Visit to St Ronans School, Hawkhurst
What a day to choose to visit this Prep School on the outskirts of Hawkhurst….the very day the new Waitrose store opened in the centre of this small town. A great new asset for the local community, but on this particular day in late September the area was seething with queuing traffic and crowds of people wanting to savour the new experience!
Fortunately I had time in hand, so I still arrived at Saint Ronan’s in good time. Emma Trelawny-Vernon, the Headmaster’s wife and Admissions Registrar, greeted me with the warmest of welcomes as soon as I entered the magnificent Victorian mansion, the centrepiece of the school. Once I’d signed in, we joined the rest of the school in the dining hall for a most welcome lunch, and thus began my very full and enjoyable tour of all that Saint Ronan’s has to offer.
It soon became clear that history permeates the school, with impressively wood panelled public spaces, recently exposed and renovated wall paintings in the front entrance hall, and a beautifully presented Chapel, regularly used, which was transferred brick by brick in 1956 from the original school in Worthing. And a very central area of the old house is currently being renovated into a comprehensive new library for the whole school. But my overriding impression of Saint Ronan’s was one of happy, busy and fulfilled children going about their day. On this particular day they were all occupied during their Activity afternoon with choices including Bushcraft shelter building, exciting Design Technology projects, Mountain biking in the woodland cycle tracks and helping down at ‘Paradise Farm’. Saint Ronan’s has a 250 acre ‘adventure playground’ to play with and it makes the most of it all. There are all the usual sports facilities to be expected in abundance, including a brand new Astroturf pitch, and a smart sports hall with a newly opened dance and drama studio upstairs. In addition to this a wonderful ‘Hobbit House’ sits on the edge of the woods which can seat up to 24 children inside around a central brazier – wonderful for firing the imagination! Paradise Farm gives children the opportunity to tend and care for an array of animals and fowl, and currently being built are 3 new woodland classrooms with open access to woodland facing decking areas.
None of this should overshadow the academic and creative achievements of the school, however. A total of 23 scholarships were achieved this year, across all disciplines: 8 Academic, including a King’s Scholarship to Eton, 6 Music, 4 Sport, 3 Art and 2 drama; and all the leavers attained places at the senior schools of their choice. Destination schools are mainly local (Southeast) private schools, although Eton and Harrow remain firmly on the list, and around 40% of leavers head for Cranbrook. Music stands out as being a particular strength at Saint Ronans and a notably high percentage of pupils take individual music lessons, with a wide range of orchestras, choirs, groups and ensembles to then join. Art is clearly also well catered for in the well equipped Art Department, and there are much looked forward to annual Shakespeare productions as well as other performance opportunities throughout the year. Many successes and accolades are recorded in all these areas.
Children at Saint Ronan’s can relish being children, yet are developed as individuals in the widest sense. The school is a delightful mix of traditional and liberal, with formal wear (with distinctive blazers) worn on Fridays, but a coloured sweatshirt of individual choice (with school crest) donned for the rest of the week. Every room, area and space has its own individuality too, including ‘Bogie House’ and ‘The Zoo’ (classrooms), ‘The Albert Hall’ and ‘Ronnie Scott’s’ (music rooms), ‘Timbuktoo’ (the furthest sports pitch)……even ‘The Place of Easement’ (loos)! All in all, a very individual school.