The best schools in the UK for fencing and shooting
For the next instalment in our series profiling schools that excel in more off-the-wall sporting options, we’re shining the spotlight on two sports that require intense concentration, a seriously steady hand and, most importantly, the ability to remain calm – all skills that will set pupils up for most things life might throw at them.
If your child wants to know their skeet from their trap or their épée from their foil, read on to find out more about some of the best schools in the UK for fencing and rifle or clay-pigeon shooting.
L’Ecole de Battersea, LondonAt London’s L’Ecole de Battersea, fencing has long been the most popular sport – and it’s a mainstay on the curriculum from Year 3 upwards, with at least one hour per week for all. Pupils are taught by French and English coaches (all part of the fully bilingual education on offer), and they’re incredibly good at it – several alumni have gone on to compete in world championships. Closer to home, children enter regular inter-school competitions against the likes of St Paul’s and Wetherby. For the keenest pupils, there are extra clubs in the form of Musketeer Club and the Elite Squad, which meet at the end of the school day.
The school is evangelical about the benefits of the sport, telling us ‘it gives pupils physical prowess, mental discipline and self-confidence’. And because children wear an épée mask when taking part, principal Mme Brissett believes the sport helps coax even the shyest pupils out of their shell.
Hatherop Castle, Gloucestershire
Fencing is a real strength at this Gloucestershire school, with several British national finals reached, stacks of medals won and three former pupils ranking in the top three nationally, plus another who is now part of the GB team. There’s a dedicated coach on the staff roll, and everyone in Year 2 and above can take up the sport – with the option to sign up for one-to-one lessons as pupils move up through the school.
‘Fencing builds self-efficacy and certainly teaches resilience,’ says the school’s fencing coach Neil Bromley. ‘I always tell children that fencing is a metaphor for life – we get knocked back lots, but when we succeed, it’s awesome. It also promotes self-confidence, develops our ability to think for ourselves and how to outwit opponents – and develops friendships that last a lifetime, as fencers know that theirs is a truly special sport.’
In Years 7 and 8, coaching goes up a notch, with pupils learning how to referee and subsequently help adjudicate inter-school junior matches. ‘This requires maturity, objectivity, and a fair-minded attitude, because as a referee you are accountable for decisions made – quite a demand to place on any 12-year-old, but children enjoy the responsibility when they are ready,’ adds Bromley.
Whitgift School, Surrey
There’s a very starry fencing coaching team at South Croydon’s Whitgift School, headed by Olympian and former GB coach Ian Williams. Lucky pupils are also taught by a former Romanian international and European champion, as well as a current member of the GB squad – each with their own fencing speciality.
All Year 7 pupils receive two taster sessions in the sport. If they like it, there’s a lunchtime beginners’ class to help hone their skills. Older pupils can choose fencing as an option during the weekly games sessions, which seems to pay off – in March, boys took part in the Public Schools Fencing Championships and finished overall as the top boys’ school for the first time in 21 years. The school has a long tradition of fencers going on to represent their country and win national titles too.
'One of my coaches describes fencing as an athletic game of chess – you will need speed, agility, good reaction and be required to outsmart your opponent,’ says Williams. ‘All of this makes it great fun and a very good mental and physical workout.’
Summer Fields, Oxfordshire
The sports facilities at this Oxfordshire prep are immense, and shooting is one of a number of less traditional sports on offer, alongside the more mainstream rugby, football, hockey, cricket and athletics. In fact, the indoor rifle-shooting facility here is so slick that Oxford University Rifle Club regularly uses it for its practice sessions.
Dominic Price has been coaching rifle shooting at Summer Fields for almost 25 years, and has taught hundreds of boys over that time. Anyone in Year 5 or above is welcome to apply for membership of the rifle club, starting off as probationary members until they can demonstrate safe, effective and reliable shooting skills. ‘The feedback is brutally honest – there’s no hiding from stray rounds on a target,’ says Price. The ultimate rifle club accolade is to receive ‘Mastershot’ proficiency – recognition for boys who successfully strike an object smaller than a 5p with each of a round of 30 bullets.
‘Above all, rifle shooting teaches the importance of self-discipline in terms of behaving sensibly and safely, but also the self-discipline to fire one shot after another consistently and with proper technique,’ says Price. ‘In the busy world of boarding schools, rifle shooting can provide a calming opportunity – to do well you must zero in on the task and block out everything else.’
Holmewood House School, Kent
Holmewood House in Kent has a strong sporting reputation and excellent facilities (it’s known on the local match circuit as a force to be reckoned with). And in addition to plenty of playing fields, tennis courts and an Astro, this lucky lot have their very own subterranean rifle range too, cleverly squirrelled away under the swimming pool.
Shooting is open to all pupils in Year 6 and above, with members of the shooting team extending their practice time by an additional hour per week. Holmewood House has won many major inter-school competitions, and regularly heads to other schools to compete. One former pupil proved her prowess by successfully firing through the hole in a Polo mint – a feat that made it into the local newspaper.
‘Competition requires precision, steadiness and a lot of practice, meaning target rifle shooting hones many skills which are essential in many, if not most, other areas of education,’ says Holmewood’s shooting tutor Bryn Groves. Many pupils have gone on to become shooting captains at their senior schools, with some even successfully competing at international level.
Aysgarth School, North Yorkshire
Located at the foot of the Yorkshire Dales – right in the heart of farming, shooting and fishing country – delightfully rural Aysgarth has a long tradition of shooting. When the Prep Schools Rifle Association was formed in the wake of the Boer War, the school reacted by setting up two open air ranges; today, its newly-refurbished indoor rifle range is set in a former air raid shelter, which ‘has provided instructional fun for generations of Aysgarth boys’, says the school.
All pupils can sign up for .22 rifle target shooting, with regular hotly contested inter-house competitions and various events held on sports day. There’s also an annual parent and son clay competition, held in the school grounds (boys in Years 7 and 8 head over to a local clay-pigeon ground for training).
‘Shooting allows our pupils to try another sporting discipline, and helps to develop their patience and encourages calm breathing, which is in contrast to the normal team sports,’ says the school. It’s also brilliant preparation for CCF – a hugely popular activity for many leavers as they make the leap up to senior school.
Giggleswick School, North Yorkshire
Shooting is a big part of life at Giggleswick in the Yorkshire Dales, with opportunities to take part in the sport through the CCF, as an after-school club and during games lessons. There are a number of ‘experience’ shoots for younger pupils, and the keenest go on to train and compete with the local rifle club, with many achieving top 10 rankings in national competitions.
Aside from the better-known benefits of the sport – the fact it helps pupils demonstrate coordination, composure and responsibility – there’s an additional advantage, according to Lt Col Darren Richmond, the school’s CCF Contingent Commander. ‘Shooting can be a really good teaching environment for students who have dyspraxia or who have ADHD,’ he says. ‘The coping strategies required for safe and accurate shooting, learned in the calm of a range, are entirely transferrable to the classroom and everyday life.’
Bloxham School, Oxfordshire
Clay-pigeon shooting is a growing part of the co-curricular programme at Bloxham in Oxfordshire, with pupils coached by a former England shot and national team coach. Everyone can get stuck in – from those who have never picked up a gun to the most experienced shots.
Pupils can represent the school in countless competitions, often scooping up trophies galore. The school has previously won the National Schools and Young Shots championships, along with the Warwick Schools Challenge, the Oxford Schools Challenge and the William Powell Schools Clay Competition.
Bredon School, Gloucestershire
With its fabulously outdoorsy provision (the 84 acres of beautiful Gloucestershire grounds certainly help), Bredon has long had a stellar reputation for clay-pigeon shooting – an integral part of the sports curriculum, outdoor education programme and co-curricular syllabus. Having started with just a makeshift range on the farm (complete with a manual trap and one donated gun), it’s today one of the most professional and well-established entities we’ve seen in a UK school, with its own purpose-built shooting ground run and maintained by a team of European and world title holders. The school is also lucky enough to have its very own gun room, and pupils with a licence can bring their guns into school and store them on site for training purposes.
Shooting is open to all pupils from Year 7 upwards, and younger pupils can sign up for peripatetic lessons, while Wednesday afternoon sessions form part of the regular sports curriculum. Before the pandemic, the Bredon School team held an unbeaten record in inter-school friendly events. More recently, the prep team returned from the 2021 Holland & Holland Independent School Championships with the junior champions title.
‘My proudest achievement personally is not just the students’ success at competition, but rather watching how building their skills and confidence at shooting them leads on to improve other aspects of their school and personal life such as communication skills and building friendships,’ says John Timmis from Three Lakes Shooting, the school’s external shooting provider.
And finally…There are some schools that, despite not offering the sport as an official activity, still have champions in their midst. Thanks to Beaudesert Park School’s rural location in 30 acres of Gloucestershire countryside, many of its pupils enjoy shooting as a hobby outside of school – and this year, its clay-pigeon team topped the tables at the 2022 IAPS Clay Pigeon Shooting Championships, beating 18 prep schools to secure the national title.
To find out more about which schools offer fencing or shooting, head to our school search page and use our search filters to select ‘fencing’ or 'shooting' in the dropdown list of sports offered.