Life at Winchester College

September 19, 2017

As I bid farewell to my schooldays as a Wykehamist[1] at leavers’ dinner, affectionately known as Domum[2], I remember my headmaster suggesting that my 5 years here would be amongst the most important formative years of my life, even on a par with university and the freedoms that it would shortly bring. As an 18 year old who couldn’t wait to jump into university life, and escape the rules and curfews that boarding school imposed, this seemed like a stretch of the imagination. But regardless of the inevitable rose-tinted spectacles that make me fond of my former stomping ground, I now think he may have had a point.

The first thing often mentioned about Winchester is its strong academic tradition. This could be felt throughout our time there, from the demanding entrance and scholarship examinations that Winchester tailors for itself, to unique Div[3] classes that served to ground our education in unexamined teaching. Topics ranged from the arts to current affairs according to the interests and expertise of our Div Don[4]. This encouraged critical thinking and a broader appreciation of learning without the pressure to adhere to an exam syllabus. At the same time, exam performance is consistently strong, with 75% of Cambridge Pre-U results at Distinction level in 2015. 35% of students typically achieve offers to study at Oxford and Cambridge, with plenty more taking up places at Russell Group and leading US universities. Overall, Winchester proved to be an excellent environment for me to develop an approach to learning and thinking skills that were very much tested throughout my university studies. 

The opportunities to develop aren’t only confined to the classroom though. Whilst the transition to boarding school life inevitably brings challenges for those used to home comforts, living at school amongst your peers immerses you in extracurricular opportunities that are just as important as academics. Sporting opportunities range from the popular to the eclectic – Winchester College Football is a unique mix of soccer, rugby, and American football, while Winchester is also home to one of 17 rackets courts in the country. Artistic opportunities abound, with a well-equipped music school, choirs that go on international tours, and a thriving art school in which students’ work is frequently on display. It’s also compulsory for students to take part in the CCF (Combined Cadet Force) for one year, before being able to choose between the CCF and community service. These experiences are sometimes framed as a ‘chore’, but students often realise with hindsight the importance of values like duty, discipline, and giving back in their later lives.

Boarding houses somehow manage to combine oversight and pastoral care with a level of independence that most boys are not used to at the age of 13. Housemasters consistently remark on how boys grow as individuals over this crucial part of their lives. Living amongst your peers can be incredible fun at the same time as forcing you to learn how to address individual differences that cannot be avoided in a communal space. It’s not uncommon for shy personalities to develop into outgoing characters and for an otherwise inexplicable maturity to emerge amongst teenage boys. At the same time, some things never change. I have now been working for a few years, and many of my fellow housemates remain some of my closest friends – but we’ll tease each other with the same jokes and nicknames that emerged over a decade ago.

No doubt Winchester will have changed since I left, but the vast majority of what made it a unique school surely remains. The unusual notions[5] dotted throughout this article reflect the unashamed tradition students are immersed in. At the same time, access efforts have recently improved, with bursaries now the priority for endowment funding rather than scholarships, which will hopefully help to open Winchester’s doors to all those who deserve a place.

Looking back, it’s hard to say whether 5 years at Winchester or my subsequent undergraduate and postgraduate studies had a greater impact on who I am – both gave me an intellectually demanding and rounded education. What I can say for sure, however, is that Winchester instilled in me both the confidence and desire to jump at a broad range of opportunities – academic, extracurricular, and professional – that will shape me for the rest of my life.

[1] As Winchester College students are known
[2] Referring to Winchester as a ‘home away from home’
[3] Stands for Division
[4] Teacher
[5] Slang and language used at Winchester

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