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Many parents fresh from pressurised London preps may struggle initially with the comparatively relaxed Cumnor environment - ‘you don’t know at what level everyone else’s child is reading,’ said one startled mum. Take a deep breath, parents: your kids are not going to be constantly tested, so you won’t receive that reassuring stream of test results as evidence that they are progressing nicely towards the senior school of choice. Saturday school on alternate weekends, which children seem happy with (though some parents would prefer a lie in, and more…

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What the school says...

Cumnor House Sussex is one of the country’s leading private Preparatory day and boarding schools for 2-13 year-old boys and girls. Situated in Mid-Sussex, in the village of Danehill, the School is centrally located for travelling within Sussex and is within easy reach of London.

The day that a child steps into Cumnor House Sussex is the start of their journey of discovery. From the Nursery (2-4 year olds), through to the Pre-Prep School (4-8 year olds) and Prep School (8-13 year-olds), Cumnor House Sussex provides a safe and unhurried childhood for active and ambitious children who have the opportunity to learn in state-of-the-art facilities; form close friendships within a nurturing, family environment; and explore and climb trees within the school’s 65-acre surroundings in the heart of the Ashdown Forest.

Our caring, specialist teachers pride themselves on tapping into each child’s individual talent; encouraging and enabling them to reach their personal potential, both inside and outside the classroom. The range of leading senior independent schools that our children move onto and the number of Scholarships achieved is testament to their ability to succeed.

In 2016, 50 children moved onto 18 different senior schools and achieved 33 Awards and Scholarships across Academic, Sport, Art, DT, Drama and Music. Of the current Year 8 children moving on in September 2017, 41 out of 49 are sitting 64 Scholarships to 22 different senior schools.

The Cumnor House Sussex motto - "Aim High, Be Kind, Dare to be Different" - encourages us to seek the best in, and for, each individual child during their time with us and as we help shape their core values for life beyond school.
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What the parents say...

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2001, Christian Heinrich BA PGCE (40s). Degrees from Kent and Oxford. Previously housemaster, then deputy head, at Summer Fields. ISI Inspector, IAPS appraiser of fellow heads, and chairman of the Boarding Schools Association in 2013, so plenty of insight into schools at all levels. Confident, and very sure of his approach to childhood and education: ‘If a child is happy, education takes care of itself.’ Described by pupils as fair, fun and someone who ‘doesn’t get unreasonably cross.’ Most important quality for pupils to achieve in their time at Cumnor House: consideration. Loves films, skiing and wine; takes great joy in picking the bottles for post-parents’ evening jollies.

Parents are very enthusiastic about him: ’Incredibly kind and supportive of kids – particularly those who struggle’; ‘Easy to see when you want to’. ‘Radical and brave…in that he works for the kids and not the parents,’ added one parent thoughtfully, giving the example of his support for strong story lines in year 8 film making: a recent film told of a child desperate to win a swimming gala who practises all night and drowns. It was felt parents might not be able to stomach this ending, and a parent version was filmed in which the child comes up for a breath. Parents might find it difficult to accept the extraordinary level of pressure to succeed that can be absorbed by children - but the head and pupils here are fully cognisant, and the head does what he can to relieve the pressure.

Married to Belinda, who teaches French in the pre-prep; they have four children.


Non-selective in early years; thereafter selection of those most likely to be fully involved in school life. Prospective pupils join in for a day to be observed for fit, with interviews for the occasional candidate for year 6 or above. Most join in nursery or year 3, but there’s a healthy smattering in other years up to year 5. No waiting list as such; but they’ll only show you around if there’s a space. Two full means-tested bursaries for talented (academic and/or sport and creative arts) pupils joining year 4, covering 100 per cent of fees up to 18 at one of the partner schools (these are Ardingly, Benenden, Eastbourne College, Hurstpierpoint College, King's Canterbury, Lancing College, Mayfield, Radley, Roedean, St Mary’s Ascot, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Worth) - apply by April to join in September.



To a large variety of senior schools (30+), with Hurstpierpoint most popular recently, then Cranleigh and Brighton College, Ardingly and Charterhouse. In directing children towards schools, considers not just whether they can meet the academic requirements, but also whether they’re sufficiently emotionally robust to cope with life at the school in question.

Our view

Beautiful setting in the Sussex countryside overlooking the downs. Buildings range from the charming to the unremarkable, in a village-like cluster. The core of the school was once a farmhouse, and some feel of this remains, with the carcass of a barn, formerly a splendid all-weather outdoor area, recently revamped into 'music HQ', and a new science, technology, engineering and maths centre called The Peake. Lush green grounds, and large pond to row over in the Cumnor boat, or swing over on a rope (it’s drained and cleaned and carefully tested for any virulent bacteria first, assured the head’s wife).

Main entrance has been recently modernised and leads into the slightly scuffed country house hotel-type interior – parquet floor and log fire, and a few Famous Five books on a window sill by a sofa. Lego table and 70s sweets jigsaw on the go. ‘Another genius from Cumnor’ cushions - to reassure existing parents, or perhaps tempt prospective ones?

Common room with a log fire, couple of pool tables and newspapers (including Times and Independent) - not read at the time of our tour, but perhaps flicking through the papers comes later in the day. Award-winning art work on the walls, and a long piece of paper where pupils had drawn self-portraits in the style of Quentin Blake to celebrate World Book Day. A new library area provides a welcome space for peace and calm.

Pre-prep is a cosy separate entity that particularly attracted one mum, who remembers fondly the special mothers’ day celebration in reception, children presenting mums with handpicked flowers wrapped in foil, then escorting them into school for special cakes and poems - ‘very simple and lovely.’

‘Academic, but not pushy academic,’ says the head. Certainly a school which achieves a goodly number of scholarships, but not, in atmosphere or method, like a prep with an eye on the prize for the duration. Many parents fresh from pressurised London preps may struggle initially with the comparatively relaxed Cumnor environment - ‘you don’t know at what level everyone else’s child is reading,’ said one startled mum. Take a deep breath, parents: your kids are not going to be constantly tested, so you won’t receive that reassuring stream of test results as evidence that they are progressing nicely towards the senior school of choice. I have to tell them to trust us, says the head – ‘children are meant to be enjoying themselves and having fun.’

So things don’t get really serious until years 7 and 8, when a scholarship set comes into being. The focus shifts somewhat towards achieving the desirable scholarships, and others start preparing for common entrance.

Usual range of subjects, with children being put into sets from year 5. Just French and Latin on the languages front - Latin is the basis of European languages, says the head, and teaches logic which can apply to other subjects, giving a derisive snort in passing to other schools’ cosmetic glance at Mandarin. Careful consideration of the timetable, which is broken up so kids are not using their brains in the same way for long periods of time - pre-prep dance outside before each maths lesson. No one model fits all - so if there is good reason for the usual school curriculum not to apply to a child, then an exception will be made.

Not much prep until year 7: just vocab and spelling, which could be learnt in the bath or around the dinner table, and reading, occasionally left undone - ‘I don’t read on Friday nights as mummy and daddy have gin and tonic,’ said a child in year 1.

Year 7 and 8s all have iPads for use during lessons, purchased by parents in an optional scheme (‘you didn’t have to sign up, but if everyone else was going to have one…’). No social media or unsuitable apps.

Learning support is excellent, and not only provides support to (around 30) pupils with special needs, but also to those who just need a bit of extra help now and then. There’s an educational psychologist on the staff, who observes classes, and deals with any emotional problems suffered by pupils which may be exacerbated by school, from separation anxiety to bereavement. No extra charge for counselling or one-to-one learning support. Additional charges for extras such as speech therapy.

Saturday school on alternate weekends, which children seem happy with (though some parents would prefer a lie in, and more family time).

School motto - ‘aim high, be kind and dare to be different’ - permeates everything, said one parent: apparently the head girl's and boy's job is to make sure everyone is happy at break time, and no one is being left out; so it comes as no surprise that the pastoral care is very thorough: regular full staff pastoral care meetings where every child’s name is read out, and their welfare considered, and a new well-being curriculum programme. Form teachers are the first port of call for difficulties until year 5, after which each child has a tutor whom they meet twice once a week to talk about everything and anything. School policy on bullying is to make sure children understand what bullying behaviour is, and ask them to blow the whistle: senior children attend the ABC committee (Anti-Bullying Committee) every week to report on anyone they are worried about. One parent whose child experienced bullying behaviour said it was dealt with quickly and efficiently, and also praised the presence of ‘gappers’ (gap year students), who she said could pick up on things teachers might not get to hear.

C of E, but not evangelically so. Exposure to the most valuable tenets of faith with a bohemian touch: daily prayers described by head as also a school silence - a time for a loud school to be silent and consider things (there is a cheery noise as kids move around here, but children are friendly and well mannered).

The school shares facilities in the local community, and links with a local primary each year. The head is setting up the Cumnor certificate (own brand D of E), which will involve years 7 and 8 working in the local community, and being part of drama workshops with younger pupils from local primaries.

Food is ‘amazing’ say kids - apparently there are no adjectives which can do justice to the wraps. In-house custard creams and jammy dodgers bulge with cream and jam and were startlingly yummy to those of us used to the pedestrian version (they’ve got an award winning pastry chef). Well, if the cushions didn’t do it for you…

Occupations, as clubs are called at Cumnor, range from boules to calligraphy, and vary each term. Cinematography described in detail by enthusiastic kids - ‘it makes you look at films in a completely different way.’ There’s a waiting list for cooking, but everyone gets a turn eventually. Year 8 learn to cook a three course meal as a post-exam treat.

The ‘co-curriculum’ (sports and arts) is given equal rather than ornamental value here (‘they find out what every child has going for them,’ said a parent).

Sport is for awareness, commitment and health - and everyone: a poor, enthusiastic player will be in teams all the way through, playing matches most weeks. ‘It’s nice to win,’ said a pupil; but it’s not the only or main purpose of sport here. No A, B or C teams until year 7: teams change from week to week, and the make-up of teams depends on whom they are playing. Lots of it - up to seven sessions a week, including swimming. Ample playing fields and courts with views over the rolling downs, and a new Olympic size Astroturf. Swish indoor swimming pool, old chilly outdoor version.

Art is ‘exceptional,’ said one parent. Housed in a barn-like room with high beams, glass doors and space to hang strange colourful objects. Secured the two top prizes in the Royal College of Art Young Art Exhibition last year.

All learn a musical instrument – it can be dropped in year 7 to make way for the demands of common entrance and scholarships, though many continue. Eight instrumental groups, from orchestra to the sort-of-samba group.

Each year from year 3 upwards does an annual production, Shakespeare being the year 8 remit (one heavyweight, one adapted comedy for those with less Olivier inclinations) to be performed in the mossy green outdoor theatre. Everything from Snow White to Oh! What a Lovely War in the years below.

The uniform and sports kit is good quality but expensive - one parent complained indignantly at the cost of school sweatshirts; but there’s some second hand provision in the uniform shop. Sports kit is laundered by the school, much to the joy of parents.

Boarding is possible from year 7: 30+ full timers (although all go home every other weekend), and up to 50 flexi boarders, who spend a few nights every week at school. ‘They are completely flexible,’ said one grateful parent. Tremendously popular with pupils, several of whom commented on their difficulty persuading their mums they were old enough - ‘but it’s so fun.’ Lots of activities: preparations for Dragons' Den were under way, not to mention Marlborough Murders, Friday night is magic night and day trips at the weekends. So much going on that on just one night in the summer term did boarders watch anything on TV. Gappers help make the boarding experience really fun, said one parent: they’re always there to play a game and provide an injection of energy and enthusiasm.

Rooms are for five, and cosy: four beds at ground level, and one bunk. Bathrooms are clean and up to date. Parents like the proximity of houseparents (described by parents as ‘warm and welcoming’ and ‘extremely efficient’), and the easy access pupils have to gappers, who have rooms on each corridor, and are the first point of call in the night.

Fruit is always available, and there’s a pantry where boarders can make tea, toast and hot drinks (with gappers’ help). Obligatory weekly letter writing, and phones available for making calls in the evening or at break time - parents and pupils were happy this was sufficient. No Skype, iPads or mobiles allowed (‘they get technology soon enough,’ said one parent). Useful experience for those who move onto boarding senior schools. Currently no overseas boarders.

Parents around 30 per cent London, the rest local, mostly professionals or city types. Not cliquey, said one parent, outgoing and sociable, inclusive of newcomers, with an imminent buddy system to match new parents with old. Parents are encouraged to use the swimming pool and join the zumba class – ‘not a drop and go school.’ Indeed coffee and croissants are available every morning in the dining room after drop off. ‘Parents should certainly not worry about being lonely in the country.’

New nursery open 7am-7pm 50 weeks a year, available to the whole community. Pyjama-clad children can be delivered in time to have breakfast alongside the older boarders and then picked up ready for bed at night.

Special Education Needs

School's description of their SEN provision:

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
English as an additional language (EAL)
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
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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