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Muddy Best Schools Guide: Wellesley House, Broadstairs

A small, family-run prep school by the sea that makes the most of its location on Kent's coastline

What? Where?

A small, family-run prep school by the sea that makes the most of its location on Kent’s coastline. It’s a co-educational school for children aged between 7 – 13 and has just celebrated its 150 birthday last year (2016). Approaching by car down the streets of Broadstairs there is no hint of the school that lies just inside the gates when viewed from the very suburban street outside. But, like stepping through the wardrobe into Narnia you’ll find this striking, family run school. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean…

Facilities:

Well let’s start with the main facility at their disposal – Broadstairs’ blue flag beaches. These get used as outdoor classrooms and weekend playgrounds. They even have a school beach hut.

The school has always had a great sporting reputation – and there’s loads of opportunities to get active. In addition to the (as you’d expect) sports hall, rugby, football, hockey, cricket, tennis and rounders – there’s an indoor pool, squash courts, golf, archery, fencing and a shooting range. The school has strong cricketing links as the current Kent Captain, Sam Northeast, and the former England Captain, Chris Cowdrey, are both Old Welleslians.

However in recent years the school has really focused on expanding music, art and drama with much success. The day I visited pupils had just completed a whole-school activity called Set Shout in which they are given a single morning to rehearse a song to perform in front of the school as part of an inter-house competition. Apparently the shorter practice time focused minds and the standard was just as high, with Vikings house deemed as winners for their performance of Oasis’ Stop Crying Your Heart Out.

The art (above) and D.T departments are brimming with colourful creative masterpieces. Artwork from the pupils is displayed throughout the school. Not surprisingly, the seaside features as a source of inspiration. Deckchair and ice-cream in the sun, anyone?

What else?

This is a small school – there are only 125 pupils and the emphasis is slightly more towards boarders than day (60% of pupils are boarders). It’s also still quite traditional – there’s Saturday school for example (which is more usual when there are a lot of boarders around). A lot of schools describe themselves as ‘family focused’ but nowhere is this obviously more the case than a school where the main pupil base are boarders.

The children I speak to are charming and well-mannered, at ease with their Head teacher (who is also their House Master) and probably a bit maturer than some of their peers (boarding school breeds independence after all). The boys’ boarding is attached to the main school – it’s the same building that the Headmaster lives in with his family and where, at the end of each day, he takes on the role as House Master – making a point to change out of his suit, taking off the tie, putting on jeans etc. These little touches he says are important – at the end of the day the school becomes home for the boarders – and everything needs to become less formal when the Head’s role obviously becomes more parental. I hear a rumour of a cricket game in the corridor with a rueful smile. A little bit of fun is allowed after hours.

All girls live in a separate house within the grounds with their own Houseparents. It’s rather idyllic, surrounded by fruit trees, has its own little garden, library and common room. And most remarkably of all the same husband and wife Housemaster team have run the boarding house for 27 years (during which time their own two children went through the school) – as I say this school does family-run like few others.

Academic results: The school boasts an impressive 100% pass rate with Common Entrance. 2016 saw the highest number of scholarships awarded to Wellesley pupils who go on to schools like Benenden, Eton, Harrow, King’s Canterbury, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Winchester.

ISI report: Is full of high praise, which you can read here. It mentions in particular the extensive range of activities, the politeness of the pupils and the family atmosphere of the school.

Headteacher:

After 11 years previous Headteacher Simon O’Malley and his wife Katy handed over the reigns to the new Headmaster, Mr Gavin Franklin and his wife Claire. Aged 39, Gavin was previously Housemaster at Wellington College, Berkshire, one of the country’s leading independent co-ed senior schools. He’s actually a former professional cricketer with Warwickshire and qualified coach, and at Wellington he started out as Assistant Director of Sport and English teacher before being swiftly promoted to be Housemaster of the Beresford, a role which he has performed for the seven years.

Wife Claire is also a teacher, they have two young children of their own – combined with this and his love of sport, music and the outdoors Gavin is surely the perfect successor for the school. It’s clear he very much wants to embrace the culture here and maintain its unique traditions.

USP & Quirks:

There’s a strong boarding contingent at Wellesley House – an increasingly rare school offering these days. If you’re going to be a boarder it’s certainly great to have a lot of your friends in the same boat. Weekly boarding is ideal – all the opportunities and facilities are available to students after school – there’s no kids sitting inside glued to computer screens here (they aren’t allowed). And anyway – the pupils are way too busy doing Beach Club instead.

Something else the school is understandably proud of is the fact that Wellesley House hosted pupils from 12 schools across east Kent to quiz British astronaut Tim Peake during his time in to space. The school was hosting the launch because it made the final shortlist for a Live chat with Major Tim during his time aboard the space station – that’s something those kids won’t forget in a hurry.

I also rather like the fact that 150 years in, the school decided to celebrate the big anniversary with finally getting a Latin motto, which translated means: ‘Broad stairs to the stars’… see that they did there?

Wrap around care: Every Wednesday Y8 borders have supper with the Head and his wife in their own dining room. I could tell, with confidence, that there was a bond between pupils and the head of their boarding houses at this school. I mean staff know their pupils exceptionally well here. On exeat weekends there’s a bus service to west Kent.

Word on the ground: Parents talk of how the traditional boarding school model is beneficial for all day pupils too. Many stay for supper and parents can have a difficult time when they collect them, with many wanting to stay to play with their friends, playing cricket, football – the students here don’t want to go home!

Fees: Day Fees (Year 3): £3987; (Year 4): £4932; (Years 5 – 8): £6493 and Boarding Fees, £8584.

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: If you live locally then the day offering is very strong here but boarding is also at the heart of Wellesley life. So if you’ve got a child that loves their extra curricular stuff then weekly boarding could be the perfect option and here there are so many opportunities and facilities available to students after school. If you are looking for a boarding option for your child then you’d struggle to find a more family-feeling place. And, making the most of it’s coastline location, being by the sea is embraced at every turn.

Not for: Traditions are quite strong here – if you think the concept of Saturday lessons are outdated then this might not be the school for you. Similarly if you’re not into co-ed schooling you can cross it off your list right now.

Dare to disagree?! Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself at the Prep School Summer Open Morning, on Sat 14 Oct, 10am. For more info contact Mrs Baird: 01843 862991 or [email protected]

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