School House Awards 2023: The Shortlist

By Anoop Bhuller

11 months ago

The School House Awards shortlist has been decided, reveals Victoria Lambert – and the final judgement is now underway

Next month, with plenty of fanfare, the winners of the School House Awards will be revealed in our Scholarships and Bursaries edition. It will be a thrill to reveal finally the prize winners: beacons of excellence across the independent school sector. 

Since announcing the creation of the awards last February, we have been inundated with several hundred entries from schools great and small, every one with a significant story to tell. 

It’s made judging exceptionally difficult but also rewarding. Luckily we have been blessed with thoughtful, open-minded and enthusiastic judges who promise me they have enjoyed the process. We’re also very grateful to our sponsors, the Independent Schools Examinations Board (ISEB) which has been supporting the education sector for more than 120 years. 

The winners will be presented with a commemorative School House Champion plaque and a selection of relevant books. They will also be interviewed by podcast host Lisa Chuma. 

The winner of last year’s inaugural award, the Green Champion Award, was Cottesmore School, and headmaster Tom Rogerson has been thinking about the impact winning the award has had. ‘Cottesmore was hugely honoured to be given the Green Champion Award at the School House Awards 2022,’ he confirms. 

‘A year on, we are still grateful for the impetus that the award created. It has served as a spur to double down on our work on sustainability.’

Rogerson adds: ‘Since then Cottesmore has embarked upon an in depth aquaponics project and the school’s farm has continued on its mission to be entirely self-reliant financially. The new food-waste project has been a great success, feeding the animals on the farm sustainably.’

Furthermore he says: ‘The Year 7 girls and boys produced some on-point sustainability pieces of work through the ISEB’s Project Qualification programme and the ISEB CEO Julia Martin will be presenting certificates to the entrants at Cottesmore next term in praise of Cottesmore using this wonderful framework. 

‘The award delighted the girls, boys, parents and teaching team to know that the school’s efforts have been recognised in this way.’

Clearly our School House Awards carry more than just prestige; they have the power to create change.

The Judging Panel

Victoria Lambert – Editor, School House Magazine

Victoria Lambert is Editor of School House. She is a firm believer in the idea of a rounded education which brings out the best in every child.

Julia Martin – Chief Executive, ISEB

Julia Martin has extensive experience in the education and assessment sectors and is a strong believer in championing student wellbeing and creativity. 

Dr Emeka Orocha – NHS Doctor and Author

Dr Emeka is a NHS doctor who is passionate about sharing information and has presented shows for kids on BBC Teach.

Lucy Cleland – Editor in Chief, Country & Town House

Lucy Cleland has worked in the magazine industry for more than 20 years and is driving Country & Town’s Houses sustainability agenda.

Anna Turns – Specialist Environmental Author

Oxford biology graduate, Anna Turns writes on sustainability and our connection with nature. She is a host on BBC’s Costing the Earth.

The Categories

Pastoral Care Champion

Raising confident young people ready to live up to their potential requires attention to more than their education. The best schools turn out well-rounded young people who are emotionally aware and resilient thanks to their excellent
pastoral teams.

We’re looking for recommendations for care that exceeds expectations – whether it’s a one-to-one tutoring system that can spot problems like bullying before they develop or a network of support which wraps around students to make sure they are thoroughly supported in mind, body and spirit. A well-developed system of communication with parents is also something that impresses.

Learning at school

Learning at school (Image: Pexels)

Mind & Mental Health Champion

Many parents’ number one concern is whether their child is feeling OK. The pressures of the modern world and social media in particular are leading to worrying increases in the amount of children reporting anxiety and depression. We’d like to hear what steps schools are taking to ensure that those students who are struggling get the best possible support – and that it is fully integrated with teachers and parents.

Sustainability Champion

Formerly our Green Champion, this award will recognise a school where environmental awareness is a verb, not a noun. With the astonishing range of eco-endeavours underway, schools will have to impress the judges with a really innovative plan, which puts sustainability and green concepts at the heart of the operation. 

Planting seeds in the ground

Sustainability is an important subject to be taught at school (Image: Pexels)

Local Partnerships & Community Champion

Independent schools are rightly collaborating more often with local academies and primaries, sharing resources and even lessons to justify their place in the community. This trend is a powerful signifier of change in the sector and we know that many independents are justly proud of how much they have achieved already and their plans to widen their charitable purpose. We can’t wait to hear them. 

Animal Support Champion

School House believes animals of all shapes and sizes belong in our schools; whether that’s guinea pigs brought from home to keep boarders cheery, or ponies to be used in competition. From the headmaster’s dog who’s always available for cuddles, exotica like llamas and wallabies popping up unexpectedly, or farm animals which are there to be reared and sent to market, animals have many roles to play at school. We’re looking for some special, unexpected stories of how animals are used in the most interesting educational way.

Charitable Work Champion

Whether home or abroad, students at many schools enjoy working in and supporting settings that take them from their comfort zone. That might be an orphanage in Cape Town or an elderly persons’ home in London. We’re interested in schools that are really exploring the concept of what it means to do good for others and seeing the results it has on students. 

Charity donation box

Donating to charity (Image: Pexels)

Kindness Champion 

What do we all seek for our children? Happiness, joy, contentment – the intangibles on which a good life is built. A school full of happy children is a thriving home-from-home, where students reach their academic, sporting and social potential. Leavers head off with a clutch of exam certificates and that joie de vivre which once discovered can become a sustaining principle for life. So how do schools build happiness into every aspect of their daily life? We can’t wait to find out.

The Shortlist

With entries from around the country, from schools big and small, prep and senior, the judges were impressed with the brilliance, passion and innovation on show. Every school which entered should be proud; judging has been very difficult. With that in mind, here are the shortlisted candidates – the School House Award winners will be revealed next month. 

Pastoral Care

Bassett House, London 

An extensive, award-winning pastoral programme from a small school punching well above its weight. Staff, parents and students all play a role – and the PSHE curriculum is newly redesigned. We love the sound of Hot Chocolate Fridays and the school’s self-belief: ‘We think that Bassett House is an outstanding example of what excellent pastoral care should look like and we want to shout about it from the rooftops!’ 

Sherborne Girls, Dorset

A unique three-phased approach to boarding and ‘family’ style boarding houses, bespoke one-to-one tutor system, friendly and accessible Chaplaincy team and pro-active Health Centre, is underpinned by a culture which prioritises wellbeing, maximises pupil voice and encourages girls to support each other. Says one Sherborne girl, ‘Every girl…has support from her peers, her teachers and her tutor… there is a big sister round every corner.’

Reigate Grammar, Surrey

‘They don’t care what you know until they know that you care.’ says Headteacher Shaun Fenton – this really is at the core of everything the school does. Children feel valued and understood, secure among friends and looked after by adults. The wellbeing programme permeates almost every facet of Reigate life delivered through electives, PSHE and PE lessons, lectures and workshops, talks in assemblies and discussions in tutorials, as well as day-to-day conduct. We particularly liked Drop Everything and Read week.

 Mind & Mental Health

Pembridge Hall School, London

The school boasts a ‘Culture of Wellbeing’ built gradually over the past few years, with the Pembridge Pulse initiative – a weekly drop-in at its heart. This aims to foster the girls’ emotional language development, encourage conversations and help them to regulate their own mental health and wellbeing. Alongside this dedicated space for Wellbeing, there are about 70 clubs, with some focused on mindfulness and mental health. Staff say, ‘Utilising the Pembridge Pulse, we have truly seen happier girls here.’

Putney High School GDST, London

A preventative rather than reactive approach, no topics off limits and ‘everyone feels noticed; everyone feels heard’ – that’s the core of what Putney is doing. The school has its own wellbeing podcast (Thanks for Asking), a Wellbeing Within week, and the whole school shares ‘gratitude’ daffodils. Putney boasts a unique Biophilic Classroom – with indoor horticulture; it was shown to improve mental wellbeing by 65 percent.

Girls running in a field

(Image: Pexels)

Bryanston School, Dorset 

Bryanston’s approach to mental health and wellbeing is impressively all-encompassing and multi-layered. One example is the recent partnership with The Wellbeing Hub from Teen Tips to host a one-of-a-kind event, ‘21st Century Parenting – Inspired thinking for the modern parent’. The school has also established the annual Nurturing Equality Festival with sixth form ambassadors leading special workshops for over 75 young pupils from nine neighbouring schools. 


Truro School, Cornwall

No green stone goes unturned here, whether it’s appointing external auditors (ReEnergise) to identify opportunities for renewables in an Estate Decarbonisation Plan, or the funding of two new electric minibuses plus charging points and new solar panels. Truro has invested £10k in waste and recycling, is phasing out single-use plastics and 95 percent of all lights are LED. Moreover, sustainability is also at the heart of the academic curriculum.

James Allen’s Girls School, London 

JAGS has ‘sharpened our focus’ in the past 18 months, and appointed a designated Sustainability Lead to spearhead innovative school-wide initiatives and work with pupils. Highlights include a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream using only recycled materials, the regular Climate Cafe (where pupils discuss anxiety around global warming and bake low-carbon snacks), clothes swaps and book drives (donating over 2,000kg of books to charity). The school has installed a 200-litre composter to transform our food waste into compost – all part of its goal is to become carbon neutral by 2030.

Royal Hospital School, Suffolk

This Gold Carbon Charter status school aims to become carbon neutral by 2030, too. There is a proposed solar initiative to provide the majority of the school’s electrical needs and Carbon Offsetting has led to a reduction in footprint from 2.6 to 0.3 tCO2e annually per person. Other initiatives range from sustainability workshops to a recycled christmas ornament competition.

 Local Partnership & Community

Wellington School, Somerset

We love the way Wellington School looks to the community beyond its gates. The school has engaged local children in its performing arts programme. This includes setting up a Saturday morning Stage School and a dance studio. Each year, the school also hosts a three-day Winter Wonderland, open to the whole community with hordes of stalls from local crafters, Father Christmas, and a double-sized ice rink.

Teaching reading to pupils

Reading time (Image: Pexels)

ACS, Cobham, Surrey

The school impressed us with its bespoke impact monitoring tool – as well as the data revealed: more than 60,000 hours of ACS service learning involvement with local community, 21,000 staff hours dedicated to public benefit, 42,236 hours of teacher training, 80,987 hours of outreach box usage and 610,358 hours of external student interaction with our activities. It also has a team of 5 full time members of staff who work on community projects as part of its charitable endeavour. 

Canford School, Dorset

A partnership and sponsorship of local school The Bourne Academy is the centrepiece of Canford’s impressive outreach work – and could be a model for all other schools. Pupils work and socialise together in multiple ways whether that’s in a drama production, for a book club or working on the F24 racing car ‘design and race’ project. One Bourne pupil says: ‘Canford has helped me to aspire to be the best I can be’. It’s a source of justifiable pride to both schools and all involved. 

Animal Support 

Saint Ronan’s, Kent

Breaking news: Great White Pig Ivanka has had eight piglets – who will surely fit right in with the huge range of animals the school has accumulated on its farm. We like the school’s overall attitude to its animals. Children learn about the food chain and – Ivanka, reproduction. Animal husbandry comes up as does conservation and even politics: Rocket the Cat recently stood for election as President of the animals and the children learnt about ballot papers, hustings and voting.

Repton, Derbyshire

A Repton education wouldn’t be the same without furry friends, says the school and you can see why. From a comforting welcome  from each boarding house’s very own dog, to a tarantula crawling up an arm in a science lesson, animals are a fully fledged part of Repton life. Animals are very much part of science and environment lessons too. Plus the school says: ‘The excitement of seeing a cow in the playground would appear to be unmatched!’

The Elms School, Herefordshire

A glorious collection of pigs, ponies and goats, sheep, cattle, Indian runner ducks and scores of rescue hens creates a haven for children – supported by a Rural Studies curriculum. Even the youngest children get involved, collecting eggs and walking dogs. The Early Years Nativity play sounds marvellous: ‘It takes place in the farmyard surrounded by the animals, who normally upstage the cast!’


Millfield School, Somerset

Aside from its fundraising, on average the school raises £18,000 yearly for three nominated charities, the judges admired the Millfield Brilliance Award (MBA). This project has the dual aims of giving back to the community and educating students on philanthropy, with opportunities to volunteer, support, teach and provide resources locally and worldwide. For example, 22 MBA students undertook ballroom dancing lessons to run a tea dance in the local community centre, as a way of bringing young and old generations together. 

Claremont Fan Court
School, Surrey

Last year, the school launched its centenary with the impressive Claremont 100 charity initiative. Designed to develop empathy and community awareness among pupils, parents, alumni and staff, it had the goal of raising £100,000 for five local charities, roughly equating to £100 per pupil.
It’s a project with longevity: beyond the fundraising goal, the school is determined to leave a positive, lasting legacy for the next 100 years.

Stonyhurst College, Lancashire

The school’s approach to charity is part of its DNA; its aim is to form ‘men and women for others’: people who value community, who know what they stand for, and will speak up for what they believe in. Head Boy, Dilip, 17, is ‘a shining example’ working tirelssly for charity while recovering from a major, lifesaving heart transplant operation – something which shows true grit and courage.

children playing together

Interactive play (Image: Pexels)


Godolphin Senior, Wiltshire

At Godolphin, kindness is everywhere; we liked the way it was treated as an achievement – just like excellence in sport or music. The ‘Spirit of Godolphin Award’ honours individuals who exemplify considerate and kind-hearted behaviour, support others, demonstrate community spirit and maintain a positive outlook. One student from each year group and a member of staff are presented with this award.

Saint Ronan’s, Kent

Our only double shortlist-ee, Saint Ronan’s stands out for its school culture which prizes ‘doing things’ differently, finding humour in wholesome things, embracing eccentricity and championing kindness and inclusivity. We were particularly taken with the school song: ‘If perchance this school may be, A Happier place because of me, Stronger for the strength I bring, Brighter for the songs I sing, Purer for the path I tread, Wiser for the light I shed, Then I can leave without a sigh, For not in vain have I been I.’

Casterton, Sedbergh Preparatory School, Cumbria 

‘Kindness lays the foundation for us to make positive contributions to society,’ says Will Newman, Headmaster. To ensure pupils know how highly kindness is valued at Casterton, Sedbergh Prep School, a system of values called the Ways of the Wolf has been set up allowing pupils to be recognised for kind acts. A recent initiative was 24 hours of random kindness, paying kindness forward child to child like a game of tag.

The winners of the School House Awards will be revealed in our Scholarships and Bursaries edition.