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 on the outskirts of Abingdon, Oxon. There are 387 pupils (98 of which are early years), 115 boys and 272 girls with a maximum class size of 20, though the current average is a lip-smacking 16. 36 of the pupils are EAL, which means English is their second language.
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 – 144 individual instrumental lessons offered weekly, plus music groups, ensembles, and more unusual ones such as Robotics and Yoga. 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 with the Main Hall designed and used as a drama space (there are separate halls for sports and lunch).
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 Henley run 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, Exhibitions and Awards offered for this year’s Year 6 total 26 (out of 58 children), for schools including Abingdon School, Headington School, Magdalen College School, Oxford High, Queen Anne’s and St Helen and St Katharine.
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 as “Excellent”, the ISI’s highest grade in all areas 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 and has now started making some changes including an extension of Forest School so it’s available for more pupils and the introduction of Mindfulness on the curriculum to promote positive mental health and wellbeing. The extra curricular programme now caters to a wider range of interests, sporting provision has increased and the wrap around care, already good at the school, has been increased further – much of it at no extra cost to parents.
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 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 Excellent 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.
The school was inspected by the ISI in April 2017. Read the report here.
Really good value in my opinion. £4690 per term in Reception through to £5720 in Years 5 & 6 (Autumn 2021).
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 those nostalgic for the freedoms of childhood, 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 & St Katharine’s next door (into which The Manor feeds), is a little way off a main road.
The Manor Preparatory School, Faringdon Road, Abingdon. OX13 6LN. Tel: 01235 858458.
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