After a straightforward journey west, I turned into the private driveway on time, and then followed round a sharp bend to be rewarded with a wonderful first sight of the school! The playing fields and grounds spread out before me and the imposing main building, nestled in the Downs, beckoned in the distance in full sun – surely an inspirational welcome. I duly parked my car and on arrival in the entrance hall soon found the Head of Marketing and Admissions, Lucy Thornton, and we chatted briefly over coffee to introduce ourselves. Her own children have been educated here, so she is well placed to initiate visitors and prospective parents, and her welcome was very warm and friendly.
Lucy then took me on to a comprehensive tour of the school, and we enjoyed an ongoing and relaxed chat as we went along about all aspects of a Windlesham education. Break time had just begun, and pupils and staff were all around. Life here is clearly busy, most children board (66%) and it soon became apparent that they ‘live’ here and don’t just stay for convenience. The day pupils are also well integrated into this lifestyle – prep is done at school and breakfast and supper are available to all if they wish to partake (at no extra charge). It is also a ‘no uniform’ school, although guidelines are set and a Sunday best of suit or skirt is required. Our look round started with the boarding areas – spacious and homely with ‘Comfy’ spaces for socialising and relaxing. We moved on to all the various departments of the school – all set within, or attached to, the expansive main building, so readily accessible for the daily routine. Children busied themselves by continuing projects in the Art room and ceramics studio (there are also DT and textiles studios – and cookery for all), and a buzz of boys were engrossed in developing a robot in LEGO in the ICT centre. This latter is a flourishing and strong department, popular for its participation in the international ‘LEGO League’ challenges, which support and develop STEM learning – all explained to me by the very enthusiastic participants! The inspirational teacher is very aware of the need to ensure that children develop a sensible relationship with digital devices in their lives, and is producing a ‘Digital Wellbeing’ booklet for all. This advice will include a suggested ‘contract’ for home use as a guide for all family members…..
Our tour continued with classroom visits, a watch of the Pre-Prep children rehearsing for their nativity production, and a look at the beautiful chapel – used for regular services and welcoming all faiths. Pastoral care is well covered here too, with a network of options for children who need to talk – from the Headmaster’s wife, to tutors and houseparents, to senior children specifically selected to ‘offer an ear’. Our final stops were the magnificent new Sports Centre and the floodlit Astroturf pitch. A huge choice of sports and activities are offered, and the facilities are excellent. There are 60 acres of grounds, including a 9 hole golf course, and the emphasis is clearly on enjoying the outdoors and all that this amazing setting in the Downs offers. In addition to games sessions, outdoor lessons, walks and camping out are all regular occurrences and the children thrive on it.
Academics are strong, and the school is rightly proud of the 2 King’s scholarships to Eton gained this year, but Lucy made it clear that this was not the be all and end all. A well rounded and complete personal development is uppermost. The curriculum is wide with something for all talents. Languages start in the Pre-Prep with Spanish, and Latin is introduced to all in Year 5. Learning development is offered where required, with English support for overseas students who need it. Able pupils are extended. Windlesham is a non-selective school which delivers high achievers through its all encompassing education, and the pupils go on to a wide range of senior schools. All in all this is a real ‘all rounder’ school with a very ‘home from home’ feel. Children are fulfilled here and are truly allowed to be children in a very natural environment. What a fabulous preparation for life.