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If a pig could talk, should you eat it? Does a dog know it’s a dog? These are lessons that children here wrestle with. Philosophy is big on the curriculum at Vinehall as a way of broadening education. ‘Common entrance is quite prescriptive, it’s rigorous and there’s a great volume of knowledge required, but I’m concerned that we teach children to jump through hoops. But do they think for themselves?’ Some parents work in the City but there are also families who find it more of a financial struggle, and they say there is no snobbery...

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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

What the parents say...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since September 2017 Jonathan ‘Joff’ Powis, previously deputy head and head of geography at Papplewick. Geography degree from Leeds; also has a TEFL qualification and is an ISI boarding inspector. An all-rounder, his interests range from coaching rugby, cricket and football to directing school musicals and singing tenor in the school choir. He also plays the trumpet and piano, and counts skiing, sailing, canoeing and mountain-biking amongst his hobbies.

Entrance

There’s an element of selection because all students are expected to take common entrance or the Cranbrook Grammar exam. Prospective pupils attend a taster day, and not all will be accepted. Those seeking places in year 3 upwards do a maths, English and verbal reasoning test. There are a small number of pupils with dyslexia and dyspraxia, but none with autism. This is more to do with geography than the school’s attitude – the specialist Frewen College which caters for these conditions is just five miles away.

Exit

Most popular destinations in the independent sector are Eastbourne College, Tonbridge, Sevenoaks, King's Canterbury, Benenden, Battle Abbey and Bede’s, but pupils go on to about 16 senior schools. Around 15 per cent have gone to Cranbrook Grammar at 13 each year, but this is likely to change with Cranbrook's new 11+ entry.

Our view

If a pig could talk, should you eat it? Does a dog know it’s a dog? These are lessons with which children here wrestle. Philosophy is big on the curriculum at Vinehall as a way of broadening education. ‘Common entrance is quite prescriptive, it’s rigorous and there’s a great volume of knowledge required, but we're concerned that we teach children to jump through hoops. But do they think for themselves?’ A lunchtime philosophy club has now extended to lessons in critical thinking in years 7 and 8, and 'puzzle it out' sessions for the pre-prep. It’s highly popular with parents and ‘sold the school to me,’ according to one. Others mention ‘a lot of self-directed learning, which really lights the fire’.

Staff are also working hard on turning around the school’s previous reputation as academically elitist – one mother admits that local talk almost put her off viewing the school. ‘If they are a potential scholar they will get a scholarship, but we want every child to be happy. Not every child is going to get a scholarship, it’s the minority, not the norm. Some schools put huge pressure on the children, they are driven by fear of not getting into the next school. We want to be academically excellent, but not for children to feel a failure if they find certain aspects difficult.’

The pre-prep comprises a nursery (from age 2) and kindergarten (from age 3) all housed under the same roof as reception to year 2 to enable easy transition. It’s a modern, bright building with its own hall and library and a woodland play area.

One parent with children in both parts of the school feels that the pre-prep is more traditional. 'The two environments are very different, pre-prep is very formal and structured, and I'd like to see more freedom,' she said. But the school says there has been a continuation of new innovations in pre-prep teaching, including the use of iPads, a Mandarin club, and higher-order thinking skills sessions.

The prep is situated in a Victorian mansion built by banker Tilden Smith as his family home – the head’s study has glorious views over 47 acres of school grounds and miles beyond. Corridors and staircases are lined with shields, each one representing a past pupil and his or her achievements.

There’s a separate Millennium building – with subject classrooms arranged around a hub with a library at its centre; also a computer suite, science block, music building, and art, design and technology centre. Subject specific classrooms are used from year 5. Years 7 and 8 have a scholarship form and two mixed ability common entrance forms, with setting for maths.

Reporting back to parents is thorough. There’s an 'industry card' each half-term, which reports on how hard a child is working only, with full reports at the end of term. A system called 'classroom monitor' breaks subjects into component parts so that parents and teachers can be better informed about specifics to work on – in maths it might say, for example, that a child is good at co-ordinates, but finds algebra difficult.

One third of the pupils receive some form of learning support, which can range from work on posture using Swiss balls, because it can help concentration, to one-to-one support in lessons.

‘The calibre of staff in the prep is outstanding,’ said a parent. And all the parents praise the prompt attention to any worries. ‘I had an issue this morning, they emailed back half an hour later, and it was done and dusted in an hour,’ said one.

Everyone studies drama, and productions are staged in a theatre which could grace a small town - it has all the professional equipment and a 250 seat auditorium.

Sports facilities include an indoor swimming pool and a nine hole golf course. School is now ‘very sporty’, say parents.There are rugby tours, and teams take part in the National Schools Indoor Rowing League. Girls’ provision has been revitalised, and they're now winning more matches.

No more Saturday morning school for year 7 and 8s – a previous bugbear for some children and parents. Instead, there is an optional enrichment programme for years 3 to 8 – including sports, crafts, and subjects such as astronomy, media and philosophy.

School day now shortened - lessons finish at 4.30pm with optional activity programme including supervised prep (whoopee, say parents) until the school buses leave at 5.25pm.

The school attracts a number of international boarders (around 45 per cent). Full boarding is available from year 3, but junior boarders (years 3 to 6) have the option to board for four nights a week, while year 7 and 8 can opt for full or weekly boarding. There’s also temporary boarding for occasional nights. ‘I like it that they don’t push boarding too much and you aren’t deemed second class if you’re not a boarder,’ one mother commented.

Minibuses bring local children in from all points of the compass including Hastings, Eastbourne, Lamberhurst, Mayfield, Heathfield and Cranbrook. Some parents work in the City but there are also families who find it more of a financial struggle, and they say there is no snobbery. Those who have transferred from the state sector say it’s been seamless and they’ve felt welcome.

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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