Good Schools Guide
‘My friends at other independent schools are so jealous of this’
‘I’m in love with Belhaven, it’s the school I wish I had gone to’
‘It’s a lovely, relaxed, kind, supportive atmosphere’
The Good Schools Guide 2022
Since July 2020, Olly Langton. Read history at Edinburgh. Started his teaching career at Ludgrove, thence to his Almer Mater Radley College as history teacher and sports coach, progressing to housemaster.
Word has it that parents were in tears when he left. Their loss was Belhaven’s gain, with parents here describing him as ‘extremely professional,’ approachable,’ ‘no-nonsense’ and that ‘he works non-stop - if you call on a Sunday, he is always available.’
One parent told us, ‘We were online with a friend who had knowledge of the new head. She told us, “You are going to get the most stellar of headmasters. Go back and meet him!”’ Parents like that he is young and knows the direction he wants for the school: ‘A very focused person and very informative.’
All agree he is hands-on. He directs plays and organises charity events, as well as having coached rugby and cricket to U14s. He is now getting a girls’ cricket club going at Belhaven. Having played cricket at school and university, sport is very much his thing. He has also qualified as an instructor for able-bodied and disabled skiers.
Headship very much a family affair – he and his wife Rosie live in the charming school cottage with its own walled garden, where parents are also welcomed. Oxford educated, Rosie also taught at Radley where they both met and had their three children. Both love reading and Rosie adores cinema, particularly independent film.
No formal test but register as soon as possible, especially as numbers are up (trad messaging was to encourage full boarding but day pupils equally welcomed now). Children spend a taster day (and sometimes a night or two) the year before they come. Involves attending lessons and taking part in sport and activities. Pre-prep opened in April 2022, widening the age range to 5–13.
‘I’m in love with Belhaven, it’s the school I wish I had gone to,’ one mother summed up, a sentiment that echoed through most of our conversations with parents.
Our own first impression was of warmth and a real family feel. Always nice to be greeted by a friendly black Lab (there are dogs everywhere).
Traditionally known as Scotland’s school for toffs and grandees, our experience was anything but, with charming, chatty, funny and down-to-earth pupils. In fact, during a chat with a selection of children, one of the youngest looked a little teary-eyed and we noticed others were quick with support and encouragement. Parents told us that boarding school is a big decision to make, so it was reassuring to see that this kind of behaviour comes naturally. ‘It’s a lovely, relaxed, kind, supportive atmosphere,’ said one…
Classrooms, computer science and setting
Eight classrooms are all tightly grouped around a pond at the rear of the main house. Most classes have between eight and 14 pupils and are split if numbers reach 16. One computer room, plus docking stations with individual iPads, are available for all. New push recently with technology to enable teachers to go beyond the limitations of the traditional classroom and to prepare pupils for the workplace. ‘We teach computer science and outdoor education – they complement, rather than negate one another,’ reckons head. ‘They learn how to be innovative, disciplined and respectful in relation to each other, nature and technology.'
Setting from age 9 in maths, English, science and languages (and everything else from age 10). Latin and Greek both on offer. We watched year 8s having lots of fun making fire extinguishers to put out tea lights in a science lesson, with learning material featured on the Apple TV. The science teacher was in sports gear and a bobble hat - it’s a small school (with 60 per cent of staff living onsite) so would appear all hands are on deck.
Digital and technology education
We were among the first to see the school’s potential Makerspace, which is being developed for digital and technology education - an impressive project by pupils to create software that tells you which recycling bin to use to prevent landfill. Pupils were also experimenting with GameMaker software to create a game – one had made it onto the final of BAFTA’s young gaming designers.
Weekly outdoor education for everyone
Every class participates in some kind of outdoor education on a weekly basis. A parent reported, ‘The whole school went camping in the school grounds and had to build their own tents, cook their dinner over the campfire and stay overnight. And they were back in school the next day! Amazing experience for them.’ Another told us, ‘Even the indoorsy ones become outdoorsy. Wild swimming – they’ve been doing that for years. Couldn’t be more fashionable. These are the kind of children that will plunge into the sea for a laugh, even though it’s February.’
Well thought-of learning support hub
Well thought-of learning support hub is right in the middle of the school and welcome to all. A team of four learning support teachers provide a two-tier approach with in-class support by a dedicated Support for Learning teacher and assistants for pre-prep and prep, enabling more one-to-one support for the older children. Approximately 20 per cent are diagnosed as needing additional support, around the national average; a few have hearing difficulties. Recently appointed EFL teacher and the languages teacher is EFL trained; they support foreign language children by providing extra support instead of French.
Drama & Music
New head of drama teaches every year group once a week. ‘For some, it’s about improving confidence and diction, for others it’s a way to express themselves, and for some it could be a future career,’ says head. Emphasis on small productions rather than big set pieces. Dance also popular. But music steals the show with one of the largest prep music departments in the UK. We were lucky enough to catch the choir practising for an upcoming concert at the Cathedral in Haddington and were treated to a spinetingling performance of ‘I Vow to Thee My Country.’ Around 94 per cent play at least one instrument. Pipe band very strong. Good track record of art scholars, with advanced art classes on offer. Emphasis on drawing and painting and there’s a well-used kiln.
Ethos is sport is for all, and lots of clubs
Ethos is sport is for all. Main sports for boys are rugby, hockey and cricket, and netball, hockey and rounders for girls. First girls' cricket fixtures have taken place with plans for increasing the opportunities. Two cricket pitches, tennis courts, Astroturfs and a swimming pool (with weekly swimming lessons for all). A few grumbles from the pupils that they’d like a wider range of sports to play competitively but parents love how inclusive it is. One told us that at a young age her daughter ‘got into her head that she wasn’t good at running, but they massively changed her mind through the Thursday run, where they run [round the school grounds] and have to beat their own time. They are competing against themselves, rather than comparing to others.’ Lots of clubs from football to taekwondo with other activities including cookery, coding, watercolours, gardening and horse riding.
Day pupils from form 4 upwards are expected to attend school every other Saturday from 8.30am to 4.30pm for lessons and games matches. Gentle Christian ethos, with Sunday services a big feature.
‘Knowing our child is thriving and happy, and has friends every weekend, has lifted a weight off my shoulders - couldn’t find anywhere else in the country like Belhaven,’ said one parent. Majority of older pupils board; younger ones transition from day to boarding with support and at their own pace. School operates a bi-weekly boarding programme (no flexi, so every child has their own bed), finishing every other weekend on a Friday at 1pm - a hit with parents, who sometimes call on other families if they’re not available to pick up every second weekend.
Parents appreciate this community spirit: ‘I don’t have the words to describe these parents, my daughter is always invited somewhere. So much kindness,’ said one. Buses operate on the weekends pupils go home – to Perth, Stonehaven and Thornhill (Dumfries). Alternatively, parents can collect pupils from the airport or at King’s Cross with their offspring accompanied (additional cost). ‘My friends at other independent schools are so jealous of this,’ one parent told us. Dorms really cosy with family feel. Pupils say it is ‘like a sleepover every night.’ Lots of activities including inflatables, cinema, rock climbing and beaches - though a game of pirates in the sports hall seems to be just as popular.
The last word
The antithesis of a hothouse education, Belhaven provides a nurturing environment for kids to flourish. An all-round approach to education with an innovative new programme in digital education combined with good old fashioned outdoorsy fun (think rosy-cheeked children wild swimming on the beach or drinking hot chocolate in their dens). Biggest prep school music department in the UK and an everyone-must-give-it-a go approach to sport. Hard to fault.
You can read the full Good Schools Guide Review on their website ...