS applications (not to mention holiday earnings).
In football, Myddelton partners with Advance Player Development (APD), an organisation that’s helped over 50 players gain professional and semi-professional contracts, with alumni including Darko Gjabi (Manchester City and England), Malcolm Ebiowei (Glasgow Rangers and England) and Lizzie Waldie (Crystal Palace). Again there’s the chance to gain coaching badges as well as take up an internship with APD.
Meanwhile, equestrians are offered specialist training and tuition provided they own their own horse or pony, though those without can long-term lease for an extra cost.
This is all great if you’re a talented sportsman or woman, but it’s gratifying to see that the benefit of this expertise and talent moves through the school to all pupils – in September for example, Myddelton starts a ‘Pony Stars’ programme in association with the British Horse Society – open to all students and focusing not just on riding, grooming and to muck out but animal welfare, kindness and conservation with a sticker book, badgers and rosettes to keep them motivated to learn.
Myddelton College has two current boarding houses – St. Georges for students aged 11-16 and Thomas Howell’s House for students aged 16-18. Facilities have recently been refurbished and every student from 11 years up has his or her own room – that’s pretty unusual, most schools I visit graduate to private rooms for sixth formers only.
Both boarding houses have the expected large common areas with study spaces, kitchen facilities, and a relaxed seating area with television and games console, and when they’re not hanging out at ‘home’ the kids zip out on day trips over the weekend to local activity centres and the local cities of Manchester and Liverpool. 50% of the boarders are currently international students across 17 nationalities, giving the houses a cosmopolitan air – expect weekly themed evenings from Spanish tapas nights to parties for Chinese New Year.
There’s a breakfast club for early drop-offs from 7:45am, with latest pick-up time a relatively early 5pm, though if you really can’t make it, you can easily fall back on flexi-boarding (£40 per session) – it’s rare that day pupils can’t be accommodated.
THE HEAD TEACHER
Andrew Allman is a man with ideas – it was his initiative, for example, to push through the elite sports and give Myddelton a specialist calling card even as he emphasises the ‘all-rounder’ nature of Myddelton. Friendly and clearly invested in the school, he’s now applied for an expansion to include Reception, Y1 and Y2 (the school currently starts at Y3). Next up for investment? The basketball court and 5-a-side football pitch, plus the two dormant boarding houses.
Quirky? Hmm, not so much. Innovative, definitely. Its Adventure Education, Elite Sports programme, 5G network that comes with being Wales’s only Microsoft Global Showcase independent school, and the prominence of the CCF all point to a concerted attempt to offer something more than a ‘traditional’ education.
The school was reviewed by the Inspectorate for Education and Training in Wales in March 2019 and passed the appropriate standard regulations. See report. Worth noting that the Adventure Education programme so impressed the inspectorate that they subsequently asked the school to write a case study on its provision for other schools to use.
Reasonable. Fees start at £3,000 per a term for prep day pupils and £4,000 for senior day students. Fees stay the same regardless of age for boarders, who pay £9,800 (UK students) and £12,200 (international) per term. There’s also the option to board on a weekly basis for £6,600 per term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
A growing reputation locally has seen Myddelton add an extra 100 pupils for September 21. Parents love the strong outdoor ethos, pastoral care and the family atmosphere here that comes with the cosy cohort.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those looking for a school with balance – strong academics are the given, but there’s an all-rounder emphasis at Myddelton as well as a healthy emphasis on personal wellbeing. The strong international cohort (30%) is a healthy, worldly counterbalance to the rural location.
Not for: The relatively small cohort might not suit those who want to be a small fish in a big pond. The school is like many Grade II listed schools – grand and charming but with rough edges here and there. Not a problem for most, but if you like everything shiny and new it’s worth knowing.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Have a look for yourself — an open morning is planned for 2 Oct, for which you can sign up here. The school is also offering virtual tours online as well as personal tours by appointment.