Q&A With Joff Powis, Head of Vinehall School
Can you give us a brief overview of the history of Vinehall School?
In 1902, the Ashton family bought Vinehall and enlarged the house to create the building we recognise today. It is believed that the great Joseph Paxton designed the grounds. In 1938, the house was sold to Mary Jacoby who was Headmistress of nearby Battle Abbey School for Girls and she saw the opportunity to set up her son with a neighbouring boys’ school. Vinehall became a school in the late summer of 1938 with 6 pupils on roll. The school has thrived and evolved ever since, becoming co-educational and a charitable trust, growing a pre-prep and a nursery, and recently welcoming a partnership with the Repton Family of Schools.
How long have you been Headmaster and what originally attracted you to the school?
Over 6 years now. Originally attracted by the promise of a Headship at one of the best-equipped prep schools in the country, Liz and I immediately fell in love with the incredible East Sussex setting on our first visit. We also knew our four boys would have the very best of rural prep school education.
Can you describe the school’s setting?
We are located in 47 acres of picturesque East Sussex Wealden countryside, providing a unique learning experience that allows our children to thrive in an expansive and nurturing family environment. I hope to give every child the opportunity to succeed both academically and personally while ensuring they are allowed to remain children for as long as possible.
Our wonderful site means our pupils have a freedom rarely found these days, providing opportunities to explore, learn and play outside, including climbing trees, building dens, and learning so very naturally within our Forest School.
Do you make full use of it and encourage your pupils to develop a love for the natural world?
From the youngest children in our nursery to the oldest in Year 8, the school grounds provide a natural environment to be explored and a lush playground with infinite possibilities.
Outdoor learning has long been an important part of Vinehall School life and this year we have expanded this area of the curriculum to introduce Forest School to all year groups.
Forest School is about creating classes to help grow children’s confidence, independence, and decision-making skills, whilst encouraging connection and exploration… always with a little bit of magic. I believe the outdoors is a wonderful antidote to the demands of our modern life and helps to connect our generation of children with the pleasures of the natural world. By stepping outside the confines of traditional classrooms, children can breathe in fresh air, soak up vitamin D from sunlight, and experience the therapeutic benefits of nature. Used well, outdoor learning can engage children in a different way and provide a safe way of exploring the ‘wild’.
Staff are encouraged to be creative when delivering learning opportunities; they weave in activities to cover set objectives while engaging the children’s interest and developing important life-skills and knowledge. If we can nurture a sense of wonder and encourage our children to appreciate the natural world around them, as future leaders at any level, they will have a heightened awareness and empathy for our special, yet vulnerable planet.
Our children respect and enjoy the natural world. They are all involved in growing fruit and vegetables in the school garden, which is irrigated through rainwater harvesting. The school’s Horticulturalist also fosters the development of their understanding of biodiversity and conservation, helping to ensure the children appreciate and take delight in the richness of life around them. Our Eco Committee, led by the children, promotes energy efficiency and recycling as well as encouraging everyone in the school community to minimise waste and reduce their carbon footprint.
How do you look to promote responsible social action?
Pro Aliis Optimum Agere has long been the school motto, inspiring generations of children to put others before themselves. Led by the Year 8 House Captains, we expect our children to engage with a variety of communities through voluntary service projects and activities.
We aim to promote responsible social action, informed by an understanding of the challenges faced by communities near to the school but also across the world. By engaging with different groups and working to support others, we hope the children will develop self-confidence and a sense of purpose that will remain with the children long after they have left Vinehall.
When pupils leave you, what are they prepared for?
At Vinehall, our staff and parents create a warm and thriving community, where Kindness, Respect, Confidence and Ambition are our values.
It is our aim that Vinehall children will possess not only a love for learning but also the resilience to overcome any challenges that lie ahead. In this ever-changing world, our warm family environment allows children to remain children for as long as possible.
At the heart of all our learning, whether it be in the science laboratory, on the stage or sports fields, are also our five learning habits that we encourage all pupils to develop and demonstrate. These habits are the fundamental skills that we believe will enable our pupils to become creative and critical thinkers able to excel in the modern world.
We strive to protect and celebrate childhood, whilst also ensuring that children are ready for the next stage in their lives. When our children leave at the end of Year 8, they depart as confident young people, equipped with the personal values, the learning habits and the knowledge that will enable them to flourish in the world that awaits them.