Ashfold School, Dorton, Mid Bucks
This bucolic co-ed prep school for day pupils and boarders in the rolling hills of Buckinghamshire is family-oriented with a deserved reputation for its all-rounder offering.
ASHFOLD SCHOOL, DORTON, NR AYLESBURY
WHAT? WHERE? There’s no denying the beauty of Ashfold School’s setting, in a valley in Dorton, a small village on the Oxon/Bucks border, close to Thame and Princes Risborough and within easy reach (about 20 mins) of Bicester and Oxford. For those in London, the school is within 15 minutes of a mainline station (Chiltern Line) to Marylebone. The School’s centrepiece is an elegant Jacobean mansion with a tree-lined approach worthy of a film set, nestling in 30 acres of stunning grounds.
Co-educational with a 60/40 split between boys and girls, Ashfold School takes kids from age 3 (in the nursery bit obviously). Kids can board weekly, flexi or come as day pupils. The flexi boarding in particular is massively popular with the kids (and their knackered parents). There’s no Saturday school here – Ashfold prides itself on its family-friendly ethos, so you can have you little darlings back all weekend.
Worth knowing too that the school has a strong Christian and pastoral approach, with regular assemblies and grace before meals (where kids eat with their teachers, so limited opportunities to flick peas across the table) and an emphasis on manners and tolerance.
Excellent, as you’d expect with all the usuals plus a full-sized astroturf for hockey, heated outdoor pool, a fishing lake, indoor rifle range, indoor and outdoor cricket nets, newly refurbed netball/tennis courts and of course oodles and oodles of playing fields.
The latest big headline facility is the £1.3m Art & Design Centre (above) opened in January 2016, and it really is an impressive space, with purpose-built facilities for art, design technology, cookery, printing and ceramics, and including latest technologies like CAD/CAM/laser cutter and vacuum former. There’s also a purpose-built Cookery & Nutrition room for budding Hestons and Angelas.
A £100k IT update has been completed recently – more tecky fun than you can shake a stick at with the latest Microsoft hybrid tablets, iPads, a new satellite music suite, interactive screens in classrooms and every computer replaced. There’s a huge after-school activities programme, offering kids in Years 5-8 the chance to try more than 30 different activities during the year – everything from Fashion Design and Robotics to Dance and Fishing. On the buildings front, there are newly refurbed Maths and English rooms, and a new Learning Support room.
Ashfold feeds into the top independent schools like Abingdon, Harrow, Magdalen College School and Radley (boys), Headington, Oxford High, St Helen and St Katharine and Tudor Hall (girls) and Bradfield, Rugby, St Edward’s (Oxford), Stowe Radley and Wellington College (co-ed). In 2018 there was an 100% pass rate at Common Entrance and in recent years more than 40% of Sixth Form leavers have won scholarships or awards to their senior schools including academic, all-rounder, sport, art and drama scholarships, underlining Ashfold’s reputation for all-round education.
French is now taught from Pre-Prep III and there’s an Academic Scholars’ Club and weekly masterclasses for art, DT, music, sport, computing and drama. But fear not, if your little darling isn’t on course for a Nobel prize or an Oscar, Ashfold is very friendly and inclusive, fielding up to 5 teams in sports and giving everyone a chance to get involved in music and drama etc. French is taught from Year 3, and Latin from Year 5. Class sizes are small so places get filled quickly. Drama is also taught as a curriculum subject in the Junior and Senior Departments (Years 3 to 8) with a dedicated Drama teacher.
There’s a delicious scholarship available for kids joining in Year 7 which includes guaranteed entry to Stowe School at 13+ and up to 100% of fees and also now one for girls to go to Tudor Hall. Check out the school website for application deadlines.
The most recent ISI report in 2015 judged Ashfold excellent in achievement and learning, boarding, spiritual, moral and social development and lots of others.
All change this September (2018) with a new head teacher – Colin Macintosh, former Deputy Head of Beaudesert Park School has taken over from Michael Chitty, who was 21 years in the hot-seat. I haven’t met Macintosh yet as he’s only two weeks into the job, but my moles tell me he’s gone down well so far with parents and kids so far, and with over 15 years’ experience in prep schools he knows his stuff.
There’s a purpose-built pre-prep building with its own play areas. Pre-Prep children eat lunch with their teachers in the main dining room and use the 16th century oak-panelled saloon in the main mansion for their assemblies. There’s a lovely adventure playground that they can access and they also utilise main school facilities such as the Library and, as they get older, the Art & Design Centre and the Sports Hall (due for refurb). There are plenty of opportunities for the littlies to shine with regular concerts, school trips, and their own Sports Day.
Ashfold doesn’t do quirky in general. ‘Family-oriented’ is probably the better word for Ashfold – it’s quite a community, with parent/staff netball, hockey and tennis, wine tastings, quiz nights, regular coffee mornings, fireworks, Burns Night dinner, and a massive May Ball every second year. It’s quite a small school in terms of numbers so parents do get to know each other well.
WRAP AROUND CARE
There have been big improvements in the pre-and and post school care, with the school now offering daily breakfast club from 7.30am and after-school clubs with tea until pick up at 6pm. On a slightly different note, you can also bung your kids into the increasing number of school holiday clubs – over the last year there have been camps for musical theatre, tennis, multi-activity, plus pre-season rugby and hockey.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Ashfold mums will talk your ear off about how nurturing the school is. They love it. Much is made of it being a school that let’s kids be kids – children can roam around in the grounds, climb trees, make dens, hang off the adventure playground equipment, play conkers (now banned in many schools – I mean, come on!). Muddy trousers are not uncommon by any stretch. But there’s discipline and rigour too. Kids are proud to come here. Ashfold music has been transformed by the relatively new musical director, as has drama, with Ashfold now an official LAMDA exam centre.
Sport is a powerhouse area (15 sports on offer including triathlon) and with a new Director of Sport recently arrived, odds are it will get even stronger. The rugby teams, hockey and athletics teams are formidable and equestrian is strong too.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Outdoorsy kids, parents who want flexi boarding options, those who seek a friendly smaller school in the countryside with a strong sense of community.
Not for: Those who’d like their kids home early. Ashfold days are long, starting at 8am and finishing at 5-6pm depending on year groups.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the Come & Play session for parents and pre-school children on Wednesday 3 October, from 9.15 to 10.45am or the Open Morning on Saturday 6 October 2018, from 10am to 12noon, and let me know what you think.
Ashfold School, Dorton House, Aylesbury, Bucks HP18 9NG.