Upton House School, Windsor
Upton House is a nurturing, sporty, tech savvy school for ages 2-11. It's got a family feel, is rated 'excellent' and it's recently gone fully co-ed.
Upton House is a town centre day school and nursery for ages 2-11 that has recently gone fully co-ed. You’ll find it in a leafy residential street, close to Windsor Castle and surrounded by Her Majesty’s parkland. With a total of 296 pupils, this small-ish prep is set in about two acres in an impressive Victorian villa, well-designed modern additions and use of Windsor Great Park.
It was founded in 1936, by three mums who couldn’t find the right school for their kids, so rather than compromise, they created one. Loving the early girl power from trailblazing women. Today, it’s a warm, welcoming place with family at its heart.
The school is in the heart of Windsor so no room for a swimming pool and pitches as far as the eye can see (there’s no need when you can pop down the road and use someone else’s!) but Upton House has its own sports hall, astro, Concept 2 rowing machines, two adventure playgrounds and use of the York Club playing field and a nearby secondary school’s pool.
The enclosed site means that the kids get run around safely during break times, and go off site to enjoy Forest School. Keep an open mind, as there’s more outside space than you think and with Windsor Great Park on their doorstep, the largest occupied castle in the world, the facilities of senior schools nearby and the river for rowing.
The school has invested heavily in technology. A new Apple Mac Sound recording studio has been built, they have a green screen media suite and technology has integrated into all areas of the curriculum. You’ll find plenty of iPads in classrooms and lots of opportunities to learn coding. In response to lockdown, Upton House created a bespoke online learning platform, UH@H to deliver a full timetable of online lessons. It is still part of their tech toolkit today streaming live concerts and special events are streamed for parents and extended family to enjoy. In fact their production of Annie was viewed in 25 countries. How cool is that?! No matter where you are in the world you can see those special moments.
Upton House also has a ‘no mobile phone’ policy in school. To be honest, all the tech they need is on the classroom. So it’s one less thing hunt for in lost property.
Often small schools can give up on sport, but it’s a big deal. Head Rhian is all for a bit of healthy competition, which is a refreshing standpoint from the “everyone’s a winner” ethos that has crept into schools. Learning to win and lose with grace is an important life lesson – and let’s be honest, nobody wants to be on the losing side all of the time.
Proving this is a school that means business, Upton House has brought in the big guns. Former All Blacks rugby star ZinZan Brookes (pictured above) is now in charge of the rugby, Head of Sport Ellie Walsh (pictured above) plays and coaches at the Royals Netball Club, a dedicated FA football coach trains Upton’s Lions and Lionesses and a new Head of Boys Games will be joining this experience team to work alongside Ellie.
The school has now found its competitive groove, taking part in IAPS (Independent Association of Prep Schools) hockey, netball, and swimming – and the results are looking good. They’ve got their sights on the IAPS football and rugby competitions too. Well behaved parents are always welcome to cheer from the sidelines.
MUSIC & DRAMA
Upton loves to sing. Music is very important in the school – an impressive 70% of the pupils play an instrument and there’s plenty of opportunities to blow their trumpet so to speak. There’s a school orchestra, ensembles, junior and senior choirs and a staff choir who regularly perform for the children.
Now that the kids have a Sound Studio, which links up to the Music Room, Music Tech lessons are now taught making it easier to learn and compose music. Where Ed Sheeran and Lewis Capaldi led from their bedrooms, Upton follows. It neatly ties into the school’s existing media suite with green screen. A group of children were busy directing, producing and starring in their own promo videos during my visit. Media studies is also part of the curriculum – brilliant for confidence and a must for the YouTube-Insta Stories generation. Not that common, and I have visited a lot of prep schools.
A new Head of Dance from the Royal Academy of Dance is giving more weight to the dance offering (ballet, contemporary, lyrical and acro dance for boys and girls). The students regularly compete and a few Upton dancers recently joined team England at the Dance World Cup for 2020 and 2021. LAMDA is compulsory for Form 1-6, notching up a 100% pass rate.
Pupils are encouraged to look beyond the educational ‘bubble’, through the enrichment programme. They’re on a mission to be the greenest school in Berkshire. After an assembly highlighting the damage single-use plastic is doing to the planet, the children leapt into action. They created a SUPA committee (Single Use Plastic Alternatives), hooked up with Plastic Free Windsor, and started researching ways they could make a difference. What’s changed? Disposable plastic water bottles and cartons are now banned; snacks are brought in cloth bags, they’re working with the kitchen team to reduce packaging and the use of cling film, discussing cost implications and alternatives.
All schools are concerned about mental health and wellbeing with a dedicated Upton Minds Team to ensure the whole school is supported and emotionally savvy. Wellbeing feels like a priority here, with an emphasis on teaching life skills – confidence, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and teamwork. ‘Blurt Boxes’ and ‘Worry Monsters’ can be found in classrooms for kids to pop a note in about their feelings and worries. All good prep for the next stage of their lives and a fun way to get kids to open up. There’s also lovely spaces to grab quiet time, yoga classes etc. Mindfulness extends to the staff too who get to enjoy yoga, art lessons and book club (any excuse to drink wine or have a lie down, no judgement from us).
Classes are small. It is obvious from visiting the school that the focus is very much on happy individuals, from the school’s SEN department to preparing for scholarships, but everyone is encouraged to stretch themselves. It’s clearly paying off. From the class of 2021 Y6 leavers, 15 were awarded scholarships to top senior schools, including 3 Academic. Destination schools include: St Mary’s Ascot, Wellington College, St George’s College Weybridge, St George’s Ascot, LEH and Wycombe Abbey, to name a few. As a passionately non-selective school that’s a big tick.
Rhian Thornton has been in the hot seat since 2016 and has very much made her presence felt with a strong vision – child led learning with essential life skills at its core. Previously the head at state school (much loved and described an outstanding leader) her passion for nurturing children is clear. She is equally proud of the close knit staff team and the open and listening community that produces extremely happy children!
As a working mum herself she totally gets the stuff parents worry about. She works hard to communicate with parents and you’ll see her friendly face at the gate every morning. Quality family time is ringfenced and it’s essential that the school offer strong wrap around care (if you need it). I get the impression she totally has your back. She called one sleep deprived couple to see her late at night to help them choose a senior school for their daughter from the four offers on the table. A nice problem to have, but they were struggling to make a decision and Rhian was not prepared for them to stress a minute longer. Above and beyond.
The nursery consists of big, bright rooms in a lovely modern building with a cute well-designed garden. They spend a lot of time outside, kitted out in waterproof onesies, and can regularly be seen heading off to Forest School. They get use of the prep school facilities for some of their lessons, with specialist teachers for French, Mandarin (you heard that right), PE, music and ballet which really helps them adapt when they work their way up the year groups.
The connection between the Nursery and Pre-Prep is strong, with almost all children moving up and regular meetings taking place between staff from both departments ensuring that when littlies do move on, they are well prepared. It’s also open 48 weeks a year. Woohoo! Frazzled working mums and dads, breathe a huuuge sigh of relief.
WRAP AROUND CARE
It’s excellent and a godsend for stressed out working parents trying to drop off and pick off before legging it to the office. Kids can arrive from 7.45am and have breakfast if needed. There are over 30 extra-curricular clubs. In addition to the usual art, music and sports clubs, I loved that Broadcasting, Coding, Chess, Lego, Debating and STEM were on the list too. Many of the activities run after school and include a light tea allowing you to pick up at 6pm. Little Upton Nursery is open 48 weeks of the year (exc Christmas and New Year). They have a blast, you feel less guilt and the digital nanny remains on furlough. Everyone’s happy.
Let’s start with the traditional uniform: blue blazer, pinafore and boater for the girls and blazer, shorts (or trews) and cap for the boys. It’s the sort of get up that parents love and you can certainly spot Upton House kids a mile off. Sky News’ Kay Burley certainly did while filming Harry and Meghan’s Royal Wedding, and before your knew it, the head and a cluster of kids were on the telly. it seems pretty apt, Princess Beatrice and Eugenie are Upton House alumni.
Mandarin is also taught from nursery up. There’s always a worry that this is thrown in to satisfy the ambitions of tiger mums but, to be honest, it reflects the progressive curriculum at Upton House. They are hellbent on preparing kids for an uncertain future. Languages, critical thinking and creativity will be essential.
The school released their own single. A Brand New Start was written by Head of Music Craig McEvoy to reflect and remember what we’ve all been through during the pandemic. All the kids and staff sang on the track and the money raised is going to Wexham Park Hospital Children’s Ward (listen to it here).
FEES: Pre-Nursery/Nursery fees start at £1,152-4,654 per term (inc funded hours); Pre-Prep £3,230-£4,320; Prep £5,375-£5,685 (inc lunch and swimming). Fees vary depending on pick up times and activities.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The mums I’ve talked to adore Upton House. It is happy and nurturing yet challenges their kids to be ambitious. The communication between parents and school is strong and parents appreciate that homework has been streamlined and family time is important.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
GOOD FOR: Well-rounded kids. The vibe is informal and friendly, but academically strong. Forward-thinking parents will love how immersive tech is in the curriculum. Good flexible after-school care is particularly helpful for busy working parents.
NOT FOR: Those who require boarding, a bucolic location with sweeping drive and acres of space.
DARE TO DISAGREE? Have a look for yourself at the Virtual Open Day on 9 Oct. Alternatively book an individual tours with the Head during term-time throughout the year.
Upton House School, 115 St Leonard’s Rd, Windsor SL4 3DF. Tel 01753 862 610