St Andrew’s, Pangbourne
This bucolic co-ed prep school in the rolling hills of Berkshire is family-oriented, outdoorsy with great results – and the Duchess of Cambridge raves about it.
ST ANDREW’S SCHOOL, PANGBOURNE
St Andrew’s School is a bucolic prep near Pangbourne, West Berkshire, perfectly positioned for those around Newbury, Reading and South Oxfordshire (or further if you don’t mind the drive). Co-ed with just under 290 pupils, the school is at the end of a tree-lined drive in 54 acres of beautiful woodland and playing fields. And if you love to name drop, the Duchess of Cambridge and John Le Carré are both former pupils. Oo-er.
The Victorian Gothic mansion dates back to 1885 and was designed by architect Alfred Waterhouse (London’s Natural History Museum is one of his too. Fancy!) and, despite its grand features (wood panelling and original Royal Doulton tile panels), it feels warm rather than stuffy – light and spacious, kids’ art and motivational messages everywhere.
Top-notch, as you would expect from any prep school charging just over £15k a year. The sports facilities are particularly impressive, following the school’s investment in a £4m Sports Centre, with an enormous sports hall, dance studio and indoor pool. It’s very very impressive. St Andrew’s has quite a sporty rep, so this new centre opens up even more opportunities for the kids. Better still, it’s something the school shares with the community too.
Next door to the new sports centre is a full-sized astroturf pitch, opened in 2012 by St Andrew’s most famous alumni the Duchess of Cambridge. (Seriously, hockey in heels? What a woman.) You’ll also find tennis courts and numerous football, rugby, and cricket pitches.
What about the arts? I hear you cry. Glad you asked, music is a huge part of school life and I heard violin and recorder lessons at full volume. Music lessons aside, from Pre-Prep onwards the children can take up individual instrumental or singing lessons (with a whopping 300 scheduled a week). There’s even a Pre-Prep choir – just one of many musical groups that have the chance to showcase their talents throughout the year. Who needs The X Factor?
Next up for a makeover, is the old hall which will be transformed into a theatre and performance space with pull out tiered seating, stage and all the techy bits to put on a show.
Oh, and just for fun you, I mean the children, can feel the wind in their hair as they fly across the south lawn on the zip wire. To say, this has been a huge hit with the pupils, is an understatement. The word behind the bike shed, is that a mountain bike course is coming too.
Largely a day school, but St Andrew’s does offer, flexi boarding and it’s really popular Monday to Thursday (no Saturday school here). The boarding houses are well above average, having recently been renovated, offering 12 boys’ and 12 girls’ beds. And you can book the odd night at short notice. If you have a last-minute night out or an unexpected work trip, a cheeky sleepover is as much of a thrill for the kids as that first glass of fizz is for you.
St Andrew’s has a robust reputation for bringing out the best in its pupils, with scholarships (academic, music, sport, art and all-rounder) being dished out with reassuring regularity. As a passionately non-selective school that’s a big academic tick. The most popular leaver destinations include Abingdon, Bradfield College, Downe House, Headington, Leighton Park, Magdalen College, Marlborough, Millfield, Pangbourne College, Radley, Queen Anne’s, Teddies, Shiplake, and Wellington College.
Well, there’s a much greater emphasis on honing life skills and happiness. Yes, they need to succeed academically, but it is as important here that they also have the tools to excel beyond school. Outdoor learning is a big deal here – Forest school, bushcraft, den building, camping out and climbing trees are celebrated. Something the Duchess Of Cambridge loved during her time here and wants for her own kids.
‘Bother Boxes’ are dotted around the school for the boys and girls to post notes about their worries or concerns, and they have introduced a new designated quiet space, called The Lobby. Life is busy and downtime is essential.
Pupils are taught about media awareness and reliable sources of news, independent study skills (handy right now) and what they can do to help the environment. Happiness and welfare; compassion and leadership and curiosity and curriculum form the pillars of school life.
In fact, health and wellbeing are so high on the agenda here, the school has won an award – one of only four schools in West Berkshire and the only one to date in the independent sector.
Jon Bartlett has been head since 2015 and has made quite an impact. In his first five years, he focussed heavily on the children’s health and wellbeing, including shortening lessons to give the kids two longer breaks, better school meals and heavy investment in sports facilities. The next phase focuses on IT, life skills and the environment.
A new head of IT has splashed the cash on more tablets and Lego Education – a cool piece of kit that allows the children to problem-solve a brief, apply what they learn and get seriously whizzy with code. They also have a green screen to super-impose video and images during school productions, and class projects.
If that wasn’t enough to whet your whistle, they’re also adding solar panels and ground source heat pumps to reduce the school carbon footprint and nurturing their own Greta Thunberg’s with pupil-led litter picks, recycling initiatives, and they’re not shy about lobbying politicians. A school like St Andrew’s will always have tradition, but it’s the dash of innovation that makes it an exciting proposition.
Little people can start at three years old in Nursery and it’s waaaaay superior to most of the nurseries I’ve used over the years. It’s spacious, bright, with a great outdoor space right next to a playing field. The littlies attend Forest School, with an open-sided tipi, every day come rain or shine. The Pre-Prep is next door (to help transition up the school) and just as lovely, and as you go up the school and into the big house itself, it’s more of the same. The emphasis is on getting the kids excited about learning – and sometimes that means they get a bit, OK very, dirty.
No need to go via Costa on the school run, there’s an onsite coffee shop for the parents to enjoy a post-drop-off caffeine fix. Orienteering is big. It’s safe to say St Andrew’s kids know where they are going as National Middle Schools Champions for seven out of eight years running. It’s a skill they all learn from Year 3. Great for teaching perseverance, handy if they ever get lost and a must if they find themselves on Bear Grylls Celebrity Island. Trees are there to be climbed. During break pupils spill out of the classroom and head for the woods (or the zip wire) – ‘kids can climb trees but always in threes’ is the motto (safety first) and there’s a stop sign at 30ft. EEK.
Wrap around care
Excellent. Nursery and Pre-Prep start at 8.45am-3.30pm, with after-school care and activities available until 6pm for an additional fee. The main school day starts at 8.25am-5.20pm (juniors) and 6pm (seniors), but again supper and after school activities are available until after 6.30pm. Flexi-boarding is popular; kids can book in for as many nights as they like and weekly boarding is also offered. There’s no Saturday school here – St Andrew’s prides itself on its family-friendly ethos, so you can have your little darlings back all weekend.
Word on the ground
Lots of my friends send their children here, and they love the upbeat, ‘can-do’ feel about St Andrew’s. Something the ISI Report picked up on too. It raved about the results, pastoral care and teaching. The head and staff get lots of good press, the outdoorsy nature of the school goes down very well and the school meals get a big tick. Bye-bye tapioca puds, hello cosmopolitan buffet with salad bar and exotic fruit. Even Squash and Bs (biscuits) are now carrot sticks and hummus.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Well-rounded kids. The vibe is warm and friendly, but academically strong – not an easy mix to pull off. The superior sport, music and drama facilities are impressive and all children get to participate fully. Good flexible after-school care is particularly helpful for working parents.
Not for: Those who require full-boarding, a town location, a larger school cohort, or parents who prefer a more ‘starchy’ approach to schooling.
Dare to disagree?! Email the registrar to view the school. firstname.lastname@example.org.