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William Ellis School

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William Ellis School

William Ellis School
Motto Rather Use Than Fame
Established 1862
Type Voluntary Aided Trust School
Headteacher Sam White
Chair of the Governors Fiona Millar
Founder William Ellis
Location Highgate Road
Local authority London Borough of Camden
DfE URN 100056 Tables
Ofsted Reports
Staff 95 teaching, 30 support
Students 914
Gender Boys
Ages 11–18
Colours Blue & Gold (Year 7-9) & Black(Year 10-11)             
Alumni Society The Old Elysians Club
Website .uk.sch.camden.williamelliswww

William Ellis School is a United Kingdom secondary comprehensive school for boys in Highgate, London.


  • Admissions 1
  • History 2
    • Origins 2.1
    • Foundation and development (1862-1937) 2.2
    • Move to current site and grammar school years (1937-1978) 2.3
    • The shift to comprehensive status (1978 onwards) 2.4
    • Recent history (1990-present) 2.5
  • Headmasters since 1862 3
  • Involvement in the LaSWAP Sixth Form Consortium 4
  • Academic performance 5
  • Notable former pupils 6
    • 1978-present (comprehensive school period) 6.1
    • 1862-1978 (early years and grammar school period) 6.2
  • References 7


The School's motto is 'Rather Use Than Fame'. The school is over-subscribed, usually an indicator of a popular school. It is situated just west of Parliament Hill and north of Gospel Oak railway station. It is next to Parliament Hill School, a girls' school.



The school's founder, William Ellis (not to be confused with the inventor of rugby football, William Webb Ellis) was a public-spirited businessman. In the mid-19th century, Ellis founded a number of schools and inspired many teachers to promote his educational ideas. Ellis wanted children to be taught "useful" subjects such as science (including "Social Science"), and to develop the faculty of reason; this was in contrast to the learning by rote of religious tracts, ancient languages and history, characteristic of many schools at the time. William Ellis School is the only one of these schools which now remains.

Foundation and development (1862-1937)

The school was established in 1862 at Gospel Oak, and was originally known as the Gospel Oak Schools. It catered for both girls and boys of a wide age range. In 1889, the Gospel Oak Schools were reconstituted as a boys' secondary school, under the headmastership of E.B. Cumberland.

Move to current site and grammar school years (1937-1978)

In 1937, the School moved to its present site on the borders of Gospel Oak and Highgate, backing on to Parliament Hill Fields, Hampstead Heath. This was to lead to its most celebrated period, in the late 1940s to the early 1970s. A combination of its catchment area (drawing upon an intellectual North London demographic) and its status as a voluntary aided grammar school and member of the Headmasters' and Headmistresses' Conference led to a period of significant educational liberality and achievement, especially under the headmasterships of F.W. Lockwood and Sydney L. Baxter. A centennial history,William Ellis School,1862-1962,by T.D. Wickenden,[1] was commissioned by the Board of Governors.

At this time, the school displayed characteristics of traditional public schools, such as a house system; a prefect system (with prefects wearing gowns when on duty); a school song; and playing rugby football rather than soccer as the school sport. School uniform was strictly observed, with blazer colours and ties indicating Junior School, Middle School, Sixth Form and prefects; and blazers and ties could only be removed in the summer if the weather was pronounced “Officially Hot”.

It combined these traditional features with liberal educational developments such as School Committees, in which pupils discussed and helped determine aspects of school policy. Classes in each Form were labelled G, L and M (rather than A, B and C) to avoid any suggestion of rank or streaming.

The school ran its lessons on an unusual six-day timetable, so that if a Monday were Day One, the following Monday would be Day Six of the timetable, and Day One’s academic timetable would fall on the Tuesday. This provided a rotation of lessons, so that unpopular items did not always fall upon the same weekday; it also allocated a Day for the sports activities of each Form, from First to Sixth, which again did not always fall upon the same weekday. It was a matter of pride that pupils could master the Six Day timetable, and remember over weekends and vacations the Day upon which the School would recommence.

Although the adjacent Parliament Hill Fields and Kenwood were used for cross country runs, Rugby and Cricket activities were held at the School's extensive playing fields in Edgware, some seven miles away. Pupils would be ferried to and from the fields by coach on their appointed games afternoon.

The shift to comprehensive status (1978 onwards)

Much ingenuity had gone into extending and converting the building to provide the additional classrooms and specialist accommodation required by the post-war grammar school's large sixth form. However, the school's relatively small size meant that it was not capable of becoming either an independent, or a full comprehensive school, at the point when the state withdrew funding from direct grant grammar schools. An option of the school going independent was discussed. In March 1977, a group of parents tried to get a High Court injunction to stop the governors changing its grammar school status, organised by Dudley Stanley Fox.

With the provision of better facilities for the national curriculum and for information technology the School became fully comprehensive in the years after 1978. The Queen visited the school on 7 November 1979. Fiona Millar sent both her sons, and Michael Palin and Patricia Hewitt have sent their sons to the school.

Recent history (1990-present)

From 1990 the School gained greater autonomy under the Local Management of Schools scheme, and spent a devolved budget of over £13 million per year for its 1000 pupils. In 1997 the school earned Language College status under the Specialist School Scheme.[2]

In line with this specialist status, the school requires students to study at least two languages in Key Stage 3, with a requirement for at least one to be taken at GCSE level. Languages on offer include French, German, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Bengali. In addition, the school employs a number of native-speaking language specialists, who work with students throughout the school, but particularly in coaching GCSE and A-Level candidates in advance of oral language exams. The schools Language College was removed in 2011, and cutbacks in the languages department have been made, in terms of staff members and language teaching time.

In January 2008, it was revealed that the school was in financial difficulty, following a dispute between the school and the local authority concerning a new central heating system. Consequently, the incumbent headmaster R.J. Tanton stepped down from his position.[3] J.M. Rose (who had begun his career at the school in the 1970s, and was now Director of the Sixth Form consortium) was appointed Acting Headmaster.[4]

The current Headmaster, Sam White, formerly Deputy Headmaster of the London Oratory School, took up his position in September 2011.

Headmasters since 1862

  • Edward Teather 1862-1889
  • Edward Boyce Cumberland 1889-1919 (First Headmaster of the reconstituted school)
    • F. G. Firth (Acting 1917-1918)
  • Major William Hathaway Davis, DSO, MC, MA
  • Edgar Paul Jewitt (Acting 1928-1929)
  • Dr. Thomas Crockett MA, D.Litt(Edin) 1929-1942
    • Albert Edward Ball (Headmaster of North London Emergency Secondary School for Boys 1940-1945)
  • Edmund Richard Martin (Acting 1942-1944)
  • Francis William Lockwood MA(Cantab.) 1944-1953
  • Albert Edward Ball (Acting 1953-1954)
  • Sydney Leonard Baxter MA(Cantab.) 1954-1975
  • R. L. Perry MA 1975-1983
  • R. K. James MA 1984-1988
  • Michael W. Wheale MA 1988-2002
  • Richard J. Tanton BA 2002-2008
  • James Malcolm Rose BA (acting) 2008
  • Robert J. Cathcart LRAM 2008-2010
  • Jill Hislop (interim) 2010–2011
  • Sam White 2011–present

Involvement in the LaSWAP Sixth Form Consortium

William Ellis School has a joint Sixth Form with the adjacent Parliament Hill Girls School, and all classes are coeducational. Together with La Sainte Union Catholic Secondary School and Acland Burghley School they make up the "LaSWAP consortium for 16–19 education, educating around 1000 students altogether.

Academic performance

In the summer of 2010, 54% of William Ellis students achieved 5 A*-C grade GCSEs which is approximately equal to the UK average of 53.4%. A total of 30% achieved A*-C grades in English, maths, two science subjects, a language and history or geography. Students attending the sixth-form achieved an average A/AS point score of 605.2 which is far below the UK average of 744.8. In the summer on 2012 80% of students achieved 5 A*-C grades.[5]

Notable former pupils

1978-present (comprehensive school period)

1862-1978 (early years and grammar school period)


  1. ^ Wickenden,T.D.,1961, William Ellis School,1862-1962,Published by the School,305pp.
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Dr. Dagan Wells, Linkdin page - accessed September 29, 2010
  8. ^ OFU Overview and Key People document - accessed September 29, 2010
  9. ^ Hendrickson,J.E.,1981,Pioneering in Alberta: Maurice Destrube's Story,Historical Society of Alberta,Calgary,Alberta,177p.
  10. ^
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