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Beautiful entrance hall with roaring fire adds to the impression of arriving at a country house hotel; one specialising in modern art - it's everywhere, and extremely good. Feels happy and free - described by one parent as a 'tree climbing education centre.’ There is a distinct feel of Famous Five here. No uniform promotes the homey feel, although the strict dress code prevents a grungy look. There’s no label competition here - ‘they ruin clothes at school, so don't send them in anything good,’ said one parent wryly. For prep age children, they are astonishingly…

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What the school says...

Windlesham is one of the country's leading and oldest IAPS co-educational boarding and day preparatory schools. Set in 60 glorious acres on the South Downs, in West Sussex, the school is within easy reach of the Brighton, Horsham and Chichester districts, just over an hour from Central London and close to Gatwick and Heathrow airports.

Established in 1837, Windlesham was one of the first schools in the country to be established as a preparatory school and in 1967 became the first IAPS co-educational school.

Windlesham children are happy, open and interested in learning new experiences. Whilst academic excellence and success is a high priority Windlesham provides a warm, secure, caring and very happy family atmosphere. The Headmaster, Richard Foster and his wife Rachel put every effort into getting to know well each and every child and derive enormous pleasure in seeing children flourish in what is a wonderful environment and an unrivalled setting.
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What the parents say...

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2007, Mr Richard Foster, head at Pembroke House School in Kenya, then at St Anselm’s in Derbyshire for 14 years. Thoughtful, warm, much liked by parents and pupils. Incredibly busy wife Rachel is in charge of everything pastoral - parents give Rachel a ring and she races around the school to find the relevant child and tend to it. Three grown up children. Both Fosters refer slightly wistfully to Kenya as home and enthuse pupils with love for the region. Windlesham is the most child centred school Mr Foster has ever taught at - though he is careful to point out (perhaps with the more conservative parents in mind) that ‘children [here are] liberated - not liberal.’ In his 50s and will stay at Windlesham until retirement. Still teaches, and randomly covers all classes over the course of the year.


Non-selective. Academic assessment from year 1 upwards for setting purposes plus night’s stay from year 3 upwards. Houses have different personalities, and tester night helps school decide in which house the potential pupils would flourish. Waiting list for many years. No scholarships, but means-tested bursaries available.


Pupils move on to over 30 different schools, including Marlborough, Seaford, Hurstpierpoint, Oundle, Lancing, Millfield, King's Canterbury, Bryanston, Canford and Rugby.

Our view

Gorgeous grounds, movingly beautiful even on the miserable day of our visit, with the elegant Queen Anne house standing at the end of a long drive past a mixture of woods, playing fields and golf course. Game rambling around (they don't shoot it here - just clay pigeons). Beautiful entrance hall with roaring fire adds to the impression of arriving at a country house hotel; one specialising in modern art - it's everywhere, and extremely good.

Feels happy and free - described by one parent as a 'tree climbing education centre.’ There is a distinct feel of Famous Five here. The amazing grounds are fully used by the children; one parent described how the matrons have to drag them in to bed during the summer months, and how kids are out playing golf and cricket before breakfast - ‘kids have the freedom to be children’ (children with a nine hole golf course).

Parents and children all comment on the strong community at Windlesham - ‘it's an incredibly kind place’ - which aims to be a family home away from home. No uniform promotes the homey feel, although the strict dress code prevents a grungy look. There’s no label competition here - ‘they ruin clothes at school, so don't send them in anything good,’ said one parent wryly. Birthday parties for boarders in the Fosters' flat - cake, treat food and all. Huge amount of energy devoted to pastoral care. Many staff live on site: one parent said 'they never clock off'. Another: ‘teachers go over and beyond what they need to do; nothing is too much effort.’ One parent described the ‘brilliant support’ from the learning centre and houseparents after a family death - they have a ‘genuine love of children [here].’

High level of responsibility and support shown between children. Peer listeners appointed from the top class, peer mediators in each year- described lavishly by one of our guides as ‘unpaid spies’, but a peer mediator calmly countered with an example of a love/hate triangle successfully resolved by her and her counterpart. Any help from adults? ‘No, of course not - confidentiality,’ she said in a shocked tones. For prep age children, they are astonishingly responsible and outward-looking. This is one of the school's aims, with the head's mantra firmly in mind - be kind, be kind, be kind. Any bullying nipped it in the bud early. ‘There’s not a great deal of it,’ said a parent, whose daughter experienced bullying which was dealt very efficiently.

No prefect or monitor system. All pupils in the top year sign up for responsibilities, and at the end of the year it is announced who will have been head girl and boy on the basis of performance.

Huge emphasis on good manners here: children pay good heed to the head’s warning - ‘get your greeting in before I do.’ Good evidence of this on our tour: all pupils held open doors, flattened themselves against walls as we passed and leapt up in classrooms. Children are very aware of rules set down in the code of conduct, and there’s open discussion of rules in school council (top year). ‘Fatigues if you're really bad' - jobs such as cleaning the dining room.

Pupils can board from the age of 8 and around half are full boarders, 18 per cent from overseas. ‘Boarding provision is exceptionally good,’ said a mum, whose kids started as day pupils, and all ended up boarding at their request. Pupils agree - ‘it’s a sleepover that doesn't stop.’ Homely girls' dorms, with posters, cushions, bears; spartan boys' fare, with coloured duvets the most cosy touch (despite the school’s best efforts). 'It’s the girls who need One Direction posters,’ said one of our guides loftily. Girls also get bedside tables and lights - boys don’t because of their tendency to play cricket in the dorms. At the end of the term, children give in a list of people they like, and are guaranteed to find at least one in their dorm the next term. Twelve is the biggest boys' dorm, six the smallest, nine-three for the girls. A little unfortunate that the girls’ dorms are named after colours - ‘azure,’ ‘saffron’ etc - to suit their delicate natures? - whereas boys’ dorms are sturdily named after senior schools - ‘Wellington’ et al. Unfortunate indeed, but no other whiff of sex discrimination here.

There are two boarding houses, each of which has a male and female houseparent, a permanent matron, and a battalion of evening matrons who come in from the surrounding community to assist at bedtime, and make sure kids are clean with clothes sorted for tomorrow. Nightly showers, although boarders can relax in a birthday bath. Bathroom facilities extremely clean, but not all that new. Each year has a comfy room, reduced to cheerful bedlam for the boys, ordered comfort for the girls. No mobile phones or own computers, but phones all over the place for speaking to parents, Skype phones in the comfy rooms for those with parents abroad, and dormitory phones for good night calls to parents (time restricted to give everyone a chance).

Parents say school is just not the same for day pupils, who don’t have the same access to activities or teachers as boarders. Kids love the autonomy of deciding what to do every evening: tag rugby, fencing, art, just hanging out with friends - and can always get help if there’s problem with prep. Boarding is particularly useful as work steps up in preparation for common entrance, parents say - early bird lessons start at 7.15am, and work ends at 6.30pm, so it’s a long day for commuters.

No pocket money. On school trips pupils are given a set amount to spend, which goes on the school bill as an extra. Boarders get tuck at weekend - not enough to rot their teeth (a chocolate bar, a can and packet of crisps). Can earn various treats, which are usually of an edible nature. Kids talk a lot about grub, one way or another. One pupil earnestly reported that someone actually stopped boarding for lack of crisps (although it should be pointed out that the food here is plenteous and good). Academically, parents and pupils are happy with most subjects, exceptionally so in some areas though French is 'not that popular,’ say the kids and parents agree, citing a reliance on work sheets. School says it has taken on new teachers since our visit.

Another parent suggested maths is also a key subject that could be taught better, although the children we spoke to gave maths teachers a glowing report - 'if you listen carefully they're really funny - very sarcastic.’ One teacher apparently tells stories of his life in mathematical fantasy (difficult to imagine how this might go…). Those fiddling with their calculator may find it deposited on the outside of the window sill, so that if someone opens the window it would smash - ‘really cool,’ said a pupil. The head says they are about to appoint an additional maths specialist - an acknowledgement this is an area with which some children struggle.

Head says English and science are exceptionally strong. Pupils agree about science - ‘one of the finest lessons.’ The kids enjoy the interactive classes - ‘we always do an experiment, and if you work hard, you can fit in two or three. We are doing chemical reactions, so I'm seeing things explode,’ said one of our guides with relish. One science room just updated, others to be done soon.

Set for core common entrance subjects from year 5. French and Spanish to all, Latin from year 6 (can be dropped by those with learning difficulties to concentrate on more core subjects). Provision for Greek, Mandarin, Italian, Russian, Norwegian and Dutch. Basically if a child arrives speaking a language, they will be encouraged to keep it up, whatever it is. Equally if a child has a burning desire to learn a particular language, school will attempt to accommodate the urge.

Forms usually no more than 18, occasionally up to 20. Starts spotting potential scholars in year 6, and a formal academic scholars’ group is established in year 7. Two academic scholarship groups at the moment containing 40 children. Some strong feelings about the scholars’ group (where offspring have been both included and excluded from the elite), with the suggestion that scholars are more profiled and get more support than others - and have more chances to go on the fabulous biannual charity trips. ‘Opportunities should be more evenly spread,’ said a parent (although the forthcoming trip to Nairobi is open to anyone in year 8).

Year 8s do have some preparation for independent learning, but one parent thought kids are hand held a bit too long, and could do with a little more independence in personal care, and organising prep.

Rigorous reporting for parents: progress report monthly with attainment and effort, both child and parents get a copy, and a full report at the end of each term. Annual parents' evening (termly for juniors). ‘Amazing level of communication,’ say parents: written letters from kids every week, emails and phone calls. ‘School responds promptly to any query, over and above what you would expect.’ Another parent commented how welcome she felt at weekends - you can attend Saturday chapel, watch a play rehearsal or recital. ‘[You] never feel excluded as a parent - always welcomed.’ Parental portal has live stream of events, also available for catch up, ideal for parents who aren't local.
Three computer rooms, one reserved specially for junior use. Dell laptops and iPads to book out, also available to assist those with mild learning difficulties (about 15 per cent of children here). Learning development unit with head and team of assistants. Bright, well-stocked library, open from before breakfast until bedtime, news with a Tory bent - Telegraph and Times, with the honourable exception of the i.

Feels quite hunting, shooting, fishing, but manages not to feel exclusive. Sports are the usual public school fare. Parents are delighted that sports kit left hanging around at school is returned washed and pristine. Some criticism of sports facilities by parents, who feel that the swimming pool and equipment is rather tired - pupils too are keen for a new pool, and complain the Astroturf is rather worn - but new sports complex and swimming pool under construction. One parent felt that sports could be improved, and those in teams in the lower echelons should be playing more matches.

Most boarders are around at weekends (though it’s possible to go home four weekends a term). Everyone’s around on Saturdays: morning school, matches in the afternoon. Plenty of activities available - Capture the Flag is extremely popular at the moment; but also debates, mountain biking, gardening in the walled garden, shows and games - pupils can keep extremely busy if they want to (though some kids just want to live in the woods, and that’s ok too.) Chess club is thriving, though the outdoor chess set is largely unused - 'but we do use a couple of the pieces for goalposts.’ All love cooking club - you have to run fast if you want to sign up.

All have drama lessons, three productions each year, everyone who auditions is included in some way. Own theatre - the Malden Family Theatre - with visiting productions every term. Some rumblings from parents who are a bit tired of seeing the super-duper children starring again. Music compulsory all the way, but popular even with those who are not musical because of the inspirational director. Over 80 per cent play an instrument. Vast array of music groups of all complexions, from Miremba to rock choir.

Early years housed separately at Little Windlesham (reception - year 2). Relaxed setting, emphasis on flow and play. Tapestry method of contacting parents, who receive a video stream of their children in class directly to their email at work, which parents love. Described by a parent as being ‘part of [the] big school - but very gentle, with a lot of time [spent] in their special oasis.’

The head says Windlesham would suit most types of kids, providing they join in and have a go at things. One parent suggested it would not suit a child who needs to be totally organised by others; nor is it a place for shrinking violets; although conversations with shy pupils suggested they could find their feet and flourish here. One parent emphasised that those who want their children to be day pupils should avoid Windlesham - all kids here will want to board eventually.

Parents from the Foreign Office, business, Forces, professions, and lots of expats. Some 20 different nationalities in the school, around 12 per cent non British. Assesses language skills on entry, but will give special assistance to learn English as a foreign language. Some 50 per cent of kids local, 50 per cent from abroad or other parts of the country. Parents like the mix of children from different countries, and to a degree, backgrounds - a few means-tested bursaries and no judgement, say parents; although four wheel drive likely to be parent vehicle of choice.

Several parents of leavers said their children are homesick for Windlesham: the move from this caring environment to senior school can be quite tough; but as a parent said, no one would want Windlesham to be less fabulous.

Special Education Needs

At Windlesham we cater for a broad range of abilities including the very talented and academically able children and those who may need learning support. Our curriculum is designed to meet the requirements of the Independent Schools Examination Board with their Common Entrance exams taken at 13+. We do have a number of children with special needs and aim to provide them with appropriate help, but these children must be of average ability or they are likely to find the broad curriculum too demanding and not appropriate to their needs. We assess the children briefly before they join the school (normally when they have an overnight stay) and we hope that any existing special needs will have been discussed with us by the child's parents. Once we have had access to any existing reports (e.g. from previous schools or from Educational Psychologists) we can arrange a programme to suit their needs. We have a team of specialist teachers, under the Head of Learning Support, who give a mixture of individual or small group lessons to the children. The number of lessons will vary according to need and to our resources. We offer support with reading, spelling, written language skills, handwriting, word-processing, touch-typing, maths, visual perceptual training, speech and language and occupational therapy and counselling. We make a charge for these lessons, and details are available on request. Other children, after an initial settling in period, may be identified by subject teachers as having some areas of difficulty and this leads to discussion with the Learning Support Department. In October, we give all children NFER Verbal and Non-Verbal Reasoning tests, Maths, Reading and Spelling tests and these will help identify any areas of concern. After observation and discussion with the child's teachers we may give a child diagnostic tests to ascertain where the problem lies. We will inform parents at this stage and discuss the support that may be needed. It is possible to arrange a full, in-depth assessment by a visiting Educational Psychologist who will make recommendations for the child's educational programme and we do have the services of a Speech and Language Therapist and Occupational Therapist when required. All children have a right to a broad and balanced education and we aim to provide the necessary support for each child. This is in line with the government's Code of Practice for the teaching of children with special needs, which emphasises that the needs of the children are paramount. In order to do so, many of the children requiring Learning Support do not study Latin, as this is an optional subject at Common Entrance. We use this time for support lessons. Learning Support lessons can also take place in the lunch hour, outside lesson time and, in a few cases, during other lessons in non-examined subjects. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
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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