Hazlegrove Prep School, Sparkford
The traditional exterior belies the forward-thinking, collaborative, empathatic and vibrant education within, with great sport, arts and extra curricular
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 – but don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll be getting an 18th century education at this forward-thinking school. Parents often take the dog for a walk in the parkland or have a game of tennis after drop off. There are currently 363 pupils on the roll (more less equal between boys and girls) with around a third 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. Clever how the ‘stairs’ become a stage or dias for shows! With doors opening between classrooms to create open plan, it’s used for Humanities, tutor rooms, catch-up sessions, prep and more.
A little corner of the Somme on the first floor.
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.
The newly extended Art, Design and Technology department consists of three huge rooms, the newest of which overlooks extensive countryside.
Budding artists, designers and engineers can get creative, with the opportunity to combine traditional skills with cutting edge technology, so you’ll find sewing machines and vacuum formers, lathes and laser cutters, Macs and easels.
The new Food Tech Kitchen is kitted out with all mod cons.
Books are everywhere. There are a number of different libraries with a continually evolving stock of titles, which can double up as learning spaces and daily dedicated reading time for everyone (even the teachers).
The school is fully tech’d up with two ICT suites for coding, even the youngest pupils have access to iPads and from Year 6, personal iPads are on the uniform list – brilliant for research, filming experiments, for teachers to share work with pupils, for putting together presentations and creating iMovies (though I don’t think ‘enzymes in action’ will make the Oscars).
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 between 30 –40 percent of Hazlegrove pupils move onto King’s Bruton. There are perks like Year 3s presenting the Queen with a bouquet on her visit to King’s last year. The school’s underpinned by a 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.
Pastoral care is strong, with pastoral (as well as academic) heads for Pre-Prep, Lower, Middle and Upper schools. From early on, there’s an emphasis on emotional literacy/intelligence, helping children develop the skills to deal with feelings like anxiety, anger, frustration and other emotions (I’m going to try putting on my ‘super pants’ next time I feel nervous). From Year 4, all girls take part in Girls On Board, an award-winning initiative focusing on the complex dynamics in relationships between girls. Involving girls, parents and teachers, it’s an approach which empowers girls to help solve friendship problems. All schools should have this.
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. Over the last three years, a total of 96 scholarships were gained to 28 different schools. 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 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 – the aim is to get all pupils out on to some kind of pitch or sporting arena – which include all the usual plus archery, judo, triathlon, biathlon – and laser pistol shooting. Sporting alumni include Maddie Hinch (hockey Gold in Rio 2016) and Peter Wilson (shooting Gold in London 2012).
Mark White has been in post since 2017. Educated at Eton and Edinburgh and formerly the deputy head (academic) at the Dragon School in Oxford, he’s got impressive credentials. He says that while the school may look traditional (that 18th century house) and retains many traditional values, it’s also forward thinking. He talks about the importance of empathy, being able to understand and control emotions, learning from peers, understanding difference, testing ideas and collaboration. Children are valued for who they are and it’s not about victory but process; weekly celebratory assemblies focus on poetry, music, scientific experiments and more rather than just handing out certificates. In a diverse and vibrant atmosphere (no regimented rows and rows of desks, each class is arranged for purpose), this is a place to find the fun, store up happy memories from childhood and leave the school ready for teenage life.
NURSERY & PRE-PREP
The purpose-built, self-contained Nursery and Pre-Prep headed up by Hannah Strugnell 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.
Blast off! Each term, curriculum is based around a different topic, like Space.
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 time. 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.
As the children move up the school, there is a gradual interaction with older children, some lessons are taken in the upper school and there is a growing sense of independence so the transition from Pre-Prep to Prep is as seamless as possible.
Great idea and open to all – you don’t have to be a parent at the school – are the weekly Squirrels pre-school sessions. At the moment, it’s singing and dancing (for which there is a small charge), parent/toddler afternoons and forest school mornings (which are both free) and coming soon, a baby group every day of the week.
Boarding (from age 7) is in one girls’ boarding house 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.
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. A working allotment area and herb garden comes in handy for Food Tech and they keep chickens, guinea pigs – and bees.
The school’s got its own go-kart track.
Each year the school has a big, themed, festival in which every pupil – from the youngest up – is involved. Last year it was a STEM Fest – from a planetarium to recycled fashion show – this year it’s a Dance and Drama festival. Want to win the Tarzan Challenge? You just have to be the fastest around the school’s assault course. Looks like it was the Head as I spotted this on his mantlepiece.
They’re keen to bring parents into the school rather than at the school gate, with regular Breakfasts for Dads and a programme of school events, with – I’ve heard – very good nosh.
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 and now a Drones club (they’ve got a licence to fly).
Fees are average for an ISC-member school, so you can put your youngest in the Nursery from £30 per session. Pre-prep costs £3,016 a term. Prep costs from £4,794 to £6,115 per term for day and £7,093 to £9,051 per term for boarding. Flexi-boarding per night is £42 – 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.
Good for: Parents who want a dynamic, forward-thinking school celebrating collaboration, empathy and creating happy childhood memories. As it’s a boarding as well as day school, school days are longer which can fit in well with working parents’ lifestyles.
Not for: Anyone who wants school to be all academic work and no play.
Hazlegrove School, Hazlegrove, Sparkford, Somerset, BA22 7JA. Tel 01963 440314 (Office) and 01963 442606 (Admissions). hazlegrove.co.uk