Longacre School, Shamley Green, near Guildford
This small co-ed prep school in the rolling hills of Surrey is family-oriented with a deserved reputation for its all-rounder offering.
LONGACRE SCHOOL, SHAMLEY GREEN, NR GUILDFORD
There’s no denying the beauty of Longacre School’s setting amid the North Downs. You’ll find the school set on nine acres on the outskirts of the picturesque village of Shamley Green, within easy reach of both Guildford and Cranleigh, and to get here you’ll meander through beautiful Surrey villages and down pretty country lanes. It’s really quite something, especially on a sunny spring day.
Co-educational, Longacre takes children from age 2 ½ (in the nursery) to 11, with a two-class intake from Reception upwards. Class sizes are kept small, with no more than 16 children in each Reception class and no more than 18 in classes throughout the rest of the school.
The school’s structural centrepiece is the original 1902 house which faces onto a courtyard known as The Quad. The Quad – in turn – is the central hub of the school: a meeting point in the morning and the place you’ll find parents lingering to chat long after the school day has ended. A recent addition to The Quad is a pretty wagon known as The Bear Hut, a wellbeing space in which children are encouraged to visit during their breaks to chat with teachers about any worries, issues or problems they may have.
The Quad is surrounded by the other school buildings and classrooms in a horseshoe shape, including the Pre-Prep and Nursery which are very much part of the main school.
Perhaps it’s the size of the school, or perhaps it stems from the school’s history and the motto of the school’s founder Ursula Fairfax-Cholmeley – A happy heart goes all the way – that there’s a strong pastoral ethos at Longacre with a focus on happiness in the belief that children learn more effectively when they’re happy.
It’s not a school where formalities are imposed – kids are allowed to be kids so an untucked shirt isn’t seen as the end of the world, and the Headmaster is almost never called Sir. But don’t confuse this with disrespectful and slovenly children – quite the contrary – manners are held in high regard and children are reminded at regular assemblies.
For a school of this size, they’re excellent. One of the first things you’ll notice as you make your way up the winding driveway are the playing fields and Astroturf pitches for hockey, netball and tennis, and the second thing you’ll probably notice is the multi-purpose sports hall – Palmer Hall – which opened in 2015. It’s an impressive space which includes a music and drama room and music practice rooms.
Behind Palmer Hall is a wooded area – unofficially called Badgerville because it’s home to a badger sett. The area is not part of the playground and the school is working with ecologists to establish a study area to help pupils gain an understanding and respect for the badgers, deer, owls and other wildlife which live there. Cameras have been set up to observe and help with learning, and you won’t be surprised to discover it’s a big hit with the children.
Alongside this area is a large wooded playing area that’s central to the school’s ethos and motto – A happy heart goes all the way – and plenty of learning as well as play takes place here. Children are encouraged to build dens, dig holes, climb on logs and get muddy. During my most recent visit a group of pupils, each of them kitted out in wellies and over-trousers, were building forts in a Forest School session.
There are playing fields for rugby, rounders, football and cricket, and – another recent addition – a set of five timber-framed stations designed to promote teamwork and leadership in children. The school also has bees, and pupils are involved in their keeping.
There are also the usual classroom facilities: an ICT suite (with an impressive collection of iPads), a stunning art studio (with its own pottery kiln), and science lab.
Pupils in Years 3-6 are taught maths, English, science, humanities (geography and history), computing, French, art, PE, music, drama, personal social health education, and religious education by specialist teachers – which involves moving from class to class.
There’s a strong belief in fostering creativity at Longacre, and it is strong. Children have weekly art, DT, drama and music lessons. Over 75% of pupils have individual music lessons taught by peripatetic music teachers. There are also musical ensembles pupils can join from Senior, Junior and Chamber Choir, to Orchestra, Wind Band, Rock Bands and Ukulele group.
Drama is taught by specialist teachers and takes place throughout the school – from the gorgeously bright and light creative art studio to the woods. In addition to the annual drama productions, each class performs a class assembly once a year to which parents are invited.
As you might expect of a school where the outdoors is a big part of learning, sport is very important here. Boys and girls play seasonal sports during their games sessions, including football, netball, hockey, rugby and cricket, and there are weekly competitive sporting fixtures against other schools.
THE ACADEMIC RESULTS
Longacre feeds into some of the top independent schools in Surrey and the school prides itself on finding the best fit senior school for each child. The 2020 leavers cohort, received 21 scholarships between the 32 pupils and accepted places at Royal Grammar School, Reigate Grammar School, Tormead, King Edward’s Witley, St Edmund’s, St John’s Leatherhead, Prior’s Field, Duke of Kent, Churcher’s College in Hants, and Christ’s Hospital in Horsham.
This year’s leavers have received a record 67 offers of senior places from 23 senior schools across Surrey, West Sussex and Hampshire. In addition, this year a number of Longacre pupils have applied for 13+ entry to Charterhouse, Eton College and Wellington College. All those pupils are safely through round one of the selection process, with offers to be confirmed later in the summer.
The school’s last full ISI inspection was in Feb 2014, and it was judged outstanding for its early years, and excellent for its teaching, curriculum, and pupils’ progress and attainment; as well as excellent for its pastoral care, spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, and links with parents. In January 2018, the ISI carried out a Regulatory Compliance Inspection – read that report here.
The Fairfax Scholarship, named after the school’s founder Ursula Fairfax-Cholmeley, is an academic scholarship open to both internal and external candidates entering year 3. Means-tested bursaries are also available to children from year 3 and above, offering up to 100 per cent of the fees.
The Headmaster Matthew Bryan has been at the helm for three years, coming from St Ronan’s School in Kent where he was Deputy Head (Academic). His career in education, however, started in senior schools – he was at Hampton School and King’s College Wimbledon before moving into the junior schools. He believes the foundations for education and character are firmly laid here, and this is where he hopes to make a difference.
He’s friendly, good-natured and there’s not an ounce of pretension in his manner. The children have a genuine affection for him, which is not surprising because he’s the kind of head teacher I’d imagine would rather be out building dens with the children in the woodlands than confined to his office.
His own daughter is at the school – which says a lot – although he laughingly suggests he had a strong self-interest in creating a truly amazing school. Jokes aside, Mr Bryan is passionate about education, and he’s passionate about turning out happy children with a high academic success. It needn’t be a choice, he says.
The Pre-prep is housed in its own building – facing The Quad – with a separate play area for the children. The rising 3s are in the nursery and the rising 4s are in the Kindergarten which are made up of adjoining classrooms. The Pre-prep pupils benefit from specialist lessons in music, Forest School and PE.
The school’s librarian sets reading challenges for the children and if they achieve their challenges they’re rewarded …. with an onion. Or sometimes a broccoli tree.
The school’s logo – a bear – chosen because the founder’s name Ursula means bear and because her husband, Robert FitzGerald was from British Columbia in Canada, the state of the grizzly bear.
And this video gives you a taster of what the school is all about.
Longacre won an Independent School of the Year award in 2020 for its community outreach, in recognition of the school’s links with the Elmbridge Retirement Village in Cranleigh. Before Covid restrictions were put in place, pupils in Reception, Year 1 and Year 2 visited the residents each week. And since they’re now unable to visit in person, the pupils and residents have been using Zoom to meet up virtually in the classroom.
WRAP AROUND CARE
The school day starts for everyone at 8.30am and ends at 3.45pm, and there is an Early Birds Club available from 7.30am and after-school care until 6pm. There’s also a wide range of extra-curricular clubs – which run after school as well as at lunchtime – including activities like judo, cookery, Pilates, drama, gymnastics, debating and drama.
Fees start at £3,675 a term for pupils in full-time nursery and kindergarten rising to £5,565 for children in year 6. Fees include lunch and morning and afternoon snacks. After-school care is extra, at £2.60 per 30 mins when it’s pre-booked or £5.20 per 30 mins drop in.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Longacre parents will talk your ear off about how nurturing the school is. They love it. Much is made of it being a school that lets kids be kids – children can roam around in the grounds, climb trees, make dens, hang off the adventure playground equipment. Muddy trousers are not uncommon by any stretch. But there’s discipline and rigour too. Kids are proud to come here.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Outdoorsy kids, those who seek a friendly smaller school in the countryside with a strong sense of community.
Not for: Parents who are looking for a hothouse environment for the children. The ethos is strongly focused on happy children, and from that stems high academic success.
Longacre School, Hullbrook Lane, Shamley Green, Guildford, Surrey GU5 0NQ. Tel: 01483 893 225