Millfield Prep School, Glastonbury
This famously sporty school isn't only for future Olympians, it's focused on finding brilliance in every child, whatever that might be. The opportunities are there for the taking.
Millfield Prep School lies on the edge of the ancient town of Glastonbury, with the iconic Tor as a backdrop. It’s a co-educational independent day and boarding school where just over 465 boys and girls aged 2-13 gambol amongst the eclectic, mostly modern, buildings, playgrounds and playing fields, sports facilities and assorted sculptures within its 160 acres. About a third of the Prep boards, so there are 130+ children there at the weekends enjoying the full boarding programme on offer, and a fifth are non-UK resident. There’s a thriving 80-strong Pre-Prep and Nursery. Classes are small – 8 to 16 pupils – and surprisingly, despite the school’s name being synonymous with sport, you don’t actually have to be a future Olympian to come here (although if you have the ability, I’d say few schools will do better at getting you to Gold).
The Head operates from a grand Victorian house (imposing hall, wood panelling) at the heart of the campus with the Pre-Prep and Nursery in a self-contained area nearby. The Junior school is a large modern block with generous corridors decorated with jolly images and spacious, light-filled classrooms. There’s nothing Victorian about the IT: even the youngest pupils use iPads in the classrooms.
The arts are well-catered for, with music practice rooms, a recital hall and an assembly hall which doubles as a theatre (where I saw rehearsals of West Side Story), an outdoor sculpture workshop, lots of art and design classrooms.
Millfield Prep was set up in 1945 as an offshoot from what is now Millfield. The school follows the IPC – International Primary Curriculum – from Key Stage 1 onwards, which focuses on developing skills as well as knowledge. Everywhere you look, there are sculptures and art installations – it’s a stimulating environment, with a recently built tree house play area.
The music department is impressive: everyone learns to play the violin in Year 2, plays in the school orchestra in Year 4 and there are 29 different music ensembles.
Everyone gets involved in drama – including performing in the Christmas production. Saturdays are packed with lessons in the morning: games and other activities on and off campus in the afternoon. No bored children here. I wondered if there was almost too much going on but the school’s already thought of that, with yoga and mindfulness sessions as options. As from September 2021, as part of a new and innovative wellbeing curriculum aimed at helping children to look after their own wellbeing and develop an awareness of mental health, pupils in Years 7 and 8 have a 40-minute lesson – yoga, soul food, movement to music, self-care, al fresco pursuits or meditation – each week.
Pupils achieve well and are prepared for both Millfield scholarships and Common Entrance but the focus is on developing the whole child rather than academic cramming. There’s an accelerated reading scheme from Pre-Prep. The vast majority of pupils move onto Millfield in Street.
Prepare to be amazed: Millfield sent 13 ex-pupils – three of whom started out at Millfield Prep (James Guy, Alec Coombes and Ollie Lindsay-Hague) – to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. That’s more competitors than 50% of the countries represented at the games had in their teams including Pakistan, UAE and Luxembourg. Surprise, surprise, the Prep excels at national level, too: their swimmers, sailors, riders and fencers are the best in the country. Even those who are not future champions are encouraged to represent the school in one of the 24 different sports on offer (which I note, does include dance alongside the modern pentathlon and polo).
You’d expect the sporting facilities to be excellent and they are:
acres of immaculately kept playing fields for every kind of sport, with a
state-of-the-art sports pavilion, a huge modern sports hall,
all-weather courts, a 9-hole golf course and a big Michelin-man-style
bubble housing a tennis court. Pupils can also use the facilities at
Millfield, including the new indoor cricket centre and indoor golf
centre and recently re-surfaced athletics
track. For equestrians, there’s plenty of stabling for pupils’ and for the school’s own horses, two floodlit arenas and a vast cross country course.
There’s a 25m swimming pool here but pupils regularly zip up to Millfield (about 10 minutes away) to use the Olympic-sized pool and the new indoor riding arena. Sailors can trim their jibs on nearby Chew Valley lake and in Weymouth. Some of the coaches are ex-internationals.
OTHER BOASTY BITS
As well as the sporting Olympians, in July 2021 Yuhka Machino, 17, was named the world’s best school-age female mathematician after gaining gold in the International Mathematics Olympiad, for the second year in a row. Yuhka joined Millfield Prep in Year 7 as a swimmer and developed her passion for solving complex maths problems.
As from January 2022 Dan Thornburn, previously Head at Edgeborough School in Surrey and before that, of St Petroc’s, North Cornwall, will be the Headmaster of Millfield Prep. A passionate sportsman – he played rugby for the Exeter Chiefs 2nds whilst reading History at Exeter, played rugby for Middlesex, and enjoys cricket, hockey, squash, indoor rowing and outdoor pursuits – he gained an MEd in Educational Leadership from the University of Buckingham.
See the latest reports from the Independent Schools Inspectorate (ISI), equivalent to Ofsted in the state sector, here.
NURSERY & PRE-PREP
The Nursery (2-4 years) and Pre-Prep (5-7) under head Michael Jory, is a self-contained warren of classrooms with its own hall for assemblies and lunch but they use some of the Prep facilities (trampolining and horse riding anyone?). There’s lots going on, eager, interested kids working quietly in small groups: cooking, using coloured Numicon maths blocks and gathered around a clever gadget, an interactive light board mat on the floor.
Learning often takes place outside but it was far too cold on my visit to venture out to the Forest School.
All children are assessed for SEN support and get early intervention. Your little darlings don’t have to wait until they’re two to come here – the Millfield Minis Toddler Group takes them as young as one.
Pupils can board from Year 3 – and 135 are full time boarders at the moment – with flexi-options for occasional stays. There are five single-sex boarding houses, all modern and on campus apart from Edgarley Manor just over the road.
A group of friendly, self-assured and polite girls showed me around their boarding house: spacious and modern, not so much homely as like a student hall of residence, with table football and big common room on the ground floor, stairwells covered in hand prints and signatures of past pupils and large shared bedrooms for two, four or six girls. Pupils move rooms each term so everyone gets a chance to make friends, which all the girls agreed was brilliant.
There’s a climbing wall on the outside wall of the Junior building and a kit car club where Year 6 pupils can build and race their own racing car. Last year they built their own greenhouse made out of used plastic bottles: environmentalism in action.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Parents can drop off kids at the Nursery and Pre-Prep from 8am (classes start at 8.30am) and pick up under 3s at 5pm and older ones at 5.15 or 6pm after supper in the main dining room. Lots of clubs (mostly free) extend the school day for all pupils and in the holidays, a programme of activities for 1-17 is open to all (not just pupils at the school). School minibuses relieve parental chauffeuring for day pupils over the age of 7.
Book your youngest into two (the minimum) morning Nursery/pre-school sessions a week and it will cost you £59.90 (or £69.90, including lunch); full-time is £2,305/term. Pre-prep (Reception, Years 1 & 2) will set you back £3,010 a term. Termly cost for Prep ranges from £3,825 (Yr 3) to £6,615 (Yrs 7 & 8); boarding for all years £10,085 – which is about average, according to the Independent School’s Council. Want a night away sans kids? Pop them in to board at £63 a night. There are all-rounder, academic, art, music and sports scholarships up for grabs for entry into Years 6, 7 and 8.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents report that children don’t slip under the radar here, that talents (referred to here as brilliance) are drawn out, without taking kids out of their comfort zone. Confidence is given a big boost with the full and varied curriculum plus all the extra-curricular activities on offer. Pupils with extra needs are identified early on and well supported. Communication between school and parents and pastoral care, is seen as excellent. Boarders settle fast: a Year 6 parent said she’d not had a single wobbly call home yet.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: It’s a no brainer that anyone sporty would want to come here – facilities and coaching are second to none – but children with two left feet and no hand-eye-ball co-ordination (er, that’ll be me) would fit in too – and may even find themselves representing the school at sport at some level, to their own surprise. Parents of children who don’t, as yet, excel in any area – the school aims to discover what they describe as every child’s brilliance. The opportunities are there and for the taking.
Not for: The emphasis here is on the whole pupil not on academic success alone, so if that’s your focus, it might not be the school for you.
Dare to Disagree: Visit the school on one of their Open Days (in 2022, Open Days are Fri Jan 28, Sat 5 March and Sat 7 May, or book a personal tour by contacting Admissions on 01458 832446.
Millfield Prep School, Glastonbury, Somerset BA6 8LD. Tel 01458 832446. millfieldschool.com