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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 11.7 (!) but much smaller in the final year) according to the progress they are making and remain there until they have mastered all their subjects to the requisite level. Organic kitchen garden, run by boys and parents, provides fruit, veg, eggs and pork - the school raised five Hampshire Black piglets last year (resulting in an agreeable hog roast at the father-son cricket)...

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2011, Giles Tollit BA (40s). 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. Ten years at Caldicott and thence to Bilton Grange as deputy head. 2021 chairman-elect of the BSA.

Keeping a boys-only boarding prep at full sail in the 21st century is not the easiest of tasks, but Mr Tollit has got this. On our last visit he compared running the school to running a cruise ship: ‘doors close at the start of each term and off we go.’ No longer. ‘We’re much more parentally aware now; we know we have to work closely with families’. Has been busy ‘modernising’ the school (‘when I arrived it had almost no website, prospectus or registrar…’) and in the process ‘it’s become a more typical prep’. Depends on your definition of typical. Certainly more user-friendly than in the past: main corridors, which we once described as ‘dingy prison-cell-pink’, are now sunshine yellow and replete with pupils’ artwork. Shoes better polished and boys generally better turned out than in past decades. Boarding more flexible and appealing to local families. Wife, Molly, is much involved in the life of the school, runs the development office, mothers the couple’s three sons (all attended HH - two still here) and teaches classics part time at Marlborough.

Entrance

Tour of school, familiarisation and assessment day, interview with head. Not overly fastidious.

Exit

Nearly all to senior boarding schools, nearly all at 13. Recently: Radley, Winchester, Eton, Harrow, Sherborne, in that order. But loads of other schools on the leavers lists - a more eclectic bunch than you might expect.

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. School’s entrance is somehow hidden in plain site (watch for the Swan Pub). Don’t trust your satnav to get you there - ours took us, unrelentingly, to the non-existent back ‘entrance’ and thence to navigation purgatory. The vast grounds create a cocoon of safety and separation from the Newbury Bypass beyond. Low-profile locally - one could live down the road and never know it was there. The opening of a lower school aims to address this by extending the school’s age range down to 4 - an idea popular with parents who previously had to stash their littlies elsewhere before they could ascend to HH.

We think it is fair to call the school ‘old fashioned’, though much less so than in the past. No mobiles or tablets, although year 8s have recently been granted access to smartphones on Sundays. Parents mainly happy as things stand. Bit posh. The only school ever to have replied to our query about pupil backgrounds and languages with ‘UK upper middle class and multicultural’ (around a quarter of the boys come from abroad; 10 receive EAL help). Prince Andrew has named himself the school’s Official Visitor (long story) and is said to be partial to its homemade elderflower cordial. Old boys include Richard Adams, who set his book Watership Down near here, controversial cricket captain Douglas Jardine, and pop star Will Young.

This is a prep school in the true sense of the word with boys assiduously prepared for future study. Many boys join at age 10 or 11 with this in mind, and subject classrooms are named after destination schools: Winchester, Harrow, Eton, Radley etc. The traditional subjects are taught and form orders are published every three weeks giving each boy his mark, position and effort grade by subject. French for all, but boys can also study Mandarin and German off timetable. Exams twice a year. Boys with SEN – mostly dyslexia and dyspraxia – receive support, but this isn’t the place for those with more than mild difficulties. School has responded to pre-testing in year 6 by providing interview practice and reasoning lessons.

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 11.7 (!) but much smaller in the final year) according to the progress they are making and remain there until they have mastered all their subjects to the requisite level. It’s an unusual (possibly unique) system and only feasible in a school of this size (max 135) and age group. Besides accommodating summer birthdays, advantages are no B stream, no individual subject setting and ongoing challenges for all. Arrangement is only for academic work; boys are grouped by age for sport, dorms etc.

Mr Tollit waves his hand at beautiful framed photos in his office showing HH boys engaged in games, boating, music, drama … all that the school offers outside the classroom. It is these pursuits - the crown jewels of the HH experience - that are ‘all that’. In the face of changing senior school requirements, pre-testing in year 6, government dictates and parental whims, the school will continue to offer ‘all that’.

The small size means that all boys will have a go - whether on the sports field, the stage or the music hall. Sport every day but Sunday. Main sports are rugby, football and cricket, but almost everything gets a look in. Super facilities including sports hall, Astro, nine hole golf course (golf pro visits once a week). Outdoor pool, but serious swimmers can train at Newbury Swim Club nearby. Keen climbers are taken to Reading once a week. For a one off charge, the school provides all sports kit, does all the labelling and laundering, supplies larger sizes as needed, replaces lost kit - why don’t more schools do this?

Drama is exceptional - one of the brightest stars in the Horris Hill firmament. The school is in the final throes of fundraising for a new theatre slated for opening in 2020. Nearby professional Watermill Theatre is involved and the facility will be shared with the local community. ‘We take our music very seriously,’ our guide told us earnestly. Almost every boy learns a musical instrument. Boys can ‘choose’ to be in choir. Dedicated music school loaded with two floors of practice rooms. All boys, all years, have an academic music lesson once a week. Ditto art.

Activities every night after supper. Long list, from judo to knitting. Friday night is a whole school activity, often based on a game show like Dragon’s Den, Just a Minute or Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? Train room tucked up a stairway, with huge layout and space for Warhammer. Chess popular and a grandmaster visits for weekly coaching. Boys can play in the woods; younger boys have their own smallish adventure playground. Bikes allowed in summer. Grub Cupboard dispenses limited tuck where boys can spend their plusses. You can be ‘taken off grub’ if you’ve too many minuses.

We enjoyed the good, traditional school nosh doled out by teachers who sit at the head of table. Boys take turns stacking and wiping. Organic kitchen garden, run by boys and parents, provides fruit, veg, eggs and pork - the school raised five Hampshire Black piglets last year (resulting in an agreeable hog roast at the father-son cricket). Loads of fruit about. Indeed, the historic Cocoa Passage now dispenses mainly fruit and water.

Boarding can be full, weekly or transitional (four nights a week - or even less), or boys can attend as day pupils. Currently only one day boy in year 8. Most weekends, full boarders can choose to go home after Saturday matches and return on Monday mornings, but over half are in school every weekend, many lured by the superb activities and Sunday outings. Boarding is extremely well done, starting as an extension of the Tollit’s own accommodation and ending with the sort of independence the boys will encounter when they enter senior school. Usual prospectus etc, but we love the fabulous comic-book-style pamphlet, ‘Coming to Horris Hill’. It will tell you everything you need to know, and we defy any boy to read it and not be amused and intrigued - ‘Hello Luke, I’m your Pater’ (Paters are the eldest boys). Parents say communication with day families is improving but day parent class reps might help.

Horris Hill is such a distinctive school it’s unlikely you could choose it by mistake; proud to be different, though a little less so than in the past. Courageously striving to protect a childhood of conkers, match teas and the sheer joy of semi-illicit tuck from a world of Facebook, iPhones and health and safety risk assessment templates. This is a unique, traditional prep coming to grips with modern ways and choosing the best while being buffeted by the winds of change.

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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