The Good Schools Guide Review of Brighton College Prep and Pre-Prep School, Brighton, BN2 0EU
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Since Sept 2013, Harry Hastings (early forties), came from eight years at Cumnor House, where he was assistant head, head of history, director of sport and plays. Energetic, enthusiastic and entrepreneurial, in his last year there, he created Harry Hastings’ History Heroes, a cross between Top Trumps and Trivial Pursuit, sparked by a quiz played to occupy kids on history trips. He’s sold it now, relieved to be once more focussed on his school full time – but it’s a good example of his skill at coming up with creative solutions and ensuring they stick. His introduction to teaching was through gapping at his old prep, and his path to this first headship has led him through Exeter and Oxford Universities, a prep in Devon, Peponi House in Kenya and the Dragon School. Has a good support network of other teachers he’s befriended along the way (now heads themselves) and has grounded himself with sport, both playing (Greyhounds at Oxford) and supporting. Passionate about rugby and athletics (always seen at the national championships with clipboard, stopwatch, radio and English Schools tie) and loves golf ('18 handicap … in summer holidays').
Kate, his wife, is a consultant anaesthetist at the county hospital down the road, and they have three children, two at the pre-prep, one not yet. They commute in seven miles from near Lewes – at present by car, but he intends to cycle or run eventually. Is a great believer in finding space for peace and reflection in a busy life; one of his first actions as the new head of BCPS was to ensure the prep school kids are in silence as they snake in single file across the road to the main college. Initially, they thought they were being punished but the head feels being reflective is the unofficial 10th item in the BHPS code of conduct.
New in post, he feels very supported and privileged to be the headmaster of such ‘extraordinary, brilliant and different children – beautifully mannered, fun, bright, interested and interesting, all wanting the best for each other.’ They certainly greeted him charmingly and creatively; the responses to his request for a postcard over the summer are plastered over the hall walls, some in different languages, one with a ‘postage stamp’ made from a photo of the senior school’s head. He knows all 300 children by name, greets them outside each morning, rain or shine, and teaches year 7 history, three times a week.
Pre-prep head since 2010 is Jo Williams, previously head of year 2 at Tanglin Trust School in Singapore. Alumni of University of Plymouth, head of early years foundation stage and then PE and girls' games at Oakwood School. Meets with head of prep weekly, phone calls and emails in between, he attends pre-prep open mornings and their staff share INSET days.
Into pre-prep at 3+ (nursery) and 6+ (when third form is added, year 2 entry). Into prep by assessment in maths, English and verbal reasoning plus observation. Special arrangements for dyslexic pupils, with recent educational psychologist’s report. There’s a waiting list. Pupils come from the maintained sector and private schools (lots of the girls from single sex schools) and the staff also have experience of both. Some 98 per cent of those that leave the pre-prep school come through to the prep. Travel via the same buses that serve the senior school – a third of the prep school children live in town, a third from Hove and the rest come from Lewes, Worthing, Shoreham, Hassocks etc.
Some 95 per cent to Brighton College, although they have to take CE on a par with outsiders, with at present a pass mark of 55 per cent, to be raised to 60 per cent in 2015. The rest mostly to St Bede's, Roedean or Hurst. If your child seems like they’re not going to make the CE pass mark for the senior school then form teachers/head may well encourage going for another school rather than taking a punt on good luck on the day - so as to avoid a feeling of failure. About four children each academic year leave early, 50 per cent financial reasons, 50 per cent deciding to settle into a school that is not so academically ambitious, with advice from BCPS.
Compact busy campus, just one block to the east of the senior school and the two are very closely linked – the little ones walk across in reflective silence for lunch, chapel and games; both schools have the same shape of the day. The children are focussed and engaged, polite and sparky – the eldest ones very aware of regular exams and what hangs on them. ‘Why are we doing this when it has nothing to do with CE?’ asked one, when being taught some tools for writing an essay. The head uses a metaphor for twice yearly exams as series of little hurdles rather than the Grand National. The achievement grades have been rejigged recently, aiming for more transparency in the comparison of these and common entrance percentages; it may feel a bit bumpy initially for the kids who are struggling to hit the marks necessary for entry to the senior school, but the new head is convinced of the importance of clear communication and welcomes meetings with parents as soon as they have any concerns.
They do have an enormous amount of fun too; the teaching is inspiring and embellished with plenty of non-curriculum activities – from sleeping overnight on the Golden Hinde II in London to dancing with Kenyan Massai. The children are taught by class teachers initially, working up to being setted in year 6. Three forms per year, each with 20-22 pupils - no physical room for any more. A buddy system makes for good cross-year peer support, also there are lots of siblings, reading groups with the pre-prep are about to start and the prefects cover wet break in classrooms for the little ones. Normally they are outside on two playgrounds, kicking balls and shrieking about – although lunches are also used to squeeze in a mime class (60 per cent of the school do LAMDA), or to catch up on some work in the ICT room.
Four houses compete in sport, drama, debating etc. Pastoral care is well organised, with spreadsheets covering achievements, pastoral concerns and public recognition, ensuring that every child gets an acknowledgement – whether it is the star of the week trophy for the little ones or a Headmaster’s Show up in the Pelican Post weekly newsletter. Some parents feel the flip side of this effective documentation is a need to pigeon hole or label kids, whether as dyslexic, dyspraxic, having a processing problem or as a scholar. All of whom are well catered for here – there is a smaller dyslexia centre and two full time SENCos as well as strong connections to the main one in the senior school. A maximum of nine pulled out for each SEN group, with 12 or so students left in the English or French lesson in the 3rd set, so both clusters benefit from the more focussed attention of the teacher. Humour is used to tackle awareness of dyslexia too eg a great assembly by a couple of older boys playing on hot grills/girls.
The children begin their days with assembly in the main hall four out of five mornings a week, sitting on the wooden parquet floor. It is also used for rehearsals, art displays and, when we visited, storing the Christmas shoeboxes for communities in Eastern Europe as well as local hospices. Music is marvellous here – from the accomplished chamber choir rehearsal we heard in the main hall to the junior wind group squeaking their way through Jingle Bells. Recent choir trips were to Disneyland and Barcelona.
The very youngest children (3-7 year olds, at the pre-prep) have their own purpose designed building (ex-St Mary’s Hall, ex-Roedean Junior). Gorgeous light classrooms, well-stocked library and IT room, a big playing field as well as a playground out the back and all look jolly in their sweatshirts for nursery, smart uniforms for reception and upwards. Specialist teaching includes music, PE, art, Mandarin and French. Weekly swimming after reception, competitive matches for the top year and a huge variety of clubs run by outside coaches and teachers. Among the school council’s achievements has been the idea for three new after-school clubs (Horrible History, Singing, and Calligraphy) and adding chicken curry and treacle pudding to the lunch menu.
The little ones at the prep do projects every three weeks, getting passionate about making a video on volcanos erupting or designing a tooth hygiene poster. The library is a converted chapel, bright and well used, as an alternative ICT room and for English lessons, reading on the bean bags in the corner (as long as you write a book report…) The oldest years get to use email, only with their @brightoncollege.net address. One of the two science labs has a veritable menagerie of pets – from snakes to rabbits. The pet club love to take some home at the weekend and there are tablets for each child to use for individual research during science lessons.
There’s a wonderful home economics room, with tasty ingredients laid out and recipes published in the weekly Pelican Post – as ever, the most popular is pizza. This is compulsory up until year 6 and then the separate sciences take over that slot in the timetable. Latin is done in year 7 and 8 for those in the first set in English.
The art and DT departments are also impressive, the shelves stacked with class projects and a couple of big ones like a clock for the playground and a sign for the revamped Brighton train station (the children wrote a letter and got shown around). There’s a new head of art whose intention is to move away from what has been described in the past by parents as a contained feeling, as opposed to the freedom of creativity. The work produced looks fabulous and the kids seem to love it – they are aware they may get an art or DT scholarship if they put together a portfolio and hand it in.
There is a clear scale of minus and misconduct marks leading up to the normal worst case scenario, a headmaster’s detention, for which the miscreant will have to fill out a TAL form (Trigger, Action, Learning) - head commented, ‘children need to be taught the right, the wrong and the way to get it right’.
Sport is spread all over the town but minibuses nip back and forth and there is a huge range of team abilities – one main sport for boys and girls each term but always clubs on offer, with boys recently joining in with the girls playing hockey on the Astroturf. The director of sport organises several football tournaments and athletics matches each year for local primary schools including a separate girls’ one. You couldn’t possibly try everything that is available, since the buses leave at 4.45pm each day. Homework is restricted to two subjects for 30 minutes each for years 7 and 8 (less for the other year groups), with one additional Latin prep at the weekend. A prep diary ensures that this is documented for parents and teachers - it also helps the children learn self-organisation.