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Ditcham Park School, Ditcham

A co-ed day through school in the idyllic South Downs near Petersfield, with individualised teaching and innovative STEAM programme.

WHAT? WHERE?

Ditcham Park School Hampshire Best Schools

Sitting splendidly on a hill at one of the highest points of the South Downs National Park, straddling the Hampshire-Sussex border, Ditcham Park is a co-ed through school for children aged two-and-a-half to 16 with a roll call of 400 pupils.

Originally built as a hunting lodge in the 18th Century, Ditcham Park School was founded in 1976 by Mrs. Patricia ‘Paddy’ Homes. Strongly opposed to changes to the National Curriculum at the time, her view of education was a more individualised environment ‘where every child is known and valued.’

Not surprisingly, given the bucolic, elevated location, Ditcham Park has some absolutely amazing views south across the Solent and as far as the Isle of Wight. The school is non-selective for pupils who join in Juniors and move through to Seniors. However, it is selective for external applicants at 11+ and 13+. Class sizes vary from 16 – 18 in the prep school, with up to 23 in Seniors and an overall average of around 14 at GCSE options stage (small enough to please parents but big enough for kids to find plenty of friends).

FACILITIES

Blending the traditional grand house with shiny modern extensions, Ditcham Park has made some sizeable investments in recent years. Most notable was the significant extension to the existing sports hall in 2021, which has created a second sports hall, an activities suite (above) used for dance, judo, fencing and fitness and two shiny new classrooms.

The main section of the school is a Victorian manor house. Built in 1887, it has a beautiful wood-panelled library and reception rooms on the ground floor.

Three storeys of classrooms on the upper floors are reached via the ‘Harry Potter’ staircase (disappointingly it didn’t move by itself on my visit, but it really is a dead ringer for Hogwarts – and, spookily, there are rumours of ghosts being spotted in the out-of-bounds upstairs rooms here…).

Separate from the main house, Ditcham Park also has a well-equipped science block, renovated in 2012 and a purpose-built Junior classroom block, opened by BBC journalist Clive Myrie in September 2017. Elsewhere, there’s a Technology and Arts building, added in 2001, with a separate studio and ceramics room that are well used to create pupil masterpieces (Ditcham Park artists have scooped awards five years in a row at the ISA National Art Exhibitions).

Notably, one former artistic Ditcham Park pupil, Philip Hunt, went on to study animation at the Royal College of Art and founded a production company that has gone on to scoop multiple international awards – including an Emmy and an Oscar!

Pupil at Ditcham Park School Hampshire playing a trombone music lessons

The Technology and Arts building also houses junior and senior music rooms and separate rehearsal rooms for instrumental lessons, which are well subscribed here. Starting with recorder in year three, all Ditcham Park Juniors are taught a brass, woodwind and string instrument from Years 3 – 6, with a Junior Choir and Orchestra for the keenest. Once they’ve found their vibe, moving up to Seniors a pretty decent number (one in three) of the cohort continue to play with many also taking part in choirs, bands and ensembles.

Outside, there’s a well-used, sheltered walled garden, two woodland discovery and play areas, four hard tennis and netball courts and an expanse of grassy sports fields (used as enthusiastically at break time as they are during games).

Currently in the planning phase, the next big investment at Ditcham Park will be a new Centre for the Creative Arts, refurbishing the existing drama studio and adding a 250-seater auditorium and music school. With drama clubs, GCSE and LAMDA all super popular – and some pretty ambitious productions already staged here – the upgrade to a new, even larger space will definitely be popular with pupils.

SPORTS

Ditcham Park School pupils playing rugby

For a relatively small school Ditcham Park holds its own on the sports front, regularly topping the table playing team sports in local leagues against similar-sized schools. Cross country and athletics are a particular strength – one recent student took silver for the Under-17s girls’ 800m in the English Schools National Track and Field Championships and was selected to run for England.

Sporty pupils are also well supported through Ditcham Park’s Sports Development programme: several boys have made it into the London Irish Rugby Academy and the school has turned out national and international sailing champions, a national-level gymnast, twirling team member and even a Porsche Motorsport Junior Programme driver – vroom, vroom!

LITTLIES

Ditcham Park School Hampshire nursery

Added to the school in 2018, the Ditcham Dragonflies school nursery teaches small group sessions of up to ten children aged two-and-a-half to 5 in a separate, round very well-equipped building right next to the main school. Built to look like the inside of a treehouse, it’s light, bright and welcoming.

Other than dance, taken by an external specialist, kids have drama and PE in the main school, with regular contact with reception to ease the transition to the main school. They also have a great woodland space to enjoy and regularly do – when I visit, they’re all wellied up with rosy cheeks having just returned from a walk.

ACADEMICS/RESULTS

Ditcham Park School library breaktime

Good. Much excitement that the school ranked 13th best in the country in The Sunday Times’ Parent Power Guide in the category of Independent Schools without a Sixth Form. This was based on its 99% Grade C and above equivalent pass rate in 2021, with nearly half (49%) of GCSEs awarded an A or A+. Ditcham Park’s English Baccalaureate (EBacc) average point score was 5.8, coming out well above national averages in core subjects. Average value-added scores have also risen significantly here in the last three years, from 4.2 per pupil in 2019 to 8.2 in 2021.

There’s no Sixth Form but nearby Churcher’s College and Portsmouth Grammar School are popular next steps, with some of the most academic recent graduates securing scholarships here and moving on to University at Oxford and Cambridge. University Technical College (UTC) Portsmouth also gets a fair number of Ditcham Park leavers, inspired to study STEM subjects by the school’s active STEAM programme.

PASTORAL CARE

Good – and evolving. Ditcham Park is known for its long-standing, nurturing, individualised approach. Day-to-day pastoral care is mostly covered by class teachers in Juniors and Form Tutors in Seniors. Two Juniors’ teachers are trained as Emotional Literacy Support Assistants, providing additional support and the school also employs a dedicated Wellbeing Coordinator.

Separately, a Pastoral Support Coordinator provides support and advice for girls in Seniors, with both roles co-ordinated by a Designated Safeguarding Lead. Moving forward, the senior team hope to use future extensions and renovations to create a dedicated, drop-in wellbeing and quiet space.

THE HEAD

Attracted to Ditcham Park’s founding ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ ethos, Headmaster Graham Spawforth joined the school in 2017 from Reed’s School in Surrey, where he was Deputy Head. Five years into the role and he’s worked hard to move the school forward, especially in science, technology and creative thinking, appointing a dedicated Head of Computer Science and Digital Learning in 2018.

Friendly and enthusiastic, he has a ‘sky’s the limit’ outlook to the curriculum – as evidenced by the strong STEAM (Science, Technology, Art and Mathematics) programme which creatively encompasses science, maths, technology and other curriculum areas like English and art.

QUIRKS

Ditcham Park’s location is pretty unique. Known in the area as ‘the school on the hill’ it’s so high up that it’s only visible from the nearest main road by a signpost. Having ascended it, I can tell you that the subsequent 2.5-mile winding track leading up to Ditcham Park will almost certainly require a few gear changes.

STEAM doesn’t typically fall in the quirky bucket but Ditcham Park’s level focus is pretty exceptional. Dedicated lessons cover everything from coding, using Lego Mindstorm robots and sending a capsule into space, to building a Greenpower Challenge Car, Science Fiction literature and film.

There’s extra-curricular STEAM workshops, like this school holiday CSI session (above) and national STEM competitions such as BP, Shell, First Lego League and the National Science and Engineering Competition and day trips to destinations like Ben Ainslie Racing (BAR) headquarters in Portsmouth and the Big Bang (STEM exhibition) Fair in Birmingham.

Ditcham Park also has a pretty inspiring STEAM speaker programme. Pupils have heard from a Futureologist, the Director of Operations for Google UK and astronaut Helen Sharman, among others.

The highlight in the calendar is the school’s own STEAM Fair. The last one featured rockets, fire and explosions, TESLA cars, a Spitfire simulator and representatives from a huge roll-call of STEAM businesses including Google, Estee Lauder, BOC, the Royal Navy, Morgan Innovation and Siemens. 

WRAPAROUND CARE

A free before school drop-off club starts at 7.50am for Pre-School, Juniors and Seniors. After school clubs for Juniors and Seniors run from 3.45pm to 5pm or 6pm with a snack at 4pm. The Juniors After School club is hosted by Active8 Minds and costs £6 up to 5pm or £11.50 to 6pm. There’s a free, fully supervised homework club for Seniors in the library from 3.45pm to 5pm or 6pm.

ISI REPORT

The latest ISI report was in February 2020. Pupils’ academic and other achievements here were rated as good and personal development as excellent.

MOBILE PHONE POLICY

Mobiles are off-limits to Juniors. Seniors may bring phones into School to contact parents but they must be turned-off during the day. When they reach Year 11, Ditcham Park students may use their mobile phones in break times.

TRANSPORT

Around half of Ditcham Park pupils travel to and from school using school minibuses. Most come from Petersfield and surrounds, with routes also covering Alton, Bosham, Chichester, Denmead, Haslemere, Hayling Island, Midhurst, Ropley and Southsea. To avoid congestion on the narrow road in and out of the school, there’s a strict and necessary ‘up’ or ‘down’ only timetable at drop off and pick up times for kids travelling in by car.

FEES + SCHOLARSHIPS

Good value. EYE-funded pre-school sessions cost £38.50 for a full day (9am/9.30am – 3.30pm, including lunch).The cost of one full day per term without funding is £403.00. Pre-School is open 42 weeks a year. In the Junior School, reception up to Year 3 is £3,004.50 per term; Year 4 and Year 5 is £3,360.00, Year 6 is £4,242.00 and Year 7 is £4,498.00. Years 8 to Years 11 are £5,037.00. Ditcham Park’s scholarships programme includes academic, music, sport, art and drama awards with fee remissions of between five and 40 percent for an Academic Scholarship and between five and ten percent for other disciplines.

WORD ON THE GROUND

From the youngest to the eldest, feedback from local parents is very positive – the words “happy” and “thriving” are used a lot. Kids I speak with (in Years 3 – 11) are also very upbeat, particularly about extracurricular bushcraft, residential trips to the New Forest, and sports like netball, football and hockey (although something of a rebellion was brewing about a lack of girls’ football – Muddy’s got the feeling that’s likely to change pretty soon!).

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Small year groups, an engaging curriculum and a long-standing approach of seeing and teaching children as individuals mean Ditcham Park kids don’t get lost in the system and do get plenty of opportunity to shine.

Not for: Parents looking for a complete one-stop with Sixth Form. School minibuses will avoid the wait but if you do plan to drop off or pick up by car, you’ll need to be punctual to avoid falling foul of the one-way system.

Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Hear from the Head, teachers and pupils online in this series of pre-recorded open event videos, then book a tour and see the school for yourself at the next open morning on 14 May 2022.

Ditcham Park School, Ditcham, Petersfield GU31 5RN. www.ditchampark.com

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