Muddy says: A hidden gem. A very caring, child centred school with a balance across academic and pastoral care. Friendly teachers, happy kids and great grades make it a great asset to Northamptonshire.
What, where and quick precis?
Pitsford School is often referred to as a well-kept secret and this hidden gem is the smallest Northamptonshire school I’ve been to so far, but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in character. Established in 1989, it’s an ISA co-educational, 3–18 independent school (new pre school class opened in Sept 2019). It sits in Pitsford, a picturesque village a few miles north of Northampton (lovely little winding roads, although I feared for my wing mirror).
There are 26 acres of beautiful parkland waiting to be explored and the new multi million pound Junior school building is set amongst the trees and orchard within the grounds (gorjus). Further into the rather impressive surroundings rises the historic and beautiful Pitsford Hall which forms the hub of the senior school. With a caring and friendly attitude, Pitsford takes the serious job of educating children and makes it fun (you can feel that vibe as you walk through the school). Every child is treated as an individual and is given the opportunity and support to discover their own brilliance (whatever that may be), and be the best that they can be. With extra-curricular activities from Sailing and Rock climbing to Marvel and Board games club, I reckon the kids probably don’t want to rush home and wrap around care from 8am to 5.20pm works well for busy parents too. Speaking to one of the lovely staff members, I found out the board of governors’ guiding principles are – Opportunity: Excellence and Understanding.
The school is set in tres beautiful countryside (the first image below is actually a listed view).
It has a very impressive new sports centre with sports café and fitness suite that can be used for physiology and anatomy classes, PE and cardio club plus the 6th formers can use the facility (once inducted) as part of their 6th form privileges. It’s all very swish, like a private gym, and something I would have loved as a sporty teen. There’s also a chapel and various common rooms for the kids to kick back and relax and plenty of outdoor space.
The school has children from the age of three (to 11), a big focus for the school with the Pre-Prep beginning at Nursery and going up to Year 3. It’s separate from the rest of the school but the children still bump into other age groups throughout the day. When I visited there was lots of smiles and engagement, and the teachers had a really good rapport with the kids. The small class sizes create a caring environment in which every child is known and supported, and is encouraged to develop self-confidence, resilience and most importantly of all, happiness.
Wrap around care & extra-curricular?
The school is open from 8am (juniors) and 8.30 am in the seniors, till 5.20pm In the juniors the children can come in and have supervised free play before registration, and after school from 3.40pm -4.00pm they can have tea and then from 4pm till 5.20pm they have clubs.
Pit stop at Pitsford school
At break snacks and drinks are provided in the “Pit Stop” – with warm options such as Crumpets and Bacon Rolls through to fruit or porridge and flapjacks (beats my packet of space invaders back in the day). Senior clubs start at 4.20pm -5.20pm and range from Prep, Sports, Marvel Club, Shakespeare, Duke of Edinburgh, Science Club, and Film Club. Through the year the pupils have over 60 clubs to choose from.
What about the pupils and what do they do when they leave?
There appeared to be quite a few talented pupils across the board; from completing grade 8 piano or qualifying for the Horse of the Year show, there were loads of stories of achievements both academic and creative. They’ve just had one year 11 record a single together with local musicians and have it released on iTunes! A string of county level musicians too. Most aim for the good universities and many go on to both Oxbridge and the wider Russell Group Universities, with a percentage also choosing to defer and take a year out in either industry or for travel.
Pitsford is consistently one of the county’s top performing schools and whilst results are important the school helps pupils on an emotional level to develop into well rounded individuals. It’s more about kids reaching their own potential during their time there.
Pitsford School GCSE pass rates continue to be high with pupils in 2018 achieving 81% of GCSEs at grades 9-4. 12% of grades achieved at Pitsford in 2019 were the much-coveted and rare ‘9’ and a fantastic 40% of grades were 9-7, which is the new version of A*-A, resulting in the average performance per student being the best in 2019 since before 2010.! The A-Level results are impressive too with 14% of Sixth Form Students receiving at least AAB grades.
Scholarships – Scholarships are offered, with more details on the website.
Following the retirement of Noel Toone as Headmaster, Dr Craig Walker is the man in the chair. A History graduate from the University of Glasgow and the University of Oxford, Craig Walker was Deputy Head of Loughborough Grammar School, where he also was Head of Sixth Form for ten years. I met him and warmed to him immediately! As a school leader, he has an exceptional track record in improving academic outcomes and university admissions which is great, but as important is Craig’s genuine desire for the kids to be happy. He is passionately committed to the importance of community in schools, where a friendly, safe environment creates the conditions to support the development of girls and boys into happy and successful adults. He has a career-long dedication to developing literacy in boys and girls and has lectured extensively, including a joint lecture with the former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion (we are pretty impressed with this bit).
Speaking to me in front of a roaring fire he said: ‘I’m here to fit around the school and the pupils, not them around me; it just so happens that Pitsford School is a perfect fit for me. It is a happy, thriving, lively school, in spectacular grounds where every child is known and and supported to become the very best version of themselves. I know that parents of children here sacrifice a lot; but I also know it’s a good investment. I look forward to working with all of our students, teachers, parents and community over the coming months.’
The fun stuff – Trips and visits and other boasty bits?
Pitsford school trip to Barcelona
Every year the kids enjoy plenty of visits and trips with most recent trips to Barcelona, the Battlefields of Northern France, Ski trips to France and Austria, Iceland and Germany. Day trips include galleries and museums along with trips to rather colourful places like butterfly farms and living rainforests. Every year there are activity camps across the school with the smaller children having picnics or going to visit a country park for the day and then Yr 5 & 6 going on residential camps where (judging by the pics), they do all manner of outdoor activities during the summer term.
In the senior school they have Expedition Day which is where all seniors get to choose from a range of activities such as ski-ing, paintballing, wake boarding etc for the day. Throughout the year there are House competitions (Wake, Robinson, Hesketh – after the founders) throughout the year and they are used to raise money for charities as well as to earn points for the House trophy at the end of the year – activities like pancake races, bake sales, singing, music and the annual cross country Pitsford run seem to put a smile on their faces. The House Captains regularly meet with House reps from each year group so that the pupils voices are always heard.
In the 6th form students are encouraged to look outside of school and help within the community. In the past they have teamed up with Elsie’s Junk Food project in Northampton and this year they are very much involved with Northampton charity re:store. Chocolate Raffles, and donations from pupils and parents alike have been coordinated by the 6th formers, resulting in a large donation of anything from nappies, tea, baby clothes, biscuits and pasta. It’s not just the 6th formers who are community minded. The Juniors have collected toys and presents for the Faraway Trust and this year, year 9’s have taken on NANNA (Northamptonshire Animals Needing Nurturing and Adoption) as their chosen charity and have inspired a phenomenal response from the whole school.
School bus service/travel etc?
The school catchment area extends around 15 miles from Pitsford in all directions and there are several bus services running across the county: Kettering via Walgrave, Market Harborough, Northampton Town Centre, Towcester via Mereway, via Moulton and Weston Favell. The school has a strong reputation within the area, so a lot of the locals attend (since 2005 a small number of Chinese pupils have joined the school for the Sixth Form using a homestay arrangement).
£2900 for Squirrels, £3000 to £4700 for J1 to J6 and £5061 for senior. Bursaries and scholarships are available.
Word on the ground? What do the parent’s say…
Children are friendly and the staff very enthusiastic. There is a remarkable ‘can do’ attitude at the school where pupils and staff work closely together with parents. Because it fosters independence, pupils are encouraged to have a go at everything, finding out their strengths and weaknesses for themselves.
“With the new head teacher comes an even happier and can-do attitude. Kids have a lot of respect when the head grows a tache for Movember!”
‘There’s a real family atmosphere and my child is really happy and proud to be part of the school community.’
‘The teaching staff AND support staff are incredibly caring and thoughtful.’
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for? Those who want a smaller school environment (especially kids who would feel more secure amongst 300 pupils as opposed to 1000). It’s a very caring, child centred school that definitely looks to strike a balance across academic and pastoral care. The teachers are friendly, the kids look happy and the grades are good (the A Level grades especially).
Not for? Parents who want their kids to board or who want a large, overly formal school. Pitsford has a lovely community feel that you don’t get everywhere, but it may not be for everyone.
The next School Open Day at Pitsford School will take place on Saturday 21st March 2020 between 10.30am and 1pm. There is also a Junior Open Morning on the 31st Jan from 9.30-12.30. For more information, contact the lovely staff on 01604 880306 or email firstname.lastname@example.org