|Motto||Apud bonos iura pietatis
("Amongst good people, there are rules of piety [worth more than riches]" Justinus, or :- "Among the Good, Piety is the Law".)
|Established||1606 (in France)
1814 (current location)
|Type||Independent day and boarding school|
|Head Master||Dr James Whitehead|
|Chair||Dom Leo Maidlow Davis OSB|
|Founders||English Benedictine Monks in exile|
|DfE URN||123910 Tables|
|Colours||Maroon and gold|
|Former pupils||Old Gregorians|
|School song||"Patriae domus decorem"|
Downside School is a co-educational Catholic independent school for children aged 11 to 18, located in Stratton-on-the-Fosse, between Westfield and Shepton Mallet in Somerset, south west England, attached to Downside Abbey. The current headmaster, Dr James Whitehead, is the first lay Head Master in Downside's history.
Downside is run by lay staff and the Benedictine monks of Downside Abbey. Several monks work in the school as teachers and chaplains. The school is controlled by trustees who are the Abbot - or as at present, the Prior Administrator - and monks from Downside Abbey, with two external trustee monks.
The school is divided into six houses; five senior houses and one junior house, with both day pupils and boarders in the same houses. Each house takes its name from the Community's martyrs or benefactors:
Monks from the monastery of St Gregory's, Douai in Flanders, came to Downside in 1814. In 1607, St Gregory's was the first house after the Reformation to begin conventual life with a handful of exiled Englishmen. For nearly 200 years St Gregory's trained monks for the English mission and six of these men were beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1929. Two of these monks, SS John Roberts and Ambrose Barlow, were among the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1970.
Imprisoned then driven from France at the Revolution, the community remained at Acton Burnell in Shropshire for 20 years before finally settling in Somerset in 1814. The Monastery was completed in 1876 and the Abbey Church in 1925, being raised to the rank of a minor basilica in 1935 by Pius XI. Attached to the Monastery, the School provides a Catholic boarding education for boys and girls between the ages of 11 and 18 years. During the 19th century Downside remained a small monastic school. It was Dom Leander Ramsay who founded the modern Downside and planned the new buildings, designed by Leonard Stokes, that opened in 1912 and now form two sides of the "Quad".
The 20th century brought about changes for Downside in the expansion of the school buildings and school numbers — over 600 boys at one point. Over the decades the number of pupils had been falling but development drives and renewed demand for boarding education has seen numbers rise. As part of the renewal, girls were admitted in 2004. Since then, numbers of both boys and girls have been increasing every year. Since the opening of Isabella House in 2007, approximately 65% of the pupils are boys and 35% are girls. In 2013 it was announced that Dr James Whitehead will assume the role of Head Master in May 2014, being the school's first lay Head Master in its 200-year history. Since his arrival, a new 'Downside 2020' School Development Plan has been devised and a range of improvements to school facilities have happened, with a programme of refurbishment and a new Performing Arts Centre due for completion in December 2016.
On Saturday 15 May 1943, during a cricket match between the school and an army team, two Hawker Hurricane fighter aircraft appeared over the playing fields at around 3 pm. They proceeded to circle the fields, performing manoeuvres as they did so, an eyewitness describing them "diving over the field and banking steeply". In what would be the final pass, at around 3:20 pm, both aircraft flew across the cricket ground at an extremely low altitude, and then climbed rapidly to clear the tall fir trees bordering the field. The second aircraft appeared to clip the trees with its tail and nose-dived straight into the ground, crashing and bouncing, the burning debris finally coming to rest amongst the schoolboys watching the cricket match from an embankment. The pilot and nine people on the ground were killed, with 15 others injured, ten of them seriously.
In 2004, a Benedictine monk was jailed for 18 months after taking indecent images of schoolboys and possessing child pornography when he was a teacher at Downside.
In January 2012, Father Richard White, a monk who formerly taught at the school, was jailed for five years for gross indecency and indecent assault against a pupil in the late 1980s. White, 66, who was known to pupils as Father Nick, had been allowed to continue teaching after he was first caught abusing a child in 1987 and was able to go on to groom and assault another pupil in the junior school. He was placed on a restricted ministry after the second incident, but was not arrested until 2010. Two other Downside monks, also former teachers, received police cautions during an 18-month criminal trial.
Department for Education officials were said to be taking an urgent interest in child protection arrangements at the school. Inspection reports refer specifically to seven monks who have worked at the school at different times and whose behaviour has been “a cause for concern”. The Independent Schools Inspectorate had previously criticised a lack of urgency in making improvements to child protection. The Charity Commission also sent a compliance team to work with the school on this, which it treated as “a high-risk case”. The Abbot responded by apologising to parents and reported that 50 years of confidential school records indicated that four of the monks had faced police action, two had restrictions imposed on them, and one was cleared and returned to monastic life. A review of school governance was already taking place. The school now works closely with the Diocese of Clifton in matters pertaining to Safeguarding Children and the two most recent Independent School Inspectorate Reports (2012, 2015) have noted the School's full compliance with current regulations.
The Independent Schools Inspectorate's report based on a visit in 2012, stated: 'The arrangements for welfare, health and safety are excellent. The school’s safeguarding arrangements are much improved since the November 2010 inspection and, as in the advisory visit in November 2011, policies and practice meet the requirements in full. Thorough procedures ensure the safe recruitment of staff, and all the necessary checks are carried out...The quality of the pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural education is excellent. This fulfils the school’s aim of developing high personal standards in each pupil in the light of the school’s Christian context. By the time they leave, their personal development is excellent...The quality of the school's arrangements for pastoral care is excellent.'.
Sports are played at Downside, with members of the school competing in a range of sports from rugby, football, netball, hockey, cricket, golf, polo and even the Downside Ball Game, a variation on Fives played on a purpose-built outdoor court. Sports are played most afternoons at Downside with every pupil expected to participate at least three times a week.
Downside has historically been a rugby-playing school. There is a long-standing rivalry with Sherborne School, which often sees the whole school, 'Old Gregorians' (old boys/alumni) as well as a contingent from Sherborne on the sidelines.
In recent times, sport has been undergoing a significant revival at Downside, under the leadership of the Head Master (who still occasionally referees rugby), the Deputy Head Master, Andrew Hobbs (a double Cambridge Blue in Rugby) and the new Director of Sport, Richard Jones, appointed June 2015. There has been a significant investment in improved facilities and a new staffing structure. In 2016, the First Rugby XV reached the quarter-finals of the NatWest Vase national competition. The First XI Football Team in 2015-16 was unbeaten in school fixtures. In recent seasons, pupils have been represented in Team Bath Netball, Bath Academy Rugby, and Somerset County Rugby and Hockey. The school also excels in Cross Country, hosting a major competition for schools each year, the Downside Trophy and with pupils represented at County Level and competing successfully in the National Championships.
The Schola Cantorum (Choir) plays a major role in Downside's music. Not only singing for High Mass, the Schola Cantorum also holds public performances on a termly basis. It has recently performed a concert of twentieth century choral music, including music by Britten, Lauridsen and the Chichester Psalms by Bernstein. There are four choirs: the main Schola Cantorum, the Girls' Chamber Choir, the Boys' Chamber Choir and the Mixed Chamber Choir.
Among the highlights of the most recent academic year (2015–16) were a large-scale choral and orchestral performance of Mozart's Requiem in the Abbey Church and the performance of the Girls' Chamber Choir in the World Premiere Performance of Sir James MacMillan's "Little Mass" with the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra.
Each year, there is customarily a senior play, a whole school musical and and a junior musical. Productions in recent years have included Oliver!, Grease, Guys and Dolls, High Society, Anything Goes and recently Henry Purcell's opera Dido and Aeneas, "Les Miserables", "The Phantom of the Opera", "Salad Days" and "Alice - The Musical".
In 2002, Father Antony Sutch OSB, then Head Master, featured heavily (including front page of The Daily Telegraph) when he attacked the 'geek culture' - the government-imposed educational bureaucracy - that in his view is overwhelming schools and teachers. His views on Catholicism and educational matters often attract attention in the media, and he has contributed to BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day since 2003.
In 2003, Downside was the setting for a television show A Second Chance, in which a teenager from London, Ryan Bell, was sent to Downside to see if a 'difficult' student would do better in the independent sector. After excelling at Latin, biology, and on the rugby field, Bell was eventually expelled after being caught drinking.
The current Head Master, Dr James Whitehead regularly writes articles for publication in the press. He has contributed scholarly articles on the writings of Thomas Hardy for publication and more recently has written for The Tablet and The Catholic Herald on themes that link literary concerns with modern education, Benedictine Culture and the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. For example, ′After Brexit, Shakespeare' touches upon how Shakespeare espoused a philosophy of Mercy that can be linked with his Catholic background, with the more recent teaching of Pope Francis and with contemporary debates about national identity.
Alumni are known as Old Gregorians in honour of St Gregory, the School's Patron Saint.