The Gregg School, Southampton
A country house oasis in an urban setting, this city senior school nurtures a small cohort of enthusiastic learners with its varied co-curricular activities.
The Gregg School is an independent, non-selective co-ed senior school in the outskirts of Southampton with 360 pupils aged 11 – 16. It moved to the imposing 23-acre Townhill Park House estate in 1994.
The biggest barrier to entry at The Gregg isn’t the entrance exam. In fact, it’s more likely to be finding the place, especially first time around. Unusually for a property like this, the original long driveway has been re-seated and the grand house is hidden from view, reached through an estate of houses. Persevere and trust your Google Maps though as once you’re here, it’s pretty impressive…
Dating from the late 1800s, Townhill Park House was improved and extended in 1911. The fantastic Italian-style architecture at was carried out by Leonard Rome Guthrie, commissioned by former owners Lord and Lady Swaythling. The house was handed over to the Red Cross in 1939 and used a convalescent home for British and American soldiers during the Second World War. Later, it was an education centre for underprivileged children and a training site for marine cadets.
The Gregg School take their role as custodians of the historic site seriously, though pupils and the public are allowed supervised access to the impressive Gertrude Jekyll-designed gardens, orchard, wisteria-covered pergola and Grade II-listed Sunk Garden, all maintained with the help of a group of volunteer gardeners.
Also on the estate are beehives and outdoor table tennis tables for break times. There’s an outdoor classroom in the arboretum and an outdoor pizza oven, too. There’s a lot of enthusiasm among the kids for occasional lunchtime pizza-making sessions – and likewise the sociable cohort of parents that use it at after-school gatherings.
Gazing out of classroom windows, it’s not uncommon to see a family of deer roaming around… Plenty of sports and games are played onsite on the cricket pitch, netball courts and playing fields. There’s also an athletics track, high jump and long jump. Cross country running tracks wind around the estate, through wooded areas and across the expansive grounds.
For other sports and co-curricular activities, pupils are taken by minibus to sports facilities in Southampton including local leisure centres, the Dry Ski Slope, Gymnastics Club, Southampton University Swimming Pool, Watersports Centre. Further afield, pupils also use Trojans in Eastleigh, Gosport Ice Rink, Paultons Golf Centre and Wellington Sports Grounds.
Indoors the building’s country house legacy is preserved in rooms like the stunning walnut-panelled school hall and the meeting room that was previously a sumptuous boudoir for former estate owner Lady Swaythling. Still partitioned, the old stable block has been converted into ‘snugs’ where the students can come and sit on beanbags and cushions to read and chat during break and lunchtimes, with a spacious art room above.
Hands-on learning in the Design Technology lab makes use of impressive array of kit there like the vinyl cutter, enamel kilns, oven, 3D printers, pillar drill, fretsaw, sanding machine, polisher, cordless drills, electric drills, router and belt sander.
Adjacent to the historic house, the modern Hart building (above) was built in 2018 and expanded in 2021 to make space for the growing cohort. Inside are shiny new science labs kitted out for some serious experimentation. Pupils can make their discoveries using a Hoffman voltammeter, telescope, mobile fume cupboard, microscopes, skeletons, chemical store and even radioactive materials (!). The labs also open out directly onto woodland, giving plenty of scope to explore the natural ecosystem.
The Hart Building is also home to a light, bright, well-equipped, 100 sqm MasterChef-style food and nutrition suite, a flexible drama atrium and multiple large English classrooms.
For a small school, The Gregg holds its own competitively. Pre-pandemic tournament wins have included medals in the ISA regional swimming championships and a seven-year unbroken record as City Champions at the Southampton City Schools’ Swimming Gala.
Cross country runners, netball and football teams have placed at the top end of local leagues and interschool competitions. There have been quite a few recent star performances individually, too, in dance, tennis, swimming and diving. The open attitude of the senior team means a vast range of curricular and co-curricular activities on offer too, like bouldering, kayaking, boxing, skiing and loads more.
A relatively low number of pupils take peripatetic music lessons at The Gregg (around 20%). Those that do, however, are well-nurtured. Along with individual tuition, there are opportunities to perform together in the school flute choir, orchestra, soul band, chamber choir and string orchestra. Some of the more unusual instruments kids can get hands on with are vibrating boomwhackers (great fun), and a class set of African djembe drums.
Keen choir singers perform at church and stage events in the city. Previous GCSE students have also headed off to London-based conferences for advice from in-the-know teachers and contemporaries in other schools. And there’s contemporary lessons too, using online sequencing and score-writing software.
DRAMA + ART
Headed-up by ex-soap star, film actor, commercial producer and director, Danny Husbands, children from all year groups are enthusiastically involved on stage and behind the scenes in ‘big’ Gregg School productions like the recent adaptation Alice in Wonderland (up next is Treasure Island – you heard it here first!). Those keen to tread the boards are given loads of encouragement. In late 2020, drama students entered into the ISA (Independent Schools Association) Shakespeare Monologue Competition and scooped two first-place trophies and a highly commended performance.
Artists are given plenty of opportunity to explore different mediums and pursue individual interests. There’s a broad range of GCSE options available: fine art, textiles, photography and 3D design and art students are regular winners in the national ISA competition. Inspirational trips are organised to The Tate, as well as colleges and universities. The Gregg also invite workshops to the school so that students can take part in projects like photographing birds of prey and undertaking light photography at night. The annual GCSE art trip to St Ives is also a highlight for coastal inspiration.
Sherilee Sellers has been headteacher at The Gregg School since 2010. Previously a geography and environmental sciences teacher in various West Sussex schools and colleges, she joined The Gregg as a teacher in 2001, going on to become Deputy Head. But her roots here go back much further. Sellers was also a pupil – and the school’s head girl – when the Gregg was located in Winn Road in nearby Portswood, (now home to the Gregg Preparatory school).
Outwardly calm yet friendly and brimming with enthusiasm, you can easily imagine children skipping into the office to chat with her. She clearly gets a huge buzz from education and still teaches her core subjects whenever possible. She also gets involved in co-curricular activities, including taking on the mantle of Expedition Leader in Duke of Edinburgh Scheme trips. Speaking of expeditions, there’s a full calendar of school trips close to home and overseas, from Harry Potter at Warner Brothers Studios, Bletchley Park and the Houses of Parliament, to Normandy, Berlin and Iceland.
It’s pretty unusual for a city school to occupy a grand estate – and even more unique to find it slap bang in the middle of residential housing. Likewise, meetings aren’t usually held in a chandeliered ex-boudoir (but how fabulous…).
In 2020, 98% of Gregg School students achieved five or more GCSEs (including English and Mathematics) at Grade 4 and above. Science was particularly strong, with Biology, Chemistry and Physics students all achieving a 100% pass rate at Grade 7 and above. The most recent ISI report (Nov 2019) rated the quality of students’ personal development as excellent and much was made of their communication skills and high levels of self-esteem.
FEES + SCHOLARSHIPS
Fees are reasonable for the city location at £4,600 per term (£13,800 per annum). Awards range from 10 – 33% for academic scholarships, to sport, music and art scholarship discounts of up to 20%. There is a sibling discount of 7.5% for parents with a second child attending either The Gregg or The Gregg Prep Schools at the same time and a 15% sibling discount for a third child.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Parents are understandably enthusiastic about The Gregg – its nurturing environment and focus on individual interest and development gives kids a lot of choice. Another big plus for many parents is the minibus service – the school has a large fleet covering 21 different routes designed to run conveniently close to pupil’s homes. Hardly surprising then that the majority choose to arrive this way.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: The Gregg School is progressive in its open curriculum with a genuine openness to ideas. Pupils here are well nurtured and have plenty of opportunity to explore new interests.
Not for: The Gregg is proud of its small cohort and class sizes. If you’ve a small-fish-in-a-big-pond type of child, this might not be a big enough ocean for them.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Individual tours are available by appointment. The next ‘Meet the Headteacher’ open events are on Thurs 14 and 21 October 2021 and Thurs 13 and Thurs 21 Jan 2022. The next open morning is on Thurs 10 March, 9.30am to 12.30pm.
The Gregg School, Townhill Park House, Cutbush Lane, SO18 3RR. Tel: 02380 472133. www.thegreggschool.org