Gordonstoun School
Gordonstoun School Logo.jpg
Motto Plus est en Vous
Established 1934
Type Independent Boarding School
Religion Inter-denominational
Principal Mr Simon H C Reid
Acting Chaplain Mr W Smit
Chairman of Governors Professor Bryan P Williams
Founder Kurt Hahn
Location Gordonstoun Road
IV30 5RF
United Kingdom
Local authority Scottish Council for Independent Schools
Staff ~120
Students ~600
Gender Coeducational
Ages 8–18
Houses 9 Boarding Houses
Publication The Gordonstoun Record
Website gordonstoun.org.uk

Coordinates: 57°42′15″N 3°22′18″W / 57.704167°N 3.371667°W / 57.704167; -3.371667

Gordonstoun School is a co-educational independent school for boarding and day pupils in Moray in North East Scotland. Named after the 150-acre (61 ha) estate originally owned by Sir Robert Gordon in the 1600s, the school now uses this estate as its campus. It is located near Duffus to the north-west of Moray's county town of Elgin.[1]

Founded in 1934 by noted German educator Kurt Hahn, Gordonstoun has an enrollment of around 500 full boarders as well as about 100 day pupils between the ages of 8 and 18.[2] With the number of teaching staff exceeding 100 there is an extremely low student-teacher ratio compared to the average ratio in the United Kingdom.[3] Annual full boarding fees range between £17,500 and £28,500 but scholarships are available.[2] There are nine boarding houses, including three 17th century buildings that were part of the original estate, the other houses have been built or modified since the school was established.

Gordonstoun has many notable alumni.[4] Three previous generations of British royalty were educated at Gordonstoun since its establishment including The Duke of Edinburgh and The Prince of Wales.[5] Due to Dr. Hahn's influence the school has a strong connection with Germany and forms part of The Round Square Conference of Schools, a group of over 60 schools across the globe also founded by Hahn. Around 30% of students attending Gordonstoun come from abroad.[6]



Gordonstoun was established in 1934 by Kurt Hahn after being asked by friends to give a demonstration in the UK of his "Salem system".[7] He was born in Berlin in 1886 and studied at The University of Oxford.[8] After reading Plato's The Republic as a young man, he conceived the idea of a modern school and with the help of Prince Max of Baden he set up the school Schule Schloss Salem in 1919.[9] After seeing what had happened in The First World War, both men decided that education was key in influencing the future and so Salem was built in order to make leaders of the community out of its students and by the 1930s it had already become a very renowned school throughout the whole of Europe. In 1932 Hahn spoke out against the Nazis and was arrested in March 1933. He was released and was exiled to Britain in the same year through the influence of the Prime Minister, Ramsey MacDonald, who was familiar with Hahn's work.[10] It was then that he decided to start a new school in Morayshire.[11]

Gordonstoun started in a small way and had financial difficulties. Hahn's offer for the lease was accepted on 14 March 1934[12] but the buildings were in need of much repair and at the start of the first academic year there were only two pupils.[13] It had been decided that Gordonstoun would only last a few years and was only to serve as an example of what Hahn's vision entailed. The number of pupils steadily increased and some additional pupils transferred from Salem, including Prince Philip of Greece, now more commonly known as The Duke of Edinburgh. By the start of The Second World War 135 boys were attending.[14]

The war saw a lot of change for Gordonstoun, in June 1940 the whole school was evacuated and the Gordonstoun estate was taken over by the army for use as barracks. A temporary home was found for the school in Montgomeryshire in central Wales[11] when Lord Davies, a parent of two of the pupils, allowed the school to use one of his houses there. The buildings here were insufficient and finances and pupil numbers began to drop. The school survived the war and the pupil numbers grew and the school became well known throughout Wales and the Midlands.[15] Once the war had ended the school was able to return to the Gordonstoun estate.[16]

By the end of the 1940s the school achieved its primary target of 250 pupils and continued growing in size.[17] It managed to build more boarding houses on the estate, removing the need of a house in Altyre, Forres, many miles away from the main campus. Gordonstoun also continued in its growth in education. Schemes were set up to allow poorer children from the surrounding areas to attend, as well as deepening the outward bound activities, which were central to Hahn's system.[18] Skills in mountaineering and seamanship were always taught at the school but the introduction of the Moray Badge, from which The Duke of Edinburgh's Award was borrowed, expanded this.[19]

Gordonstoun House as seen from the South Lawn

From the 1950s onwards, with the foundations of the school firmly set, more focus was put into improving the facilities and expanding the curriculum.[20] Major changes since then include: the founding of Round Square in 1966,[6] an international community of schools sharing Hahn's educational ideals; the school officially becoming co-educational in 1972;[21] and the moving of Aberlour House, Gordonstoun's preparatory school, from Speyside to a purpose built Junior Schoola[›] on campus in 2004.[22]


In the beginning Hahn blended a traditional private school ethos, modeled on Eton and his experiences at Oxford, with a philosophy inspired by Plato’s The Republic and other aspects of ancient Greek history.[23] This is most notable in the title "Guardian", denoting the head boy and girl, the adoption of a Greek trireme as the school's emblem, and a routine that could be described as Spartan. There is a high emphasis on military discipline and physical education, particularly outdoor activities such as seamanship and mountaineering. The school has had a reputation for harsh conditions, with cold showers and morning runs as a matter of routine, and physical punishments, known as "penalty drill" or PD, in the form of supervised runs around one's house (dormitory) or the south lawn of Gordonstoun House (pictured).[24] Physical education and challenging outdoor activities are still taken in high regard at the school but cold showers and punishment runs are now, reportedly, a thing of the past.[25]

The school's defines its ethos by 'Four Pillars’ of education[26] with each pillar representing a part of the whole curriculum. These are:

  • Internationalism[27]
Hahn’s views on education centred on the ability to understand different cultures. Gordonstoun incorporates this in a number of ways including its association with Round Square and in offering student exchanges to the different schools within the association. Additionally there is a chance to join one of the annual international service projects which take students abroad to help a foreign community, for instance there has been projects to build schools in Africa, build wells in Thailand and help orphans in Romania.[28]
Hahn believed that an important part of education was to challenge a person and take them out of their areas of familiarity and comfort, improving a person’s ability to deal with difficult situations. Although challenge can be found in all areas of education, the school requires that every student takes part in a series of outdoor programmes particularly expeditions in the Cairngorms and sailing training on the school's 80-foot vessel, Ocean Spirit.
  • Responsibility[27]
Forming part of the school’s general education, responsibility is instilled into the students through giving opportunities of leadership roles and allowing more freedoms as the students progress through the years.
Hahn is quoted to have said that “The Platonic view of education is that a nation must do all it can to make the individual citizen discover his own power and further more that the individual becomes a cripple in his or her point of view if he is not qualified by education to serve the community.”[29] The idea of service at the school is thought to encourage students to gain a feeling of responsibility to aid other people and is implemented in creating an array of services that every student becomes apart of (see below).

Gordonstoun offers a series of grants, drawing on its investments and other funds from which the school can draw upon in order to support students who are unable to pay the full fees.[30] In the academic year 2009/10 the school is providing financial support for 163 students including 11 with 100% fee coverage and 95 with 50% fee reduction.[31] In order to make this easier the school is now a registered charity: Scottish charity number SC037867.[32]

Gordonstoun Schools

Along with the main school two other schools form part of the greater Gordonstoun community.[17] These are Gordonstoun's preparatory school, Aberlour House, and a summer school that serves to promote the school outside of the academic year.

Aberlour House

The first preparatory school was founded in 1936 at Wester Elchies and unlike Gordonstoun, was not made to move during the war. At the start of the war there were 40 boys and girls attending and these numbers increased to the point that a second school was opened at Aberlour House in 1947[22] by which time nearly 100 pupils were attending.[14]

Wester Elchies was pulled down in the early 1960s because of dilapidation. The prep school continued fine with just Aberlour but even so there were always problems with the 20 miles (32 km) that separated the main Gordonstoun campus and the school. In 2004 this was amended with the construction of a purpose built prep school on the main campus.[22]

Presently Aberlour House has approximately 115 pupils between the ages of 8 and 13 attending.[33] Although they form part of the same institution, going to Aberlour is not a prerequisite of going to Gordonstoun and neither is it enforced that pupils at Aberlour House continue on into Gordonstoun.[22] Even so, they are both obviously very close, sharing the same school song, school flag and the same motto.[33]

Gordonstoun International Summer School

The summer school was started in 1976 and has catered to over 7000 students since then.[34] It opens for a four week period every summer with the aim of giving a taste of the Gordonstoun ethos. Although for the most part the priority is adventure, sports and creative arts, the school also teaches courses in English. Around 250 children from all over the world, from the age of 8 to 16, attend each year.[35]

Academic curriculum

Entrance to Gordonstoun requires the student to pass a Common Entrance Examination.

In the Junior School (ages 8–13), students study a range of courses and follow the Scottish education system. In the Senior School (ages 13+) the students complete a year's foundation course and then enter into the English education system by starting a two year GCSE course followed by a two year A Level course.[27] Gordonstoun offers 21 GCSE courses, 27 AS Level courses and 21 A Level courses including specialised subjects such as Dance, Classical Studies and Further Mathematics.[30]

The 2009 HMIE inspection[36] evaluated Gordonstoun as being 'Excellent' in their curriculum.

Suitable students are prepared for Oxbridge applications as well as SAT entrance for universities in the United States.[37] 96% of students proceed to higher education with 79% going to UK universities and 17% to universities abroad. Of those that don't go onto to further education many will take gap years or join the armed forces.[30]


The Music department is one of the largest departments in the school with Music as a subject being taught up to A Level standard.[37] The department has many facilities at its disposal: aside from the standard practice/teaching rooms it also has two large rehearsal rooms, a recording studio, drum studio and a computer cluster.[38] 40% of students learn an instrument.

The Drama department hosts plays, musicals and productions all year round, some of them taking place in the main chapel but most in the drama theatre which has a capacity for an audience of 200.[39] Theatre Studies is taught as a subject up to A Level standard and Dance to GCSE standard,[37] Gordonstoun being the only school in Scotland where dance is taught as part of the academic curriculum.[40] In addition to having visits from professional touring companies to teach students, performances by the students themselves take place frequently at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and at local schools.[41] The school sets up festivals of its own to showcase the work of the students in both drama and dance, and even the staff produce their own play at the end of each year for the enjoyment of the students. Like the Music Department, the Drama Department also puts on performances abroad most recently in their tour of the US.[30]


Gordonstoun students take a rest whilst on expedition in the Cairngorms

Everyday, apart from Sundays, activities take place after classes have finished. All students are required to partake in an activity but are free to choose what activities they do. At the beginning of the term students can decide which ones they do on what days from the available list. Some activities are only available at certain points in the year such as cricket in the summer term. During heavy exam periods activities become optional but usually only for senior years students.


In the beginning Hahn expressed his view that at many schools ball games had been given precedence over other activities and so, to start with, more focus was placed on seamanship and practical work than the playing of games. Due to this, competitive matches did not start until the autumn of 1935 when Gordonstoun played and won its first rugby match against Grantown Academy.[42] Even so the school was still in its infancy and there were no designated fields on which to play with conditions being so bad that during pre-match, halftime and post match, players would busy themselves clearing as many pebbles off the field of play as possible.[42] Sporting events slowly picked up, the summer of 1935 saw Gordonstoun's cricket team win two, lose two and draw one.[43] Kurt Hahn set up the field hockey team personally with Prince Philip humorously recounting a game against Elgin Academy's Ladies team and saying that he "...hoped that soon we shall be among the best Scottish girls' teams."[42]

Today there are playing fields for rugby, football and cricket as well as an outdoor field hockey AstroTurf, outdoor tennis courts and a 400m running track. Apart from these outdoor pitches there is also a large sports centre with facilities that include a rock climbing wall, a 25m swimming pool, a weights room, squash courts and an indoor activity hall for basketball, badminton and netball.[39]

Popular sports such as football, rugby union, netball and cricket produce teams that frequently compete with other schools and adult clubs, locally as well as from across Scotland: in Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. These teams engage in international tours too with the most recent trips being to Dubai, South Africa and the West Indies.[41]

Aside from these more tradition sports there is also the opportunity to participate in karate, equestrianism, skiing, .22 rifle shooting and clay pigeon shooting, athletics, golf and many others. Clubs also form part of the activities list which is made up of cooking, debating, astronomy and film.[30]


The 1st XIb[›] participate in four different competitions. The main competition is the County Schools League where Gordonstoun plays along side nine other schools in a league system with the chance of promotion/relegation at the end of the season. The other three are Scottish Cup, North of Scotland Cup and the Scottish Independent Schools Cup where Gordonstoun plays with a mixture of independent and state schools. The Cup systems differ in that the school will start in a round-robin tournament meeting certain teams in their group in a bid to progress to the knock-out stage of the cup.[44]


Service to the community forms part of Gordonstoun's ethos and takes place every Wednesday. The school has created a number of different services, each service dedicated to a certain cause. Caring for members of the local area and the environment is done by the Community Service. The other services provide rescue or emergency assistance.

The Community Service permits students to help in the local area, spending time visiting retirement homes, nursery schools including visits to those with physical or mental disabilities. A lot of work is also done with established groups by helping PDSA and Oxfam charity shops. Members of other services can also join the Community Service as a second service.[45]

The other services work to help in emergency situations such as search and rescue and will train in different skills depending on what they do. In general this involves training in First aid, Navigation, search techniques and use of VHF radios. All will require that students pass certain nationally recognised awards.

Coastguards, Lifeguards, Canoe Lifeguards and the Special Boat Service assist the local authorities and community in and around the water. The Coastguards was the first service set up by the school in March 1935 and a log cabin was built soon after on the cliff tops.[46] The watchtower is still used but the service now also has a 4x4 and attend about 3 or 4 rescues per term. The Lifeguards train through practical and theoretical lessons to meet standards set by the RLSS so they can help invigilate the swimming pool. The Canoe Lifeguards train in local rivers and in the North Sea in order to attain various British Canoe Union awards and the SBS possess RIBs powered by outboard motors as well as small sailing craft to teach students boat handling and maintenance.[45]

The Mountain Rescue Unit and the Nordic Ski Patrol services assist in operations in the nearby Highlands. The MR service undertake an extra two expeditions each term to develop skills with practice also taking place on the school climbing wall. Ski Patrol practice whenever possible in season but can also use the artificial track at Huntly with the eventual exam to become part of the British Association of Snowsport Instructors.[45]

The school's fire service works closely with the Grampian Fire and Rescue Service and have a fire station on campus with two fire-fighting appliances at their disposal. It was started in 1940 while the school was based in Wales and they acquired an appliance soon after.[47] They attend roughly fifty call-outs a year and so members have to be medically and physically fit, training in order to pass the practical test before becoming a fire fighter. The team is split into three watches lasting a week each and are on call 24 hours a day having to carry pagers and react quickly should they be called.[21]

The Duke of Edinburgh's Award was started as Gordonstoun and takes many aspects of its requirements from the four pillars of education. Because of this many students will use their participation in a service to help attain the award.[48]


Gordonstoun School's yacht: The Ocean Spirit of Moray under sail in the North Irish Sea.

Seamanship has been a main part of the curriculum since the school began. The first voyage of note was in a cutter from Hopeman to Dornoch in June 1935, a distance of 25 miles (40 km).[49] Students still train in cutters from the age of 13 upward at Hopeman harbour to prepare for a voyage in the school's 80 ft (24 m) sailing vessel. Most excursions take a week sailing off the West Coast of Scotland, but the school also enters into The Tall Ships' Races annually which allows students to take part in an international competition in European waters lasting up to a month.[50]


All students will partake in multiple expeds during their time at Gordonstoun, lasting from a day to a week. The location of the school allows for the students to be exposed to an array of different terrains. The Cairngorms are only a short drive away and provide opportunities to engage in Camping, Orienteering and learning survival techniques. Training is given to the students throughout their time at the school and they are tested with progressively harder situations. In lower years they begin with expeditions that are accompanied by staff and in later years with an unaccompanied expedition where students will have to plan and prepare for the trip themselves. Expeditions can also take place at nearby lakes and rivers for Canoeing trips and also hills and forests for Mountain biking.[51]


In the lower school, ages 13 to 16, a boy and a girl are elected to be Captains of the lower school. They provide liaison between teachers and students so that any concerns can be rectified. To do this they must attempt to be model students and be easily approachable. Other roles they partake in can include organisation of inter-house activities, charitable events and the lower school social (Social refers to social event or party).[52]

In the Upper School, ages 16 to 18, responsibility is available through a hierarchy of positions.[30] This starts with Captains of Sports, Service and House. In the case of Captains, no peer voting takes place but rather a student is elected by the Head of the respective department. This way it is not uncommon for some people to be re-elected as Captain for multiple terms depending on whether or not anybody else of suitable stance is available. Captains of Sport such as the Football or Rugby Captain are chosen by the Head of that particular sport and will help the Head organise teams for practice and preparation off the field of play as well as on it. Similarly Captains of Service will aid the Head of Service organise training sessions and be a point of contact for the rest of the members.[52]

Captains of House are slightly different though in that they play a more personal role for students who want to voice problems with conditions within the house and this often means that House Captains have a lot more students to be responsible for. This difference is more evident in their original title of 'Helper'.[53] They tend to be in close contact with the House Master so that any issues requiring immediate attention can be sorted out as well as being able to relay any general ideas or concerns in the House Captains' Council which meet once every two weeks. At the meeting a teacher is present and minutes are taken so that they can be passed onto the Colour Bearers (CBs).

Colour Bearers get their name from a band of purple they wear as insignia on their uniform, purple being one of the school colours. A very select group of pupils, they are elected by the students and the staff, similar to Eton's Pop,[54] and have important roles in the school community as a whole.[55] Unlike captains they keep their positions for a whole year unless they are demoted which is usually the punishment for untoward behaviour. They meet every week with the Headmaster to attend to a wide range of school matters. As well as this they are responsible for maintaining the refectory and the library and for serving drinks behind the bar at the weekly socials in addition to organising major school wide events that take place throughout the year.[52]

From the CBs a boy and a girl are chosen to be Guardians for the academic term. These are the Head Students for the entire school and since there are only normally 6 people a year allowed to have this position it is held in high regard by students and teachers alike. The term Guardian comes from the name of the supportive rulers of Plato's ideal state.[56] This name, along with Helper, are designed to drive home the difference of a student in a position of power, and a student with the responsibility to aid others. Therefore, like the staff they are closely involved in the management and wellbeing of the school.

Boarding houses

There are nine boarding houses spread throughout the campus. During a student's time at Gordonstoun they will always belong to the same house and a lot of pride and loyalty can be associated with one's house. In order to properly accommodate the student houses have TVs and a common room in which students from all houses can relax in. Small kitchenettes are also available, normally with only limited appliances such as a kettle, microwave, fridge and toaster but some houses have kitchens vastly larger than others. The house will also provide showers and cleaning facilities such as a washing machine and clothes dryer although there is a biweekly school cleaning service but it is only intended for under garments and uniform.

The houses are run by a small team of teachers. The House Master (HM) has overall responsibility and is helped by the Assistant House Master (AHM). Either or both of these will be present at the daily house meeting and will oversee homeworkc[›] to make sure students are studying. The HM will organise any special house events, decide who the house captain will be for the term as well as choosing a captain to take care of other house related goings on. The HM is also the person who most students would talk to if they had a problem although all teachers are available for help. Both the HM and the AHM normally have residences within the houses and so are very much part of the house. Each house has a matron who helps the students through their daily routine as well as a tutor to help the students in their studies.[57] The year a student is in, and the amount of rooms in the house decides which students are allowed a room of their own, although it is normally decided that younger years share whilst senior students get their own rooms. All students rotate rooms each term.

The houses are:


  • Hopeman House
  • Plewlands House
  • Windmill House


  • Altyre House (from September 2011. Previously co-ed)
  • Bruce House
  • Cumming House
  • Duffus House
  • Gordonstoun House (G-House)
  • Round Square

Some houses will go on house expeditions and there are many inter-house competitions that take place in the year. These competitions vary a lot in nature. For the most part the most common are sports like Basketball and Football or simply a Tug of War.[58]

Old Gordonstounians

For OG's there is the Gordonstoun Association which aims to promote and strengthen links between former pupils of the School and between former pupils and the school itself. The patron of the GA is HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.

Royal connections

During the 1960s Prince Charles attended the school on the recommendation of his father, The Duke of Edinburgh, who had himself been one of the first students to attend Gordonstoun, having previously been educated at Salem in Germany. Prince Charles did not enjoy the regime which he later characterised as "Colditz in kilts".[59] Princes Andrew and Edward eventually followed in their father's and elder brother's footsteps. Of the four princes, three (Philip, Charles and Edward) were appointed Guardian (prefect) during their time at the school.[60] Princess Anne, the Queen's only other remaining child, was not educated at Gordonstoun, which at that time was for boys only. However, she did send her own two children there and also served for some time on the school's board of governors.[61] She still maintains her links with the school, serving currently as a Warden of the school.[62]

Other OGs

In addition to the royal family other notable alumni include:

Other OGs are listed here.

Gordonstoun also has a notable fictional alumna, the heroine of Tomb Raider, Lara Croft was supposed to have attended the school in sixth year, and has also been used to advertise it.[65][66]

See also


  • ^ a: Gordonstoun has different names for different segments of the school. The Junior School refers to the prep school, Aberlour House (ages 8 to 13), and the Senior School refers to Gordonstoun itself (ages 13-18). In addition to this, the Senior school is then split in to two other segments, the Lower School (ages 13 to 16) and the Upper School (ages 16 to 18)
  • ^ b: In sports like football and cricket there are 11 players, and so the best team is often referred to as the First XI. Other sports have the same term, rugby union have the 1st XV etc.
  • ^ c: Prep is a British boarding school term meaning homework. It comes from the term preparatory work as in work done in preparation for the next lesson.


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  7. ^ Brereton 1950. p29
  8. ^ Röhrs 1970. p. xix
  9. ^ Röhrs 1970. p. 22
  10. ^ Röhrs 1970. p. xx
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  14. ^ a b Brereton 1950. p. 33
  15. ^ Brereton 1950. p. 34-35
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  50. ^ "Tallships". /tallships.ru. 2008. http://tallships.ru/vessels/Ocean%20Spirit%20of%20Moray.htm?vessID=125. Retrieved 8 April 2010. 
  51. ^ "Gordonstoun: Exped". Gordonstoun. 2009. http://www.gordonstoun.org.uk/unique-ethos/four-pillars/challenge/expeditions/. Retrieved 8 April 2010. 
  52. ^ a b c "Gordonstoun School: Responsibility". Gordonstoun. 2009. http://www.gordonstoun.org.uk/senior-school/lower-school/responsibility/. Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
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  54. ^ Brereton 1950. p 18.
  55. ^ Brereton 1950. p17.
  56. ^ Arnold-Brown 1962. p.35
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  58. ^ "Gordonstoun School: Houses". Gordonstoun. 2009. http://www.gordonstoun.org.uk/inside.aspx?pageID=38#houses. Retrieved 4 April 2010. 
  59. ^ Victoria, Bone. "In pictures: Prince Charles turns 60". BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/shared/spl/hi/picture_gallery/08/uk_prince_charles_turns_60/html/1.stm. Retrieved 2010-04-11. 
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  66. ^ Hibbard, Andrew (2 July 2001). "Lara Croft offers Gordonstoun a lift". The Independent (London). http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/lara-croft-offers-gordonstoun-a-lift-676318.html. 
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Works cited

  • Brereton, H.L. (1950). Gordonstoun. The University Press Aberdeen. 
  • Röhrs, Hermann (1970). Kurt Hahn. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 0710068859. 
  • Arnold-Brown, Adam (1962). Unfolding Character: The Impact of Gordonstoun. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 

External links

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