BRENTWOOD SCHOOL, BRENTWOOD
Striking an unusual balance between co-ed and single-sex learning, this successful independent delivers history and heart alongside its stellar academic record
Well hello Brentwood School! You’ll find this handsome independent day and boarding co-ed school in the centre of town, but behind the Tudor frontage there’s an inviting 75 acres of rolling Essex countryside. 1,800 pupils from 3-18 years. Brentwood started life as an all-boys school (the original building dates back to 1568, when just five boys enrolled to learn Latin), but there’s now an almost even split, with 55% boys / 45% girls.
Interestingly, they adopt a ‘diamond model’ here, with boys and girls taught separately when they get to the senior school, though they still mix outside of lessons – only 16 schools operate this model in the UK, but I’m liking the sound of it. The 70 boarders who enrol each year are almost entirely international students, hailing from the likes of Hong Kong and Russia/Ukraine/Western Europe, but the vast majority of students are local day pupils, with Brentwood, Shenfield and Billericay being the main destinations for the school’s private bus programme.
Housed in a completely new part of the school that’s set to open this half term following a £14million expansion project (yes, you read that right), this grand self-contained area for pupils from 3-11 years offers mixed class sizes of up to 20 – on the higher end for independent schools though personally I think anything between 18-20 is a sweet spot of class ‘buzz’ that still allows for individual attention. The lucky kids here use all the senior school facilities (get settled in to read the list below, there’s a lot of them!) as well as many of the school’s language programmes, and are encouraged to learn everything from French and Spanish to Latin and Chinese with specialist teachers.
In a word, impressive. With a 25m indoor swimming pool, acres of sports pitches, three netball/tennis courts, a dedicated sports hall, cricket pavilion, a fencing salle (which has produced five Commonwealth champions), four squash courts, plus two all-weather floodlit pitches and an athletics track, and a stupendously good fitness suite, the kids aren’t exactly short of sporting activities on site. Water polo is popular by all accounts, as is archery.
MUSIC, ARTS AND DRAMA
Have a budding Lang Lang in the house? No problem, Brentwood is an official Steinway school, with a whopping 11 Steinway pianos at its disposal, along with an extensive music facilities suite, which includes a recording studio, music technology suite and seven practice rooms. All seniors are encouraged to play an instrument (or three) as part of the curriculum (the school even runs an ‘endangered instrument’ programme to bring back the French horn, etc), but during lockdown this department really came into its own, holding 14 Friday-night concerts via the Brentwood School YouTube channel.
For musical and theatrical performances, there are three dedicated spaces for productions, plus filming facilities. You’ll also find two large art spaces and a ceramics studio complete with kiln for budding artisans.
There’s no absence of money spent on academic provision here – the big calling card being the multi-media Learning Resource Centre, which includes a purpose-built ‘language laboratory’ allowing students to learn everything from Mandarin and Chinese to Latin. Last year, a pupil actually taught himself Japanese via the cutting edge tech – and bagged himself the top grade!
Strong. When it came to GCSEs this year, 22 percent earned Grade 9s, 44.6 percent achieved Grades 9-8, and 69.2 percent were awarded Grade 9-7. On the A level front, 22 percent of students received a Grade 9 (A*); 44.6 percent bagged themselves Grades 9-8 (A*-A), while a respectable 85.8 percent achieved Grades 9-6 (A*-B). On average each year, six students go on to study at Oxbridge and five enter medicine.
Following a successful post at Berkhamsted School, Michael Bond took hold of the reins as headmaster a year ago and has overseen the multimillion-pound expansion of the prep school, plus the roll out of dynamic, future-facing tech to ensure a smooth transition during lockdown. Up-beat, energetic and clearly motivated to uphold the school’s values, I liked him – he’s particularly passionate about Brentwood’s heritage and has got his eye on expanding the boarding facilities to continue the school’s legacy of inclusivity, so watch this space for possible flexi-board options in the future.
As it stands, the school can accommodate up to 70 boarders, with 26 girls currently residing in a beautiful Victorian building a few minutes’ walk from classrooms. The boys, meanwhile, are more centrally located in a bijou 1950s site with views out to the playing fields and pitches. It’s a functional space featuring that all-important pool table and games room, but it’s clear that the girls have struck gold with their secluded, leafy manor – the red bricks of which, touchingly, are etched with their names following graduation each year.
A dedicated service runs for prep school students, who can be dropped off daily from 7.30am for breakfast and pre-school activities, and picked up again at 6pm.
Following lockdown, an already well established pastoral and wellbeing programme has been stepped up further, with a new system in place to monitor both pupils and parents that includes fortnightly one-to-one check-ins, supported by members of staff, a school counsellor and the on-site chaplain, who is utilising the school’s beautiful 19th century chapel (below) to open up conversations around mental health. And not forgetting the school’s real pastoral stars George, Henry and Harry – Brentwood’s official wellbeing pooches.
How deep are your pockets? Brentwood School is on the pricier side for day and boarding – but then again you do get a lot for your buck. Day prep costs £15,351 per annum, or £5,117 per term; day senior places rise to £20,097 p/a or £6,699 per term, while boarders pay £39,381 p/a or £13,127 per term. For pre-prep prices, contact the school for a personalised quote.
Probably the most unusual element of the school is its ‘diamond model’ teaching method – one of just 16 co-ed independents in the country to adopt single-sex lessons for seniors. So it’s kind of the best of both worlds – single sex learning but co-ed socialisation.
What else? Brentwood School has the largest Combined Cadet Force in the country with more than 600 cadets.
And finally, I don’t think many schools can claim that their grounds saw protestants burned at the stake under Mary Tudor’s reign! More cheerfully though, the land was snapped up by the Lord Justice Chief in 1557 and, by 1568, the ‘Old Big School’ had been erected. The original building is still in use and some of the first students’ wooden desks – etched with the boys’ doodling – have been cleverly built into the floodlit room’s architectural features. Also on a historical note, keep an eye out for features acquired from Weald Hall, ancestral home of Sir Antony Browne in the 1540s – not least the mounting step donated by the Queen of Naples, in Library Square.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Virtue. Learning. Manners: the three founding pillars of Brentwood School from 1568 still embody the school’s ethos today, which is all about offering an unstuffy learning environment for kids of all backgrounds to thrive and flourish in. (To give you a flavour, a quote from 1892-1913’s headmaster Dr Edwin Bean, reads: ‘The children of judges and those of mechanics and tradesmen should mix on equal terms.’) As a result, parents here are largely self-made and love the fact that, despite its grand, sweeping exterior, Brentwood isn’t your average ‘posh’, elitist private school and has a warm heart. In fact, it now financially supports one fifth of the children who attend.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
GOOD FOR: Those who want the best of both worlds. With its unusual adoption of single-sex lessons from 11-16, Brentwood School allows its pupils to follow their academic interests without fear of gender stereotyping. The sports, music and language facilities seem to be particularly strong, so if your little one happens to fancy a spot of fencing or shows an early flair for the ivories, they’ll be well catered for.
NOT FOR: With its grand site, Brentwood might feel intimidating to those coming from much smaller surrounds. The lack of flexi-boarding provision for day prep pupils is also a potential drawback if your work schedule can easily slip past the 6pm pick up.
DARE TO DISAGREE? You don’t have to take our word for it – take a look around yourself! There’s a virtual open day on 3 October, or you can book an appointment to see the school every day from now until Christmas. Call 01277 243243 or complete the school’s online form for further details.
Brentwood School, Middleton Hall Lane, Brentwood, Essex, CM15 8EE. Tel: 01277 243243; brentwoodschool.co.uk