Muddy says: A caring, creative and forward-thinking co-educational day prep school for children aged 4-13, based in 50 acres of Northamptonshire’s beautiful countryside.
Spratton Hall is a co-educational day prep school for children aged 4-13, tucked away in the rural village of Spratton, just north of Northampton, and within easy reach of Wellingborough and Rugby.
With far-reaching views across open countryside Spratton Hall is an attractive school. The 18th century main building started life as a private house and there are 50 acres of bucolic countryside for the 350 kids to explore and enjoy.
The facilities here are impressive. The newly built Underwood Building houses the changing rooms where a Hall of Fame in the corridor displays team photos and celebrates memorabilia from past students’ sporting achievements. Outside are sports facilities as far as the eye can see, including a whopping 8 new artificial cricket nets, a floodlit astro pitch and netball and tennis courts built less than a year ago. There’s an indoor sports dome, basketball court, outdoor table tennis, a 400m running track, 12 cricket pitches and multiple rugby, football and hockey pitches.
The outdoor space is exceptional, with 50 acres, there’s plenty of room for the children to explore and burn off energy outside the classroom. The woodland and ponds are frequently used as part of the childrens’ science and geography lessons as well as offering a Forest School for the younger children.
The school also offers modern and spacious science labs, a state of the art theatre space and bright art studio which allows light to stream in through big picture windows.
There are currently two school mini-buses operating routes towards Northampton and Market Harborough but, for those bringing children in by car, there is plenty of parking and an efficient one way drop-off and pick-up system in place.
As already mentioned, the sports facilities and teaching here are excellent and pupils from all year groups are positively encouraged to pursue an active and outdoorsy school life on the basis that a successful and happy school career results from a balance of academia, creative pursuits and being physically active.
Sports lessons kick off in Year 2 Pre-Prep and on the day of my visit the littlies were jogging to warm up for their hockey lesson, all giving it loads of effort with beaming smiles.
All year groups will do three sports each term as a part of their games lessons, there’s rugby, hockey, football, cricket, netball, gymnastics, athletics and basketball on seasonal rotation. Cross country is a popular option from year 3 and there is certainly plenty of space to run here. There’s a somewhat traditional gender split in terms of sports, however, both girls and boys do cricket as their main sport in the Summer and there is mixed football and rugby club, so it certainly feels that boys and girls have wealth of sporting opportunities here.
There is a real belief at Spratton Hall that sport is for all regardless of ability and the school offers sports teams for all levels, not just an A team, to promote inclusivity in sports.
FDT, ART AND RE
The Food, Design and Technology departments are all located in the same building with modern, bright facilities. After school cooking club every Friday seemed to be particularly popular among the children I spoke to.
The art room is a lovely airy studio space perched high up and overlooking the school grounds, and there is a creative, colourful vibe. During my visit, the Year 5 children were designing Christmas cards. They’d been given a design brief and were having a good discussion with one another about how to improve their creations. This was particularly informative from an outsider’s perspective, as it demonstrated how the children are taught to share, interpret and engage positively with constructive criticism from both their teachers and peers, a valuable life skill across all disciplines.
Refreshingly, the RE syllabus has an outward focus on global issues, common humanity and notions of stewardship, giving the children a broad perspective on their social responsibilities. This is not learning by rote, but encouraging individual ways of thinking and acting responsibly.
The children are taught combined science in Years 3-6 and individual disciplines in Years 7 and 8. There are spacious labs where the separate sciences are taken on a two week rotation through the term, so they will be taught chemistry for 2 weeks, biology for 2 weeks and physics for 2 weeks, giving them the opportunity to really get their teeth into the individual subjects.
There is a strong belief at Spratton Hall in learning in a hands-on way, allowing the kids to experiment and learn from their mistakes and this is very much the case in the science labs. Children are encouraged to ask questions, make suggestions and contribute to the lessons in a creative and engaging way. In each of the three science lessons I attended during my visit, every single child was switched on and taking an active part in the class with confidence and good humour which is a credit to the teaching staff and the school’s approach to learning in general.
MUSIC AND DRAMA
Spratton Hall is very strong on music and it’s easy to see why it’s so popular among pupils. The music department is impressive, being located in a purpose-built block and with numerous individual practice rooms and a group performance and classroom space with great acoustics. In addition to the syllabus, there’s a huge range of instrumental lessons available including piano, brass and woodwind, singing, drums and strings.
Orchestra is encouraged for children in all year groups. There’s a string orchestra, junior wind band, concert band, jazz band and guitar and flute ensembles. For singers there are three choirs and a school pop group and, for children who don’t already play an instrument, music is still a strong part of the curriculum with informal concerts each term as well as performances for parents.
Year 4 all learn violin as part of their curriculum music lessons, so the children are given a really comprehensive introduction to music theory and practice and in particular the cooperation and dedication required to perform as part of a group. It’s interesting that this is celebrated so strongly at Spratton Hall, as it often takes a back seat in other schools, but it can be quite a pivotal discipline in terms of helping the children to grasp the importance of working together in a creative endeavour.
All of the children are encouraged to perform and it’s clear how much it helps to enhance their confidence and presentation skills. Production Club, a drama club for Year 7 and 8, takes place in the newly refurbished Hunter Hall theatre space, which can accommodate 236 audience members.
French is taught from Year 1, with an emphasis on learning about French life and culture as well as the language itself, and children will have the opportunity to take part in study visits to France. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Latin is taught from Year 6, and that the pupils are really enthusiastic about its relevance to informing other languages and science disciplines.
Spratton Hall doesn’t feed into any particular senior school and the children here move on to a range of other places in Year 9 to continue their education, including Rugby, Oundle, Oakham, Wellingborough, Kimbolton and Northampton High. This gives pupils a certain level of autonomy in terms of pursuing their own interests and talents rather than being funnelled into a particular mould. The school benefits from a huge catchment area, with pupils attending from as far as Milton Keynes and north of Wellingborough.
Expectations are high and the children do get quite a bit of homework, which increases as they move further up through the school, with Year 8 pupils getting around 10 homework tasks a week.
The average class size is 15 pupils and in 2020, children from Spratton Hall were awarded scholarships to Uppingham, Kimbolton, Rugby, Oundle and Bedford.
The very approachable Headteacher Simon Clarke is keen to ensure that pupils leave Spratton Hall at the end of Year 8 as confident and engaged children. Whilst I’m there, he greets every child we encounter by name and engages them in conversation and it’s clearly something he considers very important . He’s been installed as Head here for 6 years, having previously been Deputy Head and, before that, Head of English and Drama at Millfield Prep in Somerset and teacher at Gresham’s Prep in Norfolk. It’s fair to say he has a strong background in preparatory education and it’s easy to see from where the school’s overall celebration of the performing arts stems.
There are currently 100 children in Spratton Hall Pre-Prep, with a maximum class size of 20. Fiona Sanchez, the warm and very endearing Head of Pre-Prep has been teaching at Spratton Hall for nearly 11 years but she was a parent here before that and tells me that she felt drawn to be part of the school on a professional level. High praise indeed. Fiona came to the setting with 18 years of experience of teaching in the state sector, so she has a really diverse experience of working in schools with varying teaching needs, which affords her a fantastic understanding of how to support children in their early formative years.
As I speak to Fiona about Pre-Prep, the Reception children are having a music lesson in the hall and are singing along. It’s a delightful and happy snapshot of their day and she is keen to emphasise that music and movement is an essential element that is embraced throughout the school day, allowing the children to learn with kinesthetics and enabling them to incorporate movement to stimulate learning. Marching, clapping and generally moving are all part of the way Pre-Prep pupils are encouraged to learn and absorb, which has a huge impact on focus, attention and, in the longer term, performance. It’s a philosophy that is reflected as the children move further up through the school.
Small class sizes (there are currently 2 Reception classes with 13 and 14 pupils respectively), allow teachers to place a strong emphasis on understanding the needs of each child. Teachers hear every child read every single day, so learning to read becomes a unique relationship with the child rather than a conveyor belt. They also choose the reading scheme that works best for the individual child, rather than trying to siphon each child into a prescribed scheme.
There is evidently an emphasis here on allowing children to verbalise their thinking in class as much as possible: describing, explaining and questioning, which encourages a growth mindset for the children to carry with them throughout their school career. Classrooms are not quiet rooms, they are active and alive and the pupils’ contributions are welcomed and valued.
A really lovely quirk of the Pre-Prep is that they invite staff from pre-school and nursery settings to visit Spratton Hall for tea and cake prior to the new Reception children starting in order to allow staff to get to know a bit about how the children have been learning beforehand. It’s really a level beyond what you would normally expect and demonstrates how much the staff put in to getting to know the children inside out, which in turn helps the children to feel understood and acknowledged as individuals from the word go.
There are three music lessons a week for Pre-Prep kids including recorder and ocarina. These are all about listening and responding to music and sound in order to boost the creative side of their brains. They also have dance lessons with a specialist dance tutor and art is blended through the wider curriculum. There’s lots of outside space, including a Forest School, where they get to do treasure hunts and other activities related to their classroom work, allowing for movement and creativity to infuse their academic work. On the day of my visit, the Year 2s were doing literacy work on fables and were about to head out to the forest to act out the stories they’d been reading.
It’s clear there is a huge emphasis on harnessing the children’s creativity, which in turn helps with their critical thinking and supports their academic pursuits. There’s a sense that building a positive rapport with the children really helps them to want to do well, not just to please the teachers or to get a tick, but because it makes them feel good, they have an intrinsic motivation that is based on more than grades.
Very comprehensive and flexible. Children can arrive at school from 8.10am, or 7.45 if they’re coming in for breakfast, and there’s prep until 5.30pm as well as 61 clubs and activities before, after and during school time. These are mostly included in the school fees with one or two notable exceptions where groups are led by external organisations, eg. ballet and tennis coaching. Recent additions are Mandarin and Table-top gaming.
A big focus at Spratton Hall, pastoral care is spearheaded by the very warm and engaging Head of Learning Support and Safeguarding Lead, Charlie Benn. Charlie was previously a Deputy Head before coming to Spratton Hall as a learning support teacher and has had 18 years experience of teaching children with Special Educational Needs before taking on her current role.
It is easy to see why she is so suited to the role and her dedication to the children’s wellbeing is immediately apparent. Charlie has a constant flow of children coming to see her in her office throughout the school day, which clearly shows how approachable she is to the kids and the level of trust she’s fostered here.
She’s keen to emphasise how closely entwined learning support and pastoral care are and insists it’s essential to be available to the children when they need someone to talk to. As well as being available to speak to in her cosy office, Charlie is also at the front of the school first thing in the morning and at the end of the school day so that children and parents can come and speak to her and know that she will be there. Children are positively encouraged to be open about any issues they have before they become too problematic, so nothing is deemed insignificant and she really stresses the importance of having this visible presence.
Two years ago, the school introduced the anonymous message service Tootoot to allow the children to verbalise any issue in confidence via the app. Of course, if there are serious safeguarding issues, the anonymity can be bypassed, but in the vast majority of cases, the children can choose to remain anonymous and it’s proved to be a very helpful way for children to communicate their concerns.
Last year also saw the introduction of an initiative called Girls On Board, which tackles one of those pervasive and apparently universal problems: pre-teen and teenage girls struggling with friendships and issues that may seem insignificant to adults but which can affect every aspect of a young girl’s school day when things are not running smoothly. If you’ve got pre-teen and teenage girls at home, you know. The idea is to help girls to navigate the choppy waters of friendship and to ultimately arm them with the tools to be able to form stronger relationships with their peers and happier friendships by enabling them to resolve their issues rather than looking to adults to sct for them. It’s a strategy that can potentially be really helpful for future life and work relationships too.
The school’s Senior Management Team meets every morning before the school day starts in order to discuss pastoral issues, which is actually really unusual and shows how collaborative the staff cohort is and how much of a priority the children’s wellbeing is at Spratton Hall. Charlie also works closely with the school nurse and with Head of Pre-Prep Fiona Sanchez.
It’s noticeable on spending time at Spratton Hall that there are some great male role models throughout the school who are both strong authority figures but who have a soft, approachable side and this is clearly a deliberate strategy.
There’s a sense of progressive forward movement at Spratton Hall, with a teaching cohort who feel very much like a strong team working together towards a common goal.
On the day of my visit, I was given a tour of the school by the current Head Girl and Head Boy, who are in Year 8, and we chatted about how they got elected (a combination of peer and staff nominations and votes) and what they thought made them stand out. I was impressed by their confidence in articulating themselves and their self-awareness. They are active members of the school community, join in with a number of school clubs and activities and appear to get on well with their peers. They really viewed themselves as representing the other pupils and of being a part of a team, rather than separate or above. They were also keen to point out that pupil leadership roles at Spratton Hall are not limited to Head Girl and Boy, there are also Eco Council Leaders, School Council and Form Reps, so there are plenty of opportunities for children to take on leadership roles throughout their school careers in their own niche. There is certainly a sense that pupils are nurtured and encouraged to thrive within their own particular talents and interests, rather than expected simply to fit within a set of narrow parameters.
When I asked some of the children to tell me their favourite things about Spratton Hall, they universally cited the diversity of clubs and activities and the balance between academic pursuits, sports and the arts. This diversity really seems to bond them as a student body and a school cohort in general, and what is evident as you go around the school, is that the children and staff all seem to know one another by name and to thrive in one another’s company.
Kindness and conscientiousness is woven into the fabric of Spratton Hall. For Harvest Festival, children had been collecting food, beverages and toiletries for Northampton Hope Centre, with each year group bringing in specific items and I found the children to be engaged with the impact and meaning of this. Every year, each class chooses a charity to support and raise money for by organising events. The children each get to propose a charity to support and then it is put to the vote in class. Some of the charities the children have chosen recently include MND Association, School Readers and the RSPCA.
There’s also a Kindness Tree displayed on the wall and on which each leaf represents an act of kindness. Teachers write on a leaf when a child has shown kindness, so it’s clear that this is something that’s strongly emphasised and encouraged.
An interesting recent development has been the school’s purchase of a stable block in the grounds, which was previously separately owned. Plans are now underway to transform the building into brand new facilities as part of a redevelopment project that will potentially see a new dining space in the fromer changing rooms, art studios and possibly a nursery setting, though it’s still in the planning stages and the school are currently working with an architect to develop their plans to find the best long term solution.
Because the school is made up of several buildings, the children are able to move easily between their classrooms safely using a one-way system and it works well without resulting in any crowding or bottlenecks. There’s hand sanitiser in classrooms and all the year groups form their own bubbles. On the day of my visit I sat in on a number of lessons and every lesson I attended had at least one child Zooming in from home. It was remarkable how well this worked for both the class as a whole, and the pupils joining by Zoom, who were able and encouraged to contribute fully to class discussions. It felt fairly normal and the staff and children have adapted remarkably quickly to all of these new measures.
The children were really positive about their experience of distance learning during lockdown and it’s clear that the school moved very quickly to implement new ways of teaching and keeping the school community alive. A comprehensive timetable was put in place from the outset using Google Meet, which enables both live and pre-recorded content. My understanding is that the children are able to reflect on the experience as a positive learning experience which has enabled them to explore and develop new skills and enhance their independent learning.
£3450 to £5220 a term.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for? Equipping children with the skills to think critically. Spratton Hall doesn’t churn out identikit kids and really does nurture each child as a unique individual. There’s a relaxed and inclusive feel but still an expectation on the children to work hard and fulfil their potential. Sporty children will be in their element.
Not for? Academic purists or those who are looking for a more traditional style educational setting for their children. Whilst Spratton Hall is not a hot house they do maintain high levels of academic achievement.
Dare to disagree? Be my guest! The school isn’t running Open Days just yet, but you can book a personal tour with the Head here.
Spratton Hall School, Smith Street, Northampton, Spratton NN6 8HP. Phone: 01604 847292