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With headship now combined, the ethos, layout and feel here is of one unified school. Sport takes place every day and the teaching and learning ethos favours building long-term, transferable skills and producing community and globally minded pupils. Teaching units have built-in sustainability goals and class ‘eco warriors’ sit alongside school councillors and reading ambassadors.

Boarding is big here, with good vibes and beautiful views over the grounds. Vast majority of pupils stay for years 7 and 8 and go on to senior boarding schools. Thirteen scholarships in 2023.

Academic setting is largely comprehensive. Compulsory school (full day) on Saturdays for year 4 and above.

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What the school says...

Highfield and Brookham is a nursery, pre-prep and prep for boys and girls aged 2-13. We celebrate our independence and prepare children for the leading boarding and top day schools. We have a strong sense of togetherness and welcoming family feel, working together with our families to provide the very best education. Our beautiful 175-acre estate, on the borders of Surrey, West Sussex and Hampshire, provides a wonderful place for learning. Choosing us will have a positive impact on your child’s learning journey, ensuring they grow up as happy, well-rounded individuals, keen to tackle the next stage of their education. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says

Head

Since 2022, Mrs Suzannah Cryer, previously head of drama then head of boarding at Highfield, later deputy head in charge of pastoral at Thomas's, Battersea. A former actress, she found her dream role working on the pastoral side of education and moved to Thomas’s to further that interest. When Highfield’s former head retired, she ‘threw her hat in the ring’, and was thrilled to get the part. ‘It was a gamble,’ she says, ‘but I knew the school and could hit the ground running.’

We found Mrs Cryer to be polished, engaging and genuinely excited about her school. Pushed to use words other than ‘great’ and ‘lovely’, one parent described her as ‘energetic, bubbly, with lots of enthusiasm’. Another went for, ‘She has good energy. She’s a do-er.’ ‘She had big shoes to fill,’ we heard, and some were anxious about the transition. However, they report ‘small changes’ and a sense of being ‘eased into’ new ideas.

‘I’m not into the hierarchical approach [to leadership],’ she says, evidenced by her broadening of management to include four new deputy heads. She tells us she’s thrilled be the first woman at the helm and is keen to support working parents. ‘She’s moved away from the expectation that mothers turn up to midweek events,’ a parent confirmed. You never have to worry about working late,’ said another, ‘you can collect happy, fed children at 7pm.’

Half Canadian, Mrs Cryer went to Redcliff School (prep) then Cobham Hall in Kent, where she boarded. Her husband, Bob, is an actor and they have three daughters, now in their late teens and early twenties. And as an actress? (we had to ask): ‘The Bill, Casualty, Doctors… you know, the usual.’

Entrance

Non-selective. Children can start nursery aged two and stay until year 8. Formal assessment not required if joining later (a taster day and school reports are normally sufficient), but available places fluctuate.

Exit

Vast majority stay for years 7 and 8 and go on to senior boarding schools. Seaford, Charterhouse, Marlborough and Cranleigh are the most popular destinations. Others to Benenden, Bryanston, Wellington, Eton, Canford, Winchester, Brighton College, Gordonstoun, Bradfield, Stowe, Rugby, Sherborne, Radley, Epsom College, Churcher’s College and Sherborne Girls. In 2024, 15 scholarships.

Our view

Set back from the road, Highfield and Brookham has 175 acres to play with and a baffling array of car parks, so no shortage of spaces once you’ve found your way. Founded in 1892 (current site since 1904), Highfield School went co-ed in 1978 and dropped the compulsory boarding element in 1999. Pre-prep was added to the site in 1992, merging completely, under Mrs Cryer’s headship, in 2022.

Staff showed us around the nursery first, where PE (adorable chaos) was in session. It’s huge, uncluttered, all sensory calming, sustainable wood and hessian. They leave open doors for free-flow learning and child-initiated play. Fully subscribed but it doesn’t feel like it. What it feels like is Ikea – but in a good way.

Specialist teachers for swimming, ballet, music, Spanish and forest school. Parents told us ‘kids settle in quickly’ thanks to the ‘soft touch’ of ‘nurturing, reassuring teachers’.

Unusually, pre-prep here extends to include year 3, but the sense of transition is slight. With headship now combined, the ethos, layout and feel is of a unified school. Shared facilities, including sports halls, swimming pool, pitches, science labs and music. Integrated IT with computers and iPads from year 1 but displays suggest handwriting hasn’t suffered. Teaching units have built-in sustainability goals and class ‘eco warriors’ sit alongside school counsellors and reading ambassadors.

Once in prep, academic setting remains largely comprehensive. A maths top set, but no ‘bottom set’, as the other classes are mixed. Year 8 academic scholarship set. Compulsory school (full day) on Saturdays for year 4 and above.

The teaching and learning ethos favours building long-term, transferable skills and producing community and globally minded pupils. A refreshed curriculum includes stripped-back Common Entrance (core subjects only) replaced with inquiry-based in-house diploma awards. One parent told us, ‘It was time for a change, things were a bit bumbling… Suzannah’s making things more contemporary.’ Her new Saturday curriculum is contentious though - a collaborative, ‘ecopreneurship’ model that promotes multi-disciplinary learning. We, like most parents we spoke to, were impressed, but some favour a return to academics. ‘The head just needs more time to get her feet under the table,’ one told us, ‘but I get the vision, the world’s moved on.’ ‘The jury’s out,’ said another.

Another highlight is the weekly ‘Keys’ outreach programme, with students volunteering in the community: reading with reception, visiting homes for the elderly or working at local nurseries.

Our guides showed us around impressive facilities – the chapel, indoor swimming pool, DT workshop and theatre. Visiting classrooms (up to 18 per class) we found that the general buzz echoed parent assertions of ‘confident, happy children’, relaxed in themselves, enjoying their learning. Good relationships with staff were evident. ‘Teachers are amazing, they really listen to the children,’ said one parent. ‘Hardly any unpopular teachers,’ said another. We visited a year 4 wellbeing class on resolving conflict (‘Just ask them to leave you alone?’) and a year 6 science class of interested little faces tucked behind big safety goggles. Displays on climate, hydrocarbons and thermals were in keeping with the school’s sustainability focus.

Sport takes place every day and swimming is a highlight, swim squad train most days and everyone receives weekly lessons. ‘My (pre-prep) children used to be scared of the water,’ said one parent, ‘now they swim like mermaids!’ PE staff field mixed-ability teams, ‘If they’re not playing a very competitive school’. Bad sportsmanship can result in demotion. ‘Lots of energy goes into sport,’ said one parent, who was ‘a bit disappointed’ there wasn’t as much in arts.

About one third of pupils take additional music lessons, costs are in line with other local schools. Highlights are flute choir, orchestra, rock concerts, autumn/spring concerts. Chapel choir (audition only) performs for the local community. Two main drama spaces: a studio and a theatre with retractable seating. Productions looked ambitious (Hairspray, Macbeth, Joseph…). Each year group puts on an annual show; Shakespeare for Schools Festival in year 7 and a September poetry competition involves every child. Opportunities to get involved in the technical side of productions higher up the school.

Lots of free clubs, thanks to the longer contractual (boarding) hours of staff, including rugby, cricket, tennis, maths, chess, coding, bushcraft and Airfix (buy your own kit). Clubs requiring specialist teachers cost extra.

A robust team of SEN staff that ‘really get it’, say parents. We agree – pupils with wide range of additional needs, including ADHD, ASC, dyslexia and Down syndrome are well supported here. Eight children with EHC plans at the time of our visit. Prep and pre-prep learning support combined under one SENCo, trained in state sector. Individual learning support sessions we saw in pre-pep were ‘just an intervention’ not ‘an extra’. And there’s no stigma here. One girl happily told us she has learning support twice a week: ‘You get to do fun stuff,’ she said.

Network of professionals frequently on site, including speech and language, occupational therapy and psychologists. Support from these, where appropriate, can be embedded in the school day (costs extra). ELSA (Emotional Literacy Support Assistants), independent listeners, play therapists and EAL support given. ‘Team around the Child’ meetings facilitate free flow of specialist advice. ‘If you asked me what it all boils down to, it’s communication,’ said the SENCo, ‘I want happy, independent learners.’ On which note she advised, ‘the site isn’t brilliant’ for anyone with a mobility issue.

For those just needing down time or a chat, the Beehive is a central wellbeing hub with sofas and beanbags, staffed from 8am. Year 8 peer listeners are there Monday break times. Pastoral staff ‘do everything they can’, say grateful parents.

Local reputation for oversized cars and designer outfits was rebuffed by the head, who told us parents are ‘hard working and committed’, adding, ‘They’re full of energy and absolutely want the best for their children.’ Those we spoke to, many of whom had moved from London, described themselves as a 'broad range of people, lawyers, bankers…’. ‘It’s a shifting demographic, there are lots of working parents looking after the pennies, while some still look like they could afford it with their eyes closed.’

Boarders

Junior boarding (years 3 to 5) provides a quiet, comfortable home with a protected feel, close to the centre of the school. The ‘steps to boarding’ programme (from two fixed nights a week) is available until year 7 and there are usually around 18 full- and part-time boarders in residence. Both houseparents teach in pre-prep and showed real warmth and enthusiasm for their parenting role. Their own nursery-aged son and pet cat, Fred, help generate the ‘big family’ feel. Gorgeous lounge full of games, activity table, TV, window seats. Four bright, clean bunkrooms and we loved the communal teeth-brushing area.

Dinner times and activities shared with senior boarding which is based on the upper floors of the main school house. Most board part-time at first but by year 8 most are boarding either weekly or full-time, with around 10-15 year 8s choosing the day pupil option. Capacity of 130 means even part-timers get their own bed. When we asked, school told us there was currently no policy around boarding arrangements for trans pupils.

Good vibes and beautiful views over the grounds. Between three and six to a room, juggled termly to avoid cliques forming. Dorms had been recently redecorated when we visited, but common rooms ‘awaiting a refresher’. We detected a pragmatic approach from houseparents and ‘grads’, keeping things firm but fun; dorm points for good behaviour and tidiness, voting on activities. Boarders in year 8 told us the boys get to stay up 15 minutes later, because they don’t need ‘whispering time’ like the girls. ‘We can make deals,’ one explained, ‘in exchange for good behaviour.’ Another said, ‘The matrons are kind of like mums to us.’

Money matters

Costs in line with other (boarding) rivals and facilities compare well. Optional 7pm pick up is another plus, but costs extra. Highfield School Centenary Bursaries Fund offers ‘life-changing bursary support’ (100 per cent) to up to two children each year. Other bursaries independently assessed.

Sibling discounts start, unusually, from second child, rising from 2.5 per cent to 12.5 per cent for four children or more (excludes nursery).

The last word

An aspirational prep fostering good principles from where pupils progress successfully to a wide range of big-name senior schools. Excellent facilities, and learning support is a strength. Dynamic new leadership promises exciting times ahead.

Special Education Needs

We are not a selective school, and welcome all pupils, who can make the most of the opportunities and can flourish in its caring environment, both as a day pupil or as a boarder. The directors and staff are fully committed to inclusivity and to giving every child the best possible start in life. Treating every child as an individual is important, and pupils with physical disabilities and whose Special Educational Needs (SEN) and learning difficulties are suited to the academic curriculum, are welcomed, provided the Learning Support Department can provide them with the help and support they require.

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 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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