Barrow Hills School, near Godalming
Looking for a prep school with excellent pastoral care, an emphasis on personal development AND strong academic results? Well, hello Barrow Hills School.
BARROW HILLS SCHOOL, WITLEY, NEAR GODALMING, SURREY
Barrow Hills School is a co-ed day school set within a gorgeous Edwardian manor house on 33 acres in Witley, near Godalming. As first impressions go, Barrow Hills is certainly up there – the setting is idyllic, entered via a driveway which reveals the historic house, its formal gardens and woodland setting.
It’s a small school – with numbers close to the 200 mark – and this, combined no doubt with the Christian ethos and the peaceful and homely setting, creates a strong sense of family and community.
While the school has been in this pretty spot for almost all of its existence, it was originally founded in a teeny tiny hamlet near Weybridge called Barrow Hills – hence the name – as a feeder school to St George’s, then a senior boarding school for boys. Roll on a few decades, and both St George’s and Barrow Hills are now both co-ed day schools, and they’re no longer run together. In fact these, days Barrow Hills has ties to King Edward’s senior school in Witley, sharing some facilities including the boarding houses (more on that later!).
The school takes kids from age 2 to 13 – the nursery (2yo), kindy (3-4), reception and years one and two make up the pre-prep, years 3-8 make up the prep school. Kids come to the school from the local area, but also as far away as Ripley, Farnham and Haslemere.
The architectural centrepiece of the school is the stunning Edwardian building – built just before World War One as a family home. It’s steeped in history, and much of the character and original features are still here which makes the school feel like a very distinguished place to learn. Classrooms are over three floors.
In terms of facilities, the school doesn’t want for anything, with the usual array of sporting fields including a cricket pitch, astro pitch, tennis courts, an indoor heated swimming pool. The school also uses some of the facilities – including sports fields and the swimming pool – at King Edward’s which is about five minutes’ drive away.
While we’re still outside, I have to mention the extensive gardens – some of them original – which now incorporate an outdoor theatre, an adventure playground, and an Iron Age Roundhouse. There’s also a wooded area, which is where Forest School is held.
The refectory – where all the kids and teachers have meals – is a lovely light filled room overlooking an outdoor terrace with tables. Head boy Harry and Head girl Lucy, my tour guides, said the food was pretty good, and that sometimes on a sunny day they’re treated to a barbecue out on the terrace.
Art and technology classes are housed in the former stable block called the St Joseph’s Centre. It’s a hugely characterful building with a large vaulted ceiling and exposed beams. There’s also a small cookery room here. The science labs are also in their own building – the St Albertus Magnus building – which leads to the small indoor sports hall and ballet studio. There’s also a chapel, as you’d expect at a faith school, which is used for school assemblies.
Strong. There’s a wide and balanced curriculum, but this is not a hot-housey environment – there’s as much emphasis on drama and sport as there is on maths and English. As well as learning the actual facts, a great emphasis goes to helping the pupils develop the skills to learn. There’s also a strong belief here that children need more than just good academic results, too, so there’s a strong emphasis on building confident, unique and independent children.
Class sizes are small – there’s a two-form entry throughout most of the school. About two-thirds of kids stay on to do Years 7 and 8 at Barrow Hills, and for each of these years it’s a single form group. The school is keen for the kids to stay on, believing the school provides more space and a greater opportunity for them to find out who they are and what they want, allowing them to enter senior school with confidence.
Kids are taught by specialist teachers in some subjects from Nursery (French, music and sport), and this carries on up the school. By year 5 all subjects are taught by specialists. In Pre-Prep, children are taught in smaller, differentiated groups for phonics from Reception. And from Year 3 upwards there is streaming based on maths and English.
The school has a 100% success rate at Common Entrance, and over the past few years children have been successful at gaining offers at some of the most prestigious schools in Surrey and the south-east – many of them with scholarships – including King Edward’s Witley, Cranleigh School, Charterhouse, Royal Grammar School in Guildford, Prior’s Field, St George’s in Weybridge, St John’s in Leatherhead, Eton, Whitgift School and Portsmouth Grammar.
There’s no boarding at Barrow Hills School, but there is a boarding option for children aged 11-13 (Years 7 and 8) at nearby King Edward’s Witley.
Philip Oldroyd came to Barrow Hills in September 2019, taking over from Sean Skehan as Head Master. A big fan of the happy child syndrome – as in happy child, good learner – he says the focus in education should be firmly set on the person. And as a result wellbeing is high on his agenda. Since his arrival he’s set up The Happy Hangout, a wellbeing room that’s open to pupils at lunchtime every day. It’s where you’ll also find his two dogs, Amber the Golden Retriever and Toby the German Shepherd – a big hit with pupils.
Mr Oldroyd has been a head teacher for 15 years – heading schools in Norfolk and Kent before coming to Surrey.
He’s committed to the belief that every child is special – and makes it his task to discover what it is that makes them shine. As a school that has a non-selective entry, he says this approach alongside an ethos of strong pastoral values produces high achieving students who are well-rounded.
The nursery and kindy is housed in its own wing of this former home, with direct access outside to their own separate play areas. The pre-prep kids benefit from specialist lessons in PE, French and music.
The Upper Prep students (Years 7 and 8) are distinguished by their blue blazers – the rest of the school wear burgundy red. It’s consider a rite of passage for the students, and the blazers are presented to each child at a school prize-giving ceremony.
Rather than appoint school prefects, every child in Year 8 is given a captaincy – although they must first apply for the captaincy position they’d like to have. These range from sports and drama captains to pre-prep captains. It’s considered a way for the children to give something back to school life, and is taken very seriously by both the kids and the school.
For a such a small school, they turn out incredibly good hockey players – getting through to the National finals in both the U11 and U13s.
And perhaps not a quirk, but noteworthy nonetheless: Barrow Hills is technology-led with every child from Year 3 up given a Chromebook by the school which they use as a learning and organisational tool. My tour guides, for instance, were sent an email asking them to conduct a school tour, and were expected to send their replies via email.
WRAP AROUND CARE
The school day starts at 8.15am for Years 3-8 and between 8.15-8.25am for the pre-prep. There’s a breakfast club from 7.45am. Finishing time are staggered, with Nursery, Kindy and Reception ending their day at 3.15pm, Year 1 at 3.20pm, Year 2 at 3.25 and Years 3-8 ending at 4.30pm. An after-school club runs throughout the school until 6pm, although it’s called Study Club for the Prep kids and just Club for the Pre-Prep.
The fees seem pretty good value, given they include morning snack, lunch and match tea. Nursery (full-time): £550 a term for one full day each week; Reception: £3,500; Year 1 and 2: £3,950; Years 3 and 4: £4,975; Years 5 and 6: £5,260; Years 7-8: £5,325. There are generous discounts if you have more than one child at the school: 5% for a second child, and 10% for the third and subsequent children. If older children go on to King Edward’s Witley the discount is maintained.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Those who know Barrow Hills say that children grow in confidence and resilience here. The school looks for talent in the individual and nurtures it – whether that be academic, sporting, artistic or musical. But the school encourages ambition and excellence, and turns out happy and well-rounded children.
Parents also love the strong sense of community within the school, which is evident at whole-school get-togethers as well as a yearly parents’ party.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: I think most children would thrive here. Yes, it’s an outdoorsy, sporty school, but the arts and everything else on offer are equally strong. The ethos is about finding things that you like doing and getting the most out of life, and who wouldn’t enjoy that?
Not for: I’m struggling to think of children or parents who wouldn’t love this school. Although I guess if you’re after a big school or one that’s based in a town, this may not be the one to go for.
Dare to disagree? Don’t take my word for it, there are open mornings and tours throughout the year. Book here.
Barrow Hills School, Roke Lane, Witley, GU8 5NY. Tel: 01428 683639