As I drove along the main road heading south out of Robertsbridge, the entrance to Vinehall was obvious with its large and welcoming sign. Shortly after turning in I arrived at the door to the administrative hub of the school set in the original country house of the estate – built in 1838 by a local banker. Vinehall was established as a school in 1938, 100 years, and several owners later! I was warmly greeted by Karen Cooper, a former classics teacher here, and couldn’t help but be impressed by the extensive array of handmade shields adorning the walls of the entrance hall around me. All children create these to reflect their interests and achievements whilst at Vinehall – and the end products are mounted once they leave – a unique and lasting legacy. Richard Follett, the Headmaster, then came out to welcome me to the school and have a chat; he had been preparing for an assembly which was to be very ‘interactive’ for the children – a style he is clearly strong on (and encourages amongst his staff), and which makes all the students start to think for themselves. He explained that he would be leaving to return to Pangbourne College at the end of the academic year after 6 years of immersing himself in the school – the new Head is yet to be appointed.
Karen then took me on a tour of the site. Our first port of call was the comprehensive sports complex with its 2 halls. They were well equipped and from the displays on the walls all around it was clear that the pupils here achieve great things in this department. The nearby indoor swimming pool hosts a number of galas throughout the year too. We then moved on to view the facilities for the more creative activities of Art, Drama and Music – all equally impressive and demonstrating the wealth of opportunities available here to harness the young child’s interests and talent. There is much participation in all of these – and to a high standard. Then to a walk beyond the main house where the 47 acres of grounds extend virtually as far as the eye can see, with magnificent views beyond. As well as traditional playing fields, there is also is a 9 hole golf course and an Astroturf pitch out here.
The most impressive building for me though was the magnificent academic block, built in 2000, which at its centre has an atrium accommodating an impressively stocked library. Surely an inspiration for all who enter – a wonderful design! Flowing from this area are subject classrooms and an IT suite – and there are additional computers in the library area making them readily accessible to all. We also then visited the purpose built Pre-Prep building with every facility available – a very busy and friendly place. The final feature was the delightful little chapel, set apart from the main site. The school is grounded in Christianity, and has a chaplain, but actively welcomes all faiths.
There are 260 children at Vinehall, and admission is only selective to ensure a child will fit in and be able to progress to Common Entrance or the Cranbrook Entrance Test. Some boarding is offered; around 45% are full time overseas students, but flexible options are available from Year 3. Many in Years 7 and 8 opt for weekly or full boarding before senior schools. Local grammar or independent schools are the normal departure route for leavers – mainly in the immediate vicinity – Eastbourne College is particularly popular. There is no longer Saturday school here, but an optional ‘enrichment’ programme is very popular in its place. The school day ends at 4.30pm, with supervised prep and activities on offer thereafter for those who wish. Several minibus routes are available for daily journeys to and from school, which is again very welcomed by families.
My visit ended with a delightful lunch in the dining hall, sitting amongst the children and meeting several enthusiastic members of staff. It struck me how well the community bonds with so much going on – and with excellent results in so many areas of school life.