Toula Thorburn, 42 and her husband Harry, 42, and three children Max, 11, Felix, 9 and Safi, 7, left Wimbledon, South West London, in the middle of the pandemic in September 2020. Ten days before the start of the Christmas term they moved to Itchenor, a small village on the Sussex coast just outside Chichester (6.9 miles). All three children started at Westbourne House School, Chichester, in September and they haven’t looked back.
Toula said: “We had looked at Westbourne House School seven years ago in 2013 when we lived in Clapham. We holidayed in West Sussex and we knew how lovely it was, but we never made the big move and bought a house in Wimbledon. It wasn’t until the virus came along and my husband could work from home that we realised the family could stay together and move away.”
“We had seven wonderful years in Wimbledon and we were very happy there but the pandemic changed everything. It all happened very quickly and once we had exchanged on the house we wanted it was all systems go. We knew we loved Westbourne House School, it felt very friendly and relaxed with loads of outside space where the children have the freedom to run and play. There were three places available and we grabbed them and said goodbye to Wimbledon in a matter of weeks. It’s great to have all the kids at the same school, which is not so easy in London."
“The children were not at high-pressure schools in London and you never believe this 'London pressure’ thing is there until you leave. At Westbourne the school system is more relaxed, that’s not to say the standards are lower, it just feels like the teachers are more in control and are putting the work in rather than emphasising what parents need to do and there just seems to be more time.”
“My son Max is in Year 7. He now has a much longer day, when it is normal school and we are not in lockdown. He starts at 8.20am and finishes at 5.30pm, but when we get home all his homework is done and he will have played sport as well as had three outdoor break times. As soon as we walk through the door all the children can relax and switch off and this had made the most monumental difference to all our lives. In London Max sometimes had two hours of homework per night.”
“Westbourne House was brilliant at keeping in touch with us and helping us with the move, especially as it all happened so quickly. Nothing was too much trouble, and I have found everyone at the school very personable from Aline in admissions to all the teachers, which makes life much easier when you are new. Even though we have joined the school in the Covid-era we have all felt very welcome and able to ask questions and ask for help if we need to.”
"Lockdown is brutal anywhere, combining homeschooling, work and a busy household but Westbourne has communicated well. The kids are engaged with Zoom lessons from 8.30am until they finish with very little parental input required. I think the schedule has been well thought out too, allowing a long lunch break which enables the family time to get out and have some much-needed fresh air in the daylight."
Toula added: "There is never going to be the perfect time to make such a big move, especially when you have multiple kids, and it’s gut-wrenching to pull them out of schools where they seem happy. But we have, 100 per cent, made the right decision and the greatest positive is the kids and the huge difference we have seen in all of them. Even though they started their time at Westbourne in year group bubbles and living with the Covid-19 rules, all my children are happy, confident and noticeably less stressed."