Pitsford School, Pitsford
A hidden gem in a bucolic village setting. Strong academic results are supported by outstanding pastoral care at this small and nurturing school.
Pitsford School is often referred to as a well-kept secret and is certainly the smallest Northamptonshire school I’ve been to so far, keeping numbers to a neat 320 pupils, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in character and buckets of warmth. Established in 1989, it’s a co-ed school for ages 3-18, with a newly reinstated pre-school class having just opened this year. The school is nestled at the heart of the picturesque village of Pitsford, just a few miles north of Northampton (lovely little winding roads, although I feared for my wing mirror).
There are 30 acres of beautiful parkland waiting to be explored and the new-ish (2012) multi million pound Junior School building is surrounded by trees. Further into the rather impressive surroundings rises the historic and beautiful Pitsford Hall, a Georgian building with quite a diverse history (the school has had previous incarnations as both a private home and a Polish convent school) and which forms the hub of the senior school.
With a caring and friendly approach that is evident from the outset, Pitsford takes the serious job of educating children and makes it fun. Every child is treated as an individual and is given the opportunity and support to discover their own brilliance (whatever that may be) and, whilst most schools would say the same, Pitsford is clearly able to excel here due to its small student cohort.
The school stands out as different primarily because it’s remarkably bijou for a through school. Unlike others nearby, it’s neither a prep nor a large, bustling senior school. Plus it’s really young, having been established for just over 3 decades, so fusty old traditions are not a thing, giving the pupils and staff the opportunity to establish their own traditions with an energy and space to grow.
The school is in a truly bucolic setting, with the main building itself, as well as the view from the back of Pitsford Hall out to the gardens and an avenue of lime trees that line the sweeping driveway, all being Grade II listed. This rich history hasn’t stopped things from moving forward though and the expansive grounds have allowed for Pitsford to grow and evolve, with a number of impressive modern buildings on site including the Senior Library (1992), Science and Technology block (1998), Junior School (2012) and a glossy and fairly new (2016) sports centre with sports café and fitness suite. It’s all very swish, like a private gym, and something I would have loved as a sporty teen.
There are also various common rooms for the kids to kick back and relax and plenty of outdoor space. In fact, the pupils are encouraged to be outside as much as possible in all weathers to make the most of the outside space, so waterproofs are an essential part of the school uniform.
The Art Department has seen quite a lot of change, with a new Head of Art in tenure this year, moving away from the more academic route of fine art and towards a more diverse and hands-on range of media, allowing students to become familiar a greater variety of materials including textiles, ceramics, photography – there’s even a dark room for analogue photography.
Set within its own purpose-built block, the Junior School takes children from 3-11, with numbers currently at 78 (55 juniors and 23 infants). When I visited there were lots of smiles and engagement and the teachers had a strong rapport with the kids. The small class sizes (no more than 15 in the Junior School with a max of 10 per class in Pre-School and Reception) help to establish a caring environment in which every child is known, supported and encouraged to develop self-confidence and resilience.
Juniors use the orchard, which incorporates the aforementioned listed view, as their playground and had been baking clafoutis aux poires (in French, no less) with ripe pears from the orchard just prior to my very well-timed visit, so it’s easy to see how integral the broader grounds and environment are at Pitsford. The building itself houses a spacious library, art studio and music room in addition to a main hall and individual classrooms.
Head of the Junior School, Rachelle Heard, who was appointed on the very day the country first went into lockdown, has a passion for promoting the science curriculum and is keen to inspire the children to ask questions and investigate. An approach that clearly reflects the overall encouragement given to pupils across the school as a whole.
There doesn’t tend to be a huge change in the student cohort as they move into Sixth Form, with most choosing to stay on for A-levels. Sixth Formers can use the shiny new gym facilities, as well as having use of their own designated car park and the Sixth Form Centre.
Sixth Formers are encouraged to take responsibility for their own actions and even how they make use of the school buildings. Given the choice of converting a designated room in to a separate Sixth Form dining room though, it’s rather heart warming to learn that they unanimously opted to stay integrated with the younger pupils, which perhaps speaks volumes about the way the students interact with one another.
Pitsford is consistently one of the county’s top performing schools and, whilst results are important, the school aims to elevate pupils on an emotional level to develop into well rounded individuals.
The school is selective but with quite a broad base, it’s not just about getting 9s at GCSE, but raising individual pupils up to their highest potential. STEM is very strong with separate sciences taught from year 7 and graduates from each discipline, which is unusual even in independent schools.
GCSE pass rates remained very high in 2021 in spite of the obstacles the children have faced in the lead-up their assessments, achieving 97% of GCSEs at grades 9-4. 21% of grades achieved at Pitsford in 2021 were the much-coveted 9 and a fantastic 57% of grades were 9-7. The A-Level results are impressive too, with 68% achieving A*-A, and 78% achieving A*-B. Most aim for top universities and many go on to both Oxbridge and the wider Russell Group Universities. In 2021 75% of leavers went on to Russell Group universities.
There is a very strong emphasis on the pastoral element of education at Pitsford, with a sense that if a child feels that they belong and have agency, that education isn’t being done to them but is something that they’re doing with the school, then they will also learn to thrive in other areas, so academic results come as a result.
Messaging apps, which have become a popular tool for pastoral care in recent years, are roundly eschewed by Head Teacher Dr Craig Walker, who prefers to connect with the students on a more human level, and it’s easy to see how that would be possible to achieve in a small school like Pitsford. Walker and the Head of Juniors, Rachelle Heard, also hold regular open surgeries for parents to connect and raise any issues.
Dr Craig Walker is into the fourth year of his tenure as Head at Pitsford. A History graduate from the University of Glasgow and the University of Oxford, Walker was Deputy Head of Loughborough Grammar School, where he was previously Head of Sixth Form for ten years. He’s an affable and warm character, though clearly feels the depth of seriousness that his role entails. There’s a sense that he has a genuine desire for the kids to be happy, also teaching History alongside his duties as Head to enable him to keep his toe in the water and stay focused on the fundamentals.
He’s passionately committed to the importance of community in schools (even moving to a house in the village to allow himself to be fully immersed), and has had career-long dedication to developing literacy in pupils, lecturing extensively including a joint lecture with the former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion (yup, we are impressed).
Walker also stands firm when it comes to the number of pupils at Pitsford, drawing the line at 320 pupils max to allow the classrooms to be used to their best capacity and pupils of all ages to interact with one another with familiarity. He’s reduced the number of overseas students, deliberately shifting focus towards more domestic cohort with a view to solidifying the culture of Pitsford, so that when overseas students do come through, they can integrate easily.
Another interesting development Walker has overseen is to welcome pupils from FCV International Football Academy (based in Stamford) two days a week to study for their BTEC in PE. Coming from every continent apart from Antarctica, they’ve contributed to the school’s diversity. Walker is keen to build on the school’s sporting excellence, with plans for a golf academy with a putting green and driving range.
Is an onsite cemetery quirky enough for you? A relic from the building’s former incarnation as a Polish convent school for refugees fleeing the Red Army, it’s interesting to see that, in spite of the relative youth of Pitsford School, there’s still a sense of history here.
There’s also a fully operational weather station run by the students, who upload data to the met office. So, if you want to know the weather in Pitsford, this is where your information will come from and it’s a big bonus for geography students.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Pupils can arrive from 8am and stay until 5.20 and there are extra-curricular activities from sailing (Pitsford Water is just up the road) and mountain biking to Marvel and board games club. There’s also mandatory after school sports for all pupils. Through the year the pupils have over 60 clubs to choose from, so I reckon they probably don’t want to rush home. Snacks and drinks are provided, with warm options like crumpets to fruit or porridge and flapjacks (beats my packet of space invaders back in the day).
The latest ISI report from Feb 2018 can be found here.
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
Phones are not permitted for Year 7-10 (and also not for the juniors). If pupils need to bring them in (for example if they get the school bus) then they must be handed into the school office. This includes headphones and gaming devices. For Year 11 and 6th form, phones may only be used in designated common rooms.
Pupils travel to Pitsford from all directions and there are several bus services running from Kettering, Market Harborough, Northampton, Moulton and Towcester. The school has a strong reputation within the area, so a substantial number of local children attend.
Fairly reasonable for an independent day school in the area. Pre-School fees start from £1,816 per term for 3 days a week, rising to £2,925 for 5 days (lunch included). Junior School fees range from £2,917 in reception to £4,731 in Year 6, and fees in the Senior School are £5,062 with an additional cost for lunch.
WORD ON THE GROUND
I’ve never previously visited a school that has received such unanimously positive and delighted feedback from parents about the sense of community and inclusivity amongst the children and we understand the teaching cohort are a strong unit with a shared vision that reflects in the overall vibe here.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those who want a smaller school environment with a family vibe, especially children who would feel more secure amongst 300 pupils than 1000.
Not for: Parents who want their kids to board or who want a large, more formal school environment. Pitsford has a community feel that you don’t get everywhere, but it may not be for everyone.
To find out more about Pitsford School, book on to their Whole School Open Day, taking place on Saturday 26th March 2022, 10.30- 1.00pm
Pitsford School, Pitsford Hall, Pitsford, Northamptonshire, NN6 9AX. Tel: 01604 880306, email email@example.com