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 them into each year group in September – making it the only all-through (ages four to 18) co-ed day and boarding school in the Horsham area. Crucially, it is also small, with a caring, family-like atmosphere, which means that teachers know pupils very well and everyone has 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 clock tower, while drama takes place in a former stable block. The whole school shares one dining room, with different sittings for different age groups.
The prep school sits to one side of the senior school, in its own self-contained space with big, bright classrooms and dedicated play areas for younger and older children. There’s a real sense of one, cohesive, close-knit community, with prep and senior pupils rubbing shoulders as they move around the campus throughout the day.
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.
Farlington has always attracted relocating London families – and thanks to its brilliant online learning provision during lockdown, applications are at an all-time high.
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.
For those joining Farlington in the senior school, prospective parents and pupils 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.
Academics and destinations
Academics are impressive and inclusive: not only does the school produce consistently high exam results (which leads to pupils whizzing off to Russell Group universities and top art colleges), but it’s ranked as one of the top UK schools for value-added. Class sizes hover around 15 (and never go over 20) and during our visit, we got a real sense that learning here is made as enjoyable as possible.
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 in particular stands out for the individual attention it gives students, and the sheer scope of subject combinations, which certainly rival those you would expect to find in a larger school.
Music 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.
Over in the art department, we were blown away by the quality of the students’ work – and chatted to several who were off to study art, graphic design and illustration at undergraduate level.
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, but that’s all set to change as numbers of male students grow over the next few years.
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. That said, the sports ethos here is all about having a go – and there’s everything from trampolining to judo and table tennis for older students to try out.
Most are day pupils here, but there is capacity for 55 boarders on a full, weekly or flexi basis (there are currently 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 on for a term or more.
Farlington has two boarding houses: brand new Fishponds for the boys and Mansion House (in the main building) for girls. Sixth-form boarders have their own room (and sometimes Years 10 and 11, depending on availability), while younger pupils sleep in dorms. 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 particularly popular with families relocating from the likes of Hong Kong, Middle East and South Africa.
Pastoral care includes wellbeing representatives in each form and the Penn Resilience Programme, which aims to equip children with the skills needed to bounce back from personal and academic knocks. There’s also a strong buddy system in place for new students.
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 students 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, fees are very competitive.
This inclusive, nurturing school is a true success story – and a real breath of fresh air when pitched again some of the more hothouse schools.