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Ashdown House School

What says..

‘Slow - free range children and animals’, says a sign on the drive, and this is quickly proved by wellied children noisily playing amongst the rhododendrons, Charles and Camilla (turkeys) strolling amongst them. ‘There’s a lovely feeling of coming home’, said a parent. Another parent told us that when they were shown around the school, their pupil guides disappeared. The head came out to look for them, and pointed up a tree, where the guides’ legs dangled, finished in scuffed shoes. ‘Perfect’. ‘No rules for rules sake’…

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What the school says...

All schools are unique but Ashdown House has one of the loveliest prep school sites in the country with 40 acres of grounds and the Ashdown Forest on our doorstep. Children come in by the day from 4 with most itching to be full boarders by the time they are 10 or 11. They are encouraged to push their limits whilst enjoying themselves academically, socially or physically - and tree climbing, den building and guinea pig handling go hand in hand with Latin (and Greek), History and Maths. Year 7 spend a term at the Trusts property in the south of France and all children will visit The Old Malthouse on the Jurassic Coast for geography and science field studies. Team spirit in drama, music and Art & DT is just as strong as on the sports field. Children move on at 13 to all the major public schools and achieve success in scholarships (both academic and in other disciplines) every year. The Headmistress, Hilary Phillips, with her
terrific team of teachers will work tirelessly to ensure that all children in their care really do enjoy 'the best years of their lives'.
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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since September 2019, Hilary Phillips, previously head of Monmouth School Girls’ Prep. She has also been director of pastoral care and head of languages at Edgeborough School in Surrey and taught at Arnold House School in London.


Entrance by interview with head, ed psychologist report if necessary, and assessment day. Steady intake all the way through, many coming from local big preps where they are unhappy and ‘not flourishing’, and others who are relocating from London. Foreign nationals only if English is up to scratch.


Eton, Harrow, Benenden, King's (Canterbury), Shrewsbury, Uppingham, Eastbourne College and Worth popular in 2019. Parents want a ‘named’ school. Some feeling of an expert matchmaking service in the way in which the school matches up pupils with senior schools: ‘the biggest and best thing we do'. A subtle art.

Our view

‘Slow – free range children and animals,’ says a sign on the drive, and this is quickly proved by wellied children noisily playing amongst the rhododendrons, Charles and Camilla (turkeys) strolling amongst them. ‘There’s a lovely feeling of coming home,’ said a parent.

The rather splendid main house, with its elegant columns, was designed by the Yorkshireman who went on to design the White House; but here the oval office is a lobby full of wellies and ceramics. ‘If they’re a long way from home,’ said a parent in the Cayman Islands, ‘you want small school with nice homey feel about it’, and this school certainly has that.

‘Not a school who focus on petty things,’ said a parent, ‘like top buttons, ties and shiny shoes. It concentrates on the important things, like kindness and being able to talk to grown ups and hold open doors.’ Another parent told us that when they were shown around the school, their pupil guides disappeared. The head came out to look for them, and pointed up a tree, where the guides’ legs dangled, finished in scuffed shoes. ‘Perfect.’

‘It is structured – but doesn’t look like it. When you walk in, kids are running around everywhere,’ a parent commented, and the kids say the best thing about school is the freedom. ‘In your free time you can go anywhere,’ said one, including the woods: they’re not allowed near the pond or the pit of death (a muddy sink hole), but can climb trees, ‘even if you break your arm’. Pupils hone their skills in the Larva Tree and the Spaghetti Tree, progressing to the Love Tree (pupils scratch name of their beloved into the top of the trunk). Not the Welly (Wellingtonia), 100ft+, out of bounds since a pupil, aptly named Everest, made it to the top a few years ago. ‘Not cotton wool and cosset,’ said a parent approvingly. ‘They let children take risks and explore their environment.’

Freedom extends to access: there are keypads everywhere, but all the doors are left open during the working day - ‘we trust the children,’ says school. ‘You can wander in, but I don’t think anyone ever does,’ said a parent.

‘Academically strong - all sorts of different types thrive there,’ said a parent. Pupils are streamed from year 6 upwards. Not a frenzied approach to work, and homework pressure is not excessive – year 8, an hour a day, year 7, 45 minutes. And with this calm measured approach, Ashdown feeds top public schools.

Lessons are generally fun, say pupils: not Latin, but DT is extremely popular, and geography and science also got a mention as really enjoyable subjects. Pupils enjoy a half a term at Château Sauveterre to improve their French, and science, geography and outdoor pursuits trips to the Old Malthouse in Dorset.

There’s not the usual emphasis on IT – ‘not the driving force’, though iPads are available as an enabling tool in lessons. Only year 3 has an interactive board – the rest of the school does very well with whiteboards and projectors. ‘Get lost in a book, not a computer game.’ For pupils who like playing computer games, they can – but only if have programmed it themselves first.

Class sizes 10, max 15. If numbers reach 18, a class will be split in two. Saturday school is optional for year 3, and compulsory thereafter: lessons until 11, then clubs and matches. The weekend is just a couple more working days for staff, which parents feel is fantastic – ‘staff are the school's biggest asset’; ‘they’re dedicated, like spending time with the kids’; ‘they make lessons exciting and interesting’.

Learning support – learning enhancement here – is accessible to all. Wouldn’t suit those with severe special needs, but prides itself on helping those with mild dyslexia extremely well, and has successfully helped a profoundly deaf pupil. Learning support is charged as an extra.

Classrooms vary from modern, light and smart in the Jungle block to old and bit shabby, but perfectly functional.

Drama is described by a parent as ‘an absolute dream’, explaining that they don’t take it too seriously: lines are handed out the week before, so if you fluff up, no one minds – but it’s very good. Everyone’s involved – backstage and lighting, if not performing. Farce is popular, as is the annual Mock Trial.

Clubs for evenings and weekends include gardening, cookery, poker and a gentlemen’s club for the first XV (they learn how to iron a shirt). Strolling through the dance studio (also used for discos and exams), we saw something that resembled a mangled skateboard – apparently the head was rip sticking with kids the evening before.

Art is everywhere – not just the best stuff – with the artist’s name dangling on a luggage label from the picture. One pupil said her favourite place in school is the art room: ‘cosy… you’re not forced to be hard working… it feels free.’

Several pupils said they were attracted to school for the sports; it’s odd when you consider this is a small school which is rarely able to field winning teams against big schools. ‘[You’re] not allowed to be a bad loser,’ said a parent. They play sport every afternoon here, seriously and with much enthusiasm, polo and golf featuring amongst the usual, with the girls also playing football, and cricket (as a club). ‘As long as enough pupils to put together a netball team, it doesn’t matter there aren’t ABC teams – purpose and dedication are instilled,’ said a parent.

A parent described the ‘extraordinary care’ of their son while his brother had heart surgery, and the school’s amazing care of both boys subsequently: ‘they were willing to take our son… who was a walking time bomb. Ashdown goes out of its way to keep children safe.’

Both pupils and parents told us how good Ashdown is at helping problem children: ‘Children who have had a terrible time at other places and been bullied or expelled are turned around by Ashdown,’ said a parent. ‘They don’t give up on anyone,’ confirmed a pupil.

They’re very supportive of mental health here, particularly aware of the anxiety that kids can suffer near CE. Children are divided into groups with a supportive mentor and learning support will provide extra help to anyone who needs it, with extra tutoring available in maths and English – ‘fantastic,’ said a grateful parent. For those who are really worried, there is an art therapist and a baking counsellor – ‘because no child wants to just sit and talk to someone about their problems,’ said the head. A CBT counsellor helps pupils by Skype, giving them practical exercises to help them cope with exam stress.

Parents told us incidences of bullying are dealt with by the school ‘quickly and efficiently’. ‘They don’t put up with any nonsense at all.’ Punishment is a ‘pause for thought’ (detention). Parents said children could go to anyone with a problem – teacher, form tutor, matron – would get immediate responses from all.

Communication is good, and parents appreciate the school office being open on Saturday, though views vary on school administration, from ‘brilliant’ to ‘a bit dodgy’, and another thought that a greater use of social media could make a more efficient school – ‘if matches are cancelled, I would like to know.’

‘A true boarding school,’ said one parent, ‘with a seven days a week presence.’ Some 80 full time boarders, flexi boarders on regular nights, with designated beds. Boarding is a ‘way of life'; the boarding community takes priority here, and half the staff live on site. A parent thought that it would have been a shock to go directly to boarding senior school, and Ashdown is a ‘cosy [first] experience of boarding’. Two fixed exeats a term, and two floating, ‘but the children never want to take them,’ said a parent; ‘there are so many things on at the weekend.’

‘No rules for rules' sake,’ says the school, which accommodates parents who want irregular contact with their children; for instance, when Foreign Office parents are on tour, Ashdown will care for their kids full time, but when parents are home they can pop in and take the kids out for pizza.

Rules do have their place in the day-to-day mechanics of boarding, which is very structured – much like having strict but kind parents who know the importance of a good night’s sleep. ‘Not a sleepover atmosphere…’. Homesickness is addressed with a mixture of comforting and keeping you busy.

Boarding accommodation is comfortable, though not plush: dorms for 6-12 in bunks and singles with duvets from home, decent bathrooms and friendly common rooms with TV, water cooler, ample supply of fruit and books. Matron can make toast for those who ask. Photos all over corridors – ‘I adore this,’ enthused one parent.

Pupils write a proper letter home every week – ‘quite sweet,’ said a parent – and parents can phone in to the landings between 7-8pm. All devices kept in head's study, but pupils can ask for their mobiles to call parents or use the phone room. Contact home for overseas pupils is arranged taking into account time differences – one pupil leaves morning lessons to Skype her parents each week.

Everyone agrees that the food is delicious and it is no surprise that the chef also runs a restaurant. He has reduced the salt and sugar in food, and bottles of ketchup, used to happy excess by pupils, have been replaced by a one sachet policy. Pupils would like a tuck shop: it’s just one chocolate bar on Sundays at this health conscious school. ‘There are no fat children here,’ said a parent bluntly.

Would suit pretty much anyone, think parents, from the over-assertive (whom the school will mellow) to the quiet and shy (‘If you can play one note on the oboe, you’ll still be in the concert’). ‘A sadistic bully would probably be asked to leave though,’ said one parent, on further consideration. Pupils thought this school would not suit someone who doesn’t try hard. But it’s not, they say, a school which expels people – ‘they give people a chance’.

Ashdown families are generally traditional, wealthy and established. Not many new Porsches here. Some 30 per cent from overseas. No scholarships, but can support families if things go wrong.

Special Education Needs

Children are withdrawn for individual or small group lessons as needed. These are charged for as extras to the usual school fees. Children are also referred for assessment to our Educational Psychologist. Special arrangements are made for children to have exam concessions at the appropriate time.

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