On a beautifully sunny Autumn afternoon I drove down the long drive away from the road, and through the neighbouring fields, to arrive at Ashdown House for the warmest of welcomes. Haydon Moore, the Headmaster, came out to meet me as I strolled towards the main building of the school, and then escorted me to his office made homely by a blazing fire in the hearth. My welcome was enhanced on our way by a meeting with Charles and Camilla, the two resident bronze turkeys – named after the Head of History and his fiancé – a wonderful addition to the community!
The views from the front of the historic main house, designed and built by world renowned architect Benjamin Latrobe, spread out over the playing fields towards the East Sussex countryside beyond. Children around the school were either participating in matches or enjoying chosen activities both indoors and out. In free time, happiness is climbing trees here at Ashdown House, and many have their own names – Spaghetti tree, Lava bush and Love tree to name a few. We sat in the Headmaster’s study for a little while, joined by Annie, the Headmaster’s wife, with this wonderful backdrop, discussing the virtues of a boarding education with the firm family unity and feel that Ashdown House prides itself on throughout the school. Increasing numbers portray this success. And Haydon and Annie are both very involved – the family live in a flat above the main school during term time.
Our subsequent tour of the school began with the beautiful chapel. A place of serenity in the centre of a busy school, the door is always open. We then continued on a circuit taking in the dining hall (increasingly organic meals, with salt and sugar intake being reduced), the theatre and music rooms, passing the art department and into a few classrooms. These are due for further modernisation very soon. A dedicated Learning Support ‘Log Cabin’ offers help where needed including EAL if required. A look in the sports hall and a glance at the lovely indoor swimming pool, then led to a visit to the dormitories of which the school is clearly, and quite rightly, very proud. An extremely homely environment was evident, all set on landings for both boys and girls, each with a cosy, youthfully decorated common space including very popular mineral water dispensers ensuring the consumption of large quantities of water. All parents reportedly love this initiative – and I’m not surprised! Boarding is strong at Ashdown House and most do so full time in their final years as they prepare for senior school. Flexi boarding mid week is also available, often enjoyed by more junior children as they are introduced to the experience. Fixed exeats and ‘floating’ weekends allow the children to get home regularly, and there are plenty of evening and weekend activities whilst at school.
The school believes in a wide breadth of education, and personal development through free time and activities, thus fuelling academic success and fulfilment of potential. Top scholarships are regularly achieved where deserved, but the emphasis is on a balanced education. Teaching is nevertheless progressive and Mandarin is now introduced from a young age. Leavers go to a wide range of senior schools across the country (all to their first choice) including the most prestigious. Art, DT, Music and Drama all thrive here – the product of these departments is evident everywhere – and Ashdown is able to offer stays in a French Chateau and outward bound opportunities (coupled with studying science and geography) in Dorset. A wealth of opportunities for all.
Ashdown House exudes warmth and happiness throughout its extended family, between staff, children, parents and whole families. The evidence is clear to see.