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St Andrew’s Prep, Eastbourne

This friendly seaside school works hard to equip children with free thinking skills and makes good use of its natural surrounds.

What, Where?

St Andrews is a co-ed, non-selective nursery, pre-prep and prep for ages 2-13 (plus a baby room) in Meads village on the edge of the large seaside town of Eastbourne. It shares some facilities with nearby Eastbourne College and has the same board of governors. A Victorian sports day was part of the fun when it celebrated its 140th birthday last year.

Cricket nets in the new sports centre

Feeling rather tardis-like, the school is made up of a series of interlinked buildings (one part accessed by a secret antique spiral staircase behind a door that is fondly remembered by former pupils!)

It makes the most of its location – in town, yet sandwiched between Downs and the nearby beach, with plenty of outdoor classroom activities.

Facilities

Set across 12 acres, the school’s facilities include a new sports hall and dance studio – opened last year by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, an indoor heated pool, ICT suites, a forest school and adventure playground.

New dance centre

Sport is an emphasis at St Andrews and the pupils play over 600 fixtures a year as well as inter-house tournaments. Shooting and golf are among the less typical options on offer. Five pupils made the National Athletics Finals this year.

Varied clubs include archery, ballet, batik, fencing, Lego, Pi programming, sewing, water polo, squash, Rainbows and Brownies and the wonderfully named Piglet’s Pantry – for budding cooks. Table tennis is a particular favourite at the school, with several tables indoors and out.

From year 4 upwards day pupils as well as borders can join Saturday morning activities.

The boarding facilities were in the process of being upgraded on my visit. The school is also raising funds to revamp a pavilion.

Boarding and wrap-around care

Besides weekly and full-time boarding for years 3 – 8, pre-booked flexi-boarding is offered for one, two or three nights a week.  Ad-hoc boarding is also available at £40 a night.

Wrap-around care for day pupils is generally available 8am to 6pm. A baby room caters for children 9 – 24 months for 50 weeks a year.

A mini-bus service takes in as far as Bexhill, Rottingdean, Cross in Hand and more.

Academic

From year five, the majority of lessons are taught by subject specialist teachers. Year 7 pupils visit Eastbourne College for a science workshop in the autumn term. There’s a provision for English as an Additional Language as an alternative to French and Latin. The most recent ISI report said pupils had ‘particularly well-developed skills in science, English and mathematics.’

Pupils move on to a variety of senior schools, many to Eastbourne College with which St Andrew’s has an affiliation. Other schools have included Ardingly; Battle Abbey; Bede’s The Dicker; Benenden; Brighton College; Canford; Claremont; Gordonstoun; Harrow; Hurst; Lancing; Lewes Old Grammar School, Millfield; Moira House; Roedean; St Leonards-Mayfield; Tonbridge and Wellington College.

Head and ethos

Gareth Jones has been working in prep schools for 18 years. A former head of athletics, he’s keen on sport, as well as music. He grew up the youngest of ten, so knows a thing or two about family dynamics. His wife, Jemma, who also teaches at the school is on the England Masters Hockey Team. Their cute dachshund sometimes also makes a lively appearance in the corridoors.

Last term – very much before the heatwave properly hit – the head completed a brave 64 day challenge to swim in the sea every morning before school. The sponsorship money he raised will help fund the school’s new pavilion.

The head’s daily beach swim challenge!

He stresses St Andrews is ‘not a school for rigid rules’ and the aim is to encourage children to think ‘in the right way’ and to think for themselves. There’s a lot of emphasis on collaboration, empathy and problem solving. With an eye on future careers, as well as creating good citizens, he believes this mindset will equip children with the soft skills important in the modern workplace, like the ability to adapt. It can also work as an antidote to the pressures of social media.

The school has an eco committee working towards green accreditations. There’s also a pupil-lead school council, which discusses a theme once a term. Past topics have included the role of prefects, behaviour in lessons and recycling. The council was also behind the recent rule change that means girls are now allowed to wear trousers as part of their uniform.

Quirks

In line with the school’s emphasis on independent thought, from September there will be a new thinking skills programme for years five and six covering subjects like philosophy and problem solving. There’s also an emphasis on public speaking, and, as part of its affiliation with Eastbourne College, St Andrew’s currently has access to a Debater in Residence – a woman who is among the top Ivy League debaters in the States.

Unaccustomed as I am to making speeches…

Touch typing is on the school curriculum – a super useful skill that has somewhat fallen by the wayside since the olden days of the typing pool.

I love the idea of the head’s annual entrepreneurship scheme, which sees him give £10 each to year seven pupils for them to invest and increase in original ways. This year 47 pupils took part and the return was over tenfold, netting £4,800. Shoe cleaning, cake sales, car washing and selling crafts were among the pupil’s initiatives. A couple of enterprising boys even put on a dinner party and sold tickets to teachers!

One enterprising pupil made and sold fudge then used the proceeds to buy materials to make and sell plant labels

Err, no, the head doesn’t pocket the profits from the scheme – pupils give presentations in order to bid for donations on behalf of their favourite charities.

Not only does St Andrews have the more typical forest school, it also has a beach school. It makes use of part of the long public stretch of sand in Eastbourne for numerous lessons, from geography to art.

I loved the little Memory Garden, a quiet space with a waterfall that was established when several pupils lost family members in the same year.

Word on the ground

ISI inspectors received ‘extremely positive’ responses to parents’ questionnaires. ‘Happy, friendly and welcoming’ and ’rounded’ are words that come up often from parents discussing the school.  ‘Religious but not overly so’ is also mentioned.

Fees 

Reception to Year 2 is £3,350 a term. Fees for day school pupils are £5,050 for year 3, £565 for year 4 and £5,825 for years 5 – 8. Weekly boarding for years 3 – 8 is £7,370 a term, while full boarding is £8,340.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good For: St Andrew’s feels like a school that builds independence and confidence while keeping a community feel. Parents with an eye on the future and how children will hold their own in a bigger school, and ultimately the workplace, should like its emphasis on public speaking and verbal reasoning. The beach nearby is a bonus.

Not so good for: Though the feel of the school is not formal, some may prefer a more casual uniform for this age group. It hasn’t the vast acres of some prep schools, it’s a town site, so won’t suit parents with a country manor in rolling hills in mind. An emphasis on thinking skills rather than hot housing is the educational style, something to consider if you veer towards the latter.

Dare to disagree? The school’s next open days are 28 and 29 Sept 2018, then Fri 8 and Sat 9 Feb 2019.

St Andrew’s Prep, Meads, Eastbourne, East Sussex, BN20 7RP, 01323 733203 standrewsprep.co.uk

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