Luckley House, Wokingham
This small, selective, co-ed school (ages 11-18) is absolutely flying. Superb results, excellent sports programme, big on the performing arts and nailing life skills. Intrigued? You should be
Luckley House is a co-ed, selective, day and boarding school (ages 11-18), on the leafy fringes of Wokingham. No sweeping grounds, but a decent 15 acres, with excellent school-room provision for its 333 pupils, rising to 345 in September 2022/23.
Luckley House has been around for donkey’s years, 104 to be exact, and went from being all-girls to co-ed in 2015. Since then it has found its stride and is absolutely flying – with an equal 50:50 split between girls and boys and a re-established identity. Less shouty than other Berkshire senior schools, its reputation for excellence, affordability, family values and producing well rounded pupils is gaining momentum.
The jewel in Luckley’s crown is the incredible, award-winning Whitty Theatre, but the sports facilities are very good, there are five science labs including one for theory, a DT workshop and textile studio, there’s a woodland adventure trail and the Sixth Form Centre, boarding and music block have all been refurbished.
Luckley has an enormous sports centre with plenty of court space to play anything from badminton to basketball. You can easily fit in a couple of trampolines, there’s a Strength and Conditioning suite and a climbing wall. Yup, and it’s huuuuuge. Outside there’s the usual playing field space, a cross country trail and new astroturf pitch. This has been a game changer, giving pupils the opportunity to play matches and let off steam all year round (without the need to break out the Persil Bio). Honestly, the kids couldn’t wait to show it off. Plans are afoot to add an outside training area.
Interestingly, the school’s approach to sport is inspired by the world of elite coaching – tapping into the potential of each individual and building confidence. Even the least sporty kids can learn to find an activity they enjoy and discover the value of a healthy, active lifestyle. Director of Sport Matt Humphrey (a keen footballer, cricketer and general sports nut) has introduced an holistic approach to the physical education at Luckley based on two principles: performance and participation.
Pupils then fall into three groups: Breakthrough, Emerging and the talented athletes and scholars are invited to join Elite – the Athlete Development Programme, which includes strength and conditioning, performance data tracking and bespoke training.
Yes they want Luckley to win matches and add silverware to the trophy cabinet, but more importantly they want each child to be the best version of themselves and develop healthy habits, be it playing traditional school sports or throwing themselves into aerobics, tri golf, polo, martial arts, horse riding, yoga or climbing. And if you have bigger aspirations, they will help you reach those goals, one marginal gain at a time.
MUSIC, ART AND DRAMA
When you have a pro theatre and state-of-the-art music centre, you’d be right to expect performing arts to be big. And they are. The 178-seater Whitty Theatre was opened in January 2017 by the Earl of Wessex, no less and the Music Centre boasts a large sound-proofed performance space with stonking acoustics, plus a recording studio and eight practice rooms.
An impressive 50% of students play an individual instrument or sing in one of the many choirs and musical groups. They even have one pupil playing traditional Chinese instruments. Most practice rooms I see are the size of a broom cupboard but Luckley’s are light and spacious. A rarity. In Y7, there’s a ‘try it, you might like it’ carousel for the kids to play every instrument in the orchestra, KS3 also write film music, all year groups are taught a wide variety of genres and there are opportunities to flex their talents in school and on tour.
The productions here are a highlight and are so good audiences have questioned if the school employs actors and professional tech teams. A big feather in the cap for Director of Drama Esther Brown. From the set and costume design to the lighting and acting, the standard is sky high – Grease (pictured) was one of the most popular, but the recent production of The Wizard of Oz, featuring pyrotechnics and a dog, may now be Luckley’s greatest hit.
The art department has five studios; two general art studios, a dedicated Sixth From studio, photographic darkroom, silkscreen room and a kiln. They’re not super fancy, but they’re light, bright spaces and equipped to develop skills in painting, printmaking, photography, pottery, digital manipulation, film, animation and 3D materials.
The staff make a habit of telling the students what jobs are out there in the creative industries. The children attend workshops, set off on tours and their talents are honed. The impression I get is that art, music and drama staff are not just about the day-to-day teaching of the curriculum but will use their knowledge and contacts to help those who want to continue their studies at uni, art colleges and performing arts schools or find jobs in the industry.
The Sixth Form Centre has been fully renovated to offer students fun, creative and grown-up spaces to work, rest and play. There’s even a pizza oven (donated by the PTA, Luckley House Friends). There are rooms to study, rooms to chill, a computer suite and kitchen. Think halls of residence without the debauchery. Seriously, though, it treats them like young adults and prepares them for the next chapter of their lives.
Small class sizes and one-to-one teaching support explains the excellent A-level results. Plus Sixth Formers are given a ton of support through mentoring to find universities and future jobs they want to pursue, help with personal statements and interviews, as well as budgeting, cooking a meal and a bit of self care. Good practical stuff that I wish I was taught at that age.
A selective school with a lot of focus on excellent teaching, as you would expect the results are very good. Luckley House has 61% GCSE pass rate 9-7 (A*-A in old money), 20% of those achieved a grade 9 with stonking results achieved by kids taking History, PE, Music and Drama.
Once again a 100% pass rate at A-level, with props to the Drama, Art, Music and Chemistry who smashed it out the park with 100% achieving an A*/A. The team encourage the kids to aim high and be aspirational. Oxbridge is always an option, but Luckley pupils often want somewhere a bit modern, more relevant to their career goals (*cough” with a cracking social scene).
A brand new head is now perched on the Luckley House hot seat – and she joined slap bang in the middle of the pandemic in September 2020. Areti Bizior has an impressive CV having worked at three of the UK’s top day and boarding schools, Downe House in Cold Ash (Deputy Head), Queen Anne’s in Caversham (Assistant Head) and St George’s Ascot (Head of House). She’s cool, calm South African with a gentle, almost hypnotic accent but has a steely grip on what makes Luckley tick.
Being a practicing Christian is part of the job description but Areti has a healthy approach to how the Christian values of the school should be enforced, promoting respect, tolerance and kindness regardless of faith or lack of it. What is particularly impressive is her mission for the pupil experience to be top notch. She wants Luckley students to ‘live their lives well’ and the school equips them with those skills before sending them out into the world. Areti’s also a bit of a ‘dragon’. If a student feels the school could benefit from something (a gym, for example), she sends them off to do the research, cost it out and they have to enter the Dragons Den to pitch. Love, love, love.
l also like her focus on personal bests, marginal gains and celebrating the small and big wins. Areti knows how to walk the line between matronly kindness and rule-enforcer and regularly has pupils popping into her office for chat. Under her leadership, Luckley has developed a laser sharp sense of purpose. Yes they want good results (give me a head who doesn’t), but she also wants Luckley to produce well-rounded, good people who will help others in their community are kind, resilient and capable. You feel that energy the minute you walk through the gates. Watch this space, because Luckley is a school on the up.
More than just a lick of paint, the Boarding facilities have been given a makeover that would make Laurence Llewelyn Bowen proud. The 25-30 boarders resting their weary heads have sleek, modern rooms, funky common rooms and a kitchen area for making snacks. Weekly and full boarding is available, plus the popular Flexi boarding is back now that Covid restrictions have been dropped. It means you can go on that work trip or *ahem* have a midweek night out knowing your kids are safely having a school sleepover.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Breakfast is available from 7.30am which has to be a good thing (go on, boot ’em in!). The school day starts at 8.45am and kids are encouraged to stay past 4pm to take part in the after school clubs until 5.30pm – there’s all the usual sporty activities, Duke of Edinburgh, Combined Cadets Force, but Robotics, Manga Club, Wildlife Gardening and Psychodoodle should appeal if your child wants to try something more mindful or less sweaty. Plus most of the activities are included in the fees. The ones that aren’t tend to be off site. No Saturday school. So, you get to check in with your children and hang out at weekends. Although there’s fun to be had in school. Lots of activities and excursions are organised for the boarders, but day pupils don’t need to wrestle with FOMO because they’re invited too.
The location for starters. Historically, some of the land has been sold off around Luckley, so it sits in a Brookside cul de sac. Not that you notice once you’re through the gates, but it means you don’t get that impressive view of the main house when you drive in. (It’s OK we’re not that shallow.)
You’ll also notice there’s no bell. The pupils do not have to endure this ear-blistering alarm to tell them to move on to their next class or signal it’s feeding time at the zoo. The teachers tell them when lessons are finished, creating a sense of calm. It’s nice. As Aretha Franklin put it, it’s all about R.E.S.P.E.C.T. And from the teachers and pupils I met, there’s a lot of it going around.
The school run is optional. Luckley is just 40 miles from London and has 10 bus routes, scooping up children from Farnborough and Fleet, Wargrave and Windsor to Mortimer and Maidenhead (to name a few), plus a Wokingham station shuttle for pupils arriving by train from Reading and stops on the London Waterloo line. There are also two drop off times at the end of the day; leaving at 4pm and 5.40pm for pupils staying on for activities. A godsend for working parents.
Day £6,353 per term; Weekly Boarding £8,828; Full Boarding, £11,115, and ad hoc single night £50, so a less expensive than many independent senor schools in the area.
Last reviewed by inspectors in 2020. Click here for the report, which heaps praise on Luckley House pupils’ study skills, personal development, moral judgement and development of life skills.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The parents I’ve spoken to say Luckley House has much improved since it turned co-ed. Academically it’s robust, pastoral care is excellent, and parents recognise that the lower fees mean new facilities don’t appear overnight. They also flagged up the effort made to bring parents, staff and pupils together, particularly during the pandemic. The Luckley Light Show, camp outs and film nights are all highlights of the year.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Anyone looking for a small school with strong academic results that won’t require you to remortgage the house. The focus on life skills, wellbeing and nurturing passions, ticks a lot of boxes.
Not for: With the school being selective, academic excellence is a given, but it’s not going to suit every child.
Dare to disagree?! Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself. The next Open Evening is 9 June. Although fully booked, you can join the waiting list. Or sign up now for its Open Morning on 15 Oct. As ever, let me know what you think.
Luckley House School, Luckley Road, Wokingham RG40 3EU. Tel: 0118 978 4175.