The Royal School, Haslemere
A co-ed prep and senior school with a distinguished history and big things on the horizon. It's a forward-thinking school that ensures pupils are 'future-ready' while retaining its historical values.
The Royal School is an all-through co-ed day and boarding school based across two sites in Hindhead and Haslemere in Surrey. It has a long and interesting history. Founded in the 1840s in Twickenham as one of the first academic girls’ schools in England – snappily called The Royal Female School for the Daughters of Naval and Marine Officers – it later became The Royal Naval School (or the RNS), and moved to Haslemere after bombing during the Second World War.
It merged with The Grove School – also a pioneer in girls’ education – in 1995 and dropped the Naval moniker becoming simply The Royal School and taking pupils from six weeks (for day care) to 18 years. In 2011, boys were introduced – and now the school has an even mix of boys to girls. There are 325 pupils across the Prep and Senior Schools.
The Queen became patron in 1952 – and the school is proud of the Royal connections. Princess Anne is the school’s President, and a regular visitor. In 1986, a new sports hall, The Princess Anne Sports Hall, was officially opened by her.
The Royal School is not academically selective, but the admissions process at both Prep and Senior entry involves assessments in Maths and English, an interview with the Head and taster days.
Numbers-wise, it’s small – around 150 pupils at the Senior School – but there are plans to grow that to 300 in the coming years. There’s a cosy feel here and a warm friendly vibe. Sixth Formers will happily (and politely) direct if you land in the wrong spot (duh!), and of all the teachers I met, all were happy to share their views, insights and stories.
The Prep School occupies a 23-acre site in Hindhead and the Senior School is located on a wooded 26-acre site overlooking Haslemere.
But change is imminent!
The Prep will move to the Haslemere site next year, so the school’s in a period of transition. It joined the United Learning family two years ago, and heavy investment is already underway.
The Senior School is made up of a collection of buildings including Kilmorey, the reception and main teaching block, containing classrooms, science labs, a hall (soon to become a fancy drama theatre), a library, chapel, and art studios.
There’s also Highgate, a lovely Arts and Crafts building, central on the site, where you’ll find the Head’s study. And then further up the hill is the Grade II-listed Stoatley Hall, built in 1902 in the style of a Scottish castle. This will become the Prep School. Beyond that is the Queen Elizabeth II Boarding House and Sixth Form Centre.
The site is undulating and wooded, and tucked among the trees you’ll find tennis and netball courts, sports pitches, a sports hall and a fitness gym. There are plans to build an outdoor all-weather astro pitch, although it’s still in the early stages of planning.
Already the library has been transformed into a cool and contemporary study space called The Hub, and much to everyone’s excitement, brand new television and podcast studios have been installed. But there’s more to come – watch this space.
The television and podcast studios and the planned new theatre space, tell something of the arts story here. Yes, the arts are big!
Ed Taylor-Gooby – aka Mr TG – an Assistant Head, Drama teacher, son of a former Head and former professional actor showed me around. And he’s passionate about the arts – and the school itself. Each year, there’s a school production involving pupils from Year 7 to 13 (this year, The Wizard of Oz), and there’s also a lower school play and upper school play among others.
Musically, as you’d expect from a school that values the arts, there’s also a lot on offer. The Senior School music teacher, also an Assistant Head, is Stewart Conley-Harper, a former chorister at Windsor Castle Chapel – which brings some real kudos to proceedings. Pupils learn instruments from piano to cello, saxophone to singing, and have performed at the Windsor Castle Chapel and St Paul’s Cathedral. Art and design are also strong, with photography a popular subject at GCSE and A Level.
At the Prep School, there’s also plenty of opportunity for the performing arts. Ballet is included in the curriculum from Nursery to Year 2 and from Year 3 it’s included as an extra-curricular club. There are also two big productions staged each year, plus three concerts and ballet performances.
Incredibly, 65% of the prep school pupils learn a musical instrument, and all pupils have weekly music lessons. There are also various musical groups – from the orchestra to a strings ensemble, African drumming to ukulele. Art and DT are strong subjects here too, and there’s an annual themed Arts Week.
Like all independent schools, sports are valued. At the Senior School, weekly fixtures are played in hockey, netball, football and cricket. Pupils also participate in sports like athletics, tennis, rounders, basketball, gymnastics, volleyball, badminton and orienteering. Senior students use swimming facilities off-site at the Haslemere Leisure Centre, and play golf at Old Thorns.
At the Prep School, the sporting focus is on fitness, skills, technique and tactics. Pupils take part in a range of games and sports including cross country, football, gymnastics, rugby and hockey, dance, netball, cricket and rounders. Fixtures are also played against other schools, and additional sports are offered as part of the extra-curricular programme.
In 2021, 58% achieved A*-A at A Level, 83.5% achieved A*-B and 93.7% A*-C. Impressive for a mixed-ability school.
Of these, 83% achieved their first choice of university including Bath, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Cardiff, Exeter, Kent, Newcastle, Northumbria, Oxford Brooks, Portsmouth, Reading, Royal Holloway, Southampton, Sussex, UCL, Warwick and York. Around 60% got on to Russell Group universities, well above the national average of around 10% for mixed-ability Sixth Forms.
At GCSE, 47% achieved grades 9-8 and 67.4% achieved grades 9-7. The school also achieves consistently high value-added schools (as determined by a project run by Durham University).
Most of the Year 6 pupils continue into Year 7, and about half of those are awarded scholarships in art, sports, performance, academic and music.
About 40 board here – either full time, weekly or flexi boarding – mostly from Year 8 upwards.
Children can start here as young as 6 weeks in the Little Sailors Nursery, progressing into the pre-prep then the prep school. It’s a one class intake throughout the pre-prep and prep.
The Prep School site is spread out – made up of a collection of buildings – including the gorgeous Arts and Crafts Hindhead Court, a former private residence. It’s an lovely building with a large entrance hall, handsome wood panelling and an impressive staircase leading up to the first floor classrooms. There’s also a stately library on the ground floor.
The Nursery and Pre-Prep is in a separate building called Fletchers, which has it’s own playground as well as access to the wider school playground. There’s plenty within the 23-acre site for the children here, including two large sporting pitches, plenty of playground space that includes wooden ships, three large ponds and cross-country nature trails.
The Prep School has specialist teaching in Music, IT, Forest School, Drama, Sport, French and Ballet. And the school is in the process of issuing Surface Go devices or iPads to all pupils as part of the ‘Future Ready’ programme.
Head of the Prep School, Kerrie Daunter, is proud of the well-rounded, good mannered and kind-spirited pupils that The Royal School produces. They’re ambitious, she says, without having sharp elbows. The relationship between parents and staff is also excellent here – a snippet shared by a parent, but also in evidence during the end-of-the-day pick-up.
Pastoral care, like at all schools, is of huge importance and there’s a strong system in place to make sure nobody slips through the net. It starts at the Prep School where new joiners are assigned a buddy to help them settle in. And class sizes are deliberately kept small. Each day, there’s also a ‘Feel-good 15’ – whereby pupils spend 15 minutes each morning doing something, often outdoors, to help set them up for the day.
At the Senior School, it’s much the same. Again there are small tutor groups where strong relationships are formed between teachers and pupils, and a buddy system links Year 7 pupils with a Year 13.
Pippa Smithson has been the Head here for two years – arriving in February 2020. Previously at Dunottar School in Reigate, where she was part of the team that transformed it from an all-girls’ school of 110 pupils to a co-ed school of over 400, before that she was Head of Upper Sixth at Reigate Grammar for five years.
She’s dynamic, forward-thinking and also extremely easy to get along with. And as well as having a close connection with pupils – she teaches English – she’s also got an easy relationship with parents. She takes a no-nonsense approach, which I like about her, axing rugby as one of the school’s main sports when she arrived because she not a fan of the high-level of contact (getting no major objections from pupils or parents) and replacing lacrosse with hockey, which again, caused very little commotion.
A big deal here is the school’s ‘Future Ready’ programme, and this is something Mrs Smithson is passionate about. She firmly believes that while academics is important, traits such as emotional intelligence, social behaviours and practical skills are equally important in preparing young people for our changing world. The ‘Future Ready’ programme starts at the Prep School and continues all the way through to the Sixth Form – with modules on robotics, engineer, tech, finance and wellness among others at the Prep to seminars in the Senior School that focus on health, well-being, personal awareness and communication. Mrs Smithson says they want to teach children how to think, not what to think.
The school is progressive in its thinking, not a scrap of fustiness exists and it embraces technology and all that it brings – although it still retains a traditional and homely feel. The Head of Boarding, Sylvie Barlett-Rawlings, bakes chocolate brownies for the boarders. Quirky? Yeah, it is a little.
WRAP AROUND CARE
The Prep School offers a Breakfast Club from 7.45am and a homework club each day from 4-4.45pm followed by an after-school club until 6.15pm. It’s popular with parents – this is, after-all, prime commuter territory.
At both schools there’s a strong extra-curricular programme in place offering a good choice of activities from music, current affairs, gardening and judo at the Prep to sports, music and drama clubs in the Senior School.
In the ISI Compliance Inspection report in Sept 2018, they met almost all of the required standards – from quality of the education to the spiritual, moral and cultural development of pupils. You can read the full report here.
A shuttle bus operates between the Senior School and Haslemere Train Station each morning and afternoon, as well as between the Senior School and the Prep School (which are 4 miles apart).
The bus routes are updated termly according to student needs, but currently take in Churt, Chiddingfold, Elstead, Farnham, Grayshott, Liphook, Liss Headley, Midhurst, Petersfield, Petworth, Rowledge and Wisborough Green.
Fees start at £3,572 a term for Reception to Prep 2; £4,024 a term for Prep 3-4; £4,187 a term for Prep 5-6. At the Senior school, fees are £6,169 per tern for day pupils in years 7-13; and £10,519 per term for full boarding including tuition fees.
Fees include lunch for the day pupils and all meals for the boarders, most extra curricular activities, a daily supervised homework club, and Microsoft Surface Go device for every every pupil in Year 7 to Year 11 as part of the school’s Future Ready Strategy.
The Breakfast Club is an additional £3.35 a day, and the after-school club is £5.57 per half hour.
Nursery sessions are priced daily and range from £32.24 for an afternoon session (including snack) to £40.68 for a morning session (including breakfast and lunch) to £80.65 for a full day (from 8am-6pm).
WORD ON THE GROUND
One parent we spoke to and has three children in the school – across the Prep, Senior and Sixth Form – loved the school. She likes the fact it’s small and friendly, and praised the school’s excellent results despite being non-academically selective. She likes that there’s a range of abilities at the school, and said the small class sizes meant that each child received a lot of attention. The school’s learning support has also been praised by parents, and teachers were said to be bright, intelligent and enthusiastic with a great rapport with the pupils. From what I saw of the teaching, I’d wholeheartedly agree.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: The Royal School is good for all-rounders, but those who like the arts will thrive here. The school is small and friendly, so it’s a good place for those looking for a home-from-home type environment.
Not for: While sport here is valued, this is probably not the place for children who have elite sport’s aspirations.
Dare to disagree? Take a look for yourself. There are open events planned at the prep school on Fri 11 Feb, and at the Senior School on Fri 18 March. Individual tours can also be arranged. Book here.
The Royal Senior School and Sixth Form, Farnham Lane, Haslemere, Surrey, GU27 1HQ. Tel: 01428 605805
The Royal Prep School, Portsmouth Road, Hindhead, Surrey GU26 6BW. Tel: 01428 607977