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 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 head teacher Rick Clarke.
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 540 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 410 in the Middle (yrs 7-11) and Senior schools (sixth form). Just under 20 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. Children entering the nursery or reception will have some one-on-one time with the Teacher in Charge of Early Years, and for those coming in to Year 1 and above there’s a taster day where children will join into the school day and spend one-on-one time with a teacher to informally assess their maths, spelling and reading.
The school is set on 125 acres in the beautiful Surrey countryside. There’s a campus feel to it, with several school buildings set 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.
Flottage – the converted former stable block to the main house – is where most of the classrooms can be found for Years 4-6 in the Junior school as well as Years 7-13 in the Senior School, plus the six impressive science labs. Across a wide pathway – the school’s main thoroughfare known as Flottage Drive – is the Junior School building where the Nursery, Reception and Years 1-3 classrooms are.
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.
MUSIC, DRAMA AND THE ARTS
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 sprung floors), a photography studio and an arts centre with several studios, plus an excellent music school with a recital room, recording studio and a number of practice rooms and teaching rooms
The school’s high regard for the arts is also evident in the curriculum where students have three hours of art and design each week. All GCSE students are strongly encouraged to do a GCSE in a creative subject, although it’s not compulsory.
Brendan Horstead is the Head of Art, Design and Innovation, 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 2021 showed that 42% of pupils gained 9-8 grades, 61% achieved 9-7 and 76% gained 9-6.
At A-Level, 62% achieved A*-A, 85% achieved A*-B and 99% of achieved A*-C. 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 started at Frensham in January 2019, and already he’s left quite a mark creating a new vision and mission, revising the school’s values and giving the branding a makeover. Now, instead of the original nine school values, there are just four – and they’re not constrained to single words, but instead to phrases: courage to try, respect of individuality, spirit of togetherness, and originality of thought. Unlike many schools which have a crest as their logo, Frensham has adopted a bright checker-board pattern of shapes inspired by the original tiled flooring in the main house.
South African born and raised, and the son of an English teacher, Rick believes a love of education is in his genetics. Before coming to Frensham Heights, he was at a number of prestigious schools – Deputy Head at Warminster School in Wilts, and before that House Master at Wellington College in Berks, plus roles at St John’s College in South Africa and Brighton College – but at Frensham he’s found his place.
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) because 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 and even here children are encouraged to be independent and individual, pursuing play that interests them. It’s a small Nursery, with a maximum of 16 pupils an any session (morning or afternoon) and it’s free-flow between the inside and outside spaces. Learning is based around independent play and a method called ‘planning in the moment’ where teachers mould the day’s learning around whatever interests the children have that day. It teachers the children that their interests and opinions are important, that their voices will be heard, and – crucially – that learning is fun.
The Nursery and Reception classrooms are linked, running along the back of the building which also houses classrooms for Years 1, 2 and 3. Each room has its own play area as well as the use of the wider campus, including the sports and dance halls, theatre and drama studios, science labs, Astroturf playing areas, and the Forest School where Reception and Nursery children are now spending a whole day each week as part of a new pilot programme. Older Junior school children have two sessions of Forest School every week until the end of Year 4.
From Nursery to Year 3 there’s one class per year, in Year 4 it’s flexible (this year there’s one class, but some years there are two) and in Years 5 and 6 there are two classes, each with no more than 18 students.
Throughout the Junior School, there’s specialist teaching in craft, design and technology, dance and drama, ICT, music and French. As you’d expect the school day becomes more structured as children move up the Junior School. Classrooms for Years 4, 5 and 6 are in the building called Flottage – historically the former stable block
Boarding provision starts in the Middle school from Year 7. 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 banned in bedrooms at Hamilton House and in Main House at bedtime.
About 20 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.
From September 2022, Frensham will also be offering a 3 day a week boarding package alongside the full boarding, weekly and flexi boarding options.
The obvious quirk is the lack of formality – although this mustn’t be misinterpreted as a lack of respect, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. The foundations of the school are built on a mutual respect between students and teachers. Even in the Junior School there’s a strong connection between adults and pupils who come across as self-assured and quietly confident.
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. There are plenty of opportunities to play sport competitively, just not on a Saturday like other 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 Junior, 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 £2,455 per term for Reception rising to £3,000 in Years 1 and 2; £3,590 in Year 3; £3,675 in Year 4 and £4,545 in Years 5 and 6.
In the Middle school tuition fees for Years 7-8 are £6,520 for day school and £9,470 for boarding. In Years 9-11, it’s £6,840 for day only and £10,650 for boarding. Sixth form is from £7,265 day and £11,065 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.
The most recent ISI Regulatory Compliance and Educational Quality Inspection Report was in January 2022 and this school was rated ‘excellent’ for the quality of pupils’ academic and other achievements, and the quality of personal development. Read the full report here.
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 and 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 the school is hosting whole school open mornings on Sat 14 May and Sat 17 Sept. Register here.
Frensham Heights Road, Rowledge, Farnham, Surrey, GU10 4EA. Tel: 01252 792 561. frensham.org