Part of the Bellevue Education group, this Sussex school, which is celebrating its 125-year milestone, is small, nurturing and has a wonderful, family-like atmosphere. Teachers know all the pupils very well and everyone is given the room and encouragement they need to thrive. Formerly all-girls, Farlington began welcoming boys in 2018 and will be taking them into each cohort in September – making it the only all-through (ages four to 18) co-ed day and boarding school in the Horsham area.
Not far from the market town of Horsham on the Sussex/Surrey border, the prep shares 33 acres of rural parkland and pretty woodland (stunning bluebells in spring) with the Little Barn Owls nursery, as well as Farlington senior school. There’s such a lovely relationship between the older and younger pupils that it feels very much one cohesive entity rather than two separate schools – and this sense is increased by everyone eating lunch in the same hall. The prep and pre-prep buildings are modern, and noteworthy on-site facilities include a drama studio, music rooms, science labs and a forest school.
There are good connections to Gatwick (25 minutes) and London (under an hour), plus an escorted local bus service to ferry pupils to and from school each day.
New head James Passam arrives in September, taking over from Louise Higson, whose legacy will be Farlington’s decision to switch from single-sex education to co-ed. Mr Passam arrives from Seaford College where he was deputy head for eight years; before that, he was head of English and a housemaster at St John’s School, Leatherhead, so he has extensive knowledge of the independent schools in the south east. Mr Passam has also worked in the City and has an MBA from Henley Business School under his belt.
Thanks to the school’s brilliant online learning programme during lockdown, numbers are at an all-time high – and prep applications have soared by almost 25 per cent this year (notably from families leaving the state sector, or relocating from London). To meet demand, there will be a new Reception class from September, making the school two-form entry at this stage.
All parents and prospective pupils are invited for a tour of the school and to meet the head before applying for a place. For pre-prep, there’s an informal assessment and a report from their current nursery or school; for the prep, children complete written assessments in maths and English, and have an interview with Sara Povey, the assistant head of the prep school.
Academics and senior school destinations
One of the biggest advantages to having the senior school on the same site is that pupils are taught French, sport and music by specialist teachers from an early age. Children learn French from Reception, Spanish from Year 3 and Latin from Year 6, and there are weekly forest-school sessions up to Year 2, with leadership and teamwork days offered to the older prep years. There’s a tracking and monitoring system in place so that any gaps in prior learning are swiftly identified and plugged, with learning support offered where needed.
Forest school is a huge deal here, with weekly lessons for the youngest children and a club for the older ones. When we visited, Year 4 pupils were busily roasting marshmallows on a fire they’d learnt to light with friction and cotton wool – and we were impressed with the Aztec-inspired fences built from branches felled from nearby trees.
All pupils in the prep have automatic entry into the senior school – meaning no need to prepare for the 11+. It is the expectation that every child will stay on all the way through – and the majority do indeed choose to do so, transitioning seamlessly.
Music and drama are a particular strength throughout the school and, in the prep, more than 80 per cent of pupils learn an instrument. The majority also take part in a choir; speech and drama lessons are available, with a focus on LAMDA exams. Opportunities for budding performers include form assemblies, a ukulele group and the annual prep drama production. There’s also a full range of choirs and two orchestras.
Sports facilities are ace – there’s an outdoor swimming pool, floodlit Astro, fitness centre and plenty of tennis courts. At the moment, boys play across all age groups to make up teams (competitive fixtures start in Year 3), but that’s all set to change as the numbers of boys grow over the next few years.
Extracurricular clubs include ballet, judo, riding (off site), tennis, trampolining and riding, which is especially popular.
The majority are day pupils here, but there is capacity for 55 boarders on a full, weekly or flexi basis. Boarding is offered from Year 4 in two boarding houses: the brand new Fishponds for the boys and Mansion House for the girls (in the main building). Both offer a home-from-home where the youngest children sleep in bright, cosy dorms.
This is a school that’s very well geared up towards working parents, and wraparound care is excellent; there’s a daily breakfast club and the option for pupils to stay on as late as 7pm (for a very small charge), relaxing with boarders in the boarding house.
It’s not just in the UK where this school’s reputation is growing: it’s also making a name for itself on the international scene and is becoming particularly popular with families relocating from places such as Hong Kong, the Middle East and South Africa.
This is most definitely a school with a big, down-to-earth heart, and pupils are really treated as individuals to help bring out the best in them (we’re big fans of the school motto, Vive ut Vivas – live life to the full). The children we met had a lovely sense of humour – and their support for one another really shone through when we spoke to them.
Many parents of Farlington pupils are dipping their toe into the independent sector for the first time, and the school makes much of its smaller size and family-friendly community. Best of all, the fees are very competitive.
For those wanting an all-through education in a caring environment, this is a serious contender.