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‘Not too big, not too small’ Goldilocks aspect attracts parents, who say children receive ‘high quality school experiences’ and ‘are not just a number’. Previously known as something of a hothouse, but now heading very much in the opposite direction of more creative learning within a gentle, fun community where academic achievement stands shoulder-to-shoulder with wellbeing and extracurricular. Even the children – full of optimism and happy faces - notice that teachers enjoy what they do and ‘go out of their way’. We noticed strong...

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What the school says...

Set in thirty acres of beautiful grounds just outside Tunbridge Wells in Kent, Holmewood House School is a happy busy environment, where smiles prevail and children flourish. The breadth of curriculum, specialist teaching in all subjects, superb facilities, a vast range of afternoon activities, in an outstanding family atmosphere, all combine to make Holmewood one of the leading prep schools in the country. Holmewood is described by a current parent as a happy and vibrant school full of opportunites. Come and visit us in Tunbridge Wells and see for yourself what an inspiring place for children Holmewood truly is. ...Read more

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What The Good Schools Guide says


Since 2022, Ruth O’Sullivan BEd MEd, previously head of South Lee School, Bury St Edmunds, and before that deputy head at St John’s College School, Cambridge for 14 years. School’s first female head – a trailblazer in all senses. Hails from Dublin. Degree in education and master’s on young children’s leadership, from Cambridge. Family-oriented – loves spending downtime outdoors on walks with her husband and children.

Undaunted by the school’s history and tradition (the main building first belonged to Queen Victoria’s gynaecologist), she saw work to do. More interested in shining a light on the children than on school prestige – not a cup or shield in sight. In the main buildings, she replaced marketing displays on the school’s grandeur with children’s artwork. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the theme of her master’s, she bops in her seat when talking about the importance of giving children opportunities to be independent. Changes aplenty to her ‘new, innovative curriculum’ that ‘changes in real time’, responding to our constantly evolving world. ‘My Heart, My Mind, My World’ helps children understand themselves and their place in the world through tasks and discussions intended to develop curiosity and a sense of responsibility.

Both animated and reflective, she works from a welcoming office with fire smouldering and views of the school’s lush grounds. Perceived as a headstrong leader who doesn’t hold back (‘hasn’t always put her foot right with parents’), yet ultimately as ‘approachable and engaged’. Children tell us they often go to their ‘school mother figure’ who is ‘strict if she needs to be'. They say they ‘love her’ and find her relatable – she showed off her football skills when kicking the ball back across the playground during break time. Collaboration is vital, she believes – both within school and with the outside world. Wants to be ‘at the forefront of educational innovations’ and to share that with other schools. She talks glowingly of hosting other local schools for a recent pop art and sculpture exhibition – wants children to see their potential in the world. ‘Children are the ultimate measure of our success.’

In keeping with her view that leadership doesn’t always have to be hierarchical, she says the children help drive change in the school (eg children now have five minutes’ daily mindfulness at their request). Teacher buy-in sometimes a challenge for this but she is unfazed as ‘I know it is what is right for the children, and we all have to be flexible in our thought process – if people aren’t ready for change, they’ll move.’ Encourages teachers to ‘share new innovations to inspire each other’, and she still teaches herself – ‘would miss it too much’. No slave to digital innovation – at an early presentation to the school, she was asked where her PowerPoint was. Baffled – ‘I don’t use them’ – she speaks only from her heart. Unrehearsed and unflinching.


Academically non-selective, with main entry points into nursery, reception and years 3 and 6, although many join in other years, including mid-year. From reception, entrance via taster day and a report. From year 3, children sit a computer based cognitive ability test. Hobbies, interests, learning preferences and any pastoral concerns form a profile to help teachers prepare for new arrivals. Despite perception of being a male-heavy school, gender split is almost equal. Currently no waiting lists.


Around two-thirds stay the course to 13+, mainly to boarding, near and far – notably Hurstpierpoint, King’s Canterbury, Rugby, Eastbourne College and Millfield. Traditional local options of Tonbridge, Sevenoaks and Brighton remain popular. The remaining third (roughly two-thirds girls) leave at 11+ – preventable, some feel, if benefits of staying were presented in a more personal, direct way. One parent may have been persuaded to stay, ‘had there been a five-minute conversation at the beginning of year 6’.

Our view

The main house is an emblem of history and splendour, a proud centrepiece to the school’s 32 acres, with more functional, albeit rather less beautiful, add-ons from over the years. In every direction are well-maintained green spaces and trees, which pockets of children enjoy in all weathers including the chilly March day we visited. Adjacent to the quiet Langton Green suburbs, the affluent, bustling Tunbridge Wells is just 10 minutes away. Far enough for the school to feel like its own microcosm.

‘Not too big, not too small’ Goldilocks aspect attracts parents, who say children receive ‘high quality school experiences’ and ‘are not just a number’. Previously known as something of a hothouse, but now heading very much in the opposite direction of more creative learning within a gentle, fun community where academic achievement stands shoulder-to-shoulder with wellbeing and extracurricular. Uniforms are smart and simple, but not ostentatious (no boaters or bonnets). ’Not one for the plutocrats,’ said a parent – or those looking for ‘an alpha school’. Even the children – full of optimism and happy faces – notice that teachers enjoy what they do and ‘go out of their way’. We noticed strong mutual respect, eg an art teacher praising a child for their impressive pottery work.

Specialist teachers for French, art, music, DT, swimming and games from the off, then for everything from year 5. Setting in maths from year 3. Scholarship sets recently ditched to avoid ‘death by practice paper’ isolation and an elitist stigma, but ‘high standards still very much achievable’. An enriched humanities programme for years 7 and 8 has replaced traditional religious studies, history and geography – exploration emphasised alongside rigour. Watch this space for more links with industry, with plans to set up permanent programmes so children see potential future steps.

Classrooms feel lived in, yet well looked after. Library, once underused and with no librarian (a teacher did it part time), is now rebranded as the ‘creative learning hub’ with a ‘creative learning lead’. As well as enticing children to read (fairy lights, bean bags and thematically linked, carefully arranged book displays), they organise topical activities linking to culture and diversity, eg serving tea to visitors at Chinese new year and making badges on International Women’s Day – sadly on hold during our visit due to exam season. The hub is also a popular peaceful refuge at break time – older pupils with librarian responsibilities can entertain and read stories for younger pupils.

New senior leadership team shares head’s priorities of collaboration and innovation – ‘plasticity of mind’. Staff proud of ‘exciting new directions’ that the school is pushing. Children trusted more than ever – they’re encouraged, for example, to use some impressive-looking band saws and drills in DT, and delight in regaling us with the safety precautions. A common theme: children feeling trusted and encouraged to be independent. They love having a voice and shaping their school – ‘creating a new world,’ as they earnestly call it. In a push on pastoral care, ‘Wellbeing Wednesdays’ (every other week) see children invited to discuss any worries in ‘safety circles’. There are plans to develop a new wellbeing centre for the whole school community – children, staff and parents.

Learning strategies department, with its own head, is proactive in supporting SEN – ‘really on the ball’, say parents. No stigma – ‘we know everybody learns differently’. Strategies tailored according to individual need, eg one-to-one specialist dyslexia lessons, social communication group sessions and movement breaks for children with ADHD. Outside specialists brought in to diagnose and assess, and can provide extra support in class. They can support with mental health or social and emotional difficulties too if they are a barrier to learning – ‘always available for a sensitive, practical conversation,’ said one parent.

Burgeoning creative and sporting talents make the most of an arsenal of extracurricular opportunities, from squash to shooting. In sport, children are often ‘pigeonholed early’ based on their level aged 7 or 8, but the department is responsive to need and interest – recent multi-school girls’ football tournament was popular, with a buzz palpable for days after. A minor gripe for some is that there’s not enough tennis – limited to summer and the coach that doesn’t always turn up, apparently. However, the school is addressing this and has appointed a new coach. But children all name different sports as ‘their thing’ – reflective of the breadth on offer. Teaching unanimously appreciated, with swimming teachers getting the biggest thumbs-up.

While traditionally sport was the heaviest hitter, school now ‘manages to hit above its weight’ in other areas too. Theatre set up for Shrek when we visited (props made in-house by the children), with everyone from age 10+ participating. Annual big production, with smaller performances and workshops dotted through the calendar. Drama begins as informal role-play in early years, with increased opportunities for performance and public speaking year-on-year. LAMDA offered.

Well-equipped music block, where around 60 per cent of children learn an instrument in a row of small practice rooms upstairs. School ‘finds the right teacher, whatever the instrument’. Whole school orchestra, plus swing bands, jazz bands and a variety of choirs. Culture of regular concerts, promoting pride and purpose. Fun is at the heart – engagement and enthusiasm the gateway to grander aspirations.

Art teachers (including a children’s illustrator and author) described as ‘inspirational’. Displays, all around the school, range from pre-nursery Gruffalo masks to year 5 aboriginal paintings. Growing emphasis on digitally enhanced learning – projects using 3D printers, robot pets and remote-controlled flying egg carriers (eggcellent idea).

Dozens of clubs and enrichment opportunities both within curriculum time and as part of the school’s wraparound care, ranging from more academic (eg debating, Mandarin – presumably not debating in Mandarin though) to tranquil (mindfulness and arts and crafts) to downright fun (Lego technics and paddleboarding). Days out – such as trip to Houses of Parliament – focus on children making ‘concrete connections to their wider world’. Bigger trips include skiing from year 3, a year 5 ‘bushcraft’ day, a year 6 camping weekend, year 7 team building activities, day trips to France in year 8 as part of the humanities course and the much-anticipated, adventure-filled year 8 residential trip to Wales.

School takes a restorative justice approach to behaviour management. ‘Mistakes are opportunities to learn,’ the children told us, although some seemed more focused on sanctions than rewards: ‘the pin of shame – your star goes blue and all the teachers can see it.’ The power of talking is part of the culture here, with children encouraged to feel empowered ‘to find solutions themselves’ when disagreements happen. They know when they’re doing well – via tutor time, verbal recognition, head’s commendations and the holy grail of the postcard home.

Something for all palates at lunchtime – we enjoyed ham with seasonal veg, and it was impossible to pass up the sponge pudding recommended by the children.

Some parent niggles about ‘a lot of new ideas in a short space of time’. Alterations in drop-off arrangements got ‘less than supportive’ reaction, for example, and enrichment curriculum changes (previously children chose two activities; the new programme is more structured) ‘could have been communicated more clearly’. But parents are just as quick to praise the school’s flexibility (eg new bus route) and on our arrival, a parent’s complaint about the organisation of their child’s locker was sensitively and discreetly dealt with – ‘always someone to speak to’.

All said, it’s a passionate, busy community that people put their heart into. The well-loved café in the school theatre building is a great space to make links over a latte, while fireworks nights and the big summer fete are complemented by frequent lower-key events that represent a big effort from the school on building community. Staff attend the popular quiz nights, not token appearances either, they join in the fun – Mrs O’Sullivan helped clean away after the most recent event, and not for brownie points.


Cosy dorms are in the Mansion House where pupils have a ‘great time’ boarding, noting it ‘feels like home’. Around half of full boarders are international. Flexi, weekly and full options (‘extremely adaptable,’ said a parent), with the emphasis on a busy, structured timetable of fun weekend and evening activities.

Money matters

Fees are slightly higher than other local preps. Means-tested bursaries available, up to 100 per cent.

The last word

A new dawn has prompted creative approaches to bringing out the best in pupils. Turbo-powered leadership and a head with a heart: ‘the school needs what she brings’. Broad, enriching, tailored experiences that don't feel homogenous, with values of kindness and aspiration permeating the place. Small enough to not get lost in the crowd, but big enough for them to shine, whatever their unique talent.

Special Education Needs

We have an excellent Learning Support Department with one specialist teacher and four learning support assistants who provide monitoring, evaluation and specific teaching for children throughout the school. To ensure that every child reaches his or her academic potential, the Learning Support Department administers nationally standardised assessment tests to all pupils. This screening process starts in Year 1 and continues until Year 8. Learning support is all-inclusive in the Pre-Prep unless a specialist tutor or individual learning support assistant is specifically required. In the Prep School, pupils are charged pro rata for learning support and detailed assessments. We are proud of the achievements of our pupils who may have experienced some difficulties in their primary years. The majority of these children succeed in gaining places, through the Common Entrance exam, to a variety of schools. 09-09

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder Y
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders Y
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL)
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class
HI - Hearing Impairment
Hospital School
Mental health
MLD - Moderate Learning Difficulty Y
MSI - Multi-Sensory Impairment
Natspec Specialist Colleges
OTH - Other Difficulty/Disability
Other SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
PD - Physical Disability
PMLD - Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulty
SEMH - Social, Emotional and Mental Health Y
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication Y
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty Y
VI - Visual Impairment Y

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