St George’s, Windsor Castle
More than just a chi-chi address, St George's is a school with royal links, excellent academics, kindness is King and music oozes from every corner.
St George’s Windsor Castle is a co-ed school (ages 2-13) in the grounds of the Queen’s home. Lots of history and tradition to soak in, but beneath the surface is a progressive school leading the way in educational reform – and it’s the first International Baccalaureate Prep in the UK.
The school includes a Kindergarten, Pre-Prep and Prep, educating 330 boys and girls in buildings that ooze history. Each occupying their own Set up in 1348 by Edward III to educate choristers, the school moved to its current location (an almshouse for Naval Knights) in 1892 and started taking non-singing students.
It’s one of the oldest schools in the country and remains a leading choir school, educating up to 23 choristers who leg it up the 136 steps to the castle to sing daily. Unsurprisingly, it has a Christian ethos, but welcomes children whatever their beliefs. That’s not to say it’s not progressive. St George’s Windsor Castle has just announced it is set to become the first prep to offer an International Baccalaureate Primary Years curriculum which is bold and exciting step for the school.
Set across a collection of buildings, accessed via Datchet Road, the school is compact, homely and ‘lived in’. Despite its chichi address, there’s nothing overtly shiny or polished about it, but it has an intellectual energy that I liked. Rather handily, it’s also right opposite Windsor and Eton train station and there’s a pub right next door. Here for the important stuff.
This is a town centre school so you would assume that space is something of a luxury. Although the buildings are tightly packed in at the foot of the castle walls, it does boast an indoor pool, sports hall, large grass play areas, multi-purpose hard court, a wooden adventure trail and an outdoor classroom.
Academically there’s two modern science labs, a well-kitted out DT room, a very small cookery room, an ICT suite with touch screen computers plus more computers in the library that rise out of the centre of the desk like you’re in a Bond villain’s lair. Oh and there’s a music recording facility in Old Bank House with a mixing desk and iMacs to allow pupils to explore the technical side of musical production and editing.
Where do they play matches? You have to see it to believe it, but basically it’s the Queen’s back garden – Home Park Private. Fancy. The school uses it for rugby, cricket, rounders, cross country, athletics fixtures, and tournaments, as well as for nature walks, outdoor learning and free time. A brand new sports pavilion now provides much better changing facilities and a kitchen to prepare match teas. To say visiting schools are impressed (and a little intimidated) is something of an understatement.
They also have assemblies every half term (which parents can attend), speech days and special services at the world famous St George’s Chapel. It’s only a short walk to Eton College, where the children get to use its 400-seat Farrer Theatre for large productions – Mary Poppins brought the house down.
You don’t have to be a musician or a singer to come here but, as Berkshire’s only choir school, it’s St George’s big calling card and creates a musical culture and creative atmosphere. Interestingly just 50% have lessons. I would’ve expected it to be higher. That said, the kids love to sing and the St George’s Choir is internationally renowned, the Chamber Choir recorded an album at Llandaff Cathedral in Wales (Aled Jones eat your heart out), a jazz band, training choir and there’s a real enthusiasm for performing, composing and all the tech stuff too. It’s not a naff Glee vibe, but something that’s organically part of the fabric of the school.
If you can’t carry a tune, there’s no shortage of opportunities. The kids love getting their teeth stuck into the big enrichment projects and have covered British values and the environment in recent years. Plus there’s sporting tours abroad, trips to the London’s Olympic park to cycle round the Velodrome, Wimbledon, Lord’s and masterclasses with professionals.
In a tech-obsessed world, I like the fact many of the after-school activities are gloriously lo-fi offering star-gazing, STG Seals (Bear Grylls stuff in water) sewing, fencing, junior medics, German games, DT and, yes, more music. Look, if coding and robotics are what your kids are into, ICT Club should hit the spot.
Windsor Castle is more than a location, it’s also an educational resource, and the school has regular access to the castle’s educational centre, unlocking the castle’s centuries of secrets.
No one saw coronavirus coming, but the need to swiftly pivot to online learning was grabbed by the horn at St George’s – fully embracing the need to develop new skills, ways of working while keeping the community together. St George’s had an all-in approach – using Google Classroom, the prep school students were given Chrome books, the curriculum was re-designed for home study and a new PE micro-site and communication hub was created to provide children with daily challenges, activities and support. Plus a weekly newsletter showcasing their work,. fundraising initiatives, lockdown images and wellbeing messages. The kids were occupied, engaged and happy… and so were the parents.
St George’s achieves academic excellence but more importantly helps guide parents and pupils to senior schools that are snug fit for the kids, feeding into a broad spectrum of school including Eton College, Harrow, Wellington College, Downe House, Benenden, Reading Blue Coat, St George’s Ascot, Bradfield College and St George’s Weybridge schools.
If your child is in the choir they’re pretty much guaranteed a place into other highly regarded schools – last year choristers were snapped up and offered scholarships to Wellington College and Bryanston. The pupils here are awarded scholarships, but they will no longer be shouting about it from the rooftops. It’s reinforcing the message that the success of the school is not based on the top 10%.
Head William Goldsmith, 37, has been in the St George’s hot seat since January 2019, having moved to Windsor from St Leonard’s in Scotland with his wife Catherine and three boys. Music courses through his veins, he was a music scholar and head chorister at Radley College, Director of Music at St Paul’s Cathedral School, taught at Ludgrove and Highfield – his CV is impressive.
What I loved about him is his eagerness to shake things up. Not for the sake of it, but to create an education framework fit for life in the 21st Century. He’s put his money where is mouth is by introducing the IB Primary Years Programme. He’s also got rid of heads of department to encourage departmental collaboration and collective responsibility. Likewise not more Head Boy or Head Girl. Traditional scholarships are gone too. He wants opportunity to be available to the majority and not the minority.
Will has also ditched the old house names (Rodney, Revenge, Vindictive and Victory – named after famous Royal Naval ships). They were used for hundreds of years, but who wants to be in a house called Vindictive? Instead, the the houses are named after Windsor Castle’s towers. Will has ambitious plans to bring positive change to the prep school sector by breaking the pattern of stress and anxiety children experience today. Putting wellbeing, social conscience, real-life problem-solving and critical thinking at the heart of their education.
It doesn’t stop there, Will also wants to future proof the pupils with IT investment in ‘digital pencil cases’, plus there’s the new St George’s Award (D of E with an entrepreneurial edge) which works towards them giving their own TedTalk at Windsor Castle (how cool is that?). Will is unapologetic about his plans. He 100% believes in these changes. Jump on board and enjoy the ride. Or don’t. Traditionalists will be quaking in their shoes. Everyone else will be buzzing with excitement. I’m firmly in camp progress, but it’s a huge shift and the school is at the beginning of its journey. So there will undoubtedly be a few bumps in the road.
Where do I begin?! It’s location for starters. There isn’t another school in the country to be found in a castle *drops mic*. The kids are actually pretty casual about it, but parents will enjoy the bragging rights and buzz from speech days and school services that take place in the incredible St George’s Chapel. By virtue of its location, it has taught many royal children – Princess Eugenie, Lady Louise Windsor and Viscount Severn, plus a handful of celebrity offspring too.
If you were one of the 2billion-ish people tuning into the watch Harry and Meghan’s wedding, you would have heard the world-class St George’s choir, they also sang at the weddings of Eugenie and Jack, Edward and Sophie, and Charles and Camilla. I loved the special ‘In/Out’ sign that subtly informs the children when the Queen’s home, so that they’re on their best behaviour when heading out to play matches.
There are naval references everywhere and will certainly raise a few eyebrows. The Houses are called Rodney, Revenge, Vindictive and Victory –named after famous Royal Naval ships, a nod to the fact that the main building once housed the Naval Knights of Windsor. More ship references can be found in the boarding house too. Recordings of the sea to send them off to sleep and the shipping forecast at breakfast (I’m joking).
It’s a Montessori philosophy in Kindergarten, so very gentle and the children were incredibly sweet and friendly with lots of indoor/outdoor learning. The classrooms are big, bright and creative, they have their own play area and head out into Home Park Private on nature walks and adventures as often as they can.
That said, the musical and intellectual ethos of the school permeates even at this early, with the pre-prep and kindergarten annual Nativity show, plus they all learn French and make good use of the school pool with weekly swimming lessons. Blimey!
Get them in early, we say. And you can. St George’s has a Mother and Toddler group called Butterflies and Caterpillars. It’s been closed during the pandemic but there are plans for the fun to resume in the summer.
WRAP AROUND CARE
If you’re a chorister it’s a pretty demanding schedule, but for everyone else, the days are relatively short. Kindergarten starts at 8.30am and ends at 3pm (half days available); Reception-Y2, have a staggered finish to 3.30pm with Seniors kicking off at 8.15am and checking out at 3.55 pm although many children stay for after-school activities (there are over 80 to choose from), prep or Supper Club. There is, however, a Breakfast Club from 7.35am, schools opens at 8am and after-school care until 6.15pm depending on age. For parents dropping off and scrambling back for pick up, you know your kids are safe and it’s reassuring to have that safety net. Oh, and travel to and from school by minibus is an option – a godsend for juggling parents.
Boarders can be found at the heart of the school, with 38 beds available for weekly and flexi sleepers – and it is incredibly popular. The Choristers are the only full boarders at St George’s. The rooms are large, homely and nicely decorated – each one has an individual stamp on it with a communal chill-out space. I was really impressed. Often boarding rooms are more functional than cosy.
Activities are laid on in the evenings so the kids can let off steam and hang out with their friends, staggered bedtimes and there’s a genuine atmosphere of kindness and respect.
FEES: Kindergarten & Reception £3,621 per term; Y1 £3,866 and Y2 £4,106; Prep Day PupilsY3&4 £5,364 and Y5-8 £6,011 per term. There are whopping big bursaries for anyone in the Chapel Choir to cover half of the fee. Full boarding is £3,865 per term for a Chorister, weekly boarding is £7,463 per term and flexi is £40 per night.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Tolerant, friendly, creative and ambitious without being a pressure cooker seem to the calling cards here. The opportunity to be a bully or a show-off in the school is small, and the kids are nurtured and supported. The parents I’ve been in contact with rate it super-highly and love the aspiatonal vibe coupled with a strong expectation of kindness.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Lovers of music (or children of lovers of music!). Boys and girls who thrive on attention and nurture and are open to the arts, a thoughtful approach to education and are not afraid to challenge the status quo.
Not so good for: The physical confines of the school might not fit with the rural idyll pictured by some parents. Kids who are resolutely uncurious or cynical about culture will struggle.
Dare to disagree: St George’s next virtual open event is on 1 Oct. Parents considering St George’s for their children should register their interest here or they can arrange a meeting with the registrar email@example.com.
St George’s School, Windsor Castle, Windsor SL4 1QF. T: 01753 865553