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What says..

Brilliant, diverse and poly-faceted artwork - we were truly struck by the rigour and values underpinning the skills and the freedom pupils were given to develop as they needed. Witty ceramics, clever textiles, wood and resistant materials productions with mind-opening themes explored with structure and solidity. Arguably, the most impressively led art dept in the country. Set in extensive woodlands and the older children trail 10 minutes through the woods to the village with its supermarket and sweetshop. Immense and meticulously kept grounds...

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What the school says...

Frensham Heights is a highly distinctive school in a world of educational conformity. We have developed from the progressive school movement and are acknowledged as one of the leading liberal schools in the country. Our belief is in individuality, creativity in all areas and that the best form of competition is with one's self. ...Read more

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All-through school (for example 3-18 years). - An all-through school covers junior and senior education. It may start at 3 or 4, or later, and continue through to 16 or 18. Some all-through schools set exams at 11 or 13 that pupils must pass to move on.

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since January 2019, Rick Clarke, previously deputy head at Warminster School. Born and raised in South Africa (his father was a teacher and his mother an ed psych), he has a degree in English and psychology from the University of Natal and a PGCE. Has taught English in South Africa and the UK; posts include head of English at St John's College in Johannesburg and at Brighton College and housemaster at Wellington College. A keen runner, he is training for his first half marathon. His wife, Natalie, is an artist and art teacher and they have two children who have joined the school.

Academic matters

Not 'selective' as normally understood - this school is more concerned that you join them for the right reasons than because you will help them soar to league-table-topping prominence. A smallish school, so not the hugest range of subject options at GCSE or A level. Very high pupil:teacher ratio makes for lots of small group and one-one support. Impressive results in Eng lit; the three sciences, when taken separately, also impress though most take IGCSE double award. Blissfully small classes for eg RE, ICT (computing GCSE, computer science A level). No Latin, no Greek. Photography taken - spectacularly - as an extracurricular GCSE with huge numbers and great success - see below. All A level subjects taught in small groups – much appreciated by students. English, maths, geography, history, art most popular. Only a few take langs, including some native speakers. Sixth form seen by some as being less rigorous academically than it might but the newish head of sixth is 'driving up standards,' we were assured. And 'we are upping our game in stretching the gifted and talented'. Parents concur. 'Not hothousing doesn't mean they can't achieve highly,' affirmed one. In 2018, 30 per cent A*-A/9-7 at GCSE and 33 per cent A*/A grades at A level (64 per cent A*-B). Disappointing library which doubles as café and place to sprawl in breaks with little evidence of its books being used. Recent expansion of science block to create six separate labs.

Loads of support - eg maths clinic each lunchtime. Not great for wheelchair users as the site is huge, bumpy and has steps. Main House not wheelchair-friendly at all. But school will try to take anyone they feel will benefit - mild SEN are catered for with enthusiasm and dedication and some families shared between Frensham and nearby More House for those with greater needs. 'My daughter had one-to-one for her reading and her reading age jumped two years in a term.'

Games, options, the arts

Think, Create, Explore is inscribed around the school and the vast menu of extracurricular options should tempt the most sluggish teenager to do just that. Bike maintenance, American football, boules, tap dancing, barbershop and various dance forms - before, during and after school and at weekends. Excellent new music block; around half learns at least one musical instrument in school - 'Frensham bends over backwards to find teachers if you want to learn some different instrument,' a budding soloist enthused. Masses of bands, orchestras, ensembles, choirs and performance courses through the veins of the school. Dance much praised and popular. Drama is well-provided for and central to the school. The theatre is a wonderful asset - it has everything and does everything - and is well used, as are the two drama studios and the little wooden outdoor theatre on the front lawn. Performance values are high with a healthy, pervasive culture of it being OK to perform. Creative drama team under innovative long-serving head of dept.

Outstanding photography under even longer-serving, inspirational leadership and now with unique facilities for techniques old and new. Brilliant, diverse and poly-faceted artwork - we were truly struck by the rigour and values underpinning the skills and the freedom pupils were given to develop as they needed. Witty ceramics, clever textiles, wood and resistant materials productions with mind-opening themes explored with structure and solidity. Arguably, the most impressively led art dept in the country.

Sports are enthusiastic, various and 'improving', according to parents, though some feel they could and should be better. School points out that they are now competing against much bigger schools and taking part in various national cup competitions. 'Outdoor education' is important - there is forest school, the outdoor Terrace Theatre, the swimming pool in the walled garden and loads of activities to develop outdoor skills - DofE gold award taken here and the whole school breathes in its own glorious 'outdoors'. Facilities - indoor and out - are certainly conducive to performance but one senses that real energies go into creativity rather than goal-scoring.

Boarders

Hamilton House accommodates the 11-13 year-old boarders - boys and girls housed on different floors. They share a breakfast room/kitchen and a large garden. Main House houses the older boarders - girls and boys in opposite wings and with entry codes. Roberts House, the sixth form centre, is everyone's base all day: day pupils share studies and workspace. We knocked at a random door and found two lads in hoodies actually working and blinking at the disturbance. Whole school on fibre-optic broadband and Facebook etc blocked till tea-time. Boarding is good - decent sized rooms in the main though some singles are tightish; nice, bright shower rooms and good kitchens. Exceptionally welcoming sitting rooms - especially The Sit, which looks like home. Food - very good, we tried it - served in big dining room with tables and banquettes and everyone eats ensemble. Around a third stay in at weekend and are busy - see note about extracurricular above. Powerful cleaning fluid smells almost knocked us over in several buildings.

Background and atmosphere

Charles Charrington, the brewer, acquired Fir Grove House on the edge of Rowledge village, overlooking a panorama of Surrey woods and hills and transformed it into Frensham Heights - an imposing gothic red-brick residence with turrets, leaded lights and stained glass, splendid Georgian-style interiors, cornices, architraves, fireplaces - the lot - in 1902, as a would-be ancestral pile. Alas, the First World War intervened and the house became a military hospital and, as the old order changed, was reinvented as a school by three redoubtable women - Edith Douglas-Hamilton and joint headmistresses, Beatrice Ensor and Isabel King. Ensor, an early proponent of Montessori education, was a theosophist, a vegetarian and an anti-vivisectionist. But the school's progressive credentials, being coeducational and liberal, were integral to its ethos from the first. Strangely, every head since its pioneers has been male.

Set in extensive woodlands and the older children trail 10 minutes through the woods to the village with its supermarket and sweetshop. Immense and meticulously kept grounds - school pays tribute to the excellence of the financial management and, indeed, it is admirable that the place is so well maintained with so small a population of fee-payers. Newer buildings nestle in trees and witty sculptures sprawl on the lawns and in foyers - we loved the slumbrous wire rabbit ('the little kids curl up in its ears') and the jokey wax mushrooms, as well as the huge black panther.

No uniform - so everyone bar a few in uniform of hoody, leggings/jeans, sweatshirts, boots/trainers. It looks relaxed and sane - enhanced by the amount of linked arms and hugging we saw - more like a bunch of French children, we thought. Central to the ethos is personal maturity: 'They are given real responsibility,' one parent told us, 'and can take the initiative - the school's approach to that is excellent.' This extends to falling in and out of love, which, of course, they do, but we were impressed by the compassion and mutual respect with which this is handled. 'It does happen but anything more than a hug or kiss in public is frowned on and people are respectful of what others want to see... if people break up, we look after each other,' a wise mid-teen averred. 'It's not for everyone,' said another. 'If you need real structure and routine it's not for you.' 'Conventional parents need to look beyond the informality and recognise that the pupils respect the teachers because of the way they treat them rather than because of the rules,' a less conventional parent asserted.

Pastoral care, well-being and discipline

Everyone agrees about the staff: 'It's almost personal tutoring - they know how I learn so they explain it to me how they know I can understand,' a bright sixth former told us. 'They encourage pupils to excel in music, art, sport - whatever they're good at,' said a parent. Also a sense of a recent tightening of discipline - especially on illicit fags and booze. 'Some people were getting cocky - they've cracked down on it now,' we were advised. But pastoral care universally praised: 'They're not heavy-handed over minor transgressions - they see them in a learning context but if you cross a line you'll be suspended.' And another parent: 'If you've got that much freedom you need the support to go with it.' A strong sense that mutual respect and mutual support is central to the ethos of the place.

Pupils and parents

Around 75 per cent day pupils who come from a radius of about 40 miles - Petersfield, Goldalming, Farnham. Boarders are weekly eg from London or from overseas and school has wise policy of not taking more than four pupils who speak any one language into any senior year. So penny nos from eg Russia, Germany, Croatia, Spain. Intensive EAL available though needed by very few. Notable Old Frenshamians include performers Bill and Jon Pertwee, Jamie Glover, David Berglas, Rufus Hound, Hattie Morahan; also Sir Claus Moser, Noah Bulkin (Merrill Lynch, Lazard, now entrepreneur) and uber-fraudster, Edward Davenport.

Entrance

All candidates for years 7-9 are interviewed. Exams a week or so later - 11+ tests in reading, writing, spelling, maths and non-verbal reasoning. Same plus a science test for 13+ candidates, though pre-testing in year 6 for boarding year 9 places available on request. 'We are not only interested in academics. Our selection process is also based on performance in a group interview.' Sixth form places require six GCSEs at 4+, ideally with 6s in A level subjects, 'but we're flexible,' says Andrew. School also sets its own papers for sixth form entry. Oversubscribed by 4:1 at this stage.

Exit

Around 50 per cent leaves at 16 - mostly to the several large state (free) sixth form colleges round about, some few for the IB or for subjects not on offer here. Nearly all who stay get to their first choice university which suggests good guidance and realistic applications. To one of the widest range of tertiary education establishments we have seen. Many to creative courses - arts, design, music - but also the odd Oxbridge entrant (one to Cambridge - architecture - in 2018, plus one off to study graphic arts in New York) and others to study everything from architecture at Nottingham to geography at King's, London. Different, diverse, distinctive.

Money matters

Sibling discounts for third and subsequent children of 10 per cent. Scholarships and exhibitions in academics, performing arts, creative arts and sport up to £750 pa - so glory rather than gold. Means-tested bursaries in case of need but school has no endowments so not plentiful.

Our view

A place to grow up in. Every kind of opportunity to become the person you are meant to be and to learn about others while you're at it. Civilised, liberal values with wraparound care and support. We loved it.

Independent schools frequently offer IGCSEs or other qualifications alongside or as an alternative to GCSE. The DfE does not record performance data for these exams so independent school GCSE data is frequently misleading; parents should check the results with the schools.

Who came from where

Who goes where

Special Education Needs

Frensham Heights provides group lessons from Year 1 for those considered to have mild learning difficulties. These lessons not only offer support but enable the teacher to monitor individual progress. From Year 7 the school uses a diagnostic test to assess the learning needs of all pupils and this is then influential on how lessons are planned and how those with IEPs are managed. Frensham Heights does not have a Special Needs Unit. Our provision is managed by a Head of Learning Support working with a team of peripatetic specialist teachers who provide support on a one-to-one basis, but this is charged separately.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
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
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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