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Ludgrove School, Wokingham

Ludgrove is a boys' prep school in Wokingham, that's understated but not under the radar. Homely yet high achieving, it's a place where boys can be boys.

WHAT? WHERE?

Ludgrove aerial shot of the school sports facilities and playing fields Berkshire

Ludgrove is a fortnightly boarding prep school for boys aged 8-13, hidden away just outside Wokingham. It’s one of only a few single-sex, boarding-only prep schools in the UK and certainly the only one in Berkshire (many of the local options being primarily for day pupils). In light of this, pastoral care is super-strong. There’s a warm, homely vibe and plenty of hand-holding for wobbly pupils and parents.

Class sizes are small – an average of 12 – and it has a reputation for feeding into the very best public schools. Entrance in Year 4 is largely on a first come first served basis, with many new parents putting their child’s name down before they’ve notified the family ‘It’s a boy!’.

Ludgrove School Wokingham red break and wooden beam with manicured lawn

First impressions? The main building is impressive without being intimidating. You won’t find the grandeur of Hogwarts here, it’s more low key and understated. That’s not to say it lacks the wow factor. Ludgrove has plenty of baubles – the 130 acres offers space to blow off steam, trees to climb and plenty of playing fields; it has a spectacular theatre, the new “Exploration Centre” is set to be the jewel in Ludgrove’s crown and an impressive alumni.

 

 

FACILITIES

Excellent facilities with loads of sport as you’d expect in a leading boys’ prep – principally football, rugby, hockey and cross country in the winter and cricket, athletics, tennis, and swimming in the summer. Worth particular mention is the all-weather Astroturf; nine-hole golf course, hard tennis courts, 20-metre indoor pool, squash courts, and Eton fives courts.

Ludgrover School pottery class boy wearing glasses makes large Greek urn

Ludgrove’s great pottery throw down

On the art front, the theatre is a showstopper  – sensitively designed, with exposed beams and all the tech needed for professional staging. The pottery room has a large kiln (the boys were making a large Greek Urn during my visit – the biggest object they had ever attempted), there’s a well-equipped woodwork room, a replete school library (5,000 books and counting), music room and a small private chapel.

It’s not all work and no play, the children are very much encouraged to get outdoors and roam free. You’ll find den building, camps, some grow their own flowers and veggies in small, shared gardens. But there’s not a child in the land who wouldn’t make a beeline for  The ‘Monkey House’, a gigantic climbing frame and treehouse built high in the woodland canopy.

Ludgrove Schol artist illustration of new STEAM building The Exploration Centre

Full STEAM ahead for the Exploration Centre

Of course, the buzz right now is about the brand spanking new Exploration Centre. Head Simon Barber is trying to keep a lid on the excitement levels as work commences on what will be ‘one of the finest prep school scientific and creative learning environments in the country’. The STEAM building will be ready for action in September this year.

 

THE HEAD

Simon Barber is a following in the footsteps of family as the third-generation headmaster of LudgroveEducated at Eton, he first taught in the state sector at secondary level and then, following a brief flirtation working in the City, Simon returned to teaching and all roads led him back to Ludgrove.

While you can’t be the headteacher at a top prep school without being organised and sharp on people management, Barber has something of the twinkly charmer about him – he’s all about letting the boys get into scuffles, play conkers, climb trees, be youthfully exuberant and basically enjoy being children. The impression I get is that, yes, boys are expected to work hard in class, but there is just as much emphasis on being happy, enthusiastic and being ‘a good egg’.

Married with three kids, his wife Sophie is ‘mother to 185 kids’, and there’s definitely a feeling of family to this place. Ultimately you would want Team Barber in your corner. They embody the warmth and success of Ludgrove, and set the tone for the staff to create the home-from-home feel.

 

SPORT

With just under 200 boys to exercise every day, sport plays an important role in life at Ludgrove. Cricket is probably the biggest sport here (and there’s a gorgeous cricket ground with two lovely pavilions). In fact, you’ll see ‘Stump’ being played all over the school, and anything resembling a bat is used while balls are bowled. Given the chance, they’ll even play using torchlight which explains, Ludgrove’s wicked reputation for being able to bat with their eyes shut. Football is strong too. Matches take place on Wednesdays and Saturdays and everyone joins in, fielding up to 17 teams in one afternoon.


MUSIC AND DRAMA

I didn’t hear any musicians on the day I visited, but clearly it must exist as there’s are bands – including the newly formed Concert Band, an orchestra and choirs (senior and junior)

Drama is a big deal here! All year groups get to have their moment in the spotlight with five major productions a year. Recent performances include Oliver, The Little Shop of Horrors, Godspell, Joseph & his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Othello, Porridge, The Jungle Book. 


ACADEMICS

Unashamedly ambitious. Barber is proud of its strong academic record. Classes are small, academic achievement is high and opportunities are plentiful. The 2019 leavers included 10 to Eton, 7 to Radley, 5 to Harrow and 4 to Winchester, there’s a clear expectation here for boys to move onto the top private schools (Barber himself attended Eton), and Ludgrove churns out the places and scholarships with assuring regularity – though for the less academic there’s also a close eye on ‘value-added’ and enriching the learning.

There’s a lively enrichment programme here too. Cultural, musical and sporting trips are organised to bring topics to life. So far from being stuck in the classroom all the time, learning is given context and helps with the all-important creative thinking that’s so hot right now.

 

BOARDING

On the face of it, it can be daunting sending your child off to boarding school, but there’s a lovely atmosphere here. A huge effort is made to ensure the boys’ happiness is a top priority. Most of the staff live on-site, the boarding house has house parents, matrons, and gappers, to name a few. The boys sleep in rooms of about eight and they make the space their own with posters, photos and their own bedding. And we loved that the staff sweetly organise their teddies differently every day to raise a smile when the boys bound back after a busy school day. Sweeeeet.

Ludgrove boarding Cuddy XI v Snuggly XI

It’s the Cuddy XI v Snuggly XI cricket match

The pastoral care here is outstanding, with Simon’s wife Sophie very much at the centre of that side of things – every Sunday she reads a story to the younger boys. But every night there’s hot chocolate and bedtime stories laid on by the house parents. By all accounts, the children have an absolute blast and you certainly don’t need to worry about screen time. Secondly, every two weeks they’re home for the weekend. They love the activities, there’s the odd grumble about prep – but nothing to worry a parents’ ears there.

 

QUIRKS

The teachers seem to have been chosen with dual talents in mind. Most of them seem to be able to teach sport for starters and many live on-site, so needs must when you have so many boys to teach, entertain and support.

Although a gazillion years ago, the school famously taught Princes William and Harry and Bear Grylls. Not something the school brags about – discretion is everything here – but *wink* worth noting. Not bad role models to have, right?

We loved the fact that Ludgrove marches to the beat of its own drum. Fortnightly boarding, single-sex prep schools are rare and might feel old-fashioned. But many parents are turning their backs on hot-housey day schools for places like Ludgrove where manners, hard work and the opportunity to let loose, rule. It’s not stuffy either, we saw plenty of scuffed knees, wonky ties, and ruffled hairdos. The boys grab opportunities with both hands and make friends for life – it shows.


FEES

Full boarding only, at £9,420 per term which is pretty much the same as its main competition.

REPORTS

See the latest ISI reports here.

WORD ON THE GROUND

A very family-oriented school where lots of time and energy is lavished on the happiness of individual children. Parents love the pastoral care, the ‘let the boys be boys’ ethos and its homely feel. The main building felt exactly like I’d walked into someone’s house, and parents pick up on this warmth.

 

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: It’s not about academics here, but attitude. Simply take one look at the boys – if you want your son to be kind, compassionate, well-mannered and have a good work ethic, Ludgrove is the school for you. The boys embody all of these qualities.

Not for: Parents who aren’t on page with a place where ‘boys can be boys’, with all the good and bad that entails. Those children who really struggle academically might find the pace tough, despite – or perhaps even because of – the attention. It goes without saying full boarding is not for everyone, but they spend every second weekend at home.

Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Make an appointment during term time to tour the school and meet Head Simon Barber and his wife Sophie. Open days take place two years prior to entry for entry list prospective pupils and their families.

Dare to disagree? Be my guest! Make an appointment during term time to tour the school and meet Head Simon Barber and his wife Sophie. Open days take place two years prior to entry for entry list prospective pupils and their families.

Ludgrove School, Wokingham RG40 3AB. Tel: 0118 978 9881.

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