Brambletye, near East Grinstead
A homely co-ed selective boarding and day school for children aged 2-13, with large grounds in the Sussex countryside.
A handsome gothic Victorian hunting lodge once owned by the Marquis of Abergavenny, is home to picturesque Brambletye school. Near the busy town of East Grinstead, West Sussex (but close to the Surrey & Kent borders), its pupils come from surrounding towns and London with 10% overseas students.
The main house, where the pupils board is the heart of the school and overlooks the Ashdown Forest and has frankly, epic views down to Weir Wood Reservoir and beyond. The 278 pupils (53% of boys/47% girls) enjoy 140 acres and gardens designed by renowned Gertrude Jekyll, which encompass formal terraced lawns down to rambling woods, where copious den making takes place. Classes are held in more modern buildings alongside the country house, with much of the learning outside weather permitting.
Facilities here are strong, especially considering the number of pupils. Their centenary in 2019 saw the addition of a new art studio, library complex, an all-weather pitch and new changing facilities costing £2.1m.
Sport is taken seriously here (the headmaster was captain of his Prep XV back in the day and clearly sees its value). Yes, there’s the usual Large Sports Hall – but this one has a fencing track, a climbing wall and an indoor shooting gallery. There are a whopping 7 football and rugby pitches (pretty generous for 278 pupils), 5 cricket pitches with nets, a new all-weather pitch (not flood-lit), 3 tennis/netball courts, a 300m athletics track, 2 squash courts and even a 7 hole golf course. The 17m covered pool does the trick, though it’s probably near due a refurb. Co-curricular clubs include sailing at the nearby reservoir, horse-riding off-site, fencing, tennis & golf (extra fees). All children represent the school teams in fixtures regularly and, impressively, the Colts are currently unbeaten in football, rugby and cricket team last season. The school has its own woods with assault course and a 220m zip wire within the playing fields, plus the Pre-Prep enjoys a school in the woods.
It’s very much ‘lights, camera, action’ for this well-used but lovely 250-seater theatre with West-End vibes including professional sets, lighting, orchestra pit and stunning wardrobes of costumes. There are strong LAMDA results with 39 out of 42 children achieving Distinction in 2021. There’s a Year 7 & 8 musical every two years, reflecting a high take up in children learning a musical instrument (60%), a contender for one of the higher percentages we’ve come across this year!
You’ll find whole school concerts twice yearly with more frequent informal concerts, along with the usual array of junior & senior choir clubs, specialist music classrooms and 6 practice rooms. Phew! Other than the usual instruments the more unusual peri teachers include those for harp and euphonium. Plus, all Y3 learn the trumpet (are they mad?) and Y2 ukulele.
Art is a particular strength, with the head of department having helped the pupils gain 180 art scholarships over his 20-year tenure. A wonderful new light-filled Art Studio opened in 2020 (above), teaching fine art, photography, ceramics, typography and pretty much everything else in between. The room is stuffed with impressive and mature artwork plus a resident pet cat. The space is a regular sanctuary for pupils who are welcome to hang out in-between lessons.
Will Brooks is in his 7th year and has simplified the lengthy school rules to; “Word Hard, Play Hard, Be Kind,” which he explained encompasses everything at Brambletye. He’s warm, likable and passionate about preparing children for the 21st century and his vision and drive to complete the new complex for the creative arts is a real asset for the school. When I met him he spoke candidly about the difficulties of the last 18 months and how proud he was of the school community. I loved the fact his two adorable dachshunds Hercules & Coco are regular fixtures around the school.
No academic worries here with a 100% pass rate for common entrance exams despite the mixed ability cohort which could be down to the small average class size of 14. Headmaster Brooks recently implemented 55 minutes lessons which he says has improved children’s focus. Pupils are mostly class taught by a single teacher up to the end of Year 4, with specialist subject teachers in later years and talented language students able to take Greek.
From Year 5 onwards pupils are streamed in core subjects according to ability and the top set in each year group is then ‘accelerated’ with the intention of completing the Common Entrance syllabus by the end of Year 7 – so any worries about the school not stretching the brightest can relax. This year saw 30 Scholarships, out of 43 pupils, (4 academic) won to Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Woldingham with a further wide array of 52 next step schools. A wide and diverse choice of extra-curricular clubs (some extra, many included in fees), include street & modern dance, cheer-leading, carpentry, comic & animation design, weaving, didgeridoo making/playing, bike maintenance, web design, bushcraft and lifesaving. The Enrichment Programme sessions involve teachers sharing their off-curriculum talents on a carousel basis, including photography, Japanese, Lego, animation, presentation tools and sculpting.
PASTORAL CARE & SEN PROVISION
There is a strong pastoral network to support children run by tutors, the boarding team and school nurses (one of whom is a wellbeing expert and has set up iSpace programme which is being rolled out in schools nationwide). Many additional staff are mental health first aid trained and a school counsellor and independent listener visit weekly. Children meet with their tutors every morning to discuss school life and issues. Additional pupil support team currently support with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and ASD, one to one lessons are available.
Other than the pink blazers, the school has a real sense of fun. There’s no dull textbooks here, when I visited kids were shooting homemade rockets into the sky and getting ready to launch watermelon in the Trebuchet (large catapult to you and me). There are a number of wonderful and wacky charity events including Barking Mad Dog Show, 4×4 obstacle course and a Balloon Race.
I was told the entertaining story of founding Headmaster, John “Bunny” Blencowe, who was shipwrecked injured on a desert island and survived before being picked up by the aptly named Captain Sinker aboard a mission ship. Having recovered and returned home, he then joined the army and following the Somme, was buried alive but survived! He founded the school with Sinker upon his return and being a passionate rower Leander pink (after the famous rowing club), was chosen for the uniform.
76 boarders – 46 full, the rest on a flexi basis with beds kept for them, all in the wooden panelled country house which is the heart of the school. Rooms are shared dorms all light and airy, many with lovely views. I was struck by the homely feel and how children had been allowed to personalise their space.
Saturdays are very much alive and kicking with sport – mornings are taken up with fixtures followed by activities on site including cookery, water polo, den-building, table tennis, and dog walks. (There are five fixtures per term, leaving the rest free for family time). On Sundays there’s an activity either on site or off school grounds – so far this term it’s been laser guns, giant inflatables, a James Bond weekend and trips go-karting, dry skiing and Harry Potter world.
I’d say a little above average perhaps reflecting the small class sizes and those Gertrude Jeykll grounds; Reception £2,710, Y1-2 £3,585, Y3 £6,675, Y4-6 £6,995, Y7-8 £7,435. Boarding from £8,860 Y3-6 up-to £9,065 for Y7-8.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
The school allows no personal electronic devices during day school hours. But boarders are allowed access to school computers for Skype and email, a move that has been welcomed by the majority of parents and pupils.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Breakfast club from 7.25am and stay and play in Pre-Prep until 6pm. Flexi-boarding is available on a regular basis, i.e every Tuesday.
There are good local links with minibus routes between Edenbridge, Newick, Groombridge and Crowborough, also connecting Haywards Heath and several villages. For those further afield, the nearest train station is East Grinstead with services into Victoria and for overseas boarders the school is about 20 minute’s drive to Gatwick.
The last report in 2018 showed personal development was excellent and quality of achievement good. Brambletye Preparatory School :: Independent Schools Inspectorate (isi.net)
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents seems to love the school for its strong family feel and outdoor style of learning, matched with great academics. Kids here aren’t stuck behind desks cramming, instead they are learning practical skills and out in the fresh air which is a huge selling point for parents. Saturday breakfast for mums and dads with newspapers before matches is also a real hit, as are well-supported social events like a Burns Night dinner.
Good for: A pastorally strong, all-round education with the emphasis on the outdoors and making use of the lovely grounds. The class numbers are small enough, so children are known and cared for well and there’s a real sense of fun at the school.
Not for: There’s a ‘get stuck in’ attitude so wallflowers might find that overwhelming, but I struggled to find any murmurs of dissent here, bar a request for ‘more drama’ and a complaint about the scrambled eggs (!). Most pupils simply wished the school allowed them to stay ’til 18 and I can see why.