Winchester House School, Brackley
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I revisited Winchester House School last month (April 2016) to update this review.
The third in my series of Muddy Good School Guides, this one focuses on
WINCHESTER HOUSE SCHOOL, BRACKLEY
What? Where? Winchester House School in Brackley (above) is a non-selective co-educational prep school for 3-13 year olds, set in the centre of the attractive town of Brackley on the Bucks/Oxon/Northants borders. The school offers places for day pupils, occasional and weekly boarders. Current numbers are 336 -194 boys to 142 girls.
The main building was originally a faux-Tudor 19th century hunting lodge, and retains the grandeur with lots of turned wood, wall panels, grand staircases, stained glass and Manor-house style gardens. The site is attractive and though it feels compact it actually extends over 18 acres.
Facilities: The usual array of tennis courts, sports fields and modern sports hall and swimming pool. Add to that 3 specialist science labs, extracurricular activities including riding and polo lessons, a weekly ski club to MK Snodome and most recently the development of a full size floodlit Astro and you start to understand where your £5920 per term is going.
The main house is substantial and used for dining, the Head’s office, and boys boarding. There’s a separate modern boarding houses for girls who have the best deal of it with wide screen TVs and comfy communal sofas, but then, let’s face it, they’re probably the ones who care most about these things! The boys’ dorm has been given a definite spruce since my last visit – pictures, posters, noticeboards, colourful cushions etc), in addition to the much more important original fittings – table football and a pool table and the bant-arrr.
Massive investment to the tune of £2m+ is ear-marked in the next two years for an upgrade of senior school learning areas and classrooms, the Upper Quad (stable block) and also expanding and improving the performance hall which is, shall we say, ‘of its time’.
Massive investment to the tune of £2m+ is ear-marked for an upgrade of senior school learning areas and classrooms, the upper quad (stable block) and also developing , expanding and improving the performance hall which is, shall we say, ‘of its time’.
What else? Plenty of recent successes for WHS to shout about. Success over the last year in hockey, with both the 1st VII girls’ hockey and boys’ U13 hockey teams reaching the National Finals, while the U11 boys won the Midlands Regional Tournament. I think it’s safe to say that WHS does well at most sports. Academically, WHS won the Year 6 Oxford Maths Challenge.
The academic results: Tutor groups hold a maximum of 15, and there’s specialist teaching in all subjects from Year 5, with Latin taught from Year 6 with Greek as a further option, so maybe it’s no surprise that in 2015 50% of the Year 8 leavers gained scholarships to the likes of Oundle, Millfield and Rugby. When you consider the school is non-selective, that statistic is incredibly impressive and looks likely to be upheld for 2016 – this year 2016 – 17 scholarships confirmed so far out of a possible 36, with two still to be decided.
Last time I reviewed Winchester House school, the head Emma Goldsmith was just about to take the hot seat, having been deputy head at nearby Bloxham school. I met her briefly back then, and liked her – she seemed very switched on, an experienced (and glamorous) pair of hands but also as a mum herself whose own two kids went through WHS, she had a very useful dual perspective on the school.
Two years on, she’s clearly made her mark here. A couple of Y8 students I spoke to when I revisited last month, who remembered the previous (and popular) head teacher, commented that Mrs Goldsmith is more hands on and involved. She’s implemented a Head for the Day event where she swaps roles with one of the children for the day, and this year is actually planning to have one of children’s parents be Head for the Day. Yes people, a parent meddling behind the scenes. That takes a lot of confidence. The other significant change since she started is that the school day is front-loaded with lessons in the morning, with chapel and assemblies in the afternoon when the kids are tired. Also all prep can now be completed at school, so children can relax at home.
Littlies: Most prep schools offer nurseries these days (get em in young!) and Winchester House School is no different. So little people here can start at the term they turn three in a modern nursery (opened 2014) and move up through pre-prep into the senior school. The kids get to enjoy lovely weekly ‘Going Wild’ sessions in the magical walled Secret Garden – a really gorgeous facility – where they run around having fun and experiencing nature first hand, and they also use all the facilities of the main school – not least specialist teachers who come over to the nursery to teach ICT, French, music and sport to your little geniuses.
Quirks: Winchester House School isn’t a place I’d associate particularly with quirkiness or eccentric flair. It has tradition. It takes manners seriously. It has a Latin motto, Non Nobis Solum means? No I didn’t know either but it means ‘Not for ourselves alone’ – and I like that ethos too. But WHS is by no means staid. Teaching is firmly modern (lots of outdoor learning, expert visits, specialist tutoring), and the school has a down-to-earth, friendly, inclusive vibe that’s led by the head – she has a ‘round the kitchen table’ activity for Year 3s in her house every week for godsake!
Anything else? Well, there’s Tinker Time – seriously! – in the new Tinker Shed, an old work shed that now houses Raspberry Pi computers, robotic kits, bits of old radios, toys and other electronics where kids can dismantle, reassemble and, well, tinker.
All children take part in the Learn to Lead programme, a school initiative that encourages self-esteem, goal-setting, analysing personal strengths and weaknesses and becoming a good role model – I like the sound of that a lot. There’s a bi-annual event called Chemical Extravaganza where kids who show talent in science put on a show for fellow pupils, parents and visitors with chemical displays that include Walking on Custard and Howling Jelly Babies – frankly two experiments I’d pay good money to see.
Over 75% of the kids play at least one musical instrument. Travel wise, A daily minibus that picks up from Chipping Norton, Banbury and Bicester areas.
Wrap around care: Once upon a time Winchester House School was a full-boarding school, but more kids using the nursery and pre-prep has meant that increasingly families come from the local community so it’s all about flexibility – early starts and a choice of end times to the school day – kids can be picked up at 5pm (after doing prep), or 6.30 (after prep, activity and tea).
Kids can board weekly, occasionally, or come as a day pupil to the school. Boarding seems very popular – 42% of all children in Year 3 and above board at least one night a week. The boarding houses look fairly standard to my eye, nothing above and beyond the basics, but as a kid I’d be perfectly happy with my cosy dorm, modern bed and wall space for 1D posters. And the house parents I met had a young family themselves and seemed really lovely. A second family is coming in September to look after the girls dorm.
Also worth mentioning that not many prep schools offer Saturday school these days (off the top of my head I think Dragon and …. help me out anyone!) but Winchester House School does for all kids in Year 5+. Which means parents get the morning to read Muddy Stilettos in peace. Come on people, that’s priceless!
Word on the ground: The mums I’ve spoken to are very pro the school, happy with the academic side, the 2013 ISI report, and the music, drama and sport. There are loads of opportunities for all kids to take part in sports teams (the school regularly fields A, B, C, and D teams). Bits of the school are a bit scruffy but those I spoke to don’t mind it, and see it as part of the charm.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Those looking for a traditional local prep-school with positive values but with all the extra curricular trimmings, but which feeds to all the top national senior schools. The central town location is a plus for older children.
Not for: Those who are looking for their kids to board full-time; parents looking for English eccentricity; those who desire rolling country views from every direction.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the Whole School Open Morning on Sat 14 May – 10.30am-1pm. You can either book if you’re feeling organised or if you’re pathetic like me, just turn up.
Winchester House School, 44 High Street, Brackley, Northants, NN13 7AZ. winchester-house.org
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