Marlborough House School (MHS) is a non-selective prep school for boys and girls, in Hawkhust, Kent. The Nursery takes children from 2.5 years and in the meantime there are the newly launched, ‘Mini Marlboroughs’, Toddler and Parent sessions which are open to anyone between 6 months and 4 years, but particularly good for interested parents to get a feel for the school. More on these below.
MHS takes children until 13 (the end of Year 8) and there are currently 250 pupils of which 47% are boys and 53% girls with a splendid maximum class size of 16 for Pre-Prep and 18 in Prep School.
The school is two-form entry with small class sizes so that everyone can genuinely know everyone whether they are staff or pupil and across the year groups.
The main building of the school is a handsome 18th century family home (albeit a large one) – aquired waaay back in the day to house just the 25 boys who moved from the original school in Hove. In 2024, the school will enjoy a series of celebrations to mark 150 years since its birth in 1874.
Teaching, much like the buildings, is split into Nursery, Pre-Prep (Reception and Y1&2), Middle School (Ys 3 – 5) and Senior School (Ys 6 – 8). These are all housed in purpose built, practical classrooms, many of which overlook the greenery of the school grounds – which (while we’re on the subject) are a rather sizeable 34 acres.
Life at Marlborough House extends well beyond the classroom where extra-curricular trips and activities abound. Popular club choices include: trampoling, astronomy (in the schools onsite observatory), cheerleading, gardening, philosophy and debating, along with the usual selection of sporting and creative options.
Sports-wise there’s pretty much everything catered for here – with courts, pitches, including Astro, for cricket, football, hockey, rugby, tennis and netball. In recent years the school extended the sports hall (with new changing rooms).
There’s an outdoor swimming pool too (here they are playing water polo, above) and the more unusual sports of shooting, fencing, horse riding and golf are even on offer.
For a medium-sized prep school MHS punches well above its weight in terms of sporting achievement – they do pretty darn well competitively in matches and tournaments. What’s more the roll call of the sporting achievements of previous students (or alumni, if you must) – including former England Cricket Captain David Gower – is pretty impressive.
Last year, there were unbeaten teams for both boys and girls, namely the U11A Girls’ hockey team and 1st XI Boys’ cricket team. The Riding Team also achieves strong results, regularly reaching the South East Inter-School Championships, and wining a class at the event in 2019.
Since my last visit the Forest School and Outdoor Learning offering at MHS has developed significantly. I mean, they always embraced getting stuck in here (more on the overalls they wear to enable proper outdoor play, below!). But now there’s a new Outdoor Classroom (pictured below) providing an additional focal point for outdoor learning across the curriculum and they deliver a comprehensive Forest School Education as a core part of the timetable, all the way from Nursery up to Year 4.
The school sits in a very rural part of Kent with farming land all around so putting a focus on the outdoors makes sense. Launched in 2021, The Great Outdoors is a whole school approach; a wonderful blend of outdoor learning, well-being and all things eco.
A good example is the Field to Fork initiative which sees children grow produce for the school kitchen, winning them the RHS Gardening Award earlier this year. The pupil Eco Reps then came up with the idea of converting the school’s food waste into electricity and the school now runs on green electricity too.
MUSIC, DRAMA & DT
Every child from Nursery to Year 8 have the opportunity to perform to their parents every year. The Old Gym is the school’s performance space but with the addition of the wonderfully light Hopkins Hall and the school’s original Chapel, a variety of locations are us – most recently they built a stage in the school grounds transporting the audience to Sherwood Forest for a Year 4 production of Robin Hood.
A newly extended and improved Art and DT Building provides exciting new opportunities for the creative arts. These wonderfully light classrooms were being fitted out when I visited – so all exciting stuff.
Every student from Y3 – Y8 enjoys 1 hour of art and 1 hour of DT per week – I’m pleased to see these subjects given the weight they deserve. Every year a number of Leavers gain Scholarships to Senior schools in both DT and Art.
Music is popular, the choir is always full and the children enjoy Music Technology too (pictured above).
MHS is a self-proclaimed ‘land of opportunity’ meaning that not only do they provide decent facilities, like most preps do, but they also try their best to take it one step further by assuring every child has a speaking part in the school play… and every child gets to play in matches – not just the same old faces every time…
Sporting success and inclusivity – it’s always a hard balance to strike at any school. But you get the impression at least they genuinely try here. And if teams sport is not your thing, then there’s activities on offer like golf (pictured above).
From Year 5 all subjects are taught by specialist teachers and from Year 6 pupils move around the school to their lessons. Preparing them for a more ‘senior school’ approach (more on this below).
Teaching starts where the child is at. The school is not so big that it needs to teach from a set place. MHS is proudly non-selective but still manages a hugely impressive haul of scholarships every year.
Last year, pupils achieved a 100% success rate for creative and performing arts scholarships, securing 7 scholarships in total, and a 72% scholarship success rate overall. Leavers go on to schools such as Eton College, Brighton College, Eastbourne College, Tonbridge School, Sutton Valence, Bede’s, Hurst, Sevenoaks, Benenden and Claremont.
In some ways the school is a victim of its own success, losing a cohort to local grammar schools, including Cranbrook, at the end of Year 6 every year. A number also go onto some of the local 11+ independents – enticed by the scholarships they’ve gained.
But plenty also decide to stay for Years 7 & 8, tempted by two years of nurtured study, responsibility and activities (pictured above is a recent Year 8 Leavers trip).
When it comes to academics at this age, MHS runs the PSB; a forward-thinking curriculum framework. The Pre-Senior Baccalaureate is the emerging assessment model that’s being used by preps to replace the traditional 13+.
It’s designed to actively develop and track knowledge, skills and attitudes and aims to prepare children for the challenges of life as young adults in senior schools, delivering rounded children, not just ones that can regurgitate facts.
This model (the ethos of which is evident throughout the school) has been well received from senior schools, including Tonbridge and Brighton College.
The school very openly discusses the next steps of its pupils and always keeps the end goal in sight. As children move towards the top of the school they begin to either work towards the goal of 11+ to local Kent grammar schools, 13+ entry to nearby Cranbrook Grammar or independent school entrance requirements.
MHS has been judged ‘Outstanding in every area’ by the ISI and so academically and pastorally the kids are in very safe hands.
After a gap between heads, which fell at the same time that Covid hit, Eddy Newton was a well received appointment when he took over the helm in September 2020. He brings with him decades of experience and credentials (he graduated from Jesus College, Cambridge with a degree in Classics and, more recently, was Principal of the Cothill Trust, which oversees some seven Prep Schools).
Eddy Newton has been the driving force behind the school’s ‘The Great Outdoors’ and ‘Activity Friday’ initiatives. Newton has the necessary gravitas required for the role, a realistic, informed overview of what’s going on in the independent educational sector (he’s been Chairman of IAPS). And yet at the same time he is happy to talk to me about his own children and their journey in education. I like his measured blend of traditional head and approachable captain of the ship.
The Nursery sits in its own walled garden and little people can start here the term before they turn 3 years old.
There’s a fun and warmth to the setting and parents are kept updated daily on the children’s development. There’s the lovely outside garden space, complete with al fresco kitchen play area and guinea pig pen, which is also home to the Nursery tortoise. Oh and they raise chickens every Spring. They also make good use of the school grounds, heading out to Forest School twice a week. Lots of hands-on, confidence boosting experiences.
Specialised teaching starts here in French/Spanish, Music, Games and Dance, there’s also good staff ratios and all the crafty stuff you can imagine. All this equals happy kids.
TODDLER AND PARENT SESSIONS
A new initiative for the school, called ‘Mini Malboroughs’ these term-time sessions, are open to any parent and child (start age varies between 6 months and 1 year old). The Get Muddy hour (Wed, 9.15-10.15am) allows little ones to enjoy the great outdoors with a Forest School session hosted in the Outdoor Classroom.
Or the Music hour (Fri, 10 – 11am) is informal music and play located in the Nursery and its Walled Garden. Both of these sessions are FREE. Or there’s Mini Ballet sessions (Tues, 9.30-10.15am) and there is a charge for this class.
Headed up by Rebecca Reid, the thriving Pre-Prep (building pictured above) consists of Reception, Y1 & Y2. They also enjoy the same specialist teaching subjects as the Nursery, but with IT adding into the list too.
I’m particularly impressed with the teaching here – the children really know their ‘synthetic phonics’ and I get a full and very animated demonstration.
Becky Reid explains the ‘Head, Heart and Hand’ philosophy she applies to the school day here. The theory being that all children deserve an education of the head (academic learning), the heart (social, emotional learning) and the hand (practical skills, creativity and problem solving).
It’s a theory around which the Pre-Prep actually plans the rhythm of the entire day – to compliment when children are most responsive to these elements. So they’re definitley walking the talk here.
MHS embraces animals and the outdoors – in order to allow the children to genuinely be free to play outdoors the school provides the perfect solution. Overalls form part of the standard kit for all children in the prep and are slipped on over their uniform at break and lunch times (see image above).
A new scheme, which has just been introduced is Activity Fridays. By elongating the school day ever so slightly throughout the week they have been able to carve out a couple of hours away from the curriculum every Friday afternoon.
The activities undertaken on these afternoons are chosen by the children themselves and can literally be anything from learning sign language to dry slope skiing lessons and horse riding to the Young Farmers Club (hugely popular, I’m told).
The sense of community at this school is very strong, there’s boot camp for parents (there’s also yoga, tennis and football for parents). Tea and coffee is served weekly in the gallery for parents after morning drop off.
The school runs regular fun events – like the biannual Colour Run (pictured above). Similarly when it comes to teaching the atmosphere is relaxed and intimate.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Children in the Nursery, Pre-Prep and Prep School can arrive from 8.00am onwards (or 7.30am for Breakfast Club). All children can stay in school until 5.45pm every night, with After School Care or clubs (for Nursery and Pre-Prep) and supervised prep or clubs for Years 3 to 8.
Malborough House School is predominantly a day school but there’s lots of flexi-boarding opportunities. Obviously the flexi-boarding is to help parents out during the week but also seen as a social opportunity by the kids.
By the time they are in the Senior years Y7 & Y8 whole year groups tend to board after school trips and have the most memorable fun time (Boarding trip pictured above).
Nursery: Per Afternoon Session, £17.50, (free with Early Years Funding) and Per Morning Session (incl lunch) £37.50 (£18.75 with Early Years Funding); Reception: £3,115; Year 1 & Year 2: £3,770; Year 3: £5,930; Year 4 – Year 8: £6,230. Boarding per night £35.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The kids I meet are chatty and engaging without any sense of arrogance. They all seem to appreciate the facilities at their disposal and the real family-feel of the school.
Parents I’ve spoken to commented that children play well across the year groups. They also mentioned that older children get decent opportunities to step up before secondary school and run a Y8 Leaders programme with various duties and responsibilities.
MHS has a well-earned reputation for pastoral care along with its academic and extra-curricular success. I know quite a few mums whose kids go here, and they’re pretty positive about it. My feeling on walking around was that it was a very warm, welcoming, nurturing school.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Those looking for a happy, all-rounder, kids nurtured, brains engaged, opportunity to get involved in loads of different activities in a caring environment that has been judged Excellent in every possible area. Anyone looking for a good flexi-boarding back up, particularly working parents.
NOT FOR: Those who like pomp and grandeur – the school is down-to-earth and not set in a big gothic building.
GO SEE FOR YOURSELF:
Marlborough House School, Hawkhurst, Cranbrook, Kent, TN18 4PY