Claremont School, East Sussex – Early Years, Pre-Prep and Prep
The nursery and prep school campus of this all-through, co-ed East Sussex school has a sprawling country site and a get-stuck-in ethos.
This all-through school for children aged 3 to 18 set in beautiful East Sussex countryside occupies two separate campuses, one for juniors (to include a nursery school) and one for seniors. Each has its own distinct feel and setting, and you can read about the junior school below and the senior school here. Claremont began life as a prep school, then expanded into an all-through school with a separate campus for the seniors and sixth form some 10 years ago. The school is part of the Independent Schools Partnership of 48 schools across 13 countries.
As a whole, Claremont is an exciting offering with a fascinating mix of traditional and modern facilities and sites, a huge and privileged outdoor space used to full advantage, and a distinct ethos that’s down to earth and focused on children as individuals, with healthy academic aspiration for good measure.
The junior school, incorporating early years and reception, pre-prep and prep, has a magnificent and heritage-steeped site over a whopping 120 acres, just outside St Leonards On Sea. Set within rolling fields and stunning woodland, the main building is a listed Norman Shaw designed manor house, but the high ceilings, large windows and spacious rooms lend themselves to a school setting perfectly.
Early years, reception and years one and two have their own breathtaking, state of the art new building only opened a week before Muddy’s June visit. A wooden, chalet-style building, it sits proudly at the heart of the sloped site and has been designed with the specific needs of this age group in mind. Children progress through free-flow indoor and outdoor spaces as they move through the school, and classrooms are equipped with sensory and academic materials that demonstrate a real understanding of this age group, like loose parts and art materials galore. Each class has its own identity, and a lovely mural by a local artist depicting the animals and birds after which each class is named has pride of place at the centre of the building.
Year three children have their own area of the prep school building, to ease the transition and acclimatise them to the more grown-up school space. The prep school is much more of a traditional public-school setup, with a light and airy chapel, wood panelling and polished brass as far as the eye can see, and a cosy nook of a reception complete with fireplace and sofas. The whole school has a homely feel, perhaps testament to its former use. Home comforts are also prioritised here – the food served in the separate and spacious dining hall is up there with any gastropub or delicatessen, as Muddy can testify after an extremely enjoyable lunch chez Claremont. It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a well-fed child is a happy child.
With more than 100 acres of sports fields and woodlands, plus a huge purpose-built sports hall, floodlit Astroturf and a swimming pool, you can expect sporty children to excel at Claremont. Key skills are taught early and children are ready to begin testing themselves against each other and other schools by year 3. Claremont is also preparing to welcome the recently displaced local cricket and hockey clubs who will base themselves permanently on the extensive site, furthering community links and sporting heritage.
Art, drama and music are prioritised at Claremont, and this is reflected all the way through to the senior school which has a very defined approach and exceptional creative arts facilities (read more here). Children have the option to study instruments and prepare for LAMDA examinations, and take part in regular performances throughout the year. Visual literacy is a key plank of learning throughout and children are introduced to the language of art from reception onwards and given opportunities to practice and hone their skills through cross-curricular activities.
The outdoor setting of Claremont has to be seen to be believed – acres of rolling fields and meadows, and the most enchanting rhododendron-studded woodland that houses two separate Forest School sites for younger and older children, a lake, and a cross-country course. The woodlands are a staple of life at Claremont and are well-used all year round – on the day I visited I passed teachers foraging in ditches and classes of children out orienteering, as well as a Forest School session in which children were making cordage out of brambles and cooking up a kettle of hot chocolate.
The vast majority of students stay at Claremont for senior school and Sixth Form, removing the pressure of Common Entrance or other entry examinations.
Gavin Bunker heads up the pre-prep and prep school. He joined Claremont from a stint teaching overseas, and prior to this he worked in the state sector. He brings a down-to-earth, approachable feel and this pervades throughout the school. Despite such grand surroundings, Claremont feels like a school that’s a bit outdoorsy, rough and ready, in which staff and pupils alike roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. Mr Bunker is visibly as proud of this inclusive, exuberant side of school life as he is of the facilities or academic aspects. Having just overseen the inception of the new early years building, he’s now keen to get cracking renovating the vacated area within the prep school and turn it into specialist language and geography classrooms, whilst removing a few fake walls and generally opening up the space. He’s also effusive about the value of the Independent Schools Partnership which has allowed for extensive renovation and the brand new facilities Claremont boasts.
BOARDING AND WRAPAROUND CARE
Boarding is offered in separate girls and boys boarding houses, the former at Pyke House in Battle and the latter at Clyde House in St Leonards. Boarders are a mix of UK and international, making for a culturally diverse community. The school’s assistant head (International) is also director of boarding and more than 50% of the boarding staff live onsite and are on call 24 hours. The school nurse visits each boarding house weekly and works closely with the resident matrons.
Claremont offers full, weekly (Mon – Thurs) and flexi-boarding, to meet the needs of international and UK parents, and a full range of evening and activity weekends, including trips and outings up to London, out to the seaside and to theatres, museums and other attractions.
For day students, the nursery is open 8am to 6pm and wraparound care is offered through breakfast clubs and after-school activities and clubs.
The mansion house itself is a listed building and all original features have been preserved, making it a fascinating rabbit-warren of rooms and corridors with a cosy, homely feel. Out in the woods lie two Victorian ice houses, but to date only one has been found, surrounded by trees but clearly visible from the pathways. The location of the second remains a mystery.
Reception from £2,494 per term, all the way up to £9,441 per term for full boarding juniors.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Kids who like to roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. Claremont has a really lovely, outdoorsy, slightly rough and ready vibe.
Not for: City slickers looking for a town centre campus.
Dare to disagree? Head to the Open House week from 27 Sept to 2 Oct, or book a private tour.
Claremont School Nursery & Prep, Ebdens Hill, Baldslow, St Leonards On Sea, East Sussex TN37 7PW, 01424 751555, claremontschool.co.uk