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Dunottar School, Reigate: royalty at its roots

PUBLISHED: 13:31 12 January 2012 | UPDATED: 20:50 20 February 2013

Dunottar School, Reigate: royalty at its roots

Dunottar School, Reigate: royalty at its roots

Located in beautiful surroundings on the edge of Reigate, Dunottar is a leading day school for girls aged from three to 18. Celebrating their 85th anniversary this year, here we put headmistress Nikki Matthews under the Surrey Life spotlight...

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Originally published in Surrey Life magazine September 2011


Located in beautiful surroundings on the edge of Reigate, Dunottar is a leading day school for girls aged from three to 18. Celebrating their 85th anniversary this year, here we put headmistress Nikki Matthews under the Surrey Life spotlight...

So, youre celebrating your 85th anniversary this year. How did the school first come into being?
The school was founded in 1926 by Mrs Jessie Elliot-Pyle and her husband. Dunottar Schools name is taken from the Scottish castle, which is actually spelt slightly differently: Dunnottar. Mr and Mrs Elliot-Pyle went there on honeymoon and it is where, in 1651, King Charles II ordered that the Crown Jewels of Scotland be taken for safe keeping in the face of the threat posed by Cromwell. She decided she would name the school after this as she believed childrens minds were like precious jewels to be treasured. The school would also be a place where they would be safe and looked after. Our motto is Do ut Des, which means I give that thou mayst give. After 85 years of educating girls at the school, the ethos remains very much the same.


How have things changed since then?
The school opened with just three pupils in Brownlow Road near Redhill Common. By 1933, numbers had grown so greatly that Dunottar moved to its present home a handsome Palladian-style mansion built in 1867 in 15 acres of stunning grounds on what was originally known as the High Trees Estate in Reigate. Although the original buildings have changed little since then, there have been many additions to the listed site. These include science laboratories, a super sports hall, a 25m swimming pool, ICT suites and modern classroom blocks. There is also a large playing field that nestles in a glade at the bottom of the wooded ridge.


What do you most enjoy about being based in Reigate?
It is a beautiful town and the site of the school is within a residential area, on top of a hill, within the safety and security of its inspiring buildings and grounds. We are very proud to be able to showcase the school on the cover of Surrey Life magazine.


Theres a lot of talk about sections of the population being priced out of a high quality education. Have you put any policies in place to make it easier for those less well off?
We are aware of the financial burden on parents and I believe that every child deserves the very best education. As such, we do have provision for bursaries and scholarships, to allow open access to all, and can therefore support those who need it most. We are part of a charitable trust, which enables us to give as much as we can in this area without limiting the offer we can make.


What does Dunottar see as the key to producing well-rounded individuals?
Within the independent sector, we have the flexibility to educate girls not only by preparing them for external exams but also to stretch them outside of the basic curriculum, to widen their knowledge and to give them a life-long love of learning.


How do you achieve this?
The girls can progress happily through Dunottar right from the nursery all the way up to A-levels, and throughout this, we educate each girl in order to achieve her own personal best, whatever that may be. We believe strongly that girls perform better when they are taught in a single-sex environment where they can be free from other distractions and they are able to excel in all areas of the curriculum. This gives them great confidence to face all challenges in the future. Over the years, we have also embraced new technologies and, through our forward-looking curriculum, we are preparing girls for careers that may not yet exist. We also believe in a strong pastoral emphasis, provided by an experienced and caring staff, and engender a care for each other within the school that also extends to the wider community through the work that the girls do for local charities as well as in their response to international disasters.


Who are your best-known alumni?
Our famous alumni include the best-selling author of Friday Nights, Second Honeymoon and Brittanias Daughters, Joanna Trollope, and the BBC newsreader Katherine Carpenter.


What are your main ambitions for Dunottars future?
I am very privileged to be the headmistress at Dunottar School, as I can continue to educate girls with the best possible teaching staff in the most inspiring learning environment. We provide an excellent all-round education that incorporates new technologies alongside innovative learning techniques whilst still embracing traditional values. I will continue to work alongside those who are taking girls education to the forefront and intend to uphold the values that the founders of Dunottar began and which organisations such as the Girls Schools Association continue today.


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