Muddy says: this famously sporty school isn't only for future Olympians but if you have the potential, the opportunities are there for the taking. Whatever your talent, the school aims to winkle it out and help it flourish
‘There is no question there is magic here and all kinds of magic,’ wrote John Steinbeck about Glastonbury (he was obsessed by the place and even rented a house in nearby Bruton for while). I wondered whether any of that magic would be in the air at Millfield Prep School, as I prepared to put it under the microscope in the Muddy Somerset Best Schools Guide…
[This review has been updated with the latest figures as at October 2017]
MILLFIELD PREP SCHOOL, GLASTONBURY
Millfield Prep School lies on the edge of the ancient town of Glastonbury, with the iconic Tor as a backdrop (spot it in the pic?). It’s a co-educational independent day and boarding school where just over 450 boys and girls aged 2-13 gambol amongst the eclectic, mostly modern, buildings, playgrounds and playing fields, sports facilities and assorted sculptures within its 160 acres. About a third of the Prep boards and a fifth are non-UK resident. There’s a thriving 80-strong Pre-Prep and Nursery. Classes are small – 8 to 16 pupils – and surprisingly, despite the school’s name being synonymous with sport, you don’t actually have to be a future Olympian to come here (although it you have the ability, I’d say few schools will do better at getting you to Gold).
The Head operates from a grand Victorian house (imposing hall, wood panelling) at the heart of the campus with the Pre-Prep and Nursery in a self-contained area nearby. The Junior school is a large modern block with generous corridors decorated with jolly images and spacious, light-filled classrooms. There’s nothing Victorian about the IT: even the youngest pupils use iPads in the classrooms.
The arts are well-catered for, with an outdoor sculpture workshop, lots of art and design classrooms, music practice rooms, a recital hall and an assembly hall which doubles as a theatre (where I saw rehearsals of West Side Story).
Millfield Prep was set up in 1945 as an offshoot from what is now Millfield Senior School. The school follows the IPC – International Primary Curriculum – from Key Stage 1 onwards, which focuses on developing skills as well as knowledge. Everywhere you look, there are sculptures and art installations – it’s a stimulating environment.
The music department is impressive: everyone learns to play the violin in Year 2, plays in the school orchestra in Year 4 and there are 29 different music ensembles. Everyone gets involved in drama – including performing in the Christmas production. Saturdays are packed with lessons in the morning: games and other activities on and off campus in the afternoon. No bored children here. I wondered if there was almost too much going on but the school’s already thought of that, with yoga and mindfulness sessions as options.
Pupils achieve well and are prepared for both Millfield scholarships and Common Entrance but the focus is on developing the whole child rather than academic cramming. There’s an accelerated reading scheme from Pre-Prep. The vast majority of pupils move onto Millfield Senior School in Street.
Millfield Senior sent eight ex-pupils (three of whom started out at Millfield Prep) to the 2016 Olympics (more than Pakistan’s entire delegation) and surprise, surprise, the Prep excels at national level, too: their swimmers and fencers are the best in the country. Even those who are not future champions are encouraged to represent the school in one of the 24 different sports on offer (which I note, does include dance alongside the modern pentathlon and polo).
You’d expect the sporting facilities to be excellent and they are: acres of immaculately kept playing fields for every kind of sport, with a state of the art sports pavilion, a huge modern sports hall, all-weather courts, a 9-hole golf course and a big Michelin-man-style bubble housing a tennis court.
For equestrians, there’s plenty of stabling for pupils’ and for the school’s own horses, two floodlit arenas and a vast cross country course.
There’s a 25m swimming pool here but pupils can zip up to the Senior School (about 10 minutes away) to use the Olympic-sized pool and the new indoor riding arena. Sailors can trim their jibs on nearby Chew Valley lake. Some of the coaches are ex-internationals.
Other boasty bits
The chess club is run by a Chess Grand Master (it’s paid off: the school were the U10 and U12 Somerset chess champs last summer). And there are those Olympians.
Every independent school says it has a family atmosphere, but for once this is borne out by reality. I met Headmistress Shirley Shayler in her cosy sitting room, overlooking a perfectly mowed lawn with giant chess pieces and sculptures (half expected to see the Queen of Hearts playing croquet with a flamingo). She is warm and approachable and seems genuinely committed to the wellbeing of all the pupils. She’s been the Head here since 2010 but she was once in charge of parachuting (!) at Millfield Senior School as well as biology teacher, senior tutor, houseparent and 1st XI hockey team coach. She says that while Millfield Prep is a competitive school, it’s not about success at all costs but more about realising your own potential (‘no light hidden under a bushel’), developing a positive mind set to achieve the best you can in whatever field (academic, sporting, arts or otherwise) and applauding other’s success. She regularly hosts pupils in her own home, for tea, BBQs, supper and even dinner parties for head girls and head boys (who change termly so plenty of opportunity to take a turn).
Nursery and Pre-Prep
The Nursery (2-4 years) and Pre-Prep (5-7) under head Alison Blasdale, is a self-contained warren of classrooms with its own hall for assemblies and lunch but they use some of the Prep facilities (trampolining and horse riding anyone?). There’s lots going on, eager, interested kids working quietly in small groups: cooking, using coloured Numicon maths blocks and gathered around a clever gadget, an interactive light board mat on the floor.
Learning often takes place outside but it was far too cold on my visit to venture out to the Forest School. All children are assessed for SEN support and get early intervention. Your little darlings don’t have to wait until they’re two to come here – the Millfield Minis Toddler Group takes them as young as one.
Pupils can board from Year 3 – and 125 are full time boarders at the moment – with weekly and flexi-options for occasional stays. There are five single-sex boarding houses, all modern and on campus apart from Edgarley Manor just over the road. A group of friendly, self-assured and polite girls showed me around their boarding house: spacious and modern, not so much homely as like a student hall of residence, with table football and big common room on the ground floor, stairwells covered in hand prints and signatures of past pupils and large shared bedrooms for two, four or six girls. Pupils move rooms each term so everyone gets a chance to make friends, which all the girls agreed was brilliant.
There’s a permanent artist-in-residence, sculptor Mr Seyed Edalatpour, a climbing wall on the outside wall of the Junior building and a kit car club where Year 6 pupils can build and race their own racing car. Chess is a timetabled subject in Years 3 and 4. Last year they built their own greenhouse made out of used plastic bottles: environmentalism in action.
Parents can drop off kids at the Nursery and Pre-Prep from 8am (classes start at 8.20am) and pick up under 3s at 5pm and older ones at 5.15 or 6pm after supper in the main dining room. Lots of clubs (mostly free) extend the school day for all pupils and in the holidays, a programme of activities for 1-17 is open to all (not just pupils at the school). School mini buses relieve parental chauffeuring of day pupils over 7.
Book your youngest into two (the minimum) morning Nursery/pre-school sessions a week and it will cost you £54.80; full-time is £2,110/term. Pre-prep (Reception, Years 1 and 2) will set you back £2,750 a term. Termly cost for Prep ranges from £3,500 (Yr 3) to £6,040 (Yrs 7&8); boarding for all years £8,880 – which is about average, according to the Independent School’s Council. Want a night away sans kids? Pop them in to board at £55 a night. There are all-rounder, academic, art, music, sports – and chess – scholarships up for grabs for entry into Years 6, 7 and 8.
Word on the ground
Parents report that children don’t slip under the radar here, that talents are drawn out, without taking kids out of their comfort zone. Pupils’ with extra needs are identified early on and well supported. Communication between school and parents and pastoral care, is seen as excellent. Boarders settle fast: a Year 6 parent said she’d not had a single wobbly call home yet.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Its a no brainer that anyone sporty would want to come here – facilities and coaching are second to none – but children with two left feet and no hand-eye-ball co-ordination (er, that’ll be me) would fit in too – and may even find themselves representing the school at sport at some level, to their own surprise. Parents of children who don’t, as yet, excel in any area – the school aims to find everyone’s potential. The opportunities are there and for the taking.
Not for: The emphasis here is on the whole pupil not on academic success alone, so if that’s your focus, it might not be the school for you.
Dare to disagree? Don’t take my word for it, they’ve got Open Days on Sat 7 October and on Sat 3 March 2018– why not pop along and see for yourself?
Millfield Prep School, Glastonbury, Somerset BA6 8LD. Tel 01458 832446. millfieldschool.com