The Good Schools Guide Review of Hazlegrove School, Yeovil, BA22 7JA
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Since 2002, Mr Richard Fenwick BEd Adv Dip Ed MA (mid 50s). Educated at Bishops Stortford College, bosh shot at London University and now, after gaining a first and subsequent MA at the Open University in education management and shaping a notable career and reputation in prep schools, living proof that education doesn’t always work at the same time for everyone. Stints at Bilton Grange (qv) as director of studies and teacher of DT – still a fabulous carpenter, according to his wife – and head of St Andrew’s Turi (Kenya) preceded his appointment to Hazlegrove; also Vice Chairman of ISEB since 2011. ‘I want Hazlegrove to be a place where children feel safe and loved’ he says, ‘so that, instead of just surviving at school, they can direct their energies into academic, creative or sporting endeavour’. Tall and lean, Mr Fenwick bounds about the school, taking stairs two at a time; we trotted to keep up. Hobbies include running, surfing, sea-kayaking, golf, fishing and trekking in remote locations (Nepal a particular favourite) during the hols, we were not surprised to learn. Married to Katie, who is more deeply involved in school life than many heads’ wives, (she teaches PHSE and wrote an excellent leaflet for parents of new boarders, for example), they have three grown up children. In some ways rather an unconventional and uncompromising head, attributes which perhaps enabled him to turn Hazlegrove from the rudderless place it was when he arrived to the thriving enterprise it clearly is today.
Broadly non-selective. All hopefuls are invited for a trial day at which reading/spelling ages and mathematical ability are assessed, plus any need for additional learning support identified.
To a panoply of greater and lesser public schools at 13+; the majority in south west England (the Sherborne schools, Bryanston, KIng's College, Taunton and of course around half to its own senior school, Kings Bruton) but national notables such as Winchester, Eton, Marlborough and Millfield too. The array of awards year after year impresses. A recent parent was delighted by the head’s efforts in researching a school where Hazlegrove pupils do not usually go. Former pupils include Peter Wilson (Olympic gold medallist in shooting), Maddie Hinch (GB hockey goalie), sculptor Will Newton and author Tobias Jones.
A long drive through glorious parkland – we narrowly avoided cows and 4x4s en route – leads to a fine example of eighteenth century domestic architecture, enhanced by formal gardens. Less sightly parts of what is undoubtedly a well resourced and purposeful school are mostly hidden away, but facilities and space abound: super indoor pool, two Astros, tennis courts and acres of pitches satisfy the most sporty. Pigs and chickens enthusiastically looked after by pupils, and there’s no ducking their eventual fate either. Full use appears to be made of this bucolic setting (faintly marred by the services visible on the A303), recently enhanced by the planting of a five acre Jubilee Wood in 2012.
New teaching and learning centre opened in 2014. We were enthralled and impressed by a scholarship English class of 13-year-olds who were getting to grips with the complex themes in William Blake’s poetry. Parents recognise and greatly appreciate the fine teaching that goes on at Hazlegrove, and acknowledge the head’s insistence in recruiting staff only of the highest calibre: ‘The quality of the discussions at parents’ evenings is phenomenal’ said one mother. But Hazlegrove is no hothouse, though the children are ‘pushed enough’ say parents, and does very well by the breadth of ability it admits. About 15 per cent of pupils receive learning support. All these lucky children benefit from exciting and innovative ways to learn, such as a Skype call with astronaut Nicholas Patrick in which the whole prep school participated, and the millionaires club which encourages children to read one million words in the course of a term. The latter is part of the Accelerated Reader programme, where books are carefully graded to eliminate unsuitable choices. The librarian gets rave reviews.
Sport, music and drama ditto. There’s an extensive fixture list with other schools and plenty of silverware in the trophy cabinet. One parent articulated the common tension between winning at all costs/sport for all, and wondered if there could be more chances for less skilled players to represent the school at matches. (School defends its record on this.) As for the music, well, our socks were knocked off by the impromptu marimba recital (we had not met one before either) the head asked a boy to perform when we happened upon him jamming with a couple of other pupils in the music department. Masses going on of all standards, from absolute beginners to one already at grade 8, and a clutch taking grade 5 theory. Conventional choices for drama, such as ‘Wind in the Willows’ and ‘The Wizard of Oz’ put on in purpose-built theatre and much enjoyed by performers and audience alike; pupils also take LAMDA exams. Mandarin club has proved hugely successful and Mandarin introduced for year 5 pupils from 2013.
About a third of pupils board routinely, and there is scope for occasional boarders too. Accommodation is fine (quite big dorms with a strong smell of disinfectant in the boys’ quarters), though rules are quaintly old-fashioned: no mobiles, letter-writing on Sundays and proper shoe-cleaning once a week. That said, activities are myriad and sometimes rather trendy: we were shown the film the boarders had devised, scripted and made the previous weekend. The feel of an extended family is palpable, enhanced by the fact that half the staff live on site. In the evenings, seating for meals is rearranged into family-style groups so boarders get to know everyone; a black tie dinner with five sets of cutlery enlivens proceedings from time to time.
Hazlegrove is quite smart and not a typical country prep school. A broad cross-section (says school) of local and not-so-local families drive or bus their kids in from all over the place up and down the A303, and it’s the school of choice for many families making the big move out of London. The head defined parents, when asked, as the ‘sort of people who don’t look in the mirror before they come to pick up’; their occupations include farmer, lawyer, doctor, plumber, cheese-maker, helicopter pilot, entrepreneur, designer, author and chef. There is an active and welcoming social scene and parents, mums in particular, take up the exercise classes and tennis coaching with enthusiasm. Try as we might, we could not find anything to fault about this super one-off school with its quirky head.