Review: Holmewood House
This co-ed Tunbridge Wells prep, that has long been impressive in stature, now boasts a bond between pupil, staff and parent that is as strong and impressive as it's grounds and facilities. Take a look...
Holmewood House is a co-educational, non-selective school for boys and girls aged 3-13 years, of just under 500 pupils, situated in 30 acres of glorious grounds in Tunbridge Wells.
The school has a reputation for swanky facilities and delivering high achievers, but in recent years there’s been a distinct move towards pastoral excellence and building positive learning relationships as the priority too.
So the prep, that has long been impressive in stature, now boasts a bond between pupil, staff and parent that is as strong and impressive as the facilities.
Er, how long have you got? Facilities and grounds are excellent and extensive here, particularly when you consider the proximity to the city centre.
Holmewood has a stonking 30 acres to its name – a big draw for local families and families moving down from London alike. About twenty per cent of the enquiries Holmewood receives are from London families looking to move out of the capital to some green space, so the grounds are very appealing.
Over the decades there’s been a series of building developments, which while modern and practical have been sympathetically done, so all happily in keeping with the original House.
The Collings Building, consisting of 12 state of the art classrooms, provides an inspirational setting for 21st century teaching.
A further 8 classrooms, two computer rooms and a learning hub/library are housed in the adjoining Cloisters Building, which opened early in 2017.
There’s a well-stocked library and there’s been considerable tech investment here too, which is renowned as a centre of excellence in the use of IT.
The school is bang up to date on the latest cutting-edge classroom technology – and uses it to support teaching – incorporating a learning tool based on AI, neuroscience and learning science that totally tailors the educational experience for each child, and can even detect gaps in learning.
Plus there’s three dedicated, well-stocked labs and all children, from Year 3, have regular time-tabled sessions in the laboratories.
And what of sports facilities, you ask? A large sports hall, stunning 25m indoor swimming pool, full athletics track and artificial grass pitch, tennis and squash courts, indoor rifle range and acres of playing fields – will that do for starters?
In short there’s more facilities than you could shake a stick at and easily enough to put this prep on a par with, or surpassing, many secondary schools.
Not surprisingly all these strong sports facilities result in an excellent reputation for sporting success, with numerous IAPS and national titles to their name.
The size of the prep also means sport can be all about inclusion. There are enough numbers for lots of teams – and the aim is that the focus is as consistent with the under U11 E sides as it is with the Senior 1st teams.
And if your child isn’t so keen on the big team sports there’s squash, Judo, tennis, Swim School and dance – to name a few.
ARTS, TEXTILES AND DESIGN
The art programme is taken seriously here (we approve) and there’s an Art Studio complete with kiln and potter’s wheel. Fostering artistic tendencies at this young age gives pupils a really solid skill set for a world where creativity and design skills have never been more valued.
And on that subject, there’s also a large Design Technology department – all superbly well resourced. Children here undertake a range of exciting projects and acquire skills which enable them to produce pieces of practical work way beyond their age.
DRAMA & MUSIC
Holmewood House has a purpose built Music Department which houses one main teaching room, nine practice rooms and a keyboard/computer room with 11 computers.
70 per cent of the pupils at Holmewood have individual music lessons on at least one instrument. Each year around 140 associated board examinations take place, plus there’s choirs for every age group, a flute choir, string group, swing band, and three age related orchestras.
The 350-seat Jubilee Theatre provides a showcase for the many music concerts and drama productions staged throughout the year. There’s also lectures that form part of the Holmewood Lecture Series.
ACADEMICS & ADMISSIONS
In the Lower School prep years 3, 4 & 5, children are nurtured by their Form Teachers whose purpose it is to ensure the welfare and happiness of the children in their care (although Year 5 children start to prepare for the transition to Upper School with an increased level of specialist teaching). Year 6 is classed as Upper School, along with Years 7 & 8 – and in these years all lessons are led by specialist subject teachers.
The school has always had an excellent reputation academically – and possibly a touch of the hot house about it – but this has very much changed of late.
That’s not to say they don’t achieve the same successes – they certainly do, and then some. One of the big focuses when Mr Scott Carnochan took over as head in 2017 was to strengthen the pastoral side – which of course goes hand-in-hand with the academics – now they get the best out of the children in every sense.
And if there’s any of the Old Guard in the parent body that weren’t so sure about this approach – the results say it all. In recent years the Y8 Leavers have won more scholarships than ever before. For example, the 2019’s cohort won a record-breaking 31 scholarships to top schools (including Brighton College, Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Benenden).
Here Learning Support is called Learning Strategies and applies to every child and it’s at the heart of the school and integrated into lessons (rather than removing children from the lesson for extra help) which all sounds ideal and definitely in step with the latest educational theory.
Despite proximity to the many popular local Grammar Schools the school still has a really healthy number of children staying on to sit the Common Entrance. In fact pupil numbers for Y7 and Y8 has doubled in recent years – an incredible feat when you consider the tiny numbers at some preps for those year groups.
Leavers go onto schools such as Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, The King’s School, Canterbury, Hurst, Eastbourne College and Brighton – as well as Public Schools further afield such as Eton, Wellington, Charterhouse and Harrow.
Mr Scott Carnochan took over the helm in 2017 and he immediately set about making his mark, including pin-pointing the key school values, that were placed high on the agenda – Self-belief, Aspiration, Kindness.
‘Schools don’t have to be either strongly academic or strongly nurturing – the two are intrinsically linked,’ says Mr Carnochan. ‘If children are happy and confident then they will start to do well academically.’ Putting this theory into practise, he’s introduced a wellbeing programme, weekly pastoral meetings and no less than four School Dogs who are all PAT (Pets as Therapy) trained. Albert, Mojo, Molly and Baloo.
Mr Carnochan is the right side of traditional, while keeping refreshingly forward thinking too. Recognising the shift in a world where all information can be found at the touch of a screen, he emphasizes the importance of teaching children good research and analytical skills – to thelp them navigate the masses of information that is at their fingertips.
With this in mind he introduced subject of Critical Thinking from Y5 – giving pupils just the kind of mental toolbox that this, and future generations, will need.
PRE-PREP AND NURSERY
Both the Nursery and Pre-Prep are housed in their own separate buildings, meaning younger children start in a more cosy environment, but use all the Prep School facilities from the start.
The Pre-Prep was totally overhauled in recent years. The playground has been resurfaced, coloured canopies, tools and tunnels added in, interactive water features and bug hotels created.
Mrs Laura Readman is the wonderfully friendly and approachable Head of Nursery & Pre-Prep and Pupil-led learning, who herself has a child at the school.
Outdoors is key – there’s a well-equipped play area immediately outside the big glass doors. This leads onto a wooded ‘wild’ area where children can make mud pies and climb trees – in a safe environment – but while challenging themselves and building their confidence.
USP & QUIRKS
The House system here isn’t just for Inter House poetry competitions or Sports Days – it forms the foundation of the structure of the school, much like some Public School Secondaries. Children are allocated to a House and the Housemaster or Housemistress is also responsible for the pastoral provision of the children in their House.
This really creates an extra layer of school belonging and ‘family’. For example, once a week, the Year 8s collect the Pre-Prep pupils to take them to their respective House Meetings. It’s a tradition both the younger and older children love.
We also love that the school has its own resident beekeeper and Apiary, giving the children (Year 4 upwards) an opportunity to spend time at the Apiary and learn about beekeeping.
The bees are very productive – Holmewood House Honey and candles are incredibly popular at the school Christmas Fair!
Like most schools – the Nursery setting has been the only part of the school open and the rest of the pupils have been home schooling. For online learning this involves Morning Registration to frame the day. There is Live Phonics every day throughout the Pre-Prep and Live lessons throughout the day for Year 3 and up.
This is done with lots of Break Out Groups but most of the work (around 80 per cent) is pre-recorded for this age group so they can work at their own pace and avoid sitting at screens for a long time. The Afternoon will involve one more Live activity (like Story Time or a Treasure Hunt) and the end of the day will also involve a Live Drop In to touch base and see friends and their teacher.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Breakfast Club from 7.30 is available for all children.
There are numerous after school clubs, including climbing, Judo, Swim School, Adventurers (their take on forest school) and gymnastics but they also have After School provision for Pre-prep called Owls and JB’s for the Lower School. Years 6 – Year 8 have prep. This finishes at 6pm however as a boarding school they can always help out parents who are in need of additional support.
The boys’ and girls’ dormitories are in the Mansion House on the first floor with excellent views of the Kent and Sussex countryside. Children board with friends from their year groups in dormitories which sleep up to eight. There are three boys’ dormitories and three girls’ dormitories with further room for expansion. All dormitories are self-contained with bunk beds and wardrobes and boarders are encouraged to bring photos and posters to decorate their rooms.
Full and Weekly Boarding was introduced by the new head 3 years ago. It gives children a chance to make even greater use of the school’s extensive facilities and beautiful location. A busy and fun-filled activity programme throughout the whole week gives boarders time to enjoy each other’s company and build relationships that will stand the test of time.
Every possible boarding option is provided. Parents can book their children in for a single night as a one-off, regular nights throughout the week or weekly boarding. This Flexi boarding is on offer for Y3 upwards. There’s even a Chaperone Service into London for Weekly Boarders.
Fees are per term – Nursery, (Full Day): £2,925; Reception: £3,550; Year 1: £4,060; Year 2: £4,215; Years 3 & 4: £6,030; Year 5: £6,450; Years 6, 7 & 8: £6,510. Weekly Boarders £7,650 and Full Boarders £8,450.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The school has successfully moved away from the label of elitism or pushy parents. I can personally testify that the parents I have met from this school could not have been more helpful or friendly.
Parents report the school is thriving under head Scott Carnochan’s leadership. Parents say teachers are dedicated and passionate about the children and the school. With the core values of Self-belief, Aspiration and Kindness being at the centre of everything – you can feel the vibrancy and positivity bouncing around the site.
Children are self-assured and genuinely love their school. Feedback from both pupils and parents is really encouraged here – so there is an inclusive feel as well as ownership of their education. While it’s a big school for a prep, class sizes are small and everyone feels heard.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Local families that want a really strong offering for their child where the facilities equal, or even surpass, that of many a secondary school. And as a result the top years of the school boast healthy numbers and a strong offering. Also ideal for London families looking to move out of the capital and working families making life in, or around, Tunbridge Wells.
Not for: There’s a chance vehemently non-competitive kids who really need a smaller environment may not so much enjoy the buzzy, give-it-a-go attitude here, although even shy or under-confident types do find their feet in time.
Holmewood House, Langton Green, Tunbridge Wells TN3 0EB, Tel: 01892 860000, holmewoodhouse.co.uk