PERROTT HILL PREP, NR CREWKERNE
Deep in the Somerset countryside, a small co-ed prep school with stonking views, trad prep values and a 21st century outlook
PERROTT HILL PREP SCHOOL, NORTH PERROTT, nr CREWKERNE
Perrott Hill is a small, independent day and boarding prep school of around 200 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 cool new 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 (and some of the teachers) learn individual instruments with 12 specialist music teachers. All Year 2s learn violin and there’s a string orchestra.
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, founded the school in 1946. When their school returned home after the war, they stayed on and set up this school. 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).
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.
Technology is increasingly important here but it’s not about every pupil having an iPad though there are interactive screens in a number of classrooms. Instead, pupils from the Early Years up have access to a wide range of techno wizardry – like programmable sphero robots, bee-bots, and 3D printers and CAD (computer aided design) from September 2017 – to explore, discover and learn. Creativity and lateral thinking is actively encouraged. The inspirational teacher comes from cutting edge IT industry.
Head boys and girls change termly 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: over the last four years, 117 children have won 63 scholarships and awards to senior schools in the South West and beyond.
I nabbed the sports master at lunch and he made the point that although 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). They’re holding their first Children’s Literary Festival in June. Finalists in the 2017 Global Canvas Art and Poetry competition with work displayed at the Natural History Museum.
Dynamic and super friendly headmaster Tim Butcher has been at the school since 2015, previously deputy head at Winchester House and housemaster of choristers at The Chorister School at Durham Cathedral (apparently the boy can sing). He believes that the idyllic rural setting, where children can run free and learn to appreciate the environment, combined with developing critical thinking skills and emotional intelligence helps pupils to look outside of the prep school bubble and into the real world. Mindfulness and growth mindset are important – as is learning about technology and how to control it. He emphasised that the size of the school means teachers really know the children, even before they come into their class. The head’s wife Bethan, a teacher herself, is the ‘mum’ of the school, very involved and seems lots of fun (I enjoyed seeing the pupils’ paintings of her dressed up as a geisha).
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 Maggs (a jet pilot in a previous life), education is curiosity-led and play-based with elements of Montessori. When I visited, 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), the boys’ quarters are more like a cool student pad than a dorm and common room, with surfboards on the wall, an air footie table and a sofa that was far more stylish than the one chez moi. The girls’ accommodation is being refurbed over the summer hols along the same lines. 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. They’re building a ‘Tinker Lab’ (housed in brand new science labs and due to open in September), so that pupils can pop in at break time and experiment with all sorts of technological gizmos. 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) £1,640; full days £2,085. Years 1 & 2 £3,075, although the Early Years Funding Scheme is available. Years 3 & 4, £4,800. Years 5-8 £5,095. Weekly boarding £6,100. Full boarding £7,360. If you want to book your little darling into a school bunk bed for the night, it’s £36.70 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 – it’s all part of the growth mindset thing’ 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.
Dare to disagree? Don’t take my word for it – go along to one of their Open Mornings on Fri 12 and Sat 13 May and see for yourself.
Perrott Hill Preparatory School, Perrott Hill, North Perrott, Crewkerne, TA18 7SL. Tel 01460 72051. perrotthill.com