Windlesham House is a school where children work hard and play hard. Set in 65 acres of lush South Downs countryside, it is home to 350 pupils aged 4 to 13. Camps in the woods, rope swings and tree climbing make for an idyllic childhood, while excellent pastoral care is provided to guide the youngsters through their early years.
Outstanding results and proud history have secured it a fine reputation. Believed to be oldest independent prep school in the country, founded by Lieutenant Charles Robert Malden in 1837, it took the name Windlesham in 1846 and moved to its present site close to Washington in 1934. It remained in the hands of the Malden family for its first 157 years, and the great, great, great granddaughter remains a governor.
Friendliness of the school is much commented on at Windlesham. Camaraderie is strong, peer listeners and mediators from older year groups complement support care given by staff. School is split into six houses with house parents for each. Children enjoy being part of the family. “Our house parents have just got married and are expecting a baby, it’s really exciting,” said one child. Loyal and long-serving staff add to the sense of community, which quickly rubs off on newcomers. “Everyone is so welcoming,” another child added. “I joined last September and settled in really quickly. Everyone was so nice, and I just love all the things you can do here. You can never be bored.”
For Headmaster Richard Foster, it’s important that he and wife Rachel are hands-on. “I take enormous pride in knowing each and every one of the children very well, and knowing their parents by Christian name,” he said. “We always eat in the dining room with the children, we engage with them all around the school. Rachel is ever-present; she visits the boarders in the dorms during the evenings to make sure they are all happy. I spend a lot of time advising parents about the progress of their child, and about future schooling.” Majority of children are full-time boarders, many of them local, some ex-pats with families living overseas. Great care is taken to communicate with parents as often as possible, Skype and live broadcasts of concerts and events are a weekly occurrence.
“We’re passionate about them being kind and respectful to each other and other people, and they really love their time at the school.”
“Windlesham really does try to give the best opportunities to each and every child, both academically and in all other spheres of school life,” said Mr Foster. “We really nurture the children and encourage them to have a go at things; to discover what they are good at, and what they’re not so good at; to learn from their mistakes. It’s a very happy environment and the children flourish. We’re passionate about them being kind and respectful to each other and other people, and they really love their time at the school.”
Individual attention is excellent, with child-to-staff ratio of three to one. All children meet weekly with their own tutor and extra help is always available.Every child is stretched to reach their maximum potential. A staff member said: “Our scholars’ programme is very good. We know all the children so well that if we recognise they should be working for a scholarship we’ll ensure they are pushed to achieve that. But it’s not elitist. We have scholars’ evenings where speakers come in and we’ll tell our scholarship pupils they should attend, but if any other child wants to go as well, they’re welcomed.”
With 250 activities to choose from, every child can find an area to excel whether in the arts, sports or academia. An outdoor classroom is used for survival lessons, building shelters and campfire cooking. It even boasts a pizza oven. Grounds also well-used for sports including nine-hole golf course, hard and grass tennis courts, netball courts, athletics track and sports fields for cricket, football, rugby, and hockey. Walled garden used for growing a wide range of fruit and veg as well as flowers with fruit trees thought to be 100 years old. Junior and senior gardening clubs are popular and new polyhouse is used for salad crops. Indoor swimming pool is used all year round, and an Italian garden offers a peaceful place to relax. Grounds are also home to quails, and pupils can be found playing games on a giant chequerboard. Well-stocked library is extremely popular at break times, with plenty of corners to settle down with a good book.
Boarders share small dorms of up to 10, with comfy sitting rooms for relaxation, treat nights and films. Issues and ideas can be raised through the boarding council, which take forward comments and suggestions to staff.
Children speak with confidence but not arrogance about the opportunities they enjoy at the school. Modern drama and dance studio along with the school’s own theatre give perfect opportunities for young performers to shine. Pupils’ artwork hangs all over the school and silver trophies glint in cabinets and on mantelpieces.
Principal Richard Foster said: “Last year 74 Windlesham children went on to 34 different senior schools. We help parents decide which is the best school for their child, and send pupils to the most prestigious. We’re very proud of our record, and always work to uphold and enhance our reputation.” With that desire for success being passed on to children, they have everything they need to achieve the very best.