Caldicott School, Farnham Royal
Set next to Burnham Beeches nature reserve in leafy South Bucks, Caldicott offers a homely atmosphere whilst still nailing it as a top feeder school to both Eton and Harrow.
Caldicott School is a selective boys’ day and boarding prep school for children 7 -13, nestling next to Burnham Beeches woodland reserve (made famous in Harry Potter no less) but less than 10 minutes from the high street of Farnham Royal in South Bucks and 30 minutes from west London. With 245 pupils and average class sizes of 18, Caldicott offers small enough classes to please parents but enough bodies to give boys plenty of friends.
A top feeder school for Eton and Harrow, the school is set in 40 acres, with an attractive, if not standout, Victorian mansion at its heart and the usual mix of architecture add-ons but it strikes the balance between grandeur (the cricket pitch and view beyond is pretty spectacular) and more homely or quirky touches.
More sports fields than 248 boys can handle! There are 15 football/rugby pitches, 11 cricket pitches, a climbing wall, squash and tennis courts, and an outdoor 15m swimming pool. Caldicott’s emphasis, historically, has been strongly sporting but modern times require more than the ability to thwack a ball and there’s been plenty of investment in recent years in the arts, with a music IT/recording suite, and The Centenary Hall (opened in 2004), designed for both music and drama productions.
If you have a sporty child they’re going to be in heaven here, and you can expect him to play competitive fixtures every week. Rugby, football, cricket, basketball, swimming, judo, squash, gymnastics, tennis, athletics plus an introduction to fencing, kayaking, and rowing are all on offer here. The athletics coach must be dab hand, because Caldicott were victorious at shot put and high jump at the National Prep Schools Athletics Championships.
If this all sound a bit alpha, don’t be disheartened. For those boys who don’t make it into the top teams, there are internal competitions in rugby and cricket and they make a fuss of them – the finals have live commentary, loud music and fireworks.
Read the latest ISI report (2017) on Caldicott here. https://www.caldicott.com/InspectionReports.aspx
The USP for Caldicott is its graduated boarding provision. Boys in Y3 and Y4 (7 and 8) are day pupils, boys in Y5 & Y6 have the option to board, and those in Y7 & Y8 (12-13 years) must board weekly. As the boarding numbers are relatively small for this reason at 129 boarders, all the boys are in one boarding house, split into three sections, one for the Y5&6, another for Year 7 and the third for Year 8.
The boarding rooms are pretty typical of the schools I visit – dorms of 3-7 children, in functional rooms. But did you ever hear a boy complaining about soft furnishings or the feng shui of his bed?
MUSIC AND DRAMA
With a Christian ethos at Caldicott, you won’t be surprised to find chapel featuring strongly in the music here. The Chapel Choir sings at the Sunday services and at St Marylebone Church, London for the Christmas Carol Service, and there are several other choirs on offer too.
75% of the boys learn an instrument at Caldicott, and like most private schools, even the most unusual predilection is catered for – there are currently 15 specialist music teachers, and past pupils have learned the bagpipes (I’m wincing just writing that sentence). And the usual range of music ensembles are on offer – jazz, guitar, chamber orchestra, percussion ensemble, brass ensemble – so if your child has a talent this direction it’s definitely nurtured.
On the drama front, a new staff member dedicated to developing LAMDA at the school has been brought on, perhaps indicative of the new head’s intent to make sure the arts rival sports for attention here.
You don’t become a top Eton/Harrow feeder school unless you’ve got the academics right. Caldicott passed 10 boys to Eton in 2019, 9 to Wellington, 7 to Harrow, 6 to Winchester, 3 to St Edwards Oxford, and unsurprisingly there’s a 100% pass rate at Common Entrance. The scholarship list is endless and – importantly – broad – honours proffered for music, sport, outstanding talent, all-rounder and academic in 2019.
Jeremy Banks came from the co-ed prep Beachborough School on the North Bucks/Northants border in 2018, where he’d made a big impression, not only for improving the academic reputation of the school during his time but also being an very early adopter on mindfulness, mental wellbeing and allowing kids to be kids. Banks is clearly ambitious for Caldicott – he says he wants to make it the best prep school in the UK, which is no mean feat – but he claims he won’t be doing it by piling the pressure on the kids, and just ‘winning stuff’. Having met him many times during Muddy reviews for Beachborough, my feeling is he’s just has keen to raise up the beta kid as support the alpha male.
Quirky is not the word for Caldicott, which plays on its English cricket whites and high flying tradition (former boys here include Nick Clegg and Andrew Strauss – English eccentrics they are not!).
But there are progressive elements here that Banks has introduced that you might see as left field – namely the Quiet Room/Pastoral Hub (below) – a room where boys can take some time out, and ‘desensitise’, using various sensory tools like lighting boxes, beanbags to lie on and even a tent in which to retreat. There’s often a teacher here too, so the boys have someone to talk to.
And slightly odd (though I quite like odd!) is the bank of computers on the mezzanine above the squash courts.
For a prep school the fees are on the chunky side. Years 3 & 4 day £5892, Years 5 & 6 day £6573, Years 5 & 6 boarding £8712 and Years 7 & 8 boarding £9690 per term.
WORD ON THE GROUND
It was a tough first year tenure for Jeremy Banks, taking over from a much-loved head of 19 years, who died during the handover, but the general feeling is that Banks has a modernising hand not only on issues of wellbeing but also equipping the children for the real world – robotics and coding are as important as Latin and Greek. Parents love the family ethos, and it’s not regarded as a pretentious school.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those looking for top tier next schools. Most boys would enjoy it here I think, and parents who like to feel a part in their children’s education will like the family atmosphere.
Not for: From a looks point of view, there are more shiny, overtly glamorous prep schools than Caldicott, so if you’re looking for that Downton Abbey moment as you drive up a tree-lined road to the school manor house, you won’t get it here. The cost will clearly exclude many would-be fee-paying parents.
Dare to disagree? The next open morning will be on Saturday 12 Oct 2019 10am-12pm.a
Caldicott Preparatory School, Crown Lane, Farnham Royal, Bucks SL2 3SL. Tel: 01753 649 300.