Windlesham House School, nr Pulborough
Non-selective independent Windlesham House School is strong on boarding, ICT and pastoral care and has a swanky new swimming pool.
Windlesham House at Washington near Pulborough is one of the oldest prep schools in the country and celebrated its 180th birthday last year. It was the first prep boarding school in the UK to go co-ed and it still prides itself on doing things a little differently with its own framework for assessing children’s performance, a no uniform policy and girls’ teams for traditionally male sports.
The school is non-selective and takes boarders and day pupils aged 4 – 13 with 40% coming from the local area, 25% from London and 20% from overseas – 25 different countries in fact. Because of this, the ethnic mix and urban experience of the pupils is more akin to that of a city school. Within Sussex, Windlesham is easily accessible from Worthing, Brighton, Horsham, Chichester and Gatwick airport.
It has been at its current location of Highden House since 1934. This has a rather grand stately pile frontage and four pheasants crossed my path as I made my way up the driveway (though sadly not Mr Darcy emerging from a pond in a wet shirt).
Inside it feels more homely and there are modern blocks behind for some classes. I’m also told the big lawn is often turned into a giant slip and slide slope in summer!
FACILITIES & ACTIVITIES
The school is justly proud of its swanky new 25 metre, six lane swimming pool and indoors sports hall with four badminton courts just opened this spring by five time Olympian Mark Foster. In fact this isn’t the first Olympic swimmer to be associated with Windlesham – the school’s previous pool helped launched the career of Duncan Goodhew!
Other sports facilities include an astro pitch with flood lighting, a nine-hole golf course and hard and grass tennis courts. I was pleased to hear that the school has a girls’ football team and, more recently, a girls’ cricket team.
ICT is very strong at Windlesham. Prep school pupils have their own iPads for lesson time and these are used across the curriculum. I dropped in on a science class where children were being encouraged to look up a distillation diagram on a certain website as the teacher talked about the process.
There’s a Mac suite and children can have a go at robotics and AI. The school also boasts a 3D printer and a small observatory.
Music involvement is strongly encouraged and there’s a wide choice of instruments available from ukulele to saxophone. I chatted to a group of girls planning their own band for the end of term concert, in which staff also take part. There’s also an informal weekly ‘have a go’ concert. The Mumford & Sons boys went to school here so you never know where it might lead…
There are three major drama productions a year and various smaller performances, with each child who auditions allowed a part. Children also have the opportunity to take LAMDA classes. Actor Tom Hiddleston <swoon> was at school here for a short time, so it feels rather hallowed ground!
French, Latin and Spanish are on the curriculum and for extra charge German, Russian, Mandarin, Italian, Dutch, Latin, Ancient Greek & Polish are available. In fact, the school will find a tutor for any language in which a child shows an interest.
Around 80 extra-curricular activities are offered by Windlesham from clay pigeon shooting to ballet, riding and polo (at Cowdray), windsurfing and sailing to textiles and chess.
Pupils go on to around 35 different senior schools, an average of 25% with a scholarship of some kind. This year two of the pupils have just been awarded Kings scholarships for Eton.
Besides academic scholarships, Windlesham children regularly gain drama scholarships to schools including Wellington, Harrow, Malvern and Lancing.
SCHOOL ETHOS AND HEAD TEACHER
Head Richard Foster, who has been at Windlesham more than 10 years, seeks a harmonious school not a hot house and he talks about the happiness of the children as a measure for success. The ethos is that you get the best from children who are comfortable and relaxed.
The school has mindfulness as part of its PSHE and has just introduced an annual tracking survey for pupils that helps flag up any underlying anxieties.
All year seven pupils study philosophy and ethics. To help encourage a generous spirit, when a child excels in some way they are sent to visit the head where they are offered the choice of receiving sweets or having a donation made to the school’s latest charity – I’m told the vast majority really do opt for the latter.
Pupils volunteer at a local farm, which benefits people with disabilities and former prisoners undergoing rehabilitation. The school also sponsors children in Kenya.
As part of its democratic ethos there’s no head boy or girl nor prefects at the school. Pupils can however volunteer for the ‘peer listening’ scheme whereby children with worries have access to a friendly ear of someone near their age, as well as to the school counsellor.
Mobile phones are not allowed but landlines dotted all around around the school can be used freely between classes by anyone who wants to call home. Children are also able to skype – particularly important to those from overseas.
Nearly 70% of pupils board, rising to 96% for the top two years of the school. Boarding is full-time, hence the high number of pupils from London or overseas.
I’m told the opportunities for day pupils to stay late and visit at weekends for clubs and the like helps prevent a split between boarders and non-boarders. In fact, many day pupils campaign their parents to switch to boarding and trial boarding is offered twice a year.
The dorms were recently refurbished and there are cheery murals on the walls of some, drawn by an artistic staff member. It was good to learn that despite the school’s IT emphasis, children are still encouraged to write a weekly letter home.
I also like the fact an audio story is played in each dorm for 30 minutes after lights out, while incentives for good behaviour include having a full English breakfast with the head of boarding.
The first thing you may… or may not notice (I didn’t till it was pointed out) is that the pupils don’t wear a school uniform. Instead they have a loose dress code – shirts must have a collar for instance, so on the sunny day I visited a lot of children were in polo shirts.
The woods contain professionally built stilt ‘tree’ houses where, in warmer months, the children can sleep over (with teacher supervision). The school also has a popular nature club run by an ex-National Trust ranger whose labrador Sam is, I’m told, brilliant at fetching jumpers left on playing fields and reuniting them with their owners using a sniff and search technique!
Early headmaster Harry Malden, is now known as one of the ‘fathers of football’ because of his role in helping to formalise the rules of the game. History fact fans may also like to know the school chapel incorporates artefacts from the since demolished St Martin’s Church at Carfax, Oxfordshire and it moved with the school through three different sites!
Termly fees for UK pupils are £9,272 for Years 8, 7 & 6 boarders (£7,686 for day pupils); £9,006 for Years 5 & 4 boarders (£7,333 day pupils) and £7,202 for Year 3 boarders, (£5,590 day pupils). Reception is £2,995 – £3,485.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The most recent ISI report said the quality of the pupils’ personal development was ‘excellent’. Parents highly praise the pastoral care at the school and note the ‘one community’ feel with boarders based in one large building. For ex-pat parents the fact there is a high number of boarders staying over at weekends is a big plus point, along with the proximity to Gatwick.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: If you want full boarding and for your child to experience a cosmopolitan environment more typical in London this is a good place to consider, also if you’re looking for a school with strong integrated ICT focus. There’s a decent SEND provision (there were 64 pupils in this category at the last ISI report) and the school is experienced at teaching children with English as a second language.
Not so good for: If you’re looking for flexi-boarding or if you’d rather there was a higher balance of day pupils to boarders. If you want the full public school cap and blazer experience – though conversely, some may be put off by the grandness of the main building. If you think your child would benefit from a selective, more competitive environment.
Dare to disagree?
Take a look around the school yourself – the next open day is on Sat 19 May 2018. Personal visits can also be arranged.
Windlesham House School, Washington, Pulborough, West Sussex, RH20 4AY, 01903 874700 windlesham.com