Visit to Rose Hill, Tunbridge Wells
Early one morning in late May I pulled into the driveway to Rose Hill, which curved round behind a length of private houses to lead me to the main entrance of the central admin block. A compact school, the site is tucked away on the edge of Tunbridge Wells, and accessed through a built up residential area, but once there the facilities open out to a wonderful vista of playing fields and woodland. I was greeted by the marketing coordinator, Clare Rowton, accompanied by 2 charming Year 6 pupils, who were all going to show me around the school. Clare has 2 young children in the Pre-Prep too, so I was looking forward to being well informed on all fronts.
Our journey began with a look at the latest asset to the school – a brand spanking new indoor swimming pool building, of which they are all very proud. This replaces an old outdoor pool, and what a fabulous asset it is for both the school and the wider community. Every child from the Kindergarten up now has weekly swimming lessons. The remaining facilities offered here are all relatively new, including modern, bright and airy classrooms, a dedicated building for the creative arts, a well stocked library and an excellent dining room. The separate Pre-Prep is also impressive. The school was founded in 1832 in the centre of Tunbridge Wells, but then moved to its present location in 1966 giving it more space and scope. The 15 acre site has been gradually developed since then. Other wonderful facilities include a comprehensive Sports Hall, a well used Astro Turf pitch, and an ingenious Woodland Classroom enjoyed by the whole school to enrich the curriculum.
My young guides were very thorough with their information on all that Rose Hill has to offer. Boarding was phased out here in 1984, but there is still a full and wide ranging programme of sport and activities for all the day pupils. Termly choices are made from an array of options which take place at the end of each school day. There is no Saturday school, with matches against others taking place on Wednesday or Thursday afternoons according to age group. Performing arts are strong with around 60-65% of students taking individual music lessons. Youngsters can also participate in the inter schools Greenpower Challenge (in 2 age groups) which supports STEM learning through the designing, building and racing of electric cars – understandably very popular! Rainbows, Brownies and Scouts are also firm favourites given that Baden-Powell was an old boy of the school.
Admission to the school is based on ensuring mutual suitability and the potential to thrive here. Generally, students either leave from Year 6 for local schools or 11+ independents, or they complete Years 7 and 8 before joining 13+ independent schools. Awards and bursaries are available in these final years to encourage wide accessibility (and to entice pupils to stay on at this level), and this broad variation in destination schools does, of course, result in a healthy balance of pupils. There is also a fulsome curriculum. Forest School and Mindfulness are knitted into daily life for all, and a ‘Creative Curriculum’ (learning by experience) guides the Pre-Prep. Practical life skills are also given a focus with cooking and taking care of money featuring on timetables, and a ‘Diploma’ programme for seniors strengthens these skills. Occasional topically themed weeks encompass whole school inclusion – a Wellness Week, and a STEAM Week (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Music) are recent examples – all very successful. There is scholarship preparation for independent schools, as well as 11+ preparation for those heading for the maintained sector. Pastoral care is also clearly strong, and there is a firm Christian ethos with daily assemblies incorporating moments for reflection, as well as hymns and prayers.
Before departing, and having thanked my young guides for all their time, I spent a few final minutes with the Headmistress Emma Neville over a welcome cup of coffee. She reiterated the upbeat spirit of the school that had been evident to me on my walkabout and stressed the benefits of the very supportive community in which the children were able to gain confidence and leadership skills for the future. There is no doubt that the breadth of learning and array of practical opportunities on offer at Rose Hill allow every child to be prepared for the modern world they are joining.