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Chafyn Grove School, Salisbury

Muddy says: Looking for a school with a huge emphasis on pastoral care, with strong sports and academics in a non-hothousy environment? Say hello to this impressive co-ed Prep

CHAFYN GROVE, SALISBURY, WILTSHIRE

What? Where?: Chafyn Grove is a co-ed, non selective day and boarding school for ages 4-13, with a nursery for rising 3s, on the outskirts of historic Salisbury. Having recently celebrated its centenary, it was established by Julia Chafyn Grove in 1916 in the same building it sits, and thrives in, now. Its location on the outskirts of town makes for a perfect mix of town and country – only a ten minute walk to the centre but with a definite rural flavour for its 240 pupils.

Facilities: The school grounds are absolutely pristine, with a huge astro pitch for hockey plus tennis courts, cricket nets, full-sized sports hall, cross country routes (one run takes in Laverstock Downs and a hill called Paradise which I am told the children love, another makes it all the way to Old Sarum), an adventure playground and outdoor swimming pool. No brand-new wow-building of glass and steel towering over 22-metre swimming pools and pristine cricket pavilions here, nor are there a gazilion acres of parkland to disappear into, but the outdoor pool will do the trick and the smaller site means the kids have the run of the place.

Boys play hockey and rugby (the Director of Sports used to play rugby for Exeter so the game is taken pretty seriously), with football assigned to optional club-status only, while the girls do hockey and netball, followed by cricket. ‘Bye bye, rounders, then! Sport is strong here, with only serious (by that I mean excellent, not grumpy and miserable) teachers taking the children for games. Last year every single team sport made their individual National Finals.

A low ropes course across a miniature valley known as Dingly Dell looks like bags of fun, even for old lazy boneses like me, and a firepit at the end is used for various bushcraft activities. On the artsy side, the DT, art and ceramics block is impressive (with an inspiring Head of Art) – light and bright, and used for both the Prep and Pre-Prep. Assemblies, choirs, orchestras and school plays take place in the Performance Hall.

Academic: Classes are small here, with an average size of 11-12 and only 2/3 classes in each year – a recipe for success it seems as almost all children stay on until age 13, with an impressive 100% getting into their first choice place of senior school. From Year 6 all subjects are set, with Maths and French set earlier. There is a small provision for 11+ preparation to the local grammar schools but last year only 12 out of 45 children took this route. Children head for a large range of schools (mostly in the South West) including Winchester, Marlborough, Bryanston and Sherborne – indeed it is unusual to have more than 3 children in each year going onto the same public school. Their catalogue of scholarships is pretty wowser, with over one third of all Year 8s bagging a gong last year in everything from academic to drama and sport to all-rounder. Headmaster Simon Head (no, that’s not a typo) suggests this is less because the kids are pushed towards scholarships and more a natural by-product of the school, with kids thriving on a challenge and teachers knowing them extremely well – the Headmaster teaches lessons as well as taking cross country and his wife teaches French at the Pre-Prep, RS and Geography at the Prep and runs the Drama club. Many hats are worn here…

Music and Drama: There is loads to be getting on with here, with the chance to join the jazz band, orchestra, training orchestra, flute choir, cello group, string ensemble and any number of choirs at all levels and for all age groups, with many groups taking part in Jazz in the Park at Clayesmore School in Dorset as well as orchestral and choral days at Bryanston School – a great opportunity for talented musicians to work with older teenagers. There is also an informal concert every Thursday which parents are welcome to attend, where everyone from the choral scholar to the plink-plonk-plonk pianist can strut their stuff.

Peripatetic teachers take individual music lessons and private speech and drama classes are also on offer. Those with a love for the stage can also enjoy the Pre-Prep Nativity Play, the Year 3 and 4 Panto, and a myriad of plays further up the school.

Boarding: The feeling here is of a local school with the opportunity to board (most children come from within a 20 minute radius), rather than an all-singing, all-dancing boarders’ paradise. The school doesn’t turn into a ghost town at weekends, however, as they have a contingent of 25 full boarders, mostly from military families but a small number from as far afield as China. There is only one boarding house (which is having a refurb as we speak), with bedrooms in separate wings but a shared common room between girls and boys, and boarding is popular enough that at least half of all children try it over the course of their time at school.

The Head: The man in charge is Simon Head, a passionate headmaster with a year here under his belt, and he is already making changes while keeping the school values of nurturing individuals close to his heart. The good news is that he is not going anywhere soon – he and his wife Sarah have a little one in the Pre-Prep and one in the Prep – and he comes with plenty of headship experience after 6 years as number one at Moreton Hall in Suffolk.

What else?: What merits a special mention here is that there are no after-school clubs – instead all activities are woven into two afternoons during the week, enabling all children (not just those who don’t have needy siblings dragging them home to an early tea) to take part in a massive range of activities including cookery (they have their own kitchen to explore, bake and burn things), gardening (their homegrown flowers and vegetables are sold at Salisbury Hospital in aid of the wonderful Horatio’s Garden charity), mini bridge, bushcraft, badminton, engineers, pom poms, Lego, Salsa, pottery, shed loads of sports clubs and even sailing at Spinnaker Sailing Club in Ringwood. Pre-Prep enjoy the more traditional schedule of after-school clubs, which include everything from yoga and crafting to sewing and street dance. There is a real sense that these activities are encouraged so much that the confidence gained through them percolates all the way through school life.

Chafyn Grove is also at the vanguard of schools offering the Prince Williams Award – a scheme utilising former servicemen and women to share the experience of how to develop personal qualities such as resilience, ingenuity and collaboration. An instructor comes in each week to coach Year 7 through tasks and evaluations – this is one of few schools who have cottoned on to this fab scheme and its amazing worth.

One more thing – throughout the school year groups from Year 4 scoot off to overnight camps to dabble in campfire cooking, night navigation and survival.

Quirks: The feeling that everyone should succeed is particularly strong at Chafyn Grove – I know this is the ethos for many schools we review but I came away believing that the development of pupils comes out top rather than the school being a stepping stone to the ‘right’ public school. There is a nurturing family feel, showing itself in everything from the teachers sharing lunch with pupils, to the Head seeing each chld individually for interview practice, to weekly assemblies celebrating birthdays, House successes and match reports, even recreating individual incidents at a match…and it’s not just the strongest kids in the Firsts who are chosen for accolades. If you’ve just scored your first try after three years of frustration, you’ll be up there getting a pat on the back.

The Chafyn Challenge (think homegrown D of E programme) encourages Curiosity, Courage and Compassion and Mini Eights meets once a month with children in mixed year groups in a tutorial-type session. Older children can be a Chafyn Champ and take time in Pre-Prep to read to the little ones… All of this contributes to what I took away from my visit – that the school is all about the teachers understanding the children, interlocking throughout the day and the school in as many ways as possible, and challenging the children to do their best.

Another quirk is the relationship between town and gown – Years 6, 7 and 8 artists are having their work displayed at Salisbury Leisure Centre this December and again in the town’s library in Feb. The art department glitters with sparkling poppies made from water bottles used during a whole-school sponsored walk around Salisbury, and the school sponsors a Bee trail around the town (they’ve got their own mining bees which live in the lawns and, fortunately, don’t sting).

Another mention must go to the huge library, which is possibly the most impressive I’ve seen at a Prep school, which backs up the Head’s two main intentions – to encourage a love of reading (they use Reading Passports where pupils follow a map of the world and travel from country to country) and to help them make and nurture friends for life.

Wraparound Care: Excellent. Breakfast club starts at 7.30am and late club runs until an almighty 6pm including tea. Nursery starts for children aged nearly 3, with most going on to the Pre-Prep.

Fees: Reception (4+): £2,330 per term, Pre-Prep Year 1 and 2: £2870 per term, Transition Year 3: £4,240 per term, Prep School Day Years 4-8: £5,624 per term. Boarding supplement £2, 145 per term, with occasional boarding from £43 per night. Nursery sessions are £20.60 and £6.45 for the lunch session. I’d say these fees are extremely competitive, particularly as they include all day trips, meals and all SEN provision (both one-to-one sessions and in-class support). Music and tennis lessons are extra, as are the 4-day outdoor ed trips for the higher years. Expensive trips to Barbados are discarded in favour of rugby tours around the South West, although there is an annual ski trip to the Alps.

Word on the Ground: Parents love the friendly, inclusive, non-pretentious family vibe and of course the academic results. They also like the town/country location of the school which gives children the best of both worlds – good facilities and plenty of space with the benefits of being firmly rooted in Salisbury.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Families looking for a community-minded school with strong pastoral care and good academics. Those after full-boarding but in a smaller, less gung-ho environment, as well as majorly sporty kids – they’ll be developed here!

Not for: Those who want their little ones hothoused –  the school is big on nurturing children and supporting their academic and emotional development, and whilst results are excellent they are not here to dragoon swathes towards the most academic public schools.

Dare to disagree?!  Personal tours to any of the schools can be arranged all year around. Call 01722 333423 to book a visit.

Chafyn Grove, 33 Bourne Avenue, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP1 1LR, 01722 333423

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