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Pangbourne College, Berkshire

A co-ed day/boarding school with naval traditions nr Reading, Pangbourne College's emphasis is on courage, community and creative thinking. Case in point, their next Open Day is virtual. Tick, tick, TICK

It’s not easy for schools right now, pupils learning remotely, open days cancelled, but we’re loving Pangbourne College‘s can-do spirit. They’ve organised a virtual Open Day on 25 April for prospective parents to discover what makes this co-ed senior school tick. We love the ingenuity in challenging times. But first, read Muddy’s updated review.

PANGBOURNE COLLEGE, PANGBOURNE, BERKSHIRE

Red brick mansion house of Pangbourne College Devitt House Pangbourne Berkshire steps down on the lawn area

What? Where?

Does it get more perfect than a school on the edge of a riverside Berkshire village with zippy train links to Reading, Oxford and London and minutes from the M4? Say hello to Pangbourne College a co-ed day and boarding school with strong Christian and military values, set in the North Downs. Just 450 kids (rising to 460+ in Sept) from 11-18 years roam in 230 acres of Victorian and 21st-century buildings, playing fields and woodland – plus the River Thames on their doorstep. The school welcomes children of all abilities into classes that average 15, so there’s plenty of attention lavished.

Facilities:

Ruby players pushed into the air for throw in Pangbourne College
Feared and revered… Pangbourne College love their sport

Oodles of space for starters, but also four cricket squares and a modern pavillion, six rugby pitches, two grass football pitches, astroturf hockey pitch (next in line for a revamp and the pupils have everything crossed for 4G), a newly refurbished 25m outdoor pool, plus squash, tennis and netball courts. Oh, if you head off-site, there’s shooting, Equestrian Club and Boat Club on a six mile stretch of the Thames for aspiring Pinsents and Graingers.

Girl diving into Pangbourne College Swimming Pool
The newly-refurbished outdoor pool

There’s been a significant investment in the buildings on site – the academic block has been transformed from vintage relic to contemporary learning hub, the Music Centre – nicknamed the Cheese Grater – includes a recital hall, practice rooms, recording facilities, classrooms, ICT suite and the College’s collection of Steinway pianos. It’s one of only a handful of schools in the UK with its own marching band. Music and sport are incredibly strong here and it’s not really surprising given its naval college heritage.

Pangbourne College boys playing the trombone
Not wanting to blow their own trumpet, but Pangbourne College has got talent. Lot of musical talent.

Like all schools the development wishlist is long. But they’ve been beavering away refurbishing the pool which now has a lido vibe, the science and study blocks have had a much-needed facelift, and the grounds have been spruced up. Although dull, a new heating system has been installed in the Study Area and new signage and fencing have gone up too – so lots to tick off the to-do list. Work is due to start on a new 6th form cafe, more IT improvements and an audit of the buildings is being done to carve out the space for a new girls boarding house.

Academic results:

Pangbourne College Berkshire boy and girls science experiment

Pangbourne College has historically been regarded as pastorally strong and academically OK, but the Head worked hard to shake things up and it’s starting to get some bonza results. The 2019 GCSE haul saw 35% snagging 9-7 (or A*-A). But give it up for the English department (61% got top grades), art (58%) and science (50%). Want to know about the A-Levels? Of course, you do. Well, 2019’s Upper Sixth produced a 99% pass rate, with 41% awarded A*-A. There is a real sense of purpose to ensure the children are being stretched academically but not hot housed.

What I was particularly impressed by was the emphasis on offering less traditional subjects to study like Film and media studies, and introducing the kids to enterprise, entrepreneurship, and apprenticeships.

Boarding: 

Pangbourne College newly refurbished boarding house – Hesperus

Pangbourne has 7 boarding houses (a Junior House, Dunbar, for 11 -13-year-olds and 6 Senior Houses, 2 of which are for girls). They’re all small in terms of numbers and the school prides itself as being very family-oriented, with full-time houseparents many of whom have their own families in the mix. I had a sneak around one of the newly refurbished houses and the communal spaces are light and bright while the study bedrooms are compact (and typically teen messy), all named after ships and ports, like Harbinger, Port Jackson and Illawarra. The bedrooms are called cabins, common rooms are gunrooms, the dining hall is the mess hall, kitchens are galleys and casual clothes are always referred to as scruffs. Nautical but nice.

The headmaster:

Pangbourne College head master Thomas Garnier
Pangbourne College head, Thomas Garnier

Thomas Garnier has been head at Pangbourne for a gazillion years – OK, almost 15 years to be precise. A popular head, he’s smart, witty, a calming influence (a much-needed trait in the job), immaculately turned out and incredibly tall. Thomas was educated at Radley College, served in the Royal Navy and was a housemaster at Abingdon School. His approach is more evolution than revolution, knowing he has a great school with great kids. But he’s on a mission to make it better. He has boosted the number of girls – now 40% – but the student population will not exceed 500. Academic classes have been axed on Saturdays, seeing the importance for the pupils to relax after a busy week. I liked him a lot and he’s not afraid to make change but his steely focus is always on bringing out the best in the pupils and his staff. Character is king here and kindness, selflessness, moral courage, initiative, industry, resilience and integrity for the foundations of the school.

Quirks:

Pangbourne College pupils wearing No1 Naval cadet uniform Falkland Memorial Chapel Marching band
Ship shape… Pangbourne College pupils stand to attention in their No1 uniform outside the Falkland Memorial Chapel

Quite a few actually! Pangbourne College’s naval background for starters. The school was originally set up 100 years ago to train young officers for the Merchant Navy and later the Royal Navy too. Not so much of that goes on now, but there’s a nautical flavour to the place. The kids wear a naval uniform, regular parades (roughly once a month), the school marching band, Divisions named after ships and a love of rowing and sailing. But the sense of community, self-discipline, pride in one’s appearance all have the military feels about them too. Although there is a little standing on ceremony, the vibe of Pangbourne is not so stiff.

The kids have three uniforms. Now I know it’s hard enough getting your head around one plus all the sports gear, but THREE! Day to day the children wear No2s – black trousers or skirt, blue shirt and a blue jumper with epaulettes. For parades, there is a dress uniform with hat called, the No1 and Rec Rig (traditional blazer and tie), worn to away matches. The No1 is eek expensive but I’m assured second-hand options are available in the onsite uniform shop.

What else? Well, there is a bar for the Sixth formers on campus! Yes, you heard me right. On a Thursday night, they can have a couple of small glasses of wine or beer. It’s all perfectly legal and it allows the pupils to drink in a safe environment, and has to be better than kids smuggling tequila into dorms, right?

What else?

Pangbourne College Memorial Chapel

More you say? OK, there’s a Combined Cadet Force (consisting of Army, Royal Navy, and unusually Royal Marines) that is compulsory for all children in Y10 where they undertake basic training, such as drill, command tasks, weapon training, fieldcraft and map reading. The College chapel is pretty spesh too. A modern ship-shaped building, it was built to honour those who died in the Falklands War, and opened by the Queen in 2000. It’s a stunning space and the royals have visited on many occasions. Her Maj, returned for the 100th-anniversary service in 2017. It doesn’t get more showbiz than that! It’s worth noting, that it’s not all pomp and ceremony, sport and music. Drama, art, and design are all impressive and I love the fact you can study film, business and psychology.

black and white photo of theatre productions Pangbourne College
Hamming it up… Students always put on a slick production to entertain the troops.

Wrap around care:

Hands painted on walls and signed by Pangbourne College leavers
I woz here… Leavers make their mark on the walls of Illawarra Division House.

The school day starts at 8.25am until 6pm Monday-Friday, including sports fixtures and on Saturdays there are matches only. A free bus runs to and from Pangbourne Station with direct links from London Paddington, Reading and Oxford, plus mini buses pick up from Wantage, Newbury, Maidenhead, Basingstoke and Henley/Twyford (additional charge). Cheers from stressed parents whizzing around the countryside on the school run. There’s no flexi-boarding but part, weekly and full boarding are all options.

Pangbourne College Captains head boy and head girl

Word on the ground: Many of my friends send their children here – drawn by it’s inclusive, non-hot-housey reputation. The parents I spoke to, love how normal Pangbourne College is. Many of the families are hard-working parents who just scrape together the fees each term and they rub along with some of the others who are from more privileged backgrounds. The head is popular and the praise is heaped on the staff and their support of the children.

Fees: Fees per term are £6,000 rising to £8,460 for day pupils and from £7,640 for part boarding. Full boarding starts at £8,620 rising to £12,200. Expect to pay extra for music tuition, learning support and some extra-curricular activities like horse riding and the Boat Club.

Carpet of bluebells entrance to Pangbourne College senior school Berkshire woodland

THE MUDDY VERDICT

Good for: Parents who are looking for an all-round education for their kids in a rural school that’s big on manners, community and caters for the sporty and non-sporty alike. Pangbourne College is small so children are known and cared for well and the good transport links will have frazzled parents clicking their heels.

Not for: The marching and naval traditions are strong, so you’ll either love or hate that element. But the values – kindness, selflessness, moral courage, initiative, industry, resilience and integrity – are attributes I’d love my kids to have in life. Being in a gorgeous 230-acre site in Pangbourne, there’s a slight Berkshire ‘bubble’ that’s more rural idyll than real life.

Dare to disagree: Oh be my guest! Say hello to Pangbourne’s Virtual Open Day on Sat 25 Apr. Going live at 9am Headmaster’s Talk, student videos, followed by Q&A with the senior team. Limited numbers so pre-register. The next IRL Open Day is Saturday 19 September.

Pangbourne College, Pangbourne Hill, Pangbourne, Reading RG8 8LA. Tel: 0118 984 2101

4 comments on “Pangbourne College, Berkshire”

  • John C BEARN November 9, 2018

    Super school, developing super young men and women!

    Our children were, and remain proud to have attended.

    Not academic??? Our eldest gained an M.Sc at L.S.E., middle one B.Sc hons at Bath, and the youngest, Combined Honours B.A. in History and Classics at Newcastle.

    So proud of their achievements. Grateful to Pangbourne for the experiences that they had there.

    Reply
    • rachel November 12, 2018

      Hi John, glad your children have had an awesome experience. Pangbourne students do achieve phenomenal results, but historically he had a reputation for being not being particularly academic. I hope that point came across in the review. I truly believe it is an superb all-round school. Rachel x

      Reply
  • Ranjeet June 23, 2020

    Admittedly, I studied there 20+ years ago… Pangbourne prepared me well with academic stamina for Oxford, a banking diploma, an MA degree at Ridley Hall in Cambridge (ARU), and then an ever growing list of deemed essential qualifications in finance. Pangbourne also gave me my first taste of business and entrepreneurship, so I remain grateful for a top level and well rounded education.

    Reply
    • rachel June 26, 2020

      Another Pangbourne success story. Love it.

      Reply

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