The Purvis Society, to which all academic scholars at Cranleigh belong, is Cranleigh’s oldest and most active society. It meets on average four times a week during the Michaelmas and Lent terms, and over the course of a year hosts a dozen visiting speakers, sees two dozen staff give seminars on their personal academic interests, and runs around ten Sixth-Form dinners, in which students have the opportunity to discuss the ideas raised in seminars in a less formal setting.

Speakers this term have included Lord Justice Davis, who led a discussion on the role of the judiciary in Britain today; Jenny Anderson, a journalist with the New York Times for ten years and now with Quartz, on the future of the press; and Professor Simon Blackburn of the University of Cambridge, who spoke on whether science can tell us the difference between right and wrong. Staff-led seminars in recent weeks have covered topics from the Peloponnesian War, to why we take holidays, to the significance of Geoffrey Chaucer (this one led by the Headmaster).

The Purvis Society is convened by Adam Rothwell, the Master of the Scholars, who also oversees the scholars’ general academic progress, and assists with their university applications. Adam inherited the Society from his predecessor Dr Christopher Mann in September 2016, and has been keen to keep its traditions and distinctive features alive, while also adapting it so the interests of Cranleigh’s scholars are served in the most effective way. It is Adam’s belief that The Purvis Society has the potential to add significantly to the intellectual life of scholars, extending them in a consistent way beyond what’s possible in lessons, making them more interesting people as a result.

The current academic year has seen the first student-led seminar (by Nick Peachey of the Upper Fifth, on the ethics of the Battle of Agincourt); and the inauguration of a series of Sixth-Form seminars, in addition to the existing programme of lectures. These innovations have been brought in to help students develop their skills of discussion and debate in a clear academic context – key skills for life beyond school, and particularly useful for the increasingly common task of a university admissions interview. In the coming year, the Society will continue to evolve. Scholars will increasingly be asked to take the lead in organising and hosting speakers; and more of them will also be asked to run seminars that reflect their own academic interests – a task that is perhaps particularly well suited to Sixth Formers taking the EPQ.

The Purvis Society is unusual not only at Cranleigh but also among other schools for the extent and breadth of the meetings it organises. It is also a key part of the School’s effort to encourage Cranleigh Thinking. Partly as a result of this, it looks set to become even more active in future.