Muddy says: Hard to find fault with this lovely co-ed prep school on the Bucks/Northants borders - a family vibe, pretty rural setting and great results.
BEACHBOROUGH SCHOOL, WESTBURY, NR BRACKLEY
What? Where? Beachborough is a bucolic prep school at Westbury Manor, tickling the Northants, Bucks and Oxon borders, and perfectly positioned for those around Bicester, Buckingham, Banbury (or further if you don’t mind the drive). Co-educational with a 50/50 boy/girl split with 388 pupils this year – just about capacity – the school is set in 35 acres of frankly gorgeous grounds. The main building is very attractive and homey when you go inside – sofas in hallways, light and spacious, kids’ art everywhere ( I mean, really everywhere), cosy tweedy armchairs. If you like your schools with a feeling of informality and intimacy, you’re in the right place.
You’d expect any prep school charging nearly £16k a year to have some decent sport, drama and music facilities, and Beachborough has invested heavily in the last few years, with the requisite Performing Arts centre, massive sports hall, astro, netball and tennis courts, forest school and spingly spangly pre-prep area. The big headline all-lights-flashing development is the new £700k DT building – it will be ready for September and in a typical Beachborough move won’t offer ‘DT’ but their own take on it called TED – Technology, Engineering, Design – including robotics, coding, 3D printing and electronics.
For those more interested in green space than science, the grounds offer big views out onto the fields, with woods for den building and a recently completed Wetlands area for all out door learning from pond dipping to drama (Year 5 are just about to perform The Gruffalo in the woods).
Boarding: Roughly 25% of kids at Beachborough board, either flexi or four days a week (there’s no termly here), and the boarding houses here are well above average, with lovely individual murals that raise them way above the usual white plasterboard dorms.
The academic results: 100 per cent of children at the school pass the Common Entrance exam – as a passionately non-selective school that’s a big academic tick. This year 23 scholarships and awards have been given to Beachborough pupils – the headline news for Beachborough is that the number of acadmic scholarships is the hightest ever (9) but there are also 6 all-rounders, 4 in sport and a smattering in drama, music and art. Classes hold a maximum of 18, and the scholarship groups are no more than 15.
Jeremy Banks, fairly new to the job when I first met him back in 2014, has really grown into his role, clearly eager to extend Beachborough past its friendly, inclusive reputation into more of a leading school role, at the vanguard of trying new techniques to help kids learn. The latest initiative? A brand new wellbeing programme of lessons every week for all prep school kids starting from September, with mindfulness opportunities every day. Wellbeing is the big buzz word right now in schools but not many I’ve seen have really put their thoughts into actions so it’s a big emoji smiley face on that one.
Also worth mentioning that The school also has its own Duke of Edinburgh-style awards where children need to reach out of their comfort zone to gain badges – so sporty kids will have to try some drama, academic kids need to give sport a go, and all kids need to be open to different challenges.
Little people can start at 2.5 years in the nursery and it’s waaaaay superior to the various nurseries I’ve used for my kids over the years. The nursery is spacious, bright, with a great outdoor space right next to the main lawn. There’s also a Pre-prep is next door (to help transition up the school) and just as lovely, and as you go up the school and into the manor house itself, it’s more of the same.
All the kids have to wear boiler suits to go out and play (see below) which looks supercute when they’re toddlers but is probably a bit tough on the street cred by the time they’re in Years 5 and 6. Still, no one forces them to wear them as they get more senior in the school, so your 12 year old won’t have need for a full pre-teen fashion strop.
What else? The headmaster, staff and kids’ water fight at the end of summer term and bi-annual Family Campout on the front lawn suggests a good a sense of humour and strong community feel to the school.
Wrap around care: It’s very good, and entirely flexible. Kids can stay for tea, or after school clubs without charge, or even board at short notice (an extra cost). Flexi-boarding is the norm; kids can book in for as many nights as they like and weekly boarding is also offered. There is no Saturday school, in contrast to Winchester House nearby.
Word on the ground: The mums I’ve talked to have really rated it, and it definitely has a very upbeat, ‘can-do’ aura. The Triathlon series and horseriding competitions in the school grounds have been going down well.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Well-rounded kids. The vibe is informal and friendly, but academically strong – not an easy mix to pull off. The superior sport, drama and music facilities are impressive and all children get to participate fully. Good flexible after-school care in mind is particularly helpful for busy working parents.
Not for: Those who require full-boarding, a town location, a larger school cohort, or parents who prefer a more ‘starchy’ approach to schooling.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the Open Day, Friday 12 May, 9.3oam-12pm.
Beachborough School, Westbury, Nr Buckingham, NN13 5LB. Tel: 01280 700071.