A coast and countryside location with strong curricular and co-curricular offer; Embley School in Romsey offers plenty of opportunity for kids to shine
Embley, once known as Hampshire Collegiate School, is a selective, co-ed Nursery, Prep and Senior School for 2-18-year-olds. Following a change of Head in 2017 and a rebrand in 2019, recent years have seen major strides forward in both Embley’s academics and ethos.
The grounds of this Romsey school are breathtaking. The huge 130 acres of pristine Hampshire countryside, situated right by the New Forest, was once the family home to Florence Nightingale. And, despite its lovely leafy location, it’s not too far from Southampton and Winchester, as well as being easily reachable from London – meaning that kids get all the benefits of the great outdoors, without being too isolated.
Although split into separate buildings, there’s a strong sense of unity between the Prep and Senior Schools and the same house system is embedded from Reception to Year 13. There are 550 pupils on the roll, many who stay through till 18. Embley offers day and, from Year 7 onwards, full and flexi-boarding.
The facilities at Embley really are top-notch. How many schools can say they’ve got their very own fleet of yachts moored just a short ride away? The school also has its very own 9-hole golf course, tennis courts, swimming pool and 10-acre farm.
Also worth noting is the dedicated performing arts studio, with older kids being able to take things such as Music Tech at A-Level. The school also has its own recording studio.
Productions take place in a 300-seater performance space. And with such whopping grounds, there are plenty of spots for a bit of al fresco performance as well. Even the national lockdowns couldn’t stop the keen pupils from performing – impressively, Embley staged eight virtual performances during the period. The school is also able to offer LAMDA examinations and LAMDA lessons as part of co-curricular activities for any budding young thespians.
Art and design facilities here are also excellent. Picture a giant airy space, split into sections for everything from painting to photography, textiles and more.
Sixth formers who choose to do creative subjects have their own personal cubby area for the duration of their studies, meaning they can come and create whenever they need to without having to pack and unpack all their gear. It’s very reminiscent of top art schools such as Central St Martins and Camberwell and has a very cool, creative vibe.
In the Prep DT area, kids can start using some pretty hefty equipment (under very careful supervision, of course!) to start working in wood, plastics and other tech from a young age.
Cliff Canning has been Headmaster at the school since 2017. An incredibly warm and philosophical man, he is unapologetic about his ‘relentless’ drive for improvement and proud of Embley’s way of blending innovation with tradition.
The school’s attitude to technology is a good example of how Embley treads this balance between a quality, values-driven education and equipping kids for life beyond the classroom. All pupils are given an iPad and Cliff Canning is excited about a cutting-edge tech partnership in the offing. But at the same time, he’s quick to stress that the focus is never on the technology itself, rather, what staff and pupils can achieve using it.
Summing up the approach, he describes Embley as “a digital Downton”. (Mobile phones are permitted but strictly off-limits during school hours – a policy that’s strongly enforced).
Canning’s passion for the role and the school is palpable. This is a guy who not only drives the kids to think big but won’t let anybody give up a project on a whim.
Turning ideas about bake sales into national student-led conferences and setting up formal meetings with students to discuss ideas and plans, he thinks the kids are capable of great things. Mentoring future doctors, chefs, engineers and fashion designers, he strongly backs and encourages Embley pupils follow their own dreams – rather than the expectations of others.
This is an incredibly sporty school and everybody gets a chance to be active. Rugby, golf, sailing, cricket, hockey, tennis… you get the picture. n 2019-2020, Embley boys won the U16 Rugby Hampshire Cup and the girls U15 won the Hampshire Hockey Trophy. Embley even has a ski team which has also achieved some fantastic results in the national schools championships and at international level. I
Making the most of it’s proximity to the Solent, Embley continues to make waves (hoho!) in the world of sailing and has triumphed in the Isle of Wight’s Round the Island Race for several consecutive years. The school also plans to enter the 2023 Fastnet competition as part of the newly-formed Fastnet 40.
While the academics at Embley are very strong there is a real emphasis that they aren’t the be-all and end-all of everything. Kids are supported well and pushed to achieve, but there’s careful individualised assessment behind the scenes to ensure the goals they are set are achievable.
Pupils are also encouraged to pursue individual strengths and dreams, too. Embley’s MBA Experience programme and industry career programme are examples of the fact that here, wanting to be a fashion designer is considered as much a legitimate career choice as a top legal barrister, and there are even a few Italian fashion houses that pop along to chat to the students. Che fico!
In January 2022, Embley will become a Combined Cadet Force (CCF) school, a scheme designed to foster life skills and self-confidence, with even more co-curricular opportunities that’ll contribute to DofE Awards.
Despite recent upheaval, the academics at the school continue to improve year-on-year. In the latest A-Level results, nearly 60% of A’Level pupils achieved A*-A, 80% achieved A*-B and 99% achieved A*-C. All sixth formers achieved their first choice of university place. An impressive 60% of Embley GCSE students also achieved grades 9-7 (A*-A equivalent) and 99% achieved grades 9-4 (A*-C equivalent).
All school leavers got into their first choice university, too, with higher education choices ranging from Russell Group Universities to international choices in Europe and the USA.
How many people can say they’ve lived at Florence Nightingale’s house? The boarding facilities are housed within the main part of the Manor House and my, what a house!
The dorms look out onto incredible views. The husband and wife boarding team, Mr. and Mrs McCredie, are incredibly warm, friendly and bursting with ideas for the kids to keep them occupied. There are plenty of trips out, takeaway treat nights, Bake Off challenges and, when the prep is finished, the kids are as busy as they want to be.
Strong international partnerships continue to bring in an international cohort, purposefully capped to encourage a diversity of friendships and ensure the pupil population at Embley spans different cultures.
The Nursery and Prep sections of the school are slightly away from the main building, but there’s a strong sense of cohesiveness between the two parts of the schools, especially when it comes to music and theatre (recent Prep productions James and the Giant Peach and Aladdin were performed in the senior school with senior music teachers ensuring an appropriately impressive score).
A new Maths Mentors programme has also been introduced which sees Senior School and Sixth Form mathematicians mentoring Prep children.
New Head of Prep Sheina Wright has overseen some well-considered improvements, like a gorgeous new Woodland Library complete with trees and soft grassy nooks for the littlies. She’s also created a new Wellbeing Hub for pupils to meet the on-site counselor or have a quiet moment.
Wellies are de rigueur in this part of the school (when I visit, one staff member is busy sorting out a huge bag full) and pupils have plenty of time out and about, whatever the weather. There’s a table tennis table, scooters and wooden play equipment immediately outside the modern Prep School Building plus bushcraft and Natural Sciences in the Estate’s own woodland classroom.
In the classroom, there’s a slick introduction to more formal schooling through the Early Years section of the school. French is taught from Nursery and the kids have ICT included in everything from Maths to reading. This allows additional skills to be taught, but it keeps it fun for the kids plus gives the teachers tangible measurements to make sure they are achieving their full potential.
School doors open from 8am for an 8.25am start. Homework club and co-curricular activities continue until 4.40pm, followed by an after-school creche until 6pm for those who need it.
The first impression many people will have of the school is how grand it all looks, but it is a very down-to-earth setting. From the staff to the pupils, there’s a welcoming and inclusive vibe to the school which in turn brings a lot of quirkiness and individuality to the place.
There’s also some real forward-thinking here and that’s visible in the Prep School’s Stock Market Investment Club. Kids from the Prep have raised investment from friends, family as well as local businesses, and supported by a brokerage, have invested in the London Stock Market.
Pupils get to learn about how the business world works, understand about the cause and effect of the news and world events on the market. When the funds mature, the profit contributes to a bursary which allows a pupil to attend Embley who would otherwise be unable.
Impressively, the Stock Market Investment Club, trading as ‘Embley Asset Management’ are currently outperforming the FTSE 100 by a staggering 11% following the group’s first live trade on the London Stock Market in January 2021.
Another Embley ‘quirk’ is the dedicated philosophy teaching for Prep school pupils. Headmaster Cliff Canning also regularly poses philosophical questions to his wards in assembly – and fully expects a considered response when he asks them about it in the hallway or lunch queue!
Sixth formers are invited to the Headmaster’s termly Black Tie Nightingale Suppers featuring guest speakers and formal dining. The events are simultaneously a reward for hardworking A’Level students and an opportunity to instill confidence for future formal occasions.
The most recent ISI report was a regulatory compliance inspection in 2018 which concluded “the quality of teaching at the school enables pupils to make good progress. Pupil behaviour is well-managed and principles and values are actively promoted as part of pupils’ personal development.” The last full inspection was in 2014.
Fees are competitive, especially in the pre-prep. With full-time Nursery coming in at £3,055 per term, £3,632 for Reception and Years 1 and 2, £4,169 for Year 3, £5,579 for Years 4 to 6, £5,668 for Years 7 to 13.
Fees for UK boarders (Years 7 – 13, includes tuition) are £9,770 per term. It’s £9,886 for EU boarders, £11,006 international boarders and £11,212 for Sixth Form boarders. Embley offer a sibling discount of 5% for a second child and 10% for third and subsequent siblings attending at the same time. There’s also a 10% reduction for serving members of the Armed Forces.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Great academics in a Downton Abbey-style setting. Those looking for a well-rounded setting for their kids to be challenged and nurtured academically and creatively will be well served here. Embley is unfussy and warm, with an inclusive vibe whoever you are and wherever you are from.
NOT FOR: Those who are looking for an absolute die-hard academic focus. Academics are important but kids are treated as individuals and the school backs them to pursue the correct path for them. Similarly, SEN pupils are well accommodated but Embley will advise if their needs are better served elsewhere.
DARE TO DISAGREE? Be my guest! Embley’s next whole school open events are Thursday 23 September; Friday 24 September; Saturday 25 September; Thursday 14 October and Tuesday 16 November 2021, all at 9am – 12pm. The next Sixth form event is Thursday 4 November, 5.30pm – 7pm. To book a place or arrange an individual tour, contact the admissions team on 01794 512206, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Embley, Embley Park, West Wellow, Romsey SO51 6ZE. Tel: 01794 512206