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 Harrow.
Caldicott School is a selective boys’ day and boarding prep school for children 7 -13, nestling next to 220 hectares of ancient forest at Burnham Beeches woodland reserve (used as a film location for two Harry Potter films, fact fans) but less than 10 minutes from the high street of Farnham Royal, and 30 minutes from west London.
With 250 pupils and average class sizes of 15 (maximum 18), Caldicott offers small enough classes to please parents but enough bodies to give boys plenty of friends. A top feeder school for Harrow, the school is set in 40 acres, with an attractive, if not standout, Victorian mansion at its heart, along with the usual mix of architecture add-ons over time and striking a balance between grandeur (the cricket pitch and view beyond being undeniably spectacular) and more homely or quirky touches that create the character and warmth.
More sports fields than 250 boys can handle! There are 15 football/rugby pitches, 11 cricket pitches (with a hybrid strip – go on, look it up), a climbing wall, squash and tennis courts, a huge sports hall, and an outdoor 20m swimming pool that’s recently been given a roof. If you have a sporty child they’re going to be in heaven here, with rugby, football, cricket, basketball, swimming, judo, squash, gymnastics, tennis, athletics plus an introduction to fencing, kayaking, and rowing all on offer. It’s worth noting that in 2019, Caldicott were the overall winners for sporting achievement at the Independent School of the Year Awards and it’s no surprise that over half of the scholarships won by Caldicott pupils for next schools are sporting.
Rugby and cricket to battle it out for supremacy at Caldicott though maybe rugby has edged this year, with the U13 rugby team currently ranked No1 in the UK, undefeated in 18 fixtures and three festivals in 2021-22. And rugby goes through the school like a stick of rock – even the DT teacher is an ex-England 7s international.
All that said, if this all sounds a bit alpha, don’t be put off. Although all pupils play rugby, the boys can choose non-contact if they prefer. And for those boys who don’t make it into the top teams, there’s a ‘sport for all’ philosophy that is very much at play, topped by internal competitions in rugby and cricket with live commentary, loud music and fireworks for the finals.
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 attractive, modern Centenary Hall (opened in 2004, above right), designed for both music and drama productions which houses the school’s Steinway piano.
With a Christian ethos at Caldicott, you won’t be surprised to find chapel featuring strongly in the music here in the weekly services. The Chapel Choir sings at St Marylebone Church in London for the Christmas Carol Service, and there are several other choirs on offer too.
Roughly 72% of the boys learn an instrument at Caldicott, and like most private schools, even the most unusual predilection is catered for (past pupils have learned the bagpipes – let’s hope the rooms are soundproofed). A new Head of Music has just started and as well as offering the usual range of music ensembles such as jazz, guitar, chamber orchestra, percussion ensemble, brass ensemble, there’s also a greater emphasis on Music Tech and apparently there’s a rock band about to emerge. No full orchestra is currently offered, but that’s little surprise in a school of 250.
Drama is an area that feels strong at Caldicott – nearly half the boys take LAMDA exams, with a huge 118 pupils gaining distinctions. There’s a staff member dedicated to developing LAMDA further at the school, a great sense of humour in play choices (Grease was the musical last term – apparently Sandy was great) and one of the boys who took me around on my tour, a young professional actor called Toby Woolf who you’ll see in Danny Boyle’s Pistol as the young Steve Jones, was full of praise for the drama here.
There have been improvements to the boys’ boarding bathrooms, and various ticklings up, but the big development for the school comes in the form of The Caldicott Foundation, established in Nov 20, that aims at investing in projects to transform the site over the next 10 years. See Head below for more info.
You don’t become a top Harrow feeder school unless you’ve got the academics right. There’s a 100% pass rate at Common Entrance, and in 2021 Caldicott passed 11 boys to Harrow with Stowe, Eton, Radley, Wellington College, Winchester, and Oundle divvying up much of the rest. No surprise here that Latin and Greek are both on the menu at Caldicott, though there are some additions that feel more modern. TPR (theology, philosophy and religion) has replaced Divinity, Critical thinking has been introduced from the first year (Year 3), and digital literacy has been brought in not as a subject but as a given across all lessons with all boys expecting to master excel, powerpoint and word.
And the cherry on the cake – there’s been a brand new subject created by the school called ETEC – engineering, technology, entrepreneurship and computing. Basically the head wants the next Elon Musk to come from Caldicott. Personally I like seeing entrepreneurship on the curriculum, it shows the school’s desire to stay relevant.
Saturday school is a bone of contention for many parents and Caldicott has changed its structure to accommodate the change in mood, with Years 3 & 4 no longer attending (apparently Monday to Fridays are now a bit more ‘purposeful’ for those years) and flexi boarding an option for children from Y3- 6 before weekly or full boarding kicks off for Years 7-8
Extra curricular activities are mindbogglingly diverse here. An impressive 32 options are offered for Spring Term 2022 including judo, climbing, Film Club, Creative Thinking and Entrepreneur Club and boys are encouraged to join in at least two clubs each week.
This is an area where head Jeremy Banks has excellent form. Pre-Covid at Caldicott he’d already introduced a Quiet Room/Pastoral Hub, a room where boys could take time out, and ‘desensitise’, using various sensory tools like lighting boxes (above), beanbags, and even a tent in which to retreat. Fast forward and there’s a new Deputy Head Pastoral, and the Buckinghamshire Mind programme is in place with a weekly wellbeing survey for all children, a black box for anonymous concerns, and the opportunity for the boys to talk to a ‘Caldicott listener’ – senior pupils who are trained by Bucks Mind to mentor and look out for issues in the younger kids.
If all else fails, there’s also Banks’ black lab Bertie to talk to – a great listener by all accounts.
The USP for Caldicott is its graduated boarding provision. Boys in Y3-6 have flexi boarding options should they wish to take it (including weekly for Y5-6), whilst those in Y7 & Y8 (11-13 years) must board weekly. The boarders are housed on the first floor of the main school, split into three self-contained areas. All of Years 7 & 8 board and have their own areas. The third area houses a mix of Years 3-6 full, including provision for up to 18 flexi boarders.
The boarding rooms are pretty typical of the schools I visit – functional dorms of mostly 4-6 children that won’t make it into a style magazine any time soon (as if the boys care). Common rooms have plenty of natural light, big screens and slouchy sofas. The cleaner comes in on Wednesdays but boys are expected to make their own beds, and there are hotly-contested prizes for the cleanest dorms. As with many boarding schools I visit, the pupils change their boarding buddies each term to avoid cliques, with each boy choosing four friends he’d like to room with, and one of the four guaranteed.
Minibuses collect boys from Notting Hill, Brook Green, Chiswick, Barnes Bridge and Hammersmith in London and High Wycombe and Marlow in Buckinghamshire, and return them home in the evening, prep done, each morning including Saturdays. There’s been increased interest from the Home Counties for Caldicott from the Cotswolds as well as Hertfordshire, but sorry, no mini buses for you lot yet!
MOBILE PHONE POLICY
‘Hello. It’s me’. Er, sorry Adele, even you can’t get through to Caldicott on mobile. Day pupils and UK-based boarders aren’t allowed phones at all, only international boarders, who must hand phones to Matrons until they need them. There are cute wooden cubicles where kids can call home using phone cards, though.
Jeremy Banks arrived at Caldicott in 2018, after 12 years at the co-ed prep Beachborough School on the North Bucks/Northants border (five of those years as Head), where he’d made a big impression, not only for improving the academic reputation of the school but also being a very early adopter on pupil mindfulness and wellbeing.
Now into his fourth year at Caldicott, Banks’ ambition of “making it the best prep school in the UK, feeding to the best senior schools in the UK” remains undimmed, though he’s keen to do that via inclusion and participation rather than just “winning stuff”. This is part of his philosophy to keep Caldicott culturally relevant to modern parents whilst celebrating the school’s traditional values. Not an easy marriage, but Banks is having a good stab at it – he’s even made up a word, ‘tradelevant’ (and yes, he hashtags it), to describe Caldicott to parents.
Also worth mentioning that Banks has created a master plan for the further development of the school. The Caldicott Foundation includes practical improvements like putting a new roof on the sports hall, and updating the kitchens, but the really fun bit will be developing the sports pavilion, creating a beautiful piazza and giving ETEC its own building. The other string to the Foundation is more philanthropic – to support fully-funded scholarships and bursaries for boys not otherwise able to attend the school. Currently there are four children with fully-funded places at Caldicott but the idea would be to increase this over to time to around 20 places per year.
Quirky is not the word for Caldicott which, despite its more modern outlook, still plays on its high-flying tradition (former boys here include Nick Clegg and Andrew Strauss – English eccentrics they are not). It’s a school with standards! There are teachers at the end of the table at lunch. There’s a Latin motto – per victoriam ad gloriam -through victory to glory. There’s Banks in a tweed three piece suit. There are boys playing cricket literally everywhere. It’s as English and proper as afternoon tea and the boys seem to love it.
Caldicott is academically selective , but it does offer in-class support to those with mild SEND needs.
The school is committed to its pledge of using 100% green energy to run the school by the end of 2022 so I’ll report back on 1 Jan 2023!
For a prep school the fees are on the chunky side. Years 3 & 4 day £6246 per tem, Years 5 & 6 day £6967, Years 5 & 6 boarding £9244 and Years 7 & 8 boarding £10271 per term. Flexi boarding is £55 per night.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Jeremy Banks’ first year in 2018 was tough, having taken over from a much-loved head of 19 years who died during the handover. However, several years on, the general feeling is that Banks has had 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, the boys seems to like Banks, and it’s not regarded as a pretentious school. The boys I talked to described there being loads to do – as is often the case with boarding schools, they saw ‘joiners-in’ enjoying the school more than introverts. School lunches have apparently improved recently. Very little to critique here, except I was told by a few of the boys at the top of the school, who typically end their day at 8pm after prep and activities, that they’d like a bit more free time to unwind.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those looking for top tier next schools. Most boys would enjoy it here I think, there’s strong pastoral care, and parents who like to feel a part in their children’s education will like the family atmosphere. Manners are excellent and taught from the first day here – doors opened, strangers ‘good morning’ed, and plenty of eye contact.
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? Be my guest! See for yourself at the next open morning, taking place on 21 May 2022 from 10am – 12pm.
Caldicott Preparatory School, Crown Lane, Farnham Royal, Bucks SL2 3SL. Tel: 01753 649 300.