Brockhurst & Marlston House
Muddy says: Brockhurst and Marlston House is a traditional country prep with academic rigour and acres of space to blow off steam.
BROCKHURST & MARLSTON HOUSE SCHOOL, HERMITAGE, NR NEWBURY
Brockhurst and Marlston House is a traditional family-run country prep offering a unique mix of single sex and co-ed teaching from 3-13. The school’s situated on a sprawling 500-acre estate just outside Newbury that stretches down to the River Pang, with a dedicated 60 acres for the kids. Lucky devils.
There are 320 pupil, with a 50-50 split between boys and girls (50 of which are in Early Years at Ridge House) with maximum class sizes of 20. The main building is a knock-out mock-Jacobian mansion accessed down a sweeping drive with some clever modern add ons that blend in rather than stand out. The baronial windows, turrets, oak panelling and enormous fire places could give the impression of it being a bit stuffy, but it’s a warm, buzzy school, bursting with energy. And there’s plenty of space for everyone to blow off steam.
The USP here is the mix of co-ed with single sex education. Boys and girls are educated separately between the ages of 6 and 11, coming together for art, music and drama and extra-curricular activities. But classes are merged at pre-prep and in the final two years of senior school to prepare pupils for scholarships and common entrance exams on an equal footing. The beauty of this is that academic teaching can be tailored to play to the girls’ and boys’ strengths.
The grounds are immense, so out the kids go! Lessons often spill outside and sport is a big part of school life – played daily with A, B and C teams fielded in rugby, football, cricket, hockey, netball and rounders. If they don’t get your heart racing, golf, judo and tennis are also on offer as well as traditional country pursuits like clay pigeon shooting (taught by the prestigious Royal Berkshire Shooting School), fishing and horse riding. The school has it’s very own equestrian centre where pupils can stable their pony or learn to ride on the school’s horses and a modern 25m indoor pool. Rock up at 7.30am and the children can swim lengths before school starts at 8.35am – with the promise of a bacon roll to get them out of the water.
The performing arts centre provides individual instrumental lesson rooms, where kids can learn pretty much any instrument (there’s a long list of visiting peri teachers), plus a couple of larger music spaces including the sports hall that doubles up for performances with a pullout stage . Oh, did I mention there’s also a recording studio? Well there is, lay down your track and hit the iTunes charts, I say. There are senior and junior orchestras and choirs, plus a chamber choir and string quartet. Swing and R&B bands, guitar, flute and recorder groups provide other opportunities to make music.
The Learning Development Centre goes waaaay beyond the usual remit, giving extra support to kids experiencing difficulties to develop comprehension, study skills and exam revision techniques. The staff are amazing and a wonderful purpose built space to work in, with the latest multi-sensory programmes. Rather brilliantly though, the LDC also helps gifted and talented to extend knowledge, and assists foreign students with english.
The headline news is the investment in virtual reality headsets, enabling students to immerse themselves in a subject and see things from a totally different perspective. Very cool! Things could get pretty vivid in science, history and geography. They’ve also introduced robotics, programming and drone building. Despite the traditional vibes, the school is keen to embrace new tech – but only if there’s a genuine educational benefit. They’re not in the business of throwing money at the latest fad, just for the sake of it.
All the classrooms I visited were light and spacious – science and art looked particularly buzzy. The Bunsen burners were fired up, safety goggles on, for a lively lesson in the lab. The art and DT block provides plenty of space to let rip with creativity. So if you think you have a mini Banksy or a pot-throwing Grayson Perry, there’s no shortage of space to have a go. Whereas some prep schools have dropped traditional subjects like Latin and Greek, it’s still taught here. Big tick, if you’re aiming to send your child to one of the top public schools.
Extra-curricular is quite paired back. You won’t find 100 activities on the go at a time, and clubs are pretty traditional with major sports, fencing, ballet, speaking and debating, fishing and chess all available. But the evening and weekend activities (day pupils can join in) definitely have the fun factor. Escape from Brockhurst – staff hunt the kids down while the kids try to make their escape from school – Sounds brilliant. Brockworts (a Harry Potter-themed weekend) that includes a trip to the film studios is massively popular as well as Masterchef nights, Sherlock Holmes weekends and campouts. The annual fireworks display is also a highlight for the whole school community, with the boys and girls forming a torchlit procession with their parents to the bonfire – traditionally lit by the youngest child in the school. You get the idea, life outside lessons is creative, energetic, good family fun.
Although the majority of children are day pupils, boarding is a big part of the Brockhurst and Marlston experience. The house master throws everything but the kitchen sink into his job ensuring boarders feel safe, at home, and have lots of opportunities on and off site. I suspect he’s a big kid at heart because they’re all having a blast. Full-time boarding is encouraged (they have 20 right now), but the school’s embraced flexi which is proving very popular. The dorms are pristine. I’ve never seen rooms so tidy. Boys’ dorms are more functional (sleep rather than interior design is the focus) whereas the girls’ dorms, are pretty and very pink with the best views. Lots of posters on walls to reinforce anti-bullying ethos; full boarders can have mobile phones and iPads and their use is managed by boarding house staff.
The academic results:
Very Good. Brockhurst and Marlston House is non-selective but still achieves a high number of academic scholarships. In fact, over 50% of the kids are awarded academic, music, sport, art, drama, DT and all-rounder scholarships to boarding schools like Bradfield College, Radley, Downe House and Marlborough. The school motto is ‘no reward without effort’, so there’s a genuine desire to learn and succeed. Important life lesson right there. The school supports streaming able pupils to stretch and challenge them with the brightest moving into scholarship sets (usually Y5) or ‘accelerated’ ie moved up a year, in other year groups.
Not one but two heads. David Fleming leads the charge at Brockhurst (he also owns the school) while Caroline Riley heads up Marlston House. Both teach regularly with half of their timetables made up of lessons. For heads to put so much time in at the coalface is rare.
David was educated at Brockhurst (it’s been the family biz for 80 years), then Radley and Oxford. No grandeur, but he’s authoritative and passionate about his school – keen for the children to have a traditional prep experience that they’ll look back on as the best years of their lives (much like he does, I suspect). He’s also a comfortable wearer of check and tweed (both of which can been seen in the school uniform). The key for him is to preserve the family feel, maintain academic rigour and improve facilities.
Caroline, went to a West Country girls’ school and Southampton Uni, works alongside David but runs the girls’ school as she sees fit. They’re quite the double act. David does most of the talking, but Caroline chips in with pearls of info. Her experience working in both single sex and co-ed schools has undoubtedly helped shape the unique offering here.
Little people start in Ridge House at 3 years old (under the gentle stewardship of Sophie McCluggage, Head of Junior School) and seem very safe, secure and content. They reside in their own bright, busy self-enclosed area, with the the usual accoutrements of sandpit, outdoor space, good staff ratios, all the crafty stuff you can imagine, and happy kids. At this age, that’s all you want really. The Latin and Mandarin classes can wait.
It sounds strange but I think it’s biggest quirk is just how traditional it is – work hard, play hard, apply common sense. It’s unfussy and charming which is great in an iGadget obsessed world. That said, the back to front year groups certainly tested my brain. Once you’re past reception you’re into Y8 and leave at 13 in Y1.
My favourite quirks are the trap door to a secret space under the school that the children only discover during Brockwarts. The family school ski trip which sees staff, pupils, mum, dad and siblings all whizz off to the alps for a week on the piste. How lovely is that?! Oh and it’s worth mentioning the school also owns a French château and a farm on Exmoor.
Wrap around care: The school day starts at 8.15am until 3.45pm for pupils aged 7 and below with the option to stay in after school club until 6pm and beyond. Once you get to the grand old age of 9, school ends at 6pm and pupils attend Saturday school from the age of 10. Cue grateful overstretched parents everywhere. Children 3+ can attend Breakfast Club from 7.30am.
Word on the ground:
Brockhurst and Marlston has a reputation for pastoral care along with its academic and extra-curricular success. I know quite a few mums whose kids go here, and they love it. My feeling on walking around was that it was a very warm and welcoming school. It has that sense of old-fashioned freedom – the kids roam the grounds or are whacking each other with conkers, for example. There’s a certain romance to that – work hard, play hard, come back dirty but have fun. The last ISI report flagged up a couple of safeguarding issues but changes have been made to staff and procedures and a whizzy piece of software called MyConcern has been installed. When issues arise, the parents feel they’re kept in the loop, are able to voice concerns freely and changes can be made swiftly. It’s a family school, with family values, so it’s good to know.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Those looking for a good all-round option, kids nurtured, brains engaged, opportunity to get involved in loads of different activities in a caring environment. Anyone looking for great comparative value for money – Brockhurst and Marlston is less expensive than some other schools I’ve reviewed in the region, with fees from £3442 per term in Reception through to £5764 per term (day) and £7742 (full boarding).
Not for: Those who want iPads on every desk, lots of alternative extracurricular and a school that rushes to adopt all of the latest teaching trends. It is proudly traditional, set in a country idyll and the children benefit hugely from all that space.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the next Open Morning on Saturday 14 October 2017, 10.30am – 12pm.
Brockhurst & Marlston House School, Marlston Road, Hermitage. RG18 9UL. Tel: 01635 200 293, [email protected]