Crown Princess Leonor of Spain starts the school year at UWC Atlantic College.
  • A Spanish and a Dutch Princess have started an around R1.3 million course at a progressive Welsh school.
  • Many UWC Atlantic students receive full or partial scholarships to improve access to education.
  • Former royal students include Princess Elisabeth of Belgium and Dutch King Willem-Alexander.
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If it takes a village to raise a child, what does it take to raise a royal child? United World Colleges (UWC) Atlantic should know - the school has taught a handful of royals and welcomed Princess Leonor de Borbon of Spain and Princess Alexia of the Netherlands on Monday.

15-year-old Leonor is the eldest daughter of King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, and presumed heir to the throne. She will join 16-year-old Alexia, the second daughter of King Willem-Alexander and Queen Máxima, at the school to study an International Baccalaureate (IB) course that costs upwards of R1.3 million for two years.

Despite the price tag and unconventional 12th-century St Donat's Castle campus, Atlantic College is far from an elitist institution for the rich and famous. Instead, it touts itself as a force for educational change with seafront views of Glamorgan, Wales.

According to the principal, Peter T. Howe, over 60% of Atlantic College students receive full or partial scholarships.

"Having a princess learning alongside a refugee is a really positive experience, both for the students, but also for the learning that takes place in a classroom," Howe said.

The entrance to UWC Atlantic College, Wales.
UWC Atlantic

The school has a rich history

The collection of UWC schools was founded by German educationalist Kurt Hahn in 1962 as a Cold War initiative "to engage young people from all nations in finding peaceful means to bring together a world divided by political, racial and socio-economic barriers," according to a press statement.

It welcomed its first cohort to the 122-acre castle grounds in 1962 and since then, UWC has established over 18 campuses across four continents and invites more than 10,750 pupils per year who have been nominated to attend by national committees in their home countries. Committees consist of UWC alumni, parents of alumni, education professionals, and community leaders who embody UWC's ethos.

"The idea is that if you bring students together from around the world for the final two years of their high school, they would form these bonds of friendship that would be stronger than their nationalist ties," Howe said.

A garden view of UWC Atlantic College, Wales.
UWC Atlantic

So what does an average day look like in the school The Times of London dubbed "Hogwarts for hippies?" It teaches topics you might not find on most curriculums such as the environment, social inequality, and activism.

Students have four formal classes per day between 8am and 1pm, but afternoons are reserved for personal development. It is up to each student to decide if their time is spent on sports, creativity, or community initiatives.

Previous students include King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands who was part of the school's lifeboat service, Princess Raiyah bint Al Hussein of Jordan, and most recently, Crown Princess Elisabeth of Belgium.

The Dining Room at UWC Atlantic College.
Runa Kolaczyn´ska/UWC Atlantic

UK boarding schools are often criticised for creating out-of-touch environments - in 2020, for example, a teacher at the prestigious Eton College was dismissed for promoting anti-feminist sentiments to boys, as reported by The Times.

Howe said Atlantic College wants to ensure every student is treated equally, regardless of royal or social status - teachers are even called by their first name to avoid the typical hierarchy of the education system.

Students live in four-person dormitories they share with young people of different nationalities in their year group. The college has eight boarding houses, each of which hosts 48 students across male and female corridors.

A common area inside UWC Atlantic College.
UWC Atlantic

Students take away more than just academic credentials

Queen Noor of Jordan, the president of UWC and mother to Princess Raiyah, said in a post on the school website that a UWC education equips students with the skills they need "to become activists for a more peaceful and sustainable world."

Howe says students are taught about uncomfortable realities such as racial inequality. In 2020, students of colour were supported to share their experiences during a town hall held in the wake of George Floyd's death. The school also encourages students to "organise and run conferences" on the issues that matter most to them.

A courtyard view of the UWC Atlantic College grounds.
UWC Atlantic

Howe says he is proud that many of these teachings cannot be measured by percentiles or scores. "I refuse to publish our IB results," he said. "I fundamentally don't believe that's the measure of success and if you think that's the measure, then this probably is not the right school for you."

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