Cottesmore, Hand Cross, Brambletye or Ashdown House(36 Posts)
We are sending our son to a UK boarding school Sept next year for year 3 entry (he will be 7, nearly 8 then) as a full time boarder.
We have shortlisted and he has been accepted into all of the above 4 schools which all seems very good hence we chose them.
I am wondering if there are any personal experiences or preferences anyone can share to help us make our minds up which one to choose.
We chose these schools as we love the Susses countryside and after the smog of Bangkok fresh air was top priority along with good sports facilities, strong academic record and good facilities for music, drama and art.
Our son is a real all rounder - smart, very sporty and loves art and music so all are important.
Equally important are good boarding facilities with lots of kids there over weekends as he will be full time.
Thanks in advance for your help!
Does anyone know which of the above have more of a full boarding feel and which have the best academic results currently?
Interesting choice of schools. I was in the same position as you 2 years ago. We live in Hong Kong. My biggest worry was how many children are in school over the weekend.
To cut a long story short, we were recommended by lots of people to Windlesham House, which is very close to all the schools you mention. WHS is a real full boarding school and there are over 200 boarders, and at least 100+ in at weekends.
We met the headmaster, toured the school and both our sons are there now and love it.
My advise would be to have a look at Windkesham before signing on the dotted line.
Hope this helps?
Hi. You should know that it is very easy to get a place at boarding preps as they are all under subscribed. So remember, you are in a buyers market - If your DS is as you describe, you can easily delay until your child is 10 or 11 if you so wish. Pretty much all of these schools have high academic standards, fresh air and impressive facilities.
if you are sure that 7/8 is the right age for him to start, as an overseas family you should be looking at the numbers of full boarders. There are very few 7/8 year olds full boarders at school in UK. Most families now wait until children are 10 or 11 at least before they send them to board. Those who start earlier tend to go home at weekends. You do not want your child to be one of a handful at school at the weekends, and/or the only 8 year old in agroup of 11-13 year olds. I am pretty sure that Handcross for example has only a small number of boarders and I bet there are few if any 8 year olds in at the weekend.
What will you do about exeats? Do you have family in UK or will you be relying on guardians. Have you looked at the frequency of fixed exeats? I think Brambletye closes every other weekend which is hard unless you have family nearby.
Have you thought about secondary school? Handcross is basically a prep for Brighton College. Is that where you want him to go?
There are relatively few full boarding co-ed preps. I have heard positive things about Windlesham (mainly boarding), Dragon School in Oxford and Junior Kings Canterbury are also co-ed with significant numbers of younger overseas boarders. There are more (mainly) full boarding boys only preps - cothill house, sunningdale, ludgrove etc - but you seem to be looking at co-ed only.
Handcross Park is both day and boarding with boarders from the age of 7. The boarding house isn't large but this means the children are more like a family and can be taken out all together at weekends. There is a mix of ages but the children of all ages mix together.
You would need a guardian for two exeats a term plus half term.
Whilst Handcross is one of the Brighton College Prep schools, the children move on to a wide range of different schools. It depends how academic your child is and what your wishes are for senior schools.
The best way to make a decision is to go and have a look. You need to meet the head and the people who would look after your child ie the boarding house staff. It comes down to a gut feel!
I'm also not sure I agree with Margaret. These schools have limited places - some open up extra places as they go through the school but there seems to be competition for places in sussex. It is better to get your child registered earlier.
Thanks so much for the feedback and advice. Very helpful...
We have realised that the key issues here is the pastoral care / weekend activities / weekend boarders onsite.
It is so hard searching for the schools that do have a significant number of younger overseas borders - not something overly well publicised - so in addition to the above recommendations does anyone have any others?
Another vote here for the Dragon: it's a bit off the wall, in a good way, and has a stronger academic record than those you are considering. There's also excellent sports and extra-curricular facilities, and a number of younger full boarders.
Hi bankokian. I think you need to decide whether you want boys only or co-ed. This will narrow down your search. Also try to take a view on geography. Home counties? Nationwide? Do you have ideas about senior schools?
Once you have narrowed down the options, take a look at the Independent schools inspectorate site which will give you details on boarding numbers. But be sceptical. 25 full boarders does not necessarily mean 25 children in school every saturday night. And it certainly does not mean 25 eight year olds. Many will be local and will go to family/friends for the weekend. Some families just pay the full boarding fee to have the option. Just google ISI and the name of the school.
Of the schools you originally listed I think Ashdown House and Cottesmore have a greater number of boarders.
Actually boys know or co-ed does not concern us. We see merits in both. More important are the teaching, facilities and pastoral arrangements.
We will be flying into a London airport so we are starting our search from their outwards.
Nevertheless places like Sherborne Prep, Millfield and Queens Taunton all look good as junior schools to senior schools but we remain mostly committed to smaller preps.
Dragon, Ludgrove and Cothill all take from 8 onwards but Cothill is flexible to bump up a year it seems.
Thank you all again for advice. All suggestions gratefully received.
Just a comment on smaller preps. I think these are very attractive for eight year olds - small, cosy and everyone knows everybody else. But your Ds will grow up while he is there, and what was cosy at eight can sometimes feel a bit limiting at 13. Also, look very carefully at the finances of small boarding preps. Some are more solvent than others.
Thanks for all your help.
I think we narrowed it down to Cottesmore, Brambletye, Cothill and Ashdwon House.
Does anyone have any experiences to share from any of the above?
Cothiill I know nothing about.
Handcross is a bit of an open book I think, since it's been bought by BC.
Cottesmore, head went to Eton. He tells parents "if you decide you want your son to go to Eton I'll make sure he gets in"! . Very sporty, head says kids try to do extra sport whenever they can. Head thinks "healthy body, healthy mind". About 2/3rds full board and they have Saturday school followed by games fixtures plus Sunday activities and set Exeat weekends.
Brambletye I hear lots of good things about. Meant to be quite a gentle school. Flexi boarding in all years but In year 7&8 children are no longer allowed to flexi board and must choose full boarding or day. I'm not sure if it has Saturday school or not. I think fewer than half full board.
Ashdown House is nearly all full boarding, I think only a handfull of kids are day pupils. It is a small sporty traditional school with some famous alumni and sends lots to elite Publics. It does have a bit of a chequered history though. Google about child abuse. Also more recently they seem to be suffering from poor management: isiservice.devprocess.com/DownloadReport.aspx?t=c&r=ADD6208_20150922.pdf&s=6208
I'd love to hear back from you on what you choose!
According to the ISC and the schools last report there are only 22 full boarders at Handcross. IMO although others I know will differ but this would be too small for us. As a previous overseas mother of prep school Boarders we wanted to have our DCs in a school with predominantly boarders with day children rather than a day school with boarders. If you are only 8 and you see all your friends going home each evening it makes it harder.
I am another fan of Windlesham House, I am not sure whether you have considered this school? As superstar said do consider the before you sign on the dotted line. The pastoral care is excellent and they send to a wide variety of senior schools. They have a good scholarship record and the music /art/drama is of a high standard.
All the people I know with DCs at Cothill past and present have been very happy with it both for an allround education and providing the positives and opportunities of a full boarding education for boys. If co-ed is not that important to you it is certainly IMO the best out of your choices.
It is not as academic for teaching the very top end of ability for scholarships to Eton or Winchester as schools like the Dragon or Summer Fields but it certainly is at least as strong academically as your other options.
I also agree that I would favour a larger boarding prep as otherwise the last two years of prep may be stifling.
Thank you Bluesmarties. Sad to see that report and we now have our doubts re Ashdown. It was never a top choice but still....
Goinggetstough, sadly Windlesham has no Saturday school at all for the year we need and will not consider a jump up or any other option so it's a no no.
Incaseithelps, we like Cothill too.
So in summary, as we stand the choices remaining are Cottesmore, Cothill, Brambletye, Ludgrove as top choices and then...
Sherborne, Queens Taunton, Millfield and Ashdown as less favourable but worth at trip. First three are rather too far away in the West Country and Ashdown seems poorly managed.
Does anyone have any personal opinions on which out of Cottesmore, Cothill, Brambletye or Ludgrove are the best? All seem to cover all bases and have lots of full boarding at weekends but clearly there are some other differences.
You're welcome. Yes, pity about Ashdown, but I still think it's worth a look. The Prep I attended probably wouldn't pass an OFSTED nowadays, but it really was wonderful.
Have you considered any of the other Berkshire ones such as Papplewick, Caldecott, Horris Hill, Sunningdale?
I think you might find few boarders in at weekends especially below Year 7 at Brambletye, but worth asking. I think Cottesmore or especially Ashdown and the Berkshire ones may be better in that regard.... But maybe just contact these schools to find out!
We are considering Brambletye at the moment for our daughter - in two minds though as she is younger than your son and we are not looking at boarding, at least until senior school. We were told that a substantial number of the older children board, I got the impression there were very few age 7/8 boarding however. We were impressed with the school and the new Head seems lovely (we were very taken with the last chap too).
Really came on though to talk about the West Country preps as I went to Millfield and have knowledge of the other two. If I were to send mine to any of the three I would pick Millfield - facilities are outstanding, great pastoral care and very international, the other two tend to have more weekly than full boarders in my experience so you may get on better with Millfield (Edgarley as the prep is known). Have you also considered Port Regis near Shaftesbury? I attended for a couple of years and really enjoyed my time there, again the facilities are super and many full boarders. Would love to hear where you end up picking and why so do update us.
My child started at Cottesmore in that year. She's an all-rounder too. She says she loves every class and the way they are taught. She's gone from a child who was achieving top marks but making little effort to a girl getting A's for effort across the board. I think you can't ask for more. The school reports are clear about what is being taught and how your child is faring so you really have a good understanding of how your child is getting on. The music is really, very good and my daughter's skills have taken off like a rocket. There's a choir that learns really complex pieces and music is everywhere. The children really inspire each other, learning pieces from one another. In between classes the halls are full of children playing pool, table tennis etc. There seem to be a good range of weekend activities too. I would says sport is very good, more so for boys than girls. Because the school is very small the sports teachers have to make the most out of every child they have. This is in contrast to bigger schools which, in my experience, tend to pick the strongest kids for everything and sideline the less-able simply because they want to win. In dorms they mix age groups so that children get to know children above and below their year group. They work really hard to make sure children have at least one adult that they can talk to and hug as they would a parent. The ONLY issue I have with the school is that there aren't that many boarders in the youngest age range.
It's worth looking at the ISI reports for each of the school's too. I have read a lot of them and you start to be able to read between the lines after a few.
Thanks for all the info.
We have now added Hazlegrove to our short list and intial impressions are really really positive!
We would not be choosing from Hazlegrove, Millfield, Queens Taunton and Sherborne in that area, Branbletye and Cottesmore in Sussex and then Cothill and Ludgrove.
Great to get any more details from anyone.
We will for sure advise our feedback soon for everyone here.
When are you visiting the shortlisted schools? Culturally they are very different!
We are there in April. We have had lots of email and phone chats and I know some anyway from my schooldays in Somerset at Queens Taunton.
Right now Hazlegrove looks very promising and I'd be particularly keen to hear any more experienced on Hazlegrove or any others on our shortlist.
After initial scepticism we sent our child is to Cottesmore and now, having seen the reality, my other will be going too. I simply can't praise the school enough. They have an unusual level of care for each individual. The pastoral care is superb and very responsive to any issues and, most importantly, my DC raves about the lessons and how fascinating they all are. It really does live up to its reputation as being like one big family and the HM has a very thoughtful, intelligent approach to developing the whole child. All the parents I have spoken to seem delighted with how their child has developed whilst there. Happy to answer any questions you have.
We looked at Brambletye too, really liked the last Head, I personally was not so impressed with the new chap. We have decided on Windlesham in the end. Friends who have sent their daughter there say she is loving every second and has come on in leaps and bounds with confidence and lovely friends.
I've heard brilliant things about Hazelgrove and Port Regis too.
It's such a personal choice though. Good luck.
We are in Somerset and much promised feedback on most of the schools so far plus key questions....
Cottesmore - heads are very warm and professional. Lovely but very very traditional atmosphere. Good points - most things. Bad points - very strict on no electronic items at all and one time only per day to call home at most. Seems like tradition maybe holding back embracing technology. Overall great but small and very individual school that night not suit.
Sherborne Prep - nice but quite dull and lacking integration with main achool as you would expect. Head was intent on long rambling speech that over-ran. Nothing impressed or unimpressed really.
Queens Taunton Junior - fantastic close and warm boarding house with great personal feel of care. Small and lacking though overall as facilities limited and even with full integration to main senior school, still limited. Example is small pool shared by all and worse is they got rid of squash courts so now whole school has none at all. Seemingly odd management spoils want would be a great close knit school.
Millfield Prep - amazing facilities of course in every respect and surprisingly impressive pastoral care from everyone from house parents to guardians and more. Nevertheless, cool and professional business feel prevails. All good except 93% go to Millfield Senior so feels like need to make decision now to 18 years as once in system hard to pull away from Millfield.
Hazlegrove - lovely warm but super quirky one off prep school. DS is in taster sleepover as I write but happy to feedback based on long visit today. Wonderful setting and facilities with seemingly high quality from feed to teachers, pastoral care to sports facilities but very one-off to pint of eccentric. Head and wife very welcoming but after talk of how many sausages made from recent killed pig in farm, oddities of staff mentions, and rationale for lack of language teaching we were left with a rather faulty towers feel. Overall, very strong but maybe time for new stewardship.
Ludgrove and Cothill on Friday.
So far, lots of great schools but even more questions. Assessment test at Millfield Prep revealed DS to be very gifted and at least 3 years and up to nearly 6 years ahead in key areas measured.
We always thought of him as smart but results reinforce we need a place that will nurture, offer broad range of sports, arts and actives but also stretch Nim academically.
Questions: is Millfield able to offer the best academic schooling, challenge our DS arms nurture him whilst he plays sport and does drama? We suspect prep yes, but senior?
Is Millfield a dumbed down place for privileged kids as some say or a great supportive environment for all as others say?
For Haxelgrove, any opinions on the quirky side?
For Cottesmore, is it really that traditional/inflexible as we saw?
Our short list so far is Cottesmore, Millfield Prep and Hazlegrove - any opinions, experiences or recommendations for any of the above?
Join the discussion
Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.Register now
Already registered with Mumsnet? Log in to leave your comment or alternatively, sign in with Facebook or Google.
Please login first.