Winchester House School, Brackley
Muddy Says: Looking for a non-selective co-ed prep school (3-13 yrs) in Northants with a strong all-rounder reputation? Well, whaddya know!
WINCHESTER HOUSE SCHOOL, BRACKLEY
Winchester House School in Brackley (above) is a non-selective co-educational prep school for 3-13 year olds, set in the centre of the attractive town of Brackley on the Bucks/Oxon/Northants borders. The school offers places for day pupils, occasional and weekly boarders. Current numbers are 285 – 59% boys and 41% girls.
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 site is attractive and though it feels compact it actually extends over 18 acres.
The usual array of tennis courts, sports fields and modern sports hall and swimming pool. Add to that 3 specialist science labs, extracurricular activities including riding lessons, a weekly ski club to MK Snodome (a ski team is off to Pila, Italy in March to compete in a comp so they clearly take it seriously), 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 occasional boarders.
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 performance hall which is, shall we say, ‘of its time’.
Plenty of recent successes for WHS to shout about with sport in particular doing well – the rugby U11s and U13s both qualified for National Schools Finals and the U13s nearly won the whole thing, coming runner up to Whitgift School. Last year the equestrian team at WHS become Northants County Championships in Show Jumping. U11A girls reached the IAPS Hockey finals, while the boys U11 and U13 hockey teams both won their respective In2England county championships and went on to represent Northamptonshire in the Midlands In2Hockey Tournament. The U13’s also qualified for the National Finals in Millfield.
Er, there’s more! The Girls’ 1st VII Netball team became U13 County Champions and qualified for the National finals. No report on how well the school is doing at regional Tiddlywinks or tossing the caber, but I dare say they’re giving it a good shot at winning.
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, 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 2017 37% of children (17 in all) gained scholarships to 14 different schools including Rugby, Radley, St Edwards, Oundle and Malborough. 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. I won’t mention the over-the-knee boots she was wearing the day I visited (oops, too late – but they were highly covetable) but, regardless of the fashion flourishes, she clearly has a firm grip on the school and where it’s going. She’s 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 now be completed at school, so children can relax at home. She’s currently planning mobile hot-desking for the kids with pop up computers, and white board walls so that pupils can work on the walls and not just sit flicking rubbers from their desk (as I did – *sorry Mr Hogg*).
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 (and the ones that don’t are fast ) and Winchester House School is no different. So 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 – not least specialist teachers who come over to the nursery to teach ICT, French, music and sport to your little geniuses.
Winchester House School isn’t a place I’d associate particularly with quirkiness or eccentric flair. It has tradition. It takes manners seriously (which I like very much). It has a Latin motto with which to flummox visiting parents – Non Nobis Solum since you asked which translates to ‘Not for ourselves alone’.
But there are some fun touches. The Tinker Shed allows kids to dismantle, reassemble and, well, tinker with robotic kits, bits of old radios, toys and other electronics in an in an old work shed and will be up and running again for summer term. And head Emma Goldsmith has started an instagram feed, @HeadinHeels, alluding to her love of fashion but focusing on the ‘sole’ of the school (geddit?).
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. I’m picking up this kind of initiative more and more at schools as they identify how central EQ is becoming to future employability. Travel wise, A daily minibus that picks up from Chipping Norton, Banbury and Bicester areas.
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 so it’s all about flexibility – early starts and a choice of end times to the school day – kids can be dropped at 7.45am for the new breakfast club and picked up at 6.30pm after prep and supper.
Kids can board weekly, occasionally, or come as a day pupil to the school. Boarding seems very popular – 42% of all children in Year 3 and above board at least one night a week. The boarding houses look fairly standard to my eye, nothing above and beyond the basics, but as a kid I’d be perfectly happy with my cosy dorm, modern bed and wall space for Bieber posters.
Also worth mentioning that not many prep schools offer Saturday school these days but Winchester House School is still running it for all kids in Year 5+. You’ll either regard that as an opportunity for a coffee with your mates or a morning you could otherwise spend with your angelic child, but I’ll leave that one in your hands!
Fees: From £3,600 for pre-prep (Y2) to £6,345 (Y5-8 day pupil) and £8030 (Y5-8 boarding) – I’d say that’s pretty 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). Bits of the school are a bit scruffy but those I spoke to don’t mind it, and see it as part of the charm.
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. Those expecting rolling country views from every direction had better adjust their vision.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself the whole school Open Morning on Fri 23 Feb or Sat 3 March (both days 10.30am – 1pm). 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
Do you know a brilliant school that you think I should feature in the Muddy Good Schools Guide? Get in touch at email@example.com