My son Nick attended a nursery and pre-prep school in Bath called The Paragon and most children in his class went on to win a scholarship at an independent school. We decided when Nick was at The Paragon that we wanted him to go to a prep school outside Bath because it would broaden his horizons and his experience. So, at the age of 11, he applied to three senior schools, Prior Park, Monkton Combe and Millfield, and was offered scholarship places at all three. He liked Millfield and chose to go to there as a boarder at prep school and stayed into senior school.
We only knew about the scholarships because the headteacher at The Paragon had already sent two pupils to Millfield who had won scholarships. Nick, at the time, was a good swimmer – in fact he was the third fastest freestyler in the country – and the head put him forward for an all-round scholarship in sport, swimming and academic achievement.
In prep, Nick was offered a major scholarship which was then increased further when he went into senior school. This was a significant help because we were talking full boarding fees, which is around £28,000 out of taxed income. Scholarships range typically from 10 per cent. Indeed 50 per cent is not uncommon for talented children who take a full and active part in school life and some even achieve full fee reductions.
There were other expenses to consider, too, like uniform, sports kit and rugby tours to South Africa, Atlanta, Canada and France. You could, however, argue that it’s good value, because once your children are at school all their washing, food and transport are taken care of.
Nick loved Millfield and became head boy of the prep and of the senior school. Millfield is special because it’s like a huge comprehensive school and not in any way stuffy. There’s a real social mix. You have some people who are extraordinarily wealthy and their children go there perhaps because they have a special learning need. You also get children who are exceptionally talented who might be on a free place. It’s very friendly – almost like a big university campus.
The school has some of the best sporting facilities in the country and they take sport seriously. Nick was very good at rugby and played for the first XV and England Under 16s. I’m sure that if he hadn’t been to Millfield he wouldn’t have achieved that. Academically, it’s non-selective but if you’re very bright you’ll do very well there. They bring out the best in each pupil, whatever you’ve got.
The teaching and coaching is so inspirational. Nick had one teacher who taught economics who inspired him to choose that option at A-level and he got one of the top five marks for economics in the country.
He was also in the choir, was Vice President of the Academic society and got involved in Mencap Day, when they open up the school so that adults and children with disabilities can come in to use the facilities. The pupils look after the visitors and make sure that they enjoy their day. Nick said it was a real leveller.
We felt involved
The pastoral care at the school was excellent and I felt very involved and informed. The housemaster was in regular contact and there was constant communication via email or post – in fact, you get bombarded. Millfield is only 27 miles from Bath, so we used to pop down at weekends to watch Nick play rugby and he’d come home every third weekend.
The one thing that Nick found frustrating was he couldn’t take his car there after he passed his test. It was a sociable school, though. They had a bar for sixth formers on-site and wonderful balls and events. In many ways I’m pleased that he was down there with friends and what he was doing socially was constructive. Pupils from the day schools in Bath seem to spend most of their free time in pubs and bars.
Nick is now studying law at Durham University. His first choice was St John’s College, Cambridge, but it’s hugely academic and places are very limited there. When he found out he hadn’t got in he was disappointed but only for about an hour.
He loves Durham and has met lots of different people there. He’s been away at school for so long that I’m used to him not being around and I’m not getting the empty nest syndrome that I’m sure many parents do.