Great Ballard School, Eartham, nr Chichester
Muddy says: This outdoorsy school near Chichester with a gorgeous South Downs setting is good for those seeking a bucolic, nurturing environment for children from two and a half years up to 13.
Great Ballard School is a close knit co-ed nursery, pre-prep and prep taking children from two and a half years up to 13.
At Eartham near Chichester and a meandering detour off the A27, it is beautifully situated in the South Downs National Park with wide views all around. The 30 acre site is also part of an International Dark Sky Reserve and there’s a charming space theme going on on the website as a result. Though the school’s catchment area is typically 15 miles, due to its boarding provision it can take children from as far afield as London.
The main building, Grade II listed Eartham House, is a mix of Regency and early 20th century additions, remodelled by famous architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and the rear, with its French windows, looks like it could be in an Agatha Christie drama. In addition there are several hut style classrooms including the nursery and cookery and science blocks.
The school has its own sports fields and astro pitch, a heated swimming pool and tennis courts. For the future, a sports hall is high on the agenda.
The forest school is a big focus and not restricted to lessons. The children all donned boiler suits over their uniforms for break time while I was there and ranged freely across the lawns and wood, many building camps.
The rural location comes with its challenges as well and the school has just made a major investment in a dedicated fibre optic link to improve internet access.
Arts, music and performing arts are strong (I had a sneaky go at a steel pan drum myself while I was there) and children are able to take LAMDA exams in Verse and Prose, Public Speaking and Acting. I particularly enjoyed a visit to the art department where the very enthusiastic teacher had the children exploring a fun mythical monster theme, using different textures from textiles to clay.
Great Ballard was awarded an ‘excellent’ in its most recent ISI inspection report.
In the last two years virtually every Form 8 pupil entered for a senior school scholarship has been successful. Regular networking events include senior schools fairs.
The school is particularly proud of its small class sizes of around 13-14 pupils and will consider extra classrooms in order to keep this ratio as it grows.
Full, weekly or flexi-boarding is offered with most opting for weekly.
There was a gasp of surprise from the boy helping show me around when he saw the girls’ rooms for the first time: “they’re so much nicer!” he said – by which he meant the girls had strung up attractive decorations rather than abandoned sports socks! All the boarders’ rooms in fact have lovely countryside views and I’m told the children often spot deer roaming the grounds.
The lucky boarders have access to the main facilities including the pool after hours and take part in popular Activity Nights with trips to the cinema, Clip N Climb etc. They had just been to see lambing at a local farm when I visited.
Great Ballard also provides particularly flexible wraparound care with breakfast club, tea, homework club as well as a mini bus service within 15 miles and it’s happy to plug childcare emergencies. There’s also holiday provision.
HEAD TEACHER & SCHOOL ETHOS
‘Inspire, discover, achieve’ is the school ethos, with curiosity and exploration particularly championed by the forest school.
The head Richard Evans, whose wife also teaches at Great Ballard, has been at the school for three years and tells me he’s aiming for a homely, welcoming feel. Teachers eat with the children at lunchtime, for instance. This attitude also extends to parents who are invited to ‘Headmaster’s Suppers’ and Evans says he has an open door policy.
A former rugby player for Saracens RFC, he is very keen on sports so there are plenty of inter-house and inter-school competitions.
Children are encouraged to ‘try everything’ to discover their talents early, with the smallness of the school helping achieve this. Evans says that quieter children don’t slip through the net as they might in a larger school, something I also heard from another teacher who had had a less than confident daughter at the school who, with the boost she was given there, has gone on to thrive in her chosen career.
Great Ballard has regular international cultural exchanges that have involved schools as far afield as China and South America.
Making the most of their setting, children can go mountain biking and orienteering in the Downs. There are also opportunities for nearby sailing, golf and horse-riding. In the summer terms pupils and teachers have overnight camps in the grounds.
The school is currently piloting a wellness programme with yoga and healthy diet options.
Year 8 pupils are treated to a formal dinner with the head at which they are served red or white ‘wine’ (grape juice)!
From £2,860 a term in reception (reduced for those who’ve attended the nursery) up to £5,310 a term for years 5 – 8.
Weekly boarding (four nights) is £5,670 a term; flexi-boarding is £25 a night (reduced if booking two or three nights a week).
The admissions policy includes an informal assessment on a taster day.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The 2017 parents questionnaire showed a ‘happy and secure learning environment’ was the number one reason parents chose Great Ballard, with staff and environment the next most important out of eight factors.
The small classes and family feel were also mentioned. 75% ‘stongly agreed’ the school promoted a happy and positive ethos and had a good range of extra-curricular activities (the satisfaction score for the latter has grown significantly in the last couple of years). Satisfaction scores for opportunities to talk to teachers and get involved with the school have also shown a significant recent jump.
When I asked the children showing me around the best things about the school they said the site, the food and the ‘amazing’ teachers who really take time with everyone (no teacher was in earshot at this point unless they were hiding behind a tree!)
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents who’d like their child to grow up in a bucolic environment. Children who will respond well to the family feel and may not thrive in a larger school. Parents with a tricky work/life balance who can take advantage of the flexible wraparound care.
Not so good for: If you are looking for a large, full facility school, a formal, regimented style, or a more bustling, competitive environment this is not the place for you.
Dare to disagree?
Take a look around the school yourself – the next open activity morning is on Sat 5 May 2018 9.30 – 12.30. Personal visits can also be arranged. Great Ballard School, Eartham House, Eartham, Nr. Chichester, Sussex PO18 0LR greatballard.co.uk