Set on the edge of the pretty Kent village of Hawkhurst, Marlborough House is a proper country prep with 260 pupils from three to 13. Don’t let its location just off a main road fool you; once you’re on campus, you get a great sense of space (34 acres, to be exact), and the heart of the school is a gorgeous 18th-century red-brick. There’s a modern, purpose-built nursery and pre-prep with walled gardens for the youngest children to stomp about in wellies in, plus a clutch of smart new buildings for the oldest pupils, with glass walls looking out over stonking views of ponds, woodlands and fields.
Most pupils join in the nursery, Reception, Year 3 or Year 7, but the joy of non-selective Marlborough House is that children can slot in at any time, provided there’s a space for them.
Highly experienced head Eddy Newton arrived in September. He’s well known on the prep-school circuit, with stints at Felsted, Chafyn Grove, Twyford and the Cothill Trust (plus a year as the chair of IAPS) under his belt. We hear that parents and staff are full of praise for him.
Children benefit from small class sizes and energetic, enthusiastic teachers. Expect plenty of languages: everyone learns French, and Year 5 pupils choose between Spanish or Latin before deciding which to continue with until the end of Year 8. The top two years study towards the school’s own Pre-Senior Baccalaureate, teaching them to debate, work collaboratively and develop an enquiring mind. It’s all part of the ‘character education’ offered here, designed to stand pupils in good stead for senior school.
A handful of children usually head off to one of the excellent local grammar schools at 11, but most stay on to take CE before moving to a broad spread of some of the top independent schools in the South East, including Benenden, Tonbridge, Brighton College, Bedes, Eastbourne and Sevenoaks.
Pupils punch well above their weight in sport and enjoy all the facilities you’d expect: an outdoor pool, Astros, cricket nets, tennis courts and a huge sports hall. For anyone not into football or hockey, there’s always ballet, dance, karate, crazy golf and even shooting on the school’s own rifle range. Outdoorsy fun rules too – including a hotly contested annual conker competition.
There’s always a good haul of senior-school scholarships in art and DT. Children learn to sing in Russian and perform Shakespeare with a modern twist (we’d like to have seen their recent Much Ado About Nothing mixed with a touch of Glee), and everyone – from nursery to Year 8 – gets a chance to take to the stage each year.
Boarding is more of an add-on than a core part of Marlborough House, but everyone from Year 4 upwards can sleep over on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights. Activities are laid on to keep everyone busy: spa evenings; bowling trips, mucking around on inflatables in the pool. Flexibility is key – parents can call up at the last minute to book their child in for a sleepover, or to make use of the daily breakfast and supper clubs.
Pastoral care is at the fore here. Friday mornings are reserved for quiet focus; there’s mindfulness and a solid PSHE programme, and pupils can book in for a chat with an independent listener to raise any niggles.
Everyone lives locally and community is all-important. Parents are welcome to pop in for a cup of tea by the log fire after morning drop-off; class reps lay on comedy nights, Christmas fairs and even campouts in the school grounds; and there are mums’ netball and dads’ football clubs too.
A winning mix of academic rigour, superb co-curricular and character-boosting fun, this is a school that’s well worth adding to any Kent-based family’s list.