Scholars at Cranleigh play a vital role in the intellectual life of the school. They take a sustained, serious interest in academic matters beyond the classroom, and work hard in it. As a consequence, they usually end up being our most academically successful pupils, with several being made offers to study at Oxford and Cambridge each year.
We know, however, that scholars’ intellectual development doesn’t happen unprompted. So, to stimulate their interest and to encourage the development of good academic habits, we run regular scholars’ meetings for each year group (details below). By fostering a community among the scholars in each year, and by helping them to develop their ability to enquire through discussion, we lead pupils to read, understand and dispute in a sophisticated and useful way. These meetings are often regarded by pupils as among the most engaging academic experiences they have while at school.
The Purvis Society
All academic scholars and exhibitioners are members of the Purvis Society. In the Lower School, there are weekly meetings (usually over lunch) for each year-group; in the Sixth Form, we meet most weeks in the evenings, during prep. The purpose of the Purvis Society is to encourage members to think for themselves.
Lunchtime meetings are usually led by Mr Adam Rothwell, the Master of the Scholars, with sessions sometimes being taken by other teachers. In most meetings, members are presented with information on an unfamiliar topic and are asked to discuss it. Topics range from those in the news – what activities should be lawful or unlawful are common here – to questions of ethics, to more-or-less any philosophical question going.
Ozzy, an academic exhibitioner in the Lower Fifth, describes what Purvis meetings are like:
To put it simply; Purvis is a lot of fun. Not only do you have the pleasure of discussing somewhat controversial topics in an informal and engaging manner, but you also get the satisfaction of pressing them forward a group of engaged young individuals and attempting to convince them why you’re right. Then, comes the arduous task of sitting anxiously in your seat waiting to put your newly-created ‘life-changing idea’ forward. It is the best feeling one can have. However, the topics do tend to vary and one can sometimes get a wild sense of frustration – although these feelings are quickly quashed as some new radical idea grasps the attention of the meeting which then spirals off in a completely different direction. So overall, if you were to ask me what Purvis meetings were like as a student, I would say that they are, in their essence, utterly unforgettable.
Sixth Form students lead the majority of our meetings, with visiting speakers and teachers in the chair every now and again. Meetings are longer in format and more discursive than Lower School meetings: the typical format is for a paper to be given by a student for the opening 30 to 45 minutes, followed by a similar length of questions and discussion of the issues raised. Several times a term, this discussion will be continued at one of our much-anticipated Purvis Society dinners.
In the Sixth Form, therefore, the Society encourages members to take part in university-style seminar discussion. This develops students’ ability to engage with complex, new ideas, and to debate them effectively. Students leading meetings also gain experience of explaining their academic interests to their peers, and managing the ensuing discussion.
Robin, an academic scholar in the Sixth Form, gives his view on our meetings:
Purvis is essentially about attempting to answer questions that have no definitive answer. We frequently discuss challenging and stimulating topics in a way that is relevant to anyone no matter what their interests may be, with meetings led by Mr Rothwell, other members of staff and students alike. Discussions are often structured in a specific way intended to make you question yourself and look at things from a different perspective, providing you with the extremely valuable skills of adaptability and reasoning in a way that extends far beyond the classroom.
History of the Society
The Society was originally formed in 1939 with, to quote from the Cranleighan magazine of the time, “the purpose of helping to preserve that quality of thought and interest that Mr. Purvis had fostered during his long stay at Cranleigh”.
John Stanley Purvis was born in 1890. He started teaching at Cranleigh in September 1913, having been an Exhibitioner of St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. He enlisted in early 1915 and left for military service in France that December. He wrote a well-known poem, “From Steyning to the Ring”, and made several sketches on the battlefield, including one dated 15th September 1916 which showed the first time tanks were used in warfare – the tank is shown as a dark blob as it could not be clearly delineated for security reasons.
He was wounded, and visited the School to talk about his experience of the First World War early in 1917. On his return to Cranleigh in 1918 he taught History and became Housemaster of 1 North in 1919. He wrote and directed the School Pageant of 1928, was ordained Deacon in 1932, Priest in 1933 and after his retirement in 1938 he became Canon of York Minster (1956-68) and translated the York Mystery Plays in 1957 (for which he received the OBE in 1958). Canon Purvis died in 1968.
Scholars (and any students without scholarships) who wish to apply to Oxbridge, are provided with guidance. Potential applicants meet once a week, and whenever necessary informally with the Master of Scholars, to discuss their applications. Our focus in these meetings is providing students with information about an application process that can seem overwhelmingly complex, and guiding them to the correct decisions. Subject-specific support is then given by the relevant academic department. We do not believe that there is any ‘easy’ way of getting into Oxbridge; and we also know that students who are intensively ‘coached’ into coming across as a certain type of person in their application very rarely meet with success. So, our focus is on encouraging students to make wise choices, and giving them the advice they need to make a successful application.
Master of Scholars
E-mail: Mr A S J RothwellMA, PGCE, MPhil
Mr Adam Rothwell has been Head of History at Cranleigh since September 2015 and Master of the Scholars since 2016. He is a tutor in Loveday and also oversees the school’s debating society. Before coming to Cranleigh, Mr Rothwell taught at Oakham School in Rutland, where he was an assistant boarding housemaster and Oxbridge co-ordinator, also teaching History and IB Diploma Theory of Knowledge.
Mr Rothwell studied at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a double-first-class BA in History and 2005, and an MPhil in Historical Studies in 2006. Before becoming a teacher, Mr Rothwell worked in the voluntary sector, where he briefly ran a charity.