Worth School, Turners Hill
Muddy says: With a Benedictine tradition and a strong international focus, this co-ed boarding and day school near Gatwick seeks to produce pupils with a cosmopolitan outlook.
Worth is a relatively ‘young’ school (it celebrates its 60th anniversary this year) but it sits within a building with its own interesting history (the information panels in the entrance hall make fascinating reading) and its junior school is older. In fact the oldest part of the school (now Rutherford House) was once Cowdray Estate Manor.
Worth has been co-ed since 2008 and now has a 60/40 boys/girls split (50/50 in the Sixth Form). It is a Catholic school that welcomes those of all faiths or none, with a mix of day pupils and full boarders.
Situated in 500 acres in a leafy part of Sussex, the school is near a train route to London and its proximity to Gatwick leads the head to joke you can be in Hamburg in probably less time than it takes to drive to Camden.
There are around 600 pupils and Worth is strongly European in terms of its recruitment with a proportion of the children coming from international schools. Boarders make-up about half the pupils and about half of these are from overseas. Students often leave with friends in Paris, Madrid, Chile and other locations (handy for future holidays!) Day pupils typically come from within an hour’s radius, across the Southeast and London.
The DT department was new last year, with the subject added to the syllabus for 2017-18. It has a fun design with inspiring objects set into the walls (including a stack of Quality Street tins – sadly empty!)
An innovative new £6m Sixth Form centre is on the cards for the 2021/22 academic year. A new sports complex and other academic facilities will then follow.
Sporty kids will be in their element as there are more than 30 acres of sports pitches and the school has its own golf course and floodlit astro. There’s also a multi-gym and cardiovascular suite for getting those muscles working. Crawley Town has even used the school’s football pitches for pre-season training. Several Olympians have hailed from Worth including 2016 rugby silver medalist Tom Mitchell.
Worth boasts its own large stables that can house up to 32 horses and there’s a Worth equestrian team. Any pupil lucky enough to have their own horse can bring it to school with them to keep on site.
Among other facilities, the striking modern circular Abbey Church at the centre of the more historical site reminded me of Liverpool’s famous catholic cathedral.
Dining has been well thought out. Sixth Formers have their own Pitstop Café for relaxed study or socialising. Years 7 and 8 have a separate lunch venue from older children to help smooth their transition.
Sixth formers study for A Levels or the International Baccalaureate. Almost two thirds of this year’s A level results were A* to B and IB pupils scored an average 34.5 points – above the world average of 30.
Destination universities this year include Bath, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Exeter, Imperial College, King’s College, St Andrew’s, Warwick and York.
2018 saw the best GCSE results at Worth since the exams were introduced with almost two-thirds at A* or A (7,8 or 9)
Though the school is more selective than it was in the past the head says he doesn’t intend the bar to rise further as the school needs to ‘reflect real life’. Though 95% of students go on to uni, 50% to Russell Group members, he says those who aspire to Oxbridge and those who would prefer agricultural college are treated with the same seriousness.
Diverse Wednesday afternoon activities and clubs cover the likes of abseiling, archery, zip wire, animal welfare, human rights, mah-jong, Minecraft, code-breaking, astronomy, healthy relationships, express yourself, Hebrew for beginners and pedal kart design. There are also many options for community service.
Weekend activities are open to both boarders and day pupils.
An egalitarian approach means 90% of children play for a sports team of some kind at a level that suits them. A girls’ football team was introduced in 2017. For those who excel, a Talented Athlete Support Programme helps with an all-round approach from nutritional advice to coaching clinics.
Worth has its own theatre company called Inspire. Students have the opportunity to study the technical aspects of drama, such as sound and lighting, as well as performance.
On the religious side there are opportunities to make a summer pilgrimage or to tour with the choir. The school also has youth minsters called Forerunners who support the chaplains and provide and extra listening ear for fellow pupils.
The most obviously unusual thing about Worth is that its roots lie with a Benedictine monastic community. There are still monks on the board of governors and would-be head boys and girls undergo an interview for which they have to prepare a piece themed to the Rule of St Benedict. You will see monks around the school, though their day-to-day life is separate.(Subconsciously you may find yourself wistfully looking out for Fleabag’s ‘hot priest’!)
‘Retreats’ for each year group involve a few days for reflection with visiting speakers, discussion and periods of silence.
Among other stand out aspects of Worth, for the last ten years Sixth Formers, not content with your regular sponsored swim laps of a pool, have undertaken team swims across the Channel, dodging hypothermia to raise a whopping more than £70,000 for various charities. Brrr!
The majority of senior pupils board. The school offers traditional full-time boarding – no flexi-options here.
The houses are good for individual space with plenty of double and single rooms with en-suites and Sixth-formers enjoying bedsit-like accommodation – a great preparation for uni life.
The new girls’ boarding house St Mary’s is particularly fine. Every bedroom comes with an en-suite, there’s a grand piano to tinkle at the entrance, a communal study room and above it a fantastic large, light common room with views that has a touch of New York loft apartment about it. I also liked the cosy sunken snug around the TV in one of the boys’ houses.
Head and ethos
Worth has a sense of community and one of humility, of being grounded says head Stuart McPherson.
Though he stresses the formal interaction between pupils and the monastic community is minimal, he believes the uniqueness of the school lies in its interface with monastic ideas about education. A ‘trickle down effect’ creates peacefulness in the pupils and they are comfortable in their own skin, he says.
Despite the heritage of the school environment, he likes to think of Worth as ‘mature’ in terms of being fully formed on good foundations rather than ‘traditional’ in the stuffy sense. There’s a non-hierarchical approach, symbolised by the round chapel.
He says the school’s style is unlikely to suit the kind of parent who simply wants their child to be “in the city on £250,000 by the time they’re 35.”
Word on the ground
Pupils I spoke to talked about the supportive sense of community and extended family about the school. They said friends who had switched to other schools had since admitted in wistful texts that they’d regretted it.
They felt Worth encouraged them to be the best they could be and they knew they could get extra help if they needed to. ‘The teachers really care about us’ was a common theme. One pupil told how teachers had voluntarily stayed late to help them with revision and had answered emailed queries the night before exams.
On their wish list they said would be their own pool – they currently use an Olympic-sized pool offsite.
On the religious side, they explained monk chaplains are available in houses for a chat at certain times should anyone wish that. Family mass happens once a term with speakers that have included refugees and a survivor of a life-threatening illness. At other times they said chapel time is quiet and reflective, with everyone together.
A non-Catholic told me she hadn’t felt out of place at the school.
The termly fee for years 9 – 13 is £8,190 for day pupils, £11,740 for boarders. Years 7 & 8 (day only) is £5,510.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: A strong international mix. Full-time boarding. Spiritual roots with the aim of producing children who are self-assured in a peaceful, grounded sense. Academic goals that are not purely university-focused. Horse-loving pupils.
Not so good for: If a secular education is important to you this is unlikely to be the environment you would choose. A cookie-cutter version of success measured in future income is not the aim of the school. There are no weekly or flexi-boarding options.
Dare to disagree? There are open days coming up on 14 Sept, 12 Oct and 9 Nov 2019. You can also arrange a private visit.
Worth School, Paddockhurst Road, Turners Hill, West Sussex, RH10 4SD, 01342 710200, worthschool.org.uk