Horris Hill Prep, Newbury
Muddy says: A small, high-achieving rural prep with a friendly, family-oriented vibe and welcome emphasis on 'joining in' and good manners.
HORRIS HILL PREP SCHOOL, NEWTON, NEWBURY BERKSHIRE
Horris Hill one of the UK’s leading prep schools hidden away on the Berkshire/ Hampshire border for boys aged 7-13 years. Surrounded by 85 acres of wooded heathland, the school started its existence 129 years ago (1888 if you’re struggling with the maths), by Winchester College master Mr A H Evans. There’s not one grand mansion to drool over (or feel intimidated by), but a collective of Victorian red brick large houses, renovated outbuildings and modern add ons – a bit like a village. It is pretty rural, if you’re not paying attention you’ll whizz past the turning. Fortunately there’s now a sign, so eyes peeled to take your turning and sweep down the long drive. A mile or so from Newbury with great train links from Reading and London, while Basingstoke and Winchester are a 30-minute drive. Although the majority of children board, day pupils are bussed in from Winchester, Basingstoke and Marlborough. Phew! Say goodbye to the stressful school run.
Plenty, in an independent school you would expect sport to be strong, you’ll find astroturf, large sports hall; outdoor heated swimming pool, rugby and football pitches, cricket nets, a cross country route that includes Heartbreak Hill (a fiendishly steep climb near the finish), squash courts, 9-hole golf course and an adventure playground in the woods. Just to let you know, Horris Hill kids are expected to play, run and compete outside in all weathers. You’ll also find these mini Bear Grylls camping out, den building and climbing trees in Spain (a patch of wood shaped like the country).
On the artsy side, there’s a cool music building with plenty of room for orchestral groups, the library is a grand wood panelled vision of loveliness (with club room vibes). Big shiny future investments include a spinky spanky new theatre –the school’s busy fundraising right now, but hope to hit the total to start work during their 130th anniversary year in 2018.
There’s an impressive model room with a vast train set and occupying the space that the boys rave about. The school certainly works hard to ensure that the boys are blowing off steam and enjoying life when they are not in the classroom, offering extra curricular activities like photography, chess, cycling (the kids have their wheels on site), sailing, shooting. The list is long and varied.
Uniquely, Horris Hill doesn’t do year groups. Boys are placed in small classes according to progress, never more than 2 terms apart in practice and by all accounts, it works. Form places are regularly reviewed and boys can be accelerated or delayed based on their mastery of a subject. It is deliberately small, just 120 pupils, meaning there is rarely more than 14 pupils to class (even smaller in the final year). Naturally, the boys benefit hugely from the attention lavished. The results? Pretty darn impressive. Last year scholarships were awarded to Eton, Winchester and Marlborough (academic); Harrow (outstanding talent); Sherborne and Millfield (sports); St Edward’s Oxford and Milton Abbey (drama and music).
It’s not just a gallop to the academic hothouse, there’s a calm approach to learning here that enables these kids truly grasp the work they’re doing and thrive. It’s a testimony to the quality teaching at the school, academic rigour and boys’ work ethic. Gold stars all round.
MUSIC & DRAMA
Performing arts tick all the boxes in terms of confidence, language development, IQ, better exam results – and judging by the pictures plastered over the walls, Horris Hill boys are not hiding their talents – clearly loving the costumes, greasepaint and opportunity to perform. Almost all boys learn an instrument, one of the highest take up rates I’ve come across on my prep school travels. But there are many opportunities to act, sing, play or dance in productions and concerts, assemblies or talent shows. The big shows are currently staged in the sports hall. The acoustics are ‘shocking’, according to my youthful guides, but until the new theatre is ready the show must go on.
The Boarding Houses, four in total, actually look smarter and tidier than my own children’s bedrooms (*the shame*). Horris Hill has a traditional approach – you either board or you’re a day pupil. The days are long, starting at 8.15am and ending at 7.15pm (younger day boys finish at 5.30pm) but no homework (oh, and yet we do all love the weekly homework nag). The younger boys sleep in Private Side attached to the Headmaster’s house, the 10-11 year olds move to The Hill and the seniors are in The Bank and The Wood. They have a homely, family vibe – posters and pictures are encouraged – there’s a cool TV room and the boys can speak to their parents any time on the phone or Skype. It’s home from home with the added comfort of knowing there are qualified nurses on site to look after the kids when they’re under the weather.
Giles Tollit has been the main man for 7 years, supported by his wife Molly who also teaches part-time at Marlborough College. He’s friendly, normal (by which I mean, not madly posh) and giving the air of a man focused on the task. I liked him a lot. With three boys of his own, he understands young minds: lessons are 40 minutes, break times are 40 minute, he’s passionate about single sex education at this age to encourage a have-a-go spirit; parents are encouraged to join the big HH family and he believes that following a traditional curriculum and nailing fundamental life skills will give Horris Hill boys the edge to succeed in an unknown world. With the acreage here, there’s room for many more kids, but Tollit and the governors have taken the decision to keep it small, friendly, family-oriented and inclusive. That’s clearly the USP of the school and it’s working.
Well apart from the lack of year groups, there’s The School Visitor. It’s a real title, you know, and refers to the Duke of York. Yup, Prince Andrew is a huge fan of the school and was so impressed during a visit, he asked if he could be given the title to guarantee he’s be invited back. You’d think Duke and Prince would be enough, but The School Visitor has been the icing on the cake.
Prisoners Base is something of a Horris Hill tradition – like an elaborate game of It, the boys play it throughout the year. But I particularly loved the sound of the annual Balloon Debate – an opportunity to dress up and argue your point to stay safely onboard the hypothetical hot air balloon. This year saw Trump, Putin, Sherlock Holmes, Yoda and Family Guy’s Peter Griffin go head to head. I’m voting for Trump to get the boot first.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Excellent. The longer days certainly help frazzled working parents who are always fighting a losing battle with the clock. But boarding is perfect if you travel a lot and you want to prepare your son for a boarding at senior school. Pastoral care and the wellbeing of the kids is top notch, the kids are well fed (three hot meals a day) with many of the veggies grown in their own kitchen garden, and they’re encouraged to work and play hard.
Boarding is £8,900 per term and Day is £6,600 per term. Means tested Burseries are available. I’d say these fees are comparatively good value, as they also include all trips, SEN support, extra-curricular activities and all meals, including tea. Music lessons and some extra curricular clubs such as judo are extra.
WORD ON THE GROUND:
I’ve been struggling to find any murmurings of dissent at all on this one. Parents love the friendly, inclusive, non-pretentious family vibe. And they rave about the school’s ability to get the best out of each and every boy regardless of ability or background while giving them every opportunity for boys to be boys. The latest ISI report agrees rating it excellent.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Supersporties are well catered for here but so are the triers – the size of the school means kids are strongly encouraged to join in a team and participate. Nurturing and developing every boy as an individual.
Not for: With a maximum 14 in a class, more rumbustious, knee-scuffer type boys might benefit from a bigger pond to swim in.
Dare to disagree? Don’t take my word for it have a nose for yourself! The next Open Morning is on Saturday 24 February 2018 at 10am, but if you can’t wait until then, contact [email protected] to arrange a visit.
rris Hill, Newtown, Newbury, Berkshire RG20 9DJ. Tel: 01635 40594