Stunning countryside surrounds Great Ballard School, nestled on the edge of South Downs National Park with commanding views. Isle of Wight is visible on the horizon, Chichester Cathedral spire a landmark in the distance.
Academically pupils excel, with strong focus on core subjects examined at Common Entrance and Scholarship Levels. Modern IT suite is used by every age group from nursery to Year 8, across all subjects. Excellent paperless science labs edged with individual workstations for practical lessons, the central area resembles a lecture theatre for pupils to listen and present their findings.
But the charm of this small independent school, with 20 acres to be enjoyed by its 160 children aged from 2 1/2 to 13, is how boiler-suit clad children make the most of their idyllic setting. They race out at breaktimes to wander in woods, climb trees, play games whether in sunshine or beneath grey skies. Boys find a ball from somewhere and girls hop over the cracks in the patio, proving such simple childhood pleasures survive in our modern age.
So seriously has the school taken their need for a rural setting that Great Ballard has moved several times since its foundation in 1924, leaving its purpose-built campus in Camberley in 1961 when surrounding countryside was threatened with development.
Now happily settled into Eartham House, a grand building with its own rich history and Blue Plaques to prove it, school life continues under its motto, which loosely translates as ‘Doing your best to be your best’. Ornate fireplaces and carvings are complemented by colourful displays of students’ artwork, showing off the talents of gifted youngsters who have been worthy winners of scholarships.
Headmaster Richard Evans joined the school in September 2015. He said: “I am delighted and excited to be the new Head of Great Ballard – a school that seeks to nurture well mannered, self confident children in a stunning rural environment and through a genuinely all round education where academic achievement and quality of character are valued equally highly.”
Forest school is just one way of combining learning with fun. Launched in May 2013, it has built on Great Ballard’s already strong outdoor tradition. Formal lessons can be experienced in the grounds along with hands-on activities like whittling, campfire cooking and creating a mud hut. Inspiration is drawn daily from the natural environment for art, poetry and performance projects. Alice in Wonderland was put on as a promenade through the grounds, using the woods, fields and even the swimming pool to stage the tale. A Midsummer Night’s Dream was also performed by students in the open air. Three school cats stalk the flowerbeds.
Music is an important part of daily life and children are encouraged to learn a musical instrument. Choirs are well supported and the Carol Concert at Boxgrove Priory is a highlight of the school year.
Team sports are played on fields high above the main building, a perfect setting on a summer’s day for a game of cricket or rounders, as well as athletics. Astroturf pitch, tennis courts and large indoor hall provide year-round facilities, along with the covered swimming pool. Football coaching is supported by Brighton and Hove Albion. Excellent teas provided by the school chef, much loved by staff and pupils alike for his home-cooked creations.
All pupils achieve entry to their chosen senior school, many with scholarships. Great Ballard works with children and their families to identify the best path for each individual. Close ties between staff and parents emphasise the feeling of family, and past-pupils are now returning to enrol the next generation. Fundraising efforts for local charities add to that sense of a village school, being part of the surrounding community.
Close ties between staff and parents emphasise the feeling of family, and past-pupils are now returning to enrol the next generation.
Nursery takes children from two and younger children love to play in the safety of their own garden, pulling weeds and watching herbs and fruit grow before finally getting a taste. Opportunity for all younger children to use facilities in the main school. Interactions between age groups allows them to comfortably progress through to the prep school.
Flexible boarding along with breakfast and after school clubs are offered to help working parents. Homely dormitories with four or five beds can be used by full time boarders as well as day pupils with a need or desire to stay overnight.
Overseas students are welcomed for short visits as well as longer stays, whether to offer a taste of England in a small friendly community, or as larger groups with teachers. Recent visits have included groups from Europe and China. These experiences enrich the school for both visitors and local pupils.
Great Ballard is a private limited company and instead of governors has management and advisory boards who ensure highest standards are maintained while keeping the ethos intact.
Giving children a life-long love of learning is what Great Ballard is about, and when school life is such fun, it is bound to succeed.