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Parents range from diverse international community to ecstatic locals, often first time buyers, thrilled about what school has done for their children. All aware that school still seen as second choice. While near neighbours have sought solid A grade glory, here they’ve carried on with broader ability range (many are around the national average). ‘Not right for families who want everything in neat and tidy boxes,’ thought mother. ‘It’s not draconian here. You’re doing it because…

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What the school says...

Box Hill School is a proud founder member of the Round Square, an international organisation of over 110 schools united by a set of IDEALS : Internationalism, Democracy, Environmental concern, Adventure, Leadership and Service.

What makes Box Hill School stand out is that we discover and nurture the talents and abilities of every pupil, so they all achieve their potential in the classroom, on the sports field or through interactions with other pupils. Our teaching is excellent (as verified by the Independent Schools Inspectorate), with teachers ensuring they adapt their classes and homework to each individual and their particular needs and learning style. This is backed up with strong pastoral support for each pupil, with every child being assigned to a House, complete with Houseparent, common room and leisure/recreation facilities.

Sports and activities outside the classroom are varied and exciting and form an important part of our pupils' education - for example, we run a 'Rocket Club' where pupils get to build (and fire) their own rockets and a 'Harry Potter' club, where younger pupils mix science and magic to make their own potions and special effects! More physical activities in the shape of rock climbing and fencing are also typical amongst the 50 or so activities available.

Years 10 and above are able to carry out an overseas expedition each summer term. Pupils may also have the opportunity to participate in Round Square expeditions, carrying out community based activities in locations such as Peru, South Africa and India, as well as take part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

The school has an holistic approach to education where academic achievement is at the core of all that we do but time is given over to developing those aspects of a pupil's character which can set them apart from the crowd whether it be in the fields of sport, art, music or culture.
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What the parents say...

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2015 Good Schools Guide Awards

  • Best performance by Girls taking Visual Arts at an English Independent School (IBO Standard level component)

Curricula

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

Other features

International Study Centre - school has a linked, international study centre for overseas students wishing to improve their English.

School associations

Round Square - a network of 40 schools worldwide that share ideals such as internationalism, adventure and service.

Sports

Fencing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2014, Corydon Lowde BSc MEd NPQH (40s), previously school’s deputy head who took over following sudden departure of predecessor. Before that, nearly three years’ handy overseas experience in similar role at British International School of Boston, preceded by seven-year stint at Hampshire Collegiate School, starting career at large state comprehensive.

‘Has a vision he wants to share’ and ‘never tires of talking about what we’re doing.’ Hours he’s putting in (lots of them) paying off, thought insider. ‘School is going up.’ Was ‘gutted’ that had to speak on the phone (in hospital having wonky knee put right on day of visit) as meeting best way of ‘understanding where all that energy is coming from and where the school is going.’

Felt to be doing as good a job as anyone could manage in difficult circumstances, style reserved but friendly, reviews cautious but generally positive. ‘It’s new thing but I feel that Cory is on the right track,’ thought one parent, speaking for pretty much everyone. Overwhelming desire is that he keeps school atmosphere just the way it is. Nobody is hungry for change.

A teacher from the off (management, part of his degree, was the career that got away), he comes across as quiet, mild-mannered and slightly quirky with self-deprecating Brit humour (honed, no doubt, during own schooldays at Dragon and Frensham Heights) that must make international parents want to take him home gift-wrapped in a Burberry bag. (Should really be Duchamp, says Mr Lowde, a loyal fan of their ties, socks and, indeed, ‘pochettes’.)

Goal is school that reflects the world when it comes to nationalities (they have around 30 but no monocultures) and ability range. Would like more Brits - ‘who wouldn’t?’ he says - and is hoping rising tide of Londoners is high enough to lap against admissions desk.

When not headmastering, follows sport. Was British Karate Champion in the 1990s (not an Olympic sport – down to international wrangling). We had visions of desk being reduced to matchwood after one emphatic gesture too many but, no, it’s all neat and splinter-free.

Karate, he says firmly, is all about ‘turning search for perfection into your own personal journey - not about aggressive confrontation’ – a nothing-to-prove message that’s not million miles away from how would like school to see itself.

Academic matters

That increasingly rare sighting in them thar Surrey hills – senior school that has continued to welcome the all and sundries who, these hard-nosed, results-driven days, wouldn’t necessarily gain a place elsewhere. In circumstances, 60 per cent A*-C at A level in 2017; IB diploma average of 32; and 26 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE a tribute to quality of teaching.

While near neighbours have sought solid A grade glory, here they’ve carried on with broader ability range (many are around the national average). But school’s frequent self-referencing as ‘non-selective’ needs grain of salt. Minimally selective, yes, but everyone accepted as ‘greenies’ (blazer colour worn to year 11) needs to be capable of passing eight or nine GCSEs.

Able pupils who do deliver top grades (parents pinching themselves at children’s better than predicted results aren’t hard to come by) won’t, however, be held up as only aspirational model worth pursuing. ‘Am great believer that competition crushes one’s self-esteem,’ says head (though not when it comes to sport, where all-out drive to win is ‘about character’…).

Academically, it’s about ‘my growth, learning and success [being] made greater by your learning,’ sentiments that do him credit, as does desire for kind, empathetic colleagues. They’re well up to the job, say pupils, and palpably keen to get everyone involved. Maths department gets X Factor squared award for pupil recruitment, department head ‘a genius.’

Similar stories elsewhere. Even visitors may find themselves dredging up rusty French and Spanish greetings, courtesy of bustling, friendly language teachers who won’t take non for an answer, while we assume whiteboard spelling of ‘clergimen’ [sic] in otherwise pacey English lesson was designed to test pupils’ eye for detail.

Ethos derives in part from membership of Round Square group of schools, linked to ideals of eccentric but hugely influential educationalist Kurt Hahn, who stressed compassion coupled with ‘just do it’ mentality. (We quizzed tour guides who, impressively, were able to cite every one of key principles – and swore they hadn’t mugged up in advance…).

Extreme cleverness catered for but also support 150 pupils with SEN, from mild dyslexia to school refusers - ‘though we’re not special school,’ says head and pupils must be able to access curriculum. Helped by lowish pupil to teacher ratio (nine to one) and small class sizes (average 15 to 18 up to year 11, as few as two pupils in EAL and ISC lessons). Support includes one-to-one specialist help (normal maximum of an hour a week, mostly maths or literacy focused) and multi-sensory teaching. Will also try to help those (often with high functioning Asperger’s) struggling with social communication.

About 70 of 110 EAL pupils follow mainstream syllabus, 50 in sixth form, English studied at range of levels, from IB diploma level to IGCSE, ESOL and IELTS. Others are found among 40 plus pupils at International Study Centre who can chose from four courses aimed at 14-16ish age range, most popular the one-year intensive GCSE programme (also marketed as pre-IB).

Some ISC pupils start a year or so behind peers, about half eventually joining ‘mainstream’ pupils (school’s words, not ours). All ‘fully integrated into school life…’ says glossy literature (repeated several times for added emphasis) though some national groups stick together and school pupils can feel onus is on them to make first contact and bridge the cultural gap.

School’s best recent curriculum decision has been reintroduction of A levels, reducing at a stroke post-16 departures of the IB-averse who ‘want to stay but don’t want to take six subjects,’ says head, though they’re encouraged to opt for extras such as IB theory of knowledge, extra maths and creativity, action and service – and some do (one keen A level student was even doing IB Spanish module out of love for the subject, though skipping the exam). Staff, insouciant about extra workload involved, see dual system as best way of boosting numbers studying top subjects at top unis, particularly maths and straight sciences.

Games, options, the arts

With practice rooms open all hours (7 in the morning till 9 at night) and free instrumental taster lessons, no shortage of opportunities for 100 or so budding musicians who hone skills, some to diploma level – one so impressive that visiting top musician offered tuition on the spot.

Other hands-on subjects housed in range of (mainly original) buildings including small, cobble-paved stables minimally converted to create atmospheric and fitting home for DT, every tool’s home marked by pencilled outline on wall behind – very Patrick Caulfield. Visual arts headed by practising artist, who, paintbrush in hand, was adding final touches to own masterpiece as pupils worked around him, inspiring similarly accomplished work (our favourite among many featuring off-duty angels enjoying an off-duty cig).

Sport key to ‘holistic’ approach, though girls enjoy pinker-shaded version – holassism, perhaps? - and do netball and rounders (rugby and cricket for boys) with hockey and football in common, though pupils confident that if school would happily accommodate changes if demand was there. Frank acknowledgement that team sports ‘not for all’; new sports hall construction pencilled in to finish in mid-2018. Room to improve, thought parent, as not viewed as top priority, perceptions rubbing off on potential staff recruits (lure not yet sufficiently great to attract top talent). Results, which tend to align with levels of each intake’s innate talent, can fluctuate fairly widely from year to year. That said, manifest advantages for the keen who, with minimal numbers of school teams, can get their fill of matches, though accepted that anyone requiring high quality sporting fix and nothing but will probably end up elsewhere.

Sensible decision to offer individual fitness from year 10 when ‘almost anything is possible,’ says school, the more so as sport happens twice a week, Tuesdays and Thursdays being reserved for school activities including magic club, sign language and – a rare treat - corsetry and dressmaking class which teaches traditional panelling and boning skills and is run by passionate devotee, enthusiasm largely responsible, as with fashion and textiles GCSE, for bringing in impressive numbers of boys.

Boarders

With large numbers of full boarders (around two-thirds boys), spending priority is six boarding houses, four in the grounds, two across the (quiet) village road. House names, though full of meaning to school, have certain random quality for outsiders, Constantine named after eponymous Greek king – school patron; Ralph apparently commemorating past VIP (though sounds like rakish English take on IKEA furniture policy).

Plenty to help boarders take mind off décor difficulties. After prep on Saturdays, seniors can travel into London. Must be back by ‘2230’ [sic] (time rather than century, we assume), shopping trumping culture every time. Excellent range of trips including ‘experiences’ (Jamie Oliver and Harry Potter). One houseparent (male) runs regular pizza making sessions (‘leave dough to rise during the day, cook in the evening.’) ‘Never a dull moment,’ insists school, firmly. Boarders agree. ‘Can be almost too much going on,’ said one.

Background and atmosphere

Word du jour, judged to pack a punch in terms of punter appeal, is ‘inspiring’, writ large throughout new school video, overlaying jolly images of suitably fired up pupils fencing on the school lawn (a summer term reality, not just camera-friendly set up) or putting up tents at summit of Box Hill, buffeted by gale force winds.

There’s also much talk of holistic approach, though ‘mindfulness’, other all-purpose buzz word of choice, appears to be the meme that got away – so far. ‘Not sure why aren’t using it,’ says member of staff.

‘Stunning’ is other obvious candidate, given village setting in Mickleham, between Dorking and Leatherhead and about 20 miles from London. As pretty as they come, main building once private gothic revival Victorian house with aspirations to grandeur, full of delightful stained glass biblical scenes and window seat epidemic (even modern boarding houses are rotten with them). Newer wings tacked on at the back sufficiently sympathetic to keep the charm intact though some more elderly stand-alones have their work cut out. ‘Has the smell of an experienced building,’ says one of tour guides of modern languages block.

Original grandeur belies school’s relative youth, founded only in 1959 by Gordonstoun housemaster on principles inspired by inspirational educationalist Kurt Hahn, with much emphasis on whole pupil development (and plenty of non-Hahn inspired beatings for those failing to progress along right lines, according to one rueful 1970s-vintage OB). Now, pupils ‘will all excel at something,’ reckons school, while extending talent range to include high profile qualities such as friendship and general good egg-dom, which are ‘acknowledged though not in OTT way,’ says member of staff.

In any case, it’s Hahn-lite (don’t set them loose in all weathers on high seas: land-locked setting on Surrey Downs is against them) but ticks off must-dos: democracy, environment, adventure, leadership and service – with whole school activity week in September with camping, canoeing and rock climbing for all in Wales or New Forest. D of E – closely linked in ethos - from year 9 and just about everyone takes bronze. ‘No reason not to,’ says school, though silver and gold recruited on opt-in basis. Star attraction is trip to Philippolis, South Africa, where pupils have helped add new buildings including crèche and classrooms. ‘Proof of faith in school,’ said mother, whose son, just turned 13, had spent a month there.

Luxury goods on offer to counteract struggle with elements – 90 inch TV in new sixth form common room used for films and for pupils to ‘enjoy live streams from the Royal Shakespeare Company,’ trumpets prospectus. We’re sure they do little else (sotto voce giggling when we asked undoubtedly down to recollection of Bard’s many bon mots…). And when Titus Andronicus palls, there’s always fun of watching vast tame rodents (gerbils not rats, despite unnerving tails) rolling around in exercise balls.

Overall impression is of well-tended school with little evidence of slight messiness reported by a couple of visiting parents - nothing to do, we’re sure, with sign reading ‘GSG visit [today]. Rooms have to be very tidy…’ And so what if it’s not immaculate? ‘Don’t send son to school for the décor,’ commented mother.

Grounds undiluted gorgeousness (impressive mown stripes of grass that continued either side of small pond on back lawn giving unnerving impression that Jerry - the groundsman, and noted duck whisperer; pupils say he’s followed by family of mallards each year - can walk, or at least ride, on water).

Golden glow set to spread as governor-sanctioned spending spree continues, aided by canny bursar who ‘always has six months of staff salaries in the bank,’ and is clearly a dab hand at curbing any headmasterly dash over cash tendencies. ‘We’re strong and robust – though hate that word, makes me sound like politician,’ says head.

Now well on the way to transforming slightly dismal befores to far nicer afters. Rooms where clutter of tables and beds currently fight yellowing paint for supremacy slowly but surely transformed by attractive furniture, much of it custom created ‘by our own maintenance team’ and essential as most non-standard alcoves aren’t compatible with off the peg designs.

‘Work in progress,’ says head. Will be followed by new sports hall (biggest current absence) – local council currently dragging heels - and more space for creative arts (‘absolutely not forgotten,’ says head). Some Portakabins – some exteriors slightly shabby, interiors as well as can be expected and could be far worse - will remain.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

‘Willing to cherish the children for what they are – don’t treat them as a commodity,’ thought feeder school registrar. ‘Very open and honest, don’t sweep things under the carpet,’ agreed parent. Example is alcohol policy. If over 18, boarders can purchase but ‘carefully monitored’ – to ensure any headaches are admin, not consumption, related.

Quality of communications only widespread complaint, described with single-word pithiness by several parents fed up with night-before notifications of matches and recent music event. (Though full marks to music staff for re-running one child’s performance so late arriving mother didn’t miss out).

Other parents, however, reckoned that greater attention to termly calendars and school website would iron out most of the difficulties. Fortnightly newsletter from head also generally going down well, while more text alerts and email updates should take uncertainty out of nitty gritty-ness of who is doing what and when.

Nurturing element otherwise practically perfect, attended to with care and sensitivity. One pupil, bullied elsewhere and finding settling in hard, was cajoled out of foyer into class by head of year, now thriving. ‘Helped him become accustomed to school until he was able to let go of that helping hand for a day or two.’ Unpleasantness does happen but quickly and effectively dealt with, think parents whose children have been on receiving end. School’s ‘expose and eradicate,’ approach includes ambassadors - ‘our eyes and ears,’ says head - who report any hint of transgression, backed up by anonymous online whistleblowing.

Boarders send two reps from each of the six houses to discuss issues – often food related, with school headed by 13-strong syndicate who supervise breaks, administer tellings off for minor uniform infringements and are led by head boy and girl, known as Guardians, superhero connotations a highly successful recruitment tool. Handover speech to successors an annual tear jerker, with one post-holder ‘talking to her parents through the speech and saying how grateful she was,’ said mother, welling up all over again at the memory.

Unlike other top dogs we’ve encountered, not shy about using superpowers and will impose detentions, though not often and mainly for repeated rudeness. ‘Know when someone’s just being cheeky.’ Given incumbents’ nicknames (President Nice and Madame Fuhrer), we thought they showed commendable forbearance, though all pupil behaviour witnessed, in and out of lessons, was universally immaculate.

Pupils and parents

Parents range from diverse international community to ecstatic locals, often first time buyers, thrilled about what school has done for their children. All aware that school still seen as second choice. ‘Wrong postcode for some Reigate mums,’ said one. General sense that won’t last, though nobody’s in a hurry to add more competitive feel to a place felt to run on happiness. Boy numbers (outnumber girls two to one) and international element (around 84 per cent of boarders) also put others off, though seeing real life consequences of world events played out – one parent cited falling out of former best friends from different war zones – provides ‘amazing’ insights.

Monthly Friday teas for parents when school provides the cakes but ‘doesn’t overpower with teachers,’ said mum. Later life reunions all over the place – Hong Kong the latest when checked bustling Facebook page (as well-tended as the grounds), though plenty of alumni stay don’t move far away, careers covering eclectic range from surveyors to musicians and authors.

Entrance

Officially take into years 7 (40 places), 9 (20 places) and 12 (variable) but if there’s space, will take at other times.

Majority of pupils from 10-mile radius though extending, Kingston and Horsham (as well as thriving metropolis of Nork) all now within reach thanks to extensive bus network (6.45am start for furthest flung locations). Micklefield, Downsend, Reigate St Mary’s, Chinthurst, Aberdour, Priory Prep and Kingswood House among preps sending pupils, though no official feeders. Local primaries also well represented.

Exit

Many schools have much-trumpeted cohort who leave post-16, recognise error of ways and stage tearful prodigal son (and daughter) return, accepted with nary a ‘we told you so’. Here, parent confirms it’s the real McCoy with mother phoning Mr Lowde to ask if could have place back. ‘Missed it so much.’

Other post-16 losses, often to local sixth form colleges, partially staunched but trickle will continue, think parents, as pupils cast off 360 degree care for grittier experiences elsewhere. ‘Not a criticism of the school but tribute to confidence-building,’ pointed out mother.

Of the 40 or so percent who stay on, university entrance for most, over 80 per cent to first choice, no Oxbridge currently (though one medic in 2017) but aiming for one or two a year - no special department as ‘we’re small enough to personalise timetable where needed.’

University of Arts, Westminster, Exeter, Bristol and Royal Holloway currently popular. Subjects include business, management and economics, regular contingent each year to art and music colleges including Central St Martins and Northern Royal College. In 2017, students off to Amsterdam, Navarra and Beijing.

Money matters

Generous support for deserving families whose income range isn’t cosily clustered at top end of £ dial. Warmth of welcome and matter-of-fact help with bursary application process felt to speak volumes about school’s ethos.

Our view

Warm-hearted, encouraging school that’s easily overlooked in favour of guarantees of undiluted top grades elsewhere. ‘Not right for families who want everything in neat and tidy boxes,’ thought mother. ‘It’s not draconian here. You’re doing it because it’s what you need to succeed.’

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Special Education Needs

Box Hill has a long tradition of supporting pupils with special needs, particularly those with dyslexia. We offer tuition on site by withdrawing pupils from lessons, usually on a one to one basis on a rotational system. The majority receive one or two forty minute lessons a week. GCSE and A level students often have one, one hour lesson a week outside their academic timetable. At present, there are four specialist teachers who have well-equipped rooms. The constant liaison between the specialist teachers and all members of the teaching and House staff helps form a relaxed and effective working environment in which the pupils can maximise their potential. Nov 09.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyscalculia
Dysgraphia
Dyslexia
Dyspraxia
English as an additional language (EAL)
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
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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