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Eastbourne College: Where Wellbeing Meets Academic Success


Absolutely Sussex visits the ‘blue health school’ Eastbourne College and talks to Head Tom Lawson about how they put their pupils wellbeing up front and centre

Could you offer us a potted history of Eastbourne College…

Eastbourne College was founded in 1867 to provide ‘a classical, mathematical, and general education of the highest class’ for the people of the then new resort town and attract boarders ‘owing to the remarkable healthiness of Eastbourne’. One hundred and fifty years of continuous innovation saw the school being one of the first public schools to admit girls and integrate them fully and equally as well as the development of high-tech facilities and infrastructure. The school now has a roughly even split of boarders and day pupils with 660 pupils in total.

Today, what does the College offer?

Eastbourne College offers a full boarding-type lifestyle for day and boarders alike. As well as excellent teaching in small class sizes for GCSE, IGCSE, and A-level, there is an enormous variety of well-resourced sport, a £5m music centre, four theatre spaces and, crucially, dedicated house buildings for day and boarding pupils.

Tom Lawson Cropped
Eastbourne College Head, Tom Lawson

Can you explain what being a ‘blue health school’ is?

Think of ‘blue health’ as a fusion of modern mindfulness and traditional ‘fresh air in your lungs’. We hold that being on the seaside – the air, the views, the sounds, the lifestyle – promote mental wellbeing. Come down and look at the endless horizons and you too will feel your stresses easing! It sounds glib, but there is a massive issue with adolescent mental wellbeing across the developed world, and we harness our natural environment as part of our strategy to tackle that.

How wonderful is your location?

The South Downs national park / heritage downland is one of the world’s most iconic and beautiful spots. Tourists from all over the world come to Beachy Head, which is in our backyard. We are lucky to be involved in the local community and environmental projects, protecting the downland tree line, keeping the beach clean, and developing sustainable, local solutions.

What do you love most about your job?

The pupils. They make me laugh, smile, and they are (almost always) very kind to me – and to each other, which is far more important.

Highlights Sheet Image
Eastbourne College

Can you describe a typical classroom scene?

Unless it is one of my lessons, which are naturally dry and fuddy-duddy, the typical classroom is buzzing with collaborative energy. As early adopters of technology in teaching and learning, you will see pupils effortlessly switching between iPad, paper, and oral engagement in every lesson, maintaining variety and using the right tool for each job. The teachers are fun, inspiring and wise, which is the secret to every good school.

What opportunities do you offer outside of the classroom?

We are big on the traditional stuff: choir, orchestra; rugby, hockey, tennis, cricket, netball; painting, ceramics; plays, musicals… Also there are some particularly strong and perhaps unexpected subjects and activities: singer-songwriter, jazz; basketball, equestrian; product design, textiles; paddle boarding and triathlons.

How would you sum up the boarding experience at the College?

Light-hearted comradeship, family feel and judicious care.

What do you hope your students leave the College prepared for?

Living the good life. ‘Good’ has multiple meanings: good people, good fun, making a difference, understanding how to be happy.

What have been the highlights of the school year just gone?

Everyone will view the school’s highlights differently. Personally, I am delighted that our pupils have been inspired and stimulated in the classroom, on the sports field and on the creative and performing stages, and that their hard work has given them a sense of pleasure, pride and joy. But here are just a few of the school’s highlights this year.  

In academics, and hot off the press, one in three Eastbourne College pupils achieved A*-A across all subjects in their A-levels this year, while our GCSE cohort achieved a record number of grade 9 results with almost one in four grades awarded at grade 9. In addition, the school has 30 pupils aspiring to study medicine and 100 sixth form pupils undertaking Extended Project Qualifications (EPQs) on top of their A-level subjects. Our pupils have won a plethora of awards including essay competition scholarships to attend summer courses at Cambridge and Oxford and the highly regarded Queen’s College Oxford Anthea Bell Young Translators Competition. In addition, 15 sixth formers successfully sat their Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments Level 2 qualification, while 39 Year 9 pupils’ work was published in the Young Writers Twisted Tales and Empowered poetry anthology. Another of our highly talented pupils was placed in the top 100 pupils in the country for his year group in the Maclaurin Mathematical Olympiad.

Accomplishments in the creative and performing arts this year have also been wide and varied with College representatives winning the Royal Opera House National Competition for designing costumes for Carmen, another pupil winning the national Great British Dance Off, and a College team finishing runners-up in the British International Education Association Competition to eliminate plastic waste.

Our sport continues to go from strength to strength with our 1st XI girls hockey team winning the England Hockey T3 final and our boys 1st XV finishing runners up in the RFU U18 bowl final. In the pool, our senior boys finished on the podium in the National Schools Relay competition and our boys and girls tennis teams finished runners-up in the LTA Winter League National Finals and retained U16 and U18 county titles. On the cricket pitch, our 1st XI team beat Eton College to get through to the semi-finals of the ECB U17 National Plate. 

Celebrity Roy
Celebrities meet: Boxer Roy and Clare Balding

What are you looking forward to as we start a new school year?

The new pupils – the biggest ever Year 9 entry for the College. Also, the resumption of school tours and trips is now fully underway, so I look forward to hearing the stories from them.

Finally, I love boxer dogs – what’s the story behind Roy?

Yes, boxers do have an excellent personality. We have had them for over 15 years now. They are excellent dogs for a boarding school because they love people and family, which is how the school feels. So Roy has become a bit of mascot for the school. He loves to welcome people and almost always gives every prospective new family a sniff – it is an unusual entry test, but it does seem to find us the very best pupils!

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Picture of Mark Kebble

Mark Kebble

Mark's career in journalism started in 2001 when he landed a role on a small lifestyle magazine in Angel, North London. Soon enough, the magazine was purchased by a larger organisation and Mark found himself promoted to editor at the tender age of 23. He later became group editor, working on magazines for Angel, Crouch End, Muswell Hill and Highgate. He was also involved in a launch in Hadley Wood and a major new group website, later becoming Group Hub Editor. In 2021, Mark joined Zest Media Group and oversaw the launch of many Absolutely titles across the UK. To date, Mark has launched in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Sussex, Essex, Yorkshire and Cheshire. When he does have some free time, Mark is also the Chairman of an amateur football club in Surrey and is also a fully qualified FA football coach.
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