Frensham Heights School, near Farnham
A modern and forward-thinking school near Farnham offering a child-centred, holistic education where individuality is celebrated. Impressed!
FRENSHAM HEIGHTS SCHOOL, ROWLEDGE, NEAR FARNHAM
Frensham Heights School is a liberal progressive co-ed day and boarding school on the edge of the village of Rowledge, near Farnham. The first thing you’ll notice – aside from the stonkingly huge acreage the school is situated on – is the absence of school uniforms. And the second thing is quite likely the absence of stiff British formality. Everyone is on a first-name basis here, including the new head teacher Rick Clarke, who arrived in January 2019.
It’s a through-school, with kids starting in the nursery at the age of 3 and progressing on to the sixth form college. Most kids come in from the local area – Farnham, Godalming, Guildford, Fleet. There are 520 students in total, with an even 50/50 split of boys and girls. The school was founded in 1925 as part of the Progressive School Movement, and from the outset was open to both boys and girls. The ethos is very much about encouraging children to be themselves, and Frensham Heights is resoundingly proud to be different.
It’s a fairly small school, particularly given the size of the site, with 130 kids in the Junior school and 390 in the Middle (yrs 7-11) and Senior schools (sixth form). Around 25 per cent board, with a small number of those coming from overseas. The school is not driven by academic results and, as such, is not academically selective in the way many independent schools are. However with more applications than places there must be a selection process, and as well as exams, all candidates going into the senior school are interviewed. The school also looks at school reports from the child’s previous school.
The school is set on 125 acres in the beautiful Surrey countryside. There’s almost a campus-like feel to it, with several school buildings grouped around the school’s centrepiece building – the Main House – a beautiful Edwardian country house with glorious views across National Trust acres, woods and farm land.
Facilities are, as you’d expect, excellent. There are sporting pitches galore – both astro and grassed – as well as tennis and basketball courts. Outdoor education is a strong focus at Frensham, and there is a high-ropes course and a bike trail, and everything from boules to basketball. Children can do their Duke of Edinburgh, and in Year 9 the whole year decamps to Scotland for two weeks as part of a cross-curricular outdoor ed programme. There’s a covered heated swimming pool, set within the beautiful surrounds of the original walled garden, an indoor sports hall and a fitness centre.
With a super strong reputation for the creative arts, the facilities across all these departments are amazing – starting with the theatre (with its own box office and a cafe where parents can come to meet up after the morning drop off). There are dedicated dance and drama studios (all with spring floors), a photography studio and an arts centre with several studios, plus an excellent music block with a recital room, recording studio and a number of practice rooms. There’s also an impressive science block with six separate labs.
MUSIC, DRAMA AND THE ARTS
The school places a high value on the arts and this shows in the impressive facilities as well as the curriculum where students have three hours of art and design each week. All GCSE students must do a creative arts subject.
Brendan Horstead is the Head of Creative Arts and he’s passionate about fostering a love of the arts in all of his students. He’s keen to develop a sense of individualism in his students – an ethos which runs throughout the school – as it’s from here, he says, that creativity and confidence grows.
GCSE results in 2019 showed that 95% of students achieved at least five 9-4 grades, 54% achieved 9-6 and 31% achieved 9-7. In individual subjects, 76% of students achieved 9-7 in History, 88% achieved 9-7 in Fine Art, and more than 50% achieved 9-7 in Music, Dance, Geography and Chemistry.
At A-Level, 73% achieved A*-C, 44% at A*-B and 23% at A*-A. Particularly strong were 3D Design, Languages (German and Chinese), Photography, Further Maths, Politics, Economics, PE, Drama and Music.
Students go on to a wide range of university placements from Frensham Heights to study a wide range of courses including one in 2019 to Cambridge to study maths.
Rick Clarke is brand new to the school, having arrived in January 2019. South African born and raised, and the son of an English teacher, he believes a love of education is in his genetics. Before coming to Frensham Heights, Rick was the Deputy Head at Warminster School in Wilts, and before that was House Master at Wellington College in Berks. He’s also been Head of English at St John’s College in South Africa and Brighton College.
Warm and charismatic, Rick is a progressive thinker with a natural affinity for the culture and ethos at Frensham Heights. He is a strong believer in allowing children the freedom to be themselves and to find their own individuality, and says education is not all about the results. In fact, given the choice, he’d scrap GCSE exams (and would challenge the necessity of A-Level exams too) as he believes they don’t fully prepare students for life. The world is changing, he says, and cramming students heads with facts and asking them to regurgitate these on paper doesn’t set them up. His aim is to help produce emotionally literate young people who are good communicators and team workers.
The nursery at Frensham Heights is a nurturing, child-led space with a separate playground for the children. From the nursery up to year 3 there’s just one class per year, and in years 4, 5 and 6 there are two classes of 16 students. The Junior school also has its own play area. There’s specialist teaching in craft, design and technology, dance and drama, ICT, music and French.
Boarding provision starts in the Middle school from year seven. There are three mixed-sex boarding houses – Hamilton House for years 7-9, Main House for years 10-11 and Roberts House for the all sixth formers (boarding and day students). In each boarding house there are communal lounge and kitchen areas and single-sex bedrooms in separate wings. At Hamilton House there’s also a communal study space, and no desks in bedrooms. Devices are also banned in bedrooms at Hamilton House at bedtime.
About 25 per cent of students board and these are a mix of local kids, London kids and a small number who come from overseas. Flexiboarding can also be arranged. A boarders bus runs from the school to London Waterloo every Friday afternoon and returns on a Sunday evening making several stops along the A3 on the way.
The obvious quirk is the lack of formality – although this mustn’t be misinterpreted as a lack of respect. The foundations of the school are built on a mutual respect between students and teachers. There are no detentions, house points or prefects at Frensham Heights, and while sport is plentiful at the school it’s not based on the typical sporting fixtures of traditional British independent schools.
WRAP AROUND CARE
The school day starts at 8.30am for the Juniors, and 8.20am for the Middle school and Seniors, but from Year 7 up kids are welcome to book in for breakfast. The Juniors day ends at 3.20-3.30pm with after-school care available until 5.30pm.
There’s a wide range of extracurricular activities – more than 80 in total – for the Middle and Senior school kids to get involved in, from knitting, textiles and mountain biking to parkour, pottery and philosophy, which ends at 5.30pm, with supervised study until 6.30pm. Day students are also welcome to book in for supper.
Not cheap my friend – on par with other top local private schools. Tuition fess start at £2,370 per term for Reception rising to £4,390 in Years 5 and 6. In the Middle school tuition fees for Years 7-8 are £6,300 day and £9,150 boarding and for Years 9-11 £6,610 day and £10,290 boarding. Sixth form is from £6,610 day and £10,690 boarding.
Honorary Scholarships are offered in Academic, Music, Art, Dance, Drama and Sport, although these do not have monetary value but recognise and celebrate excellence – so it’s purely for the glory. Scholars have access to a bespoke enrichment programme, with events and trips organised throughout the school year. Means-tested bursaries are available.
WORD ON THE GROUND
There’s a real sense of community at Frensham Heights, where everyone knows everyone, and this is part of what parents love about the school.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Families looking for a different type of education for their kids – a more relaxed, mature educational grounding to get the kids ready for university or life beyond. Children who respond to smaller classes, and a less hierarchical approach to teaching.
Not for: If you’re looking for a formal school with formality and plenty of structure, this probably isn’t the school for you.
Dare to disagree? Check it out for yourself – there are Open Days on Wed 18 March and Sat 16 May.
Frensham Heights, Rowledge, Farnham, Surrey, GU10 4EA. Tel: 01252 792 561. frensham.org