Thornton College, Milton Keynes
A peaceful rural setting and nurturing ethos underpins this high-achieving all girls school 3-18 in North Buckinghamshire
Thornton College is a non-selective day and boarding school for girls in the village of Thornton, between Milton Keynes and Buckingham. It luxuriates in 26 acres of grand, verdant, grounds with a centrepiece Victorian Tudor-gothic house (in which around 60 of the children board),with attendant walled garden, ancient orchard and 14th century church.
The school provides a unified site for over 420 girls (2.5 -18 years) from nursery through to Sixth Form, with no more than 20 in a class, and boys welcome until Reception. A Catholic foundation, it upholds Christian principles and values but welcome all faiths.
What to do with such lovely grounds? Fill them of course! The headline sports facilities include an astroturf, running track and long jump, heated 20m swimming pool, whopper sports hall, netball courts, hockey pitches and eight tennis courts. The main sports are as you’d expect, though rounders been replaced by cricket in popularity with football and dance also high on the physical agenda.
In terms of buildings it’s impressive too – I’m loving the Expressive Art Studio, above (I’m not being facetious, that’s its name!), a bright, modern dance and performance space. There’s also a ballet studio and green room at Thornton.
What else? Well if you fancy a flat white, there’s a snazzy one for sixth formers, staff and parents in the grounds. And the Junior School had a serious spruce in 2010 – well, more like a total reinvention – with the St Clare building, which provides classrooms, ICT suits and four labs (one for Junior Science, the other three for Chemistry, Physics and Biology).
Most recently, in 2016, the Sixth Form came into existence and has its own rather quirky quarters up in the rafters of the school.
Catch up young and watch them grow! Like many schools I visit, Thornton has invested in its nursery and pre-prep, hoping to nurture the little ones right through the school. The Thevenet Wing is purpose built building (June 2002) for nursery and reception, with its own playground and cottage garden, and room for their assemblies.
The school is ‘proudly non-selective’ according to the head Val Holmes, and its recent adoption of vocational courses in addition to A-levels nods to this breadth of academic ability, though in fact efforts have been made across the curriculum. The most recent ISI report in 2016 had suggested a need for a greater range of GSCE subjects was acted upon, and lo-and-behold new study options include Dance, Business Studies, PE, Government and Politics and Psychology. And you can’t be too miffed with results like these in a non-selective school: GCSEs: 27% grades 9/8 (A*); 45% 9/7 (A*-A); 88% of all grades (A*-C). For A Levels, 53% of all grades A* – A; 75% A*- B and 92 % of all grades A* – C with 100% of Vocational Awards graded at Distinction and Distinction*.
Around 60 girls board here, the majority weekly but there’s also a termly option for those further afield (the school has its share of students from abroad), and also flexi boarding on offer. Kids can board from the age of 7 (Y3), with most boarding weekly from Y5. The rooms were better equipped and better kept than many I’ve come across (let’s face it, being an all girl school helps!) and there are plans to extend the boarding provision further, depending on demand.
Val Holmes has been in situ for a year, having started in Sept 2018, and her plans include making more of the outside space and expanding links with overseas schools. A chatty, energetic presence, she’s also spending time emphasising the inclusive nature of the education she believes Thornton offers – her own upbringing in the Troubles in Northern Ireland, she told me, has given her a taste for bringing together different nationalities and religions, tolerance and respect, rather than keeping them separate.
Not a school easily described as quirky – Thornton feels pretty hot on tradition and order to me. But there’s definitely a progressive vein in the education, with the mastery approach to teaching inspired by Shanghai Mathematics and Language Integrated Learning which teaches humanities through the French language. STEM subjects are taken very seriously here too – Thornton is the first school in the region and one of the first in the UK to trial MekaMon quadruped robots to teach coding and is a 2020 winner in the Independent School of the Year Awards for its Careers Programme.
Thornton College is part of a large international trust, Sisters of Jesus and Mary, with family schools in 28 countries around the world, and regards itself as a family. Rather like my New Zealand husband who seems to be welcome at any kiwi home he comes across wherever we are in the world, so it is with Thornton College girls who, by all accounts, can find a warm welcome with members of Sisters of Jesus and Mary wherever they are. Sure beats the YMCA!
Jazz hands at the ready and leg-warmers on – the creative arts are a big deal here (the most popular subject across the whole school is drama which is pretty incredible).
Dance and ballet are offered from nursery upwards, and there’s a high take up of LAMDA – the latest results claimed 100% Distinction or Merits. On the music front, the Thornton College Choirs are standard bearers, winning local festivals and fielding 6 different groups. Music GCSE results have all been 9-6 (A* – B) for the last four years, and there’s a wide variety of ensembles, from samba drumming and ukulele orchestra to jazz band and orchestras.
WRAP AROUND CARE
A bus will pick your little angel up and drop off at your front door (for a fee naturally), covering the whole of MK area and surrounding towns and villages. But if you need out of hours attention, there’s a breakfast club from 7.45am, pick up for Y1,2 and 3 at 6pm or 8pm after supper for Y4 upwards. If you’ve really overdone the after-work drinks, there’s also flexi boarding on offer (for your daughter, not you!).
I’d say fees are slightly better value than their south-Bucks counterparts, starting at £3345 per term for Reception and Y1, going up to £4,185 for Y4-6, and boarding starting at £5,770 (weekly) to £7,175 (termly), going up to £7300 (weekly) to £8900 (termly) for senior students.
School transport fee are £470 (one way) and £810 per child per term depending on location. Overnight stay at Thornton is £39 including all evening supervision, meals and accommodation. Weekend stays £147 per weekend plus the cost of any excursions/activities. Breakfast club is £3 per day, and study & supper £6 per day.
WORD ON THE GROUND
Val Holmes’ description of Thornton as a ‘hidden gem’ is accurate – the word is pretty muted at the moment though Thornton does have a reputation to those locally as a pastorally strong, happy school. In the recent September Parent Survey, 97% of parents said they would recommend Thornton to friends and family.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
GOOD FOR: Those looking for a nurturing, affirming school. Parents who want a peaceful, rural setting for their daughter’s education. There’s much to be said for a school with a mixed and tolerant religious cohort too in these troubled times.
NOT FOR: 26 acres in rural Buckinghamshire might feel a bit quiet for more flamboyant characters as they rise up further through the school. Thornton welcomes all religions (Catholics only amount to 20% of the pupils) but the school is underpinned by a strong Christian ethos which you’ll either buy into or not.
DARE TO DISAGREE? Be my guest! The next Open Day is on 10 October 2020 – let me know what you think.
Thornton College, Convent of Jesus and Mary, Thornton, Milton Keynes, MK17 0HJ. Tel: 01280 812610