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Lots of sporting success at county and national level. But we like the fact that the non-sporty don’t get it rammed down their throats as much as in some other prep schools. Saturday morning school and afternoon matches means that parents don’t have to take off a working day to watch a fixture, and can often schedule school meetings at the weekend. But this is another bone of contention ...

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What the school says...

Set in thirty acres of beautiful grounds just outside Tunbridge Wells in Kent, Holmewood House School is a happy busy environment, where smiles prevail and children flourish. The breadth of curriculum, specialist teaching in all subjects, superb facilities, a vast range of afternoon activities, in an outstanding family atmosphere, all combine to make Holmewood one of the leading prep schools in the country. Holmewood is described by a current parent as a happy and vibrant school full of opportunites. Come and visit us in Tunbridge Wells and see for yourself what an inspiring place for children Holmewood truly is. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2010, Mr James Marjoribanks (pronounced Marchbanks). Education is in the blood, as his father was head at Sandle Manor, although he’s made it his business to be less remote in the role. ‘Children won’t freeze if I walk down the corridor,’ he says. Nevertheless he believes they should be respectful to adults. ‘Eyes up, heads up, hands out of pockets, move aside for adults,’ is the expectation.

His specialism is French (Exeter University), and the interest in languages is clear in the school - even the nursery has a specialist French teacher. Better brush up – he’s been known to deliver addresses to parents in French. Career has included spells as head of French at Forres and head of modern languages at Cothill, followed by leadership posts as deputy head of Terra Nova School in Cheshire and head of Chesham Prep School in Buckinghamshire.

He has aimed to make the school more relaxed and family oriented. But his management of pupils, staff and parents alike is robust. ‘I’m a benevolent dictator, a school is not a democracy, I consult with colleagues but I have to be firm,’ he says.

Our moles told us that he has a tough gig with a particularly forceful parent body, and he is unafraid of holding his ground, which inevitably ruffles some feathers. ‘I give the parents what they need, not what they want. We are the education professionals, we know best. A couple of parents didn’t agree with a decision last year, but if it is right for school, it has to happen,’ he says.

He has his fans too, with one parent saying: ‘I really like Mr Marjoribanks. He is very charismatic and approachable. He is a visible character at the school and the children love him. My son had Mr Marjoribanks for French one year and found him a very good teacher too.’

Retiring in July 2017. His successor will be Scott Carnochan, currently head of Sedbergh Prep in Cumbria. Degree from Heriot-Watt University and postgrad from Nottingham. Has taught at Hillcrest Prep in Nairobi, been housemaster at St John’s College School, Cambridge and head of boarding at Repton Prep. He played 1st XI cricket at school, was captain of rugby at school and county level and played international rugby, representing Scotland at U18 and student level. He and Kate have two young children.

Entrance

For nursery and reception it’s first come first served, and entry into the pre-prep is non-selective, although informal assessments will ensure the child can keep up. Around 15 children join at year 3, and for this stage onwards prospective pupils take tests in maths, reading and spelling, plus there’s an interview, and reports from the previous school are considered. Academic scholarships, which can be topped up with bursaries, are available from year 3.

Exit

Has previously had a reputation for not supporting children aiming to take the 11+ and for frowning on departures before 13. However that was a thorny issue indeed in the grammar school hotbed of Tunbridge Wells, and policy changed in 2015. School now says it welcomes children intending to leave at 11, and although it does not provide bespoke 11+ tuition, the preparation all children receive for secondary school entrance and common entrance pre-tests will be relevant. It's likely to take a while for this change of heart to filter through both in local reputation, and through a cohort which entered before this policy was in place. Not that it was ever impossible to move to a grammar - parents have previously organised their own tuition, and the last few years have seen many pupils move on to grammars.

At 13+ the school has a reputation for harvesting a good crop of scholarships. In 2016, 21 scholarships and awards (academic, music, drama, sport and art). Mr Marjoribanks has been instrumental in broadening the range of schools children go on to – it used to be Tonbridge for boys, Sevenoaks for girls, but in 2016, other senior schools included Mayfield, Brighton College, Eastbourne, Walthamstow Hall, King's Canterbury, Woldingham, Hurstpierpoint, Lancing, Eton, Cranbook, Kent College and Wycombe Abbey. A roadshow with 20 senior schools is held every two years to help families decide.

Our view

No doubt about it, the facilities are fantastic and will be even more so once £4.5 million building project is complete, adding among other goodies new classrooms, science labs, learning hub, digital library, enrichment centre as well as a modern cloister.

It’s one of very few prep schools with its own 20 metre rifle range – and the pupils are champion shooters among English schools. There’s also a 25m indoor pool, squash courts, a climbing wall, and a snazzy sports hall. Lots of sporting success at county and national level. But we like the fact that the non-sporty don’t get it rammed down their throats as much as in some other prep schools – there are two afternoons of compulsory team games, but on the other three they can choose drama, music or craft activities, or individual sports instead.

There’s a 350 seat theatre and lots of big productions – and treading these boards launched the careers of old boys actors Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey and actor Tristan Gemmell (Casualty and Coronation Street). More remarkably, perhaps, Shane McGowan of The Pogues was also here.

All this, alongside what the head claims is a high staff to pupil ratio (1:9), and the number of specialist teachers, comes at a cost. You know what you’re in for when one of the FAQs on the website is ‘Why are your fees relatively high?’ Mr Marjoribanks says he has deliberately narrowed the fee gap between the school and neighbouring preps, but it’s still about £1,000 a term higher than others in the locality. We heard talk of school gate grumbles about fees funding large numbers of bursaries; whether you applaud that or not will be a matter of personal conviction.

They do a great deal to ease the way for working parents. There are minibuses at 4.30pm and 6pm to accommodate different finishing times through the school, and children can be looked after until 7pm. There is also a health centre staffed by nurses between 8am and 7pm every day. It means they can manage complicated medical regimes, but also look after a child who just needs to rest for half an hour before bouncing back, rather than having to call parents to collect them.

Saturday morning school and afternoon matches means that parents don’t have to take off a working day to watch a fixture, and can often schedule school meetings at the weekend. But this is another bone of contention. From year 5 the children are required to attend lessons on Saturdays from 8.50am to 12.50pm, and often also games until teatime. On top of a school day of 8am to 6pm by year 6, it means the children get exhausted, some parents say.

The head says Saturdays account for 125 lessons per year, and ‘we would have to dilute our offering if we didn’t have it’. He believes parents dislike it more than children do. But he has recently introduced exeats and a two week half term holiday in October to provide some breathing space.

The full-on timetable is part of Mr Marjoribanks’ aim to be the top academic prep school, and to ensure that children in common entrance forms (year 6 to 8 have two of these and one scholarship form) are well prepared enough to get into their chosen school without any doubt. ‘The last thing we want is them sitting the common entrance exam with everything crossed,’ he says.

He has put back creating the scholarship class to the start of year 6, believing they can better identify the children suited to this class after they have had a year working with subject specialist teachers, which begins in year 5. ‘It’s not a designer accessory. It’s hard work and the last thing I want is a child in there who is struggling. Parents perceived that they got the best teachers, but I have deconstructed the idea that you get a better deal in the scholarship class. Now I get children or parents who turn it down because they don’t want to be put under increased pressure, and scholarships are not worth much financially these days.’

From year 5 there are two periods a week of Latin, and scholars can also do ancient Greek. There’s also Mandarin philosophy in year 8, a Spanish option from year 6, and French from nursery.

The seniors get Christmas and summer term exams in every subject, although for year 5 this has now been cut down to just English, maths and science exams in the Christmas term. Teaching is generally very good; the children learn a lot and are pushed quite hard, parents told us.

There are two full-time specialists and three part-time learning support assistants, and parents reported being very impressed with this input. It was highly visible on our visit, when a number of children were receiving individual or small group tuition.

In the junior school, years 3 and 4 are classroom-based with a form teacher, although they go to music, art, DT and science in dedicated classrooms. There are three proper science labs, complete with a skeleton, and the art department has specialist equipment for etching and a kiln for pottery work. Interesting work on display included flint knapping and cave art.

The pre-prep curriculum includes timetabled IT, and everyone starts an instrument in year 1. This, along with a specialist music teacher just for the pre-prep, enables them amazingly to have a pre-prep orchestra. Reception, year 1 and year 2 have a separate block with their own dining room. Posters around the building ask: ‘Do you have good manners?’ They’re big here, even illness isn’t an excuse, as another poster in the health centre asks children whether they have said please and thank you.

Boarding is available to children from the age of 6, either weekly or on a flexi basis. There are currently seven weekly and 34 flexi boarders, but Mr Marjoribanks aims to bring the weekly ratio up to half. Boarding accommodation has just undergone refurbishment, and there is scope to increase the places to 50. Dorms are six-bedded and there’s a combined games room. It’s loved by the children – the two houseparents are ‘really kind’, they say, and they enjoy activities such as playing It, having a pizza party, or playing outside on skateboards.

There’s a new energy about the place as Mr Marjoribanks’ reforms are working their way through. ‘I have deconstructed the atmosphere of elitism generated by a very competitive scholarship stream and attitude to sport; it is wholly inclusive and there is no-one outside looking in,’ he says. Whether your child is a scholar or needs extra support, a sporting whizz or an arty type, they’ll find their place here.

Special Education Needs

We have an excellent Learning Support Department with one specialist teacher and four learning support assistants who provide monitoring, evaluation and specific teaching for children throughout the school. To ensure that every child reaches his or her academic potential, the Learning Support Department administers nationally standardised assessment tests to all pupils. This screening process starts in Year 1 and continues until Year 8. Learning support is all-inclusive in the Pre-Prep unless a specialist tutor or individual learning support assistant is specifically required. In the Prep School, pupils are charged pro rata for learning support and detailed assessments. We are proud of the achievements of our pupils who may have experienced some difficulties in their primary years. The majority of these children succeed in gaining places, through the Common Entrance exam, to a variety of schools. 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 Y
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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