Why Rossall School has a passion for sports
PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 September 2016 | UPDATED: 12:14 09 February 2018
Rossall School has been described as the Eton of the North. They share a passion for quirky sports, as Roger Borrell discovered
ETON may have the rough and tumble of the Wall Game, but one of our famous old Lancashire schools has its own eccentric sport and it is not for the faint-hearted. ‘It’s fast, furious and usually freezing cold,’ says Elaine Purves, head of Rossall School at Fleetwood.
Rosshockey was introduced more than a century ago when flooded playing fields forced pupils to take a short walk from the school to the beach to start up their own frantic version of hockey.
‘There are some rules – for instance, you can pick up the ball,’ says Mrs Purves. ‘It’s quite a tough game so we don’t let boys and girls under Year 9 play.’ All the matches are in-house because it’s such a mystery to outsiders.
Rossall, regarded as one of the country’s leading independent schools for boarders and day pupils, has been described as ‘The Eton of the North’, a sobriquet that Mrs Purves feels is still relevant.
It has a host of famous alumni. You might not have heard of Pedro Pablo Kuczynski but he was recently elected president of Peru. ‘We believe he’s the first president produced by the school,’ says Mrs Purves. ‘But I think it’s quite likely that he won’t be the last. When I look at our pupils I often see young people destined to do great things.’
Despite the Eton connection, Rossall was actually set up in 1844 as a sister to Marlborough College ‘to provide, at a moderate cost, for the sons of clergymen.’ Its links to the Church of England remain woven into the fabric of Rossall.
During the late Victorian period, it expanded at a fast rate and became one of the top 30 public schools in Britain. Its exam results drew comparisons with Eton while the stately buildings and glorious coastal location continue to make it an attractive location for parents. It remains an impressive campus with 600 pupils aged from two to 18 spread over 160 acres beside the sea.
The school’s first ever captain, TW Sharpe, wrote: ‘The choosing of the site was often held up to ridicule .… but to us, who could bear the winds and brunt the storm, it gave a hardening strength which has braced us up for life.’
While today’s comfort levels are very different – smartly decorated rooms for students to socialise and play pool, for instance – Mrs Purves believes Sharpe had a point. ‘I think the weather here makes our students able to cope with what the world might throw at them.’
Like all schools, Rossall has had plenty thrown at it by successive governments creating a state of almost constant flux in the country’s education policy. However, pupils here have the added advantage of the International Baccalaureate.
‘IB is definitely here to stay,’ says Mrs Purves. ‘It’s popular with the parents of our international students and it is also brilliant for people who have diverse interests and haven’t made a firm decision about their future. The added bonus is that it’s a worldwide qualification that doesn’t get tinkered with.’
An international approach is one promoted by Mrs Purves, who is a linguist. She arranged for Rossall to become a member of Round Square, an alliance of 160 schools around the world with joint aim of promote shared ideals such as democracy, environmentalism, service and leadership.
Rossall’s strong academic ethos is demonstrated by the fact students have longer school days with an hour set aside for creative activities. However, there is also an emphasis on fun with sport playing a very important role.
A golf academy has been set up with its own director and there is a 25 metre pool, squash, tennis and fives courts. For young stargazers, there is an astronomy centre complete with resident expert.
As well as satisfying the children’s hunger for knowledge, the school also has an impressive catering facilities and an even more impressive dining hall that could be from the pages of Tom Brown’s Schooldays.
As well as being fed, they also learn to cook in a swish state-of-the art kitchen complex where they stage ‘Bake Off’ style competitions. The aim is that students leaving for university will be able to do a little better than beans on toast.
‘We take a holistic approach at Rossall with the aim of character development,’ said Mrs Purves, the first female head in the school’s history.
‘There is no magic formula for success – we aim to expose young people to new things and take them out of their comfort zone.’ That has included fundraising in the community for a local hospice.
Since her arrival, Mrs Purves has made several changes with more time for science, creative studies, drama, food studies, music and Latin as an option. Language taster sessions are now available and Mandarin has been introduced at the junior school. The style of the uniform has also been modernised.
Mrs Purves, who has a son and daughter at the school, moved from East Anglia to Lancashire, where her husband has his roots. The family have quickly developed into fans of Fleetwood Town FC.
Mrs Purves wants Rossall to send students out into the world who are confident and capable. ‘I want them to have a hunger and excitement about what is coming next and are able to communicate well with all kinds of people,’ she said. ‘It’s not just about grades and qualifications but developing skills as human beings. Fire and passion are what we look for.’
Also handy on the Rosshockey pitch, you’d imagine.
As well as the president of Peru, former pupils include Brigadier George Rowland Patrick Roupell, holder of the VC, Commander Edward Ahlgren who captained two RN nuclear submarines, Sir Francis Graham Smith , Astronomer Royal until 1990, Sir Frederick Lugard, governor of Hong Kong, acclaimed author J.G.Farrell, John Broome, founder of Alton Towers, England Rugby Union international Peter Winterbottom and conductor Sir Thomas Beecham,