Here come the girls! This stunning bucolic prep is going co-ed as of September 2020. It's big on manners, academics and life skills.
ELSTREE SCHOOL, WOOLHAMPTON, NR NEWBURY
With an easy-on-the-eye Georgian mansion set in 150 acres of parkland and playing fields, Elstree is an independent boarding/ day school for ages 3-13. The big news? The school will become fully co-ed from September 2020 (girls are currently accepted until the end of Y3). It will be a gradual roll out, so as the cohort moves through the school, Elstree will grow organically.
It’s in a cracking location, in the West Berkshire village of Woolhampton, close to Newbury, within easy reach of Reading (about 30mins) and, if you live in London, the school’s five minutes from Midgham station with a route into Paddington and there’s a bus service from Earls Court and Hammersmith.
The school is proudly non-selective, big on traditional values with high academic expectations. Much work has been done to beef up critical thinking, craftsmanship, resilience and pride across the curriculum through the new Learner Profile – ticking the wellbeing and life skills boxes very nicely.
The days are pretty long, starting at 8.15am until 5pm-6pm depending on year groups. Day pupils can use the Late Club, saving parents making endless trips (Phew). Saturday school starts from Y4: church and lessons in the morning, followed by matches in the afternoon and parents are encouraged to cheer from the sidelines (without being too embarrassing). They’re a social bunch, so expect your diary to 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 the children take it in turns to pour water for their table and clear away the dirty dishes – (so no food fights here, it’s all very civilised).
It has a huuuuge amount of outdoor space for sports and exploring outdoors. But it also boasts a modern sports hall, outdoor heated swimming pool, all-weather astro pitches, 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 new Music School, opened by composer and choral conductor Bob Chilcott. Art and DT will be next to get a makeover.
As you’d expect in a school this small, there are currently 185 pupils, each child has a massive amount of attention lavished on him. The results of that is that Elstree feeds into the top independent schools like Bradfield, Radley, Eton, Pangbourne College, Wellington, Abingdon, Sherborne, Winchester, Marlborough, Stowe many of them on scholarships. Eight scholarships were awarded to Elstree boys in 2019 in Art, Academic, All-Rounder and DT.
Sid Inglis is a typical prep head – charming and impeccably mannered, as you’d expect from an Old Radleian. He still teaches Latin and runs the school with his wife Olivia, who teaches French. I genuinely liked them both, Sid and Olivia have created a warmth here that has come to define the school. They make a point of really getting to know all of the children, encouraging them to challenge themselves but with lots of opportunities to let off steam.
The decision to go co-ed was a natural move for Elstree. particularly as the nursery has taught boys and girls for some time, and is in response to parental demand (one school run is enough to tip you over the edge, let alone two or three). It will be a gentle roll out and most girls will be itching to run wild in the 150 acres.
Sid’s also the brains behind the Heads Up Challenge – an endurance event to raise awareness for the mental health charity Place2Be. Twenty prep schools heads slipped into Lycra and embarked on a 14-hour kayak, cycle and hike from ‘dawn ‘til dusk’ in Pembrokeshire raising a staggering £90,033.16. Help them raise £100,000 here – call it danger money, I could have posted a pic of these enthusiastic teachers in their super-tight sportswear.
It’s rare to find boarding provision that’s superflash – most children just want a place to rest their heads after a busy afternoon of after school clubs. Elstree is no different, with shared dorms for the younger kids, moving to large shared rooms for seniors. The dorms are cosy with family photos, and posters on the walls.’Nelson’ is the most coveted room with its amazing views, elegant fireplace and ornate ceiling, sleeping here must feel like camping out in the Queen’s drawing room. There are 100 beds available and 50% of the children board.
The Georgian mansion is called ‘Home’. There are no classrooms in this building, instead you’ll find the dorms, canteen, library, offices and communal spaces here. All the learning happens at the rear, with classroom blocks creating a quadrangle and pupils cross the threshold of the ‘Master’s Door’ – physically and mentally separating the learning and chilling spaces where they eat, sleep and relax. I love that. It’s also a Green Flag award-winning eco school. With the children leading the charge with planet-saving initiatives. 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.
FEES: Day – Reception-Y1 £3,950; Y3 £6,050; Y4-5 £6,980 and Y6-8 £7,250. Elstree offers flexi, weekly and full boarding (from the age of eight), which adds £540-£2,450 to the bill per term. Foundation Scholarships are up for grabs for children who show academic, sporting or musical excellence.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Outdoorsy kids, parents who want flexi boarding options and get a kick out of a bit of bucolic grandeur. Plus those who seek a nurturing school with academic rigour. I loved the emphasis on kindness and confidence too.
Not for: Those looking for a more urban setting, obviously. It’s also not the sort of place to invest immediately in the latest everythings. Your hard-earned school fees are in safe hands.
Dare to disagree? Have a look for yourself at the open morning on Saturday 12 October from 10am, and tell me what you think.
Elstree School, Woolhampton, Berkshire RG7 5TD Tel: 01189 713 302.