Felsted School, Felsted
Green space, expansive facilities and a progressive global curriculum to make you swoon at this top co-ed boarding and day school for ages 4-18 in the pretty Essex countryside.
Felsted School is a bucolic day and boarding prep and senior school between Great Dunmow and Braintree that has the wow factor in terms of facilities and pastoral care. Co-educational with 1071 pupils (573 in the senior school and 498 in prep), the school is set in 80 acres of stunning grounds surrounded by pretty Essex countryside. A lot of the pupils call Felsted home. The majority of senior pupils are boarders, with about 12% of the prep pupils boarding too, and over the years Felsted has made a name for itself as one of the UK’s leading boarding schools (in 2020 it was shortlisted for TES Boarding School of the Year 2020).
The school is long established, and in 2014 celebrated its 450th anniversary, having been founded in 1564 by Sir Richard Riche. Felsted has famously educated all four of Oliver Cromwell’s sons as well as mathematician John Wallis and more recently Sean Fletcher of Good Morning Britain fame.
It might be traditional and historic, but the school certainly isn’t your stereotypical stuffy public boarding school. Felsted manages to combine a lovely sense of traditionalism with an extremely forward-thinking approach to education. Unusually, around a third of the Sixth Form take the IB with the remainder taking A Levels.
The school is made up of a collection of both impressive historic buildings and much more recent modern additions, that all fit together seamlessly in a large campus style set-up. Everything inside is bang up to date but still retains a lot of charm, so if you like your schools homely yet polished, you’re in the right place.
In 2010 Felsted became a global member of Round Square Schools. So, while you might be sending your kid to school in the middle of the quiet Essex countryside, you can be sure they’ll be receiving an outward-looking, globally-minded education, with opportunities that take them well beyond the school’s 80 acres.
Buckle up because this might take a while… In short, Felsted has everything you could desire from a school, with the sports and music facilities being particularly standout. In terms of sport, there are playing fields, astros, two large indoor sports halls, a 22-metre indoor swimming pool as well as an outdoor pool for the Prep School, squash courts, a shooting range, and a gym. On the more creative side of things, there’s a snazzy new music school with an auditorium, a recital hall that seats 150, a recording studio, percussion suite, 13 teaching rooms and students can even tickle the ivories on a Steinway. The school also has a theatre, a huge main dining room that can seat the entire school, an art centre, a computer centre, a large DT centre and an historic wood-panelled hall for events.
The big headline all-lights-flashing development that really sets Felsted aside from competitors is a smart Wellbeing Centre, which opened in 2018 and is the first of its kind in the UK. The centre provides mental health and pastoral support for all the students, staff and wider community. It really came into its own in 2020, as it remained open ‘virtually’ to all students and staff during the pandemic.
And that’s not all! There are exciting plans afoot to complete a state-of-the-art teaching and learning centre for the Senior School. The centre aims to improve opportunities for greater collaborative teaching with 10 large classrooms, break-out areas and social spaces for groups and tutor discussions, learning pods for personal study, plus an art gallery reception area. The Prep School will also be getting a new teaching and learning centre and finally a new Sixth Form Boarding House is in the plans to accommodate the ever increasing demand from both UK and overseas pupils to board in Years 12 and 13.
As you might expect from a school with lots of lovely outdoor space and sporting facilities, Felsted punches well above its weight when it comes to sport. The school performs impressively well in national competitions considering the number of pupils. Cricket, netball, tennis and hockey are particular strengths for both boys and girls, and rugby is really strong for the school at the moment. Felsted came 8th out 110 schools in the Daily Mail Trophy League in 2019 and the sport has been overseen by Director of Rugby Andrew Le Chevalier (ex-Wasps) for the last 10 years.
The school has given itself a name as leader in girls’ cricket too (following on from national success in boys’ cricket). Again, there was the appointment of a professional, Carla Rudd, to thank for taking this sport to a whole new level and the fact that the Head is passionate about cricket.
Recent sporting successes include becoming National Girls’ U18 Cricket Champions in 2019, and national finalists in U16 boys’ tennis, U19 netball, U16 squash, U13 boys’ hockey, and showjumping. The school has set up excellent pathways for elite students to move on to professional level sport too, with close links to Essex Cricket, Saracens & Northants Rugby and Saracens Mavericks/London Pulse Netball. Former and current Felstedians play for England and Scotland Rugby, professional netball squads and attend England hockey performance camps.
There are plenty of other sports to get involved in too, including swimming, squash, football, badminton, athletics, riding and polo and although the school clearly caters for gifted students, there’s a culture of sport being for all, with A to E teams across the major sports, meaning everyone can represent the school at some level if they want to.
MUSIC, DRAMA AND THE ARTS
The Performing Arts are all pretty strong at Felsted, but it’s the Music department that takes the spotlight. Music is a huge part of Felsted life and all the students are encouraged to get involved from the get go. The investment in a stunning new Music Centre in 2008 highlights how much store the school sets by the subject.
On average a respectable 35% of students learn at least one instrument. As with the sporting side of life, while music is for everyone, there are particularly good opportunities for the most talented students. Felsted has a fairly unique partnership whereby talented musicians can study at both Felsted and top music conservatoire Junior Guildhall. The school also currently has pupils who play with the London Schools’ Symphony Orchestra and The National Youth Orchestra. There are plenty of performances each year for students to get a taste of the limelight too. In 2020 three Felsted music scholars reached the Britain’s Got Talent semi final as part of the Chineke for Change Junior Orchestra, a musical group which celebrates diversity. They’re definitely doing something right in the music department!
Drama lovers are well catered for too, with plenty of chances throughout the year to tread the boards. There’s a major production for all students each year with three casts to allow everyone to have a go and a bi-annual musical too. Felsted also has a thriving tech and backstage team who have training in lighting, sound, hair, makeup, costumes and sets. There are spacious and light art studios too, and the school enters plenty of art competitions each year – there’s no doubt that creative subjects are very strong at Felsted.
Felsted is a selective school with prospective pupils having to take an entrance exam, provide a confidential school report and take part in an interview with the headmaster. That said, the school is keen to point out that it’s not highly academically selective and pupils are considered for all sorts of different reasons and talents. Thanks to this approach, the school is a really strong all-rounder academically, but some subjects do stand out the further up the school you go – languages, STEM subjects, music and entrepreneurial disciplines like politics and business in particular.
In terms of actual results, in 2020 all 31 IB candidates were awarded their diploma with an average score of 36.1 points per candidate (4 points above the global average), with eight students achieving at least 40 points (that’s equivalent to 3 A*s if that means more to you). When it came to A Levels 76% of grades were at A*-B, and 95% were A*-C. Over the past three years 33% of all grades have been A*-A, 63% A*-B and 87% A*-C. Of the Sixth Form leavers, around 4% go on to secure a place at Oxbridge and a large number go on to Russell Group unis as well as international universities. Felsted’s value added scores are particularly high too. At GCSE level, 55% of all grades were 9-7, 77% 9-6 and 98% 9-4.
The Prep School runs from age 4 to age 12 and consists of 498 pupils (close to 50/50 girls/boys). The school is divided up into four distinct phases housed in different buildings: Stewart House for ages 4-6; Ffrome Court for ages 7-8; Cloisters for ages 9-10; and Courtauld House for the 11-12 year olds.
The Prep is on the same site as the Senior School (if you discount the fact you have to cross a road) so benefits from all the facilities, but also has plenty of its own. Alongside weekly woodland workshops in the Forest School, prep kids have their own sports pitches, hall for performances, music centre, sports hall, tennis and netball courts, outdoor pool and sports pavilion.
Again, music is important from the start, and every child learns a string instrument from Year 3 up. They also start specialist lessons in art, ICT, and DT. If you’ve got a little Einstein on your hands there’s a More Academically Able (MAA) programme, while Learning Support is on hand for those who need extra help.
There’s a thriving academic enrichment programme in the Prep too, in the STEM subjects, literacy, language and communication as well as internationalism, leadership, service, and environmentalism and careers and ongoing progression. After all, it’s never too early to think about future careers.
The Senior School starts at age 13 and goes up to 18 (including the Sixth Formers). The 573 students benefit from all the amazing facilities outlined above. The house system is particularly strong once you reach Senior School at Felsted, for both boarders and day pupils and is key to a pupil’s daily life.
While exam results are of course very important, there’s a lot of choice for Felsted pupils whether they want to become a doctor, vet or dentist (there’s a thriving Med Soc) or prefer to pursue a sport or something creative.
Year 9 starts with a really broad curriculum of 19 different subjects, so that pupils get to discover areas they might not have considered before. There’s a lot of support from teachers, house masters/ mistresses and tutors to help narrow down this extensive list for GCSE years. Years 10 and 11 also do the FDP (Felsted Diploma Project) alongside their GCSEs which allows them to focus on a passion or particular area of interest. As part of their drive to offer a progressive and global education you’ll find plenty of academic innovations taking place each year. Most recently the school has recruited a Director of Digital Strategy and the History Department has broadened its GCSE offering with a module on the history of migration to Britain – an initiative from the school’s Diversity & Equality Committee.
It’s all about choice in the Sixth Form too, – starting with whether a student wants to take the IB or do A Levels. There are 25 subjects for A Levellers to choose from and they can supplement their choices with the EPQ. The IB has been running at Felsted for 12 years so they certainly know what they’re doing.
Sixth Formers are given a good degree of independence at Felsted School, with their own girls’ and boys’ houses, a social and working hub with a coffee shop, separate computer suite and quiet study area and lounge and bar area.
In the Lower Sixth pupils join a Careers, Higher Education and Work Education Programme, to help them decide which pathway they want to take after Felsted and there’s a lot of help making the transition from comfy, cosseting boarding school to independent uni student/ professional.
The boarding culture is central to daily life at Felsted. Even day pupils will benefit from the community spirit that permeates every aspect of school life. The houses system is particularly strong and both boarders and day pupils have physical houses to call home. There are eight senior boarding houses and one prep house and from the age of eight pupils can board at Felsted School on a full-time, weekly or flexi (known as contemporary at Felsted) basis. The boarding houses and rooms range from brand new to more old school, but all are perfectly nice, homely and well-equipped.
Chris Townsend is the Senior School Head and this is his sixth year in the job, having moved up from Deputy Head at Felsted (he joined the school in 2010) and before that being Head of Boarding at Stowe School. Unfortunately we don’t get to meet in person, but he comes across as charismatic and friendly over Zoom and you can tell he’s very accessible for both the kids and parents.
He’s also, in my opinion, the perfect advocate for what Felsted is all about. He was attracted to the school because of its broad approach to educating the whole person rather than just churning out kids for Oxbridge and so far has really embraced this culture and made it central to the school’s ethos. Developing pathways for each and every child, whereever their talents lie, has been a key focus over the last six years.
Chris has also been a driving force behind wellbeing at Felsted and it’s fair to say the school is well ahead of other schools in this area with its Head of Wellbeing and fabulous new Wellbeing Centre. The global outlook is another area of the culture that Chris has really embraced – growing the international Summer School significantly, increasing the uptake of the IB for Sixth Formers and further developing links with Round Square Schools and the exchange programme for both Felsted kids and international students coming into the school.
Simon James is Head of Prep and over the last five years the two heads have worked hard to create more of a joined-up feeling to the school so that children have a seamless all-through education at Felsted. Simon joined Felsted in 2016 after being Head of Chigwell Junior School for 6 years.
A major selling point for Felsted School is its pastoral care. Not only do they have the fabulous Wellbeing Centre as well as a medical centre, but the house system is the backbone of the pastoral care provision, with every student being personally known and looked out for by their house master or mistress. Last year the school was awarded the prestigious Optimus Education Wellbeing Award for Schools.
There’s a huge support network for pupils that consists of a house parent, tutor, teachers, matron, chaplain, peer counsellors, house and school prefects and an in-house counselling service. Safe to say, no student will slip through the cracks here. There are also regular talks on wellbeing for both students and their parents too.
Prep School day: from £3,150 to £6,175 per term; Prep School boarding: from £7,995 to £8,495 per term; (one night boarding: £51.50). Senior School day: £8,165; Senior School boarding from £9,995 to £12,495. If that all sounds a little hefty, take a look at the generous bursaries (there are currently 11 students on full bursaries) and scholarships available for students at 11+, 13+ and 16+.
The most popular entry points are Year 7 and 12. Over 1000 pupils enquire each year for approximately 200 places so if you like the sound of what you’ve read, get your application in sharpish! With the Senior School officially starting at age 13, however, this is also another key entry point.
- Felsted has its own farm, run by the science department, and students get involved with looking after the resident snake, tortoise, chickens, rabbits and guinea pigs.
- There’s no end to the opportunities for Felstedians. Case in point – polo is one of the most popular extra-curricular activities and students get the chance to play at local polo stables and in national tournaments. There’s also a compulsory motorise driving safety course for year 11s to help them learn key skills before they hit the windy Essex roads.
- There are also a huge number of student led societies, more along the lines of what you’d expect at uni, covering everything from Esports gaming, Felsted Media Team, The Pride Society, Equality and Diversity Society, and an Environment Group.
Felsted School gained ‘Excellent’ across the board in its recent (March 2019) ISI inspection. Download the full ISI report here.
Combined Cadet Force is a popular part of school life and Felsted has one of the oldest contingents in the UK. Students can complete the Bronze, Silver or Gold Duke of Edinburgh through CCF too and D of E uptake is extremely high.
As a school, Felsted is one of the most charitable and community-spirited schools I’ve come across. There are a huge amount of outreach programmes and charity initiatives here – both big and small. Kids who come here are privileged, but the school really instils a sense of service to others and giving back is a theme that runs throughout both the curriculum and co-curriculum. This is in part thanks to its association with the Round Square Schools, but there are also plenty of much more localised initiatives. Some recent examples include…
Felsted’s All Round Education Microsite was made public during the first lockdown so that the entire community could benefit from it.
Mindfulness classes are given to both Felsted students and a local grammar school and they run gifted and talented days for local children in art, sport, science and languages.
A number of Senior School pupils prepared beds, served food and looked after guests at the Felsted Mission Night Shelter in London
Two boarding houses were run by Felsted volunteers and handed over to provide accommodation for paramedic students to receive urgent training during the first lockdown.
Felsted School nurses volunteered on Covid wards at local hospitals, while the DT staff created visors for hospital staff.
Current and former pupils regularly take part in events to raise money for charities and have even set up their own successful charities.
The day starts at 8:15am (8:45am for the littlies) and there’s a Woodlanders After School Club for Prep pupils who need care until 5.45pm. Day Senior pupils can go to their houses after lessons until 5:50pm. There’s also Saturday School from Year 7 (optional from Year 5), which ends at 2pm after sporting fixtures.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: All-rounders, joiner inners, music and sports lovers. Kids who love the chance to try their hand at everything and anything and are up for the challenge whether they’re good at it or not will thrive here. Whatever their strength, there’s a chance to make the most of it here. Parents will love the nurturing, pastorally strong environment as well as the forward-thinking global education that encourages kids to think well beyond their own privileged upbringing.
Not for: Kids or parents who are solely focussed on getting the very best academic results. While you can pursue Oxbridge dreams here, and many do, Felsted isn’t all about grades above all else, and instead it prefers students to give everything a go, from music and sports to charity initiatives alongside their academic studies.
DARE TO DISAGREE?
Felsted School, Felsted, Dunmow, Essex CM6 3LL