Review: Marlborough House School
Marlborough House School is a non-selective prep school for boys and girls, from 3-13 years old in Hawkhust, Kent. There are currently 308 pupils of which 151 are boys and 157 girls with a lip-smacking maximum class size of 16 for Pre-Prep and 18 in Prep School.
The school stringently sticks to its policy never to have more than 350 pupils on the roll to keep small enough so that everyone can genuinely know everyone whether they are staff or pupil and across the year groups.
The main building of the school is a handsome 18th century family home (albeit a large one) – aquired waaay back in the day to house just the 25 boys who moved from the original school in Hove. In 5 years time, in 2024, the school will celebrate 150 years since its birth in 1874.
Teaching, much like the buildings, is split into Pre-Prep (Nursery, Reception and Y1&2), Middle School (Ys 3 – 5) and Senior School (Ys 6 – 8). These are all housed in purpose built, practical classrooms, many of which overlook the greenery of the school grounds – which (while we’re on the subject) are a rather sizeable 34 acres.
Sports-wise there’s pretty much everything catered for here – with tennis and netball courts, pitches for cricket, football, hockey and rugby. There’s an outdoor swimming pool too and the more unusual sports of shooting, fencing, horse riding and karate on offer (this reads like the ultimate wish-list of how my sport-loving son would most like to spend his days).
For a medium-sized prep school MHS punches well above its weight in terms of sporting achievement – they do pretty darn well competitively in matches and tournaments. What’s more the roll call of the sporting achievements of previous students (or alumni, if you must) is pretty impressive.
And there are plans for further development of facilities, including an extended sports hall (with new changing rooms).
MUSIC, DRAMA & DT
As part of the development programe the old gym will be replaced with a new building which will house a modern theatre and performance space. DT and Art are also getting a new space, so all exciting stuff. This development is all going ahead within the schools next 5 year plan.
Every student from Y3 – Y8 enjoys 1 hour of art and 1 hour of DT per week – I’m pleased to see these subjects given the weight they deserve (Julie Speers, the Head of Design & Technology, comes from a Secondary school background so keeps the standard high).
In an area of the world where we are spoilt for good schools it must be tempting for preps to focus on shiny facilites to try and stand out from the rest. But to date, MHS has invested in teaching first and foremost and now the facilities will follow. This is definitely the right way round in Muddy’s opinion.
In fact, I was very struck by the exceptional quality of the teaching here. Finding the right staff who are top of their game and not only genuinely enthusiastic about their subject – but who are also able to pass this on to pupils – is far trickier than you’d think in the modern climate. And way more important than fancy facilities or any quirky add-ons (I should know I’ve worked at two schools and the quality varies massively). So this is a big fat tick.
MHS is a self-proclaimed ‘land of opportunity’ meaning that not only do they provide decent facilities, like most preps do, but they also try their best to take it one step further by assuring every child has a speaking part in the school play… and every child gets to play in matches – not just the same old faces every time… Sporting success and inclusivity – it’s always a hard balance to strike at any school. But you get the impression they do genuinely try here.
Diane Day, the Director of Music is particularly enthusiastic – there’s so much energy in the singing lesson I witnessed, I was almost tempted to join in myself (I say almost. I wouldn’t inflict that on anyone).
Dance classes are very popular with both boys and girls and these include tap, ballet and modern. Sports clubs include football, judo, tennis and gymnastics with quieter classes such as board games, construction club, sewing and yoga also on offer. Eco club is particularly popular (which is always good to hear).
Each week Reception and Nursery enjoy a nature walk, Green Fingers Club go out into the grounds and get their hands dirty and the school has a well-established Forest School, with specialist teachers.
Excellent. The MHS is proudly non-selective but still manages a hugely impressive haul of scholarships every year.
So far this year, already, pupils have been awarded no less than a whopping 20 scholarships across Academia, Music, Drama and Sport. These are to schools such as Eton College, Brighton College, Eastbourne College, Kent College, Mayfield, Tonbridge School, Sutton Valence, Bede’s and Claremont.
The school very openly discusses the next steps of its pupils and always keeps the end goal in sight. As children move towards the top of the school they begin to either work towards the goal of 11+ to local Kent grammar schools, entry to nearby Cranbrook Grammar or Common Entrance and other school options.
This year all their 13 + Cranbrook Grammar School applicants passed and gained the places they wanted. Pupils also have an strong track record of success in the Kent 11+ test.
MHS has been judged ‘Outstanding in every area’ by the ISI and so academically and pastorally the kids are in very safe hands.
Martyn Ward joined MHS in September 2013 which makes this his sixth year as headmaster. Before arriving at MHS, he was at St Andrews prep school in Eastbourne as Acting Head and before that Deputy Head.
He is not one of those smooth-talking, corporate heads you get at some successful preps, who keep their cards very close to their chest. His opening gambit being: ‘I apologise in advance if I bang on and quote at you. And my wife tells me my tea making skills are awful.’
But rather he talks freely about his own family and experiences. And his passion for the school, and above all the standard of teaching, is totally authentic. He is also an Independent Schools Inspector so has a pretty good idea of how high the bar should be set to be a stand-out school.
He has two daughers of his own at MHS and his wife Rachel plays a big role in the school too. Her technical job title is Parent Liaison. She is key to making new parents feel welcome, organising clubs and social events as well as regular coffee mornings for parents. She also runs Toddlers club on a Friday and is a huge part of pre-prep helping with extra reading. Oh and they also own Basil the school dog.
The Pre-Prep consists of Nursery, Reception, Y1 & Y2 and little people can start here the term before they turn 3 years old.
They reside in their own self-enclosed area and seem very safe, secure and content. There’s the lovely outside garden space, complete with al fresco kitchen play area and bunny rabbit pen.
Specialised teaching starts here in French, Music, Games and Dance, there’s also good staff ratios and all the crafty stuff you can imagine. All this equals happy kids.
Little ones integrate really nicely with the older pupils here. This is encouraged at every opportunity – whether it’s through the House system, mixed seating at lunch and initiatives such as Yr 8 pupils reading to the nursery children.
MHS embraces the outdoors without being too wild. A bit of mud is okay (not like some preps where every blade of grass has to be in place) and there’s still a trophy for the winner of the Conker Competition (no safety goggles needed).
Animals pop up all over the place – there’s Basil, the school dog, but also another specially trained ‘Reading Dog’ comes to visit to encourage under-confident readers, which is an increasingly popular scheme in schools. Also, while I’m in the Pre-prep I see at least two Guinea pigs being used to relax young readers while they have some one-to-one reading time.
The sense of community at this school is quite extraordinary. While I’m trying to find the right angle to take a photo of Basil, the front door to the school swings open and two mums enter from the boot camp class (there’s also yoga, tennis and football for parents). Tea and coffee is served in the gallery for parents after morning drop off.
Similarly when it comes to teaching the atmosphere is relaxed and intimate. A Year 8 pupil who won a scholarship to Eton College the day after my visit, takes over the music lesson while I chat to the teacher. He’s out of normal lessons understandably to prepare for his big day – and what better way to prepare than teach?
Nursery: Per Afternoon Session, £16.60, (free with Early Years Funding) and Per Morning Session (incl lunch) £35.40 (£17.70 with Early Years Funding); Reception: £2,910; Y1 & Y2: £3,555; Y3 – Y8: £6,020.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Children in the Nursery, Pre-Prep and Prep School can arrive from 8.00am onwards. All children can stay in school until at least 5.30pm every night, with After School Club (for Nursery and Pre-Prep) offered until 6.00pm and clubs for Years 5-8 running until 7.00pm.
All the senior Prep School children (Years 5 to 8) are encouraged to do supervised prep (homework) in school 4 days a week on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 4.30-5.30pm (it’s not compulsory, but I mean, why wouldn’t you?).
Malborough House School is predominantly a day school but there’s lots of flexi-boarding opportunities and they are super flexible about wrap around care.
Flexi-boarding is to help parents out during the week but also seen as a social opportunity by the kids. By the time they are in the Senior years Y7 & Y8 whole year groups tend to board after school trips and have the most memorable fun time.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The kids I meet are chatty and engaging without any sense of arrogance. They all seem to appreciate the facilities at their disposal and the real family-feel of the school.
Parents I’ve spoken to commented that children play well across the year groups. They also mentioned that older children get decent opportunities to step up before secondary school and run a Y8 Leaders programme with various duties and responsibilities.
MHS has a well-earned reputation for pastoral care along with its academic and extra-curricular success. I know quite a few mums whose kids go here, and they’re pretty positive about it. My feeling on walking around was that it was a very warm, welcoming, nurturing school.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those looking for a superior all-round option, kids nurtured, brains engaged, opportunity to get involved in loads of different activities in a caring environment that has been judged Excellent in every possible area. Anyone looking for a good flexi-boarding back up, particularly working parents.
Not for: Those who like pomp and grandeur – the school is down-to-earth and not set in a big gothic building.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest! Have a look for yourself at the Open Morning on Fri 10 May, 9.30am-12pm.
Marlborough House School, Hawkhurst, Cranbrook, Kent, TN18 4PY