Muddy Best Schools Guide #2: Beachborough School, Nr Brackley
My second school review, and it’s a beaut (if I say so myself!). If you have kids between two and thirteen, read on.
BEACHBOROUGH SCHOOL, WESTBURY, NR BRACKLEY
What? Where? Beachborough is a bucolic prep school at Westbury Manor, tickling the Northants, Bucks and Oxon borders, and perfectly positioned for those around Bicester, Buckingham, Banbury (or further if you don’t mind the drive). Co-educational with a 50/50 boy/girl split with 363 pupils this year (just about capacity), it’s set in 35 acres of frankly gorgeous grounds. The main building is very attractive and homey when you go inside – sofas in hallways, light and spacious, kids art everywhere ( I mean, really everywhere), cosy tweedy armchairs. If you like your schools with a feeling of informality and intimacy, you’re in the right place.
You’d expect any prep school charging nearly £16k a year to have some decent sport, drama and music facilities, and Beachborough has invested heavily in the last few years, with the requisite Performing Arts centre, massive sports hall, astro, netball and tennis courts, forest school and spingly spangly pre-prep area. But the grounds themselves are stunning too, big views out to grazing cows, it makes your shoulders relax just being here – ideal for the triathlons and horse riding events at the school.
At the moment there’s a big project in the making, a pond down the bottom of the school that’s being dredged and filled with fish as part community/part school development project that aims to be complete in the next month.
Boarding: Roughly 25% of kids at Beachborough board, either flexi or four days a week (there’s no termly here), and the boarding houses here are well above average, with lovely individual murals that raise them way above the usual white plasterboard dorms.
The academic results: 100 per cent of children at the school pass the Common Entrance exam – as a passionately non-selective school that’s a big academic tick. This year 26 scholarships and awards have been given to Beachborough pupils, 12 more than the previous record set in 2015. Classes hold a maximum of 18, and the scholarship groups are no more than 15.
Jeremy Banks, in the head’s hotseat since 2014, has clearly been eager to extend Beachborough past its friendly, inclusive reputation into more of a leadership role, at the vanguard of trying new techniques to help kids learn. The school has started its own Duke of Edinburgh-style awards, for example, but to get badges they need to reach out of their comfort zone – so sporty kids will have to try some drama, academic kids need to give sport a go, everyone needs to have a ‘can do’ attitude and be open to different challenges. I think that’s clever.
Little people can start at 2.5 years in the nursery and it’s waaaaay superior to the various nurseries I’ve used for my kids over the years. The nursery is spacious, bright, with a great outdoor space right next to the main lawn. There’s also a Pre-prep is next door (to help transition up the school) and just as lovely, and as you go up the school and into the manor house itself, it’s more of the same.
All the kids have to wear boiler suits to go out and play (see below) which looks supercute when they’re toddlers but is probably a bit tough on the street cred by the time they’re in Years 5 and 6. Still, no one forces them to wear them as they get more senior in the school, and boiler suits were well trendy last year in fashland so, you know *sniff*, it’s not so bad.
What else? Well, I’m a fan of the mini farm on the grounds but it might not suit all tastes to have piggies in a pen getting fattened up before they, um, ‘transform’ into sausages for school lunches. The headmaster, staff and kids’ water fight at the end of summer term and bi-annual Family Campout on the front lawn suggests a good a sense of humour and strong community feel to the school.
Wrap around care: It’s very good, and entirely flexible. Kids can stay for tea, or after school clubs without charge, or even board at short notice (an extra cost). Flexi-boarding is the norm; kids can book in for as many nights as they like and weekly boarding is also offered. There is no Saturday school, in contrast to Winchester House nearby.
Word on the ground: The mums I’ve talked to have really rated it, and it definitely has a very upbeat, ‘can-do’ aura. The Triathlon series and horseriding competitions have been going down wel.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: well-rounded kids. The vibe is informal and friendly, but academically strong – not an easy mix to pull off. The superior sport, drama and music facilities are impressive and all children get to participate fully. Good flexible after-school care in mind is particularly helpful for busy working parents.
Not for: Those who require full-boarding, a town location or parents who prefer a more ‘starchy’ approach to schooling.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the Pre-Prep Open Day, Friday 7 Oct, 9.30am-12pm.
Beachborough School, Westbury, Nr Buckingham, NN13 5LB. Tel: 01280 700071