E-mail: Mr G J N NeillBA, MA, PGCE
Mr Gordon Neill is the Head of English and Director of University Applications. He joined Cranleigh in 2003, having previously been a housemaster at Truro School, in Cornwall. Academically, he has a particular interest in the satirical literature of the eighteenth century, on which subject he completed an MA, earning a Distinction.
He has coached rugby at a decent level and cricket at a social one throughout his time at Cranleigh; he has also served for many years as captain of the Common Room cricket team, the Platypods. Away from Cranleigh, his interests include American football (both NFL and college), Irish rugby, country walks, real ale, train travel, Golden Age crime fiction and the novels of P.G.Wodehouse.
For the last 10 years or so, around 98% of Cranleighans have opted to go on to Higher Education. Between 75 and 80% each year go on to the older universities, and the rest to the former polytechnics or colleges of art, most of which are now affiliated to universities.
Our more academic pupils opt for Oxbridge, Bristol, Durham, Nottingham, LSE, Imperial and UCL, but plenty of high fliers choose other universities, too, especially the 1960s technological universities like Bath, Warwick, York, Loughborough and Sussex. A large number aim for the big northern civics, especially Newcastle and Leeds, and Exeter is always another popular destination. A handful opt for Cardiff, Edinburgh and Southampton each year, while of the new universities, Oxford Brookes is the most popular, followed by UWE Bristol.
Over the same period, the Business, Management and Economics subject areas have attracted the most students. Some niche business courses, such as Property Management or Marketing, have been popular, and more of our linguists opt for courses combining their languages with business than purely cultural degrees.
For the rest, Cranleighans choose from the complete range of traditional degree courses, although quite a high number opt for Joint or Combined Honours programmes, perhaps reflecting a wish to offer a broader base to future employers. Examples of more exotic courses chosen by individuals over the last few years include Digital Music, Chinese & Spanish, Boat Design, Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, Fashion Marketing, Internet Engineering, Oceanography and Human Resource Management. Between 85 and 90% get into their first choice university, and about 40% take a gap year before going on to university.
A place at Oxford or Cambridge is the objective of some of our brightest pupils. A number arrive at Cranleigh already with Oxbridge ambitions, others emerge as possible candidates during their time here. Those applying are encouraged to undertake their own personal research and reading in order to deepen their understanding and appreciation of their subject.
Applicants are allocated a mentor from the relevant department who guides them through the application process and provides a structured programme of individual meetings and small-group discussions, to consider additional reading and discuss relevant academic issues. These give the candidates the opportunity to articulate their ideas, to challenge points of view and beliefs, to defend and justify their opinions and to widen their knowledge and understanding of their chosen subject. This “stretching” process is aimed at preparing the pupils for the demands of the Oxbridge interview.
Upper Fifth We start the Oxbridge application process in the Upper Fifth with introductory talks and briefings for pupils and parents. This helps potential applicants with the selection of VIth Form courses, which should take account of Oxbridge requirements.
Anyone is welcome to consider an Oxbridge application, but the acquisition of very good GCSE grades is a first priority: Oxbridge applicants nationally have, on average, seven A*s. During the course of the Lower Sixth, students are encouraged to crystallise their thoughts regarding which course and which of the two universities would suit them best. Those in the Lower Sixth considering an application are encouraged to attend one or both of the open days at Oxford and Cambridge at the end of June and beginning of July. Over the summer, a piece of work appropriate to the subject is set in order to focus the candidate’s thoughts, encourage wider research and reading, and confirm interest in the subject. This piece of work is followed up at the start of the following term.
In the Upper Sixth, a separate application procedure runs in parallel with the UCAS structure. Oxbridge candidates submit an on-line application form to UCAS by the middle of October and Cambridge also requires candidates to complete an on-line Supplementary Application Questionnaire (SAQ). Candidates apply to a college at one of the universities, and examples of their written work may also be required. We run a mentoring system whereby candidates are linked with a member of Common Room in the discipline for which they are applying. The mentor guides them through the application process and provides a structured programme of meetings and discussions. These give the candidates the opportunity to articulate their ideas, to challenge points of view and beliefs, to defend and justify their opinions and to widen their knowledge and understanding of their chosen subject. Advice about college choice, personal statements and any submitted written work is given. Candidates also attend lectures, visits and conferences which are organised through the departments.
At the end of the Lower Sixth and in the October and November of the Upper Sixth, interview practice is provided: we link up with other schools and invite academics from outside the School to help with this. We keep closely in touch with colleges and with Old Cranleighans in residence there.
Most of those who apply can expect to be called for interview (and possibly for written tests) in December, after which applicants may receive, during the Christmas holidays or just after, the offer of a place dependent upon A2 grades. Competition for places at Oxbridge is increasingly competitive (nationally, 25% of applications are successful), but last year 9 out of 22 applicants from Cranleigh secured places. It is also possible to apply after A Levels – in some cases even after an earlier rejection.