Winchester House School, Brackley, Northants
An excellent non-selective co-ed day and boarding school (3-13 yrs) on the Bucks/Oxon/Northants borders with a strong all-rounder reputation and an impressive head.
Winchester House School in Brackley (above) is a nurturing, non-selective co-ed prep school for 3-13 year olds, set in the centre of the attractive town of Brackley on the Bucks/Oxon/Northants borders. Well respected locally, the school offers places for day pupils, occasional and weekly boarders. Current numbers are 281 – 60% boys and 40% girls – so plenty of attention for the children.
The main building was originally a faux-Tudor 19th century hunting lodge, and retains the grandeur with lots of turned wood, wall panels, grand staircases, stained glass and Manor-house style gardens. The building certainly has plenty of heritage charm, and though WHS feels compact, it actually extends over 18 acres.
The usual array of tennis courts, sports fields and modern sports hall, plus an outdoor swimming pool. Add to that 3 specialist science labs, extracurricular activities including riding lessons, a weekly ski club to MK Snodome, and the development of a full size floodlit Astro and you start to understand where your £6,345 per term is going.
The main house is substantial and used for dining, the Head’s office, and boys boarding. There’s a separate modern boarding house for girls who have the best deal of it with wide screen TVs and comfy communal sofas, but then, let’s face it, they’re probably the ones who care most about these things!
The boys’ dorm is attractive too, but with a more boyish, practical element – think posters, noticeboards, table football, pool table and bant-arrr. There are 85 boarders in total, including weekly and occasionals.
Massive investment to the tune of £2m+ is in the planning stages for an upgrade of senior school learning areas and classrooms, the Upper Quad (stable block) and also expanding and improving the old-fashioned performance hall.
Sport is a big deal at WHS and there are plenty of trophies knocking around. The boys’ rugby U11As played and won all 24 matches, qualifying for the nationals and winning two other comps. The girls’ hockey U11A team won gold at the regional IAPS Tournament and then won the National IAPS Hockey Plate. The girls’ 1st VII also reached the IAPS National Hockey finals. Girls cricket is gaining momentum – the Junior As won the girls cricket tournament held at Rugby School. And the school hosted rugby, hockey, football and athletics events.
This year 5 Sports Scholarships were awarded to top Independent Senior Schools. With all that said, it’s a lovely touch that the sports department’s policy of every child having the opportunity to represent the School at sport was fulfilled this year.
Drama and Music seem to be well catered for with the usual singing and ensemble groups (over 75% of the kids play at least one musical instrument); and reams of children going in for LAMDA exams – 12 100% scores this year.
Class sizes hold a maximum of 15 (this is smaller than most prep schools I see), and there’s specialist teaching in all subjects from Year 5, with Latin taught from Year 6 with Greek as a further option.
So maybe it’s no surprise that in 2018 Academic, All Round, Sports, Music, Drama and Design Technology scholarships were achieved including Radley, Millfield, Oundle, Cheltenham College, Stowe and Tudor Hall. When you consider the school is non-selective, that statistic is impressive.
I’ve met Emma Goldsmith quite a few times since she started the job in 2014 and she’s impressive. Just awarded Prep School Head of the Year 2019 at the Tatler School Awards, she clearly has a forward-thinking agenda, front-loaded the school day with lessons in the morning, and chapel/assemblies in the afternoon when the kids are more tired. All prep can be completed at school. She’s currently planning mobile hot-desking for the kids with pop up computers, and white board walls.
Investment has meant that all the classrooms in the Upper Quad have been refurbished including newly refurbished ICT room, Art & DT and science labs.
Most prep schools offer nurseries these days – it makes financial sense to start them in the system young – and Winchester House School is no different. Little people here can start at the term they turn three in a modern nursery (opened 2014) and move up through pre-prep into the senior school. The kids get to enjoy lovely weekly ‘Going Wild’ sessions in the magical walled Secret Garden, a really gorgeous facility where they run around having fun and experiencing nature first hand, and they also use all the facilities of the main school, including specialist teachers who come over to the nursery to teach ICT, French, music and sport.
Strong. There’s a Well-Being Mentor on site, so that the kids can talk about their feelings when they need to, along with two recently introduced roles, Head of Year 5&6 and Head of Year 7&8 who work closely with the tutors and two Assistant heads.
Winchester House School isn’t a place I’d associate particularly with quirkiness or eccentricity. It has tradition. It places a lot of emphasis on manners (which I love) – so much it was the subject of the first assembly this term. Seriously, you even win a cup for manners here! Not to mention cups for being a ‘Good Egg’, having an optimistic outlook (the Sweetnam Cup Half Full), cups for perseverance (the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On!’ in the Face of Adversity cup) and others for iniative, leadership, good values, and selflessness. A lovely idea, I think.
What else? Not many heads I come across have active, self-promoted instagram feeds. Goldsmith’s is the humorous @Headinheels, alluding to her love of fashion but focusing on the ‘sole’ of the school. Not sure if this is a quirk of some kind of miracle all PE and Games kit are laundered in-house at WHS.
All children take part in the Learn to Lead programme, a school initiative that encourages self-esteem, goal-setting, analysing personal strengths and weaknesses and becoming a good role model. There’s also a new Independent Learning Tutorial system including drop in sessions and subject clinics. Travel wise, A daily minibus that picks up from Chipping Norton, Banbury and Bicester areas and from 2019 will be extending into London.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Once upon a time Winchester House School was a full-boarding school, but more kids using the nursery and pre-prep has meant that increasingly families come from the local community. Now it’s all about super-flexibility – early starts and a choice of end times to the school day. Kids can be dropped as early as 7.45am for breakfast club and picked up at 6.30pm after prep and supper. I can’t think of another prep school locally with such steel-reinforced wrap around care for day pupils.
Children here can board weekly, occasionally, or come as a day pupil to the school. Boarding seems very popular – 41% of all children in Year 3 and above board at least one night a week. The boarding houses look fairly standard to my eye, but as a kid I’d be perfectly happy with my cosy dorm, modern bed and wall space for Bieber posters.
WHS currently offers morning academic Saturday school for Year 5+ but in a move that signals how times they are a-changin’, from Sept 2019 this will no longer be offered, though kids can still sleep over on Friday nights.
From £3,600 for pre-prep (Nursery – Y2) to £6,345 (Y5-8 day pupil) and £8030 (Y5-8 boarding) – I’d say that’s on the upper side of average for this neck of the woods.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The mums I’ve spoken to are very pro the school, happy with the academic side, and the music, drama and sport. There are loads of opportunities for all kids to take part in sports teams (the school regularly fields A, B, C, and D teams). Like most schools I visit there are corners of scruffiness but there’s plenty of investment going in to solve that, and those I spoke to don’t mind it, and see it as part of the charm. The head, Emma Goldsmith, is very popular.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone looking for a traditional local prep-school with positive values but with all the extra curricular trimmings, with the ability to feed into all the top national senior schools. The central town location is a plus for older children – the school actively outreaches to the community and other local schools. Anyone who likes the ethos of a non-selective school.
Not for: Those who are looking for their kids to board full-time; parents looking for English eccentricity; anyone expecting pristine teaching blocks around every turn. Anyone expecting rolling country views from every direction had better adjust their vision.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the Open Mornings on Fri 1 Mar or Sat 16 Mar. It’s best to book, but if you’re pathetically disorganised like me, you won’t be turned away if you just turn up.
Winchester House School, 44 High Street, Brackley, Northants, NN13 7AZ. winchester-house.org