Brambletye, East Grinstead
Muddy says: Celebrating its centenary, with a new arts building on the way, there's more than a knockout view to impress at Benedict Cumberbatch's former school
Now in its 100th year, this co-ed prep and pre-prep near East Grinstead believes in mixing tradition with a modern approach. It is set in 140 acres of parkland and epic views from the terrace and its wood-panelled country house building take in a reservoir and Ashdown Forest. Most classes take place in more modern buildings alongside.
With the addition of a nursery, the school takes pupils from 2.5 – 13 years.
The school has its own woods and extensive playing fields, including a new all-weather astroturf pitch. There are also squash courts, an indoor swimming pool, a gym with climbing wall and, more unusually, a golf course, an assault course and a 220m zip wire. The pre-prep has a woodland school and a ‘Hobbit’ house.
Science labs have been recently refurbished.
Art and design facilities include an ICT suite and a theatre with raked seating. A Creative Centre will open next year, adapted from part of the school’s 1933 building. It will feature a new space for art and a modern library underneath.
Part of the sports hall is being converted to gain modern changing facilities.
There’s an on-site chapel.
In 2018 100% of pupils passed the Common Entrance exam, 40% with A – A*. Of the 34 pupils in Year 8, 14 won scholarships.
Destination schools included Tonbridge, King’s Canterbury, Bryanston, Stowe, Downe House, Benenden, Oundle, Eastbourne College, Hurst, Christ’s Hospital, Teddy’s, Uppingham, Sevenoaks, Worth, Lancing, Cheltenham College and Cheltenham Ladies’ College
Average prep class sizes are 12 – 16.
Brambletye has a reputation for excellence for art and I was particularly impressed with the inspiring feel of the art room, with African artefacts around the walls brought back by the teacher who had worked in Kenya. Pupils regularly win arts scholarships and art courses are offered in the holidays.
Pupils learn several languages.
Less traditionally popular instruments like bassoon and oboe have a higher than average take up at Brambletye. Under the direction of the enthusiastic head of music all Year 8 pupils work towards a big summer concert with pop, TV and film themes. Someone braved a Freddie Mercury solo this year!
Judging by the pictures in the corridors, theatre shows look impressive with professionally made costumes and ambitious productions like Guys and Dolls.
The school is in the early stages of introducing an Enrichment Programme of which an extra focus on reading is a part (see below). More unusual extra-curricular activities include flight simulator, clay pigeon shooting, film-making and didgeridoo clubs.
Brambletye is a Google Cloud Platform school and classrooms use Chromebooks and iPads. Children from Year 2 learn to touch type.
Every child in years 1 and 2 of Pre-Prep attends booster group courses with a maximum of three pupils, focusing on numeracy, literacy and handwriting. There’s also a SEN provision.
Brambletye will introduce parents relocating to the area to families more established for advice.
The school has had some very successful charity drives, including last year raising a record £54,000 for Demelza, which provides hospice care for children in Sussex. Pupils vote for the year’s charity based on staff presentations.
Head and ethos
The head is Will Brooks who I met along with his cheeky dachshund Hercules – a natural hit with the children.
The school rules, the head says, distil down to: “Word Hard, Play, Hard, Be Kind.”
The focus on creativity at the school, he says, is in part to prepare children for an unknown future as technology and careers rapidly evolve. Creative mindsets should help underpin whatever they end up doing. The head points out that a recent Ernst & Young report put literacy, creativity and emotional intelligence at the top of the key attributes needed for the future workplace.
While coding and STEM are important, he believes that literacy underpins everything and so instilling a love of reading is very important at Brambletye.
Reading is now part of the school curriculum for all ages. In these classes teachers also have to read – books not emails! A new Accelerated Reader programme will allow children to ‘bank’ the books they’ve read with a computer which keeps a tally of their total words in order to create some fun competition between pupils.
Also new to the timetable are the Enrichment Programme sessions, which involve teachers sharing their off-curiculum talents on a carousel basis. So far these include crafts, photography and pop hockey, Japanese, lego, animation, presentation tools and ukulele, sculpting, story-telling, cooking, survival-skills and moth-trapping <shudder!>
The mood, the head says, is celebrating strengths, so it’s cool to be clever, to be in the choir or whatever your talent. When it comes to sports “we do the best match tea,” he says, meaning win or lose, the children learn to be excellent hosts and guests. The school is open to parents and encourages them to come and use the sports facilities on Saturdays.
Boarding & wraparound care
Boarding – weekly and full-time is offered from Years 3.
The dorms have decent natural light and some have those great views.
Boarders come from Sussex, Kent and London and overseas – 12% of pupils are international. 80% of Brambletye’s boarders go on to senior boarding schools.
At the weekends the average number staying is 50 and it rarely dips below 35. ‘All-in’ weekends encourage weekly boarders to stay over for special events like a Dorm’s Got Talent’ contest and climbing with the Big Tree Company.
There’s a dorm captain for each room who pupils know they can turn to with problems, besides their teachers.
The school will always help out in childcare emergencies. There are plenty of evening activities for pupils staying after lesson time.
The school’s nursery takes children from two and a half up. There’s a ‘stay and play’ session on Thursday afternoons for tots who are due to join the nursery or have older siblings at Brambletye.
Minibus routes stretch between Edenbridge, Newick, Groombridge and Crowborough, also connecting Haywards Heath and several villages.
The school allows no personal electronic devices but pupils are allowed access to school computers to Skype and email. I’m told they respond pretty well to this, recognising that keeping up with social media posts and messages can be exhausting.
There’s a distinctive pink trimmed uniform. Pretty cool, I thought, and subtle enough not to scare the boys. It has been toned down a little recently, ditching the flamboyant leander blazers for most pupils though prefects wear them with pride on Fridays.
The school encourages individual sports to be played by any sex, so for instance there’s been a girls’ football team for a while and a girl was captain of the mixed cricket team.
There are several Staff V Parents matches throughout the year for cricket, rounders, netball and more. There’s also a parents’ choir and parents can join special dinners at school.
The Latin teacher rewards good work with a whizz down the school zipwire – with pupils yelling verbs as they go!
The school council has a Food Committee whereby pupils get to decide what meals they want more or less of for the next term. I’m told it’s not all pizza and chips! The school council itself has helped gain some useful improvements like a water fountain near the new astro.
Such is the word-of-mouth reputation of the school that it has developed a bit of a following in Bangkok, boosting its international intake.
Benedict Cumberbatch was a former pupil and appeared as Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream while at Brambletye.
Word on the ground
Parents use words like ‘outdoorsy’ and ‘happy’ and note the strong academic results.
Day pupils, per term: £6,205 – £6,910 for Prep pupils; £3,205 – £3,335 for pre-prep. £325 for one morning a week – £2,825 for five full days for nursery.
Boarding pupils, per term: £8,235 -£8,425.
The Muddy Verdict
Good for: Fanstastic for art and extensive sports fields. Strong on traditional core skills especially literacy. Boarding without a ghost town feel at weekends. A beautiful environment. An active approach to parental involvement.
Not so good for: The country house building and fabulous grounds are a love/hate thing – it may feel a bit cloistered for some tastes. Boarding is less flexible after year 7 and most older pupils board – something to consider if you’re keen on day schooling.
Dare to disagree? Discover more about the school for yourself at one of the upcoming open days when you will be able to see the school in action.
Brambletye School, East Grinstead, West Sussex, RH19 3PD, 01342 321004 brambletye.co.uk