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What says..

 There is a strong sense of the traditional alongside the modern – bright and lively classrooms, decorated with pupil’s work, are housed in both 19th and 16th century buildings. In the gorgeous chapel (1868), pupils listen to biblical stories with a modern twist. School encourages creative and critical thinking across all subjects, whether improving goal-scoring in sport, performing West Side Story in German, or applying maths in the composition of music. It made world headlines when it opened up its doors to rescue an African Paralympic team left stranded at the airport...

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What the school says...

Brentwood School offers a unique blend of the traditional with the modern. It is one of the few independent schools which teaches boys and girls separately from 11 to 16 in an otherwise mixed community. The school prides itself on its strong academic success, sporting prowess and extra-curricular opportunities. We hope you will be able to visit us to see the school's strengths for yourself. ...Read more

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Excellent performance by Girls taking Latin at an English Independent School (GCE A level)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Economics at an English Independent School (IBO Higher level component)
  • Best performance by Girls taking Religious Studies at an English Independent School (GCSE Short Course)

Curricula

International Baccalaureate: diploma - the diploma is the familiar A-level equivalent.

Other features

All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

Sports

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since September 2004, Mr Ian Davies PGCE MA (50s), theology degrees from Oxford and Cambridge. Previously head of St Dunstan’s College. Taught religious studies at Sackville School and became head of year and head of RE at The Latymer, Edmonton. An ISI inspector, member of D of E National Advisory Council, and helped select naval officers for training at Dartmouth for the Admiralty Interview Board. Very approachable – once volunteered as a guinea pig for a nitrogen experiment during science lesson where his hands were set alight. ‘It didn’t hurt at all, as it burnt above my hand, and the children loved it.’ He sees the school as ‘educationally… more sophisticated than most’ thanks to its diamond structure, educating boys and girls in separate gender classes from age 11 to 16, but together at other ages. ‘We all learn in different ways and I think there are gender differences and also gender stereotypes which need to be cracked.’ So the school employs all ‘the benefits of single sex education’ while enabling pupils to ‘also get the social benefits of choir, orchestra, combined cadets’ and more ‘as part of a co-educational environment’. He adds, ‘Nothing pleases me more than having a girl who is great at maths and physics go off to university to do engineering.’ Considers himself ‘very lucky’ in his career, having ‘worked with great people all the way through’ and being mentored by some ‘great heads’ in the past.

Preparatory school head since 2011, Mr Jason Whiskerd BA PGCE. Previously head of Aldenham Preparatory School in Elstree, Hertfordshire and deputy head of the King's School (junior) in Chester. Read history and politics at Trinity College, Carmarthen (University of Wales) and serves as an ISI Inspector of other preparatory schools. He is also an active member of the Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS).

Mr Whiskerd is a keen sportsman, having played cricket and rugby at regional level and, as testament to his Welsh roots (he attended Llandovery College as a boy), Welsh rugby and Swansea City are his passion. He is married to a junior school teacher and has three daughters attending the prep and senior school. A friendly man: extended a hearty welcome and warm handshake when we visited.

Academic matters

They start learning oral French from year 1 ‘since this is a time when they are most receptive to learning a new language’. Verbal reasoning is taught from year 4 and Latin from year 6. There is emphasis on ‘learning habits for life’ so lots of push to get children to think for themselves, ask questions and ‘look at things in detail’. From year 3 they are introduced to a house system so they can build relationships with older pupils. By the time they get to year 6 pupils take on roles as prefects, house captains, council representatives and more. Plenty of preparation for the move to senior school including a Q&A session with year 7s. Able children also well catered for with plenty of challenging extension opportunities. We know of at least one boy who showed aptitude for maths and was given the chance to sit his maths GCSE at age 9. A couple of parents described similar experiences where their children had been labelled as ‘slow’ and ‘easily distracted’ at previous schools, only to move them to Brentwood and discover that the real problem was that their children had been bored, under-stimulated and capable of more.

GCSE results in 2016 were slightly down on the previous year’s: 58 per cent graded A*/A. Alongside critical and creative thinking and the core subjects, they study French and Latin in year 7, and choose from German, ancient Greek or Spanish in year 8. IGCSE in several subjects; head sees it as ‘a stepping stone to the IB’.

At A level in 2016, 39 per cent A*/A grades and 76 per cent A*-B. School offers 26 curriculum subjects, plus other activities such as law, cooking at university, Italian, peer mentoring training and sports leadership. IB scores averaged 37 points.

School encourages creative and critical thinking across all subjects, whether improving goal-scoring in sport, performing West Side Story in German, or applying maths in the composition of music. The school ‘teaches you to think for yourself and how it is up to you to determine whether you succeed or not,’ said a pupil. The syllabus is ‘flexibly adapted to suit all pupils’ needs’ and ‘able pupils do not get bored here’, says the school. Parents agree with this, saying that although children are set early in year 7 in French and maths, these groups are not set in concrete and support is available if needed. ‘I think it really is important that the children are not stuck with a label of being really clever or really daft,’ said a parent. ‘That doesn’t happen at all. It is very, very flexible.’

EAL support provided to 35 pupils, largely through teachers that have lived and worked abroad. The learning and development team also provides support to around 50 students with special educational needs. This includes an Independent Education Plan, one-to-one tuition, subject support and lunchtime drop in sessions. The department is very successful – some who receive additional support make such ‘good and exceptional progress’ that they ‘sometimes outperform their peers’, noted the ISI.

Games, options, the arts

There is a long sporting tradition here. This was one of three independent schools selected as an official Olympic training venue and it made world headlines when it opened up its doors to rescue an African Paralympic team left stranded at the airport with neither host nor facilities after a funding promise failed to materialise.

Sport is one of the scholarships offered; football, cricket, hockey, rugby and netball coaches often successful sportspeople. Pupils have played at national and international level in fencing, water polo, cricket, football, squash, tennis and netball. School has won the Public Schools Fencing Competition ‘more than 30 times since 1962’. Both girls’ athletics teams have made it to the English schools’ track and field national finals. One England Under-19 cricketer has been offered a contract with Essex. At any one time around 400 pupils are out representing the school in a whole variety of sports. Alongside sports hall, pool, gym and dance studio, there are glass-backed squash courts, fitness suite and a fencing salle, plus extensive playing fields and a full-size running track.

Art, music and drama are also well catered for. Many pupils’ works are exhibited at the annual art exhibition and school also tries to instil appreciation for art whether pupils ‘consider themselves to be “arty” or not’. Various competitions include the popular water colour competition and the head’s sculpting competition. DT and ICT are taught with art and food tech in the Hardy Amies Design Centre, equipped with its own library and computers. Recently a group of students scooped the top prize in an international design award with their life-saving ‘glow’ glove. The six, led by a student who ‘a year ago wouldn’t have said boo to a goose’, took first prize in the annual Virtual Ventura competition against opposition from 300 teams. ‘We thought about different things and narrowed it down to safety as during the dark people don’t see cyclists very well.’ Their winning design went on display at the Design Museum in London.

Music and drama are taught in a separate building equipped with rehearsal studios and 14 practice rooms. We witnessed one group using Sibelius to compose ‘an answer in response to a melody’ in preparation for their GCSE creative task: ‘We have to pick the right melody chords to make it work. The answer must relate to it but not repeat it’. Many students get involved in the school symphony orchestra, big band (which creates its own CDs), choir or choral society, and the regular musicals and house music concerts. A number of ex-pupils are exhibitioners at London music colleges or hold organ scholarships at university; there are two organs in the school, one in the music hall and another in the chapel. Prep school has two orchestras and a junior choir that rehearses weekly and has performed at the royal Albert Hall. On the day of our visit many of the prep school classrooms were empty – our guide seemed baffled by this and was somewhat relieved when we happened upon a very noisy music lesson where children were exploring how to synchronise sound for a silent film. They were clearly having fun with flute, cymbals, drums, voice and more, but we got the feeling that the cover teacher may have pulled the short straw.

Similar story with drama: three major annual productions covering every genre from musicals to comedy to classics. Examples include Macbeth featuring video clips showing the war in the Middle East; Antigone performed with modern ballet choreographed by a student; a third year production of Arabian Nights; and West Side Story in German, all performed in the school’s 400-seat auditorium. Mainly girls, but a few boys too, take part in dance showcases including tap, jazz and street.

Too many extracurricular activities to name: Trivial Pursuits, cross-country, table tennis, chess, Duke of Edinburgh Award, Cine & Literatura, a Spanish film club, public speaking. ‘You have to choose at least three; it’s compulsory now,’ we heard a year 7 pupil tell a sixth former. The Sir Antony Browne Society invites guest speakers on a wide range of current political, financial and medical topics. One of the most popular activities at the school is the 152-year-old Combined Cadet Force (CCF), one of the largest in the country, which has been enlisted by the DfE to help set up branches at other schools. It really creates a buzz in the atmosphere on Fridays when its 500-odd members come to school dressed in combat gear, ready for the afternoon and weekend activities. These include map reading, camp craft, basic first aid, hill walking, canoeing, flying and skydiving. ‘CCF is a big thing here,’ said one pupil. ‘It opens you up to a lot of things you might not have been able to do’, and at very low cost. Other pupils join the Community Service Unit and help raise thousands for charities in the local area and abroad. With so many competitions there is no excuse for not finding something you like, although one student did complain about the lack of a house dance competition.

Boarders

The two boarding houses are a ‘home from home’ for the small boarding community of some 23 girls and 41 boys, 60 per cent of whom are from overseas. Both are situated off campus, ‘so you don’t feel that you’re there all day’. They are run like a ‘well-oiled machine,’ say the husband and wife houseparents, with regular routines (for homework, bedtimes and activities) and good links between houseparents, teachers and parents. As well as email, the ‘children are Skyping every single night and we are Skyping with parents almost on a daily basis. I go into the rooms and they say, “Say hello to my mum”.’

Background and atmosphere

The story behind the school’s foundation is a history lesson in itself. During the English reformation a 19-year-old Protestant was burnt on order of Sir Antony Browne, then acting as a magistrate on behalf of Queen Mary. He purchased Weald Hall and land for the school in 1557 as an act of penance. The school received its motto in 1622 from the pen of John Donne, Dean of St Paul's. It also has its own prayer and song. Was a boys' grammar school, principally boarding, for many years. Admitted girls into the sixth form in the mid 1970s and into the main school in 1988.

The prep school was established in 1892 and moved to its present site at Middleton Hall in 1949; became co-educational in 1999. Pre-prep (ages 3 to 7) opened in 1995 and has its own grounds and buildings. In 2013, the pre-prep and the prep were amalgamated under the one headship of Mr Whiskerd, providing a seamless progression from 3 to 11. There is a strong sense of the traditional alongside the modern – bright and lively classrooms, decorated with pupil’s work, are housed in both 19th and 16th century buildings. In the gorgeous chapel (1868), pupils listen to biblical stories with a modern twist, for example, an account from one of the gospels about the danger of judging others, delivered alongside a screening of the Susan Boyle audition on Britain’s Got Talent. Art and science is taught in an old stable block and Middleton Hall itself features stained glass windows and stucco ceilings. On the wall in the reception area is a large, colourful picture illustrating what it means to live by the Brentwood School motto of Virtue, Learning and Manners: ‘We teach our children that the opportunities we create are best enjoyed when others benefit from them too’.

Set in the heart of the Essex town of Brentwood, across the road from the cathedral, the school stands on a 72-acre site. Not much is left of the Weald Hall save a few ruins. The Old Big School, built in 1568, still has the original front door and is used for lectures, meetings and discussions. There is a beautiful Victorian chapel built in 1868, with arches, beams and stained glass windows detailing the narratives of Moses, Elijah and other biblical prophets, as well as patron saints of the Great War. It seats 320, so cannot contain the whole school at once, but the six year groups take it in turn to have a fortnightly service there.

More recent buildings include the science block, opened by the Queen in 1957, the 1986 Courage Hall sports centre, and the 1999 Hardy Amies design building. The refurbished sixth form block which houses the 400 seat auditorium has distinctively Victorian style arched roofs. The Bean Academic Centre, 'the intellectual heart of the school', includes a lecture theatre, café, social and study spaces. The main grounds resemble a university campus quadrangle and seem to run as far as the eye can see: beyond the rugby posts is Mill House, the girls’ boarding house, Hough House, the boys’ boarding house, the prep school and then the running tracks and fields.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Parents say ‘pastoral care here is excellent’ and that ‘the older pupils help the younger pupils’. They value the peer mentoring room where sixth formers make hot chocolate for younger pupils, who can sit and talk if they have a problem. Year 6 pupils are trained in peer mediation and this helps ‘pupils to resolve their own problems in the playground’. Bullying is rare, and the few ‘misunderstandings’ that do arise are ‘nipped in the bud by the school very quickly,’ say parents. One, whose daughter had been home educated and found the first few weeks a little daunting, commented on how well she had been helped to settle in.

Pupils have good relationships with their form tutors and teachers – ‘everyone is helpful here’, said a year 7 pupil. ‘The teachers do tend to treat the children as adults,’ said a parent. ‘They communicate openly with them, so the children are not frightened to say, “I want to speak to you about something”.’

The house system fosters a sense of belonging and there is good support from a careers service, with an annual careers convention. Parents report that initial concerns are likely to involve ensuring children can cope with homework alongside the large numbers of extracurricular opportunities. ‘One of the things we were told at a meeting before starting is that you’ve got to be organised. My son comes into school early to get homework done because he wants to do swimming and football after school.’

Plenty of contact with parents through subject, house and tutor reports and parents’ evenings, but parents also appreciate in particular the introductory meeting held for parents of new year 7s. The school is ‘really on the ball like that,’ said a parent who has two daughters in the school, one in the sixth form and another in year 9. ‘Whatever topic it might be, you get the information in time to talk about it.’

Pupils and parents

Parents are mostly professional. There is a mix of backgrounds, races and religions here, with the majority being white English. ‘Although we are a Christian school we welcome pupils of all faiths,’ says the school. Many pupils move from the prep to the senior, others come from local independent and state schools. The school also has a number of international students (about 60 per cent of boarders, plus a few day pupils) from the Ukraine, Russia and other Eastern European countries, Central Europe and the Far East including China.

A number of notable former pupils including Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Sir Hardy Amies, couturier and dressmaker (he designed the school uniform), Lord Black of Brentwood, executive director of The Telegraph, Frank Lampard, footballer, Jack Straw, former lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice, and many more.

Entrance

Pupils assessed on language and dexterity skills for entry into the early years (about 40 places). Twenty places are available for external year 3 entry (age 7) and candidates sit an entrance test in English and maths in January. ‘They [the questions] are on the national curriculum for the child’s age so I needn’t have worried,’ said a parent. ‘They make the children feel at ease too.’

Year 7 entry by maths, English and verbal reasoning exams examination and an interview to ‘assess a pupil’s intellectual curiosity, potential and flair for learning’. Sixth form entrance is by interview and successful GCSE results (generally at least six B grades).

Exit

Over three-quarters of prep school pupils go on to senior school (86 per cent in 2016). They sit the same 11+ exam as external applicants and are prepared well (parents are warned a year or so in advance if the school perceives any problems). All candidates are interviewed if they do very well (for an academic scholarship) or if they have struggled on the day (have not quite achieved the standard). A few pupils go on to local grammar schools in the Chelmsford area.

Most – about 80 per cent – of senior school pupils stay on to sixth form and most proceed to university. In 2016, two to Oxbridge and over half to other top 20 universities such as Bristol and Edinburgh, or further afield to Harvard. Record number of medics, dentists and vets - nine in 2016. The school also helps those students who want to go straight into work through the alumni association and network of ex-pupils.

Money matters

A good variety of scholarships, of up to 50 per cent, on offer to top academic scorers in the entrance exam or those with specialist talents in art, drama, music, choral and sport. There are also means-tested bursaries of up to 100 per cent. Sixth form scholarships valued at between £500 and £1000, offered via a two-hour critical thinking paper.

Our view

Strong on values and has all the facilities and opportunities needed to provide a child with a rounded education. Very impressive.

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Special Education Needs

The Learning Development Department at Brentwood School aims to support those students who need additional help to access the curriculum fully and become more efficient and effective learners. The Department provides specialist teaching and resources. Throughout the secondary years, small group tuition, targeted intervention and English as a Foreign Language classes take place. International students are prepared for IGCSE and IELTS. Students with specific learning difficulties or other special needs are advised and assisted in all aspects of school life. The emphasis of the department is on developing independent learners, fully integrated into school life, assisted by specialist and subject teachers. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Aspergers Syndrome [archived]
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders [archived]
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Delicate Medical Problems [archived]
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Epilepsy [archived]
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
Not Applicable
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

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