Millfield School is synonymous with sport and is a top contender for educating future Olympians, whether you see your child competing in swimming, athletics, netball or rugby. There are not many that can compete with this co-ed independent day and boarding school for sport.
Although Millfield is certainly a school for high achievers, it is not shackled by tradition. Instead, headmaster Gavin Horgan says he is looking for students who are “positive disruptors” and can challenge the status quo. The school’s Discover Brilliance curriculum says it is flexible enough to support students with hugely varied academic, sporting, and artistic goals – but can a school of Millfield’s size really offer each student a tailor-made curriculum of academic and vocational courses?
There are examples of students taking so many different paths here – from training to become a modern Pentathlete to tackling dyslexia while training to be a professional netballer. It's clear that not every child at Millfield arrives or leaves as a sports star. Praised by ISI inspectors in 2015 for its "exceptionally wide choice of sports and extra curricular activities, and a highly flexible, excellent curriculum," Millfield is one of the UK's leading private schools for children with a wide range of talents.
There’s something very dynamic about Millfield – and it’s not afraid of change. This is the school that recently introduced a programme which helps settle 13 year olds into Year 9 not by coaching them in the classroom, but by asking them to surf in the freezing Cornish waters or go caving in the Mendip Hills. Yes, they are also challenged academically, but it’s perhaps that giant leap off a cliff that could really prepare your teenager for the even bigger jump up to senior school. It also said out with the old and in with the new, as it introduced the International Primary Curriculum for Years 1 - 6, and made iPads compulsory for students from Year 7 through to 13. While technology is used throughout the school, students also work on whiteboard desks in the classroom,
With a student body of 1,280 students in the senior school and 440 in the prep school, Millfield has two campuses – the Senior School for ages 13 to 18 years is in Street and the Pre-Prep and Prep School for ages 2 to 13 is located four miles away at Glastonbury. Students board from Year 3 upwards, and there are 19 boarding houses.
It’s one of the UK’s largest private schools, and its size could mean that students are in danger of getting ‘lost’ in the system. Despite its size, though, class sizes remain small – 10-16 at prep and 8-12 at senior school; head boys and girls change termly to offer as many students as possible a chance to shine; and there's a strong pastoral care programme with staff including a nutritionist and sport psychologist on site to support students.
An education at Millfield is demanding, with most students managing long days. It makes sense for students to board here (and 75% of students do), and have all the facilities they need on their doorstep. Surely it’s easier to roll out of bed on campus to make it for 6am training in the pool? And with such well-equipped prep and senior campuses including indoor pools, an indoor riding arena, nine-hole golf course, 400m athletics track, and 200 acres of Somerset countryside, we can understand why some students say they don't want to leave at the end of the day.
Millfield Senior School was rated Excellent in its most recently available ISI Educational Quality report (2015).
Millfield may invest heavily in training many of its students in the pool and on the track, but there is just as much energy and expertise in the classroom. Life at Millfield is not all about training regimes, fitness, and sporting prowess. There’s also a rigorous academic curriculum that works towards GCSEs, A Levels, and BTECs.
While teaching largely follows the National Curriculum for England, Millfield is a school that invests heavily in many new, or unique, experiences to prepare students for different stages of their education. In pre-prep, a typical day could include violin lessons and making stinging nettle pancakes over the fire as part of the school’s onsite Forest School; in the prep school, students are learning Latin, creating music videos and learning media studies in the school’s portable TV studio, and learning a range of cooking techniques by Year 8. The recent switch to the International Primary Curriculum has seen Millfield take a much more creative and thematic approach to its primary teaching, so anyone searching for a textbook-heavy, academic hothouse should look elsewhere.
In the senior school (Years 9 - 13), life changes considerably for students – not least by making the move to a new campus. In line with a traditional British education, these years see the core curriculum being slimmed down and students focusing on fewer, more specialist subjects at GCSE and A Level; there is a wide choice of subjects here as varied as politics and media studies, chemistry, and religious studies. There is also the opportunity to take a BTEC in vocational subjects including sport, enterprise & entrepreneurship, art & design, and business – and sixth form qualifications in hospitality, food and wine, and horsemanship. It's a secondary and sixth form curriculum that is both traditional and progressive, academic and vocational.
When it comes to sport, Millfield is almost untouchable; it was the most represented school at the London 2012 Olympics and 2014 Commonwealth Games. This is the school where students train for Olympic Gold, are coached by former Olympians, and have the use of world-class indoor and outdoor facilities on campus.
Students may be offered individual sporting programmes instead of joining timetabled PE lessons, and it’s perhaps easier to list the sports that Millfield does not offer – its A-Z offering is unrivalled, from riding to swimming, fencing to golf, and athletics to trampolining.
While this is certainly the school for students with a competitive streak, there is room for those who prefer to play for fun: there are B teams, all students spend at least 3.5 hours in PE lessons per week, and there is a wide choice of after-school clubs too.
The school is also committed to the arts. Facilities include a 350-seat concert hall, Steinway grand piano, its very own art gallery, and even a sculpture park (which requires a map to find your way around it!). It means that students taking subjects such as photography, BTEC Art and Design, theatre studies, and music are as much catered for as the swimmers and athletes.
What really comes across at Millfield is the school’s efforts to avoid channelling students into one career path – the goal here is to get involved in as much as possible!
Year 9 student Verner offers a glimpse into a life at Millfield:
“Days are filled with academics, lunchtime training such as one-to-one fencing, shooting, strength and conditioning, drumming lessons and DT scholarship sessions. Weekends include competitions, Ten Tors and Year 9 outdoor activities. For an outsider the school days might seem long, but it passes very quickly. There are still so many things I wish I had time for; like wall climbing, squash, water polo and sailing, but there are simply not enough hours in a Millfield day.”
In a school where many students are managing what they describe as “a busy academic and sports programme”, pastoral care is key. It has to be an integral part of daily life, not simply a standalone offering. Fortunately, this comes across in feedback from students who describe the "extremely supportive" housemistress, the flexibility of sports coaches and teachers "in accommodating all my activities and interests”, and "a tightly knit dance community where you receive great amounts of support."
Millfield has large cohorts taking GCSE and A Level exams, and its results continue to shine. In 2019, 30% of A Level grades were A* - A and 59.7% were A* - B; in the same year, 46.4% of GCSE results were 9 - 7 or A* - A, and 83.7% were 9 - 5 or A* - B. Cast aside any doubts that this school is only focused on going for Gold; with results like these, Millfield is striking the balance between training elite athletes and maintaining excellent academic standards.
Just as much as students are being selected for the Swim England National Junior Squad, the England Netball U17 team, and the England Rugby U18 Development camp (to name but a few), there is academic brilliance too: Yuka Machino was the world’s highest placed female competitor at the International Mathematical Olympiad, for example. And just as we are seeing students leave Millfield to become the face of Sky Sports Golf or compete in the European Track Cycling Championships, there are high numbers studying business, economics and finance, as well as medicine, veterinary medicine, biosciences, and engineering at Russell Group universities.
Millfield has all the world-class sporting, academic, and arts facilities it needs across both campuses to deliver a wide range of subjects. Students have little need to leave the campus, although of course they do for many academic trips, sporting fixtures, community service, and much more.
Overlooked by the striking Glastonbury Tor that rises beyond it in the Somerset countryside, the prep school's sports facilities include a 25m swimming pool, equestrian centre, cricket field, tennis and netball courts, nine hole golf course and putting green; there's a recital hall, art, design and technology centre, science laboratories; and for outdoor fun there is popular tree trail playground and forest school with mud kitchen and bread oven.
The senior school features an Olympic-sized swimming pool, golf course, equestrian centre with stabling for 90 horses, cricket field, athletics track, shooting range, assault course, and fencing salle. Other facilities include a wonderful concert hall, art gallery, product design department, and recently refurbished classrooms.
For a school with such a wide offering of activities, you'd expect there to be plenty of additional fees; however, the annual fees at Millfield are fairly inclusive with extra charges only for lessons such as riding tuition and music. It should come as no surprise that fees at Millfield are certainly not the cheapest, though. Annual day fees range from £8,835 to £26,505 for Years 9 - 13; tuition fees for boarding students are £29,370 for Years 3 - 8 and £39,960 for Years 9 - 13.
The school gives away several million a year in scholarships and bursaries: there are Academic, Art, Music, and Sports scholarships each year for entry into Years 6, 7, and 8, and Academic, Art, Chess, Design and Innovation, Music, and Sport scholarships for entry into Year 9 or lower sixth.
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