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Vinehall is non selective, but feeds a number of the big name senior schools by focusing, the head says, on high quality teaching, small classes (around 15) and high expectations. ‘We are incredibly strong with slower attainers’, he said. Parents too were keen to emphasis this: ‘irrespective of level, they cater for your child … differentiate [between abilities] ... and the kids are unaware’. Pupils are clear that ability doesn’t matter: ‘as long as...'

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What the school says...

Vinehall is a school with a very friendly family feel, mixing family values with a modern, forward-looking approach, promoting a positive, 'have-a-go' attitude and strong communication skills. There are plenty of opportunities to take on responsibility and there is an active school council. The atmosphere is friendly and purposeful and all kinds of achievements are celebrated so that each child can feel valued within the community. The school provides outstanding facilities, including a theatre, gymnasium, a magnificent sports hall, indoor swimming pool, golf course, all-weather pitch, 50 acres of grounds in the beautiful Sussex countryside and an impressive library. Boarding is a popular option especially in the final two years and the door is open to highly sought after places in major Public Schools when children move on at thirteen. The school's musical and artistic traditions are strong, with plenty of opportunities for performance and display. The sporting record is excellent and all pupils are encouraged to represent the school. Although non-selective, academic standards are high, and Vinehall is proud of its outstanding scholarship record to a range of well-known Public Schools. A beautifully designed, purpose-built nursery and pre-prep are on site close to the main building. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2017, Jonathan (Joff) Powis (BSc geography, Leeds) married to Liz with four children at Vinehall. Previously deputy head at Papplewick. A family man - we saw assorted wellies lying on their sides in his study. Opens school doors to families too - welcomed everyone to play in the grounds when it snowed.

One of his first priorities was to find more time for pupils to play, which he has done by extending break times and cutting back prep (quality, not quantity). Parents approve: ‘Brilliant … new energy, new ideas ’; ‘Very present … can talk to him. Open door policy … encourages people in’. Pupils say assemblies are fun and describe Mr Powis as ‘kind and supportive’. More importantly still: ‘he brought conkers to the school’.

Entrance

Non-selective. Taster day or overnight stay, as relevant. Informal testing in English and maths from year 3 to ensure academic needs can be met.

Exit

Pupils depart to a range of schools, including Benenden, Bede’s, Brighton College, Charterhouse, Eastbourne College, Eton, King’s Canterbury, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge and Worth.

Our view

Many parents are attracted to Vinehall as a rural prep school, but it’s more than this: ‘I had a visceral reaction,’ said one mum, ‘I had to send children there. [It was the] combination of intellectual curiosity, and [their] interest in the children’.

Vinehall is non-selective, but feeds a number of the big name senior schools by focusing, the head says, on high quality teaching, small classes (around 15) and high expectations. ‘We are incredibly strong with slower attainers’. Parents too were keen to emphasis this: ‘irrespective of level, they cater for your child … differentiate [between abilities]... and the kids are unaware’. Pupils are clear that ability doesn’t matter, ‘as long as you do your best and are improving, it doesn’t matter where you are’.

The head has shaken up the curriculum, replacing CE humanities with thematic learning of social and natural history for years 7 and 8: 'More relevant and stimulating’, he says, adding that the changes will give children a sense of place and purpose. Year 7s are currently studying conflict, planet earth and equality and rights, ‘really fun topics’, say the children, instead of battling through the Tudors yet again.

Prospective engineers would find a home here, with STEM subjects introduced from year 5, and the head is keen to introduce a STEM method into all subjects - ‘to have time to go back to the design if things aren’t working out’. It seems pigs might fly here - a papier-mâché porker certainly appears to be in the lobby next to the slick new science labs.

Pupils of all ages enjoy working in the outdoor classroom, a tepee in the woods. Children particularly enjoy the teamwork exercises - ‘making dens and setting up tents in the pouring rain’, said one enthusiastically.

Parents say teachers know their children well; pupils describe them as ‘supportive and friendly - within limits’. ’You’re expected to get it once it’s been explained twice’, said another, ‘but you can always ask your friends’.

Pre prep is bursting with colour; it’s set in a building on its own, and makes full use of the surrounding outside space for play and growing vegetables. It’s a place of fun and exploration; they have stories and marshmallows on camp fire Fridays, and all sorts of adventures in between - on the day of our visit, smiling older pupils in wellies waited to greet tiny pre-school visitors, and assist them on their bear hunt in the grounds. Learning is evidently rigorous too: year 1 were learning how to structure an essay, and insert the right key words; a year 2 maths class were diligent and industrious. ‘They get really good results, but don’t feel stressed and pressurised’, said a parent.

There are around 20 pupils on the SEN/EHC register, some of whom have dyslexia. One parent describing how their child’s quirky spelling was remedied by extra spelling sessions for a term. Group help and one-to-one are available, and they’ll also help at parental request. The unit is justly proud that five children with LS help got scholarships to their senior schools last year.

The main house is 19th century with some modern additions, such as the library. It's a lovely place to work, with its high gallery and light pouring in from the skylight above. ‘Equations are painted on the steps in the library …someone thought about it’, said a parent with pleasure. Pupils' art is widely displayed, ‘every child has something somewhere’, says the head.

The dining hall is not the most elegant part of the school, but we liked the bright autumn leaf print oilcloths on the tables and the happy chatter of the children enjoying good food. Grace depends on the teacher - a singing grace with one, a Latin grace with another. Not all pupils are happy with healthy food revisions, some feeling carrot sticks and humus are not substantial enough a snack, but winter break time soup is very popular.

Pupils change from smart uniform into scruff at break time: trainers, wellies and tracksuit for mucking around and getting muddy. They all tumble out of doors, those seeking quiet preferring the melon garden, with its trees and pond, others racing around the lawns.

Children protested at the planned demolition of the monkey bush, their favourite climbing tree, fort and lair (an old spreading rhododendron), and the new adventure playground will be built around it. ‘They tell us if they want something’, said the head. Indeed the food committee got results: their request for more fruit was answered by kiwi fruit and dragon fruit at break time the next day. School council successfully bid for water fountains, a PJ day and a toy shed: ‘they listen most of the time’, say pupils.

Parents also feel this is a listening school, and appreciate the way the head dealt with an unfortunate school advertisement involving a Jaguar: a quick formal apology, then renewed focus on the school’s real message, described by a parent as: ‘Not about showing off the school, but making the child happy and confident’.

This school works hard to encourage children to be kind. In the Lenten friends scheme, everyone picks a name of another pupil or teacher from a hat, with the job of being subtly kind to that person for the duration of Lent. The spring term is full of children glancing both ways before hanging dropped coats on pegs, or secretly tidying lockers. Things are a bit harder if you get a teacher …

Children choose which charities they want to support, and will soon be participating in a scheme to cook for the homeless in Hastings, though there is, says the head, too much poverty there for them to deliver it themselves.

One child has been excluded in the last year, a last straw offence concerning online material. Bullying is dealt with promptly, says the head, the sanction depending on child’s understanding. He prefers a light touch. Detention is a time for a reflection, and might be spent writing a letter of apology to the person offended. Pupils said they would report bullying directly to teachers; one, who thought this would be daunting, said she would put any concerns about bullying in the worries box. Or get her parents to email in. ‘You can feel safe at school’, she said.

Children are well cared for by the pastoral team, which includes external counsellors and a full-time school nurse. We heard examples of careful and attentive support. One parent described how her child, new to the school, was struggling, and the school’s immediate response was to organise lunchtime social groups to encourage friendships to grow. A prize won outside school was presented to him in assembly so he became the new kid with the gold medal. ‘Remarkable’, said the parent. ‘Handled organically and socially and with optimism’.

It’s a small boarding contingent, but one to which the school is committed; of the 35 full time boarders, 25 are from overseas. ‘[The] mixture of culture and languages adds a lot to the community’, says the head. ‘It’s the future workplace’. Most start in year 5 or 6, but they will accept younger boarders with older siblings. A year 3 boarder, homesick at first, now flings arms around matron whenever he sees her. Part-time and flexi-boarding also possible, last minute availability pleasing busy parents. Many pupils opt to board on Wednesdays for movie and tuck night. At weekends, pupils take over the home economics room to cook their home country’s cuisine, and enjoy trips out of school, such as scavenger hunts, ice skating and cinema.

Dorms have glorious views over the Sussex countryside, and good quality fittings, with beds and bunks for younger ones, and seven or eight to a very tidy room (marks out of 10 daily). They are in the process of revamping; plush new carpets and tables in those done. A boy who likes to sleep alone has a room to himself, with only occasional flexi-boarders in the other beds. Parties in the common room on your birthday, with a golden ticket for boarders to give a free night’s stay to a day pupil friend.

There is a house system, and pupils sit on house tables at lunch time, but as the head said, ‘we don’t overplay it’. Still, there are house matches at the end of term, and at this sporty school, pupils have games every afternoon. Parents say they are good at most sports, and exceptional at athletics, gymnastics and swimming.

As a small school, there are no subs on lines; all pupils are playing, and in mixed ability teams (they have close communication with rivals about ability levels to make matches enjoyable, says the head). Everyone can choose between cricket and tennis in the summer term, and girls play football, although not yet in fixtures.

Several families were attracted to the school for its range of opportunities - ‘they try so much as well as academic…’ There’s an indoor heated swimming pool, and nine hole golf course; a dance studio and even carpentry sheds; it’s extremely popular here; part of the curriculum, and a club too, if you’re quick off the mark. We saw year 4s carefully making bedside tables, although one boy said cheerfully, ‘I’m rubbish at woodwork, so I’m making a pirate ship’.

There are plenty of opportunities for drama, and other varieties of performance: pupils in the pre-prep do English Speaking Board tests, and the final of the poetry by heart competition in the prep is in front of the school. ‘You do worry about people judging you’, said a pupil, ‘but you’re told to be a nice audience, and people are quite generous and supportive’.

Musicians are well catered for; there’s an orchestra of 100 that accommodates a wide range of abilities. Everyone is in the school choir, even reception children, and the non-selective senior choir includes teachers and children. One parent whose child wasn’t enjoying learning the violin any more was about to end lessons, the school suggested he practise with another pupil and he started to enjoy it again. ‘Quite a personal touch’, said the parent, ‘[They] take a lot of time unpicking things’.

Parents think most children would thrive here and that it is great for busy families: ‘I have a complex working life - Vinehall are remarkably flexible and make it possible. It's a very easy place for modern life’.

Bursarial awards of up to 50 per cent available from year 3. Scholarships up to 10 per cent.

Special Education Needs

In line with The SEN Code of Practice provision is made on a withdrawal basis for any child who fails to make consistent progress in reading, writing, spelling or maths. This includes assessments for strengths and weaknesses, and on-going monitoring. The overall aim is to enable children with special educational needs to gain access to the curriculum and help them succeed and gain confidence by using appropriate learning strategies. Other Specific Learning Difficulties - Sensory Processing Disorder. 09-09

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
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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