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What says..

Notwithstanding the slick, somewhat saccharine promotional website video, in the flesh Barfield is a little rougher around the edges – and all the better for it. Beyond the sun-drenched picturesque grounds and birdsong, we glimpsed coats off pegs, stray books and water bottles, weeds in borders and chipped paintwork along the narrow corridors. Much like any loving family home. Many schools promote a family ethos, but…

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What the school says...

Barfield is a traditional prep school in Farnham set in 12 acres of woodland and green fields. Nursery children lead a healthy and happy life learning about "readiness for school". They start the beginnings of reading and writing in the nursery whilst still being able to 'play to learn' outside; in the woods, school garden, forest school, chicken coop and cook house.

Academic rigour is of high importance throughout and academic standards are expected and attained by our pupils. Children are guided through the process of 11+ and CE in detail and staff offer consultations on what school would be suitable for your child and where appropriate, scholarships that may be attained.

Sport is very important with competitive matches being played against other schools in netball, rugby, hockey, football, swimming. Our indoor swimming pool enables the children to swim all year round and their standard of swimming is high as a result.

The Arts are strong at Barfield with enjoyable termly drama performances and wonderful musical concerts featuring choral music, rock groups, soloists and orchestral pieces.
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What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since November 2019, Andy Boyle. Ex semi-professional rugby player from Yorkshire and according to parents, ‘thoroughly nice chap’. Fell into teaching after his rugby career was cut short through injury. A graduate placement at his own former school, Ashville College, Harrogate, led to his first teaching position there. Next Chandlings, Oxford, where he deftly took up the deputy head post at just 27 years old and stayed for 12 years. Attracted to Barfield because it matched his ethos and values. It also offered an exciting new challenge. His brief is to take the school through a complete rebrand as it shifts from a 13+ to an 11+. ‘This is a really lovely school,’ he told us. ‘We just need more people to know that. We are not a “shout the loudest” school but we need to sell our added value competitively.’ To that end a marketing campaign is afoot with a branding agency devising a new logo; the school’s owl emblem will soar rather than its current swooping in for the kill stance. Pupil numbers are already soaring too - up 30 per cent since his arrival. Boyle has reassured his long-term team that he is here to ‘write the next chapter, not the whole book’, but promises ‘no more ticking over’. Describing himself as a modern head who goes beyond administration and assemblies, his aim is to empower staff to raise standards across the board.

From his spacious, elegant office, which opens out on to the school’s vast lawn, he defines Barfield as being a ‘family away from home’. A place of opportunity, real world experiences and character development. ‘A not very preppy prep’. His ambition is that every pupil ‘loves their time here and leaves with great memories’. Parents describe him as ‘a breath of fresh air’. One said, ‘He’s doing a sterling job, no one has a bad word to say about him’. Another told us, ‘He knows both myself and my husband by sight, always makes us feel welcome and is able to talk with us about our children with knowledge and confidence.’ Gate and break duties punctuate his day. He also teaches science and joins in the odd cricket match to boot. If Barfield really is a family, he is surely the fun, wise uncle all the kids love. One boy said, ‘Mr Boyle is very good at making you feel relaxed’ adding that during lockdown he took online assemblies every morning. Turns out he also held story time for the reception children each afternoon and instigated an amusive headmaster’s challenge every week - much to the delight of children and parents alike. He may have taken tenure as a pandemic bought about the most challenging of times for schools, but this head is a Covid keeper.

Newly married with a cocker spaniel and ‘another on the way’, he cites long walks, pub lunches and Frensham Cricket Club as his favoured pastimes.

Entrance

Very healthy nursery intake is ‘expected’ to move through the rest of the school – roughly 70 per cent do. Age-appropriate assessments and taster days determine entry at all levels beyond nursery. Head keen to point out these are ‘not pass or fail situations’ and that Barfield welcomes a breadth of academic capabilities to bring ‘flavour’ to the school.

Exit

No alignments make for a broad selection of ongoing education choices. ‘It’s not about getting a percentage into certain schools. Our job is to get each child into the right school for them’, says the head. In 2021, 25 leavers headed off in 15 different directions. RGS Guildford, Tormead, Salesian College, Farnborough Hill, King Edwards, Whitley, and Lord Wandsworth College were among the favourites.

Our view

As you arrive, you may be forgiven for thinking you’d pitched up at a well-known holiday adventure village. Here in the heart of the Runfold nature reserve in the lush Surrey Hills is one of the country’s highest and longest zip wires suspended across the car park. Then there’s the 14-metre climbing wall, shooting range, paintballing and archery, quad bike circuit and high/low ropes course. One parent told us she gets a ‘pinch me moment’ every time she picks up her children. The award-winning outdoor pursuits centre Three Peaks is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of this otherwise unassuming prep set in 12 leafy acres.

Founded in 1933 as a boys’ boarding school, Barfield became a co-ed day school in 1992 and part of The Cothill Trust in 2016. Two form entry with classes of up to 18. ‘Size is our strength’ says head. But with an overal 60/40 mix of boys and girls which can vary according to year group, one mother did point out it was ‘tricky’ that her daughter only had four other girls in her class at one stage.

Notwithstanding the slick, somewhat saccharine promotional website video, in the flesh Barfield is a little rougher around the edges – and all the better for it. Beyond the sun-drenched picturesque grounds and birdsong, we glimpsed coats off pegs, stray books and water bottles, weeds in borders and chipped paintwork along the narrow corridors. Much like any loving family home. Many schools promote a family ethos, but here it feels authentic. One parent described the level of care as ‘above and beyond’. Another said, ‘They pride themselves in knowing the children well and we have always found this to be true. The staff are dedicated to the happiness and well-being of every child’. Most of those staff have been at the school for a decade or more and clearly view the school as extended family too. The head of PE said, ‘It’s not like work, this is home’. Our guide pointed out her goosebumps as she talked about her own children’s experiences at the school.

Academically, there’s broad ability. The emphasis is on having a go at everything, rather than exceeding in one. Scholarships, declares the head, ‘are too narrow if forced too early in prep school’ and ‘go against everything we are about’. That said, they get good numbers of them. There are extended off-curriculum booster sessions for the gifted and talented too. ‘We are so far away from a hot house,’ says the school and we concur. Such is the emphasis on experiences and enjoyment, we wonder if the children even realise they are at school. One boy described exam week ‘as the best week of my life’ and the children we spoke to all wished for a longer school day. ‘I am always desperate to get here in the mornings,’ says one.

The fun starts in nursery. While classrooms are free-flowing and spacious complete with hi-tech white boards, as much time as possible is spent outside. Little ones toddled past us with muddy faces after a sandy play session. There’s pond dipping, planting flowers in wellies, a fairy garden created by the year sixes, picking from the vegetable patch and lapping up hot chocolate around the log circle. All makes for an idyllic introduction to education. They also enjoy swimming and music lessons with specialist teachers, and participate in whole school events such as the nativity and sports day to smooth the transition to pre-prep. Pre-prep children are taught by a form tutor with specialist teachers for music, PE, swimming, cookery, French and Forest School. In prep, all subjects are specialist taught.

Three SENCos - one a reading specialist - accommodate mild SEN through tailored one-to-one programmes and ‘lots of fresh air, sport and drama’. The same approach underpins general wellbeing. Mental health and discipline are maintained through nature and nurture. Alongside swinging through the trees and hurtling down the zipwire, there’s mindfulness classes and children are taught ‘no feeling is bad’. The head has a keen eye on staff’s wellbeing too.

A local artist has been recruited by the art department, which is housed in a block of its own adorned with all manner of creative endeavours. Year 5s were enthusiastically recreating the work of contemporary installation artist Sarah Sze during our visit. The gallery of scholarship work is outstanding. DT is a mini-maker’s dream with an assortment of scroll saws, sanders, drills and lathes. In lockdown, it was expanded to include a 3D printer and laser cutter. On display in the small auditorium were one 10th scale models of spitfires, rockets and the Mallard sports car driven by local F1 world champion Mike Hawthorne – all built by the children under the direction of the keen DT tutor. Arts Week, when the department ‘crashes the curriculum’ and runs a whole school creative project, is a favourite annual event. Creative children flourish here.

The school’s FOCUS curriculum comprises forest skills, outdoor learning, cross curriculum, understanding the environment and sustainability. All perfectly illustrated in the STEM playground, where we witnessed pupils careering down wooden ramps on crates they’d constructed. To top it off (literally) each class benefits from ‘at least two or three lessons a week’ up in the wifi-enabled treehouse classroom complete with sweeping views of the Surrey Hills for inspiration. Barfield’s USP truly is an education that goes beyond the classroom. Skills for life run seamlessly alongside the academics. Valuable lessons in making tea and loading dishwashers are part of the curriculum. All the children we met were polite with a maturity beyond their years, but a twinkle of adventure in their eyes.

Homework is light and mostly done onsite before more fun at an array of extra-curricular clubs. Judo, junk modelling, coding, LEGO and chess clubs mean wraparound care is enjoyed by the majority. Early morning triathlon club is also heavily subscribed.

Sport is headed up by an ex-military PT instructor who arrived here over three decades ago and hacked his way through the woods to create an obstacle course, shooting range and quad bike circuit. The Three Peaks outdoor pursuits centre was developed fully in 1993 and is open to the public as well as Barfield pupils who enjoy at least one adventure session a week. Alongside command tasks there are regular night camps and the school even runs its own DofE inspired scheme. There are classic sports too, with both boys and girls partaking in hockey, cricket, football, tennis, and athletics. Traditionally, girls play netball and boys, rugby. One older child did wish for more inter-school athletics opportunities, but that’s the closest we got to a complaint all day. Facilities are excellent; three hard and two grass tennis courts, two full size netball courts, a heated indoor swimming pool and even an aeroball court that looked like great fun. The school does well in competitions, particularly aquatics and football. Determined to avoid ‘a remnant group that were never picked’, the school runs challenge matches in all sports for the weaker pupils and Olympic themed sports days where children compete against their own personal bests. Match day teas are a highlight for supportive parents.

Choirs a plenty, an orchestra, rock band and a ukulele group cater for the musically minded. Over half of pupils learn an instrument. Numerous opportunities to perform in concerts, assemblies and community events. A whole school music policy ensures continuity of learning throughout the school by specialist teachers and lessons. One parent described her astonishment that her ‘totally not musical kids’ now play an array of instruments. Drama is embraced with weekly junior and senior drama clubs and regular theatre visits. LAMDA offered from year one.

Described as a ‘very sociable school’ by parents. On the day we visit, preparations were underway for a colour run and family picnic. Barfield Friends also organise the usual quiz nights, Christmas markets and summer fetes. Family backgrounds are generally middle-class business and professionals from the surrounding area. One parent, new to the independent school sector, told us, ‘I was initially anxious about whether, as parents, we would “fit in” with the rest of the school community. I need not have worried at all. There is no pretentiousness.’

The last word

A truly holistic school where children learn to ‘be brave’. Solid academics are underpinned with opportunities for the adventure of a lifetime. Get in quick before the marketing campaign launches!

Special Education Needs

The school has a newly built Learning Support suite manned by three staff; two part time and one full time. The children are withdrawn from class for one to one or group lessons, depending on need.


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