Sherfield School, Hook
A confident all-rounder and pastorally driven co-ed independent day and boarding 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 550 pupils, many from Hook and surrounding villages but a good number coming in from Basingstoke and Reading. 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. There’s a lake, nature reserve and ancient woodland 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 designs are being finalised for a huge, architecturally impressive glass-domed pool close to the main building. A private next-door golf course is used regularly by older pupils and Sherfield turns out some impressive golfers.
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 AND DESIGN
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 too, both in lessons and clubs. The school owns a super high-spec laser engraving machine that pupils can use.
Sherfield School offers full boarding, weekly and flexi boarding options for students aged 9 to 18. Purpose built in 2020, the larch-clad boarding block is the smartest I’ve seen, with modern, private, ensuite 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 with large TVs, table football and games consoles. At the weekend, there’s regular shopping trips, activities, trips to Legoland and Warwick Castle, escape-room visits and a trip up to London in the Summer.
MUSIC AND DRAMA
Drama is a calling card for Sherfield. 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. As well as a newly-formed orchestra there are jazz bands, choirs and string quartets. Children play instruments from Junior Prep with a reasonable 25% taking individual lessons.
Sherfield has plenty of sporting opportunities, from football, netball, rugby, cricket, badminton, tennis, cross country running, athletics, basketball, hockey, gymnastics, swimming and skiing to judo and golf.
Cricket is especially popular – players often represent county teams and Sherfield School hosts the ISA Cross Country London West Championships every year. It also has its fair share of individual sports stars, including a European title-holding ice skater, currently in Year 9, a GB skier (the annual ski trip is popular), national standard trampolinists, medal-winning Modern Pentathlon pupils and the Independent Schools under 15 tennis champions.
Head Nick Brain was faced with a mammoth challenge when he arrived in 2018. 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 a few years and Sherfield is on top form, with parents writing glowing reports about the school’s revived focus. As the school’s more positive reputation has spread, numbers have also risen significantly in the Prep and there’s fierce competition for Year 7 starters.
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. 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), starting in Year 3 when parents come along to a freshers-style enrolment fair. Tasks include learning practical skills, running businesses and supporting the local community (art students recently painted a mural in a hospice.
Many pupils also take part in Duke of Edinburgh and Junior Duke of Edinburgh Awards and can also choose to study an extra GCSE in a specialist subject – dance and astronomy are proving pretty popular right now.
Extra-curricular clubs are extraordinarily extensive, with origami, nature detectives, mindfulness, ceramics and more.
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. School transport runs in every direction, with routes tailored to family needs.
Competitive for the area. Early Years £57 – £69 per day; Day pupils £3520 – 5870 per term. Weekly boarding £6510 – £8970; Full boarding £7600 – 10470. School fees may be spread through the year with monthly payments. For a full 2021 – 2022 list, click here.
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. 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! To book a phone or video meeting with the headmaster or other staff members email firstname.lastname@example.org. For 360° views inside and around Sherfield School click here. Sherfield School has a Story Adventures Morning on Thursday 27 January 2022 for prospective reception pupils.