Having educated students since 1934, Gordonstoun School (Moray, Scotland) is a highly sought-after boarding school with a rich history of well-known alumni, including Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh, who was one of the school’s first 10 students. Unlike many schools, Gordonstoun offers an educational model that expands well beyond the classroom walls, allowing students to learn in the school’s expansive woodland campus, on its 80-foot sailing boat, and amidst the local beaches and mountains.
Gordonstoun may be widely recognised for its excellent academics, but it’s the independent, coeducational school’s emphasis on character building and developing an adventurous spirit that sets the school apart from other top schools. Since Gordonstoun’s founding, academic ability has only been part of the interlocking set of life skills that the school instils in its students. Staff also encourage students to work in team environments, develop their strength of character, improve their communication skills, develop their resilience, and get involved in the local community. This way, Gordonstoun shapes its students into well-rounded young people who can face all of life’s opportunities and challenges.
Here, we’ll look at five ways that Gordonstoun promotes character building in its curriculum:
1. Sail Training Voyages and Outdoor Activities
One of the unique aspects of Gordonstoun’s curriculum is sailing, which is compulsory for all in Year 9 and above. Students practise sailing in several boats, including Gordonstoun’s training yacht ‘The Ocean Spirit of Moray’. They sail the yacht on expeditions along the Scottish coast and sometimes further afield too. For example, students take a once-in-a-lifetime sailing trip to the Arctic in their senior year, where they explore the effects of climate change on the delicate ecosystem. During their sailing expeditions, students crew the vessel, contribute to its upkeep, and even take some of their academic lessons aboard.
Sailing aside, the rugged Scottish landscape surrounding the school is ideal for students to pursue adventurism. Gordonstoun’s highly experienced team of outdoor education experts regularly escort students on trips into the Scottish Highlands. Students can also engage in outdoor activities like open canoeing, Nordic skiing, bushcraft, and mountain biking. While many young people don’t get to enjoy these experiences at school, Gordonstoun alumni overwhelming applaud the school’s focus on outdoor education. In a recent survey by the Moray House School of Education at the University of Edinburgh, 94% of the 1,000 former students interviewed said that Gordonstoun’s outdoor activities had a positive effect on their personal growth and development.
“Sailing and expeditions are not optional extras but core parts of the curriculum,” says Gordonstoun’s Principal Lisa Kerr. “We believe that the best classrooms don’t have walls, and it’s by facing challenges and going beyond their comfort zone that our students find out that they’re capable of more than they thought possible.”
2. Volunteering and Community Service
Altruism and community service are also important aspects of a Gordonstoun education. Staff encourage students to be active in the local community by volunteering their time to charitable and service organisations. All students volunteer in one of nine community and rescue services. While some clean beaches or play music for elderly care home residents, others raise money for local charities or take part in Gordonstoun’s fully operational in-house fire service.
Students also take their efforts overseas: Gordonstoun participates in several service projects in Romania, Kenya, and Thailand, which help students gain a better understanding of issues that affect those who live in other parts of the world.
3. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award
Gordonstoun is the home of the infamous Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a programme that helps students achieve personal growth and develop their confidence. Prince Philip developed the Award with Gordonstoun’s former headmaster, Dr Kurt Hahn, who originally put students through the Moray Badge — a test of character and endurance — in the school’s early days.
Instead of pitting students against one another, the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award encourages students to beat their personal bests in a range of individual and team-based challenges, tasks, and expeditions. The Award is so successful that over 140 schools around the globe now also offer the Award to their students.
4. International Education
All Gordonstoun students complete an International and Spiritual Citizenship course, which covers topics like health education, spiritual development, environmental issues, and life skills from an international perspective. On top of this, Gordonstoun seniors can study in other countries and take part in international exchange and volunteer programmes. These educational initiatives are representative of Gordonstoun’s diverse community: The school welcomes students of a variety of backgrounds, religions, and socio-economic circumstances.
“We have ambitions to grow this further and already have a significant number of students from very modest backgrounds, including a number from Rwanda,” Kerr says.
5. Round Square
Gordonstoun is one of the founding Round Square schools, a network of 190 schools around the world that subscribe to the tenets of teaching responsibility on top of academics. Round Square also offers students opportunities to attend global and regional conferences and to participate in international service projects.
What Makes Gordonstoun School Special
Gordonstoun’s mission to educate young people beyond academia gives the school a unique edge over others. The school’s 300+ members of staff teach, support, and nurture 500 boarding students in a home-away-from-home environment, giving Gordonstoun one of the lowest student-to-instructor ratios in the UK. As a result of the school’s dedication to each student’s well-being and progress, many Gordonstoun alumni go on to achieve places at top universities around the world and flourish in exciting, adventurous careers.