The Manor School, Abingdon
Muddy says: A highly-regarded day school in Abingdon with fantastic IPI reports (excellent across the board) for boys 2-7 years, and girls 2-11 years old.
[This review has been updated with the latest figures and a second visit in March 2016.]
THE MANOR SCHOOL, ABINGDON
What? Where? The Manor is an independent day school for boys 2-7 years, and girls 2-11 years old in the outskirts of Abingdon, Oxon, though from Sept 2018 they’re phasing in becoming co-ed and due to be fully co-ed by 2021. There are 372 pupils, 47 boys and 325 girls (102 of which are in Early Years) 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 to many traditional prep schools.
The grounds are extensive (9 acres in all), with tennis and netball courts, an athletics track and pitches for cricket, football, hockey, lacrosse and rounders. There are several outside play areas divided into sections for kids of different ages, plus a conservation area with wildlife pond and gardens. The Manor uses the swimming pool at Oxford Brookes and Abingdon Senior School close by.
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 Mandarin and still life painting. 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 – more an opportunity to allow all the kids to find their ‘thing’.
What else? 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. Headmaster Piers Heyworth is massively into drama, writing some of the school plays and helping to take the drama classes, and there’s a strong emphasis on the kids practising public speaking, and entering competitions. There is now a Nutrition and Cookery module to the Year 4 and 5 curriculum (from Sept 15) run by Mrs Catherine Duff who I saw baking bread with the Reception kids at the recent Culture Day (sweeeeeet day with kids learning everything from flamenco to Aborigine dancing, different languages and world cooking – picture below). She’s an awesome teacher, really impressed with her energy levels.
Travel: Starting in September 2016 there’s a third minibus route being added to and from Henley for kids in Reception up until Year 6, with a dedicated supervisor and driver on board.
The academic results: Excellent. The Manor School is non-selective but still manages a clutch of scholarships every year (Year 6 Scholarships are 19 for Sept 2016 entry and 4 Prizes).
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.
The head: Ex-Oxbridge, as so many of the prep heads I meet are. I genuinely liked Piers Heyworth, he was like a kindly uncle, obviously extremely dedicated to the kids and very gentle and fun. He teaches drama at the school which is great to see, and unusually takes the lessons from his own office, where he pushes back the furniture to the walls and gets into the teaching. This sums up his approach to me, there’s an approachability to him that filters down the whole school. Be aware that he’s retiring in Jan 2018, so from the New Year it’s Alastair Thomas, currently Head of co-ed The Elms School in the Malvern Hills who will be filling some big boots.
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. Which is, newsflash, why the kids are there!
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 does speak to the pragmatic mother in me!
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 Outstanding 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, with fees from £3600 per term in Reception through to £4385 in Years 5&6.
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?! Have a look for yourself at the next Open Morning on Saturday 23 September 2017, 10am – 12.30pm.
The Manor Preparatory School, Faringdon Road, Abingdon. OX13 6LN. Tel: o1235 858458. manorprep.org
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