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Everyone talked of the diversity of families – the much-vaunted Millfield Mix. Parents told us the school is ‘down to earth’, ‘isn’t snobby’ and that the pupils ‘aren’t all walking round in designer clothes – nothing like that’. There’s an extensive outreach programme and parents say the school is firmly rooted in the community. ‘They did a fantastic job of supporting the local community during the pandemic,’ said one father. ‘We live nearby and they...

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What the school says...

Founded in 1935, Millfield’s vision is to be the leading global arena for the development of children, with 1280 pupils aged 13-18, of whom 75 percent are full boarders. Millfield’s facilities are unmatched in the UK: an Olympic-sized swimming pool, indoor golf, cricket and equestrian centres; concert hall, theatre, art gallery, music centre, hi-tech chemistry block and outstanding teaching facilities; and the boarding accommodation is amongst the very best in the country. Millfield has the resource and attitude to bring together key staff to provide an education and experience that honours the individual child at the centre. This doesn’t happen in other schools. With small class sizes of around 8-16, sophisticated use of digital technology, excellent teachers and expert sports coaches, every student is individually supported to discover their brilliance. ...Read more

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Curricula

Cambridge Pre-U - an alternative to A levels, with all exams at the end of the two-year course.

Other features

Music and dance scheme - government funding and grants available to help with fees at selected independent music and dance schools.

Choir school - substantial scholarships and bursaries usually available for choristers.

Sports

Unusual sports

Polo

Equestrian centre or equestrian team - school has own equestrian centre or an equestrian team.

Fencing

Shooting

Sailing

What The Good Schools Guide says

Headmaster

Since 2018, Gavin Horgan MA (Oxon) (40s). Previously head of Worksop College. Educated at Stonyhurst College, where he was awarded an assisted place and bursary, and Oxford, where he read classics. ‘My father was a postmaster and my mother was a special needs teacher and they lived in an ex-mining village in Dumfriesshire so it’s very clear to me that without the bursary or the assisted place my fortunes in life would have been very different,’ he says.

After university he worked for the Red Cross and then taught in Sri Lanka. On his return to the UK he taught English at Calthorpe Park School in Hampshire and Archbishop Tenison’s School (overlooking the Oval), qualifying as a teacher through the Graduate Teacher Programme. Spent two years at deputy head of St George’s College in Buenos Aires before being appointed as deputy rector of Glasgow Academy. He spent six years as head of Worksop College – ‘a small mixed ability boarding and day school’ – where he organised a school trip to scale previously unclimbed mountains in Greenland, believing that risk is essential to children's development. The pupils spent a year preparing for the harsh conditions in the Arctic Circle, flew there in a Catalina seaplane and carried out scientific research. He’d like to organise something similar at Millfield.

He believes that his diverse experience has been invaluable to his Millfield role. ‘I’ve been like a magpie in my career, trying to put myself in different educational settings so I can bring the best of all of them to the role I’m in,’ he says. He admits that when he first visited Millfield he was stunned by its scale. ‘Like so many people I was guilty of thinking that a school this big must be daunting or intimidating when actually the reality is that a school this big provides a place for everybody in a way that smaller schools can’t.’

He’s hugely proud of Millfield’s sporting achievements but highlights its myriad academic and musical successes too. ‘Millfield has always been determinedly diverse and hasn’t cared a fig about tradition in a way that other independent schools thrive off their traditions,’ he says. ‘It’s very refreshing in this day and age.’

Parents like his dynamic approach. One told us, ‘He is a nice, personable guy who makes a point of knowing all the kids.’ Another said, ‘He is very impressive – both as an individual and as a head. He has innate leadership qualities and is thoroughly likeable too. His heart is all about the students, the staff and the school.’ We also heard that when the lunch queue was moving slowly one day he joined the kitchen staff to help serve food. On another occasion a student’s post was mistakenly delivered to his office and instead of sending it via the internal mail he walked round to the boarding house and delivered it in person.

The head is proud of the fact that Millfield isn’t overly selective. ‘You achieve the best academic results by treating every child as an individual and that’s what Millfield has always done,’ he says. He believes that everyone has brilliance in them and that ‘we can help them to discover it’, citing the example of a sixth former who was highly commended in a national entrepreneur competition for his sustainable cycling business and is now being mentored by Dragon’s Den star Peter Jones.

Despite his claim that he isn’t sporty – ‘I’m a dyspraxic classicist, I can’t even do a star jump’ – he’s a keen mountaineer, winter mountain leader, runner and cyclist in his spare time. He’s involved with a number of charitable organisations and education charities and although he doesn’t teach these days he observes lessons every week. Married to Alison, an academic who works in the museums sector, with two children, both at Millfield Prep.

Says Millfield is 'the most exciting independent school in the UK to run because of its determined modernity, the fact that it isn’t shackled by tradition, has the resource to do things and also because we care about public benefit. We give away £6.5 million every year in bursaries.’

Entrance

Two hundred pupils join in year 9, half from Millfield Prep and half from 120 other prep schools all over the world. Between 30-50 places are available in year 10. Places are offered on the basis of an interview with a senior member of staff, an online verbal and non-verbal reasoning assessment ('which can’t be prepared for') and a reference from current school. Around 100 to 130 join in the sixth form. Those doing A levels require a minimum of 30 points from their best six subjects at GCSE, including English and maths, while those doing BTECs need at least 20 points from their best five subjects. At the moment there are waiting lists for year 9 day pupils and for year 12 boarding.

Exit

Between 50 and 75 leave after GCSEs (usually because they’re going abroad or don’t have the required points for the sixth form). When it comes to university admissions, those who stay for the duration praise the support given. Ten per cent go to US universities, some with sports scholarships, and the majority of the rest go to UK universities. Four to Oxbridge in 2020. Popular destinations include Bath, Edinburgh, Exeter, Newcastle and Nottingham. Few gap years these days. Famous alumni, especially sporting ones, are too numerous to list, but stand-outs are Gareth Edwards and Chris Robshaw (rugby), Duncan Goodhew, Joanne Atkinson and James Guy (swimming), singer/songwriter Ella Eyre, rower Helen Glover, writer Sophie Dahl and defence secretary Ben Wallace. Eight Old Millfieldians competed at Rio 2016 and won four medals between them (swimming, rowing and rugby).

Latest results

In 2019, 46 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 30 per cent A*/A at A level (59 per cent A*-B). In 2020, 51 per cent 9-7 at GCSE; 42 per cent A*/A at A level (72 per cent A*-B).

Teaching and learning

Millfield is an exciting place to learn and teachers are full of innovation. A previous review said ‘academics will never be the point of Millfield’ but today’s parents disagree with this – and so does the head. ‘We have 300 children in a year at A level and 15 per cent get straight As,’ he says. He points out that a year 13 Millfield girl was the highest placed female competitor in the world at the International Mathematical Olympiad last year – ‘and there are others who challenge her here as well’.

The school recently launched its Brilliance Curriculum, which links subjects in an inspiring way. Following a ‘big curriculum think’ the programme has been rolled out across year 9 but the plan is to introduce it for older students too. For example, history schemes of work have been rewritten so year 9s take modules like Conflict and Cooperation Through Time, where they learn about topics like the Holocaust, the Cold War and 9/11 and the War on Terror, or Disruptors, where they study everything from the suffragettes to black civil rights in the US. Teachers are keen to show pupils how subjects overlap so they don’t study ocean warming in geography until they have learned about specific heat capacity in physics and they don’t study The Great Gatsby in English until they have looked at the Great Depression in history. ‘We want to make sure the jigsaw fits together,’ says the deputy head (academic). ‘It’s about giving students a bedrock of really good understanding.’

Other initiatives include the Millfield Certificate and the Millfield Diploma, both of which are voluntary but are on offer after summer term exams. Year 11s can take a certificate in a new subject they are considering for A level while year 13s can opt to do a subject they’d like to revisit. The diplomas are designed to bridge the gap between upper sixth and undergraduate level.

During the 2021 lockdown the school came up with the idea of The Ultimate School Trip, a series of live virtual visits to Australia, Japan, Italy and Iceland hosted by the head, deputy head (academic) and assistant head (academic) and culminating in a concert performed by Millfield students around the world (including a year 13 student playing a piece she composed for the guhzeng, a traditional Chinese instrument). The event was so successful that 300 other schools signed up too.

The school runs an academic enrichment programme for years 9 to 11, including maths, science, enterprise, languages and debating. Sixth form enrichment programme features lectures and events hosted by academic departments and is designed to inspire curiosity and a spirit of enquiry. Students are invited to join Eureka!, where mixed aged groups meet fortnightly to follow an informal critical thinking programme. There’s also a regular biology breakfast, where pupils of all ages give presentations on themes that interest them.

Depending on ability and aptitude, most students take nine GCSEs, including a foreign language and either single sciences or combined science. A plethora of choice – everything from computer science to dance. Sixth formers either take A levels, BTECs or a mix of both. BTECs include art and design, business, enterprise and entrepreneurship, music production and sport. EPQ available. Other qualifications range from Leiths Introductory Certificate in Food and Wine to the British Horse Society’s Complete Horsemanship Certificate. Small class sizes (maximum of 14), with students setted for maths, English and languages.

When it comes to university and careers, there’s a weekly Oxbridge programme overseen by the head of academic extension (a former academic herself), a full-time SAT coordinator, a US universities counsellor, a universities counsellor and a vocational specialist. The school is also an SAT centre, so very geared up for applications to US universities.

High praise for the school’s digital learning offer during the pandemic – and for the teaching staff. ‘They are engaging and enthusiastic and know the kids,’ said a parent. ‘I’m very tough on people but I couldn’t speak more highly of the school in every sense. I like the fact that it isn’t an exam factory. They are teaching my daughter to think and she is developing a very good critical mindset.’ Another told us, ‘The teachers who are responsible for my son know him really well.’

Learning support and SEN

SEN provision underpins much of Millfield’s successes and appeal. Just over a third of students have an identified need, addressed and supported by a team of learning support experts (six full time staff, three part-time staff, a speech and language therapist, eight peripatetic staff and two visiting educational psychologists). Support is based on literacy, the key to the entire curriculum, but help is available for all manners of barriers to learning including dyscalculia, dyspraxia and organisation skills. The sheer numbers receiving support means a total lack of stigma. Our delightful young guide came straight to the point: ‘I am very dyslexic and here I get all the help I need’. Close liaison between teachers, house staff, tutors and learning support staff provides continuity and reassurance.

The arts and extracurricular

Millfield is a busy place and students often discover new talents whilst at the school. A girl who arrived at Millfield in year 9 with a music and art scholarship was swimming for Kenya by the time she left. ‘She hadn’t realised that she was a particularly good swimmer until she came here but that’s what Millfield enables you to do,’ says the head. ‘Our best musician is a concert standard vocalist and she hadn’t sung before she came to us.’

Art and DT happen in a gorgeous spacious block – needless to say, all equipment is bang up to the mark. The nationally known Atkinson Gallery hosts four major exhibitions a year and new work for the sculpture trail is regularly commissioned or purchased. Music is ‘astonishingly good’. A parent told us, ‘The sport is terrific but music is out of this world.’ Exposure to music is part of every Millfieldian’s first year, when learning an orchestral instrument is compulsory. Major concerts often take place in Wells Cathedral, where the choir sings regular services.

Drama is popular and well resourced, with several studios as well as the Meyer Theatre. Just one whole school production a year but a ton of other things, such as a sketch show, a Spanish play, and opportunities to get involved in all goings-on backstage. Applications to drama school are well supported and success rates high. During the pandemic an enterprising sixth former used his school stage management experience to illuminate Glastonbury Tor in blue after the national clap for health workers and carers every week.

The Millfield Activities Programme (MAP to its friends) offers 100 different pursuits for all students up until year 12 and is intended to offer breadth. French cinema, German card games, skiing race training, silversmithing – it’s all there for the taking. Local volunteering opportunities with a range of charities.

Sport

It’s difficult to know where to start. This is unquestionably the place for your budding Olympian and the fact that it has produced so many top flight athletes and sportspeople is no accident. During the 2021 Guinness Six Nations rugby championships the school had a representative in every home nation squad – Mako Vunipola (England), Huw Jones (Scotland), Callum Sheedy (Wales) and Rhys Ruddock (Ireland).

Both provision and facilities abound, from the famous 50m Olympic swimming pool with all the wizardry and coaches associated with training future national champions to the acquisition of a Swingulator that enables rowers to train all year round. It is typical of the Millfield seriousness of purpose that, having only introduced rowing a few years ago, investment in a year-round programme including nutrition, video analysis and diverse training has resulted in the school beating many established rowing schools and even universities.

Whatever Millfield does – and it does almost everything – it does exceptionally well, devoting considerable sums, land and care in recruiting top coaches to its unequalled sporting offer. We could wax lyrical about the provision for riders, comprising a polo ground, cross-country course and gallops, or about the fencing salle, but the more usual school sports are outstandingly provided for too. The school’s level of commitment is matched by that of the students – for example, a daily 5.40am reveille is quite common for élite swimmers.

Boarders

Three quarters of students board. Nineteen boarding houses scattered across the 240-acre campus (there are five separate houses for day pupils). Year 9s have their own houses for that vital first year to ensure solid friendships across the year group. After that students have a say in their final house but staff are careful to try to avoid the forming of cliques. Most rooms are twins, singles further up the school, some with ensuite shower rooms; all were clean and functional rather than luxurious and we noted the congenial common room space with pool tables and ping pong, rather than more screens. Pleasant outside space specially designed for barbecues and summer socialising. House staff come in for praise. Parents like the high staff:student ratio, the 15-bed medical centre, complete with physio clinic, and the fact that there’s plenty to keep pupils occupied at weekends.

During the week day students can stay at school till 8.30pm if they want and parents told us there are plenty of opportunities for day and boarding pupils to mix in and out of lessons. Everyone eats together in the magnificent cafeteria, where the range of choice is almost bewildering. Menus embrace all sporting diets. Further flung boarding houses have the occasional dinner in their own dining rooms on special occasions.

Ethos and heritage

For one of the UK’s most successful boarding schools, Millfield is really quite a new kid on the block. It was founded in 1935 by Jack Meyer, a former civil servant and accomplished cricketer, following his return to the UK with seven Indian boys, six of them princes. It was originally based in Millfield House (now a boarding house), which was rented from the nearby Clark family of shoe fame. Innovation was the name of the game from then on. Co-ed from 1939, the school put as much emphasis on excellence and opportunity in sport and the arts as on academic success. In 1942, Martin Attlee, son of deputy prime minister Clem Attlee, joined the school in the hope of overcoming ‘word-blindness’. The Millfield method proved so successful that Martin Attlee progressed to university and the school gained fame as the first in the country to deal successfully with dyslexic students.

The feel and look of the place is fresh and contemporary – no hallowed portals here. Instead, buildings of all materials, types and function are scattered across the huge site. It’s more akin to a small university campus. A culture of entrepreneurship still prevails – a new sixth former received encouragement and plaudits for setting up his own charity club to raise funds for less fortunate youngsters. No overwhelming sense of entitlement, privilege or history among the students either. Those we spoke to expressed in forthright terms their good fortune at being there.

Pastoral care, inclusivity and discipline

Concerned that nobody gets lost, overlooked or away with too much in this big school, house staffing levels have increased considerably to ensure no one slips through the net. The school hit the headlines during the head’s first week in post when two pupils were suspended amid initiation ritual claims. The head went into ‘rapid culture change mode’ and says nothing like that has happened since. The parents we spoke to concurred. The school has introduced anonymous reporting (via a QR code that children can scan), there’s a network of student counsellors and students ‘can and do’ email the head directly. There’s also an equality and inclusion group made up of staff and students.

The general levels of affluence and huge geographical catchment might cause some to suspect illicit contraband like drink and drugs but this passed unmentioned by those we spoke to. Parents seem to be happy with the way in which their concerns are dealt with and students feel that punishments are fair and appropriate. The fact that academic work is commended both for achievement and effort goes down well also. Positive Education and PSHEE (personal, social, health and economic education) programme is designed to equip students with the skills and knowledge to deal with life after school. A dedicated email address exists to report any incidents of bullying.

Pupils and parents

Everyone we spoke to talked of the diversity of families – the much-vaunted Millfield Mix. Parents told us the school is ‘down to earth’, ‘isn’t snobby’ and that the pupils ‘aren’t all walking round in designer clothes – nothing like that’. There’s an extensive outreach programme and parents say the school is firmly rooted in the community. ‘They did a fantastic job of supporting the local community during the pandemic,’ said one parent. ‘We live nearby and they are very engaged and well thought of locally.’ The boy:girl ratio is 55:45 and the head is confident it will be 50:50 within five years.

Money matters

In the past Millfield was the most expensive school in the UK but current fees, while substantial, are less than those of Eton. Some activities are chargeable where outside staff are brought in, such as polo, specialist therapy, EAL and individual learning support.

Scholarships (including academic, all-rounder, art, chess, design and innovation, music and sport) awarded to a maximum of 10 per cent of fees. Extensive bursary provision (up to 100 per cent in exceptional circumstances).

The last word

A big, refreshingly innovative school welcoming all talents, Millfield excels at educating talented young sportsmen and women, musicians and artists while achieving admirable academic results. The school’s facilities are second to none and the staff are brilliant at helping youngsters to discover their talents, wherever they may lie.

Please note: 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

The Learning Support Centre (LSC) is located at the heart of the school and plays a key role in the lives of many of our pupils with SEN. Its purpose is to provide support and guidance for all pupils with learning differences across the senior school. Our aims are to encourage and work with pupils to further develop their literacy skills, study skills and self-esteem as they work towards the achievement of successful GCSE, IGCSE and A level grades. The LSC works hard at building strong working relationships with a wide range of prep and other senior schools in order to facilitate a smooth transition for pupils moving to Millfield at 13+, 14+ or 16+. The LSC maintains high expectations of the pupils working within the department. The quality of relationships with pupils is regarded as a vital component in building confidence, rapport and mutual understanding as is the pace and style of teaching, taking into account different learning styles and abilities. LSC teachers maintain and share an interest in current research, training, techniques and resources in a constant effort to maximise opportunities and success for pupils and in their support and advice for fellow members of staff. Addressing issues such as motivation, organisation, work habits and self-responsibility are also regarded as important keys to building success. Selected pupils in Years 9-11 are prepared for IGCSE English language, and sometimes English Literature, examinations within the LSC. These LSC English groups, typically of seven or eight pupils, are deliberately kept small to allow more opportunities for support and over-learning. They are taught by well-qualified LSC English staff with a wealth of experience in teaching pupils with specific learning difficulties (SpLD). In the lower school selected SpLD pupils receive timetabled study support which is delivered in small groups in place of an option subject or a modern foreign language. Again, these groups are generally made up of seven to eight pupils. Pupils will work on their own targets as well as receive support with literacy attainment, revision strategies, study skills etc. At sixth form level, the LSC continues to support pupils through small group tutorials which take place during their private study periods. LSC Tutors will help with the development of effective study skills, including exam and revision techniques. All students are encouraged to take responsibility for their own learning whilst having a support structure to assist them as and when necessary. The department is open during lunch and break times with at least one LSC Tutor on hand to assist pupils who need help on a drop-in basis who simply wants a quiet place to work or to complete prep. This facility is well used by pupils of all years. Pupils value the contact and support they experience within the LSC during their life at Millfield and feel at ease within its supportive and encouraging culture.

Condition Provision for in school
ASD - Autistic Spectrum Disorder
Aspergers Y
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders
CReSTeD registered for Dyslexia Y
Dyscalculia Y
Dysgraphia Y
Dyslexia Y
Dyspraxia Y
English as an additional language (EAL) Y
Genetic
Has an entry in the Autism Services Directory
Has SEN unit or class Y
HI - Hearing Impairment Y
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
SLCN - Speech, Language and Communication
SLD - Severe Learning Difficulty
Special facilities for Visually Impaired
SpLD - Specific Learning Difficulty
VI - Visual Impairment

Who came from where


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