Lambrook School, Winkfield Row
A top co-ed school for ages 3-13 set in 52 acres of Berkshire countryside, with a strong reputation for sport and extra-curricular activities.
LAMBROOK SCHOOL, WINKFIELD ROW, BERKSHIRE
Lambrook School is a bucolic day and boarding prep school near Ascot that definitely has the wow factor. Co-educational with 560 pupils (56% boys/ 44%girls) – just about capacity – the school is set in 52 acres of frankly stunning grounds. The main building is a grand white house and, when you go inside, it’s light, spacious and absolutely pristine. If you like your schools homely yet polished, you’re in the right place.
The school dates back to 1860 and was set up to educate the sons of Windsor Castle courtiers. But those days are long gone. It’s now a buzzy co-ed prep for 3 to 13 year olds, that has Berkshire and London parents clambering to get their children on the waiting list. Yes, there is one and you need to be thinking about a year ahead.
You’d expect any prep school charging around £20k a year to have top notch sport, drama and music facilities, and Lambrook has stepped up to plate, having invested heavily over the last few years, with the requisite high spec performing arts centre, a 25m indoor swimming pool, full size astroturf pitch, 9-hole golf course, outdoor adventure play area and spingly spangly nursery and pre-prep areas. The big headline all-lights-flashing development is the impressive new £6million Art, Design and Technology building – the paint is barely dry and the builders are just finishing up. But it’s looking super fly.
There’s a bright spacious art studio, science labs, an exhibition/meeting space with awesome outlook across the playing fields (take cover here on rainy match days, parents), two large computer suites, a design and tech suite, digital learning centre, rehearsal studio, new changing rooms and classrooms. I mean, they’ve thrown the kitchen sink at this project. I’m the least arty or techy person on the on the planet and even I wanted to get stuck in and create something.
For those more interested in green space than science, the grounds offer epic views out onto the fields, with woods for den building and outdoor learning. Pre-prep were off on a Bear Hunt during my visit – how sweet is that? There’s a real sense of fun and freedom among the Lambrook pupils, who at break times make like a herd of buffalo to enjoy the fresh air – climbing trees, swinging from tyres and playing games. It was good to see them all letting off steam without the health and safety police running a risk assessment every time a child approaches a tree.
Music is big here and the new Diamond Jubilee Centre, opened by the Earl of Wessex, provides a 250-seat theatre, classrooms and practice rooms for pupils having individual music lessons ranging from piano, violin and flute to trumpet, guitar and singing. The 25-strong chapel choir sings at all chapel services, as well as public performances at Eton College Chapel. Jazz handers are also well catered for with year groups creating plays in just two days, putting on musicals and LAMDA lessons and they regularly perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Cool credits, right there.
Lambrook is your flexible friend when it comes to boarding. Roughly 75% of kids board in some capacity, either weekly, flexi or occasional (there’s no termly option here), and the two boarding houses (the girls are in Lambrook House, boys in Westfield) offering 50 beds, are well above average. I particularly love the online booking system too, allowing parents to organise a school sleepover without too much effort (providing there’s a bed). Note to self, be more organised than usual.
100 per cent of children at the school pass the Common Entrance exam – as a non-selective school that’s a big academic tick. Headline news is that this June they achieved 13 Scholarships out of a year group of 43 children – 11 boys secured places at Eton, while others are skipping off to Downe House, Wellington, Bradfield and Charterhouse. There’s a lot to be said for small class sizes (max 16) and quality teaching staff.
Lessons are also just 35 minutes long! That’s right, 10 periods of 35 minutes, although there are doubles thrown in for older children. In my experience, most kids have the attention span of a goldfish, so this has got to be good, right? Efficiencies of learning, I like it.
Jonathan Perry has been head since 2010 and is charm personified. He is ambitious for the school, but feels a duty to give the children in his care the ‘feathers to fly’. It goes way beyond soaring academics and successes on the sports field. He is passionate about producing well-rounded, world ready children – confident, community minded, well-mannered, with a lust for learning.
Full of enthusiasm, you can feel Perry’s ambition to build on Lambrook’s success, but where do you go from here? With all prep schools promising good academics and extra curricular delights, Lambrook has certainly invested heavily in facilities and quality teaching. Maintaining that requires good leadership and a clear vision. The fear, of course, is that after 8 years in the job, could he be lured elsewhere? ‘Not just yet, and certainly not another prep school,’ Perry tells me. Lambrook parents can breathe a sigh of relief – Jonathan and his wife Jenny are much loved. It helps that he has the extraordinary ability to never forget a name – pupil or parent. Worth testing, non?
Little people can start at three in the nursery and it’s waaaaay superior to the many of the nurseries I’ve used for my kids over the years. The nursery is spacious, bright, with a great outdoor space. They also wear the cutest gingham aprons, which made my ovaries ache. So cute. The Pre-Prep is next door (to help transition up the school) and just as lovely, and as you go up the school, it’s more of the same. In fact, Lambrook goes to great lengths to ensure the transitions are silky smooth. Its worth nothing, the children make full use of the 52 acres, spending lots of time outside everyday – rain or shine – waterproof boiler suits and wellies at the ready. They have weekly swimming lessons and there’s after school care available if you’re struggling to fit a mid-afternoon pick up into your working week.
Shall we start with the bees? Lambrook has its own hives and bee-keeping is just one of the gazillion extra-curricular activities here – Lambrook honey anyone? Yum. Bees not your bag? No problemo, there’s film making, animation, scuba diving, Mini Masterchef, polo (we’re near Ascot and horse riding is practically the law), skiing, survival, recycling, fencing, trampolining, debating, recycling. The list is long… very, very long.
You’ll never have to wash a muddy sports kit… EVER! The children’s laundry is all taken care of at school from sweaty socks to wet towels. Giddy with excitement at the thought of it.
There is a bit of trend for schools to blur the sporting gender stereotypes. With so many brilliant national role models in women’s football, rugby and cricket, it’s great to see Lambrook girls regularly playing cricket. There’s still work to be done to see more football and rugby being played – and on the flip side see more boys taking dance lessons – but until more schools take the leap, matches are going to be few and far between. Where’s the fun in that? Come on, let’s make this happen, people.
In other news, I love the school’s Spidey senses for teaching the children to give back – ‘With great privilege comes great responsibility,’ Jonathan Perry told me. And they practice what they preach. An annual trip to Sweden, requires each pupil to raise £500 each to provide the same opportunity for a disadvantaged child. Car washes, bakes sales, sponsored anything and everything and they all hit the target. Now 12 children via the Teenage Wilderness Trust will enjoy the same adventure. Amaaaazing! A whopping £18,000 was was donated to a South African school during last year’s cricket tour as well.
And the altruism is catching because the parents have been raising eye-watering sums too, handing over a big fat cheque to Thames Valley Playground Trust.
WRAP AROUND CARE
It’s very good. For starters, buses whizz around collecting children from Eton, Henley-on-Thames, Maidenhead, Reading, Virginia Water, Windsor and London. No stressful school runs, YESSS!! Plenty time for a leisurely double shot latte in the morning. Breakfast club runs from 7.30am, kids can stay for tea, after school clubs (all year groups), 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.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Gushing! Parents love the facilities, the ridiculous choice of clubs and after-school options and the head gets a good report. Their children are happy, enjoy school life and are well prepared for life after Lambrook. There’s a lot to love.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Well-rounded, confident kids. The vibe is inclusive, fun 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 and a superb bus network is particularly helpful for frazzled parents.
Not for: Those who require full-boarding, a town location, or parents who prefer a more ‘starchy’ or edgy approach to schooling – you’ll either love or hate the wholesomeness of the place.
Dare to disagree?! Have a look for yourself at the Open Day, Saturday 29th September 2018, 9.30am – 12 midday.
Lambrook School, Winkfield Row, Nr Ascot, Berkshire RG42 6LU. Tel: 01344 882717