Elstree, Woolhampton

If you are looking for a school where boys can be boys, have a nose at this bucolic prep in Berks.

ELSTREE SCHOOL, WOOLHAMPTON, NR NEWBURY

What? Where? Elstree’s location is a cracker, situated in the West Berkshire village of Woolhampton, it is close to Newbury and within easy reach of Reading (about 30mins). If you live in London, the school’s five minutes from Midgham station with a GWR route into London Paddington. The School’s focal point is a gorgeous Georgian mansion surrounded by 150 acres of parkland and playing fields. It definitely has the wow factor.

It’s an independent boarding and day school for boys aged 7-13, with Home Farm (the nursery and pre-prep) taking both girls and boys from age 3. Kids can full board, flexi-board or come as day pupils. Flexi boarding is massive with 112 boys choosing to stay, most of whom board at least three nights a week. In fact, demand is so great, more rooms are being converted into accommodation.

The school is proudly non-selective, big on traditional values with high academic expectations. Hand on heart, the atmosphere is inclusive, warm and relaxed for the kids to live, learn and excel. The days are pretty long, starting at 8.15am until 5pm-6pm depending on year groups. Day boys with older brothers can use the Late Club, saving parents making endless trips (Phew).

Saturday school starts from Year 4. Everyone attends church first, followed by lessons in the morning and matches in the afternoon. Parents are encouraged to come along, hang out and cheer from the sidelines (without being too embarrassing) creating a great sense of community. There are also coffee mornings, lunches and other social events for parents to attend. Your diary could fill up really quickly.

It’s worth noting Elstree’s strong Christian and pastoral ethos, with regular assemblies, the kids eat with their teachers, and there’s a real emphasis on table manners. The boys take it in turns to pour water for their table and clear away the dirty dishes after each meal – (so no food fights here, it’s all very civilised).

Facilities: No prep school worth its salt doesn’t have its share of wow facilities and Elstree is no exception. First and foremost it has a ridiculous amount of outdoor space for sports, den building and exploring. But it also boasts a modern sports hall, outdoor heated swimming pool, all-weather astro pitches, outdoor cricket nets, 9-hole golf course and a shooting range. I’m knackered just thinking about it. It doesn’t stop there. The new science block – containing two fully-equipped labs – is super-impressive as is the Design & Technology suite which must be every boys dream – with every conceivable tool needed to make ‘cool stuff’ from wooden robots to laser-etched board games. The fun doesn’t stop there, work is currently underway on The Coach House to provide swanky new facilities for the Art and Music departments. So watch this space.

What else? Sport is big. It’s integral to Elstree life but not all consuming. In addition to football, rugby, cricket and hockey, the kids also get to enjoy more unusual sports like kayaking, horse riding, trampolining and shooting to name a few. There is a packed calendar of competitive matches and multiple teams are fielded so everyone gets a game even if they’re a wannabe Heston rather than a future Dylan Hartley.

There’s a huge after-school activities programme available to all the kids throughout the year – everything from Da Vinci’s Enrichment Club for Art and Chess to Fencing and Astronomy Club – plus lots more sport. In terms of music, there are five choirs (it’s officially cool to be a member), orchestra and various bands who slug it out on Battle of the Bands nights. Pretty cool, right? The extra-curricular list is long, but cements the school’s belief that they have something for everyone and offer opportunities for each boy to shine.

And I haven’t even mentioned the Elstree Award yet. Based on the Duke of Edinburgh it aims to develop leadership, team and individual skills, through charitable work, problem solving and learning new stuff like cooking, navigation and first aid. It is these activities alongside the clubs at that will equip the kids for their lives beyond Elstree.

Performing is something the kids really love to do and they all get the chance to take part in a show every year – on stage, as a musician or as part of the backstage crew working the lighting, stage management and set design. Although according to Sid and Olivia there’s quite a battle for roles that require a dress. If it’s good enough for David Walliams… why not.

Academic results: As you’d expect in a school this small, there are currently 200, each child has a massive amount of attention lavished on him. The results of that is that in 2015 100% passed the common entrance exam with Elstree feeding into the top independent schools like Eton, Radley, Bradfield, Harrow, Winchester and Marlborough. Many leavers are awarded academic, art, music and sports scholarships to their senior schools, underlining Elstree School’s reputation for providing an excellent all-round education.

Headteacher: In some ways Sid Inglis is a typical prep head – privately educated, a boarder himself at school age, impeccably mannered as you’d expect from an Old Radleian. He’s popular with the kids and still teaches Latin. His wife Olivia teaches French and together they run the school. It’s a team effort. They really get to know all the boys, celebrate their individuality and create the warmth that defines the Elstree. I genuinely liked them both. My moles tell me that Sid’s almost encyclopaedic knowledge of senior schools and amazing contacts are proving a huge asset for parents. Sid prides himself in suggesting schools that are the right fit for a child and will guide parents and pupils who often seek his advice.

Sid and Olivia are ambitious for the school, they wants the kids to challenge themselves, work hard and get the results they deserve. But more importantly, they want boys to be boys – usually caked in mud, hurtling round the grounds after lessons, but happy.

Boarding: It’s rare to find boarding provision that is superflash – most boys just want a place to rest their heads after bombing around at after school clubs. Elstree is no different, with shared dorms for the younger kids, moving to large shared rooms for the older boys. The dorms are cosy with family photos, and posters on the walls. ‘Nelson’ is the most coveted room. With its amazing views across the parkland, elegant fireplace and ornate ceiling, sleeping here must feel a bit like camping out in the Queen’s drawing room.

Quirks: Shall we start with the location. Elstree School opened in 1848 in Hertfordshire. Yes you heard me right, Hertfordshire – home to the legendary film studios (The King’s Speech, Sherlock Holmes and The Crown). It moved to Woolhampton House, Berkshire at the start of the war in 1939, but kept its name. Quite right. The grand Georgian mansion is ‘home’. There are no classrooms in this building, instead you’ll find the dorms, canteen, library, offices and communal rooms here. All the learning happen at the rear, with classroom blocks creating a quadrangle and boys cross the threshold of the ‘Master’s Door’ – physically and mentally separating the learning and chilling spaces – to eat sleep and relax. I love that. Not so much a quirk but it’s worth noting that singer/songwriter James Blunt and novelist Sebastian Faulks are Old Boys. It’s safe to say, they’ve done all right.

ISI Report: A 2015 ISI compliance report recorded that parents were extremely happy with Elstree and the education and opportunities it offers their kids. I’m not surprised, it has a great feel and the children I met were confident, eager to learn, happy and polite. The report judged the school’s spiritual, moral and social development as excellent. With a special shout out for the Elstree Award. The same report flagged up some issues with the consistency of marking. But if that’s it, I think it’s safe to say your kids are in safe hands.

Word on the ground: It is often described as the ‘It Prep’ with a great reputation for producing well-rounded kids. Elstree mums talk your ear off about how nurturing it is. They love it, particularly the ‘let boys be boys’ attitude where they’re encouraged to roam, climb trees, make dens, play conkers (banned in many schools – I mean, come on!). But there’s discipline rigour too. Kids are proud to come here.

Fees: Tuition is from £5,650 per term. Boarding fees are from £503-£1,849 per term. Elstree does offer means tested Bursaries to families who need financial help and sibling discounts are also offered.

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Outdoorsy kids, parents who want flexi boarding options and those who seek a friendly, nurturing school in the countryside, with a traditional approach to good manners, kindness and consideration.

Not for: It’s perhaps not for those want the school to invest immediately in the latest everythings – Elstree may not jump on the latest bandwagon.

Dare to disagree? Have a look for yourself at the open morning on Saturday 13 May from 10am to 12 noon, and tell me what you think.

Elstree School, Woolhampton, Berkshire RG7 5TD Tel: 01189 713 302. elstreeschool.org.uk

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