On a chilly but bright February morning I was greeted warmly by Sarah Hammond and her team in the front office of Skippers Hill. Another member of my welcoming team was the delightful Lottie – the school’s chocolate Labrador. Adorned in her bright orange dog coat – her daily ‘uniform’ – it was explained to me that she was undergoing formal training for her role in the school. Eventually this will ensure that she is able to work safely with pupils and to contribute to school life as much as possible. Lottie will then work with the children as a reading motivator and listener, as well as providing pastoral support and carrying out therapeutic work for children who may benefit from this. This seems a wonderful initiative that will add to the confidence of these children and enhance the overall family atmosphere at the school.
My next move was to meet the headmaster, Mark Hammond, who has now been at the helm for the last 2 years – having been the Deputy Head for a year before that. He described Skippers Hill as a small country Prep School (currently 161 pupils), with a truly family feel made possible by the small size of the community. A benefit for the school is being part of the Bellevue Education group of schools which adds focussed and consistent support for resources and training as required. The school is non-selective and there is no boarding here, but every child is nurtured by every member of staff and pastoral care rates highly on the agenda allowing all to achieve to the best of their abilities. Mark and Sarah make a good team. As Sarah then showed me around the site and facilities, I learnt how passionate they both are about their school. Both their children are pupils here too, so it is a real family affair.
The 22 acres of wonderful grounds here offer lots of opportunities ranging from playtime and sports activities to the school’s highly regarded ‘Woodland Explorers’ programme which is enjoyed by all year groups. Skippers Hill has undergone development in a number of areas in recent years. This has included the installation of an all-weather playing surface for outdoor sports teaching and matches; improvements to outdoor tennis and netball courts; a new Performing Arts Room for music lessons and performance; the installation of a new wireless network to improve the school’s IT framework and a very welcome refurbishment of the school swimming pool. All of which is impressive, allowing not only well supported academic teaching, but also a wide variety of extra-curricular activities for all.
The school day starts with Breakfast Club for those needing to be dropped off at 7.45am and finishes at a time depending on Year group and whether children participate in the wide ranging selection of clubs available at the end of the day. For those in Year 5 and above, Prep and Clubs at school go on to 5.45pm.
Results are impressive for a mixed ability school, with all children achieving their first choice school on departure, and a significant number in recent years being awarded specialist scholarships. Most move on to local private schools including Eastbourne College, Hurst, Tonbridge and Brighton College. But what really matters at Skipper’s Hill, and what contributes to these results, is finding a child’s passion, nurturing it and helping them to achieve to the best of their ability – and all the evidence suggests that the success rate in this is high.