Hurst College, Hurstpierpoint
Muddy says: One of the best-known schools in Sussex, set on a large site, with excellent exam results and a ‘have a go’ ethos that seeks to enthuse pupils to excel beyond their books.
Hurstpierpoint College, more commonly known simply as Hurst, is a co-ed, selective pre-prep, prep, senior school and sixth form, taking pupils from 4 to 18. It offers day school, weekly and flexi-boarding.
On a 140 acre site on the edge of the pretty village of Hurstpierpoint, it sits under the South Downs, within 10 miles of Brighton to the south and Haywards Heath to the north.
The school dates back to 1849 and a flint walled Gothic building is at the heart of the present campus, which is designed around two quads. In the oldest house you can see lists of former pupils that span the First World War when 108 boys and four teachers were killed in active service. Originally a boys’ school, girls have been admitted since 1993 in the prep school and 1995 in the senior school and Hurst now has a near 50/50 mix. It has greatly expanded in the last decade.
There’s a pleasing arts/sports balance with theatres for rehearsals and performance, two dance spaces and a music school, a heated indoor pool, playing fields, astro turfs and hard courts, a fitness studio and a climbing wall.
Recent developments have included a 400-seat wood-clad performing arts centre and a new dance studio, with a new girls’ day house currently under construction which is expected to be ready for September 2020, plus a new swimming pool/sports complex which is currently in the planning stage.
A small on-site farm is maintained by senior and sixth form pupils.
Pupils of all ages can share the wider school’s arts and sports facilities. The prep school includes its own library, computer room and art room. The children also share the science labs, DT workshops and extra computer rooms with the senior school.
Pre-prep classrooms open onto a covered terrace and a cute enclosed playground where some impressive acrobatics were happening on top of the rope climbing frames on my visit. There’s also a woodland school. Though it covers a large site the school is zoned in such a way it shouldn’t intimidate youngsters.
Hurst gained its best ever GCSE results in 2019 with 83% of all grades between 7 and 9 ( the former A and A*) with 64% at 8 or 9. A level results also improved year-on-year with 84% at A*, A or B. The majority of leavers get their first choice places at university (many Russell Group members). In addition, the school’s LAMDA exam results are among the best in the country.
Senior school pupils are given detailed grade reviews with their current and target grade for each subject and notes on how to work towards the latter. I noticed an emphasis on teaching pupils effective ways of essay planning and revising with, for instance, pupils’ mind maps stuck up on the walls of houses and library breakout rooms.
There’s a dedicated careers department and careers library and older pupils apply for work experience placements in the way they would a job.
Weekly and flexi-boarding are available. Boarding can also be bought in blocks of 25 or 50 nights that can be used as required.
There’s a strong house ethos. Day school pupils also have their own desks and storage in houses in a series of rooms shared with a handful of other pupils. All houses, boarding or day, hold social evenings, trips and annual balls.
Senior floors of some boarding houses rather optimistically include a launderette area for teens to do their own washing!
HEAD TEACHER & SCHOOL ETHOS
Tim Manly has been head since 2005 and the school has seen a number of enhancements and nearly doubled since, now taking around 1,200 pupils. Annual drama productions have increased from 9 to 25 in this time, the choir from 40 to 140, and sporting teams from 51 to 109 in order to cater for all abilities. Duke of Edinburgh Award participation has increased from 15 to more than 300.
He tells me there is a high proportion of pupils joining from outside at each stage of school life, which helps avoid an ‘us and them’ mentality with those who’ve been with the school since reception.
The school really wants children with an ‘up for it’ attitude. The head is keen for them to really try everything and engage in order to discover their own talents and enthusiasms and he points out ‘hybrid’ careers and ways of working are increasingly common.
He’s also keen that pupils are not oblivious to wider, less privileged society. There’s an emphasis on community work and charity events. Some pupils have weekly skype calls with schoolchildren in Sri Lanka and older pupils have helped build houses in Malawi.
The school motto, printed on ‘T’ shirts is ‘Work Hard, Do Good, Engage’. He’s quick to point out ‘do good’ means ‘be kind’, it’s not an ungrammatical form of ‘do well’!
There’s quite a ceremony around pupils finding out what house they’re in with banners (some very antique) raised aloft and housemates waiting to greet newbies in the quad. Though there’s not a sorting hat involved staff admit there are definite shades of Harry Potter! Admissions to houses are carefully considered to create a good mix of abilities and interests.
All pupils in year nine must study dance, something I’m told often goes down like a lead balloon with most boys… until they find it’s much cooler than they thought. In fact this year more boys than girls are taking dance as a GSCE subject. When I dropped in on a class in the sprung floor studio they were discussing the origins of hip hop.
There are sports teams and choirs for a range of abilities so less gifted pupils don’t miss out and there were over 20 productions last year so as many children as possible have parts.
Once a year a production company comes in to help the houses make films they have written themselves.
The thinking behind the Sixth Form is a preparation for uni halls of residence, so the common room (which has some rather nice decked areas for summer) includes a much-celebrated bar dubbed the ‘Dog and Lampost’ from which pupils over 18 are allowed restricted amounts of alcohol.
A wide range of co-curricular activities includes open studios for art and photography, kayaking, mountain biking, rock climbing, sailing, surfing, paddle boarding and show jumping.
Healthy eating is a focus with a salad bar and fresh fruit bar at every mealtime and bowls of fruit left out in the houses.
Wrap-around care is available, with an early room and after school club at no extra charge.
The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) department offers extra music and drama lessons for an additional charge and pupils can take LAMDA exams.
Day school termly fees range from £3,125 to £5,540 in pre-prep /prep and £8,125 – £8,245 for senior school, dependant on age.
Boarding termly fees range from £9,600 to £9,720 for flexi and £10,230 – £10,350 for weekly, dependant on age.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Allowing children to fulfil their potential was the theme from teacher/parents I spoke to. Pupils told me they liked the supportive, family feel and the flexibility – for instance one music star was able to drop PE to avoid injury and concentrate on her practice.
I’m told 90% of families who send their children to Hurst are not ‘naturally’ affluent but make sacrifices to do so.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Enthusiastic children who really throw themselves into school life and love to try new things will flourish, particularly if they have an arts or sports leaning. Bright children should excel.
Not so good for: It’s clear that if your child isn’t very academic they’d struggle here, though the selection process should ensure they don’t end up out of their depth.
Shrinking violets or those who prefer to coast won’t get the best from the school and its ‘have a go’ ethos, though the wide variety of activities to try should mean everyone finds something to enthuse them.
Dare to disagree?
Dates for the next open days are detailed on the college’s website and personal visits can also be arranged.
Hurstpierpoint College Ltd, College Lane, Hurstpierpoint, Hassocks, BN6 9JS Tel: 01273 833636 hppc.co.uk