Wellesley House, Broadstairs
A small, family-run prep school by the sea that makes the most of its location on Kent's coastline.
I recently revisited this small, perfectly-placed prep school by-the-sea and was even more impressed with its ideal mix of modern, relaxed teaching alongside traditional, old-school standards, the second time around. It’s also one of the most genuinely ‘family-run’ schools I have visited. Take a look and you’ll see what I mean…
Wellesley House is a co-educational school for children aged between 3 – 13 which celebrated its 150 birthday in 2016. 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. Plus there’s Saturday school (which is more usual when there are a lot of boarders around).
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 red brick building and grounds beyond.
Well let’s start with the main facility at their disposal – Broadstairs’ blue flag beaches just 10 minutes away. These get used as outdoor classrooms and weekend playgrounds.
If you’ve ever visited this area of Kent you might have noticed that it has a sunny, micro-climate all of its own. So for when the children can’t get to the beach, there’s a school pool on hand, pictured below, for swimming lessons or cooling off.
The school has always had a good sporting reputation, especially considering its size – 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.
Wellesley House has a strong cricketing tradition (and attracts headteachers with a love of cricket – see more on this below). It also has links with the cricketing world – professional cricketer, Sam Northeast, and the former England Captain, Chris Cowdrey, are both Old Welleslians. And there’s a school cricket tour to Cape Town planned for February 2020.
MUSIC & ART
However in recent years the school has also really focused on expanding music, art and drama with much success. The day I visited I poked my head in on a 1-to-1 ‘DJ Tech’ lesson being given by Mr Barnes the newly-appointed Director of Music – this involves teaching the more technical side of music production and mixing sound on a launchpad (as I think they’re called – Pitch Perfect being my only point of reference).
He’s young and – I want to say hip, but realise that makes me sound ancient – but you know what I mean… Here in the Music department, like elsewhere in the school, there’s a brilliant balance of modern-meets-tradition – think Banksy-inspired artwork on the walls alongside Chamber Choir robes.
Similarly the art lesson I walk in on is inspiring and relatable, keeping the children engaged. Drama is popular too and my guides are keen to tell me about their roles in the upcoming production of Finian’s Rainbow.
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?
ACADEMICS: The school boasts an impressive 100% pass rate with Common Entrance. Over the last three years, 20 scholarships have been 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.
Gavin Franklin, (pictured with pupils above), took over the reins as Headmaster in 2016, with his wife Claire, who is a teacher and also very much part of the team and his two sons who also go to the school.
Every Wednesday a rotating group of Y8 borders enjoy a Franklin Supper with the Head and his wife in their own dining room. I mean staff know their pupils exceptionally well here.
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.
Much like the school itself Gavin brings an understanding of the value of good, old-school standards but with a modern, approachable and relaxed air – combine this with his love of sport and music and you’re in safe hands.
WRAP AROUND CARE – DAY/BOARDING:
Historically, there’s a strong boarding contingent at Wellesley House – but recently there’s been an increase in the number of Weekly and Flexi boarders. 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.
And at the same time more and more families in the local east Kent area are joining the school as Day Pupils but enjoying the extra wrap around care that a school set up for boarding can offer.
The boys’ boarding house is attached to the main school and is overseen by the Housemistress – who is also the Deputy Head’s wife. It is in the same building that the Headmaster and his family live.
All girls live in a separate house within the grounds, pictured above, 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 around 30 years (during which time their own two children went through the school) – as I say this school does family-run like few others.
One of the biggest changes in the school since I last visited is the newly refurbished Junior House including the addition of a Pre-Prep (opened this term – September 2019).
Built in the old boy’s boarding house it’s the perfect example of how the school is adapting to how times have changed. Little ones can now join the school from 3-years-old and will stay in this building until they enter the Middle School (Y5 & Y6). Nursery to Y3 are downstairs in the newly revamped rooms and Y4s upstairs, gaining a bit more independence.
The resources in the pre-prep, pictured above, are fantastic – all new with the focus on natural materials. It has its own library and outdoor play area, pictured below, complete with Mud Kitchen. Plus it benefits from all the specialist teachers on hand from the prep school who drop in to give fun Art or Music sessions.
USP & QUIRKS:
It’s location by the sea is definitely a USP for Wellesley House. They even have access to a beach hut and with seaside running clubs and beach cricket they certainly make the most of the school’s position on Kent’s coastline.
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 what they did there?
The school has recently taken on Ms Moosuddee to the newly created role of head of Wellbeing – she is also the head of AEN (additional educational needs) and well qualified for the role. Mindfulness is taught to both staff and pupils, there is Wellbeing Club and a new Wellbeing Garden is being built.
My three student guides (Year 8s) are charming and well-mannered, totally at ease with their teachers but equally respectful. This relaxed atmosphere is reflected in the uniform – no stuffy blazer, shirt and tie here – it’s a polo-shirt (in either the school, or your House, colour) unless you are wearing your ‘Wellesley Best’ for Chapel or special occasions.
Between them my guides live in Deal, Canterbury and Whitstable – all technically close enough to weekly board – but they tell me they like to stay for weekends a lot of the the time so they don’t miss out on all the fun. They are polite, chatty and with a good sense of humour – probably a bit maturer than some of their peers (boarding school breeds independence after all).
WORD ON THE GROUND: Parents talk of how the traditional boarding school model is beneficial for all Day Pupils too. Many Day Pupils 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 PUPILS – Reception: £2,975; Y1 & Y2: £3,250; Y3 £3,750; Y4: £5,043 and Y5-Y8 £6,639.
BOARDING PUPILS – Full & Weekly £8,777; Tier 4 admissions £9,777. (Occasional/Flexi Boarding also available.)
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: If you live locally then the day offering is really strong here and the shiny new Pre-Prep has transformed the school. Boarding is still at the heart of Wellesley life, so if you’ve got a child that loves their extra curricular stuff, and your purse-strings can stretch to it. then Weekly Boarding could be the perfect option. There are so many opportunities and facilities available to students after school and you’d struggle to find a more family-feeling place. Also, 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 school is outdated then this might not be the school for you. Similarly if you’re not into co-ed schooling or you want a big school you can cross it off your list right now.
Dare to disagree?! Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself – visits always welcome. Contact Mrs Baird, Admissions, to arrange a private appointment and tour: email@example.com
Wellesley House, 114 Ramsgate Rd, Broadstairs, CT10 2DG, Tel: 01843 862991, wellesleyhouse.org