Rupert House School, Henley-on-Thames
Muddy says: A small, high-achieving prep school bang in the centre of beautiful Henley, with good off-site amenities.
RUPERT HOUSE SCHOOL, HENLEY-ON-THAMES
Rupert House School is an independent prep school for girls aged 3-11 and boys aged 3-7 bang smack in the middle of Henley. Bell Street, since you asked, so yippeedidoodah it’s superclose to The Bull on Bell Street for a morning caffeine injection, and literally around the corner from the river, so it’s a (admittedly superficial) Muddy thumbs up on the location.
Rupert House has been a school for around 100 years (they’re waiting to hear from the Historical Society on the exact dates) but the building dates from the second half of the seventeenth century as a gentleman’s residence, a Grade II listed building that looks elegant but small until, tardis-like you step inside and realise that it’s much bigger than you’ve given it credit for. No sweeping grounds and Highclere-like mansion buildings to slap on the front of a prospectus, but there’s good school-room provision for its 187 pupils with a large playground and separate pre-prep play area outside, and a small outdoor pond and gardening area (both due for a spruce).
The big headline facilities at Rupert House are actually away from the main building in the playing fields – a five minute walk away. Sport at Rupert House has improved dramatically in the last two years, and not surprising given that several of the teachers are ex-national athletes. The playing fields are used for hockey and football in the winter, and there are tennis/netball courts there too. There’s also a Forest School there, pictured above, a fantastic facility for little kids who get to explore, light fires (with adult supervision!) and be kids in a safe environment. For older kids who have outgrown Forest School, Rupert House has access to acres up acres of privately owned woods nearby.
On the technology front, there’s a modern new ICT suite, and next on the head teacher’s list the expansion of the school hall and a much larger changing room facilities. The Upper School kids use Gillott’s swimming pool, with sole use of the pool for lessons and also have the Kenton Theatre in which to put on their theatrical productions. Not too shabby!
Music wise, there’s the usual provision for peripatetic music teachers, and the new music teacher in place seems to be creating all the right waves. All kids in Years 3 & 4 learn the violin as part of their weekly music lessons (pity that teacher), and the chamber choir in particular is very good – 2015 Finalists in National Festival of Music for Youth, after winning the Regionals. That said, in a school of 187, my usual caveats apply in terms of orchestral difficulties with small numbers. I think it’s fair to say that they’re onto the issue and really pushing the instrumental lessons to fill the gaps, particularly in traditionally boy-heavy brass.
In 2015 Rupert House girls gained an astonishing 18 scholarships out of 23 girls in Year 6, mostly to Queen Anne’s School, St Helen & St Katharine and The Abbey. I mean, wow.
Clare Lynas has been in the hotseat for two years, having come from a deputy headship at Thorngrove School, near Newbury, and prior to that Winchester House. You’ll like the fact that she has a master’s degree in child development, and you’ll also like the way she handles the kids – with three of her own, she knows how to tiptoe the line between matronly kindness and stern rule-enforcer. A firm ‘no!’ or ‘walk!’ was all it took to put the brakes on pupils who were dashing around the school, and she is clearly someone who is used to getting things done – the ICT suite is brand spanking new, a 16 seater minibus appeared in January and there’s plenty more improvements well down the pipeline.
A town-centre school is always going to have size issues, but Rupert House gets around this as best it can by a lot of doubling up of rooms – so the science lab turning into a cookery spaces using small tabletop hob/ovens, other classrooms become sewing spaces. On the positive side, class sizes are also small! Generally a maximum 18 or 19 in Lower School, 14 max in Upper School with many currently around 10 per class. Interesting clubs include Spanish, Jazz Dance, Musical Theatre, Film Animation, Computer Coding, Touch Typing, Think Tank, Drumming and, er, Sudoku. Blimey.
Wrap around care:
A breakfast club that starts at 7.30am has to be a good thing (go on, boot em in!). The school opens at 8.15am and kids can stay past 3.45pm to take part in the after school clubs until 5pm.. There’s also a 3.45-5.45pm ‘After-Care’ care club with play, sandwich tea for those not in clubs or those who want to stay on after their club has ended.
Fees: £4165 per year (Y3-6), £3400 (Y1-2), reception and nursery from £1515 for mornings to £3400 for 5 full days, so less expensive than many of the other prep schools I’ve been to.
Word on the ground: The parents I’ve spoken to say Rupert House has much improved since the new head arrived, with sport particularly being given a shot in the arm. Academically it’s robust, pastoral care is excellent, and parents recognise that the lower fees reflect the slight inconvenience of the off-site facilities.
THE MUDDY VERDICT:
Good for: Anyone looking for a small, intimate, centrally located school with great academic results. The nurturing ethos of the Forest School has great appeal and the school also benefits from being so central in Henley with its museum, river and facilities. Great for those who want to get the best of both worlds – mixed boys and girls until 7 years old, and then single sex education for the girls.
Not for: Those looking for bucolic grounds and grand buildings – a town-centre school has many benefits but space is not one of them. Academic excellence is a given here (just look at those scholarships), so it might not suit children who struggle in this area.
Dare to disagree?! Don’t take my word for it! Have a look for yourself at the Open Event on Sat 23 Sep from 10-12pm, and as ever, let me know what you think.
Rupert House School, 90-92 Bell Street, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire RG9 2BN. Tel: 01491 574 263.