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Lessons we observed were fun, inclusive and challenging – a hard trio to achieve but less so with a class of 10, perhaps. Evening activities include silent reading, film nights with popcorn, board games and even shoe polishing (try suggesting that at home…). The no mobiles, laptops, iPads (basically, no screens) rule is, as far as we could tell, no big deal and so much easier than trying to control limited access. Boys accept the policy and parents love it. They’re not quite so keen when...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2011, Mr Giles Tollit BA (40s). Tall and lean, reminded us a little of Bryan Ferry in his salad days. Seems reserved at first but soon unbends and shows a nice, dry sense of humour. Educated at Holmewood House in Kent and then Sevenoaks, where he was an academic scholar. Initially destined for a career in the military, he studied classics at Bristol on an army bursary. Took gap year job at a prep where he was expecting to teach Latin in a fairly junior capacity, but before term started found himself head of classics. Such a fiery baptism would have been enough to turn a lesser chap off teaching, but it had the opposite effect on Mr Tollit, and Sandhurst’s loss turned out to be preps’ gain. Ten years at Caldicott and thence to Bilton Grange as deputy head. He’s ‘delighted to be back in an all boys boarding school’ (he loved his own time at prep) and certain about the positive benefits of a sector he believes suffers from outdated stereotypes. Not that he has to sell boarding to the parents he meets; they’ve all done it themselves. Describes school, memorably, as being ‘not dissimilar to a cruise ship; doors close at the start of each term and off we go.’

Mr Tollit teaches Latin and Greek and helps the scholars polish their skills in debating, logic and philosophy, he ‘mucks in’ as necessary and takes year 8 camping at his house in North Wales after exams. Describes HH as a ‘seven day a week’ school and is unconvinced by flexi-boarding, which he feels is sometimes the worst of both worlds. A former UK shot, he has introduced clay pigeon shooting and a rifle range is planned. He’s also a keen photographer and, because 26 miles just isn’t enough of a challenge, an ultramarathon runner.

Married to Molly, also a classicist, whom he met at university. It seems that three young sons aren’t enough for Molly, who has turned her energies to transforming part of a field in the school grounds into a thriving kitchen garden. Establishing one at their former school, Bilton Grange, taught her ‘what works and what doesn’t’ and HH is reaping the rewards.

Parents think the Tollits have brought energy to the school and like the fact they have their own family. They have total faith in Mr Tollit, think he knows their boys incredibly well and praise his (and rest of staff’s) swift response to calls and emails. Boys think head needs to be ‘a bit more relaxed’ but like the fact he’s introduced clay pigeon shooting.

Entrance

From age 7. No exam ‘as such’. Head meets all prospective parents. Boys have informal interview with the head, simple maths and English assessment and spend a day, a year before entry for those pre-registered. Mr Tollit says he’s ‘not looking for superstars’; boys are observed to see how they interact and whether they are comfortable being ‘in the academic spotlight’ of such small classes. Years 3-6 can be day or boarding; years 7-8 boarding only (does not take new entrants to year 8).

Exit

Nearly all to senior boarding schools. Recently: Winchester, Radley, Eton, Harrow, Sherborne, Marlborough.

Our view

Founded in 1888 to prepare boys for entry to Winchester, Horris Hill is set in 80 acres of wooded heathland on the borders of Berkshire and Hampshire. You’ll need your satnav first time round so as not to miss the quaint wooden signpost directing you down an unpromisingly narrow lane; it’s almost as though only those who need to will find their way here.

One of Horris Hill’s idiosyncrasies is that it doesn’t do year groups, it does ‘termly remove’. Boys are placed in small classes (average 12) according to the progress they are making and remain there until they have mastered all their subjects to the requisite level. It might sound like a nightmare to organise but head says the maximum discrepancy between similar age boys is ‘a couple of terms either way’. A boy’s performance is reviewed via ‘form order' (mark, position and effort grade) every three weeks, and at the end of term he stays or moves up accordingly. It’s an unusual (possibly unique) system and only feasible in a school of this size (max 130) and age group. Besides accommodating summer birthdays, advantages are no B stream, no individual subject setting and ongoing challenges for both brightest and less able. According to Mr Tollit, it’s as close as you can get to an education that is customised to each boy’s needs. Arrangement is only for academic work; boys are grouped by age for sport, dorms etc. Parents all in favour, say it’s great both for confidence and humility as boys are usually towards the lower end during first term and nearer the top in the second. The consensus is that the system works, even if one or two parents admitted they didn’t entirely understand it.

Lessons we observed were fun, inclusive and challenging – a hard trio to achieve but less so with a class of 10, perhaps. Subject classrooms are named after senior schools: Winchester, Harrow, Eton, Radley etc. It took a bit of getting used to seeing such an age range, but the boys’ enthusiasm and rapport with teachers was inspiring. In geography, impressive answers to quick fire questions were rewarded with chocolate; in the next classroom we thought we’d come across boys being punished but discovered that immersion in French pop music is a great way to practise listening and vocab. In the DT workshop, small boys in enormous aprons were busy sanding and drilling – some with more finesse than others. Was there anything, we asked, that they would like to change at their school? Extra free time was one suggestion, as was getting rid of second prep (senior boys do this after supper). Most popular idea was being able to bring small pets to school, something we mentioned to Mr Tollit, who promised to consider the proposal. Few boys with SEN – dyslexia, dyspraxia – receive support but this isn’t the place for those with more than mild problems.

The no mobiles, laptops, iPads (basically, no screens) rule is, as far as we could tell, no big deal and so much easier than trying to control limited access. Boys write weekly letters and may email/Skype from the house computer. As a teacher observed, if the no screens policy were to change, ‘it would mean more rules.’ Boys accept the policy and parents love it. They’re not quite so keen when, for instance, CE results come out and they can’t talk to their sons because the boarding house telephone is engaged – surely room for a little more 21st century communication technology here? This is a school where ‘live’ notice boards mean that someone changes the pictures and display on the wall in the dining hall corridor several times a day. There aren’t smartboards in every classroom, although those we saw were being creatively employed; boys treasure the one or two teachers who spurn their use. Science labs, art and DT rooms have all the necessaries in a charmingly scruffy, no frills style. By contrast, a high tech rooftop weather station relays the prevailing conditions to a screen outside the geography room.

Sensible uniform features navy blue cords – either trousers or shorts, boys can decide. Apparently ‘some boys wear shorts even when it snows.’ Sartorial democracy extends to choice of tie as well. Long morning and lunch breaks allow plenty of time to work in the kitchen garden, ride bikes (boys can bring own), play outside in the meadows, make dens and have adventures in their own bosky dominion (known as ‘Spain’ because it’s roughly the same shape). Nowhere is out of bounds but pupils mustn’t go off alone. Camping out and cooking in the woods is one of the ultimate post-CE treats. Juniors have their own wood, ‘too tame for us,’ said our super confident year 8 guides. One of the characteristics of HH is the amount of personal freedom pupils enjoy, finely balanced by the equivalent expectation of personal responsibility. Boys organise their own activities (or sign up), recording where they are on a notice board so that everybody knows.

Youngest boarders (age 7-9) have lovely rooms in the ‘private side’ above the head’s family quarters, with teddies on beds and lots of posters. Evening activities include silent reading, film nights with popcorn, board games and even shoe polishing (try suggesting that at home…). Numbers are small so things are flexible; if it’s hot they can have a swim, if everyone’s exhausted they go to bed early. Gappies ‘bridge the gap’ between boys and staff and are, as always, very popular. What about the homesick, we ask? Of course it happens, but staff are vigilant and boys support each other, telling tutors if they’re worried about someone. ‘You feel awkward at first,’ our guides said, ‘but it only lasts a week.’

Lots of younger teachers with families live on site, married couples head up the boarding houses, but after the junior forms most of the teaching staff are men. This notwithstanding, the traditional boys’ own atmosphere prevails and is what many, especially army families, treasure. There are a few local day boys who are ‘building up to boarding’, rest may go home after matches on Saturday until Sunday evening (except first and last weekend of term) but most stay, ‘or you miss too much fun.’ That fun includes cross country cycling, tree running, kite flying and ghost stories round the campfire. A parent praised the ‘pater’ system that pairs new boys with older boys and said that these cross age friendships are kept up throughout school. Older boys move on to one of two Edwardian houses a short walk across the playing fields. Four bed rooms are very comfortably furnished with home duvets, posters, beanbags and lovely soft carpet. Fruit bowl and toaster fill the gaps between meals, all of which are eaten in school dining room. Everyone, staff and pupils, sits down together at large tables, boys serve the food. Head v keen on benefits of ‘interaction across a table’.

Spacious and well designed music school can accommodate all for studio theatre or concert performances. Twenty six practice rooms means there’s no excuse for not getting down to scales and arpeggios after breakfast. Parts for all in ‘fantastic’ music and plays. Main venue for drama, assemblies etc is rather tired windowless sports hall, not enhanced by pervasive whiffy trainer smell, but never fear, Mr Tollit is on the case and this part of the school is undergoing complete refurbishment. As he says, ‘HH is not a flash school’, but a shooting range, climbing wall and upgraded squash courts are on the way. Interestingly, it seemed to us that there was less of an obsession with organised sport and winning here than at other similar schools. Plenty of options: usuals plus hockey, squash, tennis, sailing, golf, fencing. Boys think cricket and football are what they’re best at and all get to represent school in something. Parents come and watch matches, although it’s a long round trip if you live in London. Swimming pool is outdoors (very) with wooden changing huts – all a bit basic but doubtless character building. One of the school’s ‘quite old fashioned secret things’ is the modelling and train room, a glue and paint besmattered garret where Warhammer enthusiasts create their miniature worlds and model railway buffs of all ages can operate trains and signals.

With a maximum of 130 pupils, quite a few who are siblings, the parent body is small, self selecting and fiercely supportive. Although it’s in a wealthy part of the country, HH is definitely not (outwardly at least), a smart school. Parents are welcomed to plays, concerts, matches and Sunday evening chapel and there are social events such as fathers' and sons' cricket matches and mothers' and sons' tennis, but there’s no PTA, sports day or speech day. One father, who had considered London day schools for his sons, spoke of the way in which HH ‘preserves innocence’ – not just by absence of personal technology but also because full boarding means boys develop a camaraderie that is not influenced by each others’ possessions or houses. On a more practical level, parents love the fact that all sports kit is provided, washed and maintained by the school.

Horris Hill is such a distinctive school it’s unlikely you could choose it by mistake; proud to be different, it epitomises the very best prep school traditions without being pompous or rigid. HH boys are confident but not precocious; they think for themselves but aren’t arrogant. There’s room for big characters but a shy child won’t be trampled underfoot; academic success is important but not to the exclusion of other talents. As another happy parent told us, ‘it’s a hidden gem.’

Special Education Needs

Horris Hill is not a school that specializes in Special Needs provisions. We have a SENCo and provide additional help for boys who need it. For further information please contact the school.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
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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