Hazelgrove Prep, Sparkford
A quick whizz down the A303 and turn into the peaceful calm that is Hazlegrove Prep...
Join me for a quick whizz down the A303 and a turn into the peaceful calm that is Hazlegrove Prep, for the latest Muddy Best Schools review…
HAZLEGROVE PREP SCHOOL, SPARKFORD
Hazlegrove Prep is an independent day and boarding school for girls and boys aged two and a half to 13 years. Driving up through the 200 acres of parkland to reach the school (noting the picturesque grazing cows en route) it feels like you’re about to visit Mr Darcy as the elegant 18th century Hazlegrove House comes into view. Parents often take the dog for a walk in the parkland or have a game of tennis after drop off. There are 379 pupils on the roll (more less equal between boys and girls) with around a quarter boarding and a small handful from overseas.
With the exception of the self-contained Nursery and Pre-Prep, which is set to the side, most of the school buildings are clustered behind Hazlegrove House.
The architecture prize goes to the knock-out Fitzjames Teaching and Learning Centre, named after one of the school’s founders, with a cloister-inspired exterior and an interior that’s all glass walls, cool pastel coloured furniture and a huge, double-height performance-exhibition-space-study-hub.
Drama takes place in a professional studio-style theatre with a proper sound box and lighting under a Head of Drama who’s had leading roles in the West End.
Pupils get creative in a whopping design tech workshop where they combine traditional skills with the latest (laser) cutting edge technology. They were making presents for Mother’s Day – wooden bath caddies with holders for a glass of wine – when I popped in (can I place an order, please?). The professional looking art studio has a traditional working etching press and is currently being extended.
The Food Tech Kitchen is brand spanking new and kitted out with all mod cons.
The school is fully tech’d up: even the youngest pupils have access to iPads and in Year 7 (and as from September, Year 6) personal iPads are on the uniform list – and I saw my first ever 3D printer in IT.
The school, which was set up in 1947, is part of a royal foundation with King’s Bruton school (nine miles away in, er, Bruton), which dates back to the 16th century. The two schools share a board of governors but operate educationally independently although about 40 percent of Hazlegrove pupils move onto King’s Bruton. The school’s underpinned by a strong Christian ethos, with an emphasis on responsibility, a sense of community and tolerance. A large number of staff live on site, creating a ‘family feel’. The Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI) recently declared the school to be ‘excellent’ in all judgements from academic achievement to pastoral care. Music is a strength, with time-tabled violin and piano in Year 2 and early assessment for musical ability and taster lessons in different instruments. Most pupils play or sing, many achieving a high level in practical and music theory exams.
Despite not being selective (although pupils are assessed at a trial day), the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), found the quality of the pupils’ learning and achievement to be ‘excellent’ with everyone reaching beyond expected levels. Last year, 27 pupils won 32 scholarships and awards to assorted public schools including Marlborough, King’s College Taunton, Bruton School for Girls and Millfield. From Year 6, specialists teach every subject. Calibre of staff is high (top quality degrees from Oxbridge, Russell Group universities, etc) so teachers can easily extend more able pupils as well help those who need learning support (about 15 percent of pupils).
Hazlegrove is a sporty school with excellent facilities inside and out, achieving success at county, national and even international level. There are floodlit hockey, netball and tennis courts, a 6-hole golf course, extensive playing fields, and a new cricket pavilion.
Indoor sports facilities are a bit of a tardis: an unobtrusive building contains a 25 metre swimming pool, sports hall, squash courts and a dance (contemporary and ballet) studio. Everyone’s encouraged to try out a wide range of sports, which include all the usual plus archery, judo – and laser pistol shooting. Sporting alumni include Maddie Hinch (hockey Gold in Rio 2016) and Peter Wilson (shooting Gold in London 2012).
Headmaster Richard Fenwick (here he is with his wife Katie) has been at the school for 15 years, and is largely responsible for creating the school as it is now. He’s a passionate believer that if you create an environment where children feel safe and loved – and allowed to be children – and throw in some inspirational teachers who lead by example, then they will thrive, succeed and even exceed expectations. He’ll be leaving the school at the end of this academic year leaving the school in the safe hands of Mark White, currently the deputy head at the Dragon School in Oxford, who will be starting in September.
Nursery and Pre-prep
The purpose-built, self-contained Nursery and Pre-Prep headed up by Ellie Lee has around 60 pupils aged between two and a half and seven. Well-equipped, with a large library area and a creative/computer room; classrooms are full of artwork, written work (impressive handwriting) and projects.
Happy, confident (but not irritatingly precocious) pupils were keen to show me their work. Pupils are screened for strengths as well as weaknesses early on so they can be given the extra attention they need. Lots of one-to-one attention. As soon as possible, pupils move onto the Accelerated Reader Scheme. Plenty of fresh air, come rain or shine, with afternoons in Forest School, where pupils can learn, play, cook and have fun under the branches of a huge cedar tree.
Boarding (from age 7) is in one girls’ boarding house – complete with a cute pooch – and two boys’. There are further boys’ dorms in high-ceilinged rooms in the main house, though the great views of the grounds and the formal gardens are probably wasted on the kids.
While the school is tech-friendly, it’s a no-mobiles rule in the school and most evenings are spent playing games; activities and trips out at weekends. Lots of adults around with house parents and matrons, gap year students and about half the staff live on site.
It’s got it own mini farm with hens and pigs; pupils collect the eggs and one day those little piglets will be sausages and bacon.
There’s a Millionaire’s Club but you don’t have to be rich to join – just read more than a million words in a term. The school’s got its own go-kart track. This year it held a week-long festival of sustainability called EarthWyz. Oh, and mustn’t forget the school python, safely tucked away in a one of three science labs.
Wrap around care
Four mini buses bring pupils of all ages into and out of school on a regular or occasional basis. After school care and clubs in Pre-prep and masses of after school clubs for Prep, which vary from term to term, like judo, Hazlegrove Radio, Origami, Pointless, Ultimate Frisbee …
Fees are average for an ISC-member school, so you can put your youngest in the Nursery from £30 per session. Pre-prep costs £2,760 a term. Prep costs £4,387 (£6,429 boarding) for Year Three through to £5,596 (£8,203 boarding) for Years Seven and Eight per term. Flexi-boarding per night is £39 – not much more than for a babysitter and you don’t have to drive them home afterwards.
Word on the ground
Everyone talks about Hazlegrove as a welcoming, happy and grounded school. The staff are ‘approachable and totally committed to a child-centred approach’ and ‘so supportive’. Asking about academics, the feedback is that ‘there is academic rigour but it is not a hot house’. The ‘amazing sports facilities and coaching’, ‘wealth of extra-curricular activities on offer’ and ‘the music department offers so much opportunity’ all hit the spot.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents who want a traditional good all-round school with a nurturing and friendly family feel.
Not for: Anyone who wants school to be all academic work and no play.
Dare to disagree? Don’t take my word for it! The next Open Mornings are Saturday 6 May, Tuesday 9 May and Saturday 13 May, why not pop along and see if you agree with me.
Hazlegrove School, Hazlegrove, Sparkford, Somerset, BA22 7JA. Tel 01963 440314 (Office) and 01963 442606 (Admissions). hazlegrove.co.uk