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At Shiplake, we prepare our young people for a world full of uncertainty and opportunity through a rich and varied academic curriculum. We are proud to offer a genuine diversity of subjects and qualifications, which ensures that at every age and stage, all of our pupils study courses that are right for them.

Our team of teachers are not only passionate subject specialists; they are also deeply committed to learning in its broadest sense. Teaching is innovative and tailored to meet the needs of our pupils. Pupil progress is carefully tracked - twice per term pupils receive grades for attainment and effort in both class and prep. We know the support we offer our pupils allows us to bring out the best in every one of them; class teachers, tutors, Heads of Departments and Housemasters work collaboratively to ensure strong academic progress.

Shiplake’s unique curriculum affords every pupil the opportunity to begin to develop the aptitudes and knowledge required to succeed in the 21st century.

Academic Stages

At each academic stage, the curriculum is adjusted and reviewed to suit the developing needs of pupils. A summary of what pupils and parents should expect is available below, with further subject-specific information available on our academic department pages:

Lower School

Boys and girls in the Lower School follow an exciting and innovative curriculum which was specially designed by the College to allow maximum exploration of subjects and curriculum areas. A solid foundation, based on the National Curriculum, is created for pupils to build on when they move up to Year 9.

The Lower School has four mixed-ability co-educational forms in each year group. Occasionally, and depending on the cohort, pupils may be set by ability in the core subjects of Maths, English and Science.

Year 9

The Year 9 curriculum is designed to ensure that all pupils are well-prepared to begin their GCSE courses. In view of the varying academic experiences of pupils progressing from our Lower School and arriving from various prep schools, teaching aims to bring everyone up to an even level of understanding.

Throughout Year 9, pupils are given guidance to identify their strengths and skills.

Towards the end of the year, we offer wide-ranging support and advice as pupils select the subjects they wish to continue studying in the future. Parents are invited to engage in the process and support their sons and daughters with their decision-making.


As an independent school we are not bound to follow the National Curriculum, but we believe that the balance it provides is suitable for our pupils. Beyond the core subjects of English, mathematics and science, pupils must select at least four subjects. We agree with the prescriptions of the National Curriculum that pupils should try to study a humanity and a practical or creative subject. Additionally, pupils should seriously consider taking a foreign language, as this is highly valued by more prestigious universities.

Subject choices should be guided by ability, interest and career aspirations, although the only consideration in regard to career plans at this stage is not to give up subjects which might be required later.

Pupils in the Core Learning Development group in Year 9 will continue to receive this support, which effectively takes the place of an option subject.

Further information about the options available to pupils at GCSE can be found in the latest GCSE Options Guide, available to download below:

2024-2026 GCSE Options Guide

Hear about each course syllabus from our Heads of Department

The GCSE subject blocks for those starting their courses in September 2023 are below.

Block  A Block  B Block  C Block  D
Business Business Art Art
Computing Design, Engineering and Technology Design, Engineering and Technology Business
Drama History Drama Computing
French Creative iMedia English as an Additional Language Geography
Geography Physical Education Geography History
Creative iMedia Religious Studies History Music
Learning Development Spanish Music Physical Education
Triple Science   Religious Studies Spanish
    Triple Science  
Sixth Form

In the Sixth Form, most students pursue three subjects. There are numerous A Level subjects on offer, but for pupils who prefer to apply their learning in more practical situations, there are also a handful of BTEC courses available.

Mindful of the considerable academic leap required to step up from GCSE level, we aim to provide an extremely supportive learning environment for Year 12 pupils. To this end, study periods during the academic day are supervised to help the development of independent learning which can be relied on in Year 13 when pupils have more free time to manage their work load.

At the end of Year 12, all pupils will have acquired a certain number of UCAS points for university entry. This total provides the student and the universities with an important indicator of academic potential and suitability for particular degree courses.

Hear about each course from our Heads of Department

Pupils joining Year 12 will study the PULSE programme, which stands for personal understanding, learning skills and enrichment. Integrated as part of the Year 12 academic timetable, this programme has been developed in order to facilitate the academic and personal core skills in Sixth Form pupils. Pupils will study either an Extended Project Qualification, or a Certificate of Personal Effectiveness, in weekly lessons. Further information is below.

PULSE Information

16 subject options offered at GCSE
27 subject options offered in the Sixth Form
Freddie has flourished academically beyond our dreams in Shiplake's care; Shiplake has certainly delivered on its aims.
Mrs Lang - Former Parent