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Every so often, we visit a school which is enjoying a real purple patch and getting most things right. Parental plaudits say it more succinctly than we could - ‘It hasn’t sacrificed values for academic successes,’ and ‘They are unwavering in their advice, honest and direct.’ The arts are thriving - modern, bright art block (two large rooms with high ceilings for painting, ceramics etc) doubtless contributes to the healthy number of art scholarships gained by pupils, who can use it whenever they like in free time. Singing is a popular choice and nearly…

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What the school says...

A leading co-educational IAPS Catholic boarding and day Prep School of 400 children situated in 60 acres of beautiful parkland in the Test Valley of Hampshire, just over an hour from London. Boarding and day pupils alike benefit from excellent teaching and pastoral care in a happy atmosphere, supported by a large number of resident staff. We aim to instil in our children an enthusiasm for life and confidence in their talents, which will equip them for the challenges and opportunities that lie beyond Farleigh. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2004, Father Simon Everson BA Cert in theology (50s). Educated at Caterham School, studied theology at Leeds Collegiate and Ripon College, followed by three year certificate in theology awarded by Oxford University. An Anglican curate and vicar in London for 14 years, he moved to Hurstpierpoint College as senior chaplain in 1996. Following his conversion to Catholicism, he was appointed as chaplain and teacher at Farleigh in 1999, then head five years later.

A modest, softly spoken and self-effacing man, he doesn’t engage his inner salesman straight away - prospective parents take note and beware of making snap judgements. Current parents and pupils were falling over themselves to tell us how highly they rate him (one mother phoned three times) and that he is an outstanding head. Whilst watching over every aspect of his charges’ development - spiritual, social, moral and academic - he endeavours to dispatch children to their senior schools as educated, fair, kind and generous human beings. Still teaches half the school each week and leads by example, setting high expectations for manners and behaviour. Positively lights up around his pupils. Firmly believes that the school is there for the whole family and encourages wholesale parental and sibling participation.

Head’s wife, Gail, is involved at all levels - a qualified nurse, she works as a learning support teacher in the pre-prep, helps in the nursery, teaches swimming and organises school flowers. They have two daughters, both at senior school.

Entrance

Not selective, pupils join at all stages. In pre-prep, the majority join aged 3; a few more at 5 (mostly from local nurseries), leaving occasional places in years 1 and 2. No formal assessment in pre-prep. Most transfer to the prep, but entry is not automatic (parents are kept well informed). From year 3, pupils come from local primaries or London schools, eg Broomwood Hall, Thomas’s, Newton Prep, Fulham Prep and Finton House. One-to-one assessments in reading, writing, spelling, vocabulary and maths (‘get to know the child’ sessions) and report from current school required.

Numbers capped at 425, therefore priority given to practising Catholics, boarders and siblings, plus children of past pupils. Usually oversubscribed. Means-tested bursaries at head’s discretion, 15 per cent discount to boarding children of Forces families.

Exit

Most at 13 - more than a third leave with scholarships and exhibitions: a good tally across the board, with sport and art featuring strongly, plus a healthy scattering of academic, all-rounder and music awards. Catholic schools are obviously popular, eg Downside, Ampleforth, St Mary’s Ascot and St Mary’s Shaftesbury, although a good number opt for local choices, eg Sherborne, Sherborne Girls', Marlborough College, King Edward VI, Winchester College and Cheltenham Ladies'. A few boys go to Eton, Radley and Harrow each year. A small number (fewer than five) leave at 11, mostly to senior girls’ boarding schools, eg Downe House, St Swithun’s and Godolphin.

Our view

Founded in 1953 by Jocelyn Trappes-Lomax as a prep school for Catholic boys, initially based at Farleigh House, residence of the Earl of Portsmouth. Moved to its present home in 1982, a magnificent 19th century Georgian house built by General Webb. Set in 60 tranquil acres of sweeping parkland and has a landscaped arboretum (for history buffs, trees were planted in the troop formation of the Battle of Malplaquet in 1709). It’s hard to believe that the A303 threads its way past just five minutes’ drive from the school gates (handy for London parents).

The house has been sympathetically adapted to school life and some of its original charm remains in the elegant drawing room, used by the whole school as a common room in the evenings. Elsewhere the focus is on the modern and practical, both within the main house and without. All new buildings - including new science and food tech building - have been added to one side of the school, thereby preserving swathes of parkland on the other side and woodland to the rear.

Parents are full of praise for academic approach and achievement. One told us, ‘Farleigh fulfils parents’ ambitions and then some.’ Children are taught by subject specialists from year 5 (French from year 2). Small class sizes - average 15. We observed plenty of sound teaching in core subjects. Maths is set from year 4 (for all other academic subjects from year 6) and parents say teaching is ‘exceptional'. Able mathematicians given extra work and compete against other schools (a pupil in year 8 was current maths champion at Dauntsey’s). English is also good - ‘The teacher is wonderful, really old school’ - and clearly effective, as a year 7 pupil won Marlborough’s poetry competition. French good and looked like huge fun. Latin taught from year 6 and plenty of it, so those needing higher levels in CE can get there. Whole school follows a course known as The Way, The Truth, The Life in RS (not limited to Catholicism).

Exam preparation for scholarships is excellent. We noticed lots of extra coaching sessions squeezed in for individual year 8 pupils in most subjects (some voluntary). Scholars also have taster sessions in Spanish and Greek. Gifted and talented group meets several times a week for extra activities, eg debating (school has won Marlborough’s prep school debating competition several times). All are helped to discover how they learn best. ‘Teachers go the extra mile for the children - if a child expresses an interest in something they’ll use breaks to teach it,’ said one parent. Another told us: 'A work ethic is instilled in year 7 and there are grades every four weeks, so any problems are picked up early.’ ICT provision is quirkily good, with a room full of computers and iPads for classroom use. Well-stocked library is run by hugely enthusiastic librarian and pupils can borrow Kindles as well as books, newspapers and magazines.

Exceptional, free SEN provision provided by four members of staff with impressive qualifications (69 pupils on the register when we visited). A few Spanish nationals receive EAL tuition. No surprise that more than a dozen teachers have stayed at Farleigh for more than 10 years - ‘Father Simon has created a very happy stable …The school has a satisfied customer feel’.

Sport takes place on wide expanse of playing fields bordering the front drive of the main house. Games on four afternoons a week and matches on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. All the usual prep school sports on offer and staff put together three or four teams at the top of the school for boys’ rugby, football and cricket and girls’ hockey and rounders, with many more lower down the school. ‘Everyone gets a chance at sport,’ says the school. Annual rugby tour to France for boys in years 7 and 8; senior girls go on hockey and netball tours. Pre-season training is free of charge. Consistently good athletics results, with around 10 children each year representing the school at the National Athletics Championships. Unusual amount of competitive tennis on the calendar, eg house tennis, internal tournaments and matches against other schools. Pupils play tennis all year, with 80 per cent having coaching in the prep school. LTA Mini Tennis Awards scheme followed to year 6 and colours also awarded.

A good range of minor extracurricular sport played on two afternoons a week, eg girls’ football, golf, squash, badminton, riding and fishing. Boys who don’t enjoy rugby matches can choose to play hockey. School has a large gym and full size indoor swimming pool - boarders have access all week for free swimming. The best are invited to join swim squad; also weekly aqua fit and water polo sessions. Outdoor pool amongst the trees is used in summer.

The arts are thriving - modern, bright art block (two large rooms with high ceilings for painting, ceramics etc) doubtless contributes to the healthy number of art scholarships gained by pupils, who can use it whenever they like in free time. Well-equipped DT room next door.

Music block is somewhat less spacious - rooms for individual tuition and practice either side of a single corridor, with space for ensemble rehearsals on entry. Some 300 pupils have private music lessons, with over 60 learning more than one instrument. Singing is a popular choice and nearly 80 have voice lessons (we noticed good exam results here, with half the total number of distinctions awarded for voice). Lots of singing on the timetable, eg daily in chapel, weekly hymn practice and in class music lessons. Chapel choir is auditioned and occasionally tours abroad. Individual music lessons rotate through the timetable (year 8 pupils don’t miss academic lessons) and practice timetabled for all. All the usual instruments on offer, as well as harp and bagpipes. Two further choirs, a school orchestra and rock academy, plus around 20 ensembles which rehearse weekly and perform music from jazz to chamber repertoire. Senior jazz band, The Thundering Herd, has played twice at the Edinburgh Festival. School musicians give seven big annual concerts, including a jazz dinner night. Music theory is offered as an extracurricular activity. Father Simon even makes music part of his morning assemblies, eg listening to Maria Callas.

School theatre is well equipped, with semi-professional lighting and sound and tiered seating (a good view of the stage at last). Two annual school productions include a year 8 musical (The Sound of Music, Bugsy Malone) and alternate productions by years 3 and 4 (Alice in Wonderland) or years 5 and 6 (Annie). LAMDA speech and drama lessons available and pupils can take exams if they wish. Optional creative activities include ballroom dancing, pottery and toy making.

Approximately one-third of the school boards, with flexi boarding available from year 3 up to the summer term of year 7, when families choose between day and full boarding. The majority choose to board in preparation for senior school. About 30 children stay in school every weekend and the full complement on the four ‘all in’ weekends every year.

Boarding provision is well organised (junior and senior dorms for boys and girls) and the house parents are ‘brilliant at instilling spiritual values and manners’. Bigger rooms with more beds for the younger ones, shrinking to doubles for older children, and quite the cleanest and most orderly bathrooms we’ve yet to see, with a place for everything and everything in its place (possibly for our benefit, but suspect probably not). A really lovely touch is that some single rooms available for exam candidates, so they get a good night’s sleep before a big day. Not a lot of room for storing personal possessions in dorms, so most clothing is stored in communal (and very tidy) cupboards and drawers, which lead into large senior common rooms with lots of home comforts, eg computers, TV, squashy sofas and toasters (healthy bowls of fruit here too).

School food is excellent, served cafeteria style in a bright, welcoming dining room. Even though we were slightly late for lunch, still plenty of choice and the food was very good, with fresh fruit on offer for pudding daily. School chef is a bit of a local hero, we gather, not least because he treats boarders to Dinner Night twice a term - pupils dress up and sit down to a themed dinner, which can be anything from Indian to Spanish. Junior boarders get the chance to cook every Friday, when they become kitchen sous chefs and prepare supper for the whole school.

Masses to do during evenings and weekends (including for day children staying late), from cub scouts, zumba and tennis to band practice and street dance. Acres of space to play in outside, either at Fortress Farleigh (traditional play area on the edge of the woods) or deeper into the trees, where pupils are free to roam, build dens etc.

Pastoral care praised time and time again by parents, as was inclusive ethos - ‘The school includes my family in their big family,’ a parent said. Staff too are welcomed into the fold - all staff members (not just teachers) belong to a house. As well as fostering community spirit, head cares passionately about behaviour and standards - ‘Father Simon instils good moral values...The children become self-regulating’. Pupils confirmed zero tolerance of bullying and that kindness to others is prized above intellectual prowess. Everyone is encouraged to ‘look beyond themselves’ by helping others, eg hosting children with severe learning difficulties in school each week, helping at a local food bank and actively supporting a charity for street children in Colombia - ‘It keeps hearts large,’ said a parent.

The Catholic faith is at the school’s core and Sunday mass is open to all. As well as preparing for first communion and confirmation, children can go on (short) religious retreats; an annual gathering for Patronal Feast Day. Head aims to keep faith both enjoyable and contemporary, eg interpreting the book of Genesis through Holst’s The Planets. Members of other churches stress they ‘never feel discriminated against for not being Catholic’ and ‘there is no default setting to send children to Catholic schools'. Perhaps most important is that the school’s caring side ensures ‘every child will leave with the sense that they have a strength … not always the usual - it could be something unusual’.

Pre-prep housed in a super building on the fringes of the main campus and is ‘beautifully run and thoughtfully managed’. Kindergarten off to one side, away from the hurly-burly. Children looked happy and engaged. Head of pre-prep made us smile by wishing aloud for more room - in fact the building is positively spacious, with four classrooms for years 1 and 2, another for reception, its own library and four separate play areas, not to mention masses of storage space for wellies, bookbags, coats and trainers.

Children in pre-prep walk to the main school for lunch and use other facilities, including the swimming pool and tennis courts. Swimming lessons and ballet timetabled for everyone all year; tennis coaching and football from year 1. After-school clubs include football, cricket, hockey, rounders and woodland games. A free violin taster group each term. French taught from year 2. Staff put on an annual summer concert, spring term production and Christmas show. Father Simon takes assembly one day a week to present children with ‘good worker’ certificates.

Parents are a harmonious mix of Londoners, locals and some Forces - ‘There is a real mixture of people, some Sloaney and some not so; the Forces families are taken very seriously’. Lots of siblings, a few Spanish nationals and overseas British complete the mix. School escorts London-based pupils on the train to and from town on exeats and at half-term. Overseas boarders often stay with local families on exeat weekends (matrons help to coordinate arrangements). Pupils are open, honest, thoroughly genuine young people who clearly love their school and have respect and regard for each other. The fact that the Farleigh Society (old boys and girls) publishes a 25-page newsletter every year is proof that strong bonds are forged here; these often continue on through senior school and beyond.

Former pupils include Lord Stafford, Marquis of Bute, journalist Craig Brown, actor Rupert Everett, rugby player Hugh Vyvyan, TV presenter Hugh Cordey and climber Tarka l’Herpinière.

Every so often, we visit a school which is enjoying a real purple patch and getting most things right. Parental plaudits say it more succinctly than we could - ‘It hasn’t sacrificed values for academic successes,’ and ‘They are unwavering in their advice, honest and direct.’ When it comes to the head, parents can verge on the evangelical, such as, ‘Father Simon is absolutely extraordinary … on a pedestal with so many parents’. We’ll let them off - were we parents here, we rather think we would say the same. Not perhaps for anyone unwilling to buy into school’s ethos, but clearly most see the light, and we suspect that this outstanding prep school will become even more sought after than it already is.

Special Education Needs

Due to the very nature of learning, all pupils require support at some time in their school life, whether it is educational, social or emotional. Support for our young learners includes literacy, numeracy, study skills, gross and fine motor skills, access to word processing and support with organisation. In school, the Learning Support team works with the staff, both individually and through INSET, so that they too feel informed and supported in working with all aspects of special educational needs. Our provision of support for learning includes the use of educational psychologists, speech therapists, occupational therapists and child therapists who work in the areas of social and emotional development. The ISI inspection report of 2003 remarked 'The teaching within the Learning Support Centre is excellent. It is highly skilled, well organised and appropriate to the needs of the pupils and is a major factor in the progress made by pupils.' An exciting new area for us is working to meet the needs of our able and gifted pupils.

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
Not Applicable
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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