Farleigh School, Andover
Farleigh School is a co-ed Catholic prep school for children aged 3-13 years located in the village of Red Rice, just a little bit outside of Andover.
The cohort of 460 pupils learn in the grounds of a gorgeous Georgian manor house setting, surrounded by 70 acres of Hampshire countryside and woodland. And even though it’s in prime Hampshire countryside, its proximity to London allows families to strike that all-important balance between an idyllic countryside childhood, with easy access to home.
There’s a strong ratio of boarders from age 7 and upwards, and the pre-prep while located its own building, is pretty much part of the main school campus, allowing it to feel like one big family unit. Average class sizes are small and max out at 17.
They have some excellent facilities here and, although there’s certainly a traditional vibe to the school, this is alongside a lot of whizzy modern technology to be played with. The children have access to iPads from Year 7, there’s an impressive ICT unit that is packed with more iMacs than the Apple store, plus the classrooms come with interactive whiteboards, which are made full use of as I saw on my visit.
The prep and pre-prep each has its own library. The prep library, located in the main building, was redesigned with the guidance of the library staff. Think squishy carpets that the kids take their shoes off for, while they curl up with a book.
Because the school is located in a gorgeous old manor, you won’t be surprised to hear that there is a grand ballroom on-site but this has changed function and is now home to the school’s Chapel. This room is gorgeous, whether you are religious or not, with careful thought put into the lighting and decor that keeps the traditional look of the building in harmony with its new purpose. A very bright and welcoming place, this is not the sort of chapel where the kids end up snoozing in the dark.
The school also has some particularly impressive sports facilities with an indoor pool, all-weather pitch, a huge sports hall, multiple tennis courts and lots of green space for hockey, rugby and cricket. All the kids have swimming lessons weekly as well, making full use of the facilities. And during my visit, I saw a brand new dance studio in progress which has loads of space for grand jetes.
The students can’t get enough of boarding here and there’s quite a bit of flexibility with it too. The school currently has over 100 boarders as well as 50 flexi-boarders, meaning that there’s plenty of company for those who choose to live in.
The dorm’ rooms have some utterly amazing views over the grounds and are super roomy, with lots of space for kids to be… well, kids! There’s also plenty of storage with personal cubby holes and cupboards outside the rooms so there’s not too much “stuff” in the rooms themselves.
Boarders also have a few exeats (four in the Autumn Term, two each in the Spring and Summer Term) and there’s also some brand new boarding added recently to keep up with demand. The boarding medical office has also recently been completely redone, offering a comforting, home-from-home setting for any kids feeling under the weather.
While not a selective school academic success is very strong at Farleigh. In 2019 the 51 leavers went off to schools that included Eton, Ampleforth, Harrow, Cheltenham Ladies’ College, Marlborough, Sherborne, the St Mary’s, Ascot and Calne, and other top names – many of which were on scholarships.
MUSIC & DRAMA
The Arts are a big deal at Farleigh and this can be seen with the school’s lovely shiny new music block. Music is taught to every year group and approximately 80% of students play an instrument or sing, so all the students benefit from the new addition to the grounds.
Also, the new block has a purpose-built performance space for music (which is giant compared to the one they used previously) and can be used for both formal and informal concerts. For those balmy summer days, there’s also an alfresco amphitheatre within the grounds – perfect for an outdoor music concert or spot of Shakespeare in the sun (though the school also has a separate theatre for plays as well).
The new Head of Drama has shaken things up as well, ramping up the number of productions and getting the kids involved with behind-the-scenes as much as the performing. There are musicals and theatrical productions aplenty and everybody gets a part. They are always thinking about transferrable skills at Farleigh and intertwined with drama there’s a lot of focus on public speaking, debating and building confidence in the kids.
Another major area of Farleigh is its sport, and it’s not just for the super competitive. There’s a team for every kid whether that be rugby, hockey, netball etc. They also play tennis year-round (and you can also opt for some additional coaching if you wish) and the girls, as well as the boys, play cricket in the Summer too. Along with the more competitive team sports, things like dance and life-saving skills are part of the curriculum here adding other options to the physical side of the curriculum.
ART & DESIGN
They certainly are a talented bunch of artists at Farleigh and the art department, as well as across the school, is filled with amazing pieces of art made by the students. It’s not just sketching and painting either (though, there is plenty of that) as the kids get to try out screen printing, sewing and textile and ceramics with the school in-house kiln.
The school has also fully embraced the tech-side of art and design with the head of DT is known for his “Magic Club”. This extra-curricular activity is very popular and encompasses the principles of design and tech (plus some drama and photography) with other more modern skills such as Photoshop and video editing. While looking around the school I saw a video made by the kids that included some special effects that I think even Hollywood would have been impressed by.
Father Simon Everson lives for this school and has a fascinating background. Having been a vicar with a wife and family in the Church of England, he converted to Catholicism making him one of only a couple of hundred married Catholic priests in the UK.
Along with that, he brings a lifetime of experience and real-world knowledge to the school, including time spent in inner-city London areas. He is keen to spread the word about the culture of “Mediterranean Catholicism” at the school. Think fun, family, food, laughter and not even a sniff of “Fire and Brimstone” to be seen or felt here.
His main aim is to help the kids to fulfil their full potential and is not about “what” the kids want to be when they grow up but rather “who”.
The school opens its doors to the local community for weekly Mass, which attracts locals, ex-students and the families of the current cohort. This means there is a strong bond not just in the school but in the wider local area. His wife is also heavily involved within the school and works in the Learning Support Department, meaning that this is a total family affair.
The smallest members of Farleigh in Kindergarten don’t need to wear a uniform which is quite unusual for an independent pre-school environment. Also, there’s no requirement for them to be full-time either, which means that it makes the school a lot more accessible to some families who may be toying with going independent for their kids’ education before taking the plunge.
All the kids from Kindergarten, right through the whole of pre-prep, do ballet on a Friday and the littlies even have a fenced-off section of the wooded area, so the kids can explore and play in the great outdoors without being able to roam too far away.
The little ones also have a rather enviable list of extra-curricular activities at their disposal including yoga, mindfulness and all the things we as adults should take time for. Grown-ups can also take advantage of wrap-around care including a breakfast club and twilight club.
The kids I saw looked absolutely enthralled with their activities and the whole environment felt safe, secure and incredibly child-led.
There’s plenty of wonderful eccentricities to be found at Farleigh. As well as the aforementioned married Catholic priest at the helm, the school also has a record of numerous students playing the bagpipes (sadly, there aren’t any at the moment but the school will happily accommodate any budding pipers). Also on the music front, there’s a HUGE emphasis on Jazz here. The Head of Music is a fan, and thus even the 5-year-olds know who Miles Davis is.
For the older students at the school, they’ve recently had the opportunity of their very own common room. I say “common room” when in reality it’s a pretty big block within the school, complete with mini kitchen, cinema and outdoor roof terrace. The kids all have a rota for cleaning, so getting them used to the realities of life early.
Also in the woods, the school has its very own fort – Fortress Farleigh – although this is far more for outdoor adventure, learning and play than defending the school!
And finally, every day for at least an hour, every child must sit and read a book. Think of it as part-learning, part forming a self-care habit for later life.
Fees are pretty average for this part of the world, leaning slightly on the higher side. Kindergarten starts at £1,860 per term for 5 sessions, you can bump this up by £372 per extra session each term. It’s £3,720 per term for pre-prep. Moving up to the prep side, prices per term range for day pupils from £6,400 for day pupils in Year 3, up to £6,775 for Years 4 – 8. Boarding, the youngest boarders are £7,605 per term up to £8,810 per term for Years 7 and 8.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Having spoken to several parents and ex-students there’s a really warm sense of nostalgia and happiness about this place. Kids come away thinking about the wider world picture, are academically strong but remain well-rounded and feel part of the “Farleigh family”. Everybody seems to know everybody and is mentioned with a smile.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Those who want their kids to thrive in the creative as much as the academic. If you have kids that are always on the go, there will be more than enough to keep them stimulated, happy and occupied at Farleigh. Also, if you’re looking for a younger boarding environment with a strong, nurturing feel, you would find this place a strong contender.
NOT FOR: Those looking for a super-duper selective school. The school is strong academically but that’s not through testing and handpicking and more on getting to know the kids. Also, if you like a lie-in on a Saturday, there’s Saturday school so day pupils will need a lift. And, although the school is only around 40% Catholic and very inclusive of all religious backgrounds and beliefs, there’s a strong Christian ethos throughout everything. If you’re a strict atheist then this may be a tad much.
DARE TO DISAGREE? Be my guest, the school has an Open Morning on Friday 28th February 10.00 am-12.00 pm.
Farleigh School, Red Rice, Andover, Hampshire, SP11 7PW. Tel: 01264 710766