Lancing Prep Hove
Part of the Lancing College family, this warm, friendly and fun-loving prep occupies an enviable leafy town campus with acres of space and prioritises developing happy, active and holistically nourished kids, knowing success will follow.
This warm, enthusiastic and friendly co-ed day school for children aged 3 to 13 sits in a gorgeously leafy campus in Hove, easily accessed just off Dyke Road. Originally called Mowden School, it joined the Lancing College family in 2002. The quaint set of early 20th century buildings were purpose-designed and built as a prep school and head Kirsty Keep has overseen an ambitious programme of improvements. Visiting on a mellow early October day, the Virginia Creeper clinging to the redbrick buildings was just turning to fiery red as children gambolled on the far-reaching playing fields in an idyllic English town prep scene.
It’s hard for a town site to retain a spacious feel, especially in a hip area like Hove. But behind the charming frontage lie not one but two school fields, stretching further than the eye can see from even the highest vantage point within the school buildings, like a visual exhale. A brand new hall, with inbuilt modern kitchen facilities and an upper viewing gallery, adds to the overall feeling of there being plenty of space for everyone.
There’s a robust, outdoorsy feel to the school and its community and the facilities reflect this. The fields are used in all weathers and all seasons – children wear wellies in the winter but Mrs Keep says they still manage to trek mud through the corridors – and there’s an onsite Forest School and adventure playground. Sport is well-served with an Astroturf, although it’s not full-sized.
The music and drama facilities, tucked away on the edge of the school site so pupils can make as much noise as they like, are impressive. The art studio is another highlight, a breathtaking space full of equally breathtaking work, some of which is suspended from the upper gallery. As part of the five-year overhaul of facilities Mrs Keep has overseen, the pre-school has been moved from its previous site into the heart of the school, and it feels like the rest of the school extends outwards from here. Reception has its own outdoor classroom as well as outdoor play space.
Covid protocol has seen a few changes to the school but some have turned out to be for the better. Classroom space has been created in what used to be changing rooms although these robust hut-like buildings are so spacious and welcoming that children are clamouring to keep them as classrooms permanently. Sadly however the brand-new Snell Library, also relocated to the very centre of the school, is currently out of action.
Sporty boys and girls will thrive here. As well as an all-round curriculum including weekly PE and games lessons, there are specialist coaches for football, rugby and cricket, netball, hockey and rounders.. All children also do cross-country and swimming – which takes place at nearby Lancing College’s swimming pool – and there are climbing and dance clubs on offer. Pupils also compete at various levels across the board. Excellence is always celebrated – the school has a world-class golfer, a top-ranking UK squash player and county-level swimmers and tennis players among others on its register.
Music, drama, art and dance are all well catered-for and perhaps more importantly, taken seriously. Most children study an instrument and the list of individual music and drama lessons up on the wall demonstrates how many pupils take advantage of the creative offerings. Music also looks like a lot of fun here – the Reception class having their lesson when I visited certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves. In fact everything looks like a lot of fun here. There’s a playful feel to the school, both in its layout, with flashes of colour and cute huts dotted about the place, and in its classrooms and inhabitants. Children are vocal in their enjoyment and enthusiasm and the decor is modern and bright, there’s no hushed voices in long wood-panelled corridors here.
This will be the last year of Common Entrance at Lancing Prep Hove, and a curriculum to replace it will have less of a single examination focus. It’s a move that prep schools seem to be edging towards at their own pace. Academically speaking all children are catered for here, from gifted and talented to those needing more support, and the focus is on helping pupils become independent learners rather than churning out exam-passing machines. Although many children do go on to Lancing College, other popular destinations include Hurst and Bede’s, and the latter in particular suits many leavers, Mrs Keep says.
Holistic learning and children’s all-round wellbeing is a top priority here, and the whole school has such a warm, friendly and fun feel to it it’s definitely not lip service. A cosy-looking room houses a full-time matron who is first aid and ELSA trained, and she offers individual and small-group help to children in need of extra support.
The school is relatively small, with 281 pupils on roll, and Mrs Keep has no plans to increase that number. This keeps class sizes down to a minimum and ensures children get lots of one-to-one attention, including from the head herself. She’s certainly popular with the pupils, all of whose names she appears to know, and they speak to her with the freedom of children who know they’re valued. They also repeatedly answer ‘You, Miss!’ when she asks them to tell me their favourite thing about the school – after ‘the food’ of course.
The adorable Billy, a toy poodle and therapy dog in training, is a regular visitor to Lancing Prep Hove where he’s cuddled relentlessly by staff and children alike. Mrs Keep has already decided he’ll stay whether he passes his official training or not.
Children take regular ‘brain breaks’ – they’re sent out of the classroom to scamper about on the field for five minutes, to help them process their learning and reset before continuing. Witnessing a brain break in action, it’s fascinating to see the physical release of energy that goes hand in hand with learning – and incredibly reassuring to see a school that fully understands young children.
The pupils rave about the food, both the meals and the snacks. It’s enough to make anybody hungry just listening to them wax lyrical, and it’s an absolute truth that well-fed children are happier children.
Kirsty Keep joined Lancing Prep Hove after moving to Sussex from Surrey, where she says she was keen to get away from the rigidly selective academic hothousing.
In the five years she’s been at the school, she’s overseen major projects including the new hall, the overhaul of the library, the relocation of early years from the edge of the site to the heart of the school, and the music facilities. She’s also added the onsite Forest School, a science garden where green-fingered children grow fruit and veg, pond-dip and conduct experiments, and a sensory garden. Less excitingly but no less importantly, the roof of the main building has recently been upgraded.
Covid’s thrown a spanner in the works of future projects, but she says she feels the school is where and how she wants it to be. She’s clearly put a lot of herself into the school and its community and the affection with which children interact with her is very natural and genuine. Whichever of the ambitious visions for the school she chooses to focus on next – she says she has two clear options – she’s bound to make a success, because her genuine passion and enthusiasm for Lancing Prep Hove absolutely shines through.
Starting at £2.520 per term for the preschool and rising to £2,990 per term in Reception all the way through to £5,485 per term for years 4 to 8, it’s about what you’d expect to pay in Sussex.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The food is meant to be good, did I mention that? It’s an interesting point to note though, because this really is one of those schools that achieves that elusive family feel even though it’s not a boarding school. The warmth of the environment and atmosphere at Lancing Prep Hove is reinforced by its community standing.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Local families who want happy, healthy, active and nourished kids. Happiness is prioritised before success here – the secret being, success tends to follow.
Not for: There’s no boarding, so those avoiding the London day-school churn will need to move down South or look elsewhere. It’s a minor quibble, but there’s no on-site swimming pool.
Dare to disagree? Book a Virtual Open Morning, head to the pre-school, Reception and Years 1-3 open morning on Nov 14 or contact the school directly to arrange a tour.
Lancing Prep Hove, The Droveway, Hove, BN3 6LU, 01273 503452