Westbourne House School, Chichester
Muddy says: Great inter-year collaboration and cosy modern boarding stand out at this co-ed for 2-13s at Chichester, which is embarking on a bold new approach to learning.
Westbourne House is a non-selective, co-ed nursery, pre-prep and prep for children aged 2.5 to 13 years. It sits within 100 acre grounds just outside Chichester between the South Downs and the sea and comprises an historic main house and a spread of low rise buildings with lawns and playing fields between.
Traditionally a fairly local school, it has a typical catchment area of around 20 miles, though it has just begun taking international students, which is helping create greater diversity. Many pupils’ parents are ex-Londoners who have moved to the area for a more rural life.
Children spend plenty of time outdoors playing sport and building dens in the woods at playtimes and often having classes outside to make the most of the grounds. There is a forest school for the nursery and pre-prep children, and everyone uses the lake for kayaking and canoeing.
Besides various other courts and playing fields, sports facilities include an indoor pool, an astro, squash courts and a climbing wall, while children can hone their arts and performance skills in the dance studio, bespoke music school (which includes a suite of iMacs) and the theatre, which has raked seats that can retract to create a hall.
Year four upwards have access to three well-equipped science labs. Pre-prep upwards have access to tablets, while prep pupils use laptops in some lessons. The IT suite has 20 iMacs and programmable lego robotics kits.
The nursery has a ‘secret garden’ where children get involved in a spot of cement-less bricklaying (building walls for Humpties) and go pretend paddling in kayaks or plant vegetables and flowers.
You can take a virtual tour of the school on its website.
46 scholarships across a variety of subjects were awarded to Westbourne House pupils in 2018, and 29 of the 48 Year 8 pupils left with one or more.
Destination schools between 2010 and 2018 included Bedales, Benenden, Brighton, Bryanston, Canford, Charterhouse, Cranleigh, Eton, Harrow, Hurstpierpoint, Lancing, Marlborough, Portsmouth Grammar School, Portsmouth High School, Radley, Wellington, and Winchester.
Many of the teachers have taught their subjects to secondary school level. The school has accommodation on site for teachers who need it, which enables it to attract talent from a wider area.
The average class size in the prep school is 16 and the children are in sets with specialist teachers from Year 5.
Spanish is new to the syllabus from September 2019.
From September the school will be introducing a High Performance Learning initiative, with more flexible curriculum. (See under Head and Ethos below).
In the pre-prep, the school has designed a creative curriculum that aims to engage children through fun topics such as superheroes and dinosaurs. Each topic includes art, music, science, as well PSHE, French, PE and understanding the world and the children’s work is collated in a topic book for they and their parents to keep, concluding with a note from the child about the aspect that they most enjoyed.
The school recently introduced Singapore-style maths, employing techniques from one of the world’s leading countries for the subject. A phonics system is also used that enables children to progress with reading as rapidly as they are able.
There is a strong focus on drama, with pupils often able to visit nearby Chichester Festival Theatre plus London’s West End. Every year group from nursery upwards puts on a performance piece so that by year 8 the children are really at home on the stage. In years 6 and 8 they put on a full musical, with the pupils not only acting and singing but also getting involved in the lighting and running things backstage.
I was impressed with the vibrant art department, situated in a lovely old coach house that includes a ‘research station’ where pupils can hunt through library pictures for inspiration.
The teacher talks of ‘whipping up excitement’ in the children and getting them to try a range of media. I saw driftwood boats, silk cushions, sculptures and light up signs, plus ceramic creatures destined for display on a tree in the grounds. Children had also been designing a board game around the school.
I also got to see some wonderful scholarship work. I’m told keen children who attend the art club often self-select for scholarship.
Children get used to public speaking from an early age. On my visit the reception class had returned from presenting in assembly and one boy told me he’d had “110 butterflies” beforehand but it all went well.
There’s a big emphasis on peer-to-peer learning at Westbourne House, and on older children developing leadership skills. Year 7 children visit Year 2 to act as reading buddies (a hugely popular responsibility for the Year 7s I’m told) and an annual Dragon’s Den-style contest sees the same years working together to invent products and produce marketing pitches to act out in assembly.
Years 2 and 4 also collaborate on activities like bridge building while prep school musicians visit pre-prep to enthuse the children about instruments.
Playground ‘buddies’ ensure no children are left out of games and a celebration assembly every Friday rewards both good work and good attitude.
Westbourne House was founded at the same time as the Scout movement and adopted a similar logo and structure. Still today it uses some of same terminology, for instance houses are ‘patrols’, the head boy and girls are ‘troop leaders’ and young boarders can work towards a Boarders’ Adventure Badge. It was an early adopter of forest school and has a Westbourne Award similar to the Duke of Edinburgh scheme.
Among other activities, pupils can opt to learn to play Real Tennis (the precursor to Lawn Tennis) at Petworth or get involved in street dance. Girls’ cricket was introduced last year.
As part of an initiative to make drama fun for all abilities more sketch-style performances have been introduced. Year 7 has been working on Fawlty Towers nights with a series of Basils and Manuels serving up mayhem for parents.
Pupils met the Duke and Duchess of Sussex on their recent visit to Chichester and presented them with an A-Z of fun things to do in the county. One received a high five from Prince Harry for admitting they were missing a Latin test!
Boarding and wraparound care
Wraparound care is available up to 17.30 for pre-prep pupils and to 18.30 for prep pupils. There is also a wide variety of after school clubs to chose from.
The school currently has around 100 boarders (from Year 3 up) with full time, weekly and part-time boarding available. Most of these children currently return home at weekends as full-time boarding was only reintroduced in 2016 but the school hopes to build this side up and has just started to take international pupils.
Part-time boarding is available from one night a week (for years 3 & 4) upwards, but parents must commit to a level at the start of term.
Westbourne House has been a boarding school for over a century, yet the houses are far from old and drafty. Some were built in the 70s and more have been added in the last five years. These sit in a modern terrace with individual gardens that put me in mind of Privet Drive in the Harry Potter films!
Smart, low rise and cosy, with a trampoline in one of the gardens, they really felt like a home-from-home. Pupils said they loved the strong showers and having barbecues and treats like a visit from an ice cream van.
Head and ethos
Head Martin Barker has been at the school 12 years, previously as deputy.
He talks of inclusivity and offering a holistic education with a breadth of activity that helps children to discover their talents and confidence and he stresses that, despite academic appearances, it is not the ‘pushy’ school it can be perceived to be.
As Westbourne House is non-selective he believes it is particularly important to attract the best teaching staff. Understandably he’s proud of the number of scholarships that pupils are regularly awarded and the range of subjects that they cover.
The school is this year shaking things up by moving away from an emphasis on Common Entrance preparation (which the head believes is too reliant on learning by rote) and following only the CE syllabuses for Maths, English and Science from Sept 2019. He says he has received positive feedback on the move from a wide range of destination schools, who increasingly say they are looking for creative thinkers.
Under the heading High Performance Learning the plan is to look further ahead at the skills needed for GCSE, like lateral thinking. Also, to draw the pastoral and academic side of Westbourne House together with more collaborative learning, which should also enhance empathy skills.
From September 2019 the Saturday routine is also changing so that, rather than a structured day, after sport in the morning, children can choose from a range of optional afternoon activities including academic and arts classes, or head off home. The head’s belief is that this better suits modern family life.
Word on the ground
Senior schools feed back that Westbourne House children are enthused and know their strengths and weaknesses and what they need to do to succeed. The boarders I spoke to felt they were going ‘home’ each day to relax away from the classroom. Parents feel involved, recommend the school and remark on pupils’ good behaviour.
Nursery: £2,150 – £3,480. Pre-prep and prep: £3,550 per term in reception; £3,620 in years 1 & 2; £5,220 year 3; £5,990 year 4 and £6,115 years 5 – 8. Boarding from £405 for one weekday night (years 3 & 4 only) to £2,080 for full boarding.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those who buy into the holistic, ‘have a go’ ethos of the school and who don’t mind a longer school day with plenty of activities. Those who’d like the option to have their children at home for more of the weekend. Homely boarding. The option to stay on to Year 8.
Not for: If you’re a fan of the traditional Common Entrance exam. If you like your child to spend more of the weekend at school or would prefer a selective hothouse-style environment.
Dare to disagree? The next open day is on Sat 28 Sept 2019. Separately, Westbourne House invites any parent who is interested to visit the school for a private tour with the headmaster’s wife, a meeting with Headmaster Martin Barker as well as talking to teachers and pupils along the way. 01243 782739 email@example.com.
Westbourne House School, Shopwyke, Chichester, West Sussex PO20 2BH. 01243 782739, westbournehouse.org