“One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world”.
These are poignant words from Malala Yousafzai, the determined young woman who came to worldwide prominence when she stood up to the frightening brutality of the Taliban in her native Pakistan. She went on to fight for the rights of all children to receive an education.
Such a simple ideal from the youngest Nobel laureate, yet one that has been endorsed time and again by educational establishments up and down the land.
And nowhere has that powerful and ethos been more embraced than at Highfield and Brookham Schools, nursery, pre-prep and prep schools nestled in 175 acres on the borders of Surrey, Hampshire, and West Sussex. Life at Highfield and Brookham couldn’t be further removed from Malala’s learning struggles growing up in Pakistan, but clearly the two share similar values.
As you would expect from an English prep school steeped in a rich history, things are done properly at Highfield and Brookham, but the emphasis isn’t purely on academic achievement. The school does annually have many pupils who go onto many of the best senior schools in the country, but personal growth, well-being and pastoral care are high up on the list of priorities.
“It’s difficult to know for sure what the ultimate educational intentions were when EA Wells founded Highfield School as a boys’ prep in Southampton back 1892.”
It is no surprise then that personal enrichment from learning life skills in a forest school or the serenity offered by yoga in the sports hall are cherished just as highly as A grades in English, maths and French.
It’s difficult to know for sure what the ultimate educational intentions were when EA Wells founded Highfield School as a boys’ prep in Southampton back in the dim and distant days of 1892. There were just 18 pupils then and life in 2021 naturally feels a million miles divorced from the school’s modest beginnings in the late 19th Century.
But the school has evolved as society itself has evolved, and now puts the emphasis on empowerment, mindfulness, wellbeing and inclusivity. Children today have an extraordinary number of choices and at our schools, which have around 450 pupils, they are encouraged to thrive and grow in whatever field they feel happiest.
Highfield had a change of ownership in 1904 as William Mills took over the reins as owner and headmaster and moved the school to its current home three years later. Highfield – and the younger Brookham, which came along much later and is on the cusp of its 30th birthday – is still owned by the Mills family, and is now in the safe and progressive hands of William’s son, Bill.
The “new” purpose-built school in Hampshire virtually doubled its numbers to 32 on opening its doors in 1907 under Williams Mills’ guiding hand, with all boys boarding, and a beautiful chapel was built in 1910. The chapel has clearly always been a significant part of Highfield life and that of William Mills, who was ordained in 1912 and became an Honorary Canon of Portsmouth Cathedral. The chapel is still a central feature today, hosting the annual carol service, World Book Day parade, inter-house quiz, harvest festival, and assemblies.
“But the school has evolved as society itself has evolved, and now puts the emphasis on empowerment, mindfulness, wellbeing and inclusivity.”
Not only that, the chapel is also at the heart of a little festive tradition in which current Highfield headmaster Phillip Evitt, who has been in the prep school hotseat since 1999, and his wife, Jo, personally decorate the Christmas tree ahead of the four annual carol services.
Canon Mills remained head of Highfield until 1953 and the school grew to accommodate 120 boys and established an enviable reputation for academic and sporting excellence, with many Highfield pupils winning scholarships to the leading English public schools such as Eton, Charterhouse and Rugby.
On Canon Mills’ death in 1953, he was succeeded by his son, Peter, who retired in 1979. It was during the later stages of Peter’s reign that notable changes began to take shape on the Highfield landscape, with the school becoming co-educational in 1978 and day pupils were accepted into the junior school for the first time.
Peter Mills was succeeded by Old Highfieldian Robin Orr, who was headmaster for 14 years and who saw pupil numbers rise from 120 to around 170 on his watch. Nigel Ramage was then responsible for overseeing a considerable programme of refurbishment and new building as the school really began to take shape.
“Past pupils such as Habitat retail chain founder Terence Conran and Game of Thrones stalwart Rupert Vansittart would approve.”
New dedicated science, maths and computing facilities sprung up in September 2000, a music school was added six years later, and a new indoor swimming pool added a big ripple of excitement as the old outdoor pool was finally consigned to history.
To ensure sustainability, a biomass boiler has been up and running since January 2013, offering a source of renewable energy. The school produces its own compost and works with Natural England as part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.
But the evolution doesn’t stop there. A new pavilion complete with its very own stylish and fully-equipped café is on course to open in September 2021 and will be a huge boost to a school that can put out an astonishing 25 sports teams on a single match day.
It all adds up to a school that really does offer a little bit of everything, and what it does, it does extremely well.
Past pupils such as Habitat retail chain founder Terence Conran, leading racehorse trainer Archie Watson and Game of Thrones stalwart Rupert Vansittart would approve.