Cheam School, Newbury
A top co-ed prep near Newbury with whopper facilities, surrounded by 100 stunning acres. What's not to love?
CHEAM SCHOOL, NR NEWBURY
Tucked away on the Berkshire/Hampshire border. Cheam School is a very smart co-ed pre-prep and prep for kids aged 3-13, offering day or a thoroughly modern mix of flexi, weekly, or full boarding. It’s a buzzy, energetic school with 408 pupils in total, with slightly more boys than girls.
Cheam sits in roughly 100 acres of pristine grounds (props to the grounds staff, who clearly work their socks off) and is set back from the busy A339 that runs between Newbury and Basingstoke. Yes, it’s a busy road but it’s also means it’s easy to whizz the kids and offers good rail links to London from Newbury or Basingstoke.
Cheam started waaay back in 1645 making it the oldest private school in the country. It moved to its current site in 1932, dominated by the stonking grade II listed Georgian mansion. The school has a long tradition as a feeder to the top independents – Eton, Marlborough, Downe House, Radley, Wellington – and its former pupils include Prince Philip, Prince Charles. Fancy, eh?
OMG, where to start? The huge school grounds are seemingly endless and their is not a single blade of grass out of place, with cricket pitches, six hard tennis courts, a new full-size astro turf pitch, a nine-hole golf course, an adventure playground and mud kitchen for the littlies and an outdoor swimming pool. But it doesn’t end there. There’s a smart modern sports hall, a 20m rifle range and opportunities to fence, horse ride and learn bushcraft.
On the music and drama front, the chapel doubles up as a performance hall, with all the music rooms running alongside it. Bigger whole school events, like Division Music – when the kids competitively rock out in their Divisions (houses) – take place in the sports hall. The school has a strong performing arts contingent, with lots of opportunities to sing in bands or choir and play musical instruments. Juniors and Seniors both put on a big show each year, like Cats, Lord Of The Flies and We Will Rock You. A particularly theatrical year group, even took a show to the Edinburgh Festival.
Boarding is popular and with so much flexibility it is no wonder. Full, weekly or flexi, the kids are well cared for and a lot of effort goes into the activities – Prison Break, Spanish Fiesta, Deathtrap Dungeon, Fireworks as well as sports, arts and crafts. I suspect the boarding team have more fun than the kids. No judgement here.
Non-selective yet highly academic, Cheam is regarded as a feeder schools for the top independents, which gives you an idea of the academic standards. Scholarships last year included 7 to Marlborough, 6 to St Edward’s Oxford, 4 to Wellington, 2 to Bradfield College and 1 to Sherborne Girls’. Scholarships are achieved evenly across the board in sport, music, art, DT, academics and all rounder.
Martin Harris, came to the education game late, having worked in the city for a bit, but then found his calling. I like the fact that he’s worked in the real world prior to teaching, taking up the headship here just over a year ago (following a 13-year stint as head of Sandroyd). He’s highly personable, straight forward and easy for the kids to look up to.
His wife Catherine – who traded her career as a physio to be an be an informal sounding board for staff, parent and pupil concerns – is a real gem. Very supportive, sensible and down to earth. They have two teenage boys (one at Eton and one at Bradfield College) so they have been there and done it all. Applying a bit of parental common sense to Cheam.
Taking on such an impressive school, it’s often hard to make your mark.But Martin is busy fine tuning. HE is keen for the kids to have positive role models (particularly for girls) with visitors like Andrew Lloyd Webber, Paula Radcliffe, Clare Balding and a female nuclear scientist. IT is a challenge, but the combination of academic excellence alongside qualities like honesty, confidence without being cocky and have-a-go spirit will set Cheam pupils up for life to be all round good eggs. He’s even introduced a ‘Good Egg’ Award.
I don’t think it gets more quirky than being given special permission to perform Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest musical School of Rock, before it premiered in London’s West End. Lucky for them, Lord Lloyd Webber is a neighbour. The kids then bagged opening night seats for the pro show. Impressive, eh?
The gleam at Cheam is real. It is super-slick and the attention to details is phenomenal. Every notice board is fun and creative, the classrooms are bright fun spaces, particularly in the prep-prep and there’s 101 things to do. From traditional sports and music to the more unusual Ultimate Frisbee, yoga, ceramics, fishing, chess and debating – there’s something for everyone.
Although Cheam doesn’t specialise in special needs, the Learning Support Department is top notch, assisting pupils with mild dyslexia and dyspraxia and those who just need a bit of extra help with things like handwriting and reading. The super bright are also well catered for and can fast track through the school into the scholarship streams in the final two years.
Wrap around care:
Fantastic! Frazzled parents constantly juggling work and children, will appreciate the after school clubs available to Pre-Prep kids. You can drop off from 8.10am and lessons end at 3.30pm – after-school clubs run until 4.30pm (5.55pm for Y3s). In Prep, if your kids aren;t boarding, it’s 8.10am – 6pm, Monday to Saturday.
Fees: Nursery sessions are morning and afternoon and you can choose how many days your nippers attend. However, 5 full days per term is £2,795 (lunch is an extra £4 per day). Reception-Y2 Day: £3,845 per term; Y3 Day £5,660 per term. Senior Y4-8 Day fees start at £6,340 to £8,905 Full Boarding. There are lots of boarding options and flexi is £50 per night.
Word on the ground: It has had a bit of a rep for being punchy – a pressure cooker environment, egged on by pushy parents. But that is not the Cheam today. A couple of the mums I spoke to gave it an A* for the school’s ambition for the kids, opportunities but also the emphasis on wellbeing. The social scene is pretty hot too. There is plenty of extra curricular for the grown ups.
Martin and Catherine Harris have out their own stamp on the place, creating a very nurturing environment where the wellbeing and the mental health of these youngsters are as important as the academic rigour. And the inspectors love it too. The latest ISI report struggled to find fault, pretty much saying the Cheam is excellent and outstanding across the board. *Drops mic.*
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: It’s hard to know a child this place wouldn’t suit. It has the rolling acreage and pristine playing fields. It’s academic enough for the pushiest of parents but the style of teaching and huge amount of sport and extra-curricular activities mean the kids have a ball too.
Not for: There are some areas that could do with an interiors spruce so don’t expect absolutely everything shiny and new.
Dare to disagree?! Oh be my guest! Give Registrar, Amanda Arkwright, a call and make an appointment to have a nose around and meet the head. Tel: 01635 267822.
Cheam School, Newbury Road, Newbury, Berkshire RG19 8LD. Tel: 01635 268381