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St Andrew’s, Pangbourne

Muddy says: This bucolic co-ed prep school in the rolling hills of Berkshire is family-oriented with great results

ST ANDREW’S SCHOOL, PANGBOURNE

Victorian gothic revival red brick mansion now the main school building at St Andrew's Prep in Pangbourne

Isn’t he a beauty? St Andrew’s main school dates back to 1885

What? Where? St Andrew’s is a bucolic prep school near Pangbourne, West Berkshire, perfectly positioned for those around Newbury, Reading and South Oxfordshire (or further if you don’t mind the drive). Co-educational with just under 300 pupils this year, the school is at the end of a tree-lined sweeping drive in 54 acres of stonkingly beautiful woodland and playing fields.

The Victorian Gothic mansion dates back to 1885 and was designed by architect Alfred Waterhouse (London’s Natural History Museum is one of his too. Fancy!) and, despite its grand features (wood panelling and original Royal Doulton tile panels), it feels warm rather than stuffy – light and spacious, kids’ art and motivational messages everywhere. If you like your schools with a feeling of intimacy, you’re in the right place.

wood panelled and imposing fire place of St Andrew's School Pangbourne dining room

Check out the original Royal Doulton tiled panel in the wall. Fancy!


Facilities:

A day that ends with muddy knees, is a good day

You’d expect any prep school charging just over £15k a year to have decent sports, drama and music facilities, and St Andrew’s has invested heavily in the last few years. The big headline news is the spingly spangly new £4m Sports Centre with its enormous sports hall, dance studio and indoor pool opening in Spring 2018. It’s very very impressive.

St Andrew’s has quite a sporty rep, so this new facility will only open up more opportunities for the kids. Better still, it’s something the school wants to share with the community. In fact, it’s teamed up with SportsAble, a Berkshire charity that gives disabled people the opportunity to play sport for fun or nurture future Paralympic champs. How cool is that?

Duchess of Cambridge playing hockey on the astroturf pitch with kids from St Andrew's Pangbourne in plaid McQueen coat and heels.

Hockey in heels! It’s a skill

Right next door to the new sports centre is a full-sized astroturf pitch, opened in 2012 by St Andrew’s most famous alumni the Duchess of Cambridge. (Seriously, hockey in heels? What a woman.) You’ll also find tennis courts and numerous football, rugby and cricket pitches.

What about the arts? I hear you cry. Glad you asked, music is a huge part of school life. Music lessons aside, from Pre-Prep onwards the children can take up individual instrumental or singing lessons (with a whopping 300 scheduled a week). There’s even a Pre-Prep choir – just one of many musical groups that have the chance to showcase their talents throughout the year. Who needs The X Factor?

Plus the art room has recently been spruced up and, judging by the displays, it’s a hive of creativity. My moles tell me the old sports hall is next for a makeover to become a dedicated area for drama and music. So watch this space.

Oh and just for fun you, I mean the children, can feel the wind in their hair as they fly across the south lawn on the new zipwire.

Large zipwire on the south lawn of the St Andrew's School Pangbourne Berkshire

Wheeee! I believe I can fly

Boarding: St Andrew’s is largely a day school, however flexi boarding is really popular Monday to Thursday (no Saturday school here). The boarding houses are well above average, having recently been renovated, offering 12 boys’ and 12 girls’ beds. And you can book the odd night at short notice. If you have a last-minute night out or an unexpected work trip, a cheeky sleepover is as much of a thrill for the kids as that first glass of fizz is for you.

A class of school children exploring the woods to apply their learning

If you go down to the woods today…

The academic results: 100 per cent of children at the school pass the Common Entrance exam – as a passionately non-selective school that’s a big academic tick. All Year 8 (2017) pupils received their first choice senior school with some receiving academic scholarships to Bradfield College, Radley College, Wellington and Magdalen College. Other Senior Schools places include Marlborough College, Pangbourne College, St Edward’s Oxford, The Abbey School, Tudor Hall.

The headmaster

Headmaster Jon Barlett and his lovely wife Lisa

Jon Bartlett is relatively new having arrived at St Andrew’s in 2015 with his wife Lisa, three children and their dogs. He’s made significant changes to improve the children’s wellbeing. What’s new? Well, he’s shortened lessons slightly to give the kids two longer breaks. Jon’s a firm believer that letting off steam helps in the classroom. School meals have changed too. It’s bye bye traditional school dinners, hello cosmopolitan buffet with salad bar and exotic fruit. Even Squash and Bs (biscuits) is now carrot sticks and hummus. A school like St Andrew’s will alway have tradition, but it’s the dash of innovation that makes it an exciting proposition, ensuring the kids have the relevant skills to excel in life.

Littlies:

dirty school shirt and the things kids learned to get it that dirty

One for the Daz doorstep challenge

Little people can start at 3 years in the nursery and it’s waaaaay superior to most of the nurseries I’ve used for my kids over the years. The nursery is spacious, bright, with a great outdoor space right next to a playing field. The Pre-Prep is next door (to help transition up the school) and just as lovely, and as you go up the school and into the big house itself, it’s more of the same. The emphasis is on getting the kids excited about learning – and sometimes that means they get a bit, OK very, dirty.

Classroom at St Andrew's School Pangbourne Berkshire

No surface is safe

Quirks:

No need to go via Costa on the school run, there’s an onsite coffee shop for the parents to enjoy a post drop-off caffeine fix. Orienteering is big. It’s safe to say St Andrew’s kids know where they are going as National Orienteering Champions three years’ running. It’s a skill they all learn from Year 3. Great for teaching perseverance, handy if they ever get lost and a must if they find themselves on Bear Grylls Celebrity Island. Trees are there to be climbed. During break pupils spill out of the classroom and head for the woods (or the zipwire) – ‘kids can climb trees but always in threes’ is the motto (safety first) and there’s a stop sign at 30ft. EEK!

Old black bike propped up under a metal staircase

Boneshaker, owned by the legendary Mr Outram

What else? The girls and boys are big on charity and raised £40,000 last year – helping sponsor children in 2 African schools, plus supplies and tech; nearer to home donations were made to a local food bank, children’s hospice and an eating disorders charity. It would be wrong not to mention Mr Outram – the school”s longest-serving teacher (34 years) and  is a much-loved rock star among the student body both past and present. The pupils even made a stand to prop up his bike outside the science block.

Wrap around care: It’s very good. Nursery and Pre-Prep start at 8.45am-3.30pm, with after-school care and activities available until 6pm for an additional fee. The main school day starts at 8.25am-5.20pm (juniors) and 6pm (seniors), but again supper and after school activities are available until after 6.30pm. Flexi-boarding is popular; kids can book in for as many nights as they like and weekly boarding is also offered. There’s no Saturday school here – St Andrew’s prides itself on its family-friendly ethos, so you can have your little darlings back all weekend.

Boys and girls in green summer uniform enjoying the 54 acres of woodland at St Andrew's School Pangbourne

These kids don’t sit on the fence

Word on the ground: The mums I’ve talked to love it, and it definitely has a very upbeat, ‘can-do’ feel about it. Something the recent ISI Report picked up on too. It raved about the results, pastoral care and teaching. The only hiccup was the childrens’ application of IT across all subjects. But let’s be honest, keeping screen time down can only be a good thing in my book.

THE MUDDY VERDICT:

Good for: Well-rounded kids. The vibe is warm and friendly, but academically strong – not an easy mix to pull off. The superior sport, music and drama facilities are impressive and all children get to participate fully. Good flexible after-school care in mind is particularly helpful for busy working parents.

Not for: Those who require full-boarding, a town location, a larger school cohort, or parents who prefer a more ‘starchy’ approach to schooling.

Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the Open Day, Friday 6  October at 9.15am and there’s a ‘Stay and Play Session on Friday 24 November. To book a place, email  [email protected].

St Andrew’s School, Buckhold Pangbourne, Nr Reading, RG8 8QA. Tel: 0118 974 4276.

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