Moulsford School, Moulsford-on-Thames
Muddy says: A highly-regarded boy’s prep school in South Oxon in a stonkingly lovely setting on the Thames, with a strong reputation for sport.
A highly regarded boy’s prep school with weekly boarding in South Oxfordshire in a stonkingly lovely setting by the river, here’s the latest Muddy review.
MOULSFORD SCHOOL, MOULSFORD-ON-THAMES
Moulsford School is an all boy’s prep school with weekly boarding in South Oxfordshire in a stonkingly lovely setting by the river in Moulsford-on-Thames (and enticingly close to the lovely Beetle & Wedge boathouse restaurant). The original building is a grand red brick Victorian mansion, with some seriously cool tiled floors…
… a lot of wood panelling and stained glass, and a grand staircase that leads up to the boarding block.
Sympathetic modern buildings house the classrooms for the 339 boys aged 4-13, of whom 36 are boarders. There are 30 acres in total to Moulsford School, and a feeling of space and tranquillity that probably springs from that glorious river.
Sport is a big deal at Moulsford and it’s no surprise to see why with these kind of facilities. At least 8 cricket pitches, 12 sets of cricket nets, one large hockey pitch on the astro, which can be divided into two small pitches, four tennis courts, up to 12 football/rugby pitches and a massive indoor gym that’s marked up for tennis, badminton and basketball with an indoor climbing wall to boot (not to mention a natty mezzanine with views over the river). Oh, and a 15 metre outdoor swimming pool. But the biggest selling point sports wise for the school is its watery USP. It offers comprehensive water sports including kayaking, canoeing and even dinghy sailing where kids can go up to ‘Goose Poo Island’ for the full Swallows & Amazons experience.
If your child can’t catch a ball to save his life, but is a dab hand at Chopin études, there’s the usual range of music practice rooms and peri teachers. The dedicated music space is relatively small, though it doesn’t seem to put the kids off – over 70% of senior boys are taught a musical instrument at Moulsford.
Also, as there are no girls around, it’s not regarded sissy to play more girl-friendly instruments like the flute or harp (both of which are taught here), or to join the orchestra. The same thing goes for the choir. My sons would both rather sit in detention for days than have to do anything as revolting as (spit it out) SING but the school choir is massively oversubscribed at Moulsford and is seen as a cool thing to do.
Don’t believe me? I grilled five Moulsford kids for half an hour, really lovely normal boys forced to be interrogated by your cynical Muddy correspondent on their break time, and they were all desperate to find out if they’d got into choir. Love or loathe single sex schools, this ability to take on activities co-ed boys are reluctant to try does seem to be one real benefit for the boy-only environment.
Drama-wise, the main school hall is small but well-appointed with all the theatre lighting and pull-out tiered seating you’d expect. There are major plans afoot to build a new drama/music complex in the next few years (and money already assigned), but in the meantime, drama seems well catered for. All kids get the opportunity to perform or be involved in a theatre production each year, drama courses run in holidays and children in certain years being offered an introduction to film production. On the technology front, there’s a swanky new ICT suite, and after a successful trial where last year’s Y4 each had their own ipad to use in relevant classes, they are now keeping those ipads in Y5 and the new Y4s get shiny new ones.
Strong. Moulsford isn’t overly academic in its selection process (the school is oversubscribed and the school looks actively at ‘all round’ abilities) and in fact, 41 children of its children have 1:1 learning support, mostly for dyslexia/dyspraxia, which makes its academic record even more impressive – 33% of pupils in 2014 and 2015 received scholarships and awards to their Senior school destinations (5 academic, 2 all rounder, 3 music and 3 sports) and the kids I spoke to recognised they were being stretched at the school. Equally it didn’t seem academically snooty, with the kids I met putting equal emphasis on achievement in any sphere.
It’s been all-change at Moulsford, with the previous headteacher of 20 years replaced in 2014 by Ben Beardmore-Gray. Married with kids at the school and his wife Sarah, left, overseeing the marketing, communications and, er, carpets (they’re mid-refurb downstairs in the mansion house), he’s affable, smart, private school educated, blazered up, and like many of the prep school head I meet more English than a mid-afternoon cream tea. With 7 years under his belt as a headmaster at his previous school (Mowden Hall School, Northumberland) and two years at Moulsford, he clearly knows what he’s doing.
I’m not sure I’d describe Moulsford as quirky really unless you count a bit of outdoor pingpong as outré– it’s the quintessential English prep school, big on sport, academics, the arts, and manners, though any school that sends children sailing off to a place legitimately called Goose Poo Island already has me on side.
Maybe ‘quirks’ at Moulsford are really best re-labelled opportunities. Undoubtedly the watersports are a big Muddy tick. Sportswise there’s a non-selective cultural rugby tour of South Africa every year for Years 7 & 8 offered regardless of ability – nearly 70% of kids do it. Plus an Art, DT and ICT cross-curricular Dragon’s Den project where kid have to create, market, advertise and ‘sell’ their product to the school dragons that sounds like massive fun.
One thing worth mentioning is the three deputy heads. Yes, THREE. And one of those deputies has the single task of ensuring excellent pastoral care for the kids. I think that’s impressive.
It’s worth noting that the school is keen to play up its ‘all rounder’ qualities, aware perhaps that it’s outstanding success at sport (Rugby 1st VII in the finals of major competitions in 2015 and joint first top Judo school in the country, fencing national championships etc) has somewhat dwarfed its ability to shout about drama and music. Unless your child is such a piano prodigy that he needs to play in a full sized concert hall every lesson (Chopsticks on a Steinway sounds sensational – I recommend it) my sense is that there’s decent arts provision here – hell, they’ve just had a sound-proofed drum room installed! A slight anxiety about these disciplines being overlooked will no doubt mean even more effort is put into these subjects over the next few years.
Also worth a mention of manners which were really excellent. I stuck my nose into loads of classes (which are small as you’d expect – between 16-18 kids in each). All the kids stood up as I came in, were calm and well-behaved, and looked me in the eye when they chatted to me. Note the word chat. No grunting, no monosyllables, no embarrassed nodding. We like that on Muddy. A lot.
Wrap around care:
Nearly all Moulsford’s kids come from a 20k radius of the school, nearly all boarders are local too – either kids who want to do a couple of days a week for fun or older children who are getting in the zone for the time when they board at Senior School. Both the headmaster Ben and wife Sarah have a boarding background and pastorally the boarding is very strong though when I reviewed boarding houses were in need of some interior TLC. Over the summer this has now happened – a total refurb with new carpents, repainting, blinds, curtains, a new common room area complete with updated furnishings (below).
There are 36 beds and priority goes to weekly boarders, but it’s possible to board or single pre-booked nights too. In terms of afterschool care, all children can stay until 5.30pm for prep, and if the school is notified first thing in the morning, children can also stay for supper and play until 8pm. Good to know for that sneaky after work cocktail. Surely not just me! In holidays, there are week long (paid for) courses put on the for the kids in sport, art, drama, music etc.
A note: even for boarders there is no Saturday school. Matches only and back to family life on the weekends.
Fees: Pre-prep day fees start at £3550, rising to £5300 per term for Prep day fees. With boarding the termly fees £6650, so I’d say the fees are broadly average.
Word on the ground: The mums I spoke to are extremely pro Moulsford and like the head and the changes he’s implementing. Although it doesn’t have the flagship status of the sport, the music had a big thumbs up, as did the setting and discipline. One mum thought it was very competitive and that they take the A and B teams too seriously to the detriment of those in the latter stages of the alphabet, but that’s a personal judgement call for every parent. As someone who snapped her ACL ligament trying to win the mum’s skipping race (I know, the shame) I think you can guess where I stand on that one.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Boys with energy to burn, who thrive on an outdoorsy, idyllic Swallows & Amazons-style school. Sporty kids will love it here, but the new head is eager to promote an all-rounder ethos so expect big things of the arts too. Discpline is strong so a good option for anyone whose little darling is showing signs of dissent.
Not for: Well, if you’re not into single-sex education, you can cross it off your list right now! The relatively small pupil numbers means the orchestral capacity will be less impressive than that of a larger school so if your child has extraordinary instrumental ability it’s worth bearing that in mind, though learners and middlers will be fine.
Dare to disagree?!
Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself at the Open Day on Friday 12th May 2017, from 10am – 12pm or 1pm – 3pm, or book an individual tours with the Headmaster during term-time throughout the year.
Moulsford School, Moulsford-on-Thames, Oxfordshire, OX10 9HR. Tel: 01491 651438. moulsford.com. This review has been updated with the latest facts and figures as of Thurs 8 Sept 2016.