Hurst College, Hurstpierpoint
Hurst, as it's affectionately known is a large yet friendly co-ed contender with high academics and exceptional pastoral care.
A selective pre-prep, prep, senior school and sixth form from 4 to 18. Offering day school, weekly and popular flexi-boarding Hurst has a whopping 1300 pupils (900 in senior, of which 50% board). The 140-acre site is like a small town, but with a campus feel and sits near the pretty village of Hurstpierpoint just under the South Downs – 10 miles from Brighton to the south and Haywards Heath to the north.
The school is a mix of modern and historic, with the seniors housed in grand old Sussex flint buildings dating from the 1850’s, with a stunning Gothic chapel and atmospheric cloisters surrounding a sunny courtyard. The grounds aren’t Capability Brown-worthy, but there’s a good feeling of space and it’s a buzzy, busy place.
Where to start? There’s a real ‘no-one on the bench’ mentality at Hurst which is reflected in the mix of excellent facilities which are arguably the flashiest in Sussex. The school is understandably proud of the new Sports Pavilion and the West-end worthy 350-seat performing arts centre. There are two dance spaces, a music school, a heated indoor pool (soon to be updated), copious playing fields & AstroTurf, fitness suites and a climbing wall (phew!).
Pupils of all ages share arts and sports facilities, science labs and design & tech workshops, while the prep also includes its own library, computer room and art studio, plus there’s a regular popular forest school for pre/prep. Hurst does cover a huge site but is cleverly zoned so shouldn’t intimidate less confident youngsters.
The New Bury Theatre opened in 2018 and is a state-of-the-art theatre with tiered seating, professional lighting, and sound systems. Drama is a big deal here and LAMDA exams are taken by more than 200 pupils. There are some 20-30 dramatic performances a year that everyone takes part in whether centre stage or chorus. The college has a mentality that pupils try everything and get involved whatever their ability. This is shown with compulsory dance in the brand-new studio – for all in Y9 – which according to those I spoke to “isn’t as scary as it sounds” but may not be for everyone. (We’re just relieved we weren’t roped in for the street dance lessons while we were there!)
Music is popular, more than 400 students learn an instrument here, well above average. There is the expected full school orchestra, but also ensembles for every genre from brass to jazz and even a rock group. A huge non-audition choir of 160 (plus a more selective one for budding Aled Jones’). Recently updated spaces are the extra music lesson rooms and a high-tech music suite for those interested in production, podcasts, mixing and radio (Music Tech A-level is on offer). Concerts take place in the chapel, music school and theatre.
If you’re sporty you’ll be in heaven here. Rugger is a real strength with links to the Harlequins, a heaving trophy cabinet and professional coaches including Jordan Turner-Hall. They have an inclusive sports ethic and pupils enjoy competitive games whatever their abilities and both sexes play all sports. With teams ranging from A-D (and even to G in some!) everyone gets involved either for fun or more competitively. Once in sixth form there is a more flexi approach with yoga offered and even lower down in the school options can include kayaking, rock climbing, skiing, and orienteering instead.
There is a huge range of co-curricular activities with subjects as diverse as dissection and mechanics, driving lessons, Combined Cadet Force (including drills!) and Duke of Edinburgh Awards, silver for all. They also have community initiatives such as the senior school Community Action Day where students carry out a day’s work from environmental conservation and litter picking on Brighton beach to washing minibuses at Chailey Heritage. The Sixth Form can be involved in everything from a Feminist Book Club to Sports coaching and Apprentice style-business workshops as part of their Tuesday activities. An impressive roll call of speakers has visited including Peter Hoar (Director, It’s a Sin) & the Rt Hon Stuart Lawrence (brother of Stephen).
Notably in the top 1% for independent schools nationally for value added – not to be sniffed at as this measures pupils progress according to their abilities. Exam results are rising, possibly due to a more selective intake and staff changes, although the school doesn’t select solely on academia and look for additional talents. They run a challenge grade system, so a child’s performance is assessed according to a target set for them, with no comparisons between pupils. A-levels are strong – 51.2% were A*, 83.1% were A/A*s and 96.2% were A*, A or B grades with GCSE’s equally high with more than 1,400 9/8 grades awarded.
Given real consideration here with a strong support network in place. There is a fully equipped medical area on-site, run by qualified nursing staff and building development is currently underway to include a pupil and staff well-being centre with confidential access to counselling. There are currently two counsellors available to pupils which can be accessed without booking. Despite the school’s size it has a smaller school feel due to the strong house system – “guardians” (pupils) regularly meet alongside the head of Pastoral Care to discuss anyone who might need help, at both the prep and senior.
Hurst has twelve boarding and day houses for Senior and Lower Sixth students – described as like a “giant sleepover with my mates” by one resident, plus a mixed Upper Sixth form house which is unusual and has its own rules on mixing in rooms after set times (any closed doors and there’s trouble!)
Weekly (6 night) and flexi-boarding (3 nights) – for which short notice is required – are available. There is a real home from home feel in the houses with common rooms, basic bedrooms with cabin beds or studies for day pupils, and large kitchens (lots of toast being scoffed when we popped in). Decor is mixed, with some houses recently having a face lift while others seem more tired – although there is a rolling refurbishment programme. There is a real family vibe – different years sharing space playing collective FIFA and table tennis games and most houses have a pet dog which helps with home sickness one student revealed.
Saturdays are given over to matches, rehearsals and clubs with no formal lessons. There’s very little downtime and the pupils are busy busy busy!
FEES & SCHOLARSHIPS
About average with £3,220 for reception, for Prep Years 1 & 2 £3,465, Y3 £4,965, Y4-6 £5,710 and Y7-8 £5,835. For Seniors Day fees Y9-11 £8,495, Y12 -13 £8,370. Flexi boarding 3 nights a week £10,015 for Y9-11, Y12 & 13 £9,890. Weekly boarding (5 or 6 nights a week) Y9-11 £10,665 and Y12-13 £10,540. Academic bursaries from 11+ including the BN6 and Sussex awards which are 100%.
Head since 2005 (so he’s had a long time to get things right!) is Tim Manly (Oxford, LSE and Cambridge), who left a career in commerce to teach. He’s admired by pupils who said he makes a point to know everyone’s names and described him as “full of beans!”. He wasn’t around when we visited so we can’t vouch for the beans personally (will update the review when we do!). Instead, we met up with Head of Senior School Dominic Mott, who’s been in place since 2015. The former military man and Spanish teacher is bouncy and enthusiastic. He is clearly passionate about the place and its inclusivity and diverse curriculum.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY?
In the prep school and day students in Yr9 pupils must hand them in at start of day and collect as they leave. Boarders have them between the end of prep time and bedtime in the evenings. In Y10 it is the same as Year 9, but boarders also have them between 6pm and the start of prep time. In Y11 phones are allowed with strict limited usage and not overnight, the Upper Sixth have more freedom.
Vegetarians look away now – there’s a Boar’s Head Procession in November that entails a boar’s head paraded around the college cloisters, followed by choir and a feast (a tradition for hundreds of years with origins unknown). On Ascension Day, at the end of term they continue another historic tradition as the entire school walks up Wolstonbury Hill together to hold a Christian open-air mass.
WRAP AROUND CARE?
Prep school day finishes at 4.20pm with after-school care (included in fees) available so can run until 6pm to match the long college day which starts at 8.20.
There’s a smart fleet of red Mercedes minibuses which whizz around several routes through Sussex, Surrey and Kent Hurstpierpoint College | About Hurst – Our Bus Routes (hppc.co.uk). Plus, a chaperoned weekly return train service from nearby Hassocks for those further afield.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Hurst has a great rep for a reason, it’s an inclusive and friendly school that also achieves academic excellence. Its grounds may not be movie-set pretty as some, but it’s strong pastorally and those we talked to seemed to love the nurturing feel of the place.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Types who like to be busy, challenged and get involved. A strong all-round education that’s great for children who want to experience everything. Its strict but pupils have a strong sense of belonging.
Shrinking violets or kids who lack stamina. This isn’t for those who just want to turn up for lessons and go home. If your child isn’t particularly academic, this might not be the right place as the pace of learning is fast.