Sherfield School, Hook
A confident all-rounder and pastorally driven co-ed independent school set in 76 acres of rural splendour.
Sherfield is a co-ed day and boarding school for children aged 3 months to 18 years in the village of Sherfield-on-Loddon, just outside Hook. The main building is glorious (Sherfield Manor was a private residence until it became North Foreland Lodge girls’ boarding school in 1947) and it has all the trappings of a proper country pile, from oak panelled walls and sweeping staircases to original frescos in the sunny orangerie. The modern extensions are less lovely, but the vast grounds include a lake, formal gardens and even a patch of ancient woodland.
The school is owned and run by GEMS/Bellevue Education, an international educational advisory firm and the largest operator of private schools in the world. A perk of this is that children can choose to do terms overseas at other GEMS/Bellevue schools when the time is right. Sherfield is technically non-selective, although behaviour and willingness will definitely play a part. There are currently around 415 pupils with a rough boys 55% / girls 45% split. Roughly 12% board, and class sizes hover delectably low around the 14 kids mark.
Sherfield has bags of facilities, some old, some new, and what it doesn’t have it finds elsewhere. Tennis courts on the fountain lawn are lovely, and there are fantastic – and much used – multi sports pitches (the kids spend a lot of playtime here) along with a huge indoor sports hall and extensive playing fields. The ancient woodland is used by all age groups for Forest School and by the older ones for Duke of Edinburgh award training.
There’s no swimming pool yet (kids swim off-site), but plans have been approved for a huge, architecturally impressive glass-domed pool to be built close to the main building. A private next-door golf course is used regularly by older pupils and Sherfield turns out some impressive golfers. Other sports stars include a European title-holding ice skater, a GB skier (the annual ski trip is popular), national standard trampolinists and the Independent Schools under 15 tennis champions.
Classrooms range from small and cosy (Languages, English) in the eaves of the main building to large and interesting on the lower floors. A standalone science building has clearly seen investment, with large, well-equipped labs. Art is a big deal at Sherfield – the art rooms are happy, lived-in spaces with interesting projects on display. Lee-Anne Hampson, head of art, is a professional artist and on my visit her enthusiasm and passion were clearly rubbing off on the pupils.
Design tech is taken seriously, both in lessons and clubs, and the school owns a super high-spec laser engraving machine that pupils can use. There’s a peaceful sixth form centre and boarders will be thrilled – the brand-new, larch-clad boarding block is the smartest I’ve seen, with modern, private en-suite rooms for each pupil. The boarding block is on two floors, with boys upstairs and girls down. Each floor has its own well-equipped common room where girls and boys can mingle.
MUSIC AND DRAMA
Drama is a calling card for Sherfield. This year’s musical, School of Rock, was evidently a massive success (all the pupils I spoke to mentioned it) and it is great to see how student-led the drama offering is. From choosing the play itself to choreography, lighting and set design, it’s all done by the kids in an impressive purpose-built theatre. This means that pupils who may not see themselves as performers still get to play a huge part.
The ultra-enthusiastic head of Drama, Mr Reynolds, is a brilliantly Glee Club-esqe and is clearly a favourite. Music is strong too, with two recording studios and plenty of bands formed by the children. There’s no orchestra which is unusual, but there are plenty of ensembles and children play instruments from Junior Prep.
New-ish head Nick Brain was faced with a mammoth challenge when he arrived just under two years ago. An unsuited former head and a lack of top-down management meant that the school was in a difficult place and parents were losing faith. Fast-forward two years and Sherfield is on top form, with parents writing glowing reports about the school’s revived focus.
Brain was formerly executive head of a federation of schools in Wales and an education advisor for the Welsh government. He has a positive, open manner and talks a lot about mindset and outlook, about helping the pupils to flourish and thrive. The children clearly think he’s the bee’s knees – on our visit, I lost count of how many smiling little ones ran up to him to say hello. He also knew them all by name, which is lovely. Sherfield prides itself on its community feel and Brain has really focused on re-involving and supporting parents in all aspects of school life, from his daily meet and greet at the door to his flexible approach to wrap-around care.
ISI INSPECTION REPORTS
The most recent reports are here including a 2020 Regulatory Compliance report with emphasis on Early Years.
Sherfield’s nursery is a relaxed, friendly facility in the school’s former boarding house. The indoor rooms are quite small but there are plenty of them. On my visit it was nap time for the babies, and they looked quite adorable tucked into their sleeping bags on cosy mattresses. The carer to child ratio is high, and it was nice to see some little ones simply being cuddled. The outdoor area is well-equipped, with a mud kitchen and lots of toys. Children spend a lot of time outdoors and use a good deal of the grounds for supervised nature walks (when I arrived, they were walking hand-in-hand through the daffodils).
Children have regular visits to the school library and enjoy music and movement sessions in the dance studio. Pre-reception children have timetabled activities including PE lessons and yoga.
Enrichment, enrichment, enrichment! Friday afternoons are given over to Enrichment, a set period where children work towards their AVP Diploma (the school’s motto is Ad Vitam Paramus – Prepared for Life). Tasks include learning practical skills, running businesses and supporting the local community (art students recently painted a mural in a hospice. Pupils can also choose to study an extra GCSE in a specialist subject.
Extra-curricular clubs are extraordinarily extensive, with origami, nature detectives, mindfulness, ceramics and more. Organised activities for boarders include Saturday trips to Brighton, London and Laser Quest.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Sherfield offers a breakfast club from 7.30am in the dining hall and library and all sorts of after-school care until 6pm. The head is very vocal about being as flexible as possible for parents and as it’s a boarding school there are always staff and food on hand.
Parents are being offered a 30% discount on day school fees for the Summer Term 2020, with no fees being charged for boarding. The group also recognises that the financial impact on some parents is likely to continue beyond the Summer Term, and has pledged, as a minimum, to freeze school fees for the Autumn term.
Full prices: Early Years £53.50 – £65.20 per day; Day pupils £3410 – 5697 per term. Weekly boarding £7375 – 10165; Full boarding £6320 – 8710. Download the complete list of Sherfield School’s Fees here. School fees may be spread through the year with monthly payments.
WORD ON THE GROUND
It’s hard to overstate the positive impact of head Nick Brain. Parents particularly like the inclusive family feel and this would be a great place for a child who might get ‘overlooked’ in more of a hothouse environment. Kids are happy and enjoy a friendly rapport with teachers. Dining facilities are fairly basic but there are plans to extend. The grounds are a big sell.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Pupils who want to explore a wealth of subjects and experiences – from enrichment to clubs to unusual sports, there’s a huge amount of opportunity for children to achieve. Gentler kids will benefit from the kind, ‘big family’ feel.
Not for: Those looking for a formal or aggressively competitive environment. If your child has ambitions to be in an super-charged rugby First XV team for example, this probably isn’t the place for them.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Sherfield is running a Virtual Open Morning on Sat 16 May at 9.30am for those looking at entry from Reception to Sixth Form. Or to arrange a phone or video meeting with the headmaster or other staff members before Sept 2020, email firstname.lastname@example.org. For 360° views inside and around Sherfield School click here. From Sept 2020 there will be small Open Mornings on the last Friday of every month during term time for parents and pupils. The available dates for 2020 are Friday 25 Sept, 9:30am and Fri 27 Nov, 9.30am.