Claremont Fan Court School, Esher
A friendly, inclusive and gently selective all-through school set on an idyllic 100 acre-site with a stunning mansion house as its centrepiece.
Claremont Fan Court School is a co-ed school for pupils from aged 2 ½ to 18 tucked away just inside the M25 about a mile from the centre of Esher. It’s steeped in history – set on the historic 100 acre grounds of Claremont Estate, one of only three surviving mansions in the world designed by Capability Brown and once the home of Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold, and later Queen Victoria.
Everything about the school is impressive – not least the entrance along wending Claremont Lane through the private gated Clare Hill estate and past the Clare Hill Golf Course. There’s also another entrance off the Portsmouth Road, largely used for the senior school.
The school is spread out across the campus with the mansion – the senior school – taking centre stage. Carry on along Claremont Lane past the mansion house and you’ll arrive at the Pre-Prep and Nursery School, set back behind mature trees. And the Prep School is to the right of the mansion house, in the converted former stable blocks. Beyond that, subtly nestled among the trees are newer buildings including the brand new Sir Sydney Camm science and tech centre (just two years old) and The Joyce Grenfell Centre, home to the Sixth Form Centre, the theatre and performing arts studios.
There are just shy of 900 pupils at the school – 500 in the senior school, 120 in the Sixth form, 220 in the Prep School and 150 in the Pre-Prep and Nursery. The school is non-denominational, accepting all faiths and none, although it was founded on Christian principles.
The school is ‘gently’ selective, and has a reputation for its outstanding pastoral care and support. And while it’s certainly no academic hothouse, there have been some major strides forward in the academics in recent years. Head master William Brierly came to Claremont Fan Court two years ago from the academically strong King’s College School in Wimbledon where he was senior deputy head. But while there’s a push to gain better results, the major focus is on creating a happy environment for pupils – with the excellent academic results as the outcome.
Okay, so let’s start with the grounds – all 100 acres of them. There are sports pitches galore – too many to count – plus tennis and netball courts, an athletics track and lots of parkland. There are also two sports centres and a performing arts centre.
There’s been some heavy investment at the school, with still more to come. In the senior school, a new science and technology building opened in September 2019, and there are plans to completely refurbish the Joyce Grenfell Centre next to it. A complete renovation has just started at the Prep School, which when finished see the grade 1 listed building kitted out with state of the art facilities.
PRE-PREP & NURSERY
Little people start here at 2 ½ years old and reside in their own purpose-built premises just to the left of the senior school building. Each classroom has it’s own indoor and outdoor space – including an under-cover outdoor classroom – opening onto a free-flow playground, to ensure they get their daily dose of fresh air. Outdoor learning is a big part of the ethos at Claremont Fan Court (and not just for the littlies either). But here, there’s plenty to entice them outside including a Forest School (complete with its own bird hide), a pond with a specially built dipping station, vegetable garden and outdoor heating swimming pool. As you’d expect, they also have access to the facilities at the senior school.
Children join the Prep School in Year 3 and are taught mostly by their class teachers who are also responsible for their pastoral care – although there’s a dedicated head of pastoral care for the Pre-prep and Nursery and Prep schools, who also acts as a bridge linking the schools. There are specialist teachers for music, drama, DT, ICT, French, Spanish and games. All children in years 3 and 4 have violin lessons.
The Prep School is in Stable Court (the former stable block modernised by Queen Victoria), but is in a transition stage right now, undergoing a complete refurb which is expected to take about a year. Temporary classrooms have been moved onsite.
THE SENIOR SCHOOL
Classrooms are spread across three floors of the mansion, alongside the specialist science and technology centre and the performing arts centre. The school prides itself on helping pupils find their talents and then ‘putting a rocket under them’ so they excel. One pupil in the previous Sixth Form cohort was particularly keen on fashion design, and is going on to study at Central St Martins.
Throughout the whole school, character education is seen as integral to the learning. It focuses on a core set of values, with a new character quality introduced each month. As a result, pupils are well-rounded and confident, with good manners and a respect for others.
This is a sporty school and everyone gets the opportunity to be active. In addition to the main sports – lacrosse, netball, rounders, athletics, tennis, cricket and cross-country for girls; and rugby, football, cricket, athletics, tennis and cross country for boys – pupils can also take part in orienteering, gymnastics, golf, skiing, fencing, trampolining, triathlon and archery.
In 2020-21, 59.5% of grades were 7, 8 or 9 (the equivalent of A or A*) and 96.5% of grades were 5 or above (B grade or better). The pass rate was 100%. At A-Level, 60.5% of entries graded A or above and 87.3% graded B or higher. Students typically go on to a range of universities including Oxbridge and Russell Group.
William Brierly has been headmaster at Claremont Fan Court for three years, coming from King’s College School in Wimbledon where he was Senior Deputy Head for 11 years. Before that he was at Whitgift School in South Croydon. Energetic, enthusiastic and approachable, Mr Brierly is a staunch believer that different schools suit different children. He’s also a fan of co-education, having overseen the introduction of girls into the Sixth form at King’s.
How many pupils can say they learnt history or maths in the same room that was once Princess Charlotte’s drawing room? Or sat through an English lesson in the same room that Queen Victoria celebrated her 21st birthday? The 18th century Palladian mansion house is a Grade I-listed building and has been beautifully maintained throughout the years. Silk wall coverings adorn the walls, original fireplaces are still in place and almost every ceiling features ornate plasterwork in every room.
The school switched very quickly to virtual lessons, training every teacher to use Google Classroom and Google Meet and following existing timetables. Every student at the school is issued with a school laptop from Year 4 upwards, which helped the rapid and successful transition to online lessons.
The return to school has also seen some changes, with reception and meeting rooms within the mansion being used as additional classrooms. A marquee has also been put up in the grounds for use as an additional dining hall.
WRAP AROUND CARE
At the Pre-Prep and Nursery, the early birds club starts at 8am, and the after-school club is available until 5.45pm. At the Prep and Senior schools the breakfast club is available from 7.30am. The Prep School offers an after-school club until 5.45pm and the Senior School has after-school supervision in the library until 6pm.
There’s also an extensive co-curricular program offering more than 60 different clubs – everything from astronomy and archery to trampolining and dissection.
The Pre-Prep and Nursery is from £850 (two mornings a week) to £3,960 (full time) per term, Years 1 and 2 is £3,960 per term and Year 3-6 is £4,985 a term. In the Senior School, it’s £6,125 per term for Years 7-8 and £6,545 for Years 9 through to the Sixth Form.
WORD ON THE GROUND
It’s the pastoral care that parents talk about most, but they also applaud the all-rounder offering of sports, music and arts, and academics. The fact it’s an all-through school is also seen as an advantage.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: If you’re after a school that’s both grand and homely with impressive facilities and lots of open space, this could be the one. The growing reputation for academic excellence, alongside the strong pastoral care also make it a worth a look.
Not for: Those who are looking for somewhere with a die-hard academic focus. Academics are important here, but wellbeing is more important.
Dare to disagree? Check it out yourself. There are open days for the senior school on Sat 9 Oct (fully booked, contact the school to join the waiting list) and for the prep school on Mon 8 Nov. There’s a Sixth Form open evening on Thurs 30 Sept. Click here for details. Open events will also be available in the spring term for those looking for Year 7 2023 entry. Watch this space!
Claremont Fan Court, Claremont Drive, Esher, Surrey, KT10 9LY. Tel: 01372 467841