St Edward’s Prep, Reading
Impressive 11+ prep and a high success rate to grammar schools, this small, family-feel Reading boys' school is a hidden gem.
St Edward’s Prep is an independent day school for boys from 3 to 11 years. This nurturing Reading town centre school is a former private home and the family vibes permeate throughout.
The main house is a handsome Victorian villa with modern additions on a compact two-acre site. But with just 114 boys in the whole school, class sizes are small, facilities are extensive and creatively sourced and if you have your heart set on a grammar school place, then St Edward’s 11+ prep and success rate is guaranteed to get your attention.
The school is in the heart of Reading so no room for swimming pools or sports centres, (there’s no need when you can use someone else’s!) but St Edward’s makes good use of the space it has, with astroturf (used every day for football, basketball, tennis and cricket), a large playground and several outdoor learning areas on an enclosed site, allowing them to run wild and let off steam safely during break times.
Do not be fooled into thinking the lack of acreage pushes sport down the list of priorities. Quite the opposite. Children use the school buses to head up to Jack Booth’s Ground, Sulhamstead – St Edward’s official home ground for rugby, football and cricket. Swimming lessons are held The Oratory’s 25m indoor pool and sport days and cross country are held at Reading Blue Coat School. For a small school, they punch well above their weight on match days, with county players within the teams.
Classrooms are large and bright, as is the impressive new STEAM room – a light-filled, multi-functional space for all year groups to use for art, design, tech, maths, science – all those subjects that are super-hot right now. The coded battling Lego robots will certainly be a big draw for kids and grown-ups alike.
Concerts, assemblies and drama take place in the large, light hall, which converts into the dining room for lunch. It’s hard not to have a Bisto kid moment… the smell from the kitchen would make Grace Dent’s tummy rumble.
MUSIC AND DRAMA
Music is a really big deal here, with 100% of pupils learning to play an instrument, tapping into the enormous educational benefits. They start them young with Pre-Reception getting to grips with the percussion instruments before moving onto the recorder in Y3 and the ukulele in Y6. For children who have their heart set on drums, guitar, trumpet, violin, or even the harp, private tuition is available. All this musical talent does not go to waste, with many playing in the orchestra or singing in one of the three choirs – including a voluntary Prep choir which is happily attended by all 60 boys.
School productions (last year’s hit was Bugsy Malone Jnr) are performed at Pangbourne College’s state-of-the-art theatre, so you could argue the partnerships with other independent schools have given prep pupils access to some seriously swish facilities that you wouldn’t ordinarily find at a school of this size.
Children do brilliantly at 11+, with 100% of pupils getting into their first-choice senior schools – and eight of the 19 have gone onto Reading Grammar. The holy grail for many local parents. The most able pupils are pushed all the way and eight scholarships have been awarded to this year’s leavers across academic, sport and music. As a day school it’s probably no surprise, the boys move on to local senior schools, too – Reading Boys’ School, St Joseph’s College, Reading Blue Coats, Leighton Park, Pangbourne College, Shiplake College etc. St Edward’s prides itself in preparing pupils for their next steps with anemphasis onbuilding life skills and nurturing a good attitude. It’s all about the five Cs, and they’re attributes all parents would want their kids to be – caring, confident, courteous, collaborative and courageous.
There is a very sweet, well-established facility called Little Griffins. Littlies enjoy nursery rhymes as well as phonics, writing and number skills. I’d say the relaxed, family atmosphere at St Edward’s sits well with the Prep facility. There is a maximum of 13 children and the connection between the Pre-Reception and Prep is strong, with almost all children moving up and regular meetings taking place to ensure as smooth transition. If you take into account holiday clubs, it also offers year-round care. A new Stay & Play session for ages 1-4 years has been launched this year. Little Hatchlings gather in the school hall every Thursday from 9.45am – 10.45am – there’s messy play (so you don’t need to wreck you own house) and fresh coffee and homemade cake for you.
St Edward’s has its own bank – and it was the children’s idea. Kerching! Each pupil has a ST ED bank account and the boys donate items or house points for credit to purchase other stuff. How cool is that? I love the fact it teaches kids the value of money, responsibility and saving. I wonder if we can open a Muddy account with some books and a pack of Haribo.
It’s a modern school, that doesn’t need to be fuelled by testosterone. The clubs are fun and diverse, alongside sporty clubs there’s Street Feet Dance – the most popular extra-curricular activity here; Coding, Animation, Fencing, Warhammer, Chess and new this term, Yoga. In fact, there are loads of clubs to suit all personalities and interests, that reflects the ‘have-a-go’ vibe and individual focus.
WRAP AROUND CARE
Excellent. I’d say it is one of its USPs. St Edward’s Prep offers an Early Birds Breakfast Club from 7.45am, there are two after-school club sessions running from 4.10-5pm and 5pm-5.50pm. You don’t even need to battle through Reading’s rush hour traffic. The school operates a door-to-door bus service to your home or work address. A big tick for working parents.
Fairly new to the job, Derek Suttie, is a fascinating man having taught in schools all over the world – Italy, South Africa and Brazil. Having that global outlook will help kids look beyond the Berkshire bubble. He’s also an education nerd. I mean that in the best possible way. Derek is fascinated by educational research and keen to discover what’s new in his field. The fun bit comes when you can make subtle changes that fire up the staff and the children. For instance, he’s introduced themed investigations. One topic that is then applied in different ways across the curriculum – helping to develop critical thinking and creativity.
With a massive push on mental health and wellbeing in schools across the country, St Edward’s are grabbing the issue by the horns with an open door and open ear policy. Boys can talk to any staff member and there’s also a ‘Chatter Box’ – a discreet system whereby you drop a note in if you have any worries or concerns and the pastoral team will find and have a chat.
Derek’s not the kind of head to be locked away in his office. He’s a friendly face at the gate every morning and assures me that his door is always open…as long as his office isn’t full with nursery children in their weekly story time session! His mission is for St Edward’s Prep to thrive and remain at the forefront of 21st Century learning
FEES:Pre-reception (full time) £2,290 (age 5); Reception £2,960; Y1 £3,085; Y2 £3,395; Y3-4 £3760 and Y5-6 £3810. I’d say that’s below average generally in Berkshire. Extra charges apply for the bus service and after-school care.
WORD ON THE GROUND
St Edward’s has a reputation as an inclusive, nurturing, friendly school that’s a bit of a hidden gem. It doesn’t quite have the swagger of some of some Berkshire prep schools but is strong pastorally and academically and the parents I talked to loved how happy and engaged their kids are here.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: If you have your eyes on a grammar school place. The success rate is impressive. Kids who thrive in a small, homely environment or get lost in large class sizes. The fabulously flexible after-school care is particularly helpful for busy parents.
Not for: Those who require boarding, a country location, a larger school cohort, or parents who prefer a high-pressure academic environment.
Dare to disagree?! See for yourself if you agree with my verdict. Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself at the Open Day on Saturday 12 October. Can’t make it? Contact the Registrar Sara Burton on 0118 957 4342 or email email@example.com) and arrange a ‘walk-in’ visit.