Hampshire Collegiate School, Romsey
A new Head, palpable energy, passionate teaching staff, stonking grounds and a fleet of boats moored just down the road.
HCS is a selective, co-ed Nursery, Prep and Senior School for 2-18 year olds. It’s on the estate of Florence Nightingale’s former home — Embley Park: 130 acres of rolling parkland just outside Romsey, bordering the New Forest.
The school offers day and, from Year 7 onwards, full and flexi-boarding. There are 450 pupils on the roll and special needs provision is included in the school fees.
There is a strong sense of unity between the Prep and Senior Schools. Most prep pupils stay all the way through to 18, and the same house system encompasses years 2-13. Elsewhere, sixth formers take an active leadership role, heading the School Council and mentoring younger pupils.
First let’s talk grounds, all 130 acres of grass, mature trees and a sweeping driveway leading up to Ms Nightingale’s family pile. Think Lizzie Bennett and her first view of Pemberley with added mini-buses. The rank of spick HCS branded vehicles lines the endless driveway to ferry pupils in from across Hampshire and Wiltshire.
The headline off-site offering has to be the four 25-foot yachts owned by the school and moored just down the road in Lymington.
Boating over to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight is par of the course, and HCS’ sailing team was the only independent school to finish the Round the Island Race recently.
Elsewhere, as you’d expect from a school with such humongous grounds, team sports are well catered for. Rugby and hockey (random fact: the pink astro-turf comes from the London Olympics) are especially strong. The school has close ties with Bath Rugby Academy, but there’s also a covered pool, a 9-hole golf course and six tennis courts for pupils who don’t like group team sports but still want to be part of a squad. From Year 7 onwards, pupils can also take-on all three levels of the Duke of Edinburgh Award.
There’s also a dedicated performing arts space and an impressive art studio divided into spaces for photography, fine art and art & design: textiles. A-level students all have their own cubicle for projects in progress and to my untrained eye, standards were high.
On my visit an extra-curricular session was underway teaching pupils how to talk about art with confidence.
From September, all children in the main school will have their own iPad and there will also be a bank available for prep school children.
What else? Well there’s a whopping eight science labs and an impressive DT studio with tools and gadgets galore. Loving these Scandi creations.
Word on the ground is that the music output could do with some improvement, but that the intention and will to improve is most definitely there. The department itself is well resourced with a computer suite, practice rooms and a recently built recording studio. The school also has strong links with Romsey Abbey, more on this below.
There are lots more plans on the horizon: a rifle-range, mountain bike trail and horse-riding, so do ask when you look around.
I’d describe the whole atmosphere as punchy but not posh; cerebral not snotty. Pupils are stretched, expectations are high yet authenticity is still valued.
There is a conscious effort to parachute pupils into successful professional or artistic life with mini-MBA experiences and regular black-tie lectures.
Days before my visit, a conference on women in maths for high-performing year 10’s was held and a recent university fair attracted Oxford, Cambridge and LSE. Phew. Careers posters are dotted around the school: “Interested in drama, dance or music? Then think about a career in… ” cue exhaustive list from DJ-ing to stage managing via make-up artistry.
I love that the wheels of steel come high on the list, yet elsewhere the school has strong links with local Romsey Abbey and offers choral scholarships.
Reading between the lines, I’d say that HCS pupils are expected to be a success but, from festival organising to accountancy, there is no limit or pre-judgement placed on one field above another.
The school is selective so won’t be suitable for children with significant special needs but once in, they all have the support they need to ultimately get into their first choice of university (which all pupils did last year).
HCS takes boarders from Years 7 – 13, the set-up is mostly full-boarding but flexi options are available as well.
All years are in one boarding house and there is a real family feel with older pupils mentoring the younger ones — on the weekend before my visit all the boarders had been to Harry Potter World. The joint heads of boarding weren’t available on my visit, so I didn’t actually see the dorm rooms but judging by this image they are cosy and welcoming.
THE NURSERY & PREP
A five-minute walk down the driveway with light, airy classrooms, the purpose built Prep is far enough from the Senior School to create a secure space in what could otherwise be an overwhelming environment, yet close enough to access all the fantastic facilities that an independent secondary school can offer.
Apparently, it’s common to see welly-booted nursery pupils rummaging and den-building in woodland near the Manor House.
The Prep also has its own raft of facilities: from dedicated art, DT, ICT and music to a sports pitches and veggie patches. Children spend a lot of time outdoors, and nature is very much on the curriculum. There are dedicated LOC (Learning Outside the Classroom) rooms, Chris Packham even visited recently to talk bird boxes.
The large, well-loved play area outside the Nursery and Pre-Prep classrooms could do with some tlc, but then show me the children’s play area that looks its very best on a damp January morning AND show me the five-year-old who cares about everything being super-shiny, especially when there’s a pirates ship to play in.
There was a sense of calm studiousness throughout the building due, in part, to those small class sizes (15-18 in the Prep and Senior Schools) which is such a big incentive for many parents to go private.
Most pupils go on to higher education with 100% getting into their choice of university (including UCL, Imperial and UWE).
With almost a year in the role, this is an interesting time to gauge how Cliff Canning’s leadership is changing things. He clearly has bags of energy, and loves the job — his words. He has spearheaded lots of new initiatives including the mini-MBAs and uni fairs and I particularly like his take on women in leadership. This father of three grown-up daughters is well-versed in the suffragist vs. suffragettes; challenges society’s celebration of Florence Nightingale as merely “the lady with the lamp” when in fact she was a preeminent scientist; and he always appoints HCS’ Head Girl as chair of the common room because of (and I quote) “the strength, depth and focus of women in leadership.
Apparently, this unassuming stone bench was Florence Nightingale’s favourite.
Elsewhere, the School Council is modelled on the House of Commons Select Committee (you know, the one on the news where a terrified Head of Industry/Newspaper Ed is grilled by a pack of MPs). Cliff Canning sits in front of the Student Council, surrounded by elected pupils who hold him to account. To paraphrase this brave (mad?) Head, you can’t expect a child to be creative, critical and independent, if you don’t allow them the independence to practise being critical and creative. Bit of a mind-twister that one, but it does make a lot of sense.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Within hours of me posting about the school on Instagram, HCS parents were commenting: their children love it and have really come on academically, the pastoral care (which the school is renowned for apparently), the grounds, and the teaching staff are all wonderful. Need I say more?
That said, I have picked up some murmurings that the school’s academics haven’t been so strong in the past and to make-up for this there is now an increased focus on bringing the three r’s into line; a good thing in most people’s book, but worth bearing in mind if your child wilts under pressure.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Buses leave at 4.10pm each day and late buses run on three nights of the week (leaving at 5.15pm) for those staying for extra-curricular activities. Boarding also gives busy working parents some flexibility.
Around £3,600 in the Prep School going up to £5,000 (both per term) in the Senior School which for Hampshire, is good value. Scholarships are available for gifted children.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone who wants their kids to have a rounded education where non-tangibles are a priority; especially the ability to present yourself well and feel confident in all environments. With the large grounds, HCS is also good for pupils who want a country education.
Not for: Those looking for an traditional, stiff-upper-lip type school. Kids who would thrive in a single-sex or a smaller environment.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest, HCS is holding its open day on Tuesday 13th March. firstname.lastname@example.org to book your place.
Hampshire Collegiate School, Embley Park, West Wellow, Romsey, SO51 6ZA. 01794 512206 hampshirecs.org.uk