SO magazine meets Ruth O’Sullivan, Head of Holmewood House School, one of the country’s leading co-ed independent prep schools for pupils aged 3-13 in Tunbridge Wells. Here she describes the exciting new initiatives taking place at the school in the coming year…
It’s a very exciting time to be Head of Holmewood House. Key developments include the extension of our weekly and flexi-boarding provision with a relaunched London Chaperone service, development of Forest School and outdoor classroom, multiple STEAM projects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths), extended provision of extra-curricular clubs (everything from musical theatre to fencing!), a new innovation lab and brand new medical and well-being centre which will be home to a school therapist, a mindfulness room and a relaxation room.
Pupil voice is important in everything that we do. We want our pupils to be ready for life after Holmewood and the wider world, to understand their role within it and to have the plasticity of mind to react to new technology and innovations. Here at Holmewood House, through the bespoke programme My Heart, My Mind, My World, through the weekly enrichment programme and the leadership opportunities our children are given, pupils will learn to be idea generators and creative, resilient human beings. The World Economic Forum tells us the most important future skills for our children will be collaboration, flexible thinking, problem-solving, technical and digital skills and a Holmewood House education equips children with those skills, as well as outstanding academics. Here at Holmewood we have a ‘growth mindset’ culture which encourages intellectual curiosity and builds resilience in an environment where it is safe to get things wrong.
So how are we doing this? I am extremely proud of the enrichment programme, which forms part of the weekly timetable for pupils from Years 3-8. In Years 3 and 4 the emphasis is on STEAM-based activities, where children work collaboratively on projects over several weeks. In Years 5 & 6 the focus is My World – developing our pupils’ global awareness of cultures and community. Activities include sign language, an introduction to meditation, celebrating other cultures, careers advice and money management. By Year 7 the emphasis is on self-presentation and how to articulate. We want pupils to become active citizens, so they cover debating, philosophy and politics (we held an internal Mini Model United Nations group last year).
This year, Year 8s are trialling our new bespoke leadership programme which focuses on leadership in Sports, Modern Languages and STEAM. Pupils will go on to complete a personal enrichment project which is a piece of research into something that they are passionate about. They can present it as creatively as they desire but it’s completely self-led. Giving our children opportunities to step into leadership roles is essential. These opportunities present themselves throughout the school and are not just for the more outwardly confident. We encourage everyone to find their voice, to be their best selves and independent. Opportunities range from being a House Monitor in pre-prep to touring prospective parents around the school in Year 7, to leading a club in Year 8.
Another initiative which supports this child-led approach is a change in our traditional House system. We have six Houses which every pupil, member of staff and support staff are now a part of, making us all members of a whole community. Houses will be very much led by our Year 8 pupils as part of their leadership skills and staff are the participants. Our Green Committee is already very active in generating pupil initiatives to make our school more environmentally friendly. To extend this, we are starting Forest School – from Nursery to Year 8. Our wonderful outdoor learning classroom, centred around the refurbished pond opened last year and is used regularly by staff in science and humanities, but Forest School will put more emphasis on wellbeing, biodiversity and eco-initiatives and provide wonderful opportunities for our children to take the lead.
We are lucky here at Holmewood House with the beautiful grounds and facilities that we have on our 32-acre site including a stunning 25m pool, athletics track and artificial grass pitch, tennis and squash courts, indoor rifle range and acres of playing fields. There is an incredible range and variety of clubs here that the pupils can sign up to such as hockey, swimming, netball, gymnastics and judo, plus we now have two chess clubs, debating clubs, sign language club, fencing, shooting, dancing, diamond painting, drama, arts and crafts, textiles, chorister choir, show choir just to name a few, as well as the termly theatre production. But the club system has also changed this year to alleviate time pressures so that children can explore new and wider interests and enjoy the co-curricular elements of the school more freely.
We have enjoyed a superbly well-resourced Design Technology department for many years, which includes its own 3D printer. Children undertake a range of exciting projects using a vast array of cutting-edge equipment. This year, we will develop our DT provision even further to incorporate Engineering. Our new Head of department is just fantastic and is excited to support the children in investigating how DT can solve real-life problems. One initiative is to support the children to develop inventions that can ease the struggles of those with disabilities.
This year we will begin the development of a brand-new innovation lab, a food tech lab and a medical and well-being centre. The innovation lab will see pupils learning robotics, coding, 3D printing and computing, working alongside teachers and our IT department to make it a truly innovative facility which the children will find invaluable in developing the life skills they will need in the wider world.
The new medical and well-being centre will be a real pastoral hub holding the school medical provision, but also the school therapist, a mindfulness room and a relaxation room, all designed to look after the wellbeing of the community. It will be a calming space for both pupils and staff to use and to promote positive well-being which is of course at the centre of everything that we do. Our bespoke programme, My Heart My Mind My World, is a whole school programme which aims to strengthen our pupils’ emotional and mental health by equipping them with techniques and tools to understand and manage themselves and their relationships with others; it strengthens the children as learners by developing their understanding of how best to learn and to apply this understanding; and it strengthens our pupils as global citizens; to understand and actively influence their increasingly complex world.
At Holmewood House we are hugely proud of our international focus and the diversity of our community. In the Reception year group alone last year, there were fifteen nationalities represented – and nine this year in boarding including Chinese, Italian, Spanish and Ugandan. It is very important and wonderful to see that the pupils in this school foster an authentic appreciation of different cultures and this culture of inclusivity and diversity is something we are always building on.
We are so excited to be strengthening and enriching our boarding provision at Holmewood House. We have a wonderful new house parent who has joined our boarding family so that the team can expand the activities on offer and make it even more fun for the children in our care. The boarding house has a real buzz about it, a real home away from home and is such a nice place to be. We offer a mixture of full, weekly and flexi-boarding, with opportunities coming up this term for day pupils to try flexi-boarding in readiness for senior schools. We also operate a London chaperone service. Being only 55 minutes from London, we can collect children from their families at a London station on a Sunday evening and take them back again on a Friday evening. This is proving to be ever popular with those London families who would like their children to enjoy all the benefits of a high-performing country boarding prep school with an excellent reputation for securing places in senior schools, whilst still having them for a full weekend at home with the family.
As another layer to our excellent pastoral care, we now have Heads of Year in addition to the Tutor system introduced last year. Every pupil is assigned to a tutor in years 5-8 whose role is to advocate on behalf of the child. They meet weekly to build relationships quickly. Every child has an avenue to discuss or raise anything they need with a member of staff they know well and trust. Everything is about relationships, relationship, relationships and Holmewood House does that well. Heads of Year are also able to advocate for the children in their year and to provide another secure contact between parents and children. I am very proud of the strong relationships that the school has with the parents of our children with everybody working together for the best interests of the child.
We also have a new and dynamic Head of Nursery who has a wealth of experience in Early Years and with running a Nursery and I am super excited for the positive changes she is already bringing. Watch this space!
So, as you can see, it is an exciting time to be Head of this wonderful school with many new initiatives coming to fruition. My door is always open to current or prospective parents who would like to know more or to look around our fabulous school to see for themselves what a great place this is for their children to grow up in.