Perrott Hill Prep, nr Crewkerne
Muddy says: This small co-ed prep school combines traditional prep values with a 21st century outlook, has its own literary festival – and just sent a balloon into space!
Since I last visited the school back in May 2017, the school’s been shortlisted as Prep School of the Year at the Independent Schools Awards 2018, opened an innovative hands-on scientific/technical Tinker Lab, sent a balloon into space (yes, really) and has a brand new headmaster…
PERROTT HILL PREP SCHOOL, NORTH PERROTT, nr CREWKERNE
Perrott Hill is a small, independent day and boarding prep school of around 170 boys and girls aged 3-13. It’s set in 28 beautiful acres of grounds and woodlands just outside Crewkerne, on the borders of Somerset and Dorset, not far from the Jurassic coast (handy). There’s a good social mix with children from a range of backgrounds – local farmers, hoteliers, writers, doctors – and with a light sprinkling of European children in the upper years.
The main building is a large Victorian manor house, which is where you’ll find the school admin and the Head, dining halls and boarding accommodation. Although it’s quite grand, it’s not at all intimidating and has a laid back, family feel with pupils and teachers coming and going about the place.
The rest of the school, clustered around the main house, is a mix of Victorian and 1950-60s buildings housing the Nursery, Prep and assorted classrooms, and some impressive contemporary architecture. There’s the wood-clad sports hall, with possibly the world’s longest welly stand.
The Music School opened by (name drop) Sir Neville Marriner is all clean lines, big windows, grass roof and views out from the recital room and its decking onto a spectacular cedar tree and the countryside beyond. Can I come and live in your Music School please? Over half the pupils learn individual instruments with 12 specialist music teachers. All Year 2s learn violin and there’s a 25 piece orchestra. With a new head of music in post, expect lots of new collaborations with the local community.
The Hoskyns Library (named after the family who lived in the original manor house) is in the old orangery and open at all times to all pupils, with masses of books, mags and comfy sofas. They operate the Accelerated Readers Scheme.
Many and varied sporting facilities: new sports hall, games pitches, new all-weather pitch, hard tennis courts, climbing wall, golf course (well, a pitch and putt) and a heated outdoor swimming pool.
There’s a dedicated 250-seat theatre, with various drama productions and musical performances.
Teachers Mr and Mrs Grundy, who’d been evacuated to North Perrott Manor with their Surrey school during the Second World War stayed on and set up this school in 1946. Portraits of Mr and Mrs G still hang over the main staircase.
Messily creative art rooms are more like studios than classrooms, with areas that convert to pop-up darkrooms, with carpentry workshops, and an open door policy over breaks and lunch time – take a look at the results.
I cunningly always plan school visits around lunchtime (one of the perks of the job). No shiny stainless steel canteen here – a no frills but delicious lunch was served up by teachers in a wooden panelled dining room and, for Year 8s, in the Grundy Hall (with good manners being rewarded by a place at the headmaster’s table).
Whenever possible, teaching and other school activities take place outside – like these pupils engrossed in Latin games out on the terrace (the one in the middle’s the teacher – when did I get so old?).
Children have the run of the grounds at break and lunch, slipping in and out of yew hedges (Alice in Wonderland-ish) and finding quiet corners to chat in the formal (but not at all stuffy) rose gardens, running around on the lawns as well as playing in the various playgrounds and sports arenas.
Everyone’s welcome to drop into the brand new scientific/technical Tinker Lab during breaks. Stuffed with computers and all sorts of materials and equipment – programmable sphero robots, bee-bots, 3D printers, CAD (computer aided design), a green screen for making videos – pupils can develop their own ideas or work on projects under the teacher’s guidance. For example, the Perrott Hill Space Agency sent a balloon into space to collect weather data. Don’t believe? Watch this.
Head boys and girls change termly, and there are captains of sport, music, even Tinker Lab, so lots of people get a chance to be a big cheese.
Non-selective, though you’ll have an interview and they’ll cast their eye over your offspring’s school reports. Classes are small, about 14 per class, with usually just two classes per year. Streaming from Year 5, in examined subjects. Good support for dyslexia and dyscalculia – pupils can have extra tuition instead of Latin, for example. Gets impressive results: this year, half the leavers went to their schools of choice on one or more scholarships (including one girl who was awarded the King’s College Taunton’s Festival Cricket Award, beating all the boys).
Teams punch above their weight and pupils often go onto win sports scholarships, they give everyone a chance to play – no sitting on the reserve bench all match-long here. Oh, and any one for (Real) tennis, as played by Henry VIII?
The school choir has sung for the Pope in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome (they’ve also performed in St Mark’s Basilica in Venice and in Prague). Every year they hold their own Children’s Literary Festival with well-known authors. Shortlisted as the Prep School of the Year at the Independent Schools Awards 2018 – watch this space.
Having joined the school in September 2018, new head Alex McCullough and his wife Helen (the head of Early Years Foundation Stage) have experienced first hand the strength and warmth of the welcome from staff and pupils and says he feels like he’s been here ages. With nine years’ experience as a head under his belt – at Polwhele House Prep in Truro – and previously as Academic Director at Foremarke Hall (Repton Prep School), staff report that he’s cool, calm and unflappable. Instantly likeable, he talks about the importance of the rural location, the continuity of history, traditions and values as well as the benefits of a small school community allowing them to truly shape what’s on offer to create a bespoke education for each child.
Nursery and Pre-prep
The prep and nursery classrooms are housed in a converted stable courtyard with their own playground although they share facilities with the main school.
Headed up by Caroline Williams (a jet pilot in a previous life), education is curiosity-led and play-based with elements of Montessori. When I visited first time round, afternoon in the Forest School was in full swing: kids making wild garlic pesto scones to cook over the fire pit (and counting in French as they did, clever clogs) and using saws and drills to make wooden models. The huge roundhouse in the middle would put most glamping sites to shame.
Weekly and flexi boarding from Year 3 and full boarding from Year 5, with only 15 (not a typo) full-time boarders (though weekly/flexi-boarders bring the number up to around 50). Dorms are small and friendly. Guess which one’s a boys’ and which one’s a girls’…
The common room near the boys’ dorms is shared by both boys and girls, with surfboards on the wall, an air footie table and a sofa that was far more stylish than the one chez moi .
The girls have their own cosy space too (and chose the glitter wallpaper themselves).
Great family feel with lots of activities at weekends with house parents.
There’s school for Years 5-8 on Saturdays until 4pm, with lessons, sports and a French lunch (1.30 pick up if not involved in matches). Year 3 upwards learn touch typing.
Wrap around care
The school day runs from 8.20am-5.45pm (and free after school care in the pre-prep from 4pm-5.45pm) with some unusual school clubs: pinhole camera photography (first, make your camera), Asian cookery (with a professional chef), animation and ‘news crew’ journalists within those hours.
Fees for all pupils, even Nursery, are termly. So, Nursery and Reception (mornings only) £1,570; full days £2,225. Years 1 & 2 £3,280, although the Early Years Funding Scheme is available. Years 3 & 4, £5,120. Years 5-8 £5,345. Weekly boarding £6,625. Full boarding £8,845. If you want to book your little darling into a school bunk bed for the night, it’s £40 and includes supper plus an evening activity.
Word on the ground
Parents talk about the welcoming, relaxed atmosphere, with children coming out of their shells and ‘growing hugely in confidence and enthusiasm’. People like the Head’s outward looking approach ‘the kids are allowed to be themselves, to make mistakes, to take risks’ and ‘they’re not just thinking about the next school, they’re thinking about the world beyond’ (they organise career talks). They value the school’s emphasis on manners, politeness and caring for others and there are ‘lots of great role models’ in the school.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Parents who want a school that combines the best of aspects of a traditional country prep school with an outward looking, more progressive education. Shyer, less confident children who might get lost in a larger school would thrive here – can’t imagine anyone falling through the net.
Not for: It’s small so budding sporting superstars might not have much competition from others in their year (though those who are will do well – this year there were nine sports scholarships).
Dare to disagree? Don’t take my word for it – pop along to their Open Morning on Fri 25 January and see for yourself.
Perrott Hill Preparatory School, Perrott Hill, North Perrott, Crewkerne, TA18 7SL. Tel 01460 72051. perrotthill.com