There’s quite a buzz about this pocket-rocket Sussex school, which is currently celebrating its 125-year milestone. Formerly all-girls, it began welcoming boys in 2018 and will be taking boys into each year group by September 2021 – making it the only all-through (ages four to 18) co-ed day and boarding school in the Horsham area. It has also recently become part of Bellevue Education, a group of 21 schools that offers greater financial security in these uncertain times. Crucially, it is also small, with a caring, family-like atmosphere, which means that teachers know pupils very well and everyone has the room to thrive.
On the Sussex/Surrey border just outside Horsham, Farlington prep and senior share 33 acres of rural parkland, woodland and lakes (there’s a nursery, Little Barn Owls, on site too). The buildings are a mix of the modern and the more characterful - the Jacobean Mansion House, which comprises the girls’ boarding wing, head’s office and library has a cobbled courtyard and clocktower; drama takes place in a former chapel. Good connections to Gatwick (25 minutes) and London (under an hour).
Louise Higson joined the school in 2005, taking over the reins as head seven years later. Previous schools she has taught at include Calday Grange Grammar School for Boys in West Kirby, The Sir James Henderson British School of Milan and Croydon High School for Girls.
She was instrumental in Farlington’s decision to switch from single-sex education to co-ed – surely her most game-changing, lasting legacy.
All pupils in the prep have automatic entry into the senior school – meaning no need to prepare for the 11-Plus – and the majority choose to stay on, transitioning seamlessly.
For those joining Farlington in the senior school, prospective pupils and parents are invited to take a tour and meet with the head; pupils also spend a taster day and/or night (for possible boarders) to check whether this is the place for them. Although Farlington is selective – entrance exams are held in the January before entry – it has a broad intake and is looking for students with the potential to work hard and do well.
For current Year 11s looking to enter the sixth form, a preview evening is held in the September prior to entry, followed by an experience day.
Whilst restrictions are in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a face-to-face visit might not be possible. If this is the case, the school would be delighted to arrange a virtual tour for you, as well as a Skype meeting with Headmistress Louise Higson.
Academics and destinations
Academics are impressive: not only does the school produce consistently high exam results, which lead to pupils whizzing off to Russell Group universities, but in 2019 it was ranked in the top one per cent of UK schools for value-added. Masses of parent praise for Farlington’s response to the Covid crisis – a ‘Virtual School’ where students can access all lessons on their Chromebooks.
Life-skills lessons run alongside core subjects. More unusual options include psychology and sociology at GCSE and art history at A-level, and there is specialist EAL provision for those who need it.
The sixth form stands out for its small classes (so plenty of individual attention for each pupil) and the scope of subject combinations, which rival those you would expect to find somewhere larger.
Music, art and drama are very strong, with at least half of pupils choosing drama at GCSE. LAMDA classes and Trinity Music exams are on offer; concerts range from the informal Open Platforms to full-blown, super-quality all-school productions (check out past highlights on Farlington’s YouTube channel), with the annual carol concert at St Mary’s Horsham church a long-established tradition.
There are competitive matches in all the usual sports (as boys are new to the school, they will field teams as soon as they can), with a wider choice from Year 11 upwards. Extracurricular pursuits in the senior school include glee club, music-tech club, tennis, trampolining, judo and table tennis. Pupils represent the county in hockey and swimming, and riding is popular for both novices and the elite squad, which regularly excels in national championships.
Most are day pupils here but there is capacity for 55 boarders on a full, weekly or flexi basis; currently there are 35 international full boarders, plus a handful from the UK taking advantage of the odd midweek sleepover. Short-term boarding is also a possibility, and increasingly popular with (mostly) Spanish pupils, who stay for a term or more. No buses from London for weekly boarders but the school can offer supervised train travel.
Farlington has two boarding houses: Fishponds for the boys and Mansion House for the girls. Sixth Form boarders have their own room, and possibly Years 11 and 10 (depending on availability), while younger students sleep in dorm rooms.
Both boarding houses have a home-from-home atmosphere, with wellies lined up by the front door and dogs running gleefully around. There are lots of weekend activities, from kayaking and abseiling to cinema trips and theme-park outings – plus, of course, the chance to make the most of the school facilities, such as the Astro and pool.
It’s not just in the UK where this school’s reputation is growing: it is also making a name for itself on the international scene and is becoming especially popular with families relocating from the likes of Hong Kong, Middle East and South Africa.
The atmosphere is inclusive. Pastoral care includes wellbeing representatives in each form and the Penn Resilience programme, which aims to equip pupils with the skills needed to bounce back from personal and academic knocks.
This inclusive, nurturing school is a true success story - a breath of fresh air from some of the hothouse Sussex and Surrey schools nearby.