The Manor Preparatory School, Abingdon
Check out my update on this highly-regarded day school in Abingdon with fantastic ISI reports (excellent across the board) for kids 2-11 years old.
The Manor is a non-selective independent day school for boys and girls 2-11 years old in the outskirts of Abingdon, Oxon. There are 363 pupils (87 of which are early years) 82 boys and 281 girls with a maximum class size of 20, though the current average is a lip-smacking 16.
The main building of the school is a Georgian mansion, handsome rather than knock-out, and is mostly used for admin and the Headmaster’s office. The main school is a modern build, so quite a departure from many traditional prep schools.
The grounds are not huge (9 acres in all) but the space has been well thought out with several outside play areas divided into sections for kids of different ages, plus a conservation area with wildlife pond and gardens. Sports wise there’s pretty much everything catered for here, with tennis and netball courts, an athletics track and pitches for cricket, football, hockey, tag rugby and rounders. A spanking new sports hall to the tune of several million pounds, is now open.
MUSIC AND DRAMA
There are individual instrumental lesson rooms, where kids can learn any instrument they fancy (they’ll find the tutor to match) plus several larger music spaces, and a hall that doubles as the theatre for school performances. The Manor goes like the clappers on extra-curricular activities – over 100 of them offered weekly, including music groups and ensembles plus more unusual ones such as Scottish Country Dancing and racing cars in DT club. But I didn’t get a sense of teachers trying to push the children to do more-more-more in a negative way – that truly doesn’t seem to be the ethos of the school.
All instruments are offered for tuition, and drama is massively promoted at this school, though there’s no dedicated drama space with the main hall doubling up for the theatre. Former head Piers Heyworth was massively into drama, and there remains a strong emphasis on the kids practising public speaking, and entering competitions.
The Manor, in conjunction with Abingdon School and The School of St Helen and St Katharine, runs a bus service covering areas such as Henley, Shrivenham and Bicester, but there’s also a daily minibus from Streatley, Moulsford and Henleyrun by the school with a dedicated supervisor on board for the younger children.
Excellent. The Manor is proudly non-selective but still manages a haul of scholarships every year (scholarships offered for the current Year 6 total 20, with 5 prizes/awards for schools including St Helen’s and St Katharine’s, Headington School, Oxford High, The Abbey and Queen Anne’s Caversham).
There’s a fantastic dedicated cottage devoted to SEN – when I was there, two children with little spoken English were practising language games, while another was having a private maths lesson. The Manor has been judged ‘Outstanding in every area’ and so academically and pastorally the kids are in very safe hands.
Alastair Thomas, former head of co-ed The Elms School in the Malvern Hills has been with the school since January 2018. I’ve never seen a head smile so wide, but he’s every reason to be delighted to be at the helm of this school. Unsurprisingly so early in his tenure he’s more interested in watching and learning at the mo, rather than making any radical changes, though he has made tweaks such as a more useful parents’s evening.
Little people start here at 2 years old, and seem very safe, secure and content. They reside in their own self-enclosed area, with the the usual accoutrements of sandpit, outdoor space, good staff ratios, all the crafty stuff you can imagine, and happy kids. At this age, that’s all you want really. The Latin classes can wait.
It may sound strange, but I think possibly its biggest quirk is its modernity and sense of normality. For a school judged Outstanding in every area (not something many other prep schools can claim if you look closely at their ISI reports) there’s a lack of pomp or show-offness about The Manor – no Palladian mansion blocks, or scenic woodland driveways. The entrance is a bit meh off the main road, and many of the school buildings are functional in that Eighties brick institutional way.
But having been to many gorgeous-looking schools that don’t flow very well because you can’t knock through the Grade I listed walls or mess with the antique plumbing, I really liked seeing a school where classrooms are built with kids in mind. They’re warm, clean, light, and facilitate learning.
£4,260 per term in Reception through to £5,190 in Years 5&6.
WRAP AROUND CARE
The Manor is super flexible about kids staying late. The children can tell the teacher even on the same day that they need to stay on and can be accommodated up until 6pm. Cue grateful, overstretched parents everywhere. Children 3+ can attend Breakfast Club from 7.30am.
WORD ON THE GROUND
The Manor has a well-earned reputation for pastoral care along with its academic and extra-curricular success. I know quite a few mums whose kids go here, and they’re absolutely ecstatic about it. My feeling on walking around was that it was a very warm, welcoming, nurturing school. It doesn’t have that sense of old-fashioned freedom that some prep schools offer – the kids aren’t left to roam in woods or whack each others’ eyes out with conkers for example. Instead, there are specific areas for specific age groups, and permission is needed to run off into the grounds, which may not appeal to the romantic in you but may speak to the pragmatic parent in you.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Those looking for a superior all-round option, kids nurtured, brains engaged, opportunity to get involved in loads of different activities in a caring environment that has been judged Excellent in every possible area. Anyone looking for great comparative value for money – The Manor is less expensive than some other schools I’ve reviewed in the region.
Not for: Those who like pomp and grandeur, or for anyone looking for a country idyll – the school, like the well-respected St Helen’s & St Katherine’s next door (into which The Manor feeds), is a little way off a main road.
Dare to disagree?! Be my guest! Have a look for yourself at the Open Morning on Fri 3 May, 9.30-11.30am.
The Manor Preparatory School, Faringdon Road, Abingdon. OX13 6LN. Tel: 01235 858458.
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