The six best independent prep schools in and around Chichester are;
- Seaford College Prep in East Lavington near Petworth,
- Dorset House School in Bury,
- Great Ballard School in Eartham,
- Westbourne House School in Shopwyke,
- The Prebendal School in Chichester, and
- Oakwood School in Chichester.
The review covers the villages around Chichester, up into the southern reaches of the South Downs as far as Petworth and Pulborough, and west of Amberley, Arundel and Littlehampton.
Why choose them? Because these Chichester prep schools rank in the top 3-4% of schools in the country, as determined by the Schoolsmith Score.
If you’re putting together a shortlist of schools, this brief note might help you, because it actually compares the schools, just like you do. And there are links throughout to explainer articles (they open new tabs). There is no partner review for state primary schools in Chichester, but there is for Portsmouth (soon).
These preps offer a choice of independent school education. They are all mixed schools from one class per year to three. Four are standalone, two are junior departments of all-through schools. One teaches to 11, but the other five teach to 13. Four offer boarding. Sport and the arts are particularly well provided for.
But, to cut to the chase, the highest scoring Chichester prep school is Westbourne House School. It also ranks in the top 30 prep and primary schools in the country. But, with excellence comes a price tag; it also has the highest fees. The lowest fees are at Great Ballard School. The Prebendal School offers the best value for money.
Do you get what you pay for? It depends on what you want, and what’s important to you. I’ve got some quizzes to help you with that. Otherwise, dear reader, read on.
Age range and gender mix
Many parents don’t get beyond the obvious differences between schools. These are the structural differences such as age range, gender, faith, all-through or not. You may have a preference one way or another, but these aren’t indicators of a better education.
First of all, there’s gender mix. All these preps are mixed schools and four have a roughly 50%/50% boy to girl ratio. The mix at Prebendal School is closer to 60% girls, and at Seaford College Prep, it’s closer to 70% boys.
As for age range;
- Seaford College Prep; 5 to 13 years,
- Dorset House School; 4 to 13 years,
- Great Ballard School; 2½ to 13 years,
- Westbourne House School; 2½ to 13 years,
- The Prebendal School; 3 to 13 years,
- Oakwood School; 2 to 11 years.
Five schools teach children to age 13. Though some pupils leave at 11, many stay for entrance exams to independent day and boarding schools. Only Oakwood School educates pupils no further than Year 6 when pupils sit 11+ and/or ISEB Pre-Entry Assessment.
Seaford College Prep admits pupils from Year 1. All the others have a Reception class. Four, Great Ballard School, Oakwood School, Westbourne House School and Prebendal School have a nursery or pre-school class, which lead into Reception.
Each of the six schools offers wraparound childcare from 7.00/8.00am to 6.00/7.00pm. And there’s occasional boarding at Dorset House, Prebendal School, and Seaford College Prep. Given their rural locations, most of the schools offer minibus pick-up and drop off services to nearby towns.
All six Chichester prep schools welcome pupils of all faiths and none.
With the exception of Dorset House School, they all have a traditional affiliation to the Church of England. The Prebendal School, of course, educates the choristers of Chichester Cathedral. In these schools there are religious assemblies, at least once a week, and celebrations of religious festivals. Though Christian morality informs their values, religious practice and instruction has a low profile.
Standalone preps and all-through schools
Four are standalone prep schools, and two are junior departments of all-through schools to age 16 or 18.
For pupils at Seaford College Prep the curriculum is geared towards moving up into the senior school, rather than transferring to another school. There is no preparation for Common Entrance exams. And pupils are expected to make that transition. Which brings a benefit of a stress-free Year 6 for pupils, and parents.
Similarly for pupils at Great Ballard School. Though the school’s senior division opened relatively recently, its curriculum is now geared towards progressing through the school.
On the other hand, the four standalone preps, exist to prepare pupils for entry into a range of schools at the end of Year 6 or 8. There is, of course, the stress of Year 6 or 8 exams. However, parents will have a better idea of the right senior school at the end of primary education, than at the beginning.
Academic selection and inspections
None of the schools are academically selective for entry into nursery or Reception. They operate a waiting-list admissions procedure. Some, such as Westbourne House School, may have some form of selective assessment for entry to older year groups.
The degree of academic selectivity can dictate the pace of lessons. It can also be a prime determinant of academic outcomes; smarter pupils get better results. But not always. Demographics and, dare I mention, teaching, influence academic outcomes too.
ISI, the independent schools’ inspector, observes that pupils’ ability profiles at all of these Chichester prep schools are ‘above average’.
Inspectors like these schools. The most recent ISI inspections for Dorset House School, Oakwood School, Seaford College (whole school) and Westbourne House School were ‘Excellent’ across all areas.
The Prebendal School and Great Ballard School were ‘Excellent’ for pupil development and ‘Good’ for pupil achievement.
Buildings and grounds
These Chichester prep schools each have an aesthetic charm. Most occupy Edwardian, Victorian or Georgian country houses, some Grade II listed, in acres of grounds.
The manor house at Dorset House School is 12th Century. There are more recent buildings, and together they sit in 16 acres of the South Downs National Park.
Also in the National Park is Great Ballard School. It occupies a Grade II listed late Edwardian country house (Eartham House), designed by Edwin Luytens, in 30 acres grounds. Its pre-prep stands within a walled garden area.
The Seaford College main building is a Georgian house in 400 acres overlooking the South Downs. There are additional buildings built in part with local flint. The junior school occupies more recent facilities on the campus.
Oakwood School is based in a Grade II listed Georgian mansion in 100 acres of park and woodland. Westbourne House is centred on a Victorian house with modern extensions, also in 100 acres of parkland.
The exception to the acres of grounds rule is The Prebendal School, which is a town prep. It is based in collection of buildings next to Chichester Cathedral which include a 13th Century tower, some Georgian buildings, and a contemporary pre-prep.
Boarding at Chichester prep schools
Four of the six schools also offer boarding. This is a high proportion, possibly reflecting the number of Forces children. There are international boarders too, as well as local children trying boarding in their final year or two before senior school.
Oakwood School is a day school only. Boarding at Great Ballard School stopped in September 2021.
The nature of boarding differs by school. None are full boarding or boarding only schools. The degree of boarding ranges from under 10% at Seaford College Prep to around 35% at Dorset House. And then, each school is somewhere on the spectrum between flexi boarding and weekly boarding.
At Dorset House School, around 35% of pupils flexi-board. Boarding starts in Year 5 in the eaves of the manor house.
Around 25% of Westbourne House pupils board. It’s mainly weekly boarding from Year 3 in seven boarding houses, one in the main house, and six in ‘family homes’ in the grounds.
Boarding at the Prebendal School is mainly weekly, starting in Year 3. Around 20% of pupils board in dormitories of three to eight beds.
At Seaford College Prep boarding starts in Year 6. It is mainly weekly, in the Mansion house for girls, and in a separate building on campus for the boys. All are in dormitories of seven or eight. Perhaps only 5% of pupils board.
Though many parents initially focus on the boarding accommodation, the main benefit of attending a boarding school is the access to an extended extra-curricular and Saturday morning school. For a longer review of the benefits of boarding see here.
Class sizes and classes per year
Prep schools in Chichester vary in size. Size can influence the look and feel of the school, as well as the number of, if not variety of, facilities;
- 1 class per year; Dorset House School, Great Ballard School, and The Prebendal School.
- 2 classes per year; Oakwood School, and Seaford College Prep.
- 2 classes per year rising to 3; Westbourne House School.
Average class sizes at The Prebendal School are around 10 pupils, and at Great Ballard School, 14 pupils. At Westbourne House School, Seaford College Prep, Dorset House and Oakwood School average class sizes are 16-19 pupils per class.
Facilities at Chichester prep schools
All six of these Chichester prep schools have specialist facilities to support their broad curricula.
And none has more varied facilities than Westbourne House School. Yes, it is the largest school so it might have more, but the important yardstick is variety.
Starting with sports facilities. Westbourne House has acres of sports fields, a running track, a sports hall, all-weather pitches, swimming pool, netball and tennis courts, squash courts, boating lake, and a nine-hole par-three golf course.
Sports facilities at Seaford College Prep are similar but shared with the senior school. Oakwood School also has a wide variety, but without the lake and golf course. Sports facilities at Great Ballard School and Dorset House may not be as varied as the other three, but they still have sports pitches, an artificial pitch, a sports hall, swimming pool, and tennis courts. And for a city-centre school, Prebendal School still has nine acres of playing fields and an all-weather cricket pitch.
Facilities for the arts are good at all these Chichester preps. Each school has at least a multi-purpose room/hall or a theatre, an art room, music rooms, and a dance/drama space. In addition, Oakwood School and Westbourne House School have a chapel. The Prebendal School has access to Chichester Cathedral for its assemblies.
Academic learning facilities are relatively similar. They all have access to at least one or more computer suite(s), networked or wi-fi enabled in-class computers and devices, a library, science lab(s), outdoor learning spaces, and learning support rooms. DT facilities are more varied at Great Ballard School and Westbourne House School.
Computing and remote learning
As well as computer suites for teaching computing skills, or classroom/library devices for research and project work, there are also dedicated devices.
During the pandemic, remote teaching, assisted by technology, became a necessity. Blended learning (face to face and online) is now a reality. Perhaps not for the youngest pupils, but certainly for those in Year 3 upwards. As such, schools are starting to issue dedicated devices to their pupils. For example, all pupils at Seaford College Prep have their own (school branded) iPad. At Great Ballard School pupils have their own Chromebook from Year 5. And at The Prebendal School, pupils have their own iPad from Year 6.
Otherwise, the schools furnish pupils with pooled iPads, Chromebooks, and laptops, on an as-needed basis.
All six Chichester independent prep schools offer curricula based on, and augmenting, the National Curriculum. They also migrate to the ISEB Common Entrance curriculum, scholarship curricula, and some skills-based curricula in Year 7.
Learning skills, as well as facts, is the trend in prep school, in fact all primary, education. So, you will hear a lot about in-subject topics and cross-curricular topics. The idea is to help develop pupils’ enquiry and thinking skills, essentially through project work.
Each of the six acknowledge the importance of skills development, as well as fact acquisition. But they implement skills learning in different ways and to a differing extent.
Oakwood School has the most straight forward curriculum. The school teaches all subjects separately. The curriculum uses within-subject topics to develop thinking and enquiry skills.
After Year 6 Dorset House School switches to the Common Entrance curriculum, a traditional approach to Public School preparation. But it is increasingly in the minority. The trend is to forego some or all of this curriculum in favour of a more skills-based approach.
At Prebendal School, the curriculum is also subject based. But thinking skills, debate and initiative are encouraged through the Pre-Senior Baccalaureate, Prebendal Extended Project, and The Quadrivium.
Westbourne House School is the latest to move in that direction. It too has a ‘topic-led’ curriculum in Pre-Prep, and a ‘creative curriculum’ in Prep. After Year 6, it follows the ISEB maths, English, and science curriculum. Other subjects are taught through a bespoke skills-based curriculum.
Great Ballard School has a thematic curriculum up to Year 2, and then organises the curriculum according to its ‘4H approach’. Head, Hand, Heart, and Health represent four facets of a broad curriculum and a series of skills, tasks and knowledge required to achieve certain milestones.
The curriculum at Seaford College Prep doesn’t follow the Common Entrance curriculum and is more aligned to pre-GCSE Year 7 and 8 curricula at 11-18 schools. Throughout the Prep it has regular ‘Creative Curriculum Weeks’ exploring art, music, DT, computing, and PE.
The schools also employ other techniques to promote skills in critical thinking, thinking outside the box, and joined-up thinking. For example, Westbourne House School teaches critical thinking, study skills and learning habits. It is accredited as a ‘High Performance Learning – World Class School’. Great Ballard School introduces study skills, or ‘Learning2Learn’ from Year 3.
All six prep schools introduce verbal and non-verbal reasoning usually in Year 5 in preparation for Year 6 entrance exams and/or the increasingly popular ISEB Pre-Entry Assessment.
Though they enter their pupils in national academic competitions such as science, maths and chess, none has a track record for reaching the final stages.
Outdoor learning and trips
All six Chichester prep schools offer educational trips to support and stimulate their curricula. And there are residential field, cultural, adventure, sporting, and musical trips for senior pupils, usually from Year 5 or 6. Oakwood School starts its residentials programme in Year 3.
In terms of outdoor learning, they all have some form of Forest School or Beach School activities for the youngest pupils.
At Great Ballard, Seaford College Prep, Oakwood, and Westbourne House outdoor learning continues for the older pupils too. All four aim to impart life skills and leadership skills in their pupils through outdoor challenge. Examples include the Oakwood Award Scheme and the Westbourne Awards.
Foreign language teaching
Five schools teach French as their main foreign language from nursery or Reception.
Great Ballard School is the exception, teaching Spanish from Year 3, before switching to French from Year 6.
Some offer a second and third language. Seaford College Prep, for example, teaches Spanish alongside French.
Dorset House offers Latin from Year 5 and Greek in Year 8. Prebendal School and Westbourne House offer Latin and Spanish from Years 5 or 6. Oakwood School also teaches a Spanish and German ‘taster’ in Year 6.
Subject specialist teaching
Primary school teachers can, and often do, teach a wide range of subjects to their pupils. Their expertise is in teaching this age group. Prep schools make the case that subject specialists may be better for some subjects. Also, the progression from one to several teachers prepares pupils for teaching in senior schools. How much subject specialist teaching each school offers, and when they offer it, varies.
The six Chichester prep schools offer a similar menu of class-based teaching to Year 3, but with subject specialist teaching in sport, music, languages, and sometimes art, DT, drama and computing.
At each school, the number of specialist taught subjects increases every year.
By Year 5 most subjects are taught by specialists at each school. At Oakwood School it’s from Year 4, at Seaford College Prep it’s from Year 6.
Sport at Chichester prep schools
It is in the provision of sports and the arts that private schools excel. In particular, time spent on sport, and lessons dedicated to music, art, drama and sometimes dance set them apart from state schools.
And these six schools are no exception. At least three PE/games sessions per week and 10-15% of curriculum time dedicated to sport. Seaford College Prep has five games sessions per week. It offers around 25 different sports, as does Westbourne House School. The other four schools offer up to 15 different sports.
Facilities, pupil numbers and specialist teaching are the key ingredients for sporting achievement at independent prep schools. These six all turn out representative teams across, at least, the major sports. On numbers alone, we might expect Westbourne House School, Seaford College Prep and Oakwood School to field the more competitive teams.
Senior teams from two schools have a track record of success in national competition, though not necessarily in the sports you might expect. Which says something about the diversity of their sporting programme;
- Seaford College Prep for equestrian and swimming.
- Westbourne House School for athletics, golf, rugby 7s and swimming.
The arts at Chichester prep schools
The arts in Chichester prep schools are particularly strong, even by prep school standards. All have curricular art lessons and extra-curricular art activities. And three or four choirs, a string orchestra and several instrument ensembles are the norm. Around half of all pupils learn an instrument outside curricular music and take graded exams. That proportion rises closer to 90% at Dorset House, Prebendal School, and Seaford College Prep.
The Prebendal School is a choir school, educating the 14 choristers of Chichester Cathedral. Choristers perform in the Cathedral every day during term time. Beyond the Cathedral Choir, perhaps unsurprisingly, The Prebendal School has a disproportionately large number of instrument and choral ensembles.
Except for Dorset House School, where drama is part of the co-curriculum, five schools teach drama as a standalone curricular subject. All six also have musical and dramatic performances and extra-curricular ESB and LAMDA speech and drama exams.
Dance doesn’t feature on any curriculum beyond Year 2 though it is usually part of the extra-curricular programme at the mixed schools.
There are many extra-curricular clubs at these schools. There’s sport, of course. But in addition, each school offers over 10 non-sport clubs to every child per term.
Exam results and destination schools
It’s hard to compare these six Chichester prep schools on exam results since they don’t all enter the same comparable national exams.
But if you judge a school by where its pupils go on to, then these Chichester preps are successful. Destination schools are usually competitive entry, highly regarded, and independent.
Year 8 leavers from Seaford College Prep usually move seamlessly to Seaford College. And there is now the option for Year 8 Great Ballard School pupils to move to move to Great Ballard Senior.
Otherwise, destination schools for Year 6 or 8 leavers are invariably one of twenty, mainly Hampshire or Sussex independent schools. A small number leave at Year 6 from the schools that educate to Year 8, but the majority stay on.
The most popular destinations are Portsmouth Grammar, Portsmouth High, Churcher’s College, Seaford College, Hurstpierpoint College, Brighton College and Lancing College. The latter four with a Year 9 entry were traditionally suited to the Common Entrance prep schools. By the same token, Oakwood School pupils traditionally looked to the former three. But this is changing such that there is a route from any Chichester prep school to any of these independent destinations.
Pupils win plenty of awards and scholarships, particularly from Westbourne House School and Prebendal School.
Fees and value for money
For the 2022/23 academic year, Year 6 tuition fees at these Chichester prep schools range from £5,000 to £6,600 per term. Fees at Westbourne House School are at the top of this range, fees at Great Ballard School at the bottom. Prebendal School and Oakwood School fees are also at the lower end. Seaford College Prep and Dorset House fees are in the middle of the range at £5,800-£6,000. These fees exclude extras such as lunch and residential trips.
Tuition fees structure can change over the academic years. But looking at cumulative tuition fees from Years 1 to 6, the pattern is similar. Fees at Westbourne House School are 40% higher than the national average for day school fees. Great Ballard School fees are still the lowest, and close to the national average. Cumulative fees at Oakwood School fees are around 22% higher, reflecting relatively higher fees throughout the year groups. And the other three schools are between 12% and 14% higher than the national average.
|Schoolsmith Score||Tuition Fees v National Average (Years 1-6)||Value for money (rank)|
|Dorset House School||83||+14%||4|
|Great Ballard School||81||+2%||3|
|Seaford College Prep||85||+14%||2|
|The Prebendal School||85||+12%||1|
|Westbourne House School||90||+40%||6|
The current highest scoring school is Westbourne House School, which also ranks among the top 30 primary/prep schools in the country. The best value for money, as measured by £/Schoolsmith Score, is The Prebendal School.
What accounts for this difference in fees? In general, it’s location, grounds, facilities, class sizes, staffing, and local demographics. Some of which applies here. Of course, the adage of ‘getting what you pay for’ can also be true, which I hope this note has highlighted. These are all good prep schools, providing a worthy educational experience. But when it comes down to it, what are you prepared to pay for?
See also the best independent prep schools in Petersfield, Hindhead and Haslemere, Cranleigh and Horsham, Worthing, and Portsmouth
Why are these the best independent prep schools in Chichester?
Schools that feature in these notes are those with the highest Schoolsmith Scores, not just in Chichester, but nationwide. This is an objective score that accounts for 50 different aspects of schooling, grouped into 5 broad categories. You can read more about them from the links below, and the Schoolsmith Score here.
- their achievements; academic, sporting and artistic,
- the breadth of the education they offer,
- the quality of teaching,
- their facilities,
- their look and feel.
A quick pause for breath
By now you might be wondering what you should be thinking about when choosing a school? It happens to everyone. Why not try my 7 one minute quizzes for those starting their school search? Wood, trees, and all that…