Great Walstead School, Lindfield
A delightful and rural day school for boys and girls aged 2-13 in a sizeable and picturesque campus, with a focus on developing happy, confident and successful children.
This wholesome and rural independent day school for children aged 2 to 13 occupies a sizeable campus spanning some 265 acres of bluebell woods and rolling fields in Lindfield, near Haywards Heath. With top notch facilities, academic success and a strong focus on outdoor learning it’s a desirable destination for local families, as well as those moving out of London and settling in the commuter belt.
Head Chris Calvey genuinely understands children and his respect for the wide variety of ways in which children learn, and the importance of play, curiosity and creativity, is palpable throughout the school. The children, by turn, are all clearly happy, confident and willing to get stuck in – a testimony to the care and education on offer.
A grand drive through rolling parkland leads to the main school site, which was formerly a country estate. The main school buildings are red-brick and a mix of the old and the new, added as the school has developed over the years. This is definitely a school with heritage, as the height of some of the ceilings, the chapel and a stunning decoratively tiled wall in the atrium will attest, but it’s also very much a space for children and has none of the stuffiness of some more traditional independent schools.
Inside, it’s all high windows flooding spacious classrooms and learning areas with light. The library is stunning, an inspiring book-filled paradise with chairs, desks and work surfaces of different heights so children can choose where and how they settle in, and a large interactive screen on the wall. The Early Years space is bright and busy, but very spacious and has the distinctive scrubbed-wood floor, whitewashed walls feel of a creative studio, with many homely touches including soft carpets upon which children curl up for stories. The outdoor classroom space is equally large and full of stimulating activities and a covered area for rainy days or to provide shade.
Further up the school, classrooms are being upgraded from the more functionally academic setup into colourful and interactive spaces with thoughtful details like coloured boards upon which the children can brainstorm and give feedback, and tables made of whiteboard material for scribbling and workings-out. Some of the chairs are more mobile and ‘wobbly’ for those children who can’t sit still, another really thoughtful touch that shows a deep understanding of children. We all know those kids who will insist upon rocking back on their chairs – some of us have them, some of us were them. To provide seating to cater for this, rather than just expect children to sit still, feels incredibly forward-thinking.
Great Walstead has all boxes ticked – and then some. It houses a swimming pool with a retractable roof, acres of pitches, Astroturf, a huge sports centre, a music school, an art studio and a performing arts centre and science labs. As an added bonus it also occupies acres of woodland and fields, with a dedicated Forest School, a bluebell wood, streams and lakes and adventure playgrounds. These outdoor facilities are very much utilised too – visiting on a windy day, I watched the nursery children troop eagerly out onto the lawns to fly their own kites made that morning – a richly interactive learning experience that, the head informs me, was all led by the children themselves. Finally there’s The Secret Garden, the school’s very own Victorian walled garden, providing the children with another large outdoor learning space; which includes areas here they can grow fruit and vegetables as well as a sensory garden and a flock of Great Walstead chickens.
The school values skills like curiosity, creativity and collaboration as much as academic achievement and children very much learn how to learn, as opposed to learn how to be taught. It’s worth noting though that academically Great Walstead performs very well. Leavers go on to primarily local schools like the highly academically rigorous Brighton College as well as Bede’s, Ardingly, Hurst and Lancing. Occasionally leavers are sent to prestigious destinations like Harrow.
With seven football and rugby pitches, astro-turf, an indoor pool, indoor and outdoor courts, a huge sports hall with floor lighting plus the woodlands, Great Walstead is well set up for sporty children. Children are encouraged to get stuck in and it’s not all about excelling – although those that do, will find plenty of opportunities here and I spoke to children who had won sports scholarships to Brighton College including the school’s first ever female recipient of a cricket scholarship. But for those who aren’t outstanding, there’s still plenty of ways to get involved, and a range of activities outside the main curriculum to choose from including sailing, dance, karate, horse riding and golf.
Sometimes schools pay lip service to creative arts, saying they value music, art, drama and so on but clearly prioritising academia above all. Great Walstead, however, isn’t just talk. On top of the excellent facilities and opportunities for children to study instruments and LAMDA examinations, perhaps its greatest testimonial to the value it places on creative arts is the fact that resident local artists occupy one of the school’s buildings. These working artists, all local graduates, are gifted the space to pursue their creative careers and in turn offer the children skills, inspiration, role-modelling and the chance to be part of a genuinely creative community.
Chris Calvey joined Great Walstead from nearby Ardingly College, where he was head of prep. He clearly relishes the independence of the school, which he says allows him to focus fully on the children’s learning, development and needs instead of the school’s requirements of pupils.
In person he’s thoughtful and a passionate advocate for children and the multitude of ways in which they learn and experience the world. He introduced a new set of values to the school that focuses on all aspects of learning, including collaboration, communication, craftsmanship and curiosity. These values have really been embedded throughout the school and help the children think about their attitudes to learning, not just their attainment. He’s keen to preserve a love of learning in children and embrace their differences, curiosity and questions as opposed to producing children who are ‘good at being taught’. His commitment is paying off – children are absolutely thriving here and the place hums with happiness, purpose and collaboration.
The children raved about the food on offer, which has recently been even more improved following a student survey. The dining hall is a gorgeous space, with a wall sporting a mural of the bluebell woods in full bloom providing food for the stomach and the soul.
Each year on the hotly-anticipated Q Day, children in Year 7 and 8 get to camp out overnight in the woods and enjoy food cooked over a campfire, games and activities.
WRAPAROUND AND PASTORAL CARE
The school offers care at its purpose-built centre The Keep from 7.30am to 7pm year-round, to help with the needs of its primarily working families. Wraparound care is tailored to age groups, with older children attending prep or enjoying clubs and activities after school. Over the holidays the school runs a range of clubs.
The school has a quiet area for learning enhancement and pastoral care, where children can benefit from more small-group and individual attention or just a quiet nurturing space, with seven specialist staff to help them with any learning or personal challenges they may be facing.
From £2,895 per term for Reception, up to £5,550 per term for Years 7 & 8.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Kids who love to get stuck in. Great Walstead is a real fairy-tale of amazing facilities and grounds, combined with a nurturing ethos to both support and challenge children.
Not for: Extremely shy or reticent kids might prefer a smaller prep. No boarding, so families need to be reasonably local.
Dare to disagree? Book a visit on the school’s website or give the head a call.
Great Walstead School, East Mascalls Lane, Lindfield, West Sussex, RH16 2QL 01444 483528